Post 494.

AS THE voices of Freetown Collective and Mical Teja echo from the hills and reverberate across the country, there are hardly better words to describe the moment.

After two years without Carnival, there is a florescence of joy and creativity like when dawn pierces a long and unnatural dark, splitting an entire horizon with a radiance that awakens. To paraphrase familiar wisdom, weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh J’Ouvert morning.

We are a population that experienced the longest lockdown in the region, and we all know someone wracked by the alienation, despair, grief and loss that Covid-19 wrought.

Today, we are survivors, letting our beloved dead rise from where our bodies have held them close, for they were miracles formed of Earth who could guide like the stars.

Wandering our earthly heaven now, no doubt wary of spectres the likes of Picton, Chacon and Abercromby, are ancestors who will be looking and listening, judging and urging as we cast our mortal burdens on the streets of cities, villages and towns. They too are ghostly vibrations, given shape among us by the wind, shimmering heat and Sahara dust.

Blaxx, Mighty Shadow, Black Stalin, Brother Resistance, Anil Bheem, Singing Francine, Singing Sandra, Bomber and Explainer. Prof Gordon Rohlehr, who made calypso music his lifelong companion. Bless them, every one.

Lionel Jagessar senior, whose spirit will be watching his legacy brought to town for the first time. Studying his final drawings come to life, may he nod with fatherly approval. Ameen. Amen. Om Shanti. Bless us, every one.

We survivors, emerging on the other side of the pandemic’s portal with all our squabbles, imperfections, doubts and hungers smoking blue-black like still-burning debris, are close enough to Carnival Monday and Tuesday to feel its gravitational pull. It’s a pull toward pleasure for its own sake and to occupy a brief spectacular version of ourselves.

Honest people working hard trying to make sense in a world gone mad, sings Freetown. Sometimes, those assigned to toil scrape together the privilege of ascendance through something, anything, to feel good. For them, with all its human and costumed beauty, with all that it offers to escape morning headlines, killing sprees and cost-of-living tribulations, mas has come again.

In fetes, panyards and concerts, people are together singing by the hundreds and thousands. Hearts and arms open, and giving performers their own lyrics back to them on stage. A crowd of strangers, of every different creed and race, but who share a love that has them raising their voices in the air. Surely, such pure vibration and sheer magic is also how we give praise.

Music is lifting people and flooding bodies of all kinds with an energy and release that is visceral enough to feel. It’s taking away people’s pain, after so much of it these past years. It’s also a unifying power come down, one that we missed having in our midst. We are reminded why how we vote hasn’t divided us more. It’s because of how we party.

Not everyone has to love mas in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Nor does everyone have to understand why and how it matters to some, why and how it can be art, why and how it can feel like freedom, or why and when it matters.

We don’t all worship in the same way. We don’t all heal the same. We don’t all love the same. There are those who, judgmentally, only see the “immoral, lewd or offensive” in Carnival, often from afar, but mas is a getaway spirit that comes on its own terms, again and again. Just so, unapologetic and unafraid.

Here, in the home we traverse with so much fear, the atmosphere of daily life like bitter aloes, where we feel so let down and so taken for granted, mas has arrived to fill some of what people need.

In our imperfect republic, inequalities, exclusions, mismanagement, lies and poverty of the imagination remain, like ropes that separate. Ash Wednesday will return us to smoke and mirrors at media briefings, and money wasted by the millions, never to be distributed as it should be. This death of joy, this killing of togetherness, this attack on our future is more immoral than bottoms in the road and more scandalous than a free woman.

On Monday, ‘foreday morning will find me playing St Peter, waiting at heaven’s gate. All who must get send to burn in the fires of hell. Mas has come again. Santimanitay.

Post 483.

ONCE, CRISES were considered exceptional.

Hurricane season came each year, but severe hurricanes were not frequent. Flooding was expected in some areas, but not to such an unprecedented extent as experienced this year, and as predicted to continue. Indeed, climate-related disasters overall have doubled globally.

The covid19 pandemic was an exceptional crisis, from which the shadow pandemics of unemployment, hunger and family violence nonetheless continue to reverberate. It is forecasted that a combination of changing temperatures, melting ice and forest loss will double the chance of such pandemics in our lifetimes.

We have disaster management plans, but are overwhelmed by scale and severity, unable to plan for loss of crops, unsure about where roads will crumble next, and incapable of compensating people for loss of their belongings and homes. We are also not yet prioritising protecting hillsides and mangroves, and it’s certain that there was poor maintenance of river courses and drains, but that’s not only what is happening here.

