Things I learned today while learning to ride a bike

Yeah so this about twenty years late, but better late than never, no? Well I figure if I really want to commit to this hippy life I should at least know how to ride a bike. This is a lot easier than it sounds, but to my surprise I didn’t suck as badly at it as I thought I would and I did manage to pedal a few times.  But it occurred to me as I wobbled along, picturing all the while that I was riding to Spitalfields Market (maybe this is why I was distracted and couldn’t steer straight) that life is a lot like learning to ride a bike. For the following reasons, in no particular order.

1. it hurts sometimes.

2. you need to find balance!

3. you will fall!

4. it really helps to have a boomsie (thank you, starch mango tree)

5. did I mention balance?

6. be patient with yourself, you will get it evenutally (I had a few Don Music moments)

7.  random men will think it’s okay to give you their (unsolicited) advice.

8. when you can’t make it up the hill, it’s always good to have a friend to push you, and steer you away from the potholes.

9. there are potholes and you seem to be attracted to them.

10. laughing helps.

11. everybody looks this stupid at least once in their lives.

12. brakes! don’t forget the brakes.

Anyway, my hands hurt from hours of over-zealous brake application so that’s about as much wisdom as I can impart for now.  all of which is to say that I’m glad that I got over my lameness and actually took the chance to try something new!

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.

 

This is what it sounds like when boys cry.

It is an awful sound.  Guttural and raw.  A teenaged boy sobbing.  It is the worst sound and it twists my insides and I am fighting back tears.  Not for the boy these boys are weeping for. I did not know Zac Olumegbon.  Or more correctly, I do not remember him.  He was the little brother of my little sister’s best friend.  She had the most serious face, I remember. I always wondered why children here always looked so serious. Like they had the world of worries.  Perhaps they do, living in this corner of Babylondon.

And if I have run away from Trinidad hoping to escape the endless statistics of little black boys killing each other for honour, to regain their misplaced manhood, I have run to the wrong place.

Brixton, despite the gentrification and the nice gastro pubs and the belligerent foxes, is one of those London places where crime happens.  I don’t see the Eastern European whores in the park anymore and outside the Library they’ve made it all shiny and new.  But there are still old homeless people and young drugged up people and sad drunk people of all ages.  They do not go away despite the shiny new surfaces.

The sight of crying children is unbearable.  I guess because I take such a pragmatic view of death. It happens. It is natural.  Zac’s life as one of the speaker’s says, has been stolen.  Like a chain from someone’s neck.  Like the childhood of all these young people who have to say goodbye to a boy who has not yet lived.

They stabbed him.  Children stabbed him.  Children like him.  What can they possibly know of life to warrant killing a 15 year old.  What could they possibly be so sure of that they can take another life?

I look at the faces of my sisters’ friends.  They are young and old at the same time.  Too much living too soon.  I cherish my own sheltered childhood.  That I got to doubt myself and make believe and wish and dream and never once wonder if someone was going to deny me the chance to make mistakes.

My fought back tears are not for Zac.  They are rather for his friends and family.  Hundreds of them.  Gathered in grief on this bleakest of summer days.  There are long silences punctuated only by half stifled sobs and sniffles.

The police stay a respectable distance.  No profiling now.  No microwaving of leftover sus laws.

A young man read/raps Psalm 37 in the rhythm and truth of his Sath Landin twang.  The cheeky boys from the bus hold each other and cry silently, and then wipe the tears away as if they are angry with their leaking eyes.

My fought back tears are for them.  For their anger and grief.  For his mother and his sister and my sisters and all the young women here who will have to find a way to keep loving these men who are at war with themselves.

What war the Pastor asks. What war can they fight when they own nothing? What post code, what block belongs to them?  What property do they own when they live in state provided housing, are second generation immigrants? Where do they belong? Not even to themselves.

These children cry and my mother instinct moans helplessly.  There is no consoling for this kind of grief.  You can’t stick a dummy in the mouth of a generation that is becoming accustomed to burying their own.

