Post 185.


It’s the stories that I love.

Stories told by women who spent decades pressing for social change, and stories of solidarity by men sometimes almost twice my age. Stories that challenge myths that women of two generations ago were less radical than now and myths that feminist men didn’t exist throughout our history.

I love the stories of activists who came before because they bring our history to life, to their own lives, with laughter and commiseration, with passion and pain, with irony and unexpected twists, making us learn more about successful strategies or forgotten beginnings or our responsibilities to our future.

I love their stories because these efforts, connections and memories are our legacy, as much as the lasting reforms they created, or gains which we must still protect, are our legacy. They are a legacy because too often we think that it takes people who others consider political leaders, or people with university degrees, or those who seem to have more privilege or power to challenge everyday injustices.

Yet, stories by indomitable citizens of all classes and creeds remind us that is not true. These are stories by people who get up and do, working together to provide help or change unequal rules. Such collective love and labour by citizens is also ‘politics’ because it aims to defend their dreams for an emancipated nation and region, and their commitment to equality, independence and rights for women. These stories remind that the struggle for government by the people and for the people is not new.

Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown is just the conference for those of you who also love everyday stories of those around us who got up and did, just like we do or wish to. The public is invited to attend and participate in this gathering to honour a woman who has spent four decades tirelessly fighting for social change, along with hundreds of others whose names should not be forgotten. But, helping us to remember is precisely what stories do.

Hazel’s own stories include sitting in Port of Spain City Council meetings when she was a child as she waited for the Mayor to sign her report book, because in those days the Council sponsored children’s education. It is here she began to understand government, reminding us maybe we should take our children to watch these meetings as part of their civic empowerment and critical education. Her story of running for election in the 1970s along with women of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago is a lesson in strategy for those thinking about politics today.There’s hope in working with women to buy, iron, exchange and affordably sell used schoolbooks. Then, heartbreak in her plan for a solar powered radio station that was undermined and never came to be. And there will be more than her stories.

Speaking on Saturday are long time activists in areas from women’s health to community and consumer rights, from sustainable food provision, including solar cooking and grow box agriculture, to women’s political participation and leadership, and from Baby Doll mas to the National Gender Policy.

This conference is for anyone who wishes to know more about struggles for social justice, artists and cultural workers interested in social transformation, activists of all eras and issues, and citizens whose dream for our world remains greater equality, justice, sustainability, cooperation and peace.

Come for stories about roads walked and paths still to be cut, in the spirit of our fearless legacy. This column was published prior to the conference, Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown. Videos, photos and other conference information are available on the IGDS website and Youtube page.


Post 3

All lofty-ambitions-like, I had planned some profound post today. But then, and stop here if you are squeamish, I got my period.

It’s the first period I’ve had for eighteen months. I’d been feeling a bit strange over the last few days, womb-heavy and slightly wobbly, and was hoping (kind of, well mostly, well I was prepared to live with whatever) that I was not pregnant. I woke up this morning, saw the unexpected blood and, as a first time mother, got slightly confused and worried.

I called the two mamatoto mid-wives who generously continue to answer, for free, my continued calls nine months after the birth. This is why we need midwives because which doctor are you going to call at 7.50am to ask, ‘I think I got my period, but I’m not sure, what do you think?’ Of course, like most midwives, they were breezy about it. ‘It happens’, said Debbie. ‘Some women bleed even though they are breastfeeding’. ‘Yes, well, it’s been nine months ‘, said Marilyn who a week ago told me I could cut down on pumping and breastmilk during the day – and so I had. Hmmm, I thought, hoping I hadn’t been pregnant and then lost the baby moving around my entire stock of office furniture in a grand getting-ready-for-Semester-1-move that happened yesterday evening.

By mid-morning I had acclimatized and was working steadily at my newly-positioned desk, feeling like a super and simultaneously breastmilk-pumping, bleeding, paper publishing, email-replying , breezy, on midol mom. I’m technically on vacation and could have stayed home but there is that ‘you are up for tenure next year’ letter I referred to in Post 1.

This minor transition in my post-pregnancy body got me reflecting on how little I know about women’s bodies in general, even at my age, even as a feminist, even as a proud owner of my own ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ since I was fourteen (a gift from my older brother Sean). I didn’t even know that women bled while breastfeeding. I thought it kept away your period, and delayed fertility and childbirth. I knew you could get pregnant…but I didn’t know I could get a period. So basic, so obvious.

This is like when I first realized that women bled for a couple of weeks after childbirth. I was waaay into my pregnancy, probably in early second trimester, when some woman made an offhand comment about it. My jaw literally fell open. I had no idea. I thought you had the baby and then it was out and then…well, I guess I hadn’t really thought after that point. Kind of like when you are a kid and you don’t really imagine your life after, say, 28.

‘Really?’ said my husband when I told him, ‘that must suck’. For the first time since I was thirteen, I had no menstrual cycle and had gotten into the swing of taking its absence for granted. Yes, it did kinda ‘suck’. Yet, I got a little internally defensive when, before hanging up and in response to a few sticky details I had added, he perfectly innocently concluded how glad he is to not be a woman. But Eh heh!

