All tied up

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman living in the west.
It’s complicated and part of the uncomfortable conversation we need to keep having. When you see your reflection, are you seeing you or an amalgamation of your racial, historical and social complications?
Style is both personal and political and the negotiations black women constantly have to make are not always what you want to confront when you wake up to get dressed in the morning.

Azonto Lessons

There is a pause when the lights go at 1 a.m. and the fan stops whirring. Until the generator shudders to life and the air returns to the room, the fan whirring reassuringly over your head again. In that pause you hear the world of other sounds that exist outside the electric drone. A neighbour’s child, the thunder of a storm making its way across the night, the dying moments of an evangelical service, a lone dog barking in the distance, insects whose names you do not know. The sounds of nighttime Accra are so familiar that in those seconds when I wake up in the sudden and unbearable stillness I get confused about where I am.

There are many moments of confusion during my time in Ghana. It is déjà vu for something I have not yet seen.

Excerpt from Azonto Lessons, a piece I wrote for this month’s issue of Caribbean Beat.

Read the full piece here

Songs and Memories

Been doing a lot of backing up and adding and deleting tonight. Listening to favourite songs and some songs I haven’t listened to in ages. Brings back really wonderful memories of my life and times, trodding through creation, meeting some wonderful people and maintaining ties with some lovely old friends. Some songs I can’t listen to anymore because they are so full of memories…some of them bring back a time when life was less complicated. But I am thankful for them all. I guess I’m documenting them in the unfortunate event that I forget how much these pieces of music and the times and the places and the people mean to me.

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson Early 1980’s George Lamming was staying at our house, working on something or another. My sister had just got a copy of the Thriller album and we set about playing it over and over. Uncle George declares to our great shock and horror ‘Who is this Jackson person?’ So of course we had to put on a whole concert for him, including Didi doing the moonwalk across the living room. At the end of the song, Uncle George declares ‘This is a funny sort of house’.

Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson – 1987 London The mother took me to an LKJ concert in London somewhere. I don’t remember the details because I slept through most of it, but at some point in the night I remember waking up to see this little black guy prancing around the stage singing in the roughest, loveliest voice I’ve ever heard ‘Hinglan is a beeetch’. Been in love with him ever since.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears – 1986 Watford. I was standing at the bus stop outside Woolworths with my sisters on the way to school. I was standing there minding my own business when this woman comes up and punches me in the face. Dry so!! Buss my lip and everyting. Not pleasant. This is the song that was playing on the radio when the Babylon came to question me about the woman after school.

Natty Dread – Bob Marley and the Wailers May 2000 Kingston. Went down to Trench Town to do some volunteer work at a community centre. They didn’t cater for the vegetarians so we wandered across the street looking for a vendor. Happened to wander straight into the yard where Bob used to live with his mother and Bunny Wailer. We sat in the shade of giant ganja trees and reasoned with rasta elders who gave us fruits and coconut water to eat. Bliss!

He Loves Me – Jill Scott – Winter 2003 England – Road Trip to Stone Henge with my very good sister friends Tonni, Tamara, BinghiNya and Gab. Nya was driving us to Bath and then she started to sing this song. I am so very thankful to have these womyn in my life!!

Here and Now- Andre Tanker – Winter 2003, China. I didn’t find out that Andre died a whole three days after… That day Tonni and I took a trip to the sea off Qinhuangdao. It was cold and the water grey. But it was good to be by the sea and I was glad to have a moment to whisper my goodbyes into the waves.

Fools Die – Peter Tosh- New Years Day 2004 London. Passed out at Skateboard Pete’s New Years Party, woke up at 6 am and this is the song Svenn was playing. A melancholy way to start a bizarre year that I was very glad to see the end of!

Shanti Om – Lord Shorty – Jouvay 2004 Trinidad We were just coming out of the Savannah. I think Shel Shok was the DJ. The sun was just coming up and they drop this song! Ooooh gouud…I was never so happy to be home as in that moment. By Ash Wednesday I was cured of that, though.

Natural Roots – Jah Shaka – Summer 2004 Me and Empress Jo in Finsbury Park at an all day Dub festival. The house in Turnpike Lane with the Hairy Fairies and food and reasonings and energy balls and falling asleep standing up in all night Jah Shaka dances in the Rocket in Holloway. The N29! D&G ginger beers and the best 24 hour snack shop in Trafalgar Square. Primrose Hill and vegan Thai buffet paradise for stoners. Sundays in Spitalfields market. Cheesy reggae Saturday nights in Camden! And that lovely Ethiopian bredrin, Yohannes was his name?

Water No Get Enemy – Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Autumn 2004 London – Svenn used to play this song at least twice a day. I don’t know why it became such an anthem for us, given that we were living in the middle of Chelsea with Ralph Lauren as our corner store, ha! Walking down to King’s Road we would spontaneously start singing the song together. Our merriment was frequently cut short by a burst of running to catch the Number 19.

