Tight belts and Guava Season

Them belly full

But we hungry

A hungry man is an angry man

Rain a fall

But de dirt it tuff

Pot a cook

But de food nuh nuff

Dem Belly Full, Bob Marley

Should we tighten our belts or loosen them? Papa Patos claims the worst is over.

And like an obedient child I desperately want to believe him. I want to believe that sooner rather than later, it will be okay again. Presuming of course that it was ever okay. Presuming of course that politicians don’t just say whatever comes to their minds, because they can, because they feel like it, because they are so high on power that they can say what the hell they want and zaffeh us if we take them too seriously.

My belt remains tight. So tight I can feel it constricting my ribs. It’s the look now anyway. Tight belts. High on the waist. . At least the government is in style.

Even the men are wearing their pants tight. Tight’s alright, Papa Patos. We can deal with it.

The belt is tight. So tight it is strangling our resolve. Tiring us out. Collapsing our internal organs.

Our breath is shallow now. Don’t take in too much oxygen now. Your brain might start to think. Your brain might start to process all the BS.

Mariano Browne says loosen it but not too much. Just enough to pick up the ever so faint stench of lies, half truths, baked facts, massaged figures, manufactured outcomes.

The tight belts shouldn’t stop the fete. The tight belts don’t create a moment for quiet reflection from our leaders. They bray on regardless. Do not bother to disguise their lack of a plan. The tight belts are a fashion statement and little else.

In their tightened belts Trinis lime on the Avenue. The drinks flow like water. Belts are not too tight to take in alcohol. To drink down the bitter sweet inertia of spirits that demand their tribute on the streets in the early mornings.

One morning close to dawn I met a young man with a jaw wired shut from his kidnappers beatings. His belt is tightened to hold him together, to keep smiling in spite of a jaw full of titanium. To go on enjoying life in Trinidad without the fear of someone spilling his insides onto the bloodthirsty asphalt.

In their tightened belts policemen kill their women. Tobagonians murder tourists and the children from up the road curse their mothers as they stone my neighbour’s mango tree.

Tight belts. Tight thoughts. Tight minds that allow us no space to consider our humanity.

But whether the belt is tight or loose it is still the guava season of no guavas. When one zaboca could cost you more than the cost of a trip to the country to pick one from your grandmother’s tree.

It’s Mr. Zaboca and Madame Starch now. The tight belt makes us believe that we are not deserving of such luxuries on small tropical islands. No no. Fruit is a luxury and coconut water is the drink of the nouveau riche to chase their Johnny and chase away their fears of losing their affluence.

Tight belts shield us from a desire to taste ourselves. Tight belts give us a thirst for difference. To not be ourselves. To hold ourselves up to someone else’s standards.

So he says we can loosen them now. And we are so happy for the ease up that we still can’t see through the thinly veiled hysterics.

We are tired from the tightened belts. Malnourished in this intellectual wasteland. Starved of leadership.

But whether the belt is tight or loose we still have leaders who give us bizarre directives. Fill our minds with pipe dreams and platitudes. Make us do a dance of fortune in a time when there is so much misfortune stalking us that we must look like a paw paw tree covered with blight.

Those who have never known a loose belt smile wearily. Those who have suffered in good times and bad, know better than to believe any hype.

They know that tight or loose is the same old khaki pants.

Silence in the Land

Dey trying to blow mih mind
They want me to walk and wine
I cah take dis ting at all
They want me to jump and bawl.

—What’s Going On,
Mighty Shadow

Not a person in the Strand clapped. There were a few hundred people there although the opening night of Kaiso House tent was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination packed. They had clapped and called back twice for Marvellous Marva’s scathing commentary on belt-tightening. They had clapped and called for more of Sharlan Bailey’s brilliant Faking Evil, a thoughtful and humorous exposé on wannabe gangsters. But when MC Sheldon John called for a round of applause for the Government, the room was so quiet you could hear the ministers squirm.

Later that night I read more about the collapse of the Icelandic Government to the rhythmic sounds of pot hitting economists and tree huggers and about protests in France and excitement about the spreading tides of dissatisfaction that is bringing people into the streets. About belt-tightening the world over, even in Davos, Switzerland—where this week the world’s richest countries and companies gather to congratulate each other, under the glare of melting alpine glaciers—the mood is somber and those gathered are reported as saying the worst is yet to come. I remember the silence of the Strand and I wonder if that is a sign that perhaps Trinis are reaching a stage of fedupcy.

The artists have always been the most committed protesters. A few of them at least, not getting caught up with party cards and lucrative advertising deals. Those who have managed to stay true to their message are still ketching their nen nen, but remain dread and lovely. After the silence and the intermission the ministers slip out. They have done their ministerial duty and taken enough calypsonians pointing up in their faces that have that same expression you see on social people who come out to watch J’Ouvert only to get vex when a stinking jab jab comes and wines all over their nice pants.

Perhaps the calypsonians will give us our testicular fortitude back. Perhaps the next time we will not stay silent. Like we stayed silent on the deregulation of the quarry industry, or we stay silent on rapid monetisation of natural resources when the wise energy people say it’s worth more to us in the ground than dragging it out vie ki vie for every little Tom, Dick and Alcoa that comes around. Shadow puts his hands out and asks us, “what going on?” We jump and ray and love him for the sweetness of his voice. We take the question as rhetorical.

The answer comes two days later when I am rushed into a taxi by a big woman frantic in that laidback aggressive way that Trinis can be—as if what they have to do is much more important than the rest of us. Urging the driver to get going and not wait for one more passenger. It is a rainy Friday afternoon and the woman next to me is multi-tasking conversations. She chats on the phone about going to find out if her money is jumping up in the CL Financial collapse and the rest of the car comments. Shocked oh gawds fill the car as everyone thinks about their own two pennies they’ve been scrimping and saving.

The driver offers his own experience in the matter. He’s already taken in front and removed his own money from one of the big banks. Fear has come home and the far-off sounding credit crunch is circling like La Basse corbeaux. In-between the nervous laughter and the banter about money, the radio announcer breaks the monotony of the endless ads for Carnival fetes to say they’re waiting to go live to the Central Bank for a special press conference. Before the Governor has a chance to hold his press conference the woman has disem-barked.

In a show of solidarity, the driver sends her on her way although she can’t remember paying her $4. She goes into the rain and uncertainty, I can only imagine, her heart in her throat. I don’t know how much money she has saved, how she planned to use it, the dreams she has for her children. We fall silent. Silence is the only comfort we can find as the radio announcer cuts in again to say they’re still waiting for the Governor. A pregnant pause in a nation story. We fall silent because there is nothing to say that we haven’t all thought a thousand times.
The calm before the storm. I hear Shadow, plaintive and sweet. What going on? There is no one there to volunteer an answer.