Lessons from my grandmother

My mother hard at work
Work my mother for ya children
My mother hard at work
Work my mother for ya children
My daddy he’s down
Way over, far over
Working out the cultivation
Come in with food Daddy

Come in daddy come

Come with food come

And if we should live up in the hills

Man in the Hills, Burning Spear


She used to press three grains of corn into my little hand.  I can still feel the contours like permanent imprints on my palms, that unlike my grandmother’s do not grow weary and calloused from washing other people’s clothes but from spending too many hours trying to fashion thoughts into words.
And I would take the three grains and put them carefully, reverentially into a little hole my grandmother dug with a brown-handled rusty spade. Her instructions were sparse.  She expected you to know what to do. My grandmother who had wrestled poverty and a society that chose not to see her all her life had no patience with not knowing.
My grandmother who was poto l’eglise  and hardcore PNM too besides, studiously ignored the advice of the messiah of the time Eric Williams who I hear, advised that massa day was done and that people should put down their hoes and shovels.
My grandmother who weaved magic food spells out of little.  Who no matter where she lived, always planted something.
My grandmother was no economist or environmentalist.  She was a barely literate, little piece of a woman who spoke kwéyol with my mother’s friends from Guadeloupe and St. Lucia with an effortless eloquence.
My grandmother knew the value of being able to feed yourself.
Long before Vandana Shiva described what it is to be an ecofeminist, my grandmother demanded from the women in her family a certain level of dignity, a certain amount of determination, a certain straightness of the back and independence of spirit.
My mother studied books. Plenty books to not end up washing clothes like her mother.   Books to a fault.  My mother learned from her mother the art of taking nothing and creating a feast.
I stood in the yard when I was small between two these two super women.  Watching corn grow and sorrel and peas.  My mother with her photographic memory slit Mr. Cock’s neck and dumped him in a boiling pot of water.  My grandmother expected nothing less.  She raised no wilting flowers.
My grandmother who was poto l’eglise gave us bush baths with plants of which I can only remember the smells. Strong smells, to frighten away negative forces. She never explained why and we never asked.
My grandmother who never made it past fourth standard knew the difference between tulsi and wonder of the world.  Which bush was good for what.
I stand in my own yard now.  Watching hard little green tomatoes grown deep green into red. I pick a little bit of fever grass for tea.  I think my grandmother would be unimpressed.  My life is easy, obscenely easy. Neither chick nor child and I can’t find time to plant more. I, who should know better.  I fear I am a disappointment to her years of struggle.
I think about what she would make of that new KFC ad. The one with the mother whose child is inconsolable until she reaches for a piece of fried chicken.  I think about what she would make of bad behaved ministers and prime ministers who refer to themselves in the third person.
My grandmother would have steupsed at their folly. She would have said they must be suffering from I never thought.  She would have set her mouth in that resolute Santa Cruz way and said common sense ent too common.
My grandmother might have sworn in kwéyol even as she fingered the beads of her rosary.  Because women like her knew the value of work, hard work, back breaking work so that the next generation doesn’t have to suffer the same indignities.  But women like her  also knew the value of taking in front.
Of being able to heal yourself, and the value of every top being able to spin on their own bottom.  She, who loved to play with words might have said that neither super farm nor Super Pharm is the answer.
If you can’t feed yourself how you expect to live?
I want to remember what my grandmother taught me, but the noise of economists and politicians and advertisers gets in the way.  As if hard times never existed in Trinidad. As if people weren’t deliberately discouraged from self-sufficiency to feed our greedy food import bill.
We used to stand in the yard, my grandmother and my sisters and my mother and watch what we had planted.  Watch it grow and reap the fruits of our collective labour. And it was good.
My grandmother taught me there are many ways a woman can be fertile and fruitful.

A Call to Arms

There’s no place I’d rather be
Your beauty is surrounding me
For your tears black orchids bloom
My soul is fed by you
The wanting with birth, then death
It’s back to dirt
Home, to you
Earth, Me’Shell Ndegéocello

I don’t remember exactly when I came to consider myself an unapologetic tree hugger, but somehow it happened.
And I don’t remember how many Earth Days I’ve lived through, willing myself to be more optimistic about world leaders and more understanding of people’s complacency.
I may no longer be an idealistic teenager but, now that I’m almost a real grown up, I still want to believe that change is possible.
Tomorrow is 37th anniversary of World Earth Day and I find myself struggling between impatience and resignation.
Because it pisses me off that police officers take their cool sweet time to get to the scene of a crime against innocent civilians.
But an unarmed activist looking for answers to entirely reasonable questions gets forcibly removed from the EMA.
And people have to be begging the government for water, and Alutrint gets the government’s blessing to use 244 cubic metres of water a day.
And I wonder why we aren’t all in the streets, how people still manage to function, go through the motions of their days.
This Earth Day I’m asking for patience.  I’m asking pissed off deities too spare us a little more time to get off our spreading backsides.
That someday soon we’ll all figure out that we all have a responsibility to dealing with what’s going on in our world.  Whether it’s insisting that our offices put in a recycling bin for paper and plastics.  Or blowing the whistle on companies who dump their waste in vulnerable communities.
It only takes one person sometimes to bring down Babylon.
I’m hoping that tomorrow, Earth Day, we who call ourselves unapologetic tree huggers, naturalists, environmentalists, those of us who champion causes and belong to organizations and like to talk plenty about all the problems commit ourselves to action.
And some of those who call themselves environmental activists will really do something instead of holding tight to their party card or their government subvention.
That somebody who has the information and the authority, will bother to say without fear of reproach, that yes, we can pursue a model of development that won’t kill us and rob future generations of any beauty that still remains.
That somebody might want to suggest that we go organic or ethanol with our sugar industry instead of killing it all together.
That somebody in the government who doesn’t fear Papa Patos, begins to agitate for actual work towards alternative sources of energy.  Maybe we might be able to convert all that manure that passes as political discourse in the Red House, into biodiesel.
Meanwhile, as we sit around, wondering what’s to be done and who’s going to do it, hills burn and mountains are moved and land is cleared and somebody utters another piece of dotish talk about a road through the botanic gardens so that Papa Patos’ secret Diplomatic Centre being built by non-nationals can be accessed.
I want to send a shout out to all the latent activists.  To all the culture jammers and graffiti artists and street thespians and turntable aficionados.  And the sidewalk preachers and the subversive school teachers.  There is more than one way to make a change.  We don’t all have to go up for office.  We don’t all have to start an NGO.
And let me just go a little eco-feminist up in here and say that we really have to stop treating the earth like the crowd in Zen as they watched as Akon dry raped that 14 year old girl.  We have to stop  looking on as the government and companies big and small, fling the earth about, ride it rough in a most violent and degrading way. We have to stop standing by and watching.
And when they walk off and leave her bruised, battered and stunned, we can’t be the fools in the crowd jumping up and saying ray.
We have to stop taking the chain up that this is all we can do. That this is somehow right.  That the earth, like young female sexuality, is ripe for our exploitation.
This  World Earth Day is a call to arms.  I wonder how many soldiers will come forward.