Search Results for 'carnival'


Post 408.

I’ve delayed this column for a long time, intimidated by the challenge of writing in homage to my long-time friend and ally, Colin Robinson. We don’t always agree, but it’s impossible not to love Colin, his ironic sense of humour and counter-intuitive analyses of jostling over power, his detailed eye for clever strategy, and easy flow of insights and wise words.

More than ten years ago, Colin gave a speech I’ll never forget. It was on reproductive rights, but he somehow wove in Spiritual Baptists, LBGTI folk and others you wouldn’t think share the same cause. If all who understood discrimination or life at the margins of state law and social acceptance were able to connect to each other’s desires for inclusion, then we could strengthen each other’s struggle to equally belong as many different bodies.

In another decade-old memory, I arrived at a UNC rally and was captured by the sight of the CAISO logo flying in the sea of yellow. Colin was there, with CAISO’s “6 in 6” campaign which advocated for six policy and leadership steps on sexual orientation and gender identity in six months after the May 24, 2010, election. It was a bold insertion of a right to citizenship, but a hard day for the young people accompanying Colin who encountered homophobia which he had to mentor them through.

In the decade that has followed, there have been innumerable examples of Colin’s pathbreaking courage and his sensitive mentorship, and his insistence that marginalised people can make “liveable lives” in the Caribbean. He’s kept his eye on key goals, constantly refining language, reach, movement-building, leadership and actions to transform unjust power. There are core values he’s returned to again and again. For me, they are his legacy, the path he’s imagined is our best route. I asked him about them a few months ago.

What follows are excerpts from that conversation, focusing on Colin’s politics of relationship-building and his call for us to be imaginative in the ways we claim and we create ourselves.

In Colin’s words, “If we can build relationships that can be sustained across our differences, we have a basis for sharing the nation. We must show up and earn value among others by being in solidarity. The strategic route to equality and inclusion is not rights claims, which can get you there, but can’t get you there in a sustainable way. When you make a claim, somebody has to lose and that’s the challenge. It’s based on pressure, it’s contingent, it’s not values-driven or sustainable. Rights fulfilment is about focusing on how to sustain the fulfilment of rights and not just the claim. Feminist nationalism, sharinglothe nation, is based on shared values and a different approach to power through listening, seeing yourself in other people’s stories.

“We have to put out values that people find themselves in, practise patience and solidarity and forgiveness that doesn’t enable abuse of power and patriarchy, but cements those relationships. Allies don’t speak for you, they listen to your dreams and concerns. Listening can be transformative. Constant attention to solidarity starts with listening to each other’s dreams of belonging. When you show up in relationships, it is transformative.

“Imagination is as central to liberation as power. If you can’t imagine it, it doesn’t exist. The power of revolution is imagining the world as it doesn’t yet exist. We have to imagine the Caribbean imaginatively. And that’s where we fail, we imagine, but not imaginatively enough. Imagination and innovation are everywhere but not in relation to the most enduring structures of justice in our lives.

“We turn instead to order. Procedural justice and human rights is still a favour, somebody you know, a niceness. It’s not a core vision, there is still a distributive idea that we don’t all get it. We don’t know how to create a system that creates procedural fairness, we cannot imagine systems that enable. Our imaginations are around order, violence and punishment, we value rules above justice. That’s the frustration.

“We have not been able to imagine an economy and structures that are enabling, it’s still outside of the order, in Carnival, at the side of the road. Imagine is the one thing that humans do. The constant turn to authoritarianism is undermining the most valuable resource we have, which is our innovativeness.

“We put things together in a way that they have not been put before. Whether it is in terms of art or technology or society, we innovate. We have an ability to imagine futures that are not the present. It’s also about how to enter the world that way, that political work is about imagination and transformation. Imagine the future you want to create.”

Colin, our gratitude for your dreams and guidance, laughter and words. They enable so many of us to walk a path you’ve imagined, coming closer to achieving relationships of loving freedom with each other, and believing, with optimism and creativity, that it can and will happen.

Post 364.

Carnival is interwoven with our lives, but representations of it tend to focus on the public and performative. Our narratives also emphasize the big Carnival bands and big musical names. However, as we close this season, I’d like to reflect instead on the little stories we don’t see, particularly in relation to children and family.

On Carnival Friday, Ziya won her school Calypso Monarch competition with her entry, ‘Send Parents Back to School’.

