July 29, 2014
You can never go back, murmured my mother as we drove along Chaguanas main road. All three generations, her, Ziya and I, were on our way to family for Eid. As my mother had lived out of Trinidad for decades and almost never returned to Chaguanas, I thought we could look for the place of her childhood home, then my father’s which was opposite the Chaguanas Market, and even my mother’s primary school, the Chaguanas Government School.
We found none, my mother unable to remember where any were located and feeling like her past had been as demolished as the school, and her memories left as opened and bare as the field where her schoolchild self was formed, and as empty as the space next to the mosque where my father’s house once stood.
We also passed the Muslim cemetery, where both her father and my father’s mother are buried. I asked if we could stop to see their graves, but she didn’t know where to find those either. Those sites were most clearly marked by the memories of those who were there at those moments, many of whom had passed on or moved away. As we drove by, I suddenly remembered my own childhood experience of visiting my father’s mother’s grave with my dad. Perhaps, I was four. Mostly I remember wearing my grandmother’s orhni and the sadness in my dad’s eyes as we stood with a few others near her grave, and they prayed.
I reflected on my own understanding of memory too. As if its markers remained as lasting as concrete houses and established signs, but in fact those too changed like the once popular Jubilee Cinema, becoming rebuilt into something else with new memories for newer generations.
Whereas my mother used to know everyone along the main road, having greeted all her neighbours as she walked to school, time had made the familiar strange. I thought that Zi would have a chance to make her own memories of going to remembered places with her grandmother, but it seems that memory-making must also move on.
Locations and history, not just blood, connect family. Memories are the language of those connections, and like language are living and breathing, conveying both feeling and forgetting. You can never go back, and it’s a flash of recognition of your own present when you realize how easy it is for the future to lose grasp of the past.
At the Eid lunch, family members I didn’t even know appeared, many of whom shared my mother’s earlier life and could fill in the gaps left by decades of personal migration, as well as landscape demolition and reconstruction. As I sat writing this column, I wondered just where to start, who to ask and how to feel, knowing that while the past is gone, it is also reachable through different lives and their distinct memories. One cousin began to speak, without provocation, about remembering my mother’s father’s funeral with vivid detail. Lucky for us all, our lives exist in others’ memories too.
This is what the day was like, thinking about family, place and time, and the making of memories anew. I realized that its better to search for the past sooner, and, for my own history, to show Zi the sites of my own stories earlier, in the hope that she wants to know. It’s hard to remember this in the midst of life’s endless tumult and impatience with nostalgia, but you can’t go looking for memories fifty years later and expect them to have stayed where they once were, waiting for you.
July 22, 2014
If you are right in the middle of balancing recurrent expenses, savings, insurance policies and a mortgage, it can be hard to know whether to make decisions based on where you are now or where you will be in twenty years. I think about this a lot, wondering if it’s short-sighted to plan based only on what I can afford or unrealistic to budget on a future expected income.
This isn’t only about good financial advice. It involves making decisions about what kind of life I want and what my sacrifices are intended to achieve.
The house I dream of living in is beyond my current capacity, but won’t be in ten years. I could give up that dream for something more manageable and less perfect, and in ten years wish I had found a way to hold on long enough despite the nightly stress and the fears of not making ends meet.
Alternatively, I could walk away from the home and yard where I both got married to Stone and gave birth to Ziya, and start fresh, learning to let go, and living with less time spent thinking about money, enabling that sacrifice to earn me a better quality of life, marriage, motherhood and career in the decade ahead.
It’s not a question of house size or grandeur, it’s ultimately about what I hope to leave for Zi when I’m gone, and the effort I’m willing to invest into securing that gift for her, with my best wishes that it improves her own quality of life. But, sometimes, getting there feels far, overwhelming and exhausting.
A voice in my head also wonders if she’ll look back and say that I sacrificed my relationship with her in the present to leave more to her later, having spent too much time working as hard I can, and being distracted by financial demands in ways that she would not have chosen for me.
For us workers without a trust fund, leaving your children with at least a house that they can call theirs, and a little yard to grow fruit and food, is not just a work ethic, it’s a life ambition that we’ve inherited from each generation that came before, a plan held close and tended with care since enslaved and indentured workers started being able to put aside a little, make some into heavy gold jewelry, and add slowly to a hidden tin’s contents. Our parents did it by doing without, giving all to their children, and living through that hope and for that dream.
However, times have changed and that’s now not so easy. The cost of living seems to increase daily, and I’ll also admit to not wanting to give up the freedom I have to buy books when I want or eat dinners with my friends or, when Zi is older, travel with her as much as I can. It’s not possible to have it all or even get what you want when you want it. Sometimes, something has got to go.
