Advantage Never Done

We so amazed

We get back de stage

So give we a wave

We taking advantage

On the stage

Dem gyal on de stage

For two days

We head for the stage

To turn a new page

We cannot behave

Stage or the grave

We taking advantage


Start to jump on the stage and leh we make front page

Advantage, Machel Montano HD

It’s their privilege, not ours, to take advantage.  They don’t need to apologize.  They don’t even need to tell the truth.  They could get vex and self righteous.  That is their privilege.

On the Trinidad and Tobago stage they could behave how the hell they want.  They could put on what kind of mas they like, while we jump and ray on the sidelines.  Spectators in this masquerade that is governance.

Advantage.  They really taking advantage.  Of a young girl called Reshmi.  I mean really in a country where macoing is a national pastime, isn’t everyone qualified to head a spy agency?

And all the people who have the qualifications on paper but sit in their offices collecting their nice fat three times what a local person would get salary, is anybody going to take advantage of them?

Meanwhile Ministers falling all over themselves to tell their version, as if there was some kind of lying competition they had entered and there was a big prize for the best explanation for why they are qualified to hire and fire and then play bess liar.

Well you couldn’t say that they were being untrue to our culture.  I never hear so much Pierrot-esque explanation in my life.

Advantage when they get on the stage in truth yes, Machel boy.  Like the sweetest seer man of soca, the Boy sings the thing that hurts us the most right now.

And makes us love it because we love this kind of pain.

Advantage all round.  From the banks to the bandits.  Everybody taking advantage on us poor Trinbagonians.  And we must be like it so.

In fact, I think we love it.  We love it more than we love ourselves.

Advantage on the stage.  Advantage in the Parliament.  Advantage from King Louis and his band of council imps.

For 363 days out of the year we allow the government to take advantage of us. The government has a good time bending us over and putting it on us with some emphatic vim and vigour they could give the Boy a run for his chooking money.

Stamp on it, Andy Johnson. Stamp on the free press. Trample it until we’re all a bunch of yes men, doing no more than covering the endless, tiresome, mind numbingly boring effluent coming from these so-called leaders.

Oh oh oh oh advantage, yeah.  Sing it like this is Carnival Tuesday and you’re already on the Savannah stage.

Advantage is the road march that price gouging business owners and useless opposition and surly public servants have been singing for years.

I wonder how we would be if we didn’t have those two days? I wonder if we would be taking advantage too.

Trampling on the rights of our workers. Stamping on our children.  Ramfling our environment.

Is we privilege to take advantage. It’s a historical position really. A self-fulfillment of prophecy.  Those who are the most oppressed then become the worst oppressors.

Hear what, if I had the power, I would make Machel Montano more than just the Road March winner.  I would use my considerable influence to make him some kind of Minister of the Pulse of the Nation.

The Boy is more than a soca artist.  He is a seer man, a healer.  He is qualified to be a leader of public thought.

He wouldn’t need a certificate for that.  His credentials are undeniable.

Machel boy, the advantage will never end. It will continue until all of us will become advantage takers in our own right.

The stage is in front of us.  Time to get advantageous.

For two days I wonder if we will take the opportunity to take advantage?

In all the song and dance about multiculturalism I wonder if these advantage takers and the rest of us understand that Carnival is the time when we used to wage our wars?

Who needs civil war when you have mas and pan?  Who needs Ministers’ platitudes when you have soca’s bare essential truths?

I wonder if we will really take the opportunity to advantage our leaders the way they advantage us.  If we will create new motifs and songs and actions to send the message to these advantageous winers that we won’t always be willing to take their instructions.

We won’t always jump and wave and be entertained at their pappyshow leadership.

More than Mad

Kaleidoscope of colours

That you bringing me

You freaking out my energy

I’m losing and you’re making me low low low

Don’t know what to do about it

You and I can’t live without it

All I wanna do is just go go go

You smother my emotions

Now I’m drowning in your oceans

And I’m running and I’m feeling like I don’t care

Penetrate my space

And now I’m looking out of place

You’re making this hard for me

I Need Air, Magnetic Man

It is 3 am and there is a man dancing at the Bus Route traffic lights.  He’s doing what can only be described as the cocaine skank …  a kind of happy sad side-to-side rocking, a shuffling of barefeet on uneven asphalt.  He is singing a mostly incoherent song about Point Fortin.

He is one of a few doing the Croisée cocaine skank at 3 a.m. on a Friday morning.  Looking for the next high alongside the Croisée rats running around the piles of rubbish looking for food.

I wonder who is more mad?  The man dancing at the traffic lights or me for living in a place where we’re not even bothered by these apparitions.

The man doing the cocaine skank follows me home, a memory as potent as the smell of the Croisée’s magnificently stink canals.

Whether or not we add the cocaine, we’re all stuck at a traffic light doing a happy sad dance to a song whose words we have forgotten.

It is a love song for a place called home. That in the midst of the money and the rum and the wining and the crappy Hollywood TV and the bleached out daggerers from Jamaica we have forgotten.

