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?

Attillah’s adventures in Manningland.

I got the call on Christmas Eve in the afternoon.  From a sweet voiced young woman with a Christian first name and an Indian Muslim surname.  She said she was calling from the Prime Minister’s Residence to invite me to their New Year’s Day party.  I tried not to burst out laughing. I tried not to drop the phone from its tenuous hold between my ear and shoulder.

It takes the whole week for me to recover from the initial shock. I mean, let’s face it. Me and Papa Patos eh no kinah friends.  I mean, 2009 was the year of the professionl protestor. I’ve never made it a secret how I feel about Manning and the PNM regime.  We’ve pretty much traded insults indirectly for a long time. I consider that this may be an olive branch.  Or a guava whip admonishment. Or an attempt to buy my favour with rum, roti and Brian Macfarlane’s tacky designs.

I ring them back a couple days before to make sure that it was actually me the meant to invite.  The nice voiced young woman reassures me that yes it’s definitely me and that PM and Madame are personally responsible for the list.

Papa yo.


I decide to go.  Curiousity always getting the better of me.  I want to see what happens when I venture down the rabbit hole.

So yesterday afternoon I get dressed and take a leisurely stroll down St. Ann’s main road and in less than ten minutes I’m at La Fantaisie.  And this is the first sign that I’m the biggest freak in the party.  There’s no actual pedestrian entrance.  So I have to go back through to the car park entrance to be searched.  They don’t quite understand that I’ve walked. They keep asking me if I remember where I parked my car.   The security guard asks the man ahead of me in the line if he has a weapon.  Then he waves me through, without looking at his list.

Down the rabbit hole I go.

I spot the Mannings as soon as I get to the tents packed with what looks like a PNM convention.  I head in the opposite direction, trying not to look too bemused.  Everyone is looking at me like I just landed from another planet. I imagine that it’s because I’m wearing a pink sari and purple rubber slippers (in defiance of dress code) and to complete the hippy effect … sprigs of bougainvilla in my hair. People are whispering as I walk past. I have a smile I’ve practiced for moments like this. I wave a lot.  I scan the room for other least likely to have been invited candidates.  I find two and cling to them for dear life.

I sip on coconut water from my corner behind a jar of red gardenias.  Where are all the other dissidents and rabble rousers?  I guess they must be too Indian.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen this many well dressed black people in one place in Trinidad since, well.  Never.  But then again I’m not part of the accepted black elite so I don’t usually get invited to these sorts of things.

More coconut water.   A few more people I recognise.  I still have no idea what I’m doing here.  Talk about cockroach in fowl party!

There are piles of meat everywhere. Vegetarian options are salad, curry potato and pelau. I pile some salad on a plate and hope for the best.  Silly me, they also have doubles!! The line is so short I’m suspicious, but I’m also loath get doubles juice all over my hot pink sari.

I’m definitely feeling like I’m at a mad tea party.
Especially when the night’s entertainment begins and Malick Folk Performers dance around the room singing Hello! Africa…followed by some blinged out light skinned girls dancing to Jai Ho.  Then they chip around the tent. Indian and African-ish dancers, an Indian belly dancer,  a Chinese dog.  Tassa and steel pan engage in a discordant sound clash.  It is cacophonic. Still, the black elite are having spirited conversations about Carnival and of course Beyoncé tickets.

And then Divine Echoes take centre stage and as Patos sings along to the Chinese love song I am no longer holding back my giggles.

Later in the bathroom as I try to take a picture of myself, against the rules, an older Indian woman comes up to. “I love what you’re wearing,”she gushes.

“I almost wore one like that.”  She doesn’t call it by its name.  As if sari is a bad word.  She has chosen instead the ugliest jersey material animal print contraption I have ever had the misfortune of seeing.  She says in her defense, that she thought ‘one of those’ would have been too cumbersome.  But I wear it so well.  She says she doesn’t even know how to tie one.

I point out to her that in India some women wear saris to do just about everything and that we in the west have to get rid of this notion that ‘ethnic’ wear is somehow more difficult than skinny jeans.  In truth a lot of women with ‘ethnic’ figures should never ever ever wear skinny jeans.

