In as much as I am anti-establishment and mostly uninterested in displays of nationalism, it was telling that as we sang the anthem at the adjournment of the sitting of the Lower House at which the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed just after 4.00 this morning, the UNCites didn’t see it necessary to stop their exit from the building to stand at attention. They kept walking, as if we needed any more proof of utter lack of respect for the country and the people.
Anyway, we’ll be back out in front of Parliament today at 3 p.m., recess or no recess and every day until the Senate sitting next Tuesday. Everyone needs to petition the independent senators. A document is being prepared that outlines why this Bill must not be made law to be distributed to people who want more information.
And to the people who are believing the media who asked a couple of red or yellow t-shirts that the people who were at the Waterfront from 9 a.m. to 4.30 a.m. in the rain, dew and sun were uninformed, ignorant, or a bunch of feters please come down there and see for yourself. If you too fraid then say so. If you like things just so then say so. But the cameras weren’t there for 90 per cent of the time. People talked, asked questions, challenged each other. A few other things:
– The police are on the side of the people. They came and said this to us on more than one occasion.
– HOWEVER: the police have been given a mission to infiltrate and destabilise any sign of resistance. If you come down to the Waterfront please be aware that they are making an effort to antagonise people by quoting repealed laws and saying things like ‘we could lock allyuh up yuh know but we giving allyuh a bligh’ so that at the first sign of vexation they can start to beat people and lock them up. Read Article Four of the Constitution. Don’t give them the opportunity.
– A member of the renta crowd positioned at the barricade to skin teet with Aunty Kamla slipped a media worker a note on a copy book page saying she couldn’t talk because she was a CEPEP worker.
– People came from all over Trinidad last night, including a woman who travelled home to Chaguanas to bade and feed her dogs but came back and spent the rest of the night.
– There was a steady crowd throughout the night, we pooled resources to make sure that everyone was fed and and watered.
– Hyatt have nice toilet.
– There are 10 CCTV cameras that are in plain view outside the Parliament.
– Aunty Kamla feel she smart but she needs to realise that Trinis will take and take and take and then make you eat the bread the devil knead.
The devil start to weigh flour last night.
Dem a di don, to di biz we av di key
put di don to di key and turn him inna donkey
—Ting a Ling, Shabba Ranks
The election bell ring. It wake up Democracy from a deep drunken sleep. She sit up and watch the clock and steups. A long watery one. The kind of special steups you save for when you in government office for an hour trying to do something that should take five minutes.
Democracy put on the radio to see who else dead in the night. She listen to the bacchanal. She switch and listen to the fearmongers.
She smile and shake her head at the callers. Near hysterics with the latest piece of stupidness that just get revealed.
She wonder if nothing else going on in this forceripe little island except for badjohns with guns and badjohns with seats in Parliament.
They coming for her just now. They coming to dress her up pretty and loud for a few weeks and parade her about like a trophy wife.
Democracy wish she could say half the things that in her head and heart to say. That could turn things around and make a difference to the lives of those who need it the most.
The ones who depending on the government or the opposition to actually represent them and engage them in creating a brighter future.
Democracy take a sip of her coffee watching the clouds gather on the hills. This is a sweet time of the day when the light is perfect.
The hills used to be so green. But is development, nah. Is development and the need for housing that have less trees on the hills and rivers on mud running down her street.
It had a time when she used to try and make a difference. She used to talk.
They say she is a trouble aker. They say she trying to make confusion. They say she trying to stop people from eating a food.
Democracy, hush yuh firetrucking mouth so I could make a lil kickback.
They don’t know who is me or what? Like they forget the meaning of my name. Like they forget that is because of me they reach anywhere in the first place.
She give up on fighting them now. She give up because the licks starting to take a toll. The emotional abuse starting to make her forget the meaning of her own name.
Democracy is good at hiding the bruises now. She learn how to do that long time. She eat so much licks in her time that she know how to turn her face so that when the lash pass it wouldn’t leave too big a mark. Not too bad.
Democracy go on Facebook. She watch her newsfeed and roll her eyes at the political blogs. She not really sure why she following them in the first place.
A set of idlers who like to hide behind they computer and pontificate about what wrong with Trinidad.
But if she were to call them and ask them to come and help her out, they woulda start to stutter and well, ahm in her ears and tell her how it eh really have nothing she could do.