We have to act as if crisis now defines our epoch, as if it is no longer exceptional. Then our policies and approaches will plan for this new reality, and be aware of how it exacerbates social and economic inequalities. It requires a major shift in how we think about everything we are about to face.

Currently, neither gender inequalities nor climate-related crises, nor their intersections, are taken into account in Vision 2030 or the Government’s Roadmap to Recovery post-pandemic report, and current policies to reduce risk and manage disaster are more than ten years old.

They read as if prepared for exceptional moments of crisis, not when states of exception – impassable roads, submerged houses, slipped hillsides, school closures, loss of workplace productivity and increased food prices from climate-related disaster – become a frequent norm.

What is called the Anthropocene, or the epoch when man has caused potentially irreversible impacts on the planet, is no longer waiting until 2030 or 2050. All our planning has to start with the fact that it is here.

One bread-and-butter area where there needs to be better disaster planning is in terms of childcare. On Monday schools were closed because of expected rain and flooding, but public servants were expected to work so that the state machinery could function. Similarly, shop clerks may have been expected to show up for work on the Eastern Main Road in Tunapuna or High Street, San Fernando. Nurses had their shifts at hospitals. Banks, where the majority of staff are women, were open.

As feminists asked many times during the pandemic, who is then expected to look after children? There are implicit and gendered assumptions about family and its safety, and the availability of care in the State’s approach, which relies on an at-home component of disaster response. Not only are these responsibilities unequally borne by women, children’s vulnerability to abuse and neglect can be exacerbated by state policies that do not take this into account.

We can expect further school closures as rainy seasons potentially become more severe. What are the gendered assumptions, and assessment of risk to children, underlying disaster response policy? What is our understanding of who provides family care, what kinds of care, and at what cost in a crisis? Let’s remember that there were nearly 800 reports of child sexual abuse between January 1 and September 31, 2021, during the pandemic, because homes are not safe spaces for many children.

Disasters also have mental health effects. Just as the impact of the pandemic on children was ignored when they were returned to schools – leading to unprecedented scenes of fights – how is mental health being factored in for a generation growing up in a climate crisis that no previous generation knew?

In its 2014 Technical Note, the IDB observed that there is an “absence of mechanisms to exchange lessons learned across communities on successful community-level disaster resilience experiences.” This is definitely something that can happen in preparation for the future because communities know what is needed and what works, they know the vulnerabilities among the aged and disabled, and they know what they have been calling for that the State failed to follow-through.

Disaster risk reduction and response require this: identifying the different needs of women and girls, men and boys, and people of diverse gender identities, and putting redress of the underlying causes of vulnerability at the centre of disaster risk reduction strategies. Once, we could have treated disasters as exceptional. Now, that’s no longer what we can do.

Post 448.

SCHOOLS, which restarted on Monday, are the big story in parents’ lives this week. 

For children online, it can still be challenging to stay focused, and avoid chatting in a separate zoom or Google chat, or the temptation of video games. Some parents are not able or prepared to provide sufficient oversight. Maybe they are grieving from a covid19 death or depressed from job loss. It was also always a mystery how people were expected to go back to work while their children are home, or expected to both work well and parent well simultaneously.

So we can expect that there are those children with continuing periods of unsupervised internet access who are searching for pornography, answering questions they have about sex, and posting images of themselves inappropriate for adolescents. 

Teenagers are on their devices and phones all the time, whether gaming, messaging, surfing or watching videos. The algorithms are an adolescent dopamine addiction we’ve normalised after all this isolation. We can expect that many lost out on extracurricular activities, including physical exercise, and that’s reinforced screen dependence at a crucial time in social, communication, emotional and brain development. 

Some are still attending school from their beds, rather than a desk, or don’t have a proper quiet space to work, and are probably checking social media throughout classes, particularly when their cameras are not expected to be on. For tens of thousands of others, who are not consistently online or don’t have devices, there’s the well-documented and class-divisive effects on their school marks and future income. Will a nation of adults just accept that they will get left behind?

For those who have returned to school already, or just this week, did the Ministry of Education gather pre-opening data to understand how schools should respond to their surreal range of home realities and needs? 