‘Well!’ I wanted to say, ‘it’s really only a problem because there is no paid menstrual leave, no menstrual centres, no menstruating goddess worship and no elevated status attributed to this amazing moon-tidal elixir of fertility. It doesn’t suck. Patriarchy sucks! ‘.

In this vein, I had convinced some male and female students in my first year Introduction to Women’s Studies class to create a ‘Menstrual Centre’ on the UWI campus for their popular action, a culture-jamming activist assignment …gotta love teaching Women’s Studies!! 

Menstrual leave I had pointed out is a decades old workers’ right recognised in some Communist countries. In modern Indonesia, women factory workers continue to fight for two days of monthly leave:

Perhaps, women should get two days, each month, of leave with pay because female laboring, PMSing, bleeding bodies should not have to work under the same conditions as supposedly ‘normative’ non-bleeding, non-egg producing male bodies. After all, women workers are female humans. What about menstrual centres on every corner instead of rumshops? Women could go for massages, consciousness-raising and support groups, delicious and helpful smoothies, information, health care and collective organizing. First scandalized, the students countered that they should also include support groups for men, sort of like ‘Friends of Menstruating Women’. Just stuff for thought.

The students built a frame using bamboo, interviewed male students about taboos on buying pads and tampons in a store, painted posters saying ‘Man the species menstruates’(If Man refers to men and women, then it really should include women, right?), and handed out pamphlets on how wombs work and why, and natural fruit and teas that help. Many students went through the centre that day (see photo!)Students at the UWI 2009 Menstrual Centre.

Maybe if Menstrual Centres really were on every corner, I might have known more about my own body, post-birth and during-breastfeeding bleeding. Anyway, as i keep learning, even with myself, there is clearly a lot more work still to do.

Post 2

the thing about being a working mother is that it gives you clarity about both the challenges and the benefits. my helper, Baby, is soon going to be grandmother to the child born to her son and daughter-in-law. This young woman, only about 18 years old, not finished school and currently not working, doesn’t have any income of her own and won’t qualify for any maternity leave. her young husband doesn’t have regular work either.

she’s been getting pains atypical of a five month pregnancy. on the weekend, they were so worrisome, she went to Mount Hope, a public hospital, to seek a doctor’s care. She and baby waited nine hours to see a doctor. the doctor listened to the baby’s heartbeat, took blood from both arms, gave her an injection (Baby can’t say of what) and sent her home with a note enabling her to get an ultrasound five days later. 5 days!! I’m not convinced that they got results from the bloodwork before the injection, but at least she heard the heart beating. Still, I couldn’t wait 5 days for an ultrasound….but what if I had to?

when i was pregnant, i was putting in 10 and 11 hour days when i was in my final trimester (especially in my final trimester, but more about that in another post) and taught until 8pm the night before i went into three days of labour before giving birth, a week early, on the fourth day (more about the labour in another post too, i had the baby in the driveway because my midwives believed i wasnt in labour those three spasming days…ah what you learn in retrospect).

apparantly, you are not supposed to work up until birth (so says national insurance board) but only up to a month before. yet, like many mothers, i wanted the most time after the birth because of the short maternity leave allowed by law (only three months with full pay! MORE on this in another post). so i worked, knowing that i had access to paid maternity leave, that i would have a job upon my return and that my paycheque also allowed me to access private care and an additional two months of leave without pay.

every doctor visit cost between TT$400 and $800 depending on the doctor and the tests done. i had a visit almost every month. plus, i began to see a midwife at the birth centre mamatoto and those visits were $100 to $200, plus birth classes ($800), plus an almost $10 000 birth (despite being in the driveway). i paid for every cost myself. i was proud i could. i worked – hard – for every dollar i earned and i could look after the health of my baby because of it. at every doctor visit, i had an ultrasound, i heard my baby’s heart beating its own rhythm, i saw that heart shining like a star in her chest, i saw her body curve and move. that reassurance was priceless.

that’s why tonight, my thoughts are with Baby’s young daughter-in-law who is likely to be praying to any force in the universe to make her baby safe and healthy. that’s what i would be doing. i’d be wishing so hard, it would encompass my whole mind and being, and i’d be in deep vibrational meditation without even realising it as i went about my day. she’s probably putting her faith in that injection, impatiently wondering what the blood results will say and counting the minutes until the ultrasound…five long days away.

in these moments, a working mother appreciates…working. for the pay, the power, the peace of mind it can bring. tonight, i’m thinking of non-working mothers, those young and without a job, without a union, without benefits. those who wait nine hours on a saturday to see a doctor and get back home after 10pm, who get injections without quite knowing what they are or why, who go home with deferred questions, perhaps not even knowing what to ask. those without the independence to get private care when they need an answer, an image, an ultrasound right away.

i’ve given her my ‘expecting’ books and i’ve offered next time she gets those pains to get her to my doctor, but for all the other women in this republic and in the world, i’m wishing you and your baby are perfectly perfectly alright, even if you are still waiting to do the tests and to go home reassured from the results they bring.