May 2017


Post 248.

La Diablesse sat on a fallen branch in a dappled part of a forest and wondered if she was lonely.

She loved the forest. The air was alive with birdsong, both solos and chorus. The tree leaves were always dancing with her as she hummed. The wind was her best friend, sometimes breathing quietly at her side while she slept, rushing about as they played hide and seek, howling at some injustice and even murmuring in a corner when they fought and had not yet made up. The sky bathed her like a scrubby child or a soft woman or breakable crystal. The animals, snakes and insects kept watch over her; an army on which she had only to call for protection.

La Diablesse knew she was beautiful. Treading carefully over roots and rocks, she walked naked, knelt by shallow pools that mirrored the sky, and saw her brown skin reflect all the beauty and life growing around her. She could speak all the languages of her companions. Through all of time, this was her home. She wanted for nothing. She felt deeply at peace.

One full moon night, there was a horrific killing in her forest. A man dragged a woman through the bushes and threw her against some dark, mossy rocks. There was one gunshot. The man spit and left, stumbling and casting his weight about without coordination.

La Diablesse had crept up to the woman, wondered whether it was the deep insight of her third eye which the man wished to blow away, and shuddered as the pores on her skin, from her foot to her scalp, grew cold as if overtaken by a sickly fever.

She surveyed the woman’s long white dress and the wide-brimmed white hat still gripped in one hand, and began to tug them away from her, pulling at the rim, then buttons, then skirt. She held up the dress and the moon shone through, so it appeared ghostly and alive, like a second skin that could lessen the cold she felt down to her bones. Shaking, she picked up the woman’s fallen shoe and put it on.

Many moons later, she again heard slow and deliberate footsteps, and turned quickly to hide within the folds of a large silk cotton tree trunk. A man was coming closer. He had not seen her, for the focus of his rifle was on a young deer that had only just grown to resemble its mother. Over his shoulder were iguanas, torturously tied but alive. The shot ricocheted off every held breath in the clearing. Birds screamed. The wind started to softly weep.

La Diablesse watched the man’s boots as they crushed decaying leaves, raising the scent of death. She saw him lean over the fallen deer, but unable to stomach its cold killing, she quietly crawled away, anger clawing her insides. She started to tremble just as she had when she bent over the woman and her hands crumpled the dress wrapped around her as she tried to contain her rage. She was a woman who now knew the terror of such unjust death. Who this man was did not matter. He could not do this and live.

For the first time, she began to head out of the forest, following the man, slowed by the unevenness of her legs. She reached the edge of the road and stood tall, the hat tilted against the sinking glare of the sun, the dress dancing around her. The wind sidled up to the man and whispered. He twisted and squinted into darkening forest. La Diablesse waved. She stepped back. He came closer. She moved back and the dress trailed.

The man never returned to the road. Neither did dozens of others, until these men became like grotesque companions, obsessed, then lost, then mad, then dead, with their eyes open in fear. Maybe it was a satisfying revenge in the beginning, but it soon became a feverish habit and, not long after, a terrifying fate.

Once an unknown emotion, now beautiful La Diablesse always felt lonely. Reminding her of her charm, and her wrath, the wind took her hand and ushered her to the edge of the road.

 

Post 247.

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Seen from the air, Guyana’s forested beauty is epic. The plane’s shadow buzzed over the treetops like a gnat, insignificant in afternoon sun and in comparison to such wondrously vast tree cover.

In between, bare red rock or white sand pockmarked the surface where old forest had been razed. Mining, quarrying or logging is making some rich in the present while leaving children in the future without this inheritance, for all your generation has to give is this one precious planet.

Such wounds seem small from the plane window, but are matters of life and death, of community traditions and contemporary rights, for Indigenous women continuing to resist in Guyana even as I write.

The taxi driver couldn’t figure out where all Guyana’s money went, for a country with gold, diamonds and timber should be the wealthiest in the Caribbean. ‘It don’t make sense’, he told me.

Not in Trinidad either where our resources made some rich while leaving the place poor: hospitals dirty, public transportation insufficient, prisons over-crowded, landfills unregulated, families violent and schools failing a third of the youth.

Given deals struck with Exxon and other companies, will Guyana’s oil just pass through the country like a dose of salts? If only others could learn the Trinidad lesson that wealth makes you shallow, wasteful, corrupt and consumerist as a nation; changes values so that the main ethic becomes private gain; and erodes attention and commitment to public responsibility, public utilities and public space.

As we drove, I tried to reconcile a Guyana I knew as a teenager when my mother joined Caricom.  At the same time back then, I moved to Barbados to start secondary school at Queen’s College, leaving Trinidad to become, first, a nowherian and, later, a regionalist.

It’s as a regionalist I listened to Christopher Ram, after a television interview in a neglected studio building, talk about his time in the Grenada Revolution and the hurt he still carries at its death.

It’s hard to imagine a generation from across the Caribbean traveled to Grenada to contribute to one island state’s aspiration to get independence right. It’s difficult to identify how much that aspiration was crushed and never quite returned. From Jamaica to Guyana, you can meet people who know what the fire of hope feels like and who carry the failures of that political experiment like the loss of a loved one, in their mind’s eye when they look into distance.