If we don’t ask these questions and don’t have an education response beyond back-to-academics, to what extent will the return to physical school be a stereotypical example of what and who is lost by business as usual? When it comes to schools, it’s key to think about the profile of the learner whom we picture either having returned to school or about to return in the next months. Is it the one who can best or least cope? What does transitioning such vulnerable students require?

Is this a student with family members killed by the pandemic? Is it one more vulnerable to witnessing or experiencing family conflict or household instability? We know that domestic violence reports rose in 2020 and remained high through 2021. Should students be told that these are expected issues and they can turn to teachers or guidance counsellors? Is initiating these conversations part of pandemic ministry policy? 

Increased rates of grief, anxiety and depression among children are being reported by local psychologists. In the US, schools saw this in crying and disruptive behaviour, increased violence and bullying, and sadness and fear. We are better at paying attention to poverty and hunger, but our education system is poor at social-emotional skill-building, which is why our society is so poor at it as well. US schools also experienced a “river of referrals” for mental health services.

Globally, educators suggest making time to listen to students’ concerns, offering opportunities to reconnect one-to-one with educators. Before opening books and preparing for tests, recognise that some may have difficulty concentrating or returning to routine. That’s normal. Buffing or embarrassment won’t help. Maybe this student was being neglected or sexually abused at home. 

Rather than just lecturing about covid19 protocols, also respond to fears and grief, providing age-appropriate tips for recognising and reducing trauma and anxiety. Reports are that children recover from the isolation better when schools take time to create connection, empathy and community. Finally, provide opportunities for playfulness and fun physical activity, which help students cope with life and stress, enabling them to actually learn. 

Schools are the critical access point to children. The pandemic may have affected their attention, decision-making, how they learn and how they relate to others. It would have been great to see the ministry present a “return to school” social-emotional learning plan, explained with a proper communication strategy, and putting teachers and parents on the same page. Remember, the pandemic is not over and the world feels like a bizarre war zone where anyone could unintentionally kill anyone else in days or weeks. The school transition should recognise children as survivors of an unprecedented disaster who learn best when first guided to emotional well-being.

Post 446.

IT’S SURREAL that a nation of islanders would cut people off from our oceans and seas for so long. It says something about how decision-makers view nature, turning our back to it in the vulgar way that MovieTowne was built, as if our coasts do not matter. 

It’s surreal that people are already drinking on pavements outside bars, whether vaccinated or not. They are travelling together on public transportation, whether vaccinated or not, and working together in offices that haven’t imposed mandatory immunisation policies. They are interacting in markets, malls, stores, churches, schools and brothels. Yet the beaches remain closed.

For many, the ocean is essential to mental, physical and psychological health. For children, it’s a source of great stress relief and energy release, particularly amidst such an isolated and overwhelming experience over almost two years. 

Those with access to private beaches and small coves reachable by boat can still find a way to get into the water, providing opportunity for the wealthy to rejuvenate. For poor people or those who lost income and can’t afford restaurants, beaches are an affordable place to go, carrying their pot of food cooked at home. They are also a place where they can go with their children under 12, sit, rest and have family time. 

I know the covid19 numbers and deaths are high and vaccination rates are low, but the State’s approach to the pandemic has been contradictory and remains so. Remember when the borders were closed and it took contacts, prayers, pleading in the papers or lottery-level hope to get back in? Stuart Young himself had to provide permission, and his decision-making appeared altogether unsystematic, biased and unpredictable for months. 

It’s still not clear why the state of emergency was ended when it was, with numbers so high, conveniently in time for campaigning.

The State’s approach has also been one that completely ignored the burden of care put on families with children now at home doing online school or unable to access school at all, and the increased levels of stress that has caused. It’s not just hunger or violence or child abuse that has increased, it’s sheer psychological burnout for adults and children, and I would argue particularly for women. 

If your household has managed well, perhaps with a large private yard or access to a pool or a nearby open field or the chance to fly out, good for you, but there are children who are quietly falling apart. 

I watched a little boy riding his bicycle around and around an old car parked in his small yard. There was maybe three feet of space for him to manoeuvre as he circled. His yard off the main road was concrete. The main road was concrete. He seemed like those animals in the zoo pacing in a cage. I think of the children living in the concrete jungles of our urban plannings, ending up spending too much time on their phones, and getting too little time outdoors or in green spaces so their chemistry can balance and their behaviour improve.

