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.

Glutton for Abuse

Take it
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby
Oh, oh, break it
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah
Oh, oh, have a
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby
You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good.
Piece of My Heart, Janis Joplin

Two hours into your day, you are tired.  Even though you’ve taken your vitamins.  You’ve done your sun salutations, breathing in positive, breathing out negative.  You’ve eaten sunshine in the form of a perfect Julie, just ripe enough to fill your veins with sugary goodness.  You’ve drunk your rice milk to make sure and take the osteoporosis in front.
You step into the world. You do all the right things. You say good morning to random people, because you believe that basic courtesies make life a little more pleasant for all involved.
The dirt clings to your shoes like children reaching out to be loved.
Mavado on the corner shouting, pleading to anyone who will listen ‘I’m special/so special/so special’.   Men mad from coke or rum or Trinidad are ranting and reeking on every corner.
The road bubbles liquid under your thin soles and you hope for decency’s sake to keep yourself from melting into the welcoming asphalt.
Jump in a taxi.  There’s a man on the radio.  His voice is shrill and desperate.  You do not want to hear his hysterical ranting this morning.  You do not want to listen to him spitting his hate at his microphone.  He is screaming about jammettes and a march and being bought out by Papa Patos.  You ask the taxi driver to turn it down.  The driver ignores you.  The fifteen-minute journey is unbearable.  The ranting continues, the passengers and drivers take the abuse in silence.
Exiting the taxi, put God out of your thoughts and make a parting comment to the driver about poisoning his brain. His response is swift and loud and abusive, echoing the same shrill almost emasculated tones of the radio voice.
You wonder if there is some special suit you can get. One that makes you impervious not just to the heat that makes you think you can hear your scalp sizzle.
One that helps you block out all the crappy things you hate about this place.  This place that makes you tired two hours into your day.
By the time you get home again your feet are dragging.  You are weak, you are not programmed to deal with this.   This place is sick and you are not a doctor.  You have no remedies to offer, no healing balms to give.
You want to lock yourself away and the back end of forever is too soon for you to want to venture outside again.
You understand now that perhaps people don’t drive around with their windows up not connecting with the outside because they are pretentious and materialistic but because they can’t deal with what’s going on in the real world.
There are days when the urge to stay at home is irresistible.
You willingly suspend interaction with the world. You create fabulous meals from the strangest of leftovers to avoid going out. You reach out only online on social networks.   To hug people and create wistful brilliant status updates to amuse your friends.
Sometimes you wish that you only existed inside your computer.  In your virtual world you can block out the things you don’t want to see or hear.  You create your own propaganda.
You could create a Trinidad that existed only in your imagination.  Where it is beautiful all the time.  Where eight year olds don’t beat up six year olds.  Where smelters don’t get built.  Where you don’t get cursed out if you suggest something to your taxi driver.
You know if this was a relationship with a man, you wouldn’t still be here.  You would never stick around and take this abuse.  Stay for what?  Because this is where you were born?  This is what you know?  This is the only place that understands you?
Your Trinidad tabanca has you peeping through your windows wondering if you have the energy to venture out.
Wondering what terrors await you outside and in.  What terrible fiction will become your reality today and what heaviest of straws will break your weakened camel’s back.