See? We’re so free here. We give you a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea and you should be grateful for that.
She going to spend the next few weeks wining for rum and roti.
Democracy watch herself long and hard in the mirror. She not looking too bad. She could still smile and convince people that she is beautiful. She could still make a show that she matters and is of value.
The money they paying her to show up, well she could make a good living on that. She could go away every now and again. She could buy nice things and go on the Avenue and lime.
Democracy figure is compensation enough for her pains.
They coming for her just now. They coming to show her off in the papers. On the hustings. She getting some good gigs for the next few weeks.
Is like Carnival time when they does play local music on the radio.
After elections she going to disappear just like soca. Until next time.
The rain falling again.
The sky weeping tears on her behalf. Endless tears. The sky have more water than Wasa, that’s for sure. She can’t cry now. She smile at her face in the mirror. She skin her teeth and practise kissing babies. She swallow hard to get rid of the lump in her throat.
Now that the election bell ring. How it go look if Democracy looking bad?
Guiltiness rest on their conscience, oh yeah
These are the big fish
Who always try to eat down the small fish
They would do anything to materialise
Their every wish
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sorrow
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sad tomorrow
—Guiltiness, Bob Marley
It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make sense of this story in the newspapers. The one where the soldiers rob a man of his locks. Well it’s not a robbery. It’s more of a rape, come to think of it. A deliberately dehumanising, socially acceptable form of torture. It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make it through to the end of the story without throwing up. Without wanting to go out and mash up things. Because your hair is still on your head and you can feel the locks tingling to their very ends. With absolute, uncontrollable rage. It’s just hair. This shouldn’t be the story that gets you the most vexed out of the whole state of emergency farce where the politicians finally get the chance to play the role of badjohn and they put their all into it.
It’s just hair. You should be more upset that people are saying that we should bring back the PNM, as if they ever had any interest in improving the fortunes of anybody other than their cronies. It’s just hair. Take a deep breath and consider that soldiers are just doing their jobs, stamping out troublemakers of all kinds. It’s just hair. That is why Samson was destroyed when Delilah cut his. It’s just hair. That’s why soldiers think they have a right to cut it. It’s just freedom. That’s why somebody else has a right to say who can be free and who can’t. It’s just hair. That’s why you can’t escape the irony of a Christian neo-colonial notion of decency being endorsed by a Hindu who must have grown up in a house with a picture of Lord Shiva, watching the Ganges spring from his jata wrapped like a crown around his head.
It’s just hair. And Selassie wasn’t a Rastaman. But Lord Shiva was. And so too, perhaps, was their Christ with his lambs wool hair. And so too the Shaivite saddhus who introduced their sacred ganja and ascetic life to the rural Jamaicans who gave the world Rastafari. It’s just hair. There is no power there that strikes terror into the hearts of Babylon, and the worst kind of Babylon is the one who looks like you, and talks like you but hates you as much as he hates his own blackness. Black like sin. Black like the devil. Black like power that he will never have except to take away your hair and make you feel less than human.
It’s not a thing of beauty. It is a thing of defiance. To wear your hair long. To refuse to deny your hair its right to grow. To reject their notions of beauty and manhood and decency. It’s just hair. And the State has a right to your body. Because the State is a corporation and you are its asset. But your dutty stinking Rasta head is a liability. Cut it out. Your offensive hair that flies in the face of authority. That says you will not be who they want you to be. Cut it out. And straighten it up so that you can look like a decent member of society. Because you can’t possibly be a good person with hair like that. Oh no. You have to be doing something illegal. You have to be a weed-smoking or selling pariah.
So if you have white skin and you grow your ganja hydroponically in your daddy’s nice Westmoorings backyard, that’s okay. If you have a few letters after your name and you’re a successful academic you can do a few lines of cocaine with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for those of you for whom your hair is your crown, a soldier could come and take it away. Who are you to think yourself royal anyway? It’s just hair, dread. It’s just hair. It could grow back. It could grow back like the murder rate. It could grow back like the feeling of unsafety.