We’ve put a ton of effort into keeping my 11-year-old psychologically stable at those moments when she seems to feel trapped inside, insisting on walks, bike rides and time outside. It’s the best we can do, but it’s not the same. She grew up exploring beaches all along the North Coast, returning home with her heart full of oxygen and sunlight, impressions of blue sky and green mountains reflected in her eyes. School is now closed and, as with the middle of the year, she’s desperate for the ocean, and all it relieves and heals. 

Across the Caribbean, beaches are open. What do Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and St Lucia know that we don’t? Their beaches may have opened for tourism, but is their evidence significant enough for us to keep ours closed? 

The data suggests that transmissions primarily occur indoors, that physical spacing between groups at the beach, having limits on the number of people who can gather in groups, maintaining masks when not swimming, prohibiting fetes and closing beaches earlier are approaches that find a balance. Jamaica put in a curfew: Monday-Saturday: 6 am- 4 pm and Sundays: 6 am-2 pm. 

We opened bars, of all things, because of jobs, lobbying and a widespread culture of drinking to the point of near-alcoholism.

Can we open the beaches, before school starts back, on the best model of our Caribbean neighbours, for the mental health of children?

Post 433.

The pandemic has made mental health concerns go mainstream. That’s powerful news for activists who have been labouring for decades to destigmatise challenges with anxiety and depression.

Whether because we are a heightened health risk to each other or job loss or isolation or additional care responsibility or generalised increase in stress, a lot of people are simply not functioning as they might have been before, often with only a vague sense of why.

The new academic year started this week on campus and I’ve had to revise my expectations, noting how many more students seemed unable to cope, complete or excel last year, some simply because they had to move back home with their parents, others because whatever they were managing to survive before is now too much.

Scientists even talk about our children and the bleak future they face, for the first time in generations, because of the climate catastrophe we continue to cause. It feels like we are in wartime, but have to act normal. Can we blame those who can’t?

In our house, we have turned to exercise like a miracle cure, taking walks or bike rides as much as we can.

It was really hard when outdoor exercise was prohibited. My ten-year-old falls apart when stuck indoors without sufficient physical activity. Her behaviour, mood and co-operativeness change, and I’ve come to realise how much children mired at home, on their devices, and without an outlet for their emotional energy are quietly crumbling even if neither they nor their parents realise.

What’s interesting is how we are all supposed to return to school, and a set subject timetable, as if extra attention to emotional wellness isn’t as necessary as the content students must cover. Our approach to schooling simply hasn’t caught up yet with a curriculum that includes mental wellness.

It barely nods to how children learn through play or multiple learning styles or the harm of high-stake exams or the reality of neuro-diverse capacities, often understood as autism spectrum disorders, but actually just the different ways that brains naturally work. When children return to school, will the Ministry of Education and TTUTA understand the times we are in and acknowledge that children’s and adolescents’ emotional context isn’t as it was in 2019?

Again, sports has provided the teaching examples we have drawn on over the pandemic. Here, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has changed the game.

The highest paid in the world by 22, Osaka’s struggle with mental health, motivation and emotions has been heavily publicized, with her describing feeling vulnerable, anxious and depressed for the past three years.

When formidable athletes are using these words, it makes us acknowledge that these are not feelings only associated with failure, but even the most successful among us. And, beyond being successful is feeling well and being healthy.

The brilliant gold Olympic medallist, Simone Biles, whose skill has surpassed even the rules of gymnastics, similarly pulled out of events to focus on her mental health and physical safety.

In support, dozens of others – swimmers, weight lifters, sprinters, basketball players and other gymnasts – are speaking out about depression, ADHD, being bipolar, insomnia, contemplating suicide and seeking therapy. In this, another generation and the young women who are its best examples of athletic determination and sacrifice are leading the way.

These brave women are the models for my ten-year-old who I hope can help create a more compassionate world for herself and others. She should know that the journey to emotional wellness and mental health is not one you walk in secret, alone or ashamed.

Can you imagine if that was the message we gave to adolescents with the same emphasis that we put on exams?

Audiences haven’t entirely caught up with these changes, and Osaka and others have faced significant social media bullying for not performing as expected or, better put, for meeting others’ expectations.

Their replacements are heralded before they even leave the mat, pool or the court. That’s an important lesson too. Public accolades are fleeting and unforgiving, and they don’t set the gold standard for balance, good health, emotional connection and self-care.

I’m also thinking about my young UWI students. They must learn to work through difficulties, complete goals, do well and look after themselves.

