momentous trivialities: diary of a mothering worker


Post 378.

Neither elder nor younger Abu Bakr is a card-carrying member of the PNM, but both sought and say they were promised a chance at a seat under the party banner.  Party leader, Keith Rowley, would have had to convince constituency party groups and the whole PNM to include another political entity (the New National Vision) for the first time in history. 

This, from a go-it-alone party that finds coalition offensive and demeaning. This, from a party that only accepts cross-overs if they come from marginal constituencies and effectively combine insult with injury to the Opposition, or are voters. This, from a party that believes its inheritance is post-independence, patriarchal authority. It would certainly not invite in a contender to strengthen itself on PNM resources in order to aggrandize a cabal.

The party is aware that disaffection at its poor handling of the economy abounds, and every vote matters. It is inconceivable that it would risk inclusion of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an organization which a vast population born before 1990 still associates with violent state take-over, death and destruction, and collective willingness to hold a terrorized nation to ransom.  It is unlikely it would be threatened by the Jamaat’s control over votes in Port of Spain South. 

Even if they feel abandoned by the PNM, are all those “young Africans” (Abu Bakr’s term) going to vote for Mrs. Persad-Bissessar? The UNC is a Trojan horse for Indian men, aspiring for greater status, power and wealth than their fathers, to secure their influence over the political-economy. In the competition among patriarchies, they would be perceived as now ruling over African men with less status, power and wealth. 

Surely, the People’s Partnership State of Emergency and its criminalizing (and eventual releasing without charge) of such young Africans is hardly forgotten. African youth might find ways to rebel as a more politically-educated generation did in 1970. They might not vote, but it will be a grim day in fairy tale land for them to vote UNC.  Whether they will vote for Fuad, now re-throned as political leader of the NNV, we will see.

I’m fascinated by the Abu Bakrs’ audacity in publicly playing garrison politics with the nation. Garrison politics is best understood from Jamaica’s experience of politicians making alliances with dons, or male civilians who ‘control’ gangs, communities and organized violence, in order to secure the votes of urban, poor communities. As Rivke Jaffe writes, dons became power brokers as contracts, housing, jobs and money (and weapons) were distributed through them. Later, as the Jamaican state hit recession, dons “came to replace members of parliament (MPs) as community patrons who distributed largesse” and provided health services, schooling and policing. Empowered to secure urban order, dons became effective and accepted co-rulers (with politicians), in turn demanding “a steady flow of state funds and a measure of protection”. Demanding a seat inside government is the next, logical step. 

While not a don in the Jamaican sense, the Jamaat al Muslimeen is governed by a strongman leader who cares, invites loyalty, builds comraderie, promises ethical/religious certainty, establishes justice, and provides for basic necessities where the state has failed on all counts. Gangs perform the same function of creating a sense of value and belonging to a familial order, particularly for young Afro-Trinidadian men who feel alienated, abandoned and under threat. 

In Anna Ramdass’ Express story from May 31, 2020, Abu Bakr described the Jamaat as “responsible for the decrease in gang warfare, especially in the Enterprise, Chaguanas area”. He continued, “they ain’t kill no women because we make a law in the community”. Having locked off “gun warfare”, Abu Bakr boasted that only he holds the combination to the lock. Regarding Fuad, he promised, “Anywhere he go he will win, I is he father, I does rule the streets”. And, because manhood and sexual command over women is social capital in politics, elder Abu Bakr cast Fuad as “a sweet boy, he’s them girls sugar”. 

Elder Abu Bakr is, however, threatening as much as he is promising. If he can decrease crime, including domestic violence, he can allow its return. If he can bring in votes, he can bring down the government. This is the modus operandi of the don: to offer protection to politicians, but only if formal state institutions and representatives recognize and secure his rank and power.   

Fuad may want to represent grassroots youth, but what we witnessed was his play for power however his father brokers, knowing that he inherits patriarchal right over the Jamaat and the vote bank it can lock down from among genuinely disaffected communities. Rowley agitated such garrison politics by refusing to agree to the Abu Bakrs’ high-stakes game in king-making using “young Africans” as pawns or collateral and using a general election to secure a dynasty.

Post 377.

Just as we showed solidarity with South African sisters and brothers under apartheid, so too we should share the anger of African-Americans rioting against the US police murder of George Floyd, which followed police killing of Breonna Taylor in March.