The song was produced by her dad, Lyndon ‘Stonez’ Livingstone, who is a long time DJ and producer. Born into Trinidad and Tobago’s spoken word movement through Rapso in 1998, but having moved away from both poetry and performing as work and motherhood took over, I get a connection to the past through writing calypsos for Zi.

Though our marriage has moved on since the days when he would produce for me, when a DJ and a poet have a daughter, we get to nurture an intergenerational love and engagement with local culture. We also get to be better people and parents from having to come together each year to cooperate for her. Through the growing pains of creating new relationships and definitions of ourselves, it’s no small truth to say that calypso has helped to keep our sense of family together.

For a long time, we looked at our shy, cautious and hesitant child, and wondered if she would grow into her confidence. Now in her fifth year of a little school competition, and her second win, I was amazed to see a blossoming nine-year-old command her school stage; her stance powerful, her delivery strong and her performance bold.

She wanted the prize money, to buy Lego and mint gum, she had developed a sense of ambition and competition, and she was increasingly willing to take risks publicly. Other parents may have similar stories of Carnival’s opportunities for confidence-building, and may be able to say this about drama and sports, but it was calypso that did it for Zi.

There may be much to debate about the value and legacy of these last weeks, but this is one quiet and small story that Carnival has left with me. It’s like this around the country, in pan sides filled with youth, in family mas camps where children learn about the spiritedness of masquerade while still at the breast, in musical homes where young bards begin to follow in elders’ footsteps.

In each of these, there are not simply stories of fete and wine and rum. There are also real moments of separated parents sharing common commitment and joy; of little children learning about Carnival as hard work, shared effort and a labour of love; and the awkwardness of self-doubt blooming into new-found capacity to aspire and achieve.

As so many want for their children, we wanted Ziya to learn about what it means to speak up for her generation and to connect to others so that they can see their reality in what she advocates. We wanted her to see that a hook is a clear message which can signify an historical moment. We wanted her to know that the more she knew about her country is the more resonant her voice could be across time. We wanted her to know that social commentary had to be more than a lament, it had to capture imagination while being accessible to anyone willing to listen.

So, we kept the lyrics simple:

Children, what to say? Like Trinbago gone astray. Crime and violence is the rule. Send parents back to school!

Like adults forget all their learned. Set bad example with no concern. We fed up, fed up not being safe. Parents must learn how to behave.

So put on your uniform, shine your shoes. We giving tests and homework too. First class is basic civics, and revision until the country fix.

Ting a ling ling. School bell ring. Too much adults misbehaving. Ting a ling ling. School bell ring. Back to school every morning!

Tell Gary Griffith, we have a plan to fight criminals across the land, teach about the country we should have, put the future in parents’ school bag!

Children, what to say? Like Trinbago gone astray. Crime and violence is the rule. Send parents back to school!

As critics cross swords over what was wasted and gained, this is a story of Carnival’s possibilities for togetherness and growth.  As a grateful mother of a little girl, this is therefore also a small ode to kaiso.

Post 350.

As Carnival takes over airwaves, we can explore its representations of music, culture and sexual pleasure. These representations are often contradictory, drawing us into debate. They are sometimes more important than first appears, charting a historical moment, or highlighting generational change or US influence, or showing what adolescents, tuned in on Instagram and Youtube, are learning from us about empowerment and gender.

Destra’s recently released ‘Rum and Soca’ video is an intriguing mix of representations that signal much about our time. The video’s narrative is basically like the African-American movie, ‘Girls Trip’, which is a story of women’s friendship and a wild weekend of dancing, drinking, and romancing to excess.

This narrative is at home here in Trinidad and Tobago, with its long history of “girls’ limes”, and women drinking and wining with each other in fetes and on the road. It’s a welcome story as there are far too few videos of women enjoying themselves without performing at men’s command or for men’s pleasure or to attract men or as backdrop to a dominant male voice. “Party done” may have been the last time women were out like this on their own.

There are almost no men in Destra’s video and none on the mic. Those in the scenes are mere background to the social intimacy that affirms a right to woman-centred fun. The take up of a particular brand of consumer and celebrity feminism in Port of Spain is symbolized by the wealth and status of a limo, mansion, long blond wig and closet full of clothes combined with the Carnivalesque bacchanal of bam bam, and its emphasis on women’s licentious freedom as empowerment.