And also ask for help. Perhaps, this is a shift that the pandemic is encouraging us all to finally make.

Post 432.

I UNDERSTAND parents’ vaccine hesitance. Part of me would also opt for mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren so that tens of thousands who have been without consistent schooling for a year and a half can continue to learn. 

All the data on the digital divide suggests that many of those children will face huge challenges catching up and even experience future income loss. We need to think of children’s collective best interest. 

Vaccination isn’t simply a matter of individual choice, for higher viral loads of covid19 are carried by those unvaccinated, recirculating the virus and giving it greater chance to mutate, making health risks a continuing reason for school closures and exclusion of the poorest of children from education. 

That said, I can appreciate parents’ concern and I think it’s important for us to do so. Many parents feel that the vaccines have not been sufficiently tested for side effects or that their child may be the one who reacts badly. Relatively few children have been seriously affected and the majority of infected people survive covid19, seemingly without effect and sometimes even without symptoms. 

There’s also such a huge amount of misinformation better marketed than science, sceptical parents are caught between contradictory approaches to protecting their little ones. They are not sure which is worse; the virus or the vaccine. There’s a powerful mix of love and fear at play.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) recently released a regional study on Covid19 Vaccine Acceptance. The data was collected online between February and June and 2,302 people participated, including 384 from Trinidad and Tobago. Two-thirds of respondents were women, two-thirds were from urban areas, the majority were between 30 and 60 years old, and the majority had a secondary school education or higher. 

Only 38 per cent of parents surveyed said they would vaccinate their children, with 30 per cent of them responding “no” or “maybe.” Half of the sample had concerns about the vaccine or believed that they did not know enough or whether the vaccine was developed too quickly. The majority of those who were vaccine hesitant were most concerned about side effects. 

Nearly 60 per cent felt extremely knowledgeable about how to protect themselves from the virus. By contrast, just over ten per cent felt they understood the development of the vaccine, possibly how vaccines work overall and perhaps even the differences among the current vaccine brands. 

Knowing this, it is clear that ordering mandatory vaccination of children or even threatening and bullying parents is not the way to address their real fears. What is needed is much better communication which acknowledges that parents’ concerns about side effects are both rational and emotional. This means an improved approach which combines science with humanity. Not just what is said, but the sense of empathy, trust and connection that is built into how it is conveyed. 

The best example of this is Mia Mottley’s August 24 speech where the Barbados PM declared her Cabinet’s position against mandatory vaccines. More importantly, she emphasised that while her responsibility was to keep Barbadians safe, it was also to keep them united. 

“Covid must not be allowed to divide us as a people, as a nation” were her words as she committed to communicating in ways which understood her people, rather than set them apart as hard-headed or blameworthy fools. 

“More often than not, Bajans operate on the basis first of respect, you got to see me, you got to hear me, you got to talk to me. And to that extent, that is what we feel that we need to do as a nation…we have to do better by our people…before we start talking about legal opinion and the legislative framework. 

“Those things are not us…first thing next week is for me to go to understand those who may still be ambivalent…whether we support vaccines or we don’t support vaccines must not be allowed to divide us…to that extent we now have to work together as a people.

“Persons who are not wanting vaccines because they little ambivalent, we going to come and talk to you, persons who may have concerns or medical questions, we going to try to find the answers for you, persons who are adamant they don’t want it, we respect you…we invariably never have a 100 per cent of one thing or another, but we have learned how to live together and how to carry each other.” 

This is the leadership and approach we urgently need. I’m certain every concerned parent would agree.

Post 431.

IT’S WELL recognised that Trinidadians/Tobagonians are natural innovators. Diversification is what we do. We play it, sing it, bottle it, photograph it, lyrics it, design it, craft it, mix it, name it, plant it and sell it every day, everywhere, across the country and internationally. 

In that context, it’s bizarre that the PM would have blamed citizens for the Government’s failure to sufficiently diversify the economy, a failure that has defined much of the PNM’s decades of rule. 

I’m not being anti-PNM, I’m describing a reality where agriculture has been systematically undervalued, where “downstream” is as much as diversification is imagined to be, and where the environment, including our marine ecosystems, and their value mean nearly nothing. 

The PM’s attack shows deep disconnect between those holding power and those surviving, even in a pandemic, in the most creative ways. It shows vast misdiagnosis of why we are in the economic collapse we find ourselves, which predated the pandemic. It shows sheer irresponsibility, for clearly we are not all in this together when there are only others to blame. It shows a dangerous and deliberate willingness to misrepresent the truth, which is exactly why citizens are as sceptical as they are, and so easy to throw back words full of disrespect. 

