December 2012

Post 83

We didn’t have a Christmas tree up nor lights or any of the material culture of seasonal happiness that fills most people’s homes. We didn’t get Ziya presents either. Don’t gasp. She’s two. Guess what? She doesn’t care. When I explained that Christmas was Tuesday, she just nodded. She didn’t yet know when Tuesday was in relation to any other day of the week. She doesn’t yet know the days of the week.

I actually want to preserve this moment for as long as I can. The time before she gets absorbed by what is supposed to matter even if it doesn’t. The time before we have to do stuff because everyone else is. The time before any day becomes more special than another simply because people say it should be so.

This isn’t about Christmas, it’ a philosophy. Stone and I felt the same way about our wedding. It was special, but so was and should be every single other day. Love wasn’t for Valentines Day or anniversaries, and it wasn’t in presents. It was in daily regard, time and affection. Peace and joy to the world is a practice, like breathing, to fill our lives. If there is a season to remember, it’s so that very sentiment also guides and fills the rest of the year. Resolutions are to be made in every waking minute, before closing your eyes each night. What is a ‘new year’ but a marked human calendar? Each day offers each of us the chance to begin anew, to forgive and renew, to decide and to choose, to be better than we were before and to bring love to those in our midst.

I’m saying this because it’s easy to move with the emotional tide that follows various holidays or holy days, and to lose track of that centred self who must find the sacred within and without in the daily and the mundane. Zi gets gifts on days that matter for no reason except that she is alive and beautiful. I want her to value others even there seems no reason to, when no Hallmark card can easily fit.

Yet, I’m realistic that this is a losing battle against everyone including well-meaning and far wiser grandmothers, friends and family who will insist Zi be properly socialised and who will one day soon demand that Christmas comes to our household, with all everyone says it should involve. More power to them, I’m not even trying to win. I’m glad that she is growing up in a society where parang, pastelles, sorrel and house cleaning as well as time off to spend with family are usually what count the most. I’m glad she’ll understand how much people want a moment when we can collectively decide to do things differently and to be better selves tomorrow. I only hope that she can also learn that it’s not so much about Christmas presents or trees or new year resolutions or parties as much as it is about every moment we can show care, celebrate life and change our circumstance. That said, given that tonight, for the first time, she asked about Santa, whom she learned about from lord knows where, I feel quite sure there will be a tree up next Christmas. So, I’ve decided I’m going to give in early and wish you all peace and true happiness with the coming of this new year.

Post 82.

Nothing heals the day like hug up when you get home. Hug up with the baby that is. I have married Stone for life, but he doesn’t have Ziya’s pudgy arms, curly soft hair or baby smell and skin. In a world where almost nothing feels right sometimes, that hug up moment is a brief respite, a imagined longing for all to be at peace, made precious, real and mine.

It’s Ziya’s innocence, her full appreciation when i walk in the door, her ability to completely live in the moment and to give herself to it whole heartedly. I know now why parents try to shelter their children, simply to delay knowledge of the world’s cruelty and lack of care. I want to delay that harsh awakening too, but more importantly i want to prepare her for when it comes.

On what many in our the nation hoped was Wayne Kublalsingh’s last day of hunger strike, I took Ziya to see him, knowing she probably would not remember, but wanting her to understand that at times you have to be brave. She wouldn’t understand the implications now, but she came home and told her grandmother that she saw Wayne, that he was lying down, and that he was fighting the government. She’s two. She’s said the words ‘fighting the government’ and I watched her say them, hoping those and other words would be the ones she needs to learn first because sometimes you have to be powerful.

She might in fact remember and understand, who knows. Yesterday, I showed her a picture of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, playing her sitar, and she ran to get her guitar and to play it, held like a sitar, while looking at the picture. Maybe one day in the future, she will march in the streets or sit at the side of the road and be brave, powerful and fight the government, understanding that at times you have to be strong. Or, maybe, she will be one of the musicians who brought out their instruments to give ordinary warriors greater calm to balance their fighting spirit.

We underestimate children. We let them encounter the world we try to protect them from without necessarily giving them the knowledge they need, without showing them real heroes in our midst, without teaching them the words that matter so that they can be smart in addition to being brave, powerful, strong and creative. Perhaps, if we brought them to witness moments when history is being made or let them find their own instruments to be as divine as Saraswati, they may grasp more than we realise, begin to model themselves on the basis of these encounters, and become better selves than we can hope to be, making a better world than we were able to do.

Maybe Zi won’t benefit any of these moments, but if she’s saying ‘government’, ‘sitar’ and ‘Saraswati’ as she is now, whether her engagement with the world is political, artistic or spiritual (or all three), I think she’s at least being given a fighting chance. When I run home to hug up with her at night, I know her time has not yet come, but when it does and I can’t protect her anymore, she needs to be able to protect herself. I want to make sure that she is prepared.

Post 81.