There’s much to say about such empowerment. It seems to be symbolized by drinking to excess, a privilege traditionally reserved for men. Destra herself has at least eight drinks, and I found myself wondering about the messages to adolescent girls. Such drinking has historically costed those who may find themselves assaulted and then blamed for getting to a point where they can’t remember their last name. Such risks of victim blaming are real and I wondered about the counter warning to young women that excessive alcohol consumption easily turns a sense of power into vulnerability.

The drunkenness is simply Destra keeping up. Men have been triumphing such excess for decades, from “Drunk and Disorderly” to “Rum till I Die”, and it’s debatable whether it’s fair to hold women to a higher standard. Indeed, one can argue that the video is also an Afro-creole version of a matikor, the Caribbean’s longest and most iconic historical expression of rum-drinking, women-only wining and queer potential in a safe space created by women themselves.

Yet, one can’t be naïve about alcohol marketing in the Caribbean. Only four brands are visible in the video. It’s almost blatantly an extended Angostura ad, following in the footsteps of Machel, who introduced advertising for his own rum into his repertoire of songs, because scraping the barrel in this way as an artist makes good business sense. Company branding conflated with cultural production should compel us to question the role that alcohol companies play in sponsoring and profiteering from fetes, bands, artists and videos, and encouraging young adults to become drinkers.

The video’s major intervention, however, is its erotic intimacy among women. Women’s same sex sexual attraction has been going mainstream with videos by Rihanna and Shakira, Shenseea, Rita Ora and Cardi B, Kehlani and Teyana Taylor, Janelle Monae, and more.

In these videos and in Destra’s, women are also holding hands, near kissing, and touching bodies in ways that blur the line between heterosexuality, bisexuality and lesbianism, or in ways that ‘queer’ being straight. Whether it’s alcohol, or sexual experimentation, or sexual fluidity, Destra’s video can be simultaneously read as straight and gay, as deliberately ambiguous, and as defying easy identity labels.

Such queering has a long history in the region. Yet, for lesbians in Trinidad and Tobago, same-sex desire isn’t something that happens when you’re drunk or that is about a night out. It’s an identity that isn’t taken on and off, and still carries great social stigma. One can only hope that women celebrities’ openness to ambiguity, play and enjoyment normalises challenges to homophobia and an inclusive world for women beyond its rules.

Cultural representations of empowerment, sexuality, womanhood and feminism in the Caribbean can be problematic as well as emancipatory, but shouldn’t simply be dismissed. Signs of our times, and their shifts and debates, continue to come in Carnival music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post 340.

There is an evening occurrence along the road which rushes through the Chagaramas peninsula. It is fragile and fleeting, yet marvelous and priceless to observe. I would put money that none who have acquired low-cost leases and are busily privatizing the coast have a clue of its existence.

If I was the gambling sort, I’d bet even more money that no minister responsible for that precious area has ever stopped at the side of the road as dusk fell and witnessed the natural habitat of species come to life, at the same time seeing how little we notice or care about its easy peril.

What is the species? Bats. What is so marvelous? There’s are special parts of the hillside and unique trees that thousands of bats fly out from when daylight begins to darken. You can stand just across the road from them, directly in their path, and feel the wind rush from their wings again and again as thousands emerge into the night, surging skyward just feet from you.

You can hear them as they sweep past your body, barely missing you as they come, maneuvering trucks thundering by. It’s genuinely euphoric to stand there, awed by life as you barely considered it, like discovering real gold in the midst of everyone obsessing about carnivalesque tin foil.

Bats. So what, right? Most people are afraid of them and feel that such fear justifies getting rid of them for something better, preferably in concrete, without too much bush, but plenty bright lights and heart-arresting amplification, even in what should be a protected, dark and quiet corner of our national ecosystem.

For me, the prized parts of our nation, the aspects I feel most patriotic toward, have nothing to do with wearing red or waving a flag or terrifying domestic and foreign animals with fireworks. For me, it often comes down to searching out those unimaginable experiences that rely on a delicate and easily-lost combination of our own history and nature.

Independence isn’t about becoming an owner of the place, it’s about a sense of responsibility for all its cultural and biological diversity. It’s about humility toward all its inhabitants, for they have just as much claim to God as to legal protection.