Finally, it shows how quickly deep authoritarianism reveals itself, for the only message could be that it is wrong and foolish to question a government, and should you suffer for it, that’s on you. 

First, the Alcoa and Alutrint smelters. If anyone remembers 2009, Calder Hart was in (and out of) control. Riot police in military gear would show up at any citizen gathering. PM Manning had lost touch, particularly with another generation. As Williams did in 1970. As is happening now. 

Widespread citizen challenge to the smelters was a powerful example of ordinary people demanding a government speak with them in a way they deserve.

The High Court ruled that the decision of the Environmental Management Authority to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was illegal. Other aspects of the project – such as the port – had not been included in the application. No one could present a cost-benefit analysis. 

It was unclear what would happen with the solid waste and waste water generated or the implications for the aquifer on which the Alcoa smelter would be built. Remember, we are a country that is abysmal about waste disposal and hazardous leaks that contaminate the environment. 

There was a debate about health concerns, and Alcoa itself had a history of environmental violations. It was also part of a US war machine with close ties to the Republican Party. Pentagon contracts for combat vehicles and missiles were fuelling its search for aluminium and its outsourcing to countries with poor environmental standards.

Add to that secrecy about the selling price for the natural gas that would be required to produce electricity to run Alcoa’s smelting process. Economists at the time talked endlessly about the smelters as another example of the offshore economy; in other words, yet more dependence on heavy industrialisation and non-renewable fossil fuels. 

What was the plan for sustainable onshore economic activity including livestock (buffalypso) rearing, honey production, IT services, light manufacturing, ship repair, pan building and so much more?

These were legitimate questions to ask and it’s to the credit of the nation that answers were demanded, and high-handed buff-up rejected. 

The truth is that insufficient transparency and accountability, and ignoring of citizens’ real concerns, destroyed support for those smelters, and that’s on the party that rules us today. 

It wasn’t so different with Sandals, a more recent example for those of a younger generation who don’t remember 2009. Stuart Young described bad publicity by a “handful of people.” 

More untruth. A claim had to be filed to challenge the secrecy involved. Sandals Resort had squabbled with Antigua and Barbuda over agreements for 25-year tax holidays. Here, questions about economic feasibility and tax concessions were insufficiently answered, particularly as the costs would have been borne by taxpayers. There were environmental concerns regarding the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.

As an aside, all-inclusive resorts are renowned for contributing less to economies than they gain, for bringing dead-end, low-wage jobs, and for intensifying sex tourism. 

We have never been against diversification. We are against poor governance and questionable decisions. That’s a strength that a national leader should champion, not impugn. It’s one we should defend without apology. 

Instead of gaslighting, the PM needed to set an example of taking responsibility.

Post 429.

FOR THE past five years, I headed the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) on the St Augustine Campus of UWI, a department I first joined as a graduate student in 1997. 

Although there was a year still to go, Covid-clo19 stepped in, making me shift priorities as a working mother or, as this column is named, a mothering worker. Putting it this way recognises mothering as a daily practice of ongoing labour and choices, and highlights the responsibilities that so many women actively juggle along with their working lives.

As feminists, we speak about the impact of Covid-19 on women’s livelihood and careers all the time. We note that the publications of women in academia fell more than those of men. We report the pandemic trend of women stepping down from leadership roles. We publicise the data which shows that, even though men in families are performing more care, women are carrying an ever more unequal burden, with implications for their income and independence, and mental and emotional health.

We talk about the care economy as the only one that never shut down, but which had to hold our society together all these months, managing its stresses with love and sometimes on a shoestring. 

Schools closing in March 2020 required a huge shift. Children, particularly primary-school age, couldn’t simply sit by themselves in a room, focusing for hours on their teacher through a screen. It took time to sort out Wi-Fi drops and other technical difficulties. They needed checking on throughout the day. At breaks and lunch time, who else would they talk to if not you? 

The pace with which one could function at a job, without having to be emotionally present for family, was simply not possible. 

At first, I worked like a machine to adapt both IGDS and myself to our new circumstances. 

Later I began to think that bringing those modes of work from the public sphere into the private sphere of family failed to protect how we should be at home with each other, and in fact another pace had to be found. 