It could grow back like your contempt for people in authority. It could grow back like your disgust for citizens who are willing to accept that a lack of freedom is okay, once they’re not the ones who have to be disturbed. Certain things for me may never grow back. Like the cojones of certain people who have remained suspiciously silent during this state of emergency. Like your faith that any politician currently serving in the Parliament of this be-loved nation has any interest in building a functional state, a progressive nation. It’s just hair. And in Trinidad, in 2011, it is a symbol of all that is bad and dangerous. Because hair could unseat the power of those who want to turn us all into slaves of capitalism. Again.
On truth devoured
Silent play in the shadow of power
A spectacle monopolised
The cameras eyes on choice disguised
Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?
Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?
Yes a spectacle monopolised
They hold the reins, stole your eyes
All the fistagons the bullets and bombs
Who stuff the banks?
Who staff the party ranks?
—Guerrilla Radio,Rage Against the Machine
I never thought I would say this, but maybe Papa Patos is right. It irks me to admit it too. That I could agree with anything he says is enough to give me a headache and make me want to leave the country before zaboca season starts properly. The clip came on the radio early on Tuesday morning. A screeching voice that I didn’t immediately recognise as the big daddy himself. I guess I haven’t ever heard him sound so high-strung. It sounds like Papa Patos is finally getting antsy about just how many of the party faithful still love him and would turn out whether or not he sent a bus to pick them up and provided free pan, free rum and a rent-a-crowd appearance fee. The announcer cut through the audio clip to explain that the PM had been addressing party faithful the night before at Woodford Square when he said that he didn’t think the media were playing their role properly.
It’s not the first time that he’s expressed this sentiment. Let’s not forget the whole storming the radio station and getting the announcers suspended because he is a regular citizen who has a right to complain if something bothers him. Maybe he can’t help himself. It’s a time-honoured tradition in Trinidad now for Prime Ministers to have suspicion and contempt for the media. Papa Patos is right this time though. The media aren’t playing their role properly. If they were, people like him would never be able to hold on to power for as long as he has. The default response of course is to presume that anyone who expresses a thought that is not toeing the ruling party’s line must be working for the opposition. Because of course a citizen can’t possibly think in a way that is independent without someone else planting the seed of disagreement in his or her head.
That the media are populated by citizens who are nervous about crime, nervous about falling advertising revenues that pay their salaries is neither here nor there for Papa Patos. But it should mean the world for us. Because if the media can’t truly represent the concerns of the people of this nation, then what is the point of publishing newspapers, what is the point of producing a radio or television broadcast. If the media can’t quarrel with the Government the way that most citizens can only dream of having an opportunity to do, why are we here? Papa Patos is right. I mean, if the media really were doing their work, half of the bobol and bacchanal that people get away with in this country would be properly scrutinised. Indeed, if we had the vulvicular fortitude to really do our jobs we’d have him a little more than sweaty and hysterical in Woodford Square.
Unfortunately many of the people who work in the media are as paralysed by fear as the rest of the population. Or just generally uninterested in coming out of their comfort zones, investigating, questioning or challenging the stories they report on. The critical eye is virtually non-existent, and what is left in its place is some occasional whiny criticism. We are ill-equipped to find the facts, let alone challenge anyone with them. Whether it’s on the Merhair issue or the smelter issue as reporters we are missing the point and getting caught up with the smoke instead of the fire. Information is the only weapon necessary when you are fighting for freedom, and there is information that is missing from our collective national consciousness. However if Papa Patos thinks the role of the media is to be a glorified public relations outfit designed to make the mess that they make smell like roses I hope we continue to be abysmal failures. If the role of the media is to defend a nation with the truth, then we desperately need to start sharpening our tools.
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.
I go many places
I go business places
And I see, see, see
All the bad, bad, bad things
Dem dey do, do, do
And dey call nepotism
And inside all business
I say I waka waka waka
I see, see, see
—Coffin for Head of State, Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Here we are, standing on the outside. Watching them dig out our insides. Outside of La Brea no one knows what is happening. No one knows the terror of big trucks on your roads at all hours. No one knows the trauma of living with sea breeze all your life and then having to install air-conditioning units because some man with book sense decided that it was a good idea to cut down 800 acres of land around you. Outside of Sobo, Square Deal, Union, Vance River, Vessigny no-one understands what the fight is about. No one grasps the social impact of an aluminium smelter. Not least of all the man whose decision it is to build it there. It takes one to know one, and he who is the most disconnected can identify the outsiders from a distance. He can smell them like the stench of melting aluminium.