Arriving in Georgetown, there were areas I didn’t recognize. ‘We get modern’, said the driver, ‘we almost like foreign’.  There are better-lit highways, burgeoning suburbs, big cars, money laundering and ostentatious religious buildings. At best, the poor people, who remain the majority, struggling with VAT and joblessness, can hope to one day inherit the earth, but not tomorrow, next year or the next decade.

Such a dream deferred isn’t good enough. So, it’s important to cast our lot with those who remain indefatigable, rather than defeated, often women, often feminists.

One of them is Vanda Radzik, who drew the University of Guyana and the Women and Gender Equality Commission together to launch the collection, ‘Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought’, which I edited with Lisa Outar, a Guyanese born feminist scholar.

I first met Vanda thirty years ago, as I became aware of the anti-violence, ecological sustainability and economic empowerment work of the Guyanese women’s movement. Today, I’m simply and inadequately, like that small plane over such vast terrain, carrying these women’s legacy, trying to always remember and learn from their dream for a different future.

Similarly, the book collection’s premise is that Indo-Caribbean feminist thought requires us to look back as part of gathering our resources for the work ahead. The ways we imagine alternatives to all forms of oppression are richer when they draw on multi-ethnic, woman-centred, solidarity-based legacies of indentureship. This is the real wealth that arrival bequeathed.

The book is being launched in Guyana this week, and on Tuesday at 6pm, in UWI’s Law Faculty Auditorium, in Trinidad. All are welcome, for all these complex and tenuous threads, from Guyana to Trinidad to Grenada to elsewhere, some of which you may be gently holding over all these decades, are woven together there.

Post 246.

Have you heard of the ‘precariat’? This term names the experience of employment or under-employment for many, and maybe for you also, in the next decade.

The precariat comprises those who are salaried, but working in conditions of extreme insecurity. Workers on one month or three month contracts, whose year-long contracted jobs with benefits have been reduced to six or nine-months without benefits, those working longer hours for the same pay, in jobs not guaranteed to be funded another year. Such people could be any of us, working in government offices or as a newspaper columnist or in the university. No chance of loans or a mortgage; uncertainty regarding whether you can pay school costs, health bills or rent; fear of whistle-blowing corruption, mismanagement or ineptitude; undercut collective bargaining power; and demoralization follow.

Think of all the workers on the breadline since fossil revenues fell away, the impact on families, and the absolute futility of underfunded social services unable to respond. From this, expect an oncoming rise of drug and human trafficking, gun crimes, gang and intimate partner violence, and religious fundamentalism as gutted governments find nations increasingly ungovernable.

But, here, the precariat is lucky because they haven’t been laid off, just underpaid and without job security. They’ve joined those already making ends meet in the informal economy, in daily-paid jobs, in home-based work, or in the poor conditions of the retail sector – where women predominate. It’s worse for the young, and worst of all for young women, despite their greater investment in education. We have yet to see whether managers and bosses will fight for fair salaries for their staff or bow to a logic that exploits those earning the least with pride that they are, at least, still salaried. It’s a loss-loss scenario and fails the standard of a human-centred economy, for people with stability are much more likely to show vision, investment and leadership in their jobs and community.

And, we can’t legitimately throw entrepreneurial language at these folks, though such tiefhead is all the rage. Entrepreneurship or self-employment has a long, proud history in the region, as farmers, market vendors, seamstresses, bakers, broom-makers, designers, music producers and others will tell you, but it comes without health or maternity benefits, clear work hours, legal protections, and a strong social safety net, and results in lower lifetime savings.

Cadres of stable jobs, particularly in institutions, are necessary, as insecure workers find it hard to think or live beyond the present and their own bottom line – a major problem in our national culture already. Such precarity is what would have been considered exploitation in better times, but what you better be grateful for today. Although, the truth is, the rise of precarious work gives rise to a precarious society.

Yet, keep these in mind.

Globally, while the incomes of poor and middle-class have risen incrementally (though precarity is reversing this), the incomes of the wealthiest have risen exponentially under neoliberal capitalism (a term which you should get off Facebook and go google). The problem isn’t one of lack of money globally or in Trinidad and Tobago.

It’s that wealth is concentrated or wielded rather than equitably or responsibly distributed, particularly to workers of all kinds. In 2002, our budget was almost 50 billion less than today, yet our population is only marginally larger. Waste, corruption and irresponsible elites have left us in this state. We must learn to follow every dollar. For, workers pay the price.

Third, though corporations, investment and equity firms, and banks, rather than governments, rule the global political economy, the state has huge responsibility for managing this moment, through its education, prison reform, border protection, gender, environmental, agricultural, public transport and other policies.

Better governmental management for greater public good is totally possible as anyone familiar with dozens of unimplemented and common sense recommendations made over the past thirty years knows. Every kind of worker must hold political elites accountable for state failures and suffering that follows.

New movements must thus emerge, for this growing group of workers can organize for greater collective power and decision-making over this increasingly insecure and unequal economy.

Welcome to the precariat for whom the struggle is present and real.