There’s a way that the privatization of this coast, which dismisses the spirit of the 1974 Chagaramas Development Plan, feels shallow and greedy. There’s a way that focusing your eye on a nice piece of property to lease makes me wonder if you’ve ever wandered through this ecosystem, and understand anything of its interconnections. It makes me wonder if you’ve ever seen a pink-toed tarantula sitting quietly like rare diamond or if you’ve thought about the wild caiman that used to live at the mouth of the river before it was bridged up and gentrified.

That same caiman may have surprised bathers at William’s Bay, venturing there as its ancestors might have for generations, before finding itself now imprisoned in the zoo, no longer free. Crouching in the bush, I watched it with Ziya when she was four, warning her she would be one of the few children in the country to ever witness this species, this very caiman, at that bank of the river, at home in its habitat. Now, no more.

This is what I mean by precious and fleeting. Future construction will lead to those trees, which are home and pathway to so many thousands of bats, being cut down, and that very magical spot disappearing before we even bother to recognise its value. We cannot bring back animals, birds and insects when we destroy their traditions, families and spaces, and we often haven’t thought about their relationships to other species, including ourselves.

As I stood at one spot, grateful to see those places where our immense biodiversity still takes one’s breath away, I knew that anyone who witnessed this would appreciate the whole social-economy around our environment – which we are killing rather than conserving. Here I was, in Chagaramas, experiencing its greatest public wealth, for free. How clear, under brightening stars, that investment which prioritizes what is man-made is sheer folly and conceit.

This wonderous few feet of valley, with hills on both sides, is a tunnel from the past to the future. What CDA thinks of as development will soon leave it destroyed and gone, despite the centuries it took to form.  Before that happens, Zi will again go with me to learn what it means to treasure and, perhaps, mourn.

 

Post 331.

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THIS EVENING, Bocas Lit Festival and Commonwealth Writers will be launching the collection, We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture, at the Writers’ Centre on Alcazar Street, Port of Spain, from 6.30 o’clock.

The collection commemorates the centenary of the end of indentureship and includes writing from South Africa, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius and Samoa. It’s powerful to be included in a space with those from other places where indentured workers turned exploitation into opportunities, making new lives and birthing new lineages and stories.
Indian indentureship has transformed our landscape in the Caribbean, and these voices evoke its afterlife 100 years on. Writers in the collection from TT include Patti-Ann Ali, Kevin Jared Hosein, Suzanne Bhagan, Stella Chong Sing, Fawzia Muradali Kane, and Jennifer Rahim, diverse voices marking different kinds of memories.

My own piece, titled “Chutney Love,” was written in 1996 and I used to perform it in my younger days in the rapso movement. The year 1995 was a richly complex moment in our recent political history. The rise of the UNC evoked the dashed hopes of 1986. For some, “it was Indian time now” as chorused by graffiti on the bus route, seen every time a maxi passed by.

It was also the year of chutney music continuing to “douglarise” Carnival, following the boundary-breaking entry of Drupatee Ragoonai in the 1980s and then others, from Chris Garcia to Sonny Mann, to Brother Marvin who continued the mixing of Indian and African rhythms and music started by those like Ras Shorty I.

Finally, Indo-Caribbean women’s writing and scholarship blossomed in these years. Theirs was a turn to words that at the same time turned away from ideals of purity as, in both bodies and in lyrics, women began to play up feminist politics of power and pleasure.

The poem’s lines, written when I was inspired by these developments at just 22 years old, bring together rapso’s commitment to performing poetry in the language we speak everyday with my own negotiations with Indianness, femininity, sexuality, political consciousness, and cross-race and anti-imperialist solidarities for “we both cross water for empire/ And ever since we lan up here together/ Is with only one history that we grow.”

“I ent nobody bowjie/ No promised dulahin” are the opening lines in the second verse, “But when de tassa start to roll up/ Beta, dem lyrics yuh have, I done write myself in.”
This tradition of Indian women writing themselves into Indo-Caribbean culture and history can be traced at least as far back as Indian women’s arrival, but was brought with them from India, through the depots and onto the ships.

These women’s voices can be heard in everything from letters to court documents to ship records, all leaving an echo in our own contemporary pressing against imposed roles and rules, and in our continued aspirations for self-determined lives.