Non-Black folk have a responsibility to support struggles against anti-blackness across the Americas. This responsibility is bigger than the historical disdain between Indo- and Afro-Caribbeans. It is bigger than APNU–AFC electoral fraud in Guyana and heightened racial distrust as a result. It’s bigger than UNC-PNM campaigning in Trinidad and Tobago, and the PM’s bizarre and race-baiting reference to a “recalcitrant and hostile minority” exactly 62 years to the day after it was said by Eric Williams on April 1, 1958.

Anti-blackness is the legacy of a new world order birthed by colonialism – which combined genocidal capitalism, dehumanizing white supremacy, sexual violence and imperial expansion. At the centre of its cold heart is the idea that White heterosexual masculinity presents an ideal representation of Man or what it means to be human, with all others from women to LBGTI folk to those from across the ‘Third’ or majority world mattering less.

Entrenched through slavery, and not yet dismantled, blackness biologically represented the ultimate non-human. Once defined as property, black bodies remain the least valued of all. This is the reality in the US where state violence against black communities enforces such continued coloniality. #BlackLivesMatter and #IndigenousLivesMatter movements highlight the legacy that some bodies and lives, and their decimation, still matter least.

In Canada, on May 27th, police killed Regis Korchinski Paquet, a 29 year-old Afro-Indigenous woman. Thousands have been marching in Toronto against police violence, and its intersection with anti-black and anti-indigenous racism.

In Trinidad and Tobago, there has been an increase in police killings since 2018, predominantly of poor Afro-Trinidadians. Here too, black lives are disposable and we pay attention, only briefly, when communities burn tires to protest these murders and witnesses dispute police reports of self-defense.

As Dylan Kerrigan writes, “There is no consideration of the context of social problems, the background to the problem, or the historical evolution of the issues… poor black victims are simply ‘bad people’.”  When we pay attention, it is less to the injustice than to the threat to a social order in which some lives are, nevertheless, always under greater threat.

We saw such US reporting shift attention to the looting over the past week which simply distracts from and belittles legitimate rage. Young activist, Tamika Mallory, put it well. America has long been looting black lives, and the violence of looting in this week’s protests has been learned from the example of impunity over hundreds of years, beginning with the looting of Indigenous land.

Jamaicans for Justice have been protesting the May 27th murder of Susan Bogle, a 44 year-old mentally challenged black woman in August Town, St. Andrew, who was killed inside her home by Jamaican soldiers. For the year, there have been investigations into 361 incidents involving Jamaican police and at least 18 incidents involving Jamaican soldiers.

Violent protests by communities result from a broken social contract that leaves no investment in obeying power or rules. That said, the US government has a dirty history of undermining Black Power, peace and environmental movements, including by instigating violence, and no doubt this is happening today.

Excessive state repression, which we are watching with horror on TV, is historically rooted in vicious repression of plantation rebellion just as much as it is reflects the current militarization of policing. All that military hardware, developed for armies at war, has to be sold. For the last two decades, it’s been sold to police and used against citizens demanding justice. Even GG wanted to send military tanks up into Laventille.

The 175th anniversary of Indian arrival to Trinidad and Tobago requires that we honour our participation in the legitimate, and if necessary violent, resistance against injustice which has long defined the hemisphere.

Interestingly, this is also the 50th anniversary of Black Power in Trinidad and Tobago, and commemorations included debate on whether the movement included Indians or mattered to them. It’s clear there was no mythical mixing of the Ganges and the Nile, but that was then. Indian-African solidarity is now ours to define and live just as coloniality remains a contemporary reality for us to collectively end.

How ironic that we were bothering with sanctions against Venezuela when all can see tyranny in America’s glass house and the time for US regime change.

Post 376.

Forecasts predict long-term dislocation. Each of us has to figure out how we will adapt. Many incomes will not simply bounce back, particularly among those working in non-contract jobs, the gig and digital economies, and the creative industries.

Trinidad and Tobago has many in these fields – photographers, musicians, filmmakers, graphic artists, web designers, hairdressers and make-up artists, dancers, writers, event planners, youth workers, tour guides, exercise instructors and computer technicians. All of the buy-local, green and artisan markets over the last years showed our immense and vastly under-exported creativity in making art, soaps, candles, woodwork, clothes, bags, books, cocoa-based foods and products, jewelry and condiments.

