Lost in the Floods

You may say that I’m swimming against the tide
You may say that it’s just my sense of pride
But I still believe that no one can match our natural energy
Even though we seem to be running on empty
I still believe that we’re the land of plenty
I can still hear it in the sweet lilting way that we talk

Beloved, David Rudder

Red, black and white buntings flap in the rain. Red, black and white dresses in shop windows. Red blood spilt on black asphalt. White rain falls on my rusty galvanise roof and I wonder late into the night about people on the other side of the island whose houses are swimming.

It’s the week before Independence and the streets are hot with people bawling at the price of school books, even as sportswear outlets encourage parents to buy brand name shoes so that their children will feel good about themselves and therefore be more willing to learn.

The rain comes with as much vengeance as the heat, a sudden dread greyness descending on the city, sending shoppers, posers and commuters scampering.

In the shadow of red, white and black buntings, as Papa Patos flies around, trying to convince others to get together, hear people talking independence talk.

They are watching the fruit of their litterings bring floods to lap at their feet clad in too-expensive brand name shoes.

If the white people was still in charge, hear a woman say. If the white people was still in charge we wouldn’t have these problems. Say what you want about them, the white people know how to run a country. They put everything in place for us to run the country and what we come and do with it?

If the white people was still in charge we would of know our place in the world and it wouldn’t have floods to stop us from reaching home.

Even as New Orleans braced for another battering three years after Ms Katrina swept through to reveal that even white people in charge could run their countries inefficiently and with a startling lack of concern for poor people. Our leaders have learned well.

Red, black and white buntings flap in the rain and a pirate blasts songs about Laventille sung in a Jamaican construction. There’s a sound clash going on, between the pirates and the water rushing like Port-of-Spain is a big river.

Women in nice shoes shelter from the rain, talking loud above the din about who saw whose photos on Facebook, the most stylish mode of macoing for the upwardly mobile Trini. They talk their Independence talk about what fetes are on this weekend. What red dress they will buy to show how independent they are. They don’t need no man to buy nails for them. They are independent. They are free to shake their assets, free to spend their minimum wages, free to wear good hair made in China.

The rain eases up and people move on, returning to the regular Port-of-Spain beat. The more things change the more they stay the same. Square-jawed soldiers, big-armed with big arms, walking around, keeping the peace.

Endless jam session on the streets. The highway floods again and the Works and Transport Minister thinks it’s bizarre. He thinks it’s a man-made problem, blaming it on irresponsible citizens who denude hillsides and not at all on an irresponsible government deregulating the quarrying industry and rabid concretisation by big and small business.

Red, black and white buntings flap in the breeze like flags in a fete, and on Thursday night like the red, white and blue flags in a stadium in Denver where all eyes are on a wondrous sight.

And the man in the stadium in Denver speaks with eloquence and fire and spirit and a whole set of things that you wish you could get in more politicians.

The thing that stands out the most is when he says we can’t meet 21st century challenges with 20th century bureaucracy.

It’s the truest truth ever expressed about Trinidad’s failure to truly experience independence in these here times, even though it’s not about us.

Bunting flaps to the rhythm of our shortcomings, un-lived dreams and broken promises of fathers in dark glasses who leave us only words. Words that 46 years later ring hollow. Somebody else’s dream from somebody else’s time.

Surely we are more than red, black and white bunting. More than parades and fetes and changing the names of awards.

We are more than we can imagine in this Independence time. Bizarrely, all that is worth holding on to keeps being washed away in floods.

Yes we can too

It’s been too hard living
But I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there
Beyond the sky
It’s been a long
Long time coming
But I know
A change is gonna come
Oh yes, it will.
Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Yes we can. Yes we can. Say it like a mantra, because if you chant it enough you might actually begin to believe that it’s true.

In this cynicism time, in this hopeless time when I am tired and fed up and just about ready to give up on humanity, a source of possibility comes from the least likely of places.

Here in the shadow of the US, here where our resources are being used to fuel their excesses so that we can then afford to make them ours. Here where foreign men are given absolute power to make decisions about how we are to see ourselves. And conquistadors still think the natives will be fooled by their shiny trinkets.

And it’s not like I want to count egg in fowl bottom or anything, but someone like Obama as President of the US is almost too much for my radical heart to bear.

With little black boys falling like so many tears of so many mothers.

With Mugabe frothing at the mouth in Rome and Papa Patos smelterising on fertile soil that we could be using to feed ourselves.

Obama’s newness is enough to make you think that it really might be possible for things to start to change. And no, I don’t think that one, maybe two four-year terms is enough to repair 200 years of genocide and Manifest Destiny. One, maybe two four-year terms will not make me forget Grenada or Iraq.

And no I don’t want a black messiah. No, I don’t want another black man for us to make excuses for. I don’t want another jive-talking politician. And I don’t want to be a member of anybody’s fat-arse brigade.

I just want something else. Something different. Not another old white male fossil. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with old men per se. Jah know we need our elders now more than ever to remind us of what used to be good about Trinidad. What they were able to create in spite of enslavement and indentureship and war and oppression.

Not another big business, old money, barely literate liar like Dubya. Enough already.

In the same way, we desperately need something different here in the shadow of America. Not another old African/Indian male fossil. Spouting the same rhetoric. Bankrupt of ideas. Bankrupt of vision. Bankrupt of integrity. Making us feel that is the sum total of our potential. To become somebody else’s version of ourselves.

A society’s politicians reflect that society. So it’s opportune that Obama has arrived when he has in the way he has. Maybe there are more people in America now who want something different.

But if we are to take that same principle, what do our politicians say about us? And what does it mean about us if no brave souls with integrity and vision are willing to come forward and take a chance?

Down here in the shadow of America I have to say he’s as much my presidential candidate. All of us have to take an interest in what goes on for the next few months, because it’s as much about us as it is about them.

And I never thought I would find myself saying these words, but this is one time when we should be following America. This is one wave to become caught up in. This is one wave I want to arrive at our shores and wash away the apathy and the lack of political substance.

To relieve us of our extreme boredom with what passes as leadership in the Lower House. A bunch of bepping kicksers who have nothing new to contribute.

Yes we can too. We too can change our politics. We too can get rid of the old guard. Even if the new guard is to make mistakes.

Chant it like a mantra. Chant it until you too start to believe.

Cocoa in the Rain

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.