Post 281.

For all its imperfections, the Guardian has been good to me. In 2012, Editor Judy Raymond offered to publish my diary about working motherhood. Since then, I’ve encountered many, mostly mothers, who were emboldened by someone writing about the quiet, isolated experiences and emotions that they have, but feared weren’t important or collective enough for public print.

Grandmothers have seemed to be my most regular readers. This often left me negotiating badass with good beti even while the radical example and words of older, wiser feminist foot soldiers, including those in hijab and those leading domestic worker unions, emboldened me.

I began in Features, yet my sense of citizenship often led my diary to political analysis and advocacy. Slowly, as Ziya grew, I had space to think about more than sleeplessness, breastfeeding, baby steps and birthdays. Like most women, including ones whose educational and occupational empowerment seems to set them to achieve everything women could want, I worried about being a good mother, making ends meet and managing my career. This continues, even with just one child, having had to live with the loss of not having more.

Yet, I rebelled, writing in 2014, “Some days you spend whole conversations on love and sex. Other days you connect ethically and emotionally with other women over delays in passing procurement legislation, the state failure and corruption that has allowed illegal quarrying, and the social and economic costs of badly planned urban development. When women resist because representation remains our right and responsibility, some days our diaries will say nothing about husbands or babies”.

Still, the column wasn’t not focused enough on governance, in the style of my long-time UWI mentor Prof Selwyn Ryan. Indeed, I was composing fictional creation-stories, delving into the deeply emotional art of Jabs such as Ronald and Sherry Alfred, and Fancy Indians like Rose and Lionel Jagessar, and still mulling over marriage, fatherhood, primary schooling, connection to nature, and love.

I thought hard about genre and experimented with writing. The form of a diary is so often associated with women’s private thoughts and feelings, held close and secret with a small symbolic lock. Bringing this genre into the public domain was a deliberate act against male-defined Op-Ed expectations which position the oil sector, the constitution and politics as the serious topics of the nation.

For most people, managing family life, feeling safe in their homes, and negotiating aspirations and disappointments matter most and are the most pressing issues in their lives. The diary moved from Features, taking these concerns with it, and challenging divisions between public and private, and their unequal value.

The form also built on historical examples of colonial logs, and journals such as Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, which I read as a graduate student, but with substance grounded in emancipatory, Caribbean feminist observations and Political Leader-less, worker and citizen people-power.

Readers wrote to me, wondering if I was a PMN, a UNC, a COP, a knife and fork Indian, too Indian, and too feminist. Amidst calling for an end to child marriage, programmes to end violence against women, and policies to protect women workers from sexual harassment, I wrote twenty columns in which lesbians were named as part of the nation and region, precisely because no one else would, because every woman matters, not just the ones that meet patriarchal expectations, and because these women, who were not allowed to exist in law, would here defiantly exist in public record as having the right to be.

I learned that to write a diary, which wrestles with life, love, rights and justice, is to risk repetitive, aggressive attack. I owe Editor Shelly Dass public thanks for skillfully stopping Kevin Baldeosingh from using the Guardian to legitimize his bizarre and obsessive stalking of me in the press, always to harm.

I’ve grown, as has Ziya, in these pages. I’ve learned to look around the landscape, appreciating all its heartfelt and difficult growing pains, like my own, in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Diary of a Mothering Worker departs from the Guardian, but will continue to walk good, gratefully carrying the lessons from Guardian and its readers’ years of nurturing wrapped in its jahajin bundle.

 

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Post 197.

‘And you want to be a feminist?’, the well-known pediatrician and fellow columnist asked me, I hoped rhetorically.

As Stone, Ziya and I entered in his office, he eyed Zi’s bottle of diluted cranberry juice the way US customs officials profile suspected narcotics traffickers as they step off the plane.

‘No more processed juice’, he declared, like entrance rules of a worm-hole to some healthier space-time. ‘It’s processed?’ I countered, because I like to think we buy healthy. ‘Did it come in a box, tin, container or carton?’ he spelt out, because obviously it did. ‘It’s processed unless your squeeze juice from fruit yourself’, he concluded, because clearly we hadn’t.

Then, he seemed to stop himself from starting a radical, anarcho-feminist, anti-big pharma, anti-global-food corp critique, one he had no doubt been championing since the 1970s. Instead, he simply outlined that big companies fool us into thinking that what we buy is beneficial instead of defined by chemical colours, acidifying preservatives, emulsifiers, and harmful processes, especially for children. Just read labels. I mentioned that Zi has Kellogg’s bran on a morning with banana and, I swear, it was like watching Harry Potter bristle at a Death Eater.

I appreciated his hard core line on what we should feed our children. Like Zi’s teachers, who chastise parents for sending chocolate, fruit snacks and cookies instead of real fruit in lunch kits.