These workers were doing exactly what the World Bank had pushed as its economic ideology over two decades. They were being entrepreneurial – selling their individual skills on the free market, being agile with how they networked and marketed themselves, and earning incomes through supply of specialized labour to meet demand. They were free to work the hours they chose, to pick the jobs they wanted, and to enjoy other aspects of life without the exhaustion and oppressiveness of a 9-5.

Entrepreneurial is a big word for what these workers would better describe as an everyday hustle, without certainty of another job, without the wage security that comes with greater professional experience, and without the reassurance of health, vacation, pension and other benefits. Most wouldn’t have annuities, wouldn’t qualify for a home mortgage, and may not leave enough for their children to pay for their funeral. It’s likely that their limited saving are already close to depletion, and many are beginning to wonder how they will pay for food by the end of the year, particularly as they may be in increased debt from these months when rent payments are deferred, but not entirely forgiven.

For all these creative, independent and often brilliant people, there’s small chance of a return to 2019 incomes at the end of lockdown or upon opening of the borders or in a year. The economic data predicts a contraction and miraculous change would require that energy prices rise and create liquidity – which is not likely in the short-term. Government funds have principally been spent on welfare – which is necessary, but also our model of economic trickle-down and our primary mode of political campaigning.

They have not yet been spent on transforming economic opportunity for these independent earners who fall outside of the energy, manufacturing, big retail and agricultural sectors, or state jobs. There would have to be a distinct recovery plan, heavily integrated with private sector sponsorship and marketing needs, that includes this vast array of individuals in ways cognizant of the underside of entrepreneurship, which is the unpredictability of hustling and difficulties planning their businesses beyond the short-term.

This broad sector is extremely diverse – hairdressers may survive because they have loyal customers with regular needs. Social media workers may invent new prospects out of the technological turn that COVID has wrought. Entertainment and film industries will struggle with advertising funds where available. High quality, locally-made beauty care products can benefit from us thinking regionally. The fact is, however, that that technological and creative sectors often fall through the cracks in planning and economic stimulus as well as export development. That is because they are seen as beneficiaries of energy wealth, not as income generating or foreign-exchange earning sectors on their own – leaving their potential untapped.

Along with stimulus are new ways that individuals like these may want to organize group health plans, shared saving schemes, and collective standards around contracts and fees, or be helped to do so by ministries of culture, trade and finance. Gig, creative, wellness and technological workers exist and their experience provides first-hand perspective on individuals negotiating survival, savings and success, and having to reinvent themselves. State, private sector and collective organizing can together support safety nets and innovations that forecast and follow the money.

Realistically assessing informal workers’ recovery over the next two years suggests that tough decisions are ahead for many. Some may have to move back into family homes. Some may have to rethink their individual business model. Some may have to learn a new skill that puts food on the family table, though it sacrifices some of their dreams. Some will have to plan, and save on less than before, for generational, technological and market changes are also both threat and opportunity.

The point is, let’s not lose sight of these entrepreneurs, and both the potential and risks of their innate creativity.

Post 375.

Once again, so many voters looking for sanity and trustworthiness find themselves wanting. A PNM win was secured by the government’s deeply cautious, but extremely successful health response. It was also secured by the vast distribution of social and economic support to tens of thousands of citizens, and the millions given carte blanche to religious groups which constitute major voting blocs. Don’t expect these monies to be properly and publicly accounted for, of course. The PMN found the best way to use a disaster to secure gratitude in the voting booth. That’s just reality in an election year.

Fascinatingly, the Prime Minister made a lengthy speech about campaign finance reform. This sounded like a brilliant plan to spend billions as a party (in government) without the constraints of procurement regulation while cleverly limiting other parties’ (out of government) ability to spend on their campaign without oversight. Campaign finance reform, if passed, will be a double win for the PNM and cause some belly pain for the UNC as they are well aware that parties in government spend millions (and this year more than a billion) in state funds as part of their campaign and parties out of government straggle on what they fundraise.

All this cleverness now seems wasted, however. It’s clear that the PM and Minister of National Security Minister lied to the nation or maybe are lying to themselves or maybe they just open borders and meet sanctioned foreign elites on the fly. I don’t understand calls for Stuart Young to resign when the anancy story goes straight to the top. What does a voter do when the party in government is caught in a lie? Go back into a relationship without trust?