I’m not as bad as Stone, who once got lost in a parking lot, but I’m a very close second. I’ve been lucky to have good friends who are natural geographers and who would again and again direct me around streets in Woodbrook that I should know well and to the location of their houses, which by all rights I should be able to find blindfolded.

I was reflecting on this while getting lost near Monroe Road last week as I was trying to find my way to the National Muslim Women’s Organisation meeting.

This amazing group of primarily grandmothers is doing so many national activities and is so well organised that they would do a better job than the Partnership if they decided to put up a slate for the next election or decided to stage the most friendly, flowersy and motherly coup one could imagine, thus offering a Muslim women’s alternative to anything Abu Bakr would ever have conceived.

Coup is a bad word in Trinidad and rightly so, but we need much more of friendly on the political and national stage.

This became wretchedly obvious last week Monday as I watched Roodal Moonilal’s now-notorious character assassination of Wayne Kublalsingh. If Roody wasn’t several bags of aloo heavier than me, and because I wasn’t actually there with the UNC heartland getting a lesson in gutter politics, I wasn’t able to run up with a broom (borrowed from the back of an authentic Debe doubles stall) and sweep him and his dirt off the stage.

I’d have to have kept sweeping too, as Jack came up to do his best imitation of Ziya’s diaper before she learned to use the potty. You think I’m joking? I’m not.

I felt genuinely ill and sad watching them divide citizen against citizen, use the platform that we, the people gave them to legitimise insult and offence as a mode of political deliberation, and substitute the full depth of logical, transparent argument for the hollowness of bacchanal and crowd frenzy.

I had to stop myself from thinking that if Jack just died quick, quicker than he hoped for Wayne, there would be one less out-of-date politician sowing poison for future generations to reap as spoiled and bitter fruit.

You can understand now why I get lost driving. Being driven to distraction and destruction can make you lose your way.

To their credit, they were right, though. We should all know where Mon Desir is and Roody and Jack probably know the country better than most.

I therefore also felt inspired right then. Lost by a wrong turn and marvelling at the beauty of ordinary Trinidadian communities with their pink and yellow houses, undulating fields and pious flags, I decided that when Ziya got old enough, we would get in the car together, with a map, and just drive. Buenos Ayres, Busy Corner, Mundo Nuevo, Caigual, Cumaca, Princes Town and Poole as well as Chatham and Mon Desir, here we come.

She would learn to be a better geographer than her parents, she would see the communities for which Wayne was willing to give his life, we would visit all the Muslim women whose mission is about national harmony, respect and equality, and we’d talk politics so that Zi could chart her own path away from where lost politicians will lead.

Post 80.

What happens when you fill ordinary people’s heads with the idea of being good citizens is that they become hungry for responsible government.

What happens when you emphasise the importance of civics to children is that they become hungry for the kind of participation that is accountable to their voice, their views and their needs. What happens when citizens start to believe in putting country first is that they become hungry for transparency and accountability from our national institutions.

What happens when we erect statues to Gandhi and Cipriani in our most populous cities is that we become hungry for people of conscience to move amongst us, ordinary mortals drawn from our ranks but answering to a more transcendent sense of justice.

Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike shares the belly pain of those of us hungry for an end to illegitimate authority, the kind that tells us what to do but will not tell us why so that we can decide for ourselves.

His act of conscience draws on no moral authority beyond his own body or beyond his own belonging as Trini and Tobagonian to the bone. We are distrustful of this as a society and yet we know it so well. Office, patronage funds, legislation, fancy suits and big words have always exercised control, but they have never fully consumed our hearts, and our sense of what is fair, reasonable and right. We make peace with power but remain hungry, and quick to anger and rebellion, because the promises we believed continually leave us empty.

Writing this, my gut hurts because no citizen should have to starve just to show how hungry we all are for government that knows a way beyond division, corruption, secrecy and domination. No good citizen should have to risk death so that those of us alive today do not gorge on the sustenance of future generations: ecosystems; agriculture; community; family; local businesses and a non-violent state.

In the public debate, most don’t know that Wayne is fasting simply for the public release of the impact assessments, the hydrology reports, the cost-benefit analyses and the technical reviews of the highway section planned from Debe to Mon Desir. He is not fasting to stop the highway, he is hungry for information, for answers which should be out there but which he must beg for like crumbs, like a vagrant lying on the street outside an all-inclusive party. What is frightening is that he is not alone. His hunger for answers, his simple request to be given some room at the table, is heard every day in citizens’ grumblings.

As a new generation, Ziya’s generation, begins to realise that we are fast consuming all and leaving only our debris behind, they too will feel the pangs of hunger for some other way ahead that can only be found together, without insult and injury between each other.

Wayne, know that your hunger shows ours as stark, unnecessary and untenable. Prime Minister, know that our hunger has been centuries in the making, but that you can help us as we struggle to find a different way to survive and thrive.

People of this Republic, know that beyond all the polarising politics, is a citizen like us filled with love for his nation and nourishing our hunger with his care. Let us not feed this moment with division and hate when we are hungry for common ground and consensus across our communities.