Except at birthday parties, Zi doesn’t access soft drinks, or eat those biscuits, Kiss cakes or other packages of salt, sugar, sorbic acid and various four-syllable poisons. I’ve stood in the Pennywise hair products’ aisle wondering, if I died tomorrow, who would take the time to buy her shampoo without sulfate. I pointlessly rant, as I am never home to do the cooking, about the harms of canola, corn and soy oils, and pointlessly insist, as I am never home to do the grocery shopping, on us buying more costly grapeseed and cold-pressed coconut oil.

Zi’s vegetarian because twenty years ago I read so much on the horrors of meat production that I was done. If meat was raised in somebody’s backyard on grass, that would be different. But, what we buy has often been raised with antibiotics, growth-hormones and genetically modified corn, usually in stressful conditions, and we don’t yet know what long term harm that does to children. Finally, she has never had milk because so many children are lactose-intolerant, and milk is the cause of far too many rashes, infections, upsets, sinus irritations and allergies.

We sought the doctor because Zi was suffering from mosquito bites that she scratched into sores, which wouldn’t heal for weeks. ‘Cut out juices and other products with sugar, including overly processed brans and granolas as well as cheese,’ were our final pediatric instructions as I imagined the Mission Impossible soundtrack ricocheting around the room.

It’s here I felt justifiably overwhelmed. Fresh juicing, baking with unrefined flour and buying more organic everything seemed like plenty more effort for one woman logging long hours at work. It seemed like even more effort to my pork-loving, three-kinds-of-carbohydrates-on-the-plate-eating, lettuce-as-a-vegetable-counting, skeptical-of-Gab’s-probably-unneccessary-consumption-commandments, but nonetheless supportive husband. Stone and I exchanged one of those married people glances.

‘And you want to be a feminist?’ He contested my politics when I contested his expectations. I knew better than to duel with a doctor whose crew is midwives, and fearless breastfeeding and reproductive rights activists.

Indeed, feminism includes building a healthier world, for us, animals and the earth. It includes giving consumer power to organic farmers and green markets rather than to the handful of corporations that make us stuffed, but starving, with shortening life-spans, and combinations of children’s diabetes, obesity and attention deficits.

If I wanted to be feminist, I’d have to defend the rights of my child, first in my own home, and value the responsibility and power of such reproductive time and labour. My soundtrack would have to be more Thug Life than Nestle, Pepsico, Coca Cola, Kraft Foods, General Mills and Wrigley.

As we left I thought of a joke, but don’t tell anybody. How many feminists does it take to make fresh cucumber juice? Just one! His name is Stone and we love him dearly!

Post 179.

You don’t go there thinking that you will learn about how to live, but so it was last week at the funeral of Marcia Henville. How humbling to sit among her children and best friends, those she helped or who helped her, and some who never met her at all, everyone reflecting on what difference one life could make.

I was moved by invocations of forgiveness, knowing that this choice is not about excusing a wrong, but preventing it from devouring you from inside, particularly when your family is already torn asunder. I heard people say it was too soon, Marcia wasn’t even buried yet, but I couldn’t imagine what else her children could be expected to do.

We all live in families where we have had to learn to forgive hurts large and small. That hasn’t meant forgetting, and it does not displace necessary expectations for accountability, care and justice. But, as you walk with your wounds, you need to travel light. Fear, anger and hate are too heavy burdens when grief, regret and disappointment may be all you can bear.

Forgiveness is never about the other person and his or her lesson, it is only always about your ability to heal. When you forgive, you fit something that happened into your past, freeing your present, knowing there is no other exit from a darkening maze.

I admired that Marcia’s family and community understood this immediately. In my heart, I asked myself if I could be that good, that strong, that insightful about how to survive such a painful path ahead.

I also listened closely to what people remembered. She taught her children to be themselves, and she was their friend. Her friends said that she would go wherever she heard someone cry. She roamed the country helping families. She connected shotters with their desire to live differently, rather than by the gun. She had her own vision for the marginalised.  It felt like not letting such commitment die could be so simple, but her coffin was a reminder that it is not.

We still ask the wrong questions about violence against women. Why ask why women don’t leave? There are many reasons, from commitment to children and abiding love to terror and low self-confidence to lack of support and economic insecurity. While women must be empowered to secure their own safety, our questions should instead be: Why doesn’t every societal message tell boys and men who resort to violence that seeking help is their responsibility? Why don’t more men’s groups take action against men’s violence and for men’s healing? When will powerful men visibly lead transformations of masculinity beyond its associations with power, recognising the point of women’s struggle for peace and equality?