On the other hand, the UNC’s strategy has won no love. Moonilal’s ill-fated run to the US Embassy was simply to send the message that an election is coming and a change of regime would be in US interest. Threat of sanctions, which it almost seemed that the UNC was begging for, would help send that message to a population already hungry and fearful, and provide nice sound and fury to secure desperate votes on the campaign trail. Moonilal didn’t anticipate that the press would pick up the story, but kick dust in his face and it’s now clear that new bacchanal must be quickly found.   

The UNC strategy was despicable, though I disagreed with the PM that it was traitorous and I disagreed with Cudjoe that it was racist. Actually, I thought Cudjoe’s commentary on Moonilal, and Indians, was itself despicable and racist, or maybe he hasn’t read anything on Indians in the Caribbean published after 1980.

I understand why we have to remain under US policy rule as our major trading partner and neighbourhood bully, but to champion that position was to reduce us to colonial status and playing policeman of our own subordination, like little boys in khaki short pants.

There has been a global call to lift sanctions, particularly at this time, when they impose an immoral cost on the shoulders of innocents and the poorest and most vulnerable in Venezuela. Sanctions against Venezuela are also not CARICOM policy. As citizens of the world, we have a right to our own views on global affairs. We have a right to think for ourselves beyond US politics. We have to abide, or bears costs of doing otherwise, but we do not have to agree.

So, where does the last weeks’ political chaos leave us?

Over the last decades, the incumbent has had trouble getting back into government though a month ago the PNM could have called an election and, without even a campaign speech, immediately won. Today, if we vote the PNM back in, we will be showing that we accept degrees of dishonesty yet again.

The AG has the Commission of Enquiry into the Point Fortin Highway, which is racking up tens of millions and again constitutes campaign spending using state resources, in his back pocket to pull out whenever the UNC bawls corruption. If we vote the UNC back in, he will make sure it shows we are prepared to accept much the same.

As Iran bravely ships oil to Venezuela, and Caribbean waters heat up, an election season fight for credibility has begun. We will have to choose between two parties with questionable decision-making, many smart men and too little trust. As with hurricanes, we can only hope to weather the wrath of oncoming storms in our tiny teacup.  

Post 374.

As Ziya distractedly watched TV, I watched her pour extra sesame seeds from some crackers into a bowl. I counted how many likely fell on the rug, and thought of how I’m constantly cleaning throughout the day even while I’m home working full-time.

I paid less attention than I should have when she went into the kitchen, pulled out flour and poured water, while I again prayed simply for minimal mess. Half an hour later, she had made dough with parsley and rosemary picked from the plants she had helped pot over the last weeks, and covered it all with a cloth. My nine year old made bread.

Each family is different. Some mothers are simultaneously remote-working, cleaning, caring, supervising on-line schooling, and engaging in extra-curricular activities at home. Some describe feeling like they are failing. Where they are teaching, schools have cut down on workload, yet working and single parents may be barely managing. Those reeling from economic shock are worried about their children’s nutrition and schooling. Thousands of mothers are now back at work as part of this phase of opening, and worrying where to leave their children.

Still, each of us has small victories at this time. We need to notice them as signs that, amidst more effort and less productivity, and more stress and less certainty, there are precious moments that provide a bridge from one challenge to the next.

Now that it’s daily and not just on weekends, Zi has washed more dishes, folded more clothes, helped with cooking, taken walks, biked, made art with whatever supplies (including all the masking tape) she could find, and had to learn to deal with a different reality where places are closed, friends are distant, and health is at risk.

On the days when I was too busy to notice what she was doing, there was more television, boredom and loneliness. That’s life for children of working mothers. Eventually, she would figure out how to survive – learning life-long lessons in independence and resilience.

In many ways, her capacity, calm and creativity improved now that we were not rushing out each morning, spending evenings on homework, and then rushing her back to bed. Her complex personality began to flourish because she needed to achieve less, and life became a little less demanding for her even as overlapping responsibilities increased for me. She experimented more with everything, even empty boxes, because she had time. I loved the break from the academic rat-race.

Meanwhile, there is no substitute for seeing each other throughout the day, having a chance to hug up, eat lunch together, and for much more conversation. It’s taken me time to appreciate that as a gift. I’ve had to grow from an old pattern of treating my family as an obstacle to my work deliverables to remembering that they are and should feel like a priority. I’ve recognized that maybe, the whole time, I was out of sync with the emotional beings now in front of me.