Outside of Vessigny beach. Outside of this country’s development. Outside of a connection to the land. In this blind Vision 2020 we are all outsiders. We are all begging to be let in. For our voices to be heard. For our opinions to matter. We exist on the periphery. And the father of the nation builds a big tall wall around what is for him and those who support him. Leaving the rest of us on the outside. Only he knows who is worthy of belonging. Like a club bouncer he gets to say who gets inside and who stays outside. Who isn’t beautiful enough, who is too black. Stay outside and hope that one day the bouncer might decide to give you a bligh. That one day you might be good enough to get into the club where the nation’s resources are shared. Where scotch flows like the blood of little black boys on the outside. Where deals are made and broken like the backs of workers.
Outsider. I am an outsider. We are all outsiders. I wonder who is on the inside. Who has the right to be there. Is it the woman who is near hysterical when the Prime Minister speeds past her? Is it the woman who has voted for PNM all her life, who has supported Patrick Manning throughout his career, who declares with all the pain of the excluded—Patrick Manning hates black people? It is an easy conclusion to come to. Since the black people who look like him that put him on the inside are now the outsiders in their own land. The black people whose support he depends on might get jobs cutting grass on the outside of the Alutrint smelter. Four thousand have many years ahead of them to wait outside the health centre for their medical monitoring. And if they are found to have cancer from Papa Patos’ smelter’s toxic emissions will their health surcharge be able to cover their medical expenses?
Unfortunately they won’t be able to go outside of Trinidad to get medical care like the father of the nation. And the father of the nation in his dark glasses to protect his 2020 Vision from the glaring truth of protests by people who have voted for him knows who is the outsider. He knows the face and name of every child. Of every tantie, or every grandfather and youth man. Even as workers from other parts of the country are bussed in to give support to their smelter. Even as the Government goes into debt with the Government of China to build a smelter. Even as community leaders and village council members remain on the outside of their air-conditioned tents.
And the police can clear the roads for Papa Patos to pass but the protesters get blamed by a newspaper for causing the death of a child. He must know who is the outsider because he has created the distinction. He has given the parameters for insideness and outsideness. And if you don’t like it you could put it in your pipe and smoke it. The smoke of the smelter will infiltrate the insides of those the father of the nation calls outsiders.
What yuh see is just an illusion
Trapped in yuh worries
And your confusion
Your philosophy just a fusion
Of your illusion
Jah gimme de strength
And I see right through yuh
Don’t think that I would submit
To the pressure
—Trials and Tribulations, Orange Sky
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. In a country where people kill each other for the slightest of slights. He is telling people to sharpen cutlasses. Political violence fill your city, yeah. Laugh and say ray as he sharpens his political cutlass to buss the throats of more of your children. To fight for political power endorsed and blessed by the Fat Arse Brigade. Blessed by mothers who have wept for their murdered sons. Wept for no water since they first voted for the PNM 50 years ago. He is sharpening his political cutlass on stones painted white by Cepep workers. Because every overlord needs peons to do his bidding, a willing and unenlightened mass easily entertained.
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. Sharpen it like the fangs of all the snakes in that there clump of balisier. Who, unlike the UNC who openly fights for power scraps, play the genteel games of a nouveau riche black elite digging out the eyes of their own. Not seeing the reflection of their grandmothers, and tanties, and great uncles. Those who worked hard and long and fought for their right to go to school and have a respectable civil servant work. Those who sold toolum and beat clothes on rocks for them to now become these insufferable stuffed-shirts who sneer at anything grassroots but are not averse to using them for political mileage. Like all the La Brea residents that Fitzgerald Henry used two years ago before he was MP of La Brea to support his pro-smelter rally outside Whitehall.
Back then when the political cutlass being used was the promise of jobs in their Alutrint smelter. Jobs that if anyone had read the Environmental Impact Assessment would have known didn’t actually exist. And now Fitzgerald Jeffrey speaks of being disappointed about the lack of jobs being offered to locals. Now it is not outsiders who block the streets of La Brea but the people who were promised the world for a smelter in their backyards. But they are sharpening. As people become more and more agitated, more nervous about job losses, more antsy about the recession that is bound to come in the wake of all this excess. They start to talk fighting talk. Planass talk. Chop-up talk. Political badjohnism fills your Parliament, yeah. As if this country were not violent enough. He encourages us to really turn on ourselves now. To really begin to feast on our own blood.
