Them belly full but we hungry.
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
A rain a fall but the dirt it tuff
A pot a cook but the food nuh nuff.
Forget your troubles and dance.
Forget your sorrow and dance.
Forget your sickness and dance.
Forget your weakness and dance.
Cost of living get so high,
Rich and poor, they start a cry.
Now the weak must get strong.
They say, “Oh, what a tribulation.”
Them Belly Full, Robert Nesta Marley
I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of her. An old woman digging in a dustbin. It’s not like it’s something I haven’t seen before. It’s not such an uncommon sight in Trinidad. Sweet T&T where people are robbing food trucks now. A part of me wants to go back to the days when people were robbing jewels and sneakers and completely inconsequential things that only pointed to how manic this society makes you if you don’t look like you belong.
My Trini class consciousness and obsession with not looking poor tells me this is a terrible thing, digging in dustbins. But is it a shame for those digging in the bins or to the people who have thrown away food that they could have shared with others?
I myself in other places and times have feasted with activist friends on the spoils of what they call ‘skip diving’ that is, looking in the rubbish bins, particularly those outside supermarkets and bakeries where they throw out perfectly good food. Fruit and vegetables and bread and cheese. And some proprietors are kind enough to separate the good stuff from the bad stuff so skip divers don’t have to deal with rodents and other nasties. We baulk at those who make a brisk trade in the La Basse because everything is rubbish and filth is not something that us nice clean people want to think about it, although it is well known that it’s the people with more who have more to waste.
But I suppose the fact that a whole section of our society lives on what we throw away is a good indication that we are achieving that most desirable developed nation status.
She was digging in a garbage receptacle under the street sign saying La Fantaisie in St. Ann’s. Down the at the end of La Fantaisie I can just make out the Trinidad and Tobago coat of arms gleaming blood red on the gates of the palace.
It occurs to me that it’s ten kinds of ironic that this woman could possibly be digging through what Papa Patos has thrown away. I wondered why she chose this particular garbage bin. Maybe she thought Papa Patos’ waste would yield some higher quality food than what was on offer downtown.
I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of her. I couldn’t reach into my bag and pull out my extra set of eyes, a bourgeois indulgence that I am at pains to live without. It would have been too much. She looked up at me for a minute, she was bent over double, arms immersed in the garbage, that didn’t have that hot, stink smell that usually accompanies garbage sites.
Still Papa Patos says we shall overcome. My grandmother in all her barely literate wisdom used to warn, when you have cocoa in the sun you must look for rain. I never had to look for rain because my great grandfather sold much of his Santa Cruz land to old man Stollmeyer for less than a fraction of what it is probably worth now. So I, like so many others who call ourselves Trini own no piece of land from which to chase fruit thieves. I know no days of wandering in bush that is mine, of watching the sky and knowing how to tell the rain is coming simply from the smell of the wind.
I remember my grandmother when I see this woman digging in the dustbin under a sign saying La Fantaisie. And I hear Papa Patos getting all hot and sweaty about increasing domestic food production after years of destroying agricultural land to build highways and houses. Now that the rain has come down, he is making a mad dash to save the cocoa.
Now that people are robbing flour trucks and soon you’ll only be able to eat a doubles in one of those designer restaurants he’s talking about overcoming when we should never have reached here in the first place.
The man in the palace in La Fantaisie says this too shall pass. This waste and this want and this nothingness in the midst of so much abundance. This guava season when we have cut down all the guava trees.