I’m planning my first trip to Haiti next month as part of Ayiti Resurrect a collective of artists, farmers, holistic healers and cultural workers who have come together to contribute their skills to healing the trauma of post-earthquake Haiti.
We’re just $500 away from our goal of USD10,000, which goes towards supporting community based programmes in farming, the arts, women’s empowerment, computer literacy, sustainable energy.
I’m excited about this project because it represents a critical shift in the approach to ‘charity work’. It’s not about giving handouts and being the saviour, it’s about being there and asking the community what their needs are and doing the work that leads to sustainable livelihoods.
So if you have please give and if you don’t please share the info with someone who might. Also if you’re in Trinidad we are hosting an event on April 9th at Big Black Box at which you can contribute cash and/or essential needs like First Aid items, women’s sanitary wear, small toys (no guns please).
To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.
Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat.
“At 8am this morning Anil Agarwal was woken up at his £20 million Mayfair apartment by seven demonstrators with pots and pans and whistles. They shouted ‘blood on your hands’, ‘murderer’ and ‘Vedanta ka anta ho!’ meaning Vedanta should cease to exist, and held placards. One placard cited the communities in Zambia, Australia and India who are affected by pollution and ill health from Vedanta’s mines and industry. Another named two tribal activists – Sukru Majhi and Arsi Majhi – allegedly killed by Vedanta at their Niyamgiri mine project.”
Last summer in Babylon-don I had an amazing opportunity to take part in this protest in central London. The occasion was the Annual General Meeting of Vedanta Resources PLC.
After my own adventures with the local anti-smelter movement, it was another chance for me to get involved in the global struggle against the aluminium monster, which is well documented in Out of this Earth written by Samarendra Das and Felix Padel.
I spent the day before with Sarbjit, part of the Foil Vedanta crew making posters. It was also a chance for us to share stories of struggles and I was reminded once again of how important women are to protest movements around the world.
Sarbjit for all intents and purposes was a typically quiet Indian woman. She made me amazing chapatis in her kitchen while we talked about revolution and traditional expectations and love and other things that women like us talk about.
The next day, Sarbjit’s voice rang out clear and unrelenting ‘Arrest Anil Agarwal, criminal, criminal.’ She called out for hours, her voice vibrating along the street. I imagined her refrain making the people in the AGM upstairs increasingly agitated.
The other person who stood out in this protest for me was Miriam a young English woman I met in Iceland in 2007 when Saving Iceland held their Summer Protest camp. I consider that trip one of the significant events in my life for a number of reasons but mainly because I got to experience firsthand and with people from very diverse backgrounds that multi-nationals like to play the same dirty tricks wherever they are in the world. And so the stories described to me from Orissa or Brazil or South Africa rang true to what I had experienced right here in Trinidad.
Without a doubt there are some amazing men involved in these global struggles for the environment, for people, for communities.
But women bring a truth to activism that is undeniable and pretty much uncelebrated. If women aren’t involved as more than the back-up, then the movement will fail. This is why our labour movement is so weak and lacking credibility. Because it is not rooted to anything. To real people or real issues. All I can see is a bunch of men fighting over who can piss further.
More women need to understand their role in making a difference. Beyond environmental struggles, activism among women needs to happen in terms of social interventions and taking back our communities from anything and everything that threatens to destroy them.
If we cannot change the notion of women as nurturers, life-givers, the primary source of life and living. Then we have to change the notion that women are somehow incapable of defending that which is closest and dearest to them.
All of which is to say, I’m missing my friends and sisters and brothers in London today. And wondering how to cause a Shakti revolution up in this place.
We are a collective of women of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are gathering to add our voices to the international call.
Trinidad and Tobago is a wealthy small island developing nation rich in oil and natural gas. But we are also seeing the damaging effects of aggressive industrialisation on our islands.
This is an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard.
Our event centres around a smoke ceremony from the most forgotten voice of indigenous women of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are asking all women to come to the Queen’s Park Savannah wearing white. We are asking men to come and lend their voices in support at 3.50 p.m.
We will make the 350 with our bodies, in this way, we all take responsibility for making 350 a reality.
We all have a part to play and Saturday is a call to arms for women from all communities to begin to be conscious of climate change and how it will affect the lives of all islanders.
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.
The rain comes like a pleasant surprise on a Thursday night. And you forget the crushing heat of the day. The feeling that you would melt into a puddle of sweat and be evaporated, leaving behind a pile of hair and salt as the only reminders of your existence. When it gets that hot even the hummingbirds forget which way is up. Reason abandons you and all you want to do is think cool thoughts and then you turn on the radio and Papa Patos is saying something to make your brains sizzle.Your plants protest, the fever grass leaves turn into spears protesting that the morning’s offerings were insufficient to survive the day. The ground is dry again. The sun relentless. The ineptitude of politicians unchecked. The emptiness of your bank account consistent. But then the clouds gather because the universe takes pity on your helplessness. A breeze passes to cool your hot brains. The rain comes like a sigh of relief. Making you want to drop everything you are doing and retire to bed where, under the galvanize it sounds like the best possible symphony. Thunder rumbles and you resurrect the smells of my grandmother’s kitchen—chocolate tea with an oily film at the top of your favourite cream chipped enamel cup. The smell of cheese as it melts between a piece of bake. It’s the simple things you conjure in the magic of night rain.
In the rain listen to a little Lata Mangeshkar, understanding what she sings only from the sheer pain in her voice. It is a love song no doubt, they are always love songs. Love for God and man and the trees and all the other things that live in your ecosystem. Imagine your plants revelling in the wet earth. In the rain your can hear things growing and you are glad to be here and part of it. Things that set root and push out of the ground. Mangoes and manicous share the joy of the rain. And in the morning after the rain the night before, the pumpkin leaves are bigger and the peppers redder and the pigeon peas a little taller. Mint and tomatoes push purposefully upwards. And if you were a better farmer, you would plant people too. You would sow good politicians and men who love their children and their women. You would plant a crop of humans who would take root in the soil and nourish it. Hold on to it. Give to it and take from it in an endless cycle.
In the rain and the rumbling of thunder that vibrates your bed and the wood of your floor and your old windows and the beautifully rusting galvanize you are glad to live in the tropics. Glad that most of the time it is pleasant enough for you to wander about without having the fix your mind to be in confrontation with nature. When it rains here, you can dance in it, catch rainflies, squish your toes and hope that some parasite doesn’t take up residence in your nails. The rain continues all night into the morning. Keeping you rooted there. You don’t have to get up to wet your plants. You don’t have a job to be reporting too. It is dark and warm like a womb must have been. You are glad for the extra time. When it rains here people stay home to hug up their loved ones, to find the warmth and love they thought they had lost, to dream dreams that sometimes are missed in the quest to beat the traffic, be productive citizens, join the rat race.
The rain slows us down to remind us of the things that perhaps are more important. The unnoticed things. Things growing and dying and living in our ecosystems that we might not notice in the hum of our electric lights in the concreteness of our jungles. And you hope the rain can wash away the thick film of stink that settles over everything here. You hope that the rain can wash away all the blood, all the disappointment, all the confusion and frustration. You hope that the rains will keep this gentle tempo and not rise into a rushing roaring torrent to punish us for our many many sins. You hope that this rain only brings good things. That this rainy season stays wet but not drowning. Delightfully moist but not too soggy so that the roots of your growing things drown from the excess. Drown before they bear fruit. Are destroyed by the very thing that gives them life. The rains are tears that bring joy. A necessary sadness to bring new life and make you love the sunlight and the greenness of the hills some more.