One Day – Mungal featuring 3 Canal – New Years Day 2005 London – Me, Kassie and Nya talking about all our hopes and dreams and fears on the brink of a new day.

Zion – Maximus Dan – Summer 2005 – I was living in Zürich and getting rather fat. So every morning I would go for a run in a vineyard near the lake. It was mostly uphill and I would never really think I could make it. But just as I got to the top of the hill this song would come on and I would practically fly down the hill towards home, smiling maniacally with my hair flapping about in the breeze. Needless to say the neighbours stared at me like I just landed from another planet….

Anisiedad – Daisy Voisin Christmas 2005 Trinidad. I hadn’t been home since my grandmother died in 2003. The mother was in the kitchen making black cake and then this song came on and it made me think of my Ida and the fact that she was the original black cakist. That I would never again have the pleasure of her boofs, her smiles, her sarcasm, her pakchoi and rice! I hadn’t had a chance to cry for her in almost two years of travelling, working, loving, moving again, running away and trying to figure out where home was. But then Daisy came on and I got a full appreciation of all that I was missing and all that I had missed.

Live Good – Burning Spear- Carnival 2006 Chatham …the first time I went down to Chatham and met the women of the community and was so impressed by the concern and commitment that I was motivated to get involved in their struggle against Alcoa. When the meeting was finished we ate with them and then Samantha, the 8 year old daughter of our hosts, took my hand and walked with me around her yard. She pointed out all the different trees: mango, pomerac, zaboca, fig. And then she looked me in the eye and said ‘if Alcoa comes I not going to have this anymore’. Part of the reason I never went back to Switzerland…

Ee wa Obakoso – Ella Andall – Summer 2007 Iceland – We were driving up to Husavik right at the northernmost point of Iceland. At about 1 am it was still light and my anarchist friends decided that that was a good time to go check out a crater. It was so windy and cold I ran all the way. Got to the top out of breath with the wind howling in my ears and the crater’s gravel crunching under my hiking boots. I don’t know if I was crying because I was so cold or because I was so overwhelmed to be where I was for the reason that I was there. I had never felt so far from home and yet so close to myself. The wind blew my tears away and then everything got very still.

Naturally – Slow Train – Rainy Season 2008, Trinidad. Me and Kassie, joined by Jacob on a road trip to Toco. We practically wore a hole into that cd replaying that song speeding through the north coast.

Even After All- Finley Quaye- Many Many Nights 2008 The Republic. After party cleaning up. Svenn bepping on the day bed. Sheli listening to every note. Keshav singing and washing dishes. Makeda cooking, again. Me playing ten last songs. Daddy O recounting Amel’s birth. Lemongrass and ginger tea, chocolate tea and pongkin choka. Enamel cups and loud laughter.

Okay I’m going to stop there before this gets too cheesy….

Last B Wee plane to Piarco

December 31.  Last morning in London.  Last day of a strange year.  Last BWIA flight to cross the Atlantic.
Two hours of sleep and I’m up and ready to go. Heathrow on the M4. Road clear but winter late dawn darkness. No sign of fog, man on the Beeb says mild day today.
First in the line.  They forgot my veggie meal. Again.  No worries.  Waiting.  Again.  The flight’s delayed by an hour.
After 66 years, nearly flawless flight record. My first BWIA flight around 2 or 3 I asked my mother if we were going to meet Jesus. My first flight to London around 7 holding tight to my sister with one hand and my teddy bear in the next. Ears popping, numb boomsie, eyes puffy to leave behind my granny, flight interminable. Peeping through the window and seeing the boxy greenness of the English country side. Back home a year later, with my teddy still clutched tight and a bit of an accent. I clap with the other people when the plane lands in Piarco. Home. Safe.
More times. More travels. Beyond the BWIA boundaries. Missing the pan on the playlist. Missing the haughty, well made up BWIA girls. Missing the strange people sitting next to me. Excited tourists, bored students, old tesses going back home for the first time in decades, Trinis like me yearning for sun and wining and Caribbean Beat magazine.
Pass through security. First time I have to take off my shoes in Heathrow. First time I have to shove everything into one piece of hand luggage. First time I feel sad to be leaving London to go home.  img_0532.jpg
Proceed to Gate 19. Trying to keep up with speeding nephews. They stop by a window. Typical London bleak. They look at the plane. They speed off again. I look at the plane and suddenly I feel a little sentimental.
I try to get them to pose for a shot and they resist until I find something to bribe them with.
Exasperated, why do you want a picture of the plane? Because it’s the last time one of these will leave London Heathrow. Late. It’s the last time I’m sit here in one of these departure gates rolling my eyes because of the delays.
Inside passengers mill around. Flight attendants on the far side of the room. Some look bored. Some are bright eyed and perky. Some look like they’re sad to see the old tin cans go.
Bepping in Gate 19. The man says time to board. A snazzy looking Oma Panday sashays down towards the plane. A tired looking Silver Fox brings up the rear, smiling all the way. Some things never change.
Welcome aboard. Find seats. Pan on the playlist. Haughty well made up BWIA girls bringing me sorrel. I read myself in the Caribbean Beat and finally my nephews fall asleep holding my hands. Flight interminable, numb boomsie eyes puffy from wild nights in London. They find me a veggie meal. Sun setting as we fly west. Lower and lower almost there. Crane my neck to see the lights of the East West corridor, northern range dark and mysterious like the contours of a sleeping giant. I peel off layers. The tires hit the tarmac. A tear filled voice comes on the PA. Thanks for the support, thanks for 66 years of service. A smattering of applause. Gold toothed Indian behind me laughs a rum-soaked laugh and pelts some pecong behind the man who sounds like he wishes that BWIA could get a las lap. One more jump with a steelband down to Roxy roundabout. Usually I pelt out of a plane. Eager for real air, eager for that Piarco heat to hit me like a wall. I linger a little longer, saying goodbye to all the crew, feeling sentimental for a company that has vexated me frequently, that I have bad talked with gusto.
Wondering what this new company will bring. Wondering if it will inherit BWIA jumbies, if it will be a serious grown up version of this child that took 66 years to become an adult.
Piarco hasn’t changed. Hot and still looking like a cow shed. Waiting long for the bags to come. Amen aloud when we have them all. BWIA girls, make up still astonishingly flawless, sashay past. I give them the ‘alright’ head nod and smile.
I hope they lose none of their haughtiness.