I leave before it is finished.  Leave his mother reading the mountain of tributes.  Leave behind  Zac Olumegbon, who was the little brother of my little sisters friend.  They hope he has not died in vain.  All these people who have come to weep for him.  They hope no more will have to shed tears like this again.  Still, sirens wail in the distance, louder than Zac’s mother, louder than the thud of a boy fainting from grief, louder than the shaky voices of his school friends crying out to Christ for mercy. On this bleak summer day.

On April 21st, 1970

Trinis have a funny funny way of forgetting…Brother Valentino’s song echoes in my head as I watch the March/April bound copies of the Trinidad Express from 1970. I open the hardcover and the first image I see is one of my father.   I wonder if what I see is my own self-consciousness. I imagine that what I see is someone, who like me, is hoping against hope that what he is doing, what he is saying, what he is feeling are the right things.

It’s forty years today. 21st April marks forty years since Eric Williams declared a state of emergency after months of protests against the institutionalised racism, against the Independence promises unfulfilled, against the colonials being replaced with the neo-colonials, against the jaycees perpetually white carnival queens…. It was also the day that the soldiers mutinied, preferring to stand in solidarity with the people than shoot them down.

Yesterday I went to the library, seeking answers to questions that I can’t ask  the parental units.   I put on the gloves and turned the pages slowly, hoping that I would see something that would make the whole thing make sense.

There is nothing that can explain it.  What makes regular normal people wake up one day and think they can change the world.  But I suppose these people are neither regular nor normal. They are not.  They are bizarre. They are probably crazy.

There were many of my days in Babylon-don when my father talked about those times.  Days like that I kind of felt like a confessor as he talked about jail, about the marches. About behind the Bridge. About his mother going to berate Karl Hudson Philips’ father.

He gets angry a lot. Like my mother. Who still can’t speak in complete sentences.  She cries a lot still for people who died. For things I dare not say here.  For her lost youth.  For her mother’s distress.

There are so many disjointed stories. So many incomplete memories.  I don’t know where to start to ask questions, or even if I should.

I am looking through pages in these newspapers. Looking for the other side of the story.  For what the people who were against them had to say.   For the letters to the editor and the commentaries, from the business owners and the downpressors.

There is an image of the meeting in Shanty Town, which was subsequently moved and called Beetham Gardens. There is an image of town burning. There is an image of a black cloth on St. Peter in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. There is an image of Archbishop Pantin calling for sanity.

I know these stories.  I know these images as if I was there and alive.  But like the holes in the papers caused by decay and disintegration, there are things missing.

Even though they are both writers, I think I have inherited this trait from them. This inability to tell the fullness of the story.  To leave out bits. That may be too personal or painful. There are many things that I still don’t know. That they will probably never let me know. At least I imagine it is so.  I can only imagine the things they did.

I feel like something is missing.  I don’t know how to fill it.  The hole is bigger and hollower still because it is election season.  Because of mountain of shit that is going on in Trinidad right now.

It’s also a year since the Drummit to the Summit.  It’ also a year since Adrian Richards’ murder.

It is the transition to rainy season. And the time when I mark the dawns with both terror and hope.

Who are the true members? Who are the real warriors? How do I find them?  When is the time to write poetry and when is the time to pelt Molotovs?

My father still has the same afro, grey now, but the sides still pat down and the front pointing forward.  My mother is still a warrior queen who would stop at nothing to defend her loved ones, the neighbour down the road, random children, some girl she see that look ahow….  They have no intention of taking off their boots.  I fear that I will get locked into their love for the struggle, when what I want to do is win so that I can engage in random tree-hugging, be a dj and practice my headstands with my nephews.

Perhaps most disturbing is that I have inherited my parents’ inability to sleep between 2 am and 6 am.  From San Juan to Brixton, we wake to watch the night together, alone, in silence or with some haunting piece of jazz as a soundtrack to waking nightmares, shattered dreams of a more hopeful dawn for a promising nation.  There is so much to see and hear.  In this darkness. In this silence.  As for me, I have no idea what I am looking and/or listening for.

I hope they do.

It’s my write.

I’m not sure if I’m accustomed to it yet.  Not having a column to say what’s on my mind.

I gave up my column not for a lack of things to say, but because I put so much of myself into those 800 words every week that there was little else left for any other kinds of writing that I’ve wanted to do since forever.