Watching women fall to cancer around me, I also wonder if it’s better to find whatever resolution comes with the most leisure, the least pressure, the lowest costs and the shortest time to achieve. What if I plan on thirty years ahead and illness leaves Zi with neither house nor me?
Judging types will say that the worries of job and mortgage, then death, make for a wasted life, but they are stereotyping this moment of weighing responsibilities. Mostly, it’s another chance to realistically reflect on my potential and, insha’allah, be true to my priorities.
July 15, 2014
Posted by grrlscene under momentous trivialities: diary of a mothering worker
| Tags: army
, Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
, Patrick Manning
Under Patrick Manning’s rule, I came to know the names of a few of the riot police that he’d send out at the slightest citizen gathering, having met them so many times as they and their sub-machine guns monitored us trying to monitor him, with only public debate, national laws and civic commitment for ammunition. Under Manning’s cyclop eye, big brotherly love for the nation combined with decisions for our own good which seemed beyond our right to question.
Even then, it was clear, whether to combat unruly civil society or dangerous criminality, there was going to be increasing state armament to secure peace by the gun.
Five years later, when people say that we are in an undeclared state of emergency that justifies militarized civilian zones and maximum leadership, I get that desperate times call for desperate measures. Where nobody obeys any rules, it seems that only fear of violence can manage a society where disorder and death prevail.
People have decided that it’s time to eliminate some of those who will not choose legal work over a gangster life, enabling soldiers to re-establish a sense of state control. In this de facto civil war, being soft is expected to fail so the solution is more power in fewer hands and more men with more firepower.
Feeling safer in chains, we are ready to give up on being free. Instead, imagine if, as the army went in to take down shotters, another army of teachers, health providers, social workers, NGOs and community police trained in emergency turn around of crisis-racked communities were just as empowered to take on schools, health provision, employment and families. Imagine if the National Security Council talked tough about emergency laws, emergency resources and emergency meetings on short to long term solutions premised on everything else but violence.
The problem isn’t just gangs and individual men who don’t care who dead, even if it’s themselves. It’s the almost complete failure and corruption of policing. It’s that the coast guard is letting the drugs and guns pass. It’s decades of political patronage that has fuelled turf wars. It’s inadequate social work provision for family violence and dysfunction. It’s schools, which men leave while still illiterate, heading en masse to prison, before leaving en masse for gangs.
As long as none of the causes of this problem are fixed with institutional, social service, family life and educational alternatives, and economic solutions besides handouts, the army will be permanently necessary. Peace will be continually deferred rather than actually achieved because we clamoured for dictatorial and military responses to social needs.
Growing up under a gun, even a friendly one, wrecks children, especially boys. Additionally, some communities and innocent individuals will pay the price for the erosion of justice with nowhere to turn, just as they are paying already, and at some point it will be hard to tell army from police from politician from badman and tief. At the end, most important will be that we learned not to ask too many questions in return for our safety.
We may learn to live with the army in our midst, getting to know their names as we grow familiar with sub-machine guns on the streets. Nonetheless, as a citizen, feminist, mother and worker, I can’t but question civil society militarization because it represses chaos, but cannot create order.
Maybe I’m being naïve. Too much highfalutin idealism about democracy, rights and civil society. Too much talk about top-down responsibility. Too much unrealistic focus on what will take a generation to achieve. Too little understanding until terror hits me.
July 8, 2014
Posted by grrlscene under momentous trivialities: diary of a mothering worker
| Tags: abortion
, Caribbean feminism
, Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
, gender inequality
, Highway Re-Route Movement
, Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women
, Trinidad and Tobago
, Wayne Kublalsingh
, women's political leadership
Leave a Comment
Why pursue what many consider a lost cause? Battles that seem like they are no longer or never were worthwhile, ones you can expect to be opposed by the majority or by Goliaths around you, ones about which too few seem to care.
Should you simply abandon struggles you are unlikely to win, and re-strategize for the ones ahead? What about when your vision seems unpopular and justice appears impossible? Does it still matter if it’s considered only a minority issue?
Being a part of Caribbean feminist efforts to advance women’s political leadership or end violence or secure the right to safe and legal abortion, I often encounter women and men who think that feminism has no value because gender inequality is natural, normal and inevitable. Then there are others who, inronically, think that feminism is now outdated and worthless because women have all they should already.
Some just think the work needed is too hard and too uphill, but you don’t pursue a principle because it’s popular or easy. You don’t give in because pervasive but inaccurate stereotypes misread what is possible and still necessary.
You stay and fight for change, however large or small, whether opposed by the majority or the dominant because your analysis of rights means that you know the world cannot stay as it is, that wrongs should not occur with impunity and dishonesty, that inequalities reflect on our own humanity.
