Finding peace in the chaos


Bim Bim, sink or swim

All alone in deep river water

Jump high, jump low
You eh got no place to go on the street
Where the hunter becomes the hunted
Not even the lion could sleep in peace
Man dey what you say?
It doh pay to live yuh life on the run
Run quick, is the police man
The other way the preacher man
With he talk about what is right and what is wrong
He never had to starve in this Christian town.
—Bim, Andre Tanker

Last New Year’s Eve found me alone. Well, not quite. I was in the company of the neighbourhood stray, a very own-way white and ginger cat I gave the name Ms Galore.  Me and Ms Galore hung out for most of the night. Moving between watching the moon and watching Yul Brynner. I tried to soothe her paranoid jumps every time a firecracker exploded. In return for my kindness she stood sentinel by the space in the roof to warn off wayward lizards. I had decided on a quiet night, because some part of me wanted to believe the New Year’s myth of doing the thing on the eve of the new year that you want to do for the rest of the year. I imagined with the great start I was getting, 2010 would be a relatively quiet year, when I could settle down to live a relatively quiet boring life.  Maybe even get, like, a real job or a pet. Or something.

At the time, I imagined 2010 to be a year of solitude, seriousness and reflection. Of letting go of a version of myself that I thought needed to be let go of. At some point you doubt your own capacity to be who you are to the best of your ability. When the consistently dissenting voices question your actions, your choices, make it their business to create a version of you that doesn’t fit. You can’t possibly be a pro-per grown-up and still be your- self. Still watch the sun rise with your other insomniac friends. Still think you can change the world. Still do headstands in the park with your nephews. Still not really take yourself or anything else too seriously. It’s like you’re a soucouyant and have gone about your nightly flying jaunt and come home, only to realise your skin has salt in it.

But this is the unfortunate thing about Trinidad. Everybody knows who the soucouyant is but never confronts her to her face. Waiting instead for dead of night to throw salt. Even in our confrontation of our fears we are dishonest.  I questioned myself again in the days leading up to New Year’s Day this year. And then the answer comes, from Star Wars no less.  In the scene where Anakin Skywalker hasn’t yet become Darth Vader, Yoda explains to the young Padawan that ultimate Jedi mind trick, which is to learn to let go of everything you fear to lose.

It is Shiva’s abandonment of all his worldly possessions. It is Oshun transforming from peacock to vulture to save the Earth.  The gods, you see, still find a way to get their messages heard. Myths, modern and ancient, Star Wars or Mahabharata, the story of Tron or the fables of Ifa are about the quest. For a better version of oneself. They are about the wars humans wage with themselves trying to be what they think is expected and not the person who manifests. Perhaps when you speak your wishes into smoke, all you are left with is a faint residue. But in the midst of a noisy year, I managed to carry the solitude of the first hours of 2010. Like the fleeting sweetness of sandalwood smoke on crisp night air.

Instead of the physical peace I thought I needed, the universe challenged me to find it in the chaos.
To let go of things I fear to lose.  Work, friends, family, material possessions. None of these matter if you have to give up yourself.  Ms Galore walked off and left me in the middle of the night.   She didn’t look back. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t see her much after that night. I whispered wishes to have a more stable life. And then I chose a path that led me to live out of a suitcase for half a year. I wished to find my rightful place. And then I chose a place that feels like home but I don’t live there.

This year the new year greets me in the middle of the people I am lucky to call friends, whom I think I love and am presumptuous enough to imagine love me too, sometimes. Their noise teaches me to find my silence. This moment is not a lifetime. It is a fleeting sweetness on crisp night air. To enjoy and remember fondly and learn from for the rest of the year.  For that I whisper thanks and wish for more of the same.


Here and now
You free as the wind
You de earth
You de fire
You de song that I sing
You the beat and the feeling
The living proof that we in.