The future is not as certain as I would like. Now that my flakiness is wearing thin and I realize that, oh shit, I haven’t a parrot on a stick…But the words, the words are there, still in my head.  Trying to find ways to come out.

A dear friend from India read my palm the other day and said I am due for some drastic change of direction in my life.  I’m looking forward to change, hoping that these movements take me closer to the clarity that all the words, all the words I have written in the past ten years have been reaching for.  I still feel that it (whatever it is) is just outside my grasp. I still feel that it is just beyond the next corner.

I guess I have no choice but to keep writing. Keep reaching.  Keep hoping that I get there.

Splitting of Her Breasts.

One of my favourite people in the world, Uncle Ravi-ji, told me this story one day. It was raining that day two months ago. I was sitting with him after the Ganga Dhaaraa celebrations up at Marianne River in Blanchisseuse. It was one of those perfect Trinidad days, with a perfect dawn, and beautiful children and music and rain and mangoes and a river.

When Hindus came to celebrate the connection between ecology and spirituality. Because if you see the river as sacred, you wouldn’t put the goddess out of your thoughts and pollute it, right? I was telling Uncle Ravi-ji about all the potential environmental disasters this country is going to have to confront in a few years time. And how important it is for people like him and other well loved and respected spiritual leaders to come out and condemn some of the things that are going on in Trinidad. And in that way that I love about people who have a lot more sense than the politicians, he started to tell me a story. The story is about him and his grandfather.

He paints a picture and I see it clearly; him as a young boy, among the first children in his village to go to secondary school. And one day a man from Neal and Massy turns up. He comes to talk to these children of indentured labourers about purchasing tractors. The salesman’s pitch is slick. The salesman paints a picture of an easier life, of children like Ravi-ji who will be able to study in peace without having to engage in the backbreaking labour that brought their ancestors here. Of no more hungry children in their village. Of profits from sales of all their agricultural produce.
Ravi-ji’s aja (grandfather) listened at the meeting. His father was excited and so was he.

When they got home his grandfather spoke up. And here Ravi-ji quotes his grandfather in Bhojpuri and for moment the old man is there with us. Ravi-ji’s aja was against the purchase of a tractor. He said, the tractor would split open Mother Earth’s breasts. How can a wounded breast continue to sustain life? And Uncle Ravi-ji admits to me that he was angry at his aja, because all he wanted to do was go to school and have a different kind of life. The tractor represented to him all that was modern, different and progressive.

His aja was keeping him back. The villagers got their tractor in the end. And Uncle Ravi-ji went to school. His aja went the way of all flesh. But the tractor did split Mother Earth’s breasts. And now there are more tractors, but as Uncle Ravi-ji concludes his story, he observes that even today there are still starving children in that village. How did his aja know and understand the effects that industrialisation would have on the environment? Without all the book learning and the slick facts he was able to articulate a concern for nature that none of them could understand? The simplicity of that story reverberates now with me as I look around at a society that is eagerly chasing after more tractors. And those who share a concern for Mother Earth’s split breasts are sidelined and silenced. They are unwilling to pay the price of progress.

We live in a society where decorum and decency and adherence to laws are upheld as benchmarks of the good citizen, but the reverence we feel for the things that sustain us, well you could get laughed at for expressing concern. It’s not that the tractor is the only alternative now. We’ve come a long way from those days. It grieves me that it is the tractor that still represents modernity when it is our ajas and our grandmothers and our tanties whose ideas are timeless and more sustainable. I wish some people had even one millionth of Uncle Ravi-ji’s aja’s wisdom. Then they wouldn’t write bizarrely stupid headlines like “Are environmentalists anti-people?” Because they would understand that it’s not how many tractors you have or how much oil you drill or how many smelters you build. But the humanity and the humility of what you do with your knowledge and your resources.

That progress and destruction don’t have to always go together and the destruction excused as some kind of by-product. Like all those ads for drugs on cable TV whose lists of side-effects seem to far outweigh whatever benefits the drug was intended to have. That it’s not about financial profiles and projections but how the people of your country are coping under the crushing weight of your greed. How your gluttony looks to those under you who have less than nothing. How your excess feeds their resentment and how ultimately they will be made to pay for your gross and sloppy mishandling of Mother Earth’s breasts.