The newspapers are full of economic analysis, but I retreat to reading how other parents are managing, laughing with their stories, learning from their strategies, finding community with those who are happier to give children space for self-directed learning, life-skills or just to be, as well as feeling compassion for others overwhelmed by children home with little to do and fearful of their future failure. Such stories provide a qualitative picture, and point to realities and priorities, in a way that statistics can’t.

If the PM and his ballsy recovery team thought of workers, not just as having families to feed, but as parents with nowhere else to leave their children, how would they incorporate recognition of childcare? What multi-tasking stories would they hear?

Tens of thousands of children are usually in school at this time, often attend camps during school holidays while their parents continue to work, or in a usual year are at greater risk of sexual abuse and neglect because safe and affordable care options are unavailable. A child-centered approach would highlight the responsibility of care during economic recovery, draw on how children are coping and growing, and consider what they need.  

Zi and I are both learning, earning small victories. I keep thinking that, by September, we will finally have worked out a routine, just when she has to go back to school, and I’ll deeply miss this time with all its messy mix-ups, sacrifices, tinkering and fears, and combinations of string, glue, paper, and crumbs everywhere.

Post 373.

Our next crisis is one of food. At the end of March, Minister Paula Gopee Scoon assured that there was a six month food cover, and that food shortages would not be an issue. Supermarket owners instead signaled that food prices will continue to rise and predicted supply shortages. Agricultural economists pointed to a two to three month cover – this isn’t unusual when supply chains are working, but when they are not, shortages are to be expected.  Newspaper headlines have already highlighted that people are having difficulty putting food on the table.

The UN’s World Food Programme has predicted that the number of people suffering from acute hunger will double, to 265 million. More than the numbers, however, it’s their language that hits home, describing an oncoming catastrophe as “as hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock…to push them over the edge”.

There are multiple shocks to the region, from a decline to tourism to energy revenues. We are weeks from hurricane season and potentially devastating flooding, including of farmers’ fields. Venezuelan migration will continue, putting additional pressure on diverse population needs in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an issue of supply chains, but for Trinidad and Tobago, it’s also an issue of excessive food imports, declining foreign exchange, decreased family income, and the long devaluation of local agriculture.

Here at home, 194,000 people make a living on minimum wage. If some of those jobs will never recover after this initial impact of COVID-19, how will people afford to eat? 

Labour and livelihood are directly related to food provision. In this context, women will experience the hammer blow hardest. They dominate in the lowest-paid jobs and there are fewer women in higher paying sectors. Given that women also undertake the majority of childcare regardless of whether they are employed full time, all those calling for the economy to open, while children remain home, seem blind to the cost and value of childcare, and women’s unequal responsibility.

Women are clustered in the service, hospitality and retail sectors where jobs will contract as consumer demand decreases. Many women also depend on the informal economy as self-employed or own account workers with little  financial protection – whether they are domestic workers or free-lance in the once-lauded ‘gig’ economy. Those that were in more secure jobs will receive contracts of shorter duration that cut costs on their health and other benefits as employers aim to save money. Those who were able to send remittances, often mothers, may now be among the millions of unemployed in the US, directly impacting children’s welfare.

When men also experience lower wages and unemployment, thousands of unresolved court cases for child maintenance will result in less support to women who still need to send children to school and provide sufficient nutrition.

So, the food crisis is gendered in terms of vulnerability of income and responsibility for food provision. Mainly, this situation has been seen as an historic opportunity – to cut excessive imports, to establish more autonomy from US agricultural outputs, to diversify outlets for regionally and locally grown food, to strengthen intra-Caribbean agricultural trade, and to reduce food waste.

In the meanwhile, at times of difficulty, women and girls become more vulnerable to exploitative options such as transactional sex, borrowing money, staying in violent relationships or going into debt to pay for food.

With greater dependence on food hampers and donations over the next year, there is also risk of shifting families to non-perishable, nutrient-poor, heavily processed foods, which are high in fats, salts and sugars, instead of fresh vegetables and fruit. This threatens to increase diseases such as diabetes, further deepening responsibility for care of ill family.

Women already labour longer hours than men both in the economy and at home – that means fewer hours to earn an income amidst greater responsibility for children. Calls for everyone to plant food gardens are good, and necessary, but also impose an additional responsibility on women as breadwinners, nurturers and food producers. This fits the myth that Caribbean mothers can work miracles and it enables blame when they can’t cope.

Multiple voices are pitching good, often long-proposed, food solutions. For each of them, issues of gender – defined by roles, responsibilities, and inequalities in access to resources and power – must be given a place at the table when we face what is being called ‘third shock wave’, which is hunger.