As one example, just this Saturday, rolling through Plum Road with Prof Brinsley Samaroo, pre-eminent historian of Indo-Caribbean experience, Ziya and I ended up at St Isadore Estate, and stood in the very places where Bheeknee once stood. Born 1869, Bheeknee came to Trinidad on July 31, 1874, on the ship the Golden Fleece, with her mother and her baby brother. Her father had died aboard. She was just five years old.
When she was 13, George Kernahan, a sailor on the Golden Fleece, who had later begun working as an estate manager, found and took her to live with him, fathering several children. He was a spendthrift and alcoholic who eventually became blind. Meanwhile Bheeknee went on to frugally manage their money and to eventually purchase 500 acres of land – what became the estate we were now standing on.

She was so astute that she had ponds dug from natural springs, installing huge pipes and ensuring a fresh water supply while running a successful cocoa estate. Later, when Kernahan lost the estate to debtors, Bheeknee moved the family a few miles away where she had bought more than 30 acres without him knowing. Her house still stands there today. A jahaji bahen with no education who accomplished brilliant achievements through will to survive before her death in 1934. I’ll be remembering her today, and how history lives in words as much as in our landscape.

As we mark memories, whether from 1917, 1934 or 1995, come hear pieces read by their authors, all descendants of indenture, writing ourselves in. Like most Bocas’ events, the launch is free and all are welcome.

 

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Post 324.

IT WAS a brief, breath-held moment of unexpected confidence. As a mother, I felt as if I had managed to do something right. This rare feeling wasn’t dependent on her marks or good behaviour. It came as I watched her be brave as if that’s what she was born to do.

Ziya’s typically a little shy and hesitant, but Friday was her fourth calypso monarch competition at her primary school. We never understood how she agreed to go up on stage in the first place. The last thing she wanted was the awkwardness of public performance and attention, what she described as “too many people watching.”

We figured that, somehow, being the daughter of a DJ and a poet maybe had genetic influence. We thought that maybe growing up in a production studio made her edge a little closer to familiarity with music. There isn’t a clear answer, but she was up there when she was five years old expressing a self that seemed unusual for a girl who would still hide behind me when she met strangers. She stood on the school’s auditorium stage then; small, focused and fixed to the spot, remembering her lyrics.

We sent her up twice more, finding topics that filled a space for children in Carnival and focused on the little ups and downs of their lives. So, her first song, Mosquito, complete with a dance and drawing the interest of the Ministry of Health in their fight against dengue, was followed by a composition about losing her pot hound, Shak Shak, when she ran away one day.

True story: Shak Shak was found a week later far away in Las Cuevas, inexplicably distant from Santa Cruz, and well looked-after. She had, somehow, hopped a drop to the beach and the song found the humour in searching high and low, almost from Tobago to Toco, calling and calling. The chorus, “Where’s Shak Shak?,” got the whole audience to participate in solving this mystery.

Last year, we decided to start experimenting with soca, bringing calypso story-telling to pace and production which children could dance to. Have you ever noticed that there’s no music just for children at Carnival, their own soca genre that draws from the best of call-and-response refrains, and exuberant happiness? We began to aim to create that content.

Though Zi would alternately agree and refuse to compete, as shyness recalibrated with the push of coming second place, in the end she was there singing, Pencil Cases in the Air, a tune about packing your school bag. “Before the school bell rings, every morning check your things: erasers, sharpeners, rulers too, scissors, pencils and your glue,” she listed. Now in her third year, she was bouncing a bit more, tapping her foot on the stage’s wooden floor, but still contained like a child successfully performing what she had rehearsed, not yet able to leap into connecting with an audience.

This year, it’s like she grew up, as children so quickly do, one day more capable at a particular skill than they were before, as if the cumulative effort of years of parenting suddenly met with the right age for another step in life to be conquered.

Singing about the tribulations of having to learn times tables, we wrote lyrics for eight-year-olds, about the pressure of having to know the answer to two times eight, about revising for tests and being up late, and about it being true for every child that, “times tables coming for you.”

It isn’t often that you get to tell a story of Carnival as a space for growing up, whether for children singing, stilt-walking, playing pan or playing mas. On stage this year, she moved like an experienced performer, channelling the humour of Rose and Sparrow, the populism of Iwer and Machel, and the sweetness of Shadow’s horns.

I had never seen her this confident. One day, children grow into a lesson and get it perfect, maybe in English, math, music or sports. Then, if you are a mother who often doubts if she’s making the best decisions or one who quietly regrets her many mistakes, you exhale because such bravery was all you had hoped for, and you give thanks with wonder, rather than pride.