Yesterday I got bored of Facebook.

It’s been interesting watching the responses from close friends to I guess my rather sudden deactivation of my Facebook account.  People want to know if I’m ‘okay’. As if coming off Facebook is some kind of sign of possible madness, depression or some other crisis of social exclusion.

Truly, I’ve always kind of questioned my sanity but not enough to seek professional help.  I mean, who needs meds when there are mangoes and meggies, right?

Anyway, for an addict I seem to be coping really well. Haven’t broken out in sweats or anything and my primary thought all day has to my relief not revolved around creating a witty, thought-provoking status update.  I’m still on Twitter, but it’s never really consumed my life as much as the ole crackbook.

I don’t know what prompted me yesterday to deactivate, maybe it was the full moon, but much like when I stopped eating meat, it was a thought that entered my mind and once it did, I didn’t second guess it or wait for the doubt to set in.

It was a lot easier too, after a week and a half partial fast caused by the sudden and untimely demise of my hard drive.  After the initial distress, I woke up the next morning and started doing the gardening that I’d wanted to do since the beginning of the rainy season.  In the hour that I would ordinarily have spent fiddling around with my page, I managed to sort out my compost heap and chop my way through some weeds, and set up a bed of tomatoes, pigeon peas, and peppers.

I was stunned and quite frankly ashamed of myself to discover just how much time I could waste. Time that I could never regain.  Scary.

When I got my laptop back it was easy to fall back into the same old pattern. It’s easy when it’s your news feed, your grapevine, your companion, your measure of yourself, your propaganda.

But I find myself these days desperately wanting to break out of familiar patterns and my FB addiction is a rather good place to start.

I realise now that I’m writing this that FB encouraged me to write more in sound bites.  Which is not really the best thing if you’ve got a book to get out of your head and you have a woefully short attention span anyway.  Of course there was also the immense element of navel gazing, people macoing, how many times a day can you check one person’s profile-ing.  Luckily for me I get bored easily.  I guess yesterday was the day I got bored with Facebook.  It remains to be seen how long I can sustain the fast.  I now have no clue about friends birthdays, haven’t bothered to check the news and I also don’t have a clue about what is happening in Port of Spain anymore.  I guess if it’s important enough somebody will actually pick up the phone or something.  But for the most part I am enjoying not being caught up in the noise of other people’s lives.

Rain down on Me.

The rain comes like a pleasant surprise on a Thursday night. And you forget the crushing heat of the day. The feeling that you would melt into a puddle of sweat and be evaporated, leaving behind a pile of hair and salt as the only reminders of your existence. When it gets that hot even the hummingbirds forget which way is up. Reason abandons you and all you want to do is think cool thoughts and then you turn on the radio and Papa Patos is saying something to make your brains sizzle.Your plants protest, the fever grass leaves turn into spears protesting that the morning’s offerings were insufficient to survive the day. The ground is dry again. The sun relentless. The ineptitude of politicians unchecked. The emptiness of your bank account consistent. But then the clouds gather because the universe takes pity on your helplessness. A breeze passes to cool your hot brains. The rain comes like a sigh of relief. Making you want to drop everything you are doing and retire to bed where, under the galvanize it sounds like the best possible symphony. Thunder rumbles and you resurrect the smells of my grandmother’s kitchen—chocolate tea with an oily film at the top of your favourite cream chipped enamel cup. The smell of cheese as it melts between a piece of bake.  It’s the simple things you conjure in the magic of night rain.

In the rain listen to a little Lata Mangeshkar, understanding what she sings only from the sheer pain in her voice. It is a love song no doubt, they are always love songs.  Love for God and man and the trees and all the other things that live in your ecosystem. Imagine your plants revelling in the wet earth. In the rain your can hear things growing and you are glad to be here and part of it. Things that set root and push out of the ground. Mangoes and manicous share the joy of the rain. And in the morning after the rain the night before, the pumpkin leaves are bigger and the peppers redder and the pigeon peas a little taller. Mint and tomatoes push purposefully upwards. And if you were a better farmer, you would plant people too. You would sow good politicians and men who love their children and their women. You would plant a crop of humans who would take root in the soil and nourish it. Hold on to it. Give to it and take from it in an endless cycle.