Post 372.

Our societies were already defined by exclusion, inequality, and lack of sustainability prior to COVID-19.  Now, Trinidad and Tobago can no longer rely on oil and gas revenues to distribute the basic welfare provisions that kept so many from homelessness, crime, illness and starvation. We simply will not be earning what we spend.

Increased insecurity means that we will not be able to buffer ourselves against the next crisis, whether epidemiological or ecological, unless we plan our recovery as if we are already protecting ourselves from such an inevitability.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with what those options are, and their realism, and will explore them over the next weeks in this column.

On the one hand, as the Guardian Weekly noted last month, “whenever a crisis visits a given community, the fundamental reality of that community is laid bare. Who has more and who has less. Where the power lies. What people treasure and what they fear”.

On this basis, I’ve wanted to argue that we commit to economic and social justice, which is more than welfare provision to women and the poor, as the goal around which we plan national growth. How will our economic recovery also renew the possibilities for women to carry less unequal burden for care; how will it prevent increasing distance between rich and poor; how will it include an education transformation that doesn’t leave so many alienated from learning, how will it create greater inclusion for those on the margins?

Even as we emerge from this period, we also have to keep in mind that the biggest threat to all future generations remains climate-related destruction and death. Around the world, both governments and corporations are rolling back environmental protections in the wake of a focus on the economic recovery.

I’ve wanted to call for us to not lose momentum. Climate change, like COVID-19, is a global disaster which does not respect borders or identities, and requires the very global collaboration, respect for science, speed of response and individual investment in preventing unnecessary deaths that have shaped our lives these past weeks. If we understood the climate crisis as far more lethal, we would find the funds to invest in renewable energy and low-carbon alternatives on every front, so many of which are our endless resources in the Caribbean. “We would see these kinds of emergency packages that would get people off of the fossil fuel grid and onto a clean grid right away” says May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org.   

These are the big issues of social, economic and climate justice which require not just big ideas, but much bigger political will. I’ve been drawn to them, knowing as we now do that everything we consider harmful can be stopped, regardless of the impact on international travel or school exams, if we decide an emergency response is required. If we think of the injustices we were living with all along as a disaster, we could decide this was a time like no other.

On the other hand, I’ve been drawn down from thinking that every big idea is one we should be allowed to consider to focusing on the nitty-gritty of immediate protections. Corruption and mismanagement has been the major harm to our financial wealth since independence. This is why our national savings are so small – they have been stolen and wasted by our very own, leaving us less able to protect our most vulnerable or turn our economies around on our own. Enact procurement legislation so that it no longer occurs from today.

Negative growth across the region and increasing indebtedness – both individual and national –  means harder times for most, increasing hunger and hardening anger. We need hope that comes from alternatives, imagined with our broadest, most inclusive ideas of justice at their heart, quieting the cynicism we have all felt that nothing changes, at the very moment when everything absolutely can.  

Frankly, the whole society – every cook, cleaner, caterer, cashier and child carer –  should have a say in how we will survive, including on the basis of cooperative-based and solidarity economy models, such as bartering and sharing. So many development solutions can come from listening.   

From the midst of economic and emotional despair, we must therefore find on a future defined by each other’s resilience and renewal, and do so collectively and transparently. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to move beyond recovery of an older order and, instead, birth long dreamed and long overdue possibilities.    

Post 371.

“I’m feeling suicidal,” he said, as I inched down the window. Ziya and I looked at him, and I began to wonder about what I was exposing her to. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t wearing a mask, it was that I didn’t expect the social and economic costs of this time to appear so close so soon.

We were locked in the car on Easter Monday, waiting for my shattered phone to be fixed – the day before, I was talking with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence while hastily sweeping the house in an ill-fated example of tired working mother multi-tasking – and he now stood on the pavement signalling to me.

He had been employed in construction. There was an accident. He raised his shirt to show us, but I looked away for it was intrusive and degrading. He found out his employer had not been making his national insurance payments, and this affected his compensation.

He had come to Port of Spain, but had not been able to access any help. The police treated him like a vagrant as he walked the streets, but he wasn’t one (and, here, his voice broke by oncoming tears). He lived in Cumuto, and had no money for his four girls, all under 12 years old, and not enough money to get home. The school-feeding programme used to help, but now he didn’t know what to do. He was hungry.