I seem to support a whole spectrum of supposedly lost causes. They razed the mangrove for Movietowne anyway. The women’s movement supported Mrs. Persad-Bissessar and got a Cabinet with only 10% of women anyway. Both parties shelved the Draft National Gender Policy anyway. Both agreed to extend the criminalization of same sex encounters between minors from ten to fifteen years to life imprisonment anyway. The Partnership is going ahead building the Debe to Mon Desir extension of the highway anyway.
So much for approaches that won’t sacrifice the environment for the economy. So much for equality, even when the PM had enough mandate to set history. So much for government that deals with the problems of boys and men on the basis of policy. So much for ending legalized discrimination justified by nothing other than hypocrisy regarding sexuality. So much for transparent and accountable infrastructural development.
So, why stay?
Our society comes from enslaved and indentured workers who ended globally oppressive systems with nothing but endless resistance, despite every setback. I wouldn’t have any rights if, all over the world, women and men who experienced defeats didn’t dust off and press on, giving me legislation I couldn’t live without today. I’ve learned from social movements on everything from workers’ rights to wildlife protection to abortion that, even if it takes decades, public opinion can be changed. And, I’m clear that when we walk away, gains don’t just stand still, they are systematically eroded away. Benefit from those who came before without giving similarly to those still to come? Not me. No way.
Seemingly lost causes carry the damage from larger, longer battles for emancipation or responsible government or sustainability. Democracy isn’t only about majority rule, it’s about the power of the majority to protect against unfair persecution of minorities. And, you will be surprised to see who can be inspired to care, just through connection or emotion or strategy.
You might see a lost cause. I see a handful of people defending our dreams until others, who have the right numbers at the right time, lovingly, thoughtfully and mightily make those dreams come true. I’m here however I can be until they do.
July 1, 2014
In my mother’s era, even girls could roam their neighborhood unsupervised, playing with children, visiting neighbors and collecting assorted species of fish, frog and fauna in ravines or nearby streams.
The majority of children of Ziya’s generation will never have that experience. We adults have almost irreversibly polluted many of the rivers near our homes with garbage and poison. It’s risky for any mother to allow her young daughter to wander freely. Living at odds with our environment and each other is a cost that will be borne by those now being born.
I try to make up for that generational loss by taking Zi to clean streams or empty stretches of beach as often as I can. I avoid Maracas, and dream that the $78 million planned upgrade includes rehabilitation of the river’s ecosystem. Anything is possible with a vision, and we are responsible for protecting mangroves, coasts and fresh watercourses for our children.
Teaching Zi that girls can be explorers, not just the “princess-mermaids” that she and her school friends pretend to be, we study tadpoles in various stages of growth, assess the shape and colour of shells, rocks and plant life, and look for fish and crabs. Mostly, I’m hoping that her trips to Yara River, Avocat waterfall or Balandra enable her to become the kind of woman who is curious about and committed to the earth, wildlife and science.
I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be aware of what roles bats, lizards, bees, bachacs and snakes play, and why they have a right to be here. I want her to be willing to hold grasshoppers in her hand, catch little crabs without harming them, and carefully dissect unfamiliar dead insects.
This weekend, we showed Zi a dead Titanus Giganteus beetle caught in the backyard. Even lifeless, it is intimidating, and I had no plans to hold it in my hand. To Stone’s horror (I mean it, I saw him sway on his feet with herculean effort to appear nonchalant) and to my own surprise, Zi nimbly picked it up like she was selecting a cupcake from a tray. The body was bigger than her hand, and the legs and antennae dangled for inches. Girl didn’t flinch. I was impressed. It was one of those mummy moments when your child surpasses you, does something that you’d been teaching her to do, and just so shows you how it is done.
It seems irrelevant, but children, especially girls, are taught so much fear. We parent through fear. We teach girls to fear strangers and especially men. We teach them to fear their bodies and their sexuality. We teach them to fear being seen as too powerful or too dominant or too unstoppable or too feminist. We teach them to fear the wild, the dark and being outside alone.
Resisting this, I want Zi to learn everyday fearlessness, like Jane Goodall who went out into the forest and sat with gorillas for hours by herself, like my youngest sister Giselle who handles cobras with skill and due respect, like my women friends who are not intimidated by local tarantulas or by surfing the deep ocean. I want her to fear everything less than I do, to show me her nurtured instinct for a braver world.
Curiosity, courage and connection with the planet don’t seem like skills that girls most need, but they translate to confidently asking questions of the status quo, valuing widespread freedom and diversity, understanding how to contribute to a bigger ecology, and bringing fearlessness to whatever vision Zi decides should succeed.