In the rain and the rumbling of thunder that vibrates your bed and the wood of your floor and your old windows and the beautifully rusting galvanize you are glad to live in the tropics. Glad that most of the time it is pleasant enough for you to wander about without having the fix your mind to be in confrontation with nature.  When it rains here, you can dance in it, catch rainflies, squish your toes and hope that some parasite doesn’t take up residence in your nails. The rain continues all night into the morning. Keeping you rooted there. You don’t have to get up to wet your plants. You don’t have a job to be reporting too. It is dark and warm like a womb must have been. You are glad for the extra time. When it rains here people stay home to hug up their loved ones, to find the warmth and love they thought they had lost, to dream dreams that sometimes are missed in the quest to beat the traffic, be productive citizens, join the rat race.

The rain slows us down to remind us of the things that perhaps are more important. The unnoticed things. Things growing and dying and living in our ecosystems that we might not notice in the hum of our electric lights in the concreteness of our jungles. And you hope the rain can wash away the thick film of stink that settles over everything here. You hope that the rain can wash away all the blood, all the disappointment, all the confusion and frustration. You hope that the rains will keep this gentle tempo and not rise into a rushing roaring torrent to punish us for our many many sins. You hope that this rain only brings good things. That this rainy season stays wet but not drowning. Delightfully moist but not too soggy so that the roots of your growing things drown from the excess. Drown before they bear fruit.  Are destroyed by the very thing that gives them life. The rains are tears that bring joy. A necessary sadness to bring new life and make you love the sunlight and the greenness of the hills some more.

Farewell to the King

Heartbreak enemy despise
Eternal
Love shines in my eyes
So let love take us through the hours
I won’t be complaining
’Cause your love is alright, alright
—Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough Michael Jackson

The first man any of us were in love with, notwithstanding Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon. And now that they say he is gone I remember the eighties and long for that innocence again. When my big sister Didi was the coolest person alive. Because she could do the moonwalk and to add insult to injury allowed me with my annoying six-year-old self to lime with her and all her cool friends, not least of all, the boyfriend whose name was, oh sweet Lord, Michael. When Thriller came out and we listened to that record for hours and staged concerts in our living room for a scandalised George Lamming who had, to our own disgust, not yet heard of this marvel called Michael Jackson.
Back then, before the pederasty, before the plastic surgery, before Jacko became wacko, we loved him like a brother. Like a part of the family. He sang for us, for every black child wanting to be great. Wanting to be more than just skin and hair and nose. When those things became tangible talent, superstardom to take to you to moon and back, to soar endlessly. I laughed til I cried years later when Didi was in London and sent me a letter detailing her fainting as he came onstage at Wembley. By then he was thinner and whiter and stranger but still a star. Still worthy of causing my otherwise sensible sister to faint from the sheer emotional exertion of being so close to greatness. He was too great for this Earth. And so he became the joke, the freak show that we all are desperate to avoid. The non-belonging artist on the moon, far out in orbit, trying to get his fans to take the trip with him. No one is that amazing we try to tell ourselves. No one can be so great.
He soars higher still, but we decline the journey preferring to lose ourselves in the driving sex-soaked bass of dancehall and the frustrated realism of hip hop. None can deny though, not Sizzla, not Public Enemy, not Method Man, that the King is the King. His time is gone now, a sacrifice at the feet of superstar gods who demand the ultimate price for such genius. Madness haunts any who dare to fly so high. His face melted like Icarus wings and none of us held out our hands to catch him. And it occurs to me that the thing we robbed him of is the thing he represents the most to all of us. He gave us the happy childhood he never had, haunted as he was by genius madness and demands for those less talented for him to reach never-before-seen heights of superstardom.
He gifted us a less difficult time. A less complicated time when you could be in love with a superstar. When you could dance away your troubles. Back then when you didn’t know every awful gory detail of his life, you couldn’t hear the pain in his wailing. You couldn’t hear the loneliness in his high fragile voice. You could just see the moonwalk as a dance and not a man retreating to some far far place where none of the people who exploited his immense talent could reach him. I mourn not just a singer. I mourn a symbol of my own struggle to know and love myself. How many black people wished they had that Jackson money to change their faces into something that might be more beautiful by someone else’s standards.
How many want to rub out their reflections so that the nightmares do not stare back when they look into the mirror. How many fight demons every day. His heart broke because we didn’t believe in him anymore and I am sure he stopped believing too. Part of me wants to believe that he is not dead. Because he was meant to be immortal. He was meant to transcend this physical place because the Earth was far too puny a place for him. The King is not mere flesh that withers on the bone. The King is pure electricity now. Existing in our nerve endings, infectious and divine. The King stops time and space to make people forget their troubles and dance. Forget their sorrows and dance. Like the first time you heard Billie Jean and wondered what manner of man could make their spirit want to jump out of their skins, just so?
It is the power of music. In that moment of moonwalk nothing else matters. He walks on the moon alone. He trods the superstar road alone. He dies alone. Unrecognisable by those who came to know themselves through his music. Far more than any of us have wished for ourselves. Far more than any of us could have dreamed for him.