He insisted he was not a vagrant, he just was unemployed. He thanked me for listening to him and for not looking down on him. He accepted money and promised to buy me a doubles when “this is all over,” when we meet again and share a meal. I thanked him for his offer, told him to speak to his local church for help to access a food card.

As he walked away, I said to Zi that his story could be true or not, but what was clear is that we should all give from whatever extra we have, especially in these weeks and months when widespread insecurity peaks. He could be an addict, but his hunger was real. We didn’t know his story, but what should stay with her is that every person has dignity, and wants that recognised as equally as everyone else.

I had been reading much about the economic and social impact of covid19 over the next year, including the effects on depression and suicide ideation, but this brief encounter made it immediate and human, and showed the inequality at its heart, to us both.

Inequality marks the boundary between those mainly worried about their health and those worried most about hunger, who think they will begin to starve before they get sick. Such inequality similarly sets apart those able to transition to online schooling and those children who will be left behind next term even more than they already are.

Inequality now divides those secure workers who retain benefits from those still fighting for them, despite being essential. Think of domestic workers still caring for the elderly despite the lockdown, and who have been struggling for decades for state commitment to ILO Convention 189, on decent work for domestic workers, even while labour leaders in Cabinet from each governing party ignored them completely.

Sanitation workers, who are among the lockdown’s heroes, have been waiting for backpay and wage increases, are managing higher risks of respiratory problems, remain exposed to hazardous waste, and over 2019 repeatedly protested decades of total disrespect. Rather than simply clapping, valuing their contribution requires our public support of their demands for workers’ rights.

We should refuse to return to business as usual when we have been given the opportunity to reset, to see each other as essential, to stop the waste of our time and money. If the machine that was running our lives can be reimagined, our society can choose solidarity and compassion, rather than insecurity, fear and inequality.

We know now that anything is possible. We can work from home and decrease traffic. We can do state business online. We can increase our investment in agriculture. We can celebrate workers. We can pivot governance around preventing unnecessary loss of even one life.

The long-term crisis is a social and economic one to be fought just as much as we are fighting for our collective health. Those who were already just making ends meet may now be on the verge of vagrancy, and are deathly afraid of the fall.

Post 370.

Like bandits in broad daylight, the US has dispatched warships to the Caribbean Sea, en route to Venezuela.

This is a fascinating lesson for a generation that has never witnessed US ‘big stick’ politics, having been born long after the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the US installing of Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinoche in 1973, and the place of Cuba in the Cold War.

Most of my undergraduate students are born after 2000, in an era when focus on the psychological has taken over from analysis of the geopolitical. This generation would have been too young to remember the US ousting (in his words “kidnapping”) democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, but if young people across the Caribbean need a live example of US imperialism to mobilise against, this is it.

Analyses of this war-mongering and its intersection with the current oil and COVID-19 crises highlight how often global political brawls end up in our Caribbean gayelle, and this might momentarily direct our gaze away from our household challenges toward understanding how badman from Russia, the US, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, China and more fight in our contemporary world.

The military deployment of Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft has been justified by laughable reasons that nonetheless provide an excellent example of how imaginary connections are made everyday truths by state propaganda. This generation won’t remember “weapons of mass destruction” as a similar lie, but that’s how invasion and killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including children, was justified then too.

About 70 000 Americans die annually from a drug overdose, mostly from drugs from Central America and Mexico which breach US borders. Using this data, a White House press conference initiated a good ol’ Republican “war on drugs” arguing that Venezuela is a narco-trafficking state and that the warships are intended to stop shipments of illegal drugs which “penetrate” the United States “to kill Americans”.

Flexing its machoman muscles, the US military announced, “we are at war with terrorists, we are at war with COVID-19 and we are at war with the drug cartels as well…you will not penetrate this country…you are not going to come in here and kill additional Americans”.

The White House released conservative estimates that COVID-19 could kill 240 000 in the US. Guns kill about than 39 000 in the US annually, more than half of drug overdoses, but there’s no state “war on guns” in the US. Indeed, drug overdoses account for less than 3% of US deaths, behind pretty much everything else such as suicide, accidents, medical errors, and especially non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease which 2016 data suggest alone account for about 60% of deaths.

No surprise, no serious news sources are buying this Nancy story. The Department of Defense opposed it, reports Foreign Policy in its newsletter. US officials told Newsweek that it was “a move to deflect criticism about the administration’s mishandling of the outbreak at home”. War is always the best way to rally masses, suppress criticism as unpatriotic, and stimulate some manufacturing sectors, all of which would be convenient responses to the US’ collapsed labour market.