Although this is a story of Carnival, calypso and growing up, and of finally winning through many tries, such momentary magic of together getting it right is one with which parents anywhere in sweet T and T can perhaps identify.

 

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Post 323.

Could Carnival produce less garbage?

Somewhere, in the midst of all the music and coming together, is it possible for the right people to commit in the right way to make it happen?

No one cares once feteing starts until crossing the stage culminates, but a little leadership in the lead up could change our whole country. Carnival, after all, could be so collective, so representative of who we are, if only we see who our best could be.

I’ve walked around with Ziya or accompanied her through Kiddies’ Carnival thinking that, no matter how I’d like to teach her what responsibility means, the landscape socializes her to not care, to not even notice, to assume that discarding any and everything is without consequence, and to think that this is a privilege she should take for granted.

She’s simultaneously learning to selectively see who her people are and what her culture condones – an all too common problem whether in relation to garbage, violence or corruption.

I’d blame government for their lack of leadership and for sitting in the audience to hear calypso like its 1968, reproducing a tradition of nothing changing while the garbage piles up around them, but I’m convinced not seat in Cabinet, or in Opposition, actually cares about such blame. Imagine, not one national initiative or effort has successfully transformed our Carnival footprint in all these years.

Where does everyone think all that excessive plastic and Styrofoam goes on a small island that dumps it in our neighbour’s backyard, in rivers or in the ocean? This isn’t just about our global impact, it’s also about our pride in and care of our one twin-island home.

Every Styrofoam box that held fries and every cup that briefly contained corn soup will be poisoning our ecosystem after we are all dead, and our great grandchildren are left to suffer from the carelessness of our mess.

If the government decided that it would work with the private sector to coordinate availability of and emphasis on paper plates and cups to transform our social practices, and if they collaborated with the big profit-making bands and all-inclusive fetes to significantly reduce their footprint, then Carnival could fulfill the potential for not only its own beauty, but also as a maker of history on the anthropocene’s world stage.

The garbage we leave behind in the fete and on the road gets cleaned up and disappears from our immediate view and our short-term memory. However, it ends up somewhere and it remains the responsibility of each of us to catch up with a planet that needs us to no longer culturally celebrate an out-of-timing backwardness.

Every single one of us could demand better from our band, from the NCC, and from the Cabinet. All it takes is will, coordination, alternatives, and a little investment beyond the individual into an idea of a collective, and transformations that seem impossible can happen overnight.

As you jump up in the next week, take a second to look around at your feet, and at the garbage surrounding you. It’s such a different sight from the emphasis on dressing up and looking good, from playing a beautiful mas and playing your sequined and colourful body, but it’s where our real self – under the make-up and masquerade – is most visible.

How does it look? How do you think its looks to another generation learning that this is our greatest show on earth?

Every year, I wonder when Carnival will do it differently from the year before. I wonder if maybe we will do it out of love for our country or for the little children.

This year, as I walked through the space that means so much to so many, I wondered if, buoyed by music and spirit, we might chip away from our past and do it for something so close to our heart as our beloved Savannah grass.

 

Post 322.

Sunday’s semi-finals provided annual bliss of sweet pan. As night fell, I rolled up on the dusty asphalt of the track, loving the tradition of rich and poor rubbing shoulders.

This is always my favorite place to be. As the bands move toward the savannah, all and sundry stand up close and in between the pans, holding on and swaying in suspension of tensions of sex, race, class and creed just for those minutes of high mas, and watching the players practice like anointed spirits that descend back into ordinary life once the last note is played.

You could close your eyes and safely get lost right there, for around you others also seem lifted by sounds of iron and steel dissecting and combining and jumping up into the air.

Wandering toward the stage, I meandered through children and babies playing amidst families and friends drinking, eating, talking and leaning back against muted sounds of soca from food vendors, for this wasn’t a fete in here, with its distorted bass and its bawling DJs, this was social space for communities of pan players and lovers to congregate over finer points of music.

To see the police walk through, maybe twenty strong and parting the crowd the way Two Face Crew once – a long time ago – used to, showed an approach at odds with its own cultural context.

People are happy for policing that makes society safe, but that effort doesn’t always have to appear more badjohn than the bandits. There’s an embeddedness in the local rather than a separation from people, that if conveyed, would make police presence more welcomed, and more respected.

I thought about how much more accepted police would appear if they walked through dispersed in smaller groups, acknowledging those around them, rather than seeming at odds with or distrustful of informal cultures of togetherness.