My own male Guardian Media bosses can begin to set examples that may save women’s lives. Stag’s totally sexist, ‘It’s a man’s world. Rule responsibly’, campaign should be the first to fund national anti-violence messaging everywhere that Stag sells, throughout and beyond Carnival. Profiting from dangerous ideals of men’s right to rule, despite statistics showing what that means for women in reality, means on every billboard and bottle you should be the first to market men’s responsibility to stop violence against women.

Reflecting on what difference one life, one effort, one campaign could make, I left Marcia Henville’s funeral with lessons resonating in my head like a conversation between tenor pan and bass. Remembering that love is a practice of forgiveness as much as of justice, I walked away under noon sun, grateful for an example of the kind of person I still could become.

(An interesting note: when this column was published, the Guardian editors removed the reference to the company, Guardian Media. Just reminder that what we read is, ultimately, corporate controlled.)

Conversation about ending violence and changing masculinities in T and T.

Post 178.

Watching her Gayelle family celebrate and remember Marcia Henville, I couldn’t shake disbelief that domestic violence could have caused her death.  The loss of such an irrepressible woman left horror hovering behind the love and courage being shared from Gayelle’s studio to our living rooms.

Feeling what Sunity Maharaj rightly called ‘grief upon outrage’ pressing heavily on my heart, I remembered that providing a sense of connection was always the genius of Gayelle and its hosts. Even at home, you could feel you were there with them, close, personal and on set with their emotions, their aspirations and their community.

But it wasn’t just Gayelle who made television we own, it was Marcia, a woman who seemed to know no boundaries, who walked unarmed where police feared to tread, who asked questions to make a politician cringe, and who made her own television brand one that was unapologetically rooted in pursuit of justice. Anyone who watched the programmes she hosted felt compelled by her passion, and on the streets with her she held your gaze, like a clear eye in an angry storm, as she demanded accountability to truths the whole nation could see.

When I was too tired to wake with Gayelle’s night-long vigil, I tried to sleep, but was unable to resolve how such a fearless woman could still be so unsafe in her own bedroom. It’s a different feeling from the sense of threat when Dana Seetahal was murdered. That was public and political, reinforcing that anyone who threated powerful interests and secrets lacks genuine protection in this country.

Marcia’s death happened at home, emphasizing how many women, less fearless than her, lack genuine safety in the one place it should always be.  So too with nineteen year old Salma Chadee and Shabana Mohammed, both also killed at home, as they either attempted to leave their relationships or after their relationships had ended. So too with Dorothy Rodrigo, 30 years old, shot on January 2nd, in her bathroom.

Homes are amongst the most unsafe places for the vulnerable. Women are most likely to face life-threatening abuse at the point of leaving relationships. It is their partners who present the greatest threat. We all know the smallest forms of violation and the most unconscionable acts of violence are borne by girls and women of all ages, daily.

In one month of 2013 alone, women reported assaults and threats to police in Barataria, San Fernando, Gasparillo, Marabella, Arima, St. James, Tunapuna, Las Lomas, Malabar, Pinto, Princes Town, Barrackpore, Point Fortin, Arouca, Gasparillo, Moruga, St. Madeleine, Cumuto, Freeport, Couva, Carenage, Malony, Mon Repos, Morvant, Siparia, Scarborough, St. James, La Brea, Valencia, La Horquetta, St. Margarets, and more.

Yet, despite all this information, despite understanding that class, race, and other differences don’t provide women with any guarantees, I couldn’t sleep because I realized how much I also fall for the myth that empowered women are more able to escape pervasive experiences of abuse. I had forgotten that a woman’s public life, her education, her job and even her politics, tell you little about the personal and her negotiations with its deeply embedded, often excused inequalities.

If a woman who was her own woman, like Marcia Henville, could fall victim too, then what does this mean for all the work that we, men, women and the state, need to do?

We lost a woman unlike any in the country and media because we haven’t completely confronted an entire culture of male power and domination. We haven’t made being safe at home a reality.  Marcia Henville’s spirit surely demands we pursue such justice. Now, and fearlessly.

Post 171.

Amidst signs from Guave Road farmers showing government’s crop destruction in Chagaramas, banners from Tacarigua, increasingly intoxicated folk singing about Kamla drinking puncheon, and a cute Indian rasta with long dreads who danced spiritedly the entire way, last Friday found me in Port of Spain marching against corruption.

Amassing with unions can be pure joy for their unique sense of collectivity and reminder of popular strength. When else will exuberant songs and drums echoing through the street remind you that labour needs to hold the reins of power and that we might indeed overcome economic inequality and exploitation. Someday, someday.

As an anthropologist and activist, my instincts were to read all the handmade signs, walk within the energy of the unions represented, from contractors to oilfield and communication workers to UWI staff, and, as I was to speak on the platform later, give voice to protestors’ own ideas.