At any rate, though marketing it as a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela”, the US government long has been trying to install an acceptable puppet who will be their man instead of Russia’s. Caricom has been dancing in this gayelle, refusing to meet with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Jamaica in January, and asserting Venezuela’s sovereignty despite its deep political and economic troubles. For to support invasion of one is to set a precedent for all, and that would be sheer hasikara. Indeed, if electoral corruption is a key criteria, and unmatched oil wealth, Guyana would be next.

By comparison, Russia has both already penetrated the US and has those men in suits on their knees. Its stand-off with OPEC has sent economies crashing and made US shale oil production unprofitable. It is securing its state interest in Venezuelan oil, and protecting it from US sanctions. Last week, Putin himself sent a Russian plane to New York with medical supplies even as the US is shamefully blocking medical supplies to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Barbados.

Though we may be cockroach in fowl party, as they say, this is happening in our seas. Our business is, therefore, that the Caribbean remains “a zone of peace”.

Post 369.

Forgiveness is a beautiful and powerful act of showing the capacity and strength to free oneself from an old hurt. This must be why Archbishop Jason Gordon was quoted as recommending forgiving your family “because the house is too small to hold unforgiveness on top of everything else”.

As many come to terms with being locked indoors with people who have hurt us in the past or may still in the future, figuring out how to survive psychologically requires emotional power, flexibility and insight – and good advice.

We could be home with sexually abusive adults or with homophobic parents. We could be home with partners quick to insult and anger or with cousins prone to lack of consideration. We could have been on the verge of divorce, but are now in each other’s face with our hate daily. We could be holding on to the date when we are all released to the outdoors by the state, but also living with uncertainty about the risks that then increase.

Now that we are in a prolonged period of psychological stress, perhaps from the sheer unfamiliarity of this time or from our disconnection with those closest to us or from depression that has fewer distractions, many may not know how best to cope.

Given the vast rates of everyday neglect, child sexual abuse and partner violence, affecting thousands of households and tens of thousands of lives, there’s a lot to forgive filling all the spaces in houses too small to hold unforgiveness.

Naïve pontification undermines deeply-held dreams of confronting harm and being heard such that the house includes trust and safety, sometimes for the first time in decades, and can expand beyond the meanness of hardened disappointment and cynicism

Our messaging, from pulpit to politician needs to be better. Forgiveness is an outcome, not a beginning. It is impossible where fear and hurt create the experience of both a desire for justice and its denial. It requires a process which can be painful and difficult, and simply espousing the value of forgiving can deepen self-blame among survivors for their inability to act normally and as if nothing ever occurred. Indeed, in complex ways, survivors often blame even themselves and forgiveness is a knotty process of disentangling from so much that creates fear, shame and silence in our relationships with ourselves as well as each other.

So, there’s an opportunity for pastoral care, psychologists and state press conferences. Be real with the population, recognising deep trauma that resides within the places where we are now confined. Respond with messages beyond updates on infection and calls for physical distancing, as crucial to life and death as an epidemiological approach may be.

Those daily press conferences can expand their communication with the nation and help many people who have never disclosed their abuse, who will now see their abuser daily, who are descending into dissonance about how to be themselves among those who don’t understand or accept them.

By guidance, I don’t mean a day of prayer nor do I mean telling people to forgive without also affirming their right to acknowledgement of harm, apology and consent to a new foundation for relationship.

It’s a good time to bring in our best psychologists – not pastors or priests or pundits or imams – to every press conference to provide focused coping strategies for individuals struggling in all these destructive households, in order to not assume some ideal (and fictive) loving and conflict-free nuclear family model as the target of COVID-19 emergency policy.

Now that we have been told to stay at home, families are caught in a public policy decision for which they may not have the guidance, process, tools, words or safety to cope. We need to be helped to do so for our old ways of walking away or not being at home until late or escaping to work or school or a bar or for exercise will no longer do.

All state press conferences should offer such coping strategies, assuming that homes are the very places where we may least want to be.

We shouldn’t start with the house being too small to hold unforgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift just as much as unforgiveness is a defence, and it takes communication, courage, love and truth to exchange them. As much as it is a beautiful ideal, we must now take seriously how to manage weeks, maybe months, in homes that have long had little room for so much of what we feel.

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