I somehow end up backstage. The stage that cost a few extra million.

I fight the urge to grab the mike from Wendell Constantine and start shouting ‘no smelter!’ at the crowd. I do the math and figure that the security would tackle me to the ground faster than  the Pope’s Swiss Guard.    The dressing rooms are nicer than the ones at Queen’s Hall.  Everything is so shiny and new.

I also get a chance to maco the palace. The place is monstrous in the darkness with the still full moon now rising over the St. Ann’s hills.  I am glad I came to see what is inside these walls.  Being inside makes me feel even more of an outsider in this PNM black elite universe.

It’s time to go.  As we beat a hasty retreat from the madness, we realise that Patos and Madame are at the exit thanking everyone for coming.

He takes my hand. I hold it.  Firm and deliberate. I look him in the eye but he is looking somewhere over my right shoulder.  He says thank you for coming, before moving on to the next person. To whom he says ‘oh this one I recognise!’

I feign shock and distress.  ‘You don’t recognise me?!’ Come now Patos. I know I’m on a list.

Then he says ‘ah yes of course. I recognise you now.’

I laugh. He laughs. Hazel laughs.

Dimples all round.

I escape La Fantaisie.  I wonder if it was real. If every skin teeth is really a smile. Or a baring of fangs.

Pedestrian blues on a rainy Monday in Port of Spain

Stood in the rain today. Waiting for a car. Thinking about London, my toes making squishy noises in my sandals. Stood in the rain on Wrightson Road and the traffic snaked past. People in their nice warm cars filing slowly past me, standing in the rain, half my body getting more wet as the rain drops came faster and more slanted from the left. I can see their faces. They look at me from their warm cars. And smile. As if I am some kind of interesting spectacle to entertain them in the traffic. So I smile back, because there’s nothing else to do, standing in the rain waiting for a taxi.

I was coming back from the licensing office, went in to get a form to fill out so that I can renew my driver’s permit. The woman behind the counter was as surly as the last time I went in. She watched me over her glasses and a drop of water plopped very loudly from the ceiling onto the top of my head. Sigh.Five minutes pass. The rain is unrelenting. A van pulls up and the driver beckons to me. I jump in, wanting to weep with relief that someone has picked me up. Someone who isn’t so paralysed by the fear of living in this place that he is willing to rescue a half soaked pedestrian.

We chat about nothing much on the way to town. About the weather mostly and the traffic and the lack of public transport.  He says I looked un-phased by the rain.  Too cool to be washed out by some raindrops.  I laugh.  It’s my Babylondon training.  At least this rain is warm.  At least this rain leaves you feeling like a you took part in an upright Baptism.  Takes the edge off the heat.  Cleanses you of your weariness.
There is no talk about crime. No talk about carnival or economic crises. I don’t know his name or why he isn’t governed by the same fear or maybe snobbery that made all those other people pass me by. We part ways on Independence Square, as the clouds part to reveal a weak, bleak patch of blue.

Why Wednesday

Why in 2008 are there still so many power outages in Trinidad?

Why do I have to work in an office that is 16 degrees Celsius?

Why can’t I find someone to go  to dinner with every now and then?

Why can’t I find my favourite black shirt?

Why can’t I keep a pair of socks together for more than a month?

Why is Basdeo Panday such an arsehole and why do we continue to tolerate him?

Why did my iPod die?

Why does the death of my iPod make me so sad?

Why is it that every time I clean up the kitchen, dirty dishes appear in the sink ten seconds later?

Why Wednesday

Why do people like to stop me and tell me about all the things I should be doing while they are doing fuck all?

Why do the cats come into the house and then act all crazy when they get caught?

Why do they have to sing sad songs at funerals?

Why is it that just when you think you have it figured out, everything gets even more bloody complicated?

Why am I so obsessed with cleaning the bathroom?

Why aren’t more people concerned enough about crime to actually get off their backsides and do something about it?

Why don’t I like porridge?

Why do my knees hurt when I try to do a kapotasana?

Why am I not in London now?