The bruised one

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough

And things go wrong no matter what I do

Now and then it seems that life is just too much

But you’ve got the love I need to see me through

When food is gone you are my daily meal

When friends are gone I know my saviour’s love is real

Your love is real

You’ve Got the Love – Florence and the Machine

Starch for breakfast again. This one was a little worse for wear. Apparently it had a hard fall and was the proud owner of two big bruises. No big thing. I’m not a picker of mangoes really, I like to see what the tree gives me on a morning and I am thankful for any offerings or none at all. But I’m not averse to chasing off those wasteful kiskidees that pick a few morsels and then leave a lovely mango to be fly food. You could learn a lot about life from eating a mango for breakfast. For the obvious reasons of health, yes. And a starch is just a really delicious way to eat the sun. A mango is a thing of beauty, even, or maybe especially, when it is bruised. A mango is a prayer and a mango is also the answer. So you ask for wholeness and you get fragments that need to be put together. You ask for perfection and you get a bruised mango.

But if you cut out the bruise, pull the skin past the wound on the skin there is sweetness under there.
Waiting for you to find it. Asking not to be ignored because of a couple of bruises. On Tuesday night I ended up at a nightclub in the ridiculous hours of the morning when people who have real jobs should be asleep.  But up in this club where women rule, women who are beautiful and comfortable in their bodies in a way I know that I have too much middle class self-consciousness to ever be. Women with baby stretch marks and bodies that bear marks of their far from easy lives. They are powerful in this space, they own it like I can only ever own my words.   They make men hold their heads, even the nice uptown ones who know they can’t handle so much Shakti. And I don’t know if they think this is all the power that they have but in this moment that doesn’t matter and the beauty of simple is overwhelming. Mangoes with bruises these women are. Unashamed of the licks they get from life. They wear their bruises because these are a reality of life in this country. Where women are bruised and have to struggle to hold on to a sense of themselves, find the sweetness still underneath the bruise.

They dance for all the young ones who never make it. Who are home minding fatherless babies. Who take their lives because they confuse love with acceptance. Whose lives are taken away by men who confuse love with possession. They dance to remember that they are alive in a society that kills them every day simply by making them invisible. More and more the West is telling women they have to be some version of perfect. Thanks to pornography, thanks to the fashion industry, thanks to abnormalities that are now cultural norms, women are being convinced even more these days that something is wrong with their bodies. That they need to be bruise-free and blemish-free and wrinkle-free and cellulite-free and doll-like and perfect. The skin bruises are airbrushed away but the desire for approval from everyone else becomes that kind of cancerous engagement with self-loathing and terror at imperfection.

Part of coming to terms with yourself is acknowledging your imperfections, being thankful for the flaws and finding a way to use them to your advantage. A lifelong engagement to last many mango seasons until one day you are as okay with your bruises as you are with the ones on your breakfast starch. You know that every scar is a sign that you are alive. That you live in spite of wind and stones and wasteful kiskidees that peck at you for a few morsels then leave you to rot alone. These are things I discover from eating a mango in the morning. That even the bruised ones have their value. That even the bruised ones are sweet and beautiful and good for you. That a bruised mango is not a rotten apple. And that we need to find a way to understand that we are different and find ways to create our own ways to love ourselves and heal ourselves, to celebrate who we are, bruises and all.

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Now that don’t kill me
Can only make me stronger
I need you to hurry up now
Cause I can’t wait much longer
I know I got to be right now
Cause I can’t get much wronger
Man I’ve been waitin’ all night now
That’s how long I’ve been on you

Stronger, Kanye West

On a hot day in a school in Laventille, I am reasoning with a student. This beautiful young woman of 17 years or so. I say to her, what do you want to be? She laughs and says a stripper.

Her classmates laugh too, because to them it is a joke, as funny as their lives being lived out in predictable boxes.

On a hot day in a school in Laventille painted in colours disturbingly similar to the wall around the Royal Gaol, this beautiful young woman sums up the totality of her potential in saying that she wants to be a stripper.

I am not amused. I am also not surprised that she doesn’t hesitate to respond in the negative. I fight the urge to run from the room screaming and crying because she is living proof that you can build buildings but if you don’t build the people, your social fabric will crumble and then what is the point of phallic concrete edifices in you city?

I suggest to her that she creates her own reality. I suggest to her that words have power and if you call yourself a whore enough, the ease of the words on your tongue will numb you to the dread reality of your actions.

I ask her again what she wants to be. She says that what she wants for herself is not what other people want for her.

She says she wants to be a hairdresser and a singer. And I wonder who has told her that she can’t be anything she puts her mind to.

And because I’ve been spending hours a night online watching with a mixture of hope and exasperation the countdown to the US election, I can tell her that Sarah Palin’s make up and hair consultations came up to $41,000. I can tell her that my friends who do hair for a living make a lot more than I ever could on my chosen profession of word peddler.

I tell her about days travelling through China and Europe when I wished I could ‘do hair’ to make a little extra money.

Her classmates get the point. They get that I’m not kicksing with them. That I’m not another motivational speaker type trying to shove some cheesy sunshine ideology down their already jaded throats. Two want to be nurses, one girl wants to be an architect. The fellars are going for trades.

In my mind I replay lots of discussions I’ve had with grown-ups who think de youts an dem not up to anything much. But in this room of 17 and 18 year olds I see a future that we are deliberately dampening.

That there are so many programmes out there that no-one is taking advantage of. And there is much truth to that, but how do we get to the point where people can’t even see themselves as anything else but at the bottom. How do we get young people out of their feelings of worthlessness that create this immobilization and/or inclination towards criminality.

I ask them what they think the rest of the country says about them. They say what I hear. That they will die young. That they won’t amount to much. And because I’m indulging in an escapist fantasy like everyone else who is watching the US elections but can’t vote, I say to them that they can be anything they put their minds to.

For those of my generation who have always lived in a time when our leaders look like us but have never managed to capture even one percent of our hope, dreams or aspirations unless they involved rum, roti or a free jersey and bus ride, we are madly hopeful.

So I say to these 17 and 18 year olds that their role for the next five or so years is to defy the expectations this society has of them. To live outside of a box or live in a box of their own making.

Because if a man called Barrack Hussein Obama can have a reasonable shot at being the President of the United States of America then by ShangoAllahShivaJesus, anything is possible.

I want to apologise to them for raising them to doubt themselves. For raising them to think that asking for a hand-out from the government is the way to survive.

These have been a most bizarre few months full of ridiculous hope, when I didn’t even want to entertain the possibility that a man like Barack Obama would be nominated, let alone live through a campaign.

We can only indulge in escapist fantasies about what it would be like to actually feel motivated by a politician. But whatever the result on November 4,  a 17 year old girl doesn’t have to be a stripper and the boy sitting next to her doesn’t have to be a shotta.

Things are possible if you choose to believe in your capacity to make them happen.  That basic principle of survival is easy to forget in a national chorus of accusation.  So much so, that you begin to doubt that you were ever good.  The role of those who know better is to serve as a constant reminder of our goodness and our beauty and our potential.