On arrival

We know that mankind have one destination
Which is to fly which is soar
High above the trees
Be the king of all he surveys and sees
Mankind pushing out here
Struggling out here
With one breath of life
Searching for higher
Doh mind the road might be rocky or steep
We not going sleep
We not sticking
—Wrong Chord, 12

They call it Arrival Day but do we ever get there? When we get on the boat and cross the waters, leaving behind everything we know and love, what do we meet on the other end? When we arrive are we welcome? Do we have a right to belong here? Who decides that for us? And where here is, anyway? What is the place that we call home? Whose right is it to call here home? What of other Indians who were here long before Columbus got a case of wanderlust? Who celebrates this arrival? Who is happy to see more migrants? Who is willing to share what little they have. Who will learn to eat my food and sing my songs and dance the dance of my gods? Who will believe the hype that the other is bad? Who will go to great lengths to keep from mixing up too much?
We have arrived. At some place where some are more equal than others.
We have arrived at a time when the race paranoia should be dead and gone. Should be. If not for political manoeuvres and hand-outs so meagre that the almost forgotten sting of the $17 million pappyshow Summit opening gala comes back like heartburn from mother-in-law. We have arrived at some kind of purgatory where death stalks the innocent and the guilty with equal ferocity. Where smelter plants grow big and poisonous and those who were lied to about receiving nonexistent jobs come to confront the reality of ecological disaster on their doorsteps. We have arrived at a place of great sadness and shame.
Sadness for those who celebrate a day that others act like they greatly regret. Shame for those who look like me but do not act in my interest.
We have arrived like never-see-come-sees to the top of our interchange, to take pictures at how fast we can get to our uncharted destinations. We have arrived at nirvana. Where a temple would see no problem with cutting down a 184-year-old samaan tree, because not even for the pantheists is the earth sacred anymore. We have arrived at no integrity and no accountability and no solidarity. We have arrived at Presidents and priests close enough to God to absolve themselves. We have arrived at the conclusion that this place is not worth fighting for, so we devote all our energy and attention to far more important things like who wins the Champions League or which big lawyers are fighting over which young attorney.
We have arrived to a place where everyone is unwilling to ask the questions or seek the answers. We have arrived so we think the journey is at an end. That we don’t need to confront the past. The places that we came from, the place that find ourselves in now, what we will leave for children. We have arrived and now we get on with the business of living. Of loving and dreaming, of creating a whole new world. With old ideas that do not fit our present realities. We have arrived at institutionalised racism and a dictatorship that used to creep but must be having a Star Trek moment because by Jah it seems to be hurtling at warp speed.
We have arrived but for some it is time to leave again. To arrive at some other place, to reshape some other identity. We have arrived but don’t know the difference between legacy and longing. Between culture that lives and customs that change to suit the place, the climate. Where bhajans can be played on pan and Mama Osun hails Ganga Mai in the sweet waters that run through these hills. We have arrived but do not yet understand that douglarisation is as much intellectual as it is physical. That we celebrate Arrival Day because at some point we were all brought here. By force or by choice.
Nothing is an accident and perhaps the universe has conspired for these arrivals so that we can confront what we left behind and how we will build what we have here.
We are still arriving. This is not the end of the journey. We still have a long long way to go.