The father of the nation is “bloodthirsty” and he is cleverly calling out his army to do the work that will dirty his own hands too much. And you know that these are not idle threats from people who make deals that no-one in this whole nation of macos, picong masters and satirists has the cohones to question. The subtext of this call to arms is to ask the most important question on this force-ripe small island right now. And that is, which side of the cutlass do you stand? Are you the chopper or will you be chopped. Are you willing to dead stupid to prove a point? Or are you going to stand on the side of the wrong and strong. Like an area don he demands loyalty. Like a gangster defending his turf he gives his neighbours the most sinister of ultimatums. If you’re not for me then you must be against me. And I can’t guarantee you protection when things start to go haywire.
It is the hardest decision you will ever have to make. It is the difference between life that is livable and the one that you cannot even bear to imagine. Where the police see your mother and tell her that they’ve just seen you in town, just so that she knows they are monitoring your movements.
Where a seventy-something year-old man staging a placard protest outside President’s House gets threatened by police for exercising his constitutional rights.
Sharpen your political cutlass. Not to clear land to grow food. Not to clear a path to a nation of citizens who feel a sense of what or why this country is worth fighting for. Not to get rid of all the negative forces that lurk in our psyches. Not to create a new paradigm, a new vision, a sense of belonging. Nothing but endless violence. Nothing but endless bloodloss. He sharpens his political cutlass and we like willing lambs offer ourselves up to the slaughter.
Yeah, my layers are thick
And I’ve got bad attitude.
Yeah that knife in my back
Has fingerprints that belong to you.
Got a grudge, got a grudge
Got a grudge that I’m holding
For as long as I like
Cuz you lied, you lied
You lied to my face
And that’s something that I can’t forgive
—Fuel My Fire, The Prodigy
Quick! Let’s see how much of ourselves we can polish up in the next two weeks. This is an urgent assignment. This is like the whole country putting on its Sunday best to go and parade for all the neighbours to see how well its doing.
I mean, who doesn’t want to look nice for their guests? So hurry up and get with the clean-up programme. Come on man, it’s just three days. We can do it! Yes we can! We can make the whole city look like a million dollars. Oh no, make that 600 million. This is no time for sticking, T&T. These last 12 days are a grace period in which we can have a total makeover! It’s like a facelift and a tummy tuck for a bored housewife. We’ll worry on April 20 about the cause of the boredom or why the housewife let herself get fat and frumpy in the first place.
Quick! Look busy. Obama is coming. And we don’t want him to think he’s coming to a meeting on some mosquito-infested banana republic. Move a little faster! This is no time to question our own leadership. This is no time to be thinking about local government elections or possibly corrupt ministers or spending millions to build a stadium on sapatay. No, no. We need to forget all of that bacchanal and get focused on the two weeks left before an even better plundering of the national coffers than Miss Universe 1998. This is the biggest, best mas we will ever possibly have to play. So we better play it and play it well.
Imagine all the things we’ll get for our $600 million. We’re bound to see a return on our investment, because of course Fox and CNN will be walking in the streets singing wild praises at how much like Miami our waterfront looks. And what else do we want but the nice white people from for-eign to think that we are advanced? I mean it says it all when our buildings are taller than coconut trees.
Imagine the jealousy all our small-island neighbours are going to feel when they see our Papa Patos standing there welcoming Obama to Trinidad. It takes a real man of vision to pull off such a brilliant move. How it go look if his vision is hard to see in the La Basse smog. Quick! Say a lot of prayers that these next two weeks don’t turn rainy. We wouldn’t want to be having the Summit under water. We wouldn’t want Obama to get marooned on his way to the meeting if it rains for ten minutes.
And pray too that the guntas take a killing holiday. Pray that they’ll just go away. Or better yet, maybe we should build a platform and put a couple containers and put them on some North Coast beach to make sure they’re not in the city that weekend. Quick, let’s try and get the place looking good before the Summit, so that after it’s finished at least people will have good memories and not notice if we have to devalue the dollar or that many more thousands are going to be on the breadline.