Madness is the glue that holds this place together enough to fool us into thinking it isn’t falling apart.

We must surely all be mad to think that it’s okay for a country to operate like this.

This place is a smorgasbord of crazy.  This is a melting pot of madness. You wonder how long it will take for you to begin to do the dance.

In City Gate at 9 a.m. a man greets exiting passengers with a full body rant. He’s doing his own version of the cocaine skank, with a touch of Christ thrown in for good measure.

There is a woman with no life in her eyes asking you a little help please.

We pass mad every day on our streets, in our offices.

Who wants to admit that they’re crazy?  Certainly not me.  I imagine that this madness is not affecting me.  I imagine that it’s like the cloud over the La Basse that causes you to hold your breath.  You hope the madness will just blow over. That it won’t take root in my lungs and stifle me slowly.

Mad people in the papers killing their wives.  Mad politicians on the television raving about missing pianos. Mad soca men telling to go so and come back so, come up so and go down so.

Madness, though, is gladness.  An acting out of the euphoria of living in a place so wealthy with possibility. We cackle and point at the crazies even as our own minds are stifled by fear and doubt and loathing.

We mad we mad we mad we mad. We more than mad. We are a lot worse off than regular old insanity. We passed mad about 10 years ago and are speeding on the way to I’m really not sure where.

We passed mad ten years ago when we were still convincing ourselves that poor people killing each other wasn’t our business.  We passed mad more than ten years ago when we still thought it was okay to allow politicians to not be held accountable for their actions.

And then here comes the new sheriff in town who seems to have taken over Papa Patos in the megalomania department.  The new sheriff in town is wanting to hide away the physical manifestations of the madness that all of us try not to succumb to everyday.

He collects them like garbage and dumps them in a place where we can’t see. And their madness comes back to haunt us like La Basse fog in the early hours of our fearful night hours.  The stench threatens to stifle you.

Somebody used to refer to Trinidad and Tobago as that crazy colony.  We lost the colony part but the crazy stuck around.

There’s no other explanation for why a place that is so richly blessed could be so tragically messed up.

And even if St. Ann’s were functional there wouldn’t be space enough for hold all of us.  Not to mention treatment. How does a country so thoroughly unconvinced of its potential rise above that kind of endemic self-doubt?

Nail Polish Distraction

Dear Aunty Kamla
Believe it or not, I’ve recently developed a fondness for nail polish. This is a bizarre new world for me, since I haven’t been interested in nail polish since the nineties. It was one of the things I gave up in my more idealistic radical teenage vegan days.
You see nail polish, contains some rather nefarious chemicals and I couldn’t justify polluting Mother Earth just so that I could feel better about how my toes look in slippers.
Last summer in Babylon-don I briefly toyed with the idea of buying some organic nail polish, but it was £8 a bottle and again I couldn’t justify spending £8 on nail polish when I could use the money to save the earth by going off to another environmental protest.
But I digress.
My sistren Ria who is determined to make me cute, and doesn’t mind that she is fighting an uphill battle put some polish on my finger nails the other
night. It was so weird to have hands that look nice for a change. To have my freakishly long fingers come to a pretty end was kind of a refreshing
change from how they usually look. Which is writerish – short nails, fingers permanently bent in a qwerty direction. I stared at my hands all night but then took it off after a few hours because it felt too much like someone else’s hands. They looked cute but my hands are mine and I kind of like that they reflect who I am and what I do.
Anyway, Ria made another attempt with the nail polish on New Year’s Eve and this time I ended up with orange toes.
A week later, I still have orange toes and this is where I’m getting concerned.
Aunty Kamla, I kind of like it. My toes look so cute that I want to keep this look going for a while. But unfortunately Ria is not only my nail polish pusher but one of the brightest women I know and as such she has gone back to her big sawatee job in Babylon-don.
You’re probably wondering Aunty Kamla, why on Jah’s green earth am I confessing this to the nation’s Prime Minister?
Well I’m not really sure but I have a hunch that my new fascination with my orange toes is kind of like your not quite having come to terms with the fact that you’re really the Prime Minister and you’re so caught up in the trappings that you just can’t seem to get settled into actually doing anything.
And perhaps it’s sexist of me to use nail polish as an analogy for you and your government’s apparent incapacity to actually get anything done. I am falling into all the age old gendered ways of seeing women and their roles.
The point is, my orange toes are causing me a lot of distraction. I watch them as I walk. Sitting at my desk. I’m even thinking of buying proper shoes
in which my orange toes will be properly displayed. I want to go out and buy more nail polish, but a) I can’t actually put it on myself b) you can’t buy
organic nail polish in Trinidad and everybody knows the track record we have in terms of our landfills.
But I’ve figured out that the problem Aunty Kamla is that I, unlike Ria and my Didi and also my relentlessly fabulous mother, have not been able to master the art looking fabulous while being undistracted by my fabulousness.
But this is not a threat to the future of a nation.
Sometimes I see you, Aunty Kamla and I think you are suffering from I never thought. Which is an easy affliction to suffer from in Trinidad. Because we are so violently allergic to change and difference, when the change actually comes, we get terribly confused. We start to suffer from paralysis, a kind of analytical tootoolbay.
You see you very much look the part. But the look isn’t enough. To tell the truth, I’d be happy if you looked the way you looked before your campaign
image consultants made you over into well put together Prime Minister lady.
Because all the tweezing and teasing and trappings did not prepare you for how to deal with seven murders in four days. Or Ministers who’ve started to act like Animal Farm piggies. Or a coalition that is at best shaky.
I watched you a few weeks ago on the Promenade with Aunty Verna and Aunty Ella. I could sense you wanted to break away. To let the drums shake
you to your core. But that’s not Prime Minister-ly. So you smile and try and hold yourself together.
But this is not a time for women to hold themselves together. To separate themselves from their emotions. To be distracted by nail polish and hair
spray. We’ve had enough of that soulless leadership from the many men who have failed us.
And certainly if all the trappings and trimmings and girdling and high heeling distract you from the job then I say get rid of them altogether. I imagine I will grow bored of nail polish by next week. I cannot imagine that you will get
bored of looking like well put together Prime Minister lady any time soon. But please don’t forget the job is real. The people are real. The country is in real crisis and appearances will not, cannot save us.