School closures made Zi present throughout the day, giving me an opportunity to be with her that I would never have had, imagined possible, made time for or even understood as necessary. Now that we were not rushing to and from school and work, to lessons and through homework, and to a bath and bed, I saw her much more, observed her emotional needs in a way that the pandemic forced parents to notice, and tinkered with how I mothered so that I could spend more time at lunch or on evenings or even between meetings in the day. 

I could talk about the increased demands of housework and childcare, but I’m more grateful for what became precious time together, which I think made her happier and more centred, more responsible and aware, and able to slow down and reflect on growing up. 

Working from home also changed me. With Zi writing SEA next year, I don’t think I would have understood her emotional needs in the way I made time to understand as we were together all this time, in the context of online schooling and a looming high-stakes exam that terrifies children. 

I realised I should lower my own work hours and stress to better be there, knowing that getting children through the pandemic with their mental health intact takes conscious effort and choices. 

In deciding to step down from leadership, I asked myself, what career could be more of a priority?

Over these years, a young generation of feminist women and men who are the new voices of social-justice organising emerged. There’s the Jason Jones case and LBGTI youth unafraid of calling publicly for their freedom and equality. There are men echoing a language of transforming masculinities more than ever before, as we saw after the killings of Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt. 

Women’s organisations collaborated to secure historic amendments to marriage laws, sexual offences and domestic violence legislation. Our post-pandemic survival together is our present challenge, remembering that gender always matters in recovery and holding our male-dominated governments accountable to an inclusive and equal nation. 

The IGDS exemplifies the radical political intellectuals who have always defined our region. For a time, it was a privilege to lead its work and vision. 

Now I’m choosing mothering over the upcoming school year amidst covid19. Families who have been through this know why one makes these decisions.

Post 424.

OF ALL the issues that men could engage in the world, fatherhood is the one that has drawn the most impassioned demands for a “male perspective,” and stimulated men’s collective organising for voice, inclusion and representation. This is not surprising, as the just passed Father’s Day showed. Fatherhood has deep meaning for families, and for men, even when it involves contradictions and complexities. 

The recently-formed fathers’ movement in TT has grown out of anger at mothers over custody and maintenance issues in particular, but has a generalised and largely uninformed opposition to feminism. It is concerned about positioning men as the real victims of (mothers’) childhood abuse, (women’s) partner violence, (feminised) state discrimination and an ideologically sexist gender division of labour (which defines men as providers) – issues which Caribbean feminists have analysed for decades in ways far more nuanced than this movement stereotypes. 

There is actually a long history of Caribbean feminist work on care which argues that fathers are just as nurturing as mothers (and therefore that women are not biologically nor by evolution predisposed for unequal responsibility for care), and calls for more equitable sharing of housework and for better work-family balance (including paternity leave and daycare spaces in workplaces) since at least the mid-1990s.

Indeed, feminism’s core politics is that our sex (as well as gender and sexuality) should not define either our nurturing or providing roles, nor time spent on housework nor rightful access to headship, power and decision-making. 

It is also that care should be counted and valued as an ideal human quality for both women and men – whether in terms of childhood socialisation, sexuality, family, the economy, national governance, international relations or our relationship to the planet.

Finally, it is that patriarchal beliefs promote domination, hierarchy, violence and toxic expectations for women and men, and need to be transformed to improve all of our lives. This is an excellent foundation for men’s movements which want to move beyond the sterility of a battle of the sexes – which is a patriarchal framing where everything is understood in terms of war, even family and fatherhood.

In this context, it was great to read the just released “State of the World’s Fathers” report, produced by Promundo, which brings together the valuing of fathering with feminist politics of care. The “good news,” cites the report, is that globally, “Men are participating more in unpaid care during the pandemic.” 

Why is this good news? “Due to lockdowns all over the world, at a global level men have been present in the lives of their children more than at any time in history,” concludes the report. Men are spending more time on daily tasks of time management, food preparation, schooling and the emotional labour of fathering. 

This is a real-life basis for allying with feminist movements to have family responsibilities better recognised by national care and parental leave policies, workplace conditions, social protection programmes, and political leaders. It’s an opportunity for solidarity with domestic workers who labour in our homes, and nurses who care for our ill family, expanding the issues of care that intersect fathers’ lives.

“Globally,” writes the report, “women do three to ten times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.” In one study, 42 per cent of women of working age compared to just six per cent of men were unable to do paid work before the pandemic because of childcare. 