Seeing them, these blue-uniformed women and men who are indeed our own, I didn’t feel safer, I felt criminalized and infantilized, like the relaxed intergenerational joy I had been experiencing was sternly told to keep within bounds of good behavior. I felt like when old school teachers walk into a classroom of talkative students and hush descends as they menacingly take out a hard ruler, and you get frighten even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

Threats are everywhere and police have their job to do, but policing isn’t just swagger, it’s engagement with multiple representations and strategies. It requires an assessment of the present and an understanding of the past.

During Carnival, there are tensions around policing itself for completely valid historical reasons. It was police, in keeping order, who kept oppression in place, and Carnival revitalizes significant memory about why such force should be resisted. At the same time, levels of gun crimes, murders and feelings of insecurity also provide valid reasons for police visibility. Still, the whole country doesn’t need to be intimidated as if it is a criminal gang.

We’d all have felt their presence, and all have appreciated that could mean deterrence of crime and quick response when required, but we would have felt this way even without such a mass show of strong-arm force. There’s skill in asserting the professional authority that connects to what publics expect and what makes people feel reassured without overkill.

In my decades on the track, I’ve seen how spaces of public safety and artistic connection, and family feeling and national togetherness do exist. These are a resource for policing which should be embraced, rather than dismissed.

Part of pan bliss is the collective energy of people pushing steel bands on stage in a powerful metaphor for the idea of taking care of our own, and putting a hand in with beloved and stranger alike to press ahead, in pace with sweetness, ambitious camaraderie, and excitedly beating hearts.

As I crossed with All Stars, the phalanx of police appeared again, burly with stern faces, set jaws, helmets and big guns, to hurry us off stage, for such togetherness has to be kept on time and in order by the threat of a lil rough up for not listening quick enough.

I would have exited just as quickly if such anti-riot assemblage was replaced by nice ladies in bright t-shirts, without guns in competition for power with all that steel. As the band began, I looked on thinking about what Carnival taught us long ago. There’s fear and there’s love, and no power can govern legitimately through the first alone.

 

 

 

 

Post 320.

The Phillip Alexander ruckus this past week has made me descend to calling for what should be already agreed upon. If you missed his critique of Hema Ramkissoon’s interview of PEP party members, it included a threat “to drag you to hell and beat you among the flames” because he felt he and the party were attacked. It included bringing up her private life and her past, her appearance, and using words like “stink” and “dutty”. It’s almost as if ole mas reached the party too early in Carnival season.

The interview wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse from Fazeer Mohammed, and from radio hosts who thought sexist block talk was professional journalistic engagement.

I thought the women representing the party, Felicia Holder and Michelle Davis, were excellent. I’ve been on air and annoyed with media hosts for asking what I thought were baseless or biased questions, distracting the public from getting the point, and pressing me to justify my position in ways that I knew others would not have to fight for legitimacy.

Felicia Holder looked visibly annoyed at times, as I have, but also held her own, as one learns to. I liked her pitch and representation of principle, just like I like when citizens – including a younger generation – rise up and organize against those who have ruled far too long and overseen far too much injustice – and here I’m pointing all my fingers at both the PNM and UNC.

Over twenty years of observing elections, I’m not the cynic others have become. While one must always count polling divisions to calculate wins, losses and draws, I’m up for the role that third, fourth, and fifth parties play. They galvanise those who have stopped voting, represent those at the margins, raise outstanding issues, and remind parliamentarians that they do not have a sacrosanct hold on the great house. Such civic engagement makes the strongest form of democracy.

In such a democracy, violence of any kind, including in language, in images distributed, and in physical attacks, undermines broad participation. Across the world, women are notoriously more vulnerable in politics and particularly affected by such violence. They are inappropriately and unnecessarily sexualized. Their personal lives are targeted for public shame. They face sexist and threatening language to a greater extent.

Few women who have entered politics – whether as candidates or as public commentators – are unfamiliar with this, whether it’s in images of Marlene Macdonald, supposedly in lingerie, shared around the internet; or in endless totally hypocritical man-talk about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sex life; or in Keith Rowley’s many infamous double entendres – women as golf a course, a woman Prime Minister as a cat; or backlash gossip against women in media who say or write words others think they shouldn’t.

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) writes, “an often neglected form of violence to consider is political violence against women. Whether this is outright violence towards women running campaigns or sexist discourse undermining women’s political credibility”. Women face “literally twice as much psychological abuse/violence during elections than men”, and have “a starkly different experience of the political world”.