Here and Now, Andre Tanker

In the countdown to the new year I am in the centre of Babylondon meeting up old friends with their new babies.
In a way it is the best way to ring out the year. In the company of little ones, eyes bright and dancing and hopeful.
It wasn’t so long ago that we all lived here and love and marriage and babies seemed like distant far off things.
On New Year’s eves past, in the bite of winter cold in Babylondon we would get together and dream big dreams.
And then some of us grew up and got married.  I remain an avid resistor of this fate, much to the delight of my friends who imagine that at some point I will give up and turn into super mommy with a little dread string band dragging behind me all over the place.
In truth Micaiah and Kimani are ovary activatingly sweet.  They regard us adults with wry smiles.  Like they’re thinking, look at them nah, they think they know so much.
For all our growing up we are still over-excited and loud.  Still making a scene, oblivious to the scandalized stares of the nice English people who can’t make sense of our banter.
We revel in the familiarity of our newness.  Knowing that children are the continuation of dreams, the fulfillment of a desire to bring hope into the world wallowing in extreme hopelessness.
There is a wisdom in babies that I feel I have lost somewhere along the way.  In the loss of innocence and wide-eyed wonder at the world’s shiny beautiful things and people, I guess I miss that way of the seeing the world.  A way that isn’t tainted by bitterness and cynicism and too much knowledge of the wickedness of people.  They know nothing of heartache and betrayal, Kimani and Micaiah.  They know nothing of credit crunch or climate change or the disappointments of a life not fully lived.
We skirt the politics and the uncertainties.   This is celebration time.  This is regeneration time when we put aside the weight of the world for a hot minute to remind ourselves of why it’s so important to fight in the first place.
We hope that the next generation only gets the good things from us. Not our neuroses and our short-comings.  Not our occasional self-doubt and our frequent frustration for the place that we love that sometimes doesn’t love us.
That we all run from but must all return to. Because what are we if not cascadoo eaters, who miss our mothers’ mango trees and streets that hum with our own sense of rhythm.
All of these things we discovered on endless troddings.  Alone and together.  With the music and laughter and the memories echoing in our half-frozen ears.
We are reunited in Babylon-don on our way back home.  Knowing that home is as much in us as it is in Trinidad.  Home is where you set down your georgie bundle.  Where you open your grip bursting with red mango and Sookeo’s whole channa.
The new year is fast approaching and for once for the night I don’t feel a deep and silent desire to have my own bright eyed popo.  Because joke is joke but a sleepy baby is not to be reasoned with.
Neither chick nor child means I can head on to more parties with more friends.
We say our goodbyes in the Underground surrounded by drunken yobs and stoned chavettes wearing pink shifts and feather boas.  I head uptown and watch as the madness takes hold.  Remembering Kimani and Micaiah and the certainty of newness, the inevitability of change.
Thankful that this new year meets me surrounded by love and light and that I am constantly reminded that I have the power to create what version of the future I want to live in.

At the crossroads: black eye peas and other new year considerations

It’s almost 1300hrs on New Year’s Eve and I am dithering with various things, while I steel myself for a mad dash to the shop around the corner for black eye peas.

Outside is the kind of cold that is unrelenting even through several formidable layers. Or at least I imagine it is so. In truth I haven’t left the house since Monday, prefering to watch from within the safety of double glazing the London winter go from mild one weekend to nasty the following.

I am considering what misfortunes may befall me if I don’t get my black eye peas on. In spite of my distance from Trinidad and from the mother I woke up this morning knowing that this task had to be completed by the end of today.

Black eye peas being symbols of prosperity we brought a sense of with us through the Middle Passage and beyond. They are also the favourite food of the Orishas who offer protection to the community. It is no accident that old people long time in Trinidad would ring in the New Year standing at crossroads and it was essential for you to eat black eye peas and rice. What led them to know to do this I don’t know. It’s as if Eshu himself, guardian of crossroads, trickster of great repute planted the seed in their heads.

Staying in us like ancestral memory. Like my father’s mother who died when I was two, who I dream every now and then; who dreamt me before I was born with her dead mother in yard of a house in Lucas Street in Grenada that I still haven’t seen.

I can’t say what prompted me to get up this morning with a desire to eat black eye peas. Like I can’t say what prompts my father to speak to me now of things he has never spoken of before. Of his life as a boy, of his father and mother and his childhood friends. Of Maurice Bishop’s father and how he felt the first time he held the pages of a historical record in Grenada documenting all of his ancestors who had been hanged for taking part in Fédon’s slave rebellion in 1795.

It is an interesting note on which to end this year. Going back in order to go forward, knowing what went to know what comes next. I can’t say I am sorry to see the end of this year. I enjoyed it enough to be thankful for all the lessons it taught me. Few tears for big disappointments, many smiles for major joys. For mango dawns and nights of fleeting bliss like pan carried on the breeze that give your dreams sweet rumbling soundtracks. For unsaid words and unspoken prayers for missing ones and found ones and lost friends and found enemies. For music and dancing and jouvay and emails from nephews. For grandmothers who come back to remind me of what is true and valuable. For a mother who brings you messages in dreams full of yellow green rivers. And a father who speaks in rumbling verse.

I laugh at all Eshu’s tricks. I imagine that the lesson the universe is trying to teach me is never ever ever lose your sense of humour. Even when the joke is on you.

But joke is joke, I have black eye peas and rice to cook.

Happy new year.