Not much to Celebrate

Everybody run run run
Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread
Someone nearly die
Someone just die
Police dey come, army dey come
Confusion everywhere
—Sorrow, Tears and Blood, Fela Kuti

Dear Aunty Kamla,
Not that you asked. But I’ll tell you, I’m not terribly happy about the state of my country right now. It’s not just the failed-state stench that’s hanging over us like La Basse smog on an early morning. It’s not the Flying Squad bacchanal or the out-of-control crime. It’s not even the vacuum of radical, fearless leadership that’s going to be left in the aftermath of Hugo Chavez’s death.

Give jack his jacket, he did things that successive governments have failed to do and will continue to fail to do—like using our oil wealth to lift certain segments of our society out of poverty. It’s my uterus, Aunty Kamla. She’s got a mind of her own and she thinks you need to get some vulvicular fortitude. March, they say is the month of women. Women making strides. Women doing wonderful things. Yippee you say. My uterus and I had a chat and we think there isn’t much to celebrate.

We’re still one of the few countries in the western hemisphere to have a woman in charge. Well, if you call what you’re doing being in charge. My uterus gets the sense that you aren’t, really. My uterus thinks that you are just as clueless as the rest of us as to just what the hell is going on and how to solve the many problems.

My uterus is shouting bloody murder because she thinks that this cluelessness will last another two years until election season comes around again and suddenly you will have all the answers to the many questions we have. Where, oh where is the gender policy? Where, oh where is the child protection legislation? Why is the Children’s Authority still non-functional?

To tell you the truth, I think my uterus is kind of bored of it all, Aunty Kamla. What about you? Are you bored as well? Bored of having to make excuses for your Cabinet? Bored of having to sidestep demands to probe the issue of the day? Are you bored, too, of columnists like me who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a country? The cautious anticipation I felt at the beginning of your time in office has become a dull and ever present headache. I keep waiting for you to come up with a cure.

You don’t seem to have one and that makes me terribly sad. Those who say you are the mother of the nation must have had the sorts of mothers that wail on television when their children behave badly. Those who say you are the mother of the nation must be needy orphans. My mother is a lot of things, including an excellent cook and a little mad. I know if I had a headache she would probably feel it before I had a name for the pain. She would also move mountains to ensure that I no longer had a headache.

My uterus is a little gun shy about producing any future Trinis because she thinks that the foundation that you are laying for a future T&T is no future at all. My uterus wonders why your government ministers are rushing to help one family when so many children are at risk, everyday, every minute, all over this country.

My uterus wonders if your prime ministership is more gimmicky than the national telephone company that spends endless money talking about how awesome their technology is but the frequency of dropped calls is faster than the speed of mobile internet access. My uterus wants you to know that she’s kind of pissed. And it’s not hormonal imbalances. It’s not misplaced angry black woman outbursts.

My uterus wants you to woman up and do your job instead of constantly reacting to situations. My uterus wonders if you remember your own birth pangs. Who was there to hold your hand? Who prepared you for that day? Why aren’t you holding this nation closer? Why aren’t you preparing us for what is to come?

My uterus is angry and weepy, Aunty Kamla. My uterus wonders if anyone, including you, will care. My uterus wonders if your uterus also churns with distress. My uterus wonders where the mothers are. The mothers who give birth to the abusers. To the killers. To the police. To the politicians. To the thinkers and doers and musicians and the artists. My uterus wonders what is going on in their insides.

She wonders when women will understand that without them change is impossible. Without them demanding it, instigating it, forcing it, pushing it, the change our communities so desperately need will remain an unfulfilled desire. Bleeding out of us and into our flooded drains. Like so many dead children. And so many dead dreams.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian March 9, 2013

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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.