Finding peace in the chaos


Bim Bim, sink or swim

All alone in deep river water

Jump high, jump low
You eh got no place to go on the street
Where the hunter becomes the hunted
Not even the lion could sleep in peace
Man dey what you say?
It doh pay to live yuh life on the run
Run quick, is the police man
The other way the preacher man
With he talk about what is right and what is wrong
He never had to starve in this Christian town.
—Bim, Andre Tanker

Last New Year’s Eve found me alone. Well, not quite. I was in the company of the neighbourhood stray, a very own-way white and ginger cat I gave the name Ms Galore.  Me and Ms Galore hung out for most of the night. Moving between watching the moon and watching Yul Brynner. I tried to soothe her paranoid jumps every time a firecracker exploded. In return for my kindness she stood sentinel by the space in the roof to warn off wayward lizards. I had decided on a quiet night, because some part of me wanted to believe the New Year’s myth of doing the thing on the eve of the new year that you want to do for the rest of the year. I imagined with the great start I was getting, 2010 would be a relatively quiet year, when I could settle down to live a relatively quiet boring life.  Maybe even get, like, a real job or a pet. Or something.

At the time, I imagined 2010 to be a year of solitude, seriousness and reflection. Of letting go of a version of myself that I thought needed to be let go of. At some point you doubt your own capacity to be who you are to the best of your ability. When the consistently dissenting voices question your actions, your choices, make it their business to create a version of you that doesn’t fit. You can’t possibly be a pro-per grown-up and still be your- self. Still watch the sun rise with your other insomniac friends. Still think you can change the world. Still do headstands in the park with your nephews. Still not really take yourself or anything else too seriously. It’s like you’re a soucouyant and have gone about your nightly flying jaunt and come home, only to realise your skin has salt in it.

But this is the unfortunate thing about Trinidad. Everybody knows who the soucouyant is but never confronts her to her face. Waiting instead for dead of night to throw salt. Even in our confrontation of our fears we are dishonest.  I questioned myself again in the days leading up to New Year’s Day this year. And then the answer comes, from Star Wars no less.  In the scene where Anakin Skywalker hasn’t yet become Darth Vader, Yoda explains to the young Padawan that ultimate Jedi mind trick, which is to learn to let go of everything you fear to lose.

It is Shiva’s abandonment of all his worldly possessions. It is Oshun transforming from peacock to vulture to save the Earth.  The gods, you see, still find a way to get their messages heard. Myths, modern and ancient, Star Wars or Mahabharata, the story of Tron or the fables of Ifa are about the quest. For a better version of oneself. They are about the wars humans wage with themselves trying to be what they think is expected and not the person who manifests. Perhaps when you speak your wishes into smoke, all you are left with is a faint residue. But in the midst of a noisy year, I managed to carry the solitude of the first hours of 2010. Like the fleeting sweetness of sandalwood smoke on crisp night air.

Instead of the physical peace I thought I needed, the universe challenged me to find it in the chaos.
To let go of things I fear to lose.  Work, friends, family, material possessions. None of these matter if you have to give up yourself.  Ms Galore walked off and left me in the middle of the night.   She didn’t look back. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t see her much after that night. I whispered wishes to have a more stable life. And then I chose a path that led me to live out of a suitcase for half a year. I wished to find my rightful place. And then I chose a place that feels like home but I don’t live there.

This year the new year greets me in the middle of the people I am lucky to call friends, whom I think I love and am presumptuous enough to imagine love me too, sometimes. Their noise teaches me to find my silence. This moment is not a lifetime. It is a fleeting sweetness on crisp night air. To enjoy and remember fondly and learn from for the rest of the year.  For that I whisper thanks and wish for more of the same.