During the pandemic, both women and men reported an increase in childcare. Yet, in one study of 16 countries, women reported an increase of 5.2 hours per week and men reported an increase of 3.5 hours per week spent on childcare. This disparity is likely in local realities as well. 

Men consistently report spending more time on childcare than women say they do. This gap, and the aspiration it suggests, leaves room for collaboration to make care equality a reality. It is clear that many men want to spend more time nurturing.

The report recommends specific policy goals and target dates for achieving equality in unpaid care. It describes this as “nothing short of a global shift” which will enable housework and childcare to be roles more greatly associated with men and masculinities whether in schools or health facilities, cultural narratives and social norms. It also requires that recovery policies specifically address inequalities and impacts of unpaid care work, and have more equal representation of women and men in shaping such policies. 

So much more to say. For fathers’ movements, covid19 has highlighted both challenges and opportunities. 

Post 422.

AMIDST TWO of the deadliest months in our post-colonial history, I want to write about death. Or maybe loss. Or maybe remembering. Actually, I’m writing for those of us still here, parsing through our pasts and memories like a cupboard of old clothes, some reminding us of this time or that, some still fitting, some best given away. 

My dad died two years ago, before the shock of Covid-19 took hundreds of our loved ones, but I’m still thinking of him today. Trying to figure out what in that cupboard to keep and why, trying to feel my way through texture and colour, through what remains familiar and what I forgot was there. 

When someone dies, you make choices about what to recollect, what age to see her or him as, what age to see yourself. Some only want to see the good, others chafe at how much that negates their unresolved pain. Some hide truths, others are pinned at their crossroads, wondering what to do with knowledge they can’t escape. 

On the anniversary of his passing on June 6, I perused photos, trying to decide which spoke most to how I felt. I wasn’t so much enjoying seeing him in those images. It wasn’t nostalgia. In retrospect, I was sorting, feeling, resolving our relationship. My dad was a piercingly brilliant man, with an intense personality, and an enthusiastic sense of humour. He was a regionalist with a deep belief in justice. He liked cricket, dancing, plantain sandwiches, animals and the sea. I never once heard him put down women’s rights and he was pro-choice. He could be selflessly generous and kind. He had a starboy jaunt, and liked to sweet talk women. He was also destructive and difficult to love. 

When he was alive, I wished so many things were different. When he was gone, in a heartbeat, it was much the same. Now, I’m intrigued by these contradictions, and how we assemble discomfort and discord, love and loyalty, resemblance and connection into different combinations of coherence as those still living and gathering experience and acceptance. I wrestle with silences. Many of us do the same. 

At first, I used to think about his burial, which we thought was right. He wanted to be cremated, but we were concerned for his soul, and considered his visit to the family mosque in Chaguanas the day before he died to be decisive. I’d stand at the bedroom window, with my back to the Northern Range, looking south, thinking of all that Islamic tradition says about graves, and feel a raw mix of vindication, sadness and fear.

Over time, I’d think about the opportunities he missed or the moments he may have still wanted to see. The momentous trivialities and pride of birthdays and promotions. More tender was watching Ziya play the piano which he bought me nearly 40 years go. If I could have been his eyes, I think he would have appreciated looking through them then. 

In-between wandering backward through time, I’ve also felt freed from his chaos, like his sudden end was a gift, a light that lifted a long shadow. I dreamed him many times. Dreaming someone already departed is like a version of their afterlife. I missed him, but didn’t wish he was still alive. 

Two years on, I find myself retreating to when I was a child. Memories seem simpler then, naïve and full of adoration. Or perhaps there hadn’t been enough experience to undermine those emotions. Maybe it’s just that then I felt most loved. 

Still, the grown-up in us can be stubborn and I went back and forth between two photos, one from a still-chubby age when I would bound toward him, tall, beloved and larger than life, and one from a rare, enjoyable day which the two of us spent together as adults when I had already distanced myself from expectations. 

There’s a picture of him as a child which I looked at, without much feeling. Oddly though, it’s through understanding what my dad may have survived as a child that I have become forgiving. I’m older and he is gone. Yet, here we are, in my reckoning, both as children. 

Across the country, others are rummaging through cupboards with such sentimental treasures, some with greater acceptance than others, some with more they must heal. This journey has heaviness. Yet, sometimes, I am on his shoulders again, laughing beneath an endless sky. Relationships live on. I’m still saying goodbye.