We’re going to have to pull out all stops to make it through this one. So we’ll need all hands on deck. No pesky protesters trying to make us look bad. No stinking vagrants, no cavernous pot- holes. Quick! Can you imagine what is going to happen when all those international media come here? And God alone knows they’re going to be looking for some dirt. Quick, quick. Put some ads with cricketers and soca stars in the papers so that people don’t make out that, actually, we have had no luck securing our citizens, we don’t have a clue how to promote human prosperity and our idea of energy security and environmental sustainability is to rapidly monetise natural gas and put up a smelter and a steel mill and some ports in mangroves.
Get those streets cleaned, chop chop. Clean up nearly five decades worth of dirt congealed on city streets. Hide the human filth in the closets. Put away the street children. Hide away anything that would suggest that we have screwed up priorities and should be spending $600 million doing the things we are paying lip service to in the Summit of the Americas declaration. Let’s put on our best smile and hope the world doesn’t notice the holes in our teeth.
Dey trying to blow mih mind
They want me to walk and wine
I cah take dis ting at all
They want me to jump and bawl.
—What’s Going On,
Not a person in the Strand clapped. There were a few hundred people there although the opening night of Kaiso House tent was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination packed. They had clapped and called back twice for Marvellous Marva’s scathing commentary on belt-tightening. They had clapped and called for more of Sharlan Bailey’s brilliant Faking Evil, a thoughtful and humorous exposé on wannabe gangsters. But when MC Sheldon John called for a round of applause for the Government, the room was so quiet you could hear the ministers squirm.
Later that night I read more about the collapse of the Icelandic Government to the rhythmic sounds of pot hitting economists and tree huggers and about protests in France and excitement about the spreading tides of dissatisfaction that is bringing people into the streets. About belt-tightening the world over, even in Davos, Switzerland—where this week the world’s richest countries and companies gather to congratulate each other, under the glare of melting alpine glaciers—the mood is somber and those gathered are reported as saying the worst is yet to come. I remember the silence of the Strand and I wonder if that is a sign that perhaps Trinis are reaching a stage of fedupcy.
The artists have always been the most committed protesters. A few of them at least, not getting caught up with party cards and lucrative advertising deals. Those who have managed to stay true to their message are still ketching their nen nen, but remain dread and lovely. After the silence and the intermission the ministers slip out. They have done their ministerial duty and taken enough calypsonians pointing up in their faces that have that same expression you see on social people who come out to watch J’Ouvert only to get vex when a stinking jab jab comes and wines all over their nice pants.
Perhaps the calypsonians will give us our testicular fortitude back. Perhaps the next time we will not stay silent. Like we stayed silent on the deregulation of the quarry industry, or we stay silent on rapid monetisation of natural resources when the wise energy people say it’s worth more to us in the ground than dragging it out vie ki vie for every little Tom, Dick and Alcoa that comes around. Shadow puts his hands out and asks us, “what going on?” We jump and ray and love him for the sweetness of his voice. We take the question as rhetorical.
The answer comes two days later when I am rushed into a taxi by a big woman frantic in that laidback aggressive way that Trinis can be—as if what they have to do is much more important than the rest of us. Urging the driver to get going and not wait for one more passenger. It is a rainy Friday afternoon and the woman next to me is multi-tasking conversations. She chats on the phone about going to find out if her money is jumping up in the CL Financial collapse and the rest of the car comments. Shocked oh gawds fill the car as everyone thinks about their own two pennies they’ve been scrimping and saving.
The driver offers his own experience in the matter. He’s already taken in front and removed his own money from one of the big banks. Fear has come home and the far-off sounding credit crunch is circling like La Basse corbeaux. In-between the nervous laughter and the banter about money, the radio announcer breaks the monotony of the endless ads for Carnival fetes to say they’re waiting to go live to the Central Bank for a special press conference. Before the Governor has a chance to hold his press conference the woman has disem-barked.
In a show of solidarity, the driver sends her on her way although she can’t remember paying her $4. She goes into the rain and uncertainty, I can only imagine, her heart in her throat. I don’t know how much money she has saved, how she planned to use it, the dreams she has for her children. We fall silent. Silence is the only comfort we can find as the radio announcer cuts in again to say they’re still waiting for the Governor. A pregnant pause in a nation story. We fall silent because there is nothing to say that we haven’t all thought a thousand times.
The calm before the storm. I hear Shadow, plaintive and sweet. What going on? There is no one there to volunteer an answer.