In a 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, involving 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries, the “findings reveal troubling levels of prevalence – particularly for psychological violence, the most widely spread form, affecting 81.8 per cent of the respondents from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44.4 per cent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term”.

Further, “65.5 per cent said they had been subjected several times, or often, to humiliating sexist remarks…on social media and, to a lesser extent, by telephone or e-mail, or during political meetings”. Their appearance, conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life were all subjects of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision.

In 2016, National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost campaign: “a global call to action to raise awareness to stop violence against women in politics. The campaign’s title reflects the fact that many women are told that harassment, threats, psychological abuse (in person and online), physical and sexual assault are “the cost of doing politics””. Key is holding perpetrators accountable.

Working in the media doesn’t justify women’s (or anyone’s) risk of violence. Elections don’t justify it either. Political non-violence should be a commitment printed in manifestos and promised on platforms. It should be ensured by ‘women’s arms’, ‘youth arms’, and all men ruling party hierarchies, including the blustering and agitated PEP.

 

Post 306.

I called Miss Pinky to ask how she was and this time she wasn’t in tears. Her washing machine was lost after floods last year, and with help she recovered. This year, the new one was lost, along with her fridge and stove. Next door, her children and grandchildren “lost everything”, a phrase that is now so common across the country, despite remaining so surreal.

Compassion, care and help will be needed for months, for whole communities have been devastated, whole areas of small enterprise and home-based businesses lost, and thousands left traumatized.

I thought of Miss Pinky because she’s retired. Though she worked as a cleaner for decades at UWI, from just this month, she’s no longer here. As the university collected its list of staff and students affected, I thought about senior citizens and their additional vulnerabilities, their health complications, their economic insecurity and how much they will have to rely on their children for their recovery, if their children are able to provide.

When I called, Miss Pinky was using a hair dryer to try to dry out and fix her stove. She was by friends because her doctor advised her against staying surrounded by water where she could get an infection. They had been provided with food. I wondered at her resilient positivity, at her shock, at the fact that she was focusing on the immediate, rather than the full flood of tears that was she was absorbing after such a setback.

There’s a lot to say about the immediate crisis intervention, but we should also focus our attention on the state’s coordination of a longer social response. People have to leave their damaged possessions in their yards as proof of their suffering, but this only furthers their sense of trauma and inability to move on with recovery as they wait for local government representatives to arrive.

If your documents are destroyed or lost, you can go to Richmond St. to have them re-issued, but this should be coordinated through the regional corporations so that you are not waiting for state officials to come to your house at the same time as having to go to the health centre to get antibiotics or anything else needed while finding someone to take you to PoS as your muddied vehicle is no longer working and then waiting there amidst hundreds of others with the same plight all while managing despair and PTSD without a counselor in sight.

Does every house need to keep its destroyed appliances? State officials know which neighbhourhoods and streets were flooded, already know the maximum amount that will be disbursed per household, and are keenly aware that this is barely enough to get a start, and only then because citizens everywhere are stepping in to help.

Any future disaster management plan must have the post-disaster recovery far better coordinated, with all state services available in one community location, whether the school shelters or regional corporations or police stations that are unaffected.

There’s something to keep in mind too: the situation for all our sister and brother citizens in a few months’ time when its Christmas and Carnival, and the media has moved on. Will we be able to track the effect of the flooding on children’s scores at SEA and in end of year tests? Was there a Ministry of Education plan for how to support those children in coping and thriving between now and then?

Do we know how women and men’s recovery will be affected by being in a female-headed household or a two-parent family or in an extended family with elderly or ailing parents or with disabled children? Or, among households that survived on home-based businesses, and who are now without both a place to live and a livelihood?

It’s so important for us to always understand that social context – income level, family type, source of income, disability, age, gender, experience of household violence – influences how people recover, their experience accessing social services and their approach to trauma.

Amidst the apocalyptic and heartbreaking destruction are people’s different and unequal capacities to recover. This is not a ‘national security’ issue, it’s an issue of coordination and sensitivity in post-disaster service provision. It is as necessary as life vests, ropes and rafts in police stations for the next time. And, there will be a next time.

Disaster recovery efforts should have planned for this, and for grandmothers like Miss Pinky who are living by the grace of God until the next such rain.   O