I especially tried to talk with women. One carried so much heavy determination to survive domestic violence and current unemployment that I couldn’t imagine how to begin to talk about politics. I could have connected her with a job, but despite having a computer, she didn’t have typing skills. Feeling her defeat, I could only think, may Jah provide the bread.

As I moved through the ranks, asking people how they would end corruption, many weren’t interested in talking, maybe because they wondered why an Indian like me, maybe ah UNC, was asking such questions. Such reticence wasn’t surprising. Dishonesty is the historical modus operandi of every party, yet this was opposition not national politics, personalizing corruption with a capitalized, yellow K.

Some women I spoke with lamented that race was holding back the country, but were clear that racism was worse now than ever before. One man said he’d end corruption by bunnin down Port of Spain. Most just said the solution was to vote out Kamla. I countered that PNM history tells us corruption isn’t because of this Prime Minister. Remember Tarouba Stadium? But, that mood wasn’t there amongst unionists, MSJ supporters, ILP members, PNM faithful, San Fernando workers wanting their back pay, and others wronged and disappointed by a Minshall-named ‘Mama of Mamaguy’.

A number of women told me that we can’t end corruption, we doh have no power. But then why march? On the platform, I hoped they heard me honour Caribbean women’s long tradition of resistance against oppressive systems which used sexual and other kinds of violence, including the law, to control their rights, bodies and fertility, paid women less than they paid men for the same work, and assigned them tasks worth less pay. This is why our great-grandmothers fought in their numbers, to give us this capacity we have today.

I didn’t expect marchers to bring up procurement legislation, political party financing reform, whistleblower protection, increasing police convictions for state fraud, reviewing operations of our tax department or strengthening the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) process. Yet, it’s also clear that unions need to make such specific solutions household words as well as call workers to the streets. They need to show how corruption bankrupts the treasury, and undermines the quality of schools, roads and hospitals, leaving the poorest the most hungry.

My speech emphasized that communities must be connected to each other, not to political leaders, and disrupting any myth of Indian women’s docility, I was clear that Jack Warner doesn’t have the moral authority to be on any anti-corruption platform with me. I then left early for a date with my husband, to give enough time and thought also to marriage and family.

Post 155.

If you are right in the middle of balancing recurrent expenses, savings, insurance policies and a mortgage, it can be hard to know whether to make decisions based on where you are now or where you will be in twenty years. I think about this a lot, wondering if it’s short-sighted to plan based only on what I can afford or unrealistic to budget on a future expected income.

This isn’t only about good financial advice. It involves making decisions about what kind of life I want and what my sacrifices are intended to achieve.

The house I dream of living in is beyond my current capacity, but won’t be in ten years. I could give up that dream for something more manageable and less perfect, and in ten years wish I had found a way to hold on long enough despite the nightly stress and the fears of not making ends meet.

Alternatively, I could walk away from the home and yard where I both got married to Stone and gave birth to Ziya, and start fresh, learning to let go, and living with less time spent thinking about money, enabling that sacrifice to earn me a better quality of life, marriage, motherhood and career in the decade ahead.

It’s not a question of house size or grandeur, it’s ultimately about what I hope to leave for Zi when I’m gone, and the effort I’m willing to invest into securing that gift for her, with my best wishes that it improves her own quality of life. But, sometimes, getting there feels far, overwhelming and exhausting.

A voice in my head also wonders if she’ll look back and say that I sacrificed my relationship with her in the present to leave more to her later, having spent too much time working as hard I can, and being distracted by financial demands in ways that she would not have chosen for me.

For us workers without a trust fund, leaving your children with at least a house that they can call theirs, and a little yard to grow fruit and food, is not just a work ethic, it’s a life ambition that we’ve inherited from each generation that came before, a plan held close and tended with care since enslaved and indentured workers started being able to put aside a little, make some into heavy gold jewelry, and add slowly to a hidden tin’s contents. Our parents did it by doing without, giving all to their children, and living through that hope and for that dream.

However, times have changed and that’s now not so easy. The cost of living seems to increase daily, and I’ll also admit to not wanting to give up the freedom I have to buy books when I want or eat dinners with my friends or, when Zi is older, travel with her as much as I can. It’s not possible to have it all or even get what you want when you want it. Sometimes, something has got to go.

Watching women fall to cancer around me, I also wonder if it’s better to find whatever resolution comes with the most leisure, the least pressure, the lowest costs and the shortest time to achieve. What if I plan on thirty years ahead and illness leaves Zi with neither house nor me?

Judging types will say that the worries of job and mortgage, then death, make for a wasted life, but they are stereotyping this moment of weighing responsibilities. Mostly, it’s another chance to realistically reflect on my potential and, insha’allah, be true to my priorities.