Post 283.

All you have to do is walk around with your eyes open. Words said to me by Lloyd Best, one of the now-deceased founders of the 1970s Tapia House movement for a politics that empowers everyday people, not political elites.

I was already following this path, but have lived by these words since. With your eyes open, you can understand much more about our geography and its history.

Take the road from Grande to Point Galeota, and take your children with you. First, your drive through Sangre Grande and Sangre Chiquito (Big Blood and Little Blood) marks the path of slaughter following the Arena Uprising by Indigenous people in 1699, and their subsequent massacre after killing the Spanish Governor and priests.

Eight-four were captured on the run, sixty-one were shot, the rest were tortured after revealing that they were beaten by priests forcing them to attend Catholic services and to labour in the encomienda system. Later, twenty-two were hanged and dismembered, and the women distributed as servants.

Just past the slope to Manzanilla, named by the Spanish who thought they saw “little apples” on the trees, Nariva Swamp begins to emerge on your right as the ocean flings itself onto the shore on your left. It’s in Nariva Swamp, on the sacred Manatee Island, that the surviving Indigenous rebels were caught.

Full of biodiversity and village history, the Swamp became a protected wetland in 1993 after marches and protests against the effects of illegal rice farming, organized and led by women such as Molly Gaskin and Karilyn Shephard of the Wildfowl Trust. It’s hard to imagine such public protests to protect our ecology today.

You might buy watermelons at the side of the road, in front of the villages of Kernahan and Cascadoux, which began to be populated during the second World War when Trinidad was providing food through its ‘war gardens’. In 1999, I was a researcher documenting the lives and beliefs of those villages and, led by Andrew from Cascadoux Village, scaled the cliff-sides of Point Radix, over the ocean, exhilarated and barefoot.

Andrew later fell while picking coconuts, leaving him disabled. Even while remaining positive, as I visited him while Ziya went up to the mud volcano bubbling behind his house, he talked about how the PNM government took away his food card when they came into power. “It was so little money”, he said, “I don’t understand why”.

It’s a UNC constituency, so these things happen. The PNM also closed the Guayaguayare fishing depot, a glossy, windswept compound with storage facilities for fishermen which was opened by PM Persad-Bissessar in her day and with much ado. Why would they so completely lock the local people out?”, I asked UWI historian, Professor Brinsley Samaroo, “because that’s politics”, he said, reminding me just how little we effectively fight for our rights in the face of party leadership and their practices of punishment and reward.

Guayaguayare means the “clashing of waves” and Ziya, my seven-year-old, was keen to visit a place she’d heard about in an often-played, slow love song to the area by Trinidadian musician Drew Gonzales and his award-winning band, Kobotown. One day, going to Guyana, Zi may visit Georgetown’s famous sea wall, and recollect our own small island version.

Still open are the old green and blue grocery shops of John Lee Lum who, at the turn of the century, helped found the Guayaguayare Oil Company  along with Randolph Rust, from whom Rustville gets its name. Rust drilled the first successful oil well, and looking at the thick mangrove tentacles embracing Pilot River, you wouldn’t know that early drilling took place there.

To the left are rigs and tankers out at sea, and closer in is Point Galeota’s centre. Ziya stood contemplating two wells pumping out the compressed fossils below. As sohari leaves danced nearby, I wondered if the crude oil she saw in black pools around the pumps was a sign of our times, their presence soaking into our land. Perhaps, all – the fossils and the money – will be gone when she reaches my age.

If she keeps her eyes open to enough for long enough, she’ll connect those very pumps to Galeota’s tiny South-Eastern wealth, and sea level rise that will almost certainly claim Manzanilla’s coconut trees, the anaconda-like Mayaro road, and all this history.

Then, she’ll be left to picture chip-chip gathering, and the spirituous silk cotton tree at the mouth of the Ortoire River, in her mind’s eye and from childhood memory.

Post 90.

Last Friday, I completed International Women’s Day by walking the labyrinth at the Anglican Church in Port of Spain. The labyrinth is pre-Christian and associated with meditation and contemplation, and for me, the divine feminine. As I arrived, eight primary schoolgirls flocked to the gate like curious brown and black birds, wanting to follow my steps. ‘The labyrinth is magical’, I said, ‘walk along its path, picture what you want to be when you grow up and imagine that it will happen. Then, as you follow the curves back out, give thanks for everything that will help you fulfill that dream’.

What did these little girls want to be? ‘A billionaire’, said the first one. ‘Barbie’, said the second. ‘A pop star’, said another. ‘A dancer’, said a fourth. One wanted to be a doctor, influencing the billionaire-aspirant to say she now wanted to be a doctor too. ‘Who wants to be a flower?’ I asked. One of them chimed in, ‘what about being a Kiskeedee’? ‘Or a dolpin’? I suggested, glad that these little girls could still imagine without boundaries.

I traced the pattern like a mother duck with a buoyant brood of bright, beautiful and powerful young, telling them the magic of the labyrinth is that it teaches you to focus on your steps and direction until your journey is complete. When we reached the centre, we held hands and affirmed our aspirations. One little one said she wanted to be a police, another a teacher. ‘That’s cool’, I said, ‘I’m a teacher’. ‘And, I want to be a sunflower’, she added. ‘Yes’, I agreed, ‘I’ve always dreamt of being a sunflower too’.

I’ve walked that labyrinth before but never with such bubbling, giggling joy for nothing but the adventure of the moment. On the way back, we gave thanks for the stars and the sun, the sea and the animals. A different little girl now holding hands with me gave thanks for our homes, another for food, another for friends, and, one added, for being popular. Whatever I went to meditate on was completely forgotten and no longer mattered which, I suppose, was my lesson to learn.

I could only be grateful for the reminder that feminism needs to continue to struggle to offer girls options beyond bling, Barbie and pop-stardom so that they also live with fantasies of being Nobel Prize scientists and inventors, history-setting architects and engineers, astronauts, world leaders and, yes, police, doctors, mothers and sunflowers too. We still need revolution in a world where men rule irresponsibly, selling bodies and fame as girls’ biggest assets and best hope, marketing the myth that their moneymaker doesn’t refer to their minds. As with the labyrinth, they will have to navigate sharp twists and turns, meandering paths and unexpected directions as they find their way. I was blessed enough to encounter them long enough to say, you are the future divine feminine, be unafraid.

When we ended back at the beginning, these little birds scattered, skipping away with a confident playfulness I wish I still had. I experienced both happiness and renewed passion for a politics that seeks to conquer, with love, labour and even laughter, every form of violence and inequality that defines girls by less than their boldest dreams. I got hugs more vast that the sky itself from their skinny arms before I walked away into the dusty traffic, knowing by instinct rather than logic, I had just witnessed the labyrinth work its most enchanting magic.

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