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.

Dictators in our Midst

Many leaders as you see dem
Na different disguise dem dey, oh
Animal in human skin
Animal, he put on tie, oh
Animal, he wear agbada
Animal, he put on suit, oh
Beasts of No Nation, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

A dictator in the world is like the abusive father in the community that no-one wants to report.

Everybody knows what is going on. Everyone hears the screams coming from the house. Night after night. Everyone sees the state of the children. No one questions the father’s authority.

I for one am fed up of the unquestioned authority of the patriarchy.

Enough already. And in the same way that communities have to start speaking out against abusive fathers, I began to feel a huge sense of relief this week when Nelson Mandela finally publicly expressed concern about what is going on in Zimbabwe.

Dictatorship only becomes an acceptable word to think about, let alone utter in public, when the elders have given their blessing and/or used the word themselves.

So it only becomes okay to have an opinion about Zimbabwe now that the elders have spoken. Now that Mandela has expressed concern, all the fence-sitters can come out and say that they too think it’s time for Mugabe to step down.

Every ethnic group, every community has that pull and tug. The not wanting to let down the side. That would be like talking family business outside the family. At the end of the day, no-one wants to stand apart from the people they’ve always known.

Which is why I suppose it’s always so hard for children to accuse adults they know of abusing them.

So Morgan Tsvangirai, the abused child, has given up his fight against Mugabe and his Cepep-esque gangs. No child wants to question the authority of the father, especially when the father holds all the power. Power to cut your tail or your food or your access to education.

In a way, you can’t blame a dictator like Mugabe for his don’t-care attitude. I mean, even Dubya “stole” an election. Even Dubya fabricated a whole weapons of mass destruction fantasy to justify the invasion of not one but two sovereign states and now he’s spoiling for a fight with Iran.

In the land of the free and home of the brave, the President “steals” an election and scares his people being afraid of their own shadows. What’s the difference between Bush and Mugabe? Mugabe is using his own to kill his own. Bush is using his own to kill and be killed by others.

Besides, you really have to wonder if Zimbabwe had oil would Dubya be so resolutely uninterested?

If Zimbabwe had something the capitalists wanted to get their hands on, Morgan Tsvangirai might have had his own CIA-funded and trained Mujahideen.

And there is no doubt that in the fictions of the BBC and the CNN there is a lot of thinly veiled racism that completely removes the North from any responsibility for what is happening in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America.

There is no doubt that there still is a feeling among those people who took an active and vital role in our underdevelopment, that we can’t actually rule ourselves. Whether we are in Pakistan or Bolivia, somebody always wants to play big brother. Some blasted economic hitman is always coming in pretending to know exactly what is best for us.

And there is no doubt that we too believe that we can’t do it. We too get caught up in semantics. We too can’t trust ourselves to create our own structures, our own processes or own institutions without asking massa if it meets his approval.

That’s why Port-of-Spain looks less like a Caribbean city and our airport looks like it should be somewhere in middle America.

For the sake of keeping up appearances we betray our children. For the sake of keeping up appearances we betray our nations. We do a disservice to all human beings when we stand by and let dictators run roughshod over democracy.

Unless, of course, we imagine that they, like us, must obviously like the abuse we’re getting.

An Afro-Trinidadian can’t in good conscience criticise the PNM. An Indo-Trinidadian can’t truly criticise the UNC. We can’t possibly get anywhere with that in the backs or the fronts of our minds.

At some point the people—whether they live in Harare or Phase 4 Beetham Gardens—will figure out that the followers are the ones with the power. Without the followers the politicians have no chance. Without the followers the politicians are stripped down to their bare naked megalomania.

The thing that scares me the most is that I don’t know how much time I will have to wait for the elders in Trinidad to ever publicly condemn the abusers and dictators in government and opposi- tion and the private sector.