Das Zürich leben


So the Quality of Living Index is out and apparently Zurich is rated as the best city to live in.
I can’t tell a lie, it is a pretty cool city.  Beautiful, clean with a great cultural scene and a perfect blend of artsy fartsy sorts and uptight investment bankers.  I spent many a day wandering the narrow Niederdorfstrasse and then there was the fateful climbing of the Grossmunster cathedral tower with my old school friend Dr. Joan Jet.
I guess seeing this just brought back lovely memories of falling in lurve, it was all very cheesy, totally unlike me. Funnily enough it would have been me and the ex-bf’s first anniversary this week.  It must have had something to do with the just arriving spring.  I remember it was warm enough for us to have dinner outside at this cute little lakeside restaurant.  Poor fella, I don’t think he’d ever been out with a vegan before so he had to do extensive negotiations with the chef so that I could get something to eat.
In those first two weeks in Zurich I guess I fell in love with more than just a sweet, funny boy, I fell for the city and the people too. For icy mountains and cool evenings by the lake.  The Swiss get a bad rap for being uptight and humourless. But that was not my experience at all. Even in Zurich the people are warm and welcoming and I never felt like an outsider, even when I wasn’t with the bf.
I spoke with the ex-boo yesterday and he was telling me that it’s still snowing. Snow in spring.  I guess that’s a little like what my heart feels.

How did my dry arse end up here?

A question I’ve taken to asking myself rather a lot of late.  Is it the fact that I’ve been away from Trinidad for almost a whole year?  That I’ve had a roller coaster time from the beginning of 2005?  That I am, as we speak on an extended vacation in Zurich with a man I met and mysteriously fell in lurve with five months ago?
Since coming here almost three weeks ago, I’ve been spending my days in an alarmingly un-busy state.  Not leaving the flat except to go running, to the grocery or to dinner with the BFG which, in this case stands for the Beautiful Funny Gschwend (yes he has one of those strange swiss-german last names).
I’ve been thinking a lot about Babylon-don, about Trinidad, about everything and everywhere and everybody really.  What better place to do it though.  It’s beautiful here and maybe the universe has conspired for me to be in a beautiful place so I can have a harder time of making simple decisions about where my life goes next.  Aaaargh.
Trying to write.  Being distracted by birds on the balcony and the colour of the mountains at dusk.
Insomnia. I’ve been getting up every morning at 4.30.  Watching the lights shimmering on the lake.  What will another day bring?
Relief. Going back to bed and it is full and warm with the BFG.  What’s his role in all of this?  Tis all fun and holding hands at this point.  What happens when the lovey dovey spiel wears thin and we have to decide if this thing is for real?
Happy.  But as I asked Sunshine today, is there such a thing as too much happiness?  Or is the happiness supposed to radiate outwards and infect other people.  If depression stops you dead in your tracks, then surely happiness motivates you to do all the things that you don’t have the energy to do when you’re down in the pits?
So where do I start?  And how do I get involved in the (r)evolution at home, if I’m playing happy homes on the other side of the world?