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.

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Post 233.

Our development dreams are a planetary nightmare. We are living that nightmare now, even if we have not yet connected higher food prices, increasing drought, floods, hurricanes, fish depletion, waste poisoning or air pollution to vast, wider global changes.

This year, gorillas, bees, amphibians, plants and others have been added to the endangered list, which already consists of 80,000 species, almost 24,000 of which are threatened with extinction. This is reversible, requiring us to take responsibility for solutions.

Animal populations plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012, with losses expected to reach 67% by 2020, according to the Living Planet Index, which was released last month, and highlights our destruction of the natural world on which all life depends.

There are different causes for this, predominantly loss of habitat, use of pesticides and other pollutants, and unsustainable fishing, hunting and corporate practices. There are higher and lower numbers for specific species, but the trend remains disturbing. This holocaust of animals is a glimpse of our own future.

All such injustice against the earth’s ecology and inhabitants is authorized by those with institutional power, and the force of state, law, and industry. That’s the case here, in terms of depletion of fish as a result of the oil and gas industries’ poisoning of rivers and marine environments, with everyone from BP to Petrotrin guilty. It’s the case with Styrofoam and plastics pollution.

Yet, the message from Green Screen’s brilliant, now six-year environmental film festival, is that small communities of committed people can secure change, by bearing witness, by inspiring others, by demanding different decisions.

Wednesday night’s films highlighted suicides, by the hundreds of thousands, of Indian farmers caught up in debt cycles because of agricultural practices instituted by the pesticide and fertilizer industries, and the Indian government. Corporate control of agriculture decimated sustainable food production and their livelihoods.

A short, intimate look at the life of a spear fisherman in La Brea, seemed all too similar and close. He has no idea whether it’s still safe to eat the fish he catches and neither do many consumers, affecting his ability to support his family.

The Living Planet Index indeed shows that rivers and lakes are the hardest hit habitats, with populations down by 81% since 1970. Excessive water extraction, pollution, dams and habitat pressures from global warming are all causes. In the film, Jason James looks at the camera and concludes, “I am too young to die”.

The final, deeply moving film on the history of Greenpeace reminded us of what happens if only we care. I took a busload to UWI students to see the films because, among other things, I teach students to understand violence, and our relationship to our planet’s ecology constitutes one of its many forms.

I took another busload of students to Chagaramas to witness the nexus between state corruption, unethical and illegal privatization of ‘the commons’ or land meant for free, public enjoyment, and the negative impacts on wildlife. The caiman Ziya saw on her first forest walk, by the turn to Macaripe, was not there, and who knows if it will be again.

Amidst non-organic, elite-owned agriculture, loss of sea grass and starfish because of coastal construction, and bright lights in a dark-zone, I wanted them to learn about the power they have if only they decide.

Green Screen also held a panel discussion with Nadra Nathai-Gyan, Molly Gaskin, Peter O’Connor, Akilah Jaramogi and Bobbi Hunter of Greenpeace. On the bus back, I listed other environmental and wildlife protection pioneers, who students could contact and learn from, without an essay or test in sight, if they only tried.

Before we left, Molly Gaskin listed just a few of the successes our small movement had accomplished, such as getting Trinidad and Tobago to sign the Convention on the Prevention of International Trade in Endangered Species, preservation of the scarlet ibis, which was being hunted while nesting, designation of Nariva as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and a halt to the passage of ships carrying nuclear waste through the Caribbean.

Power is ours. Those films make clear. We must wake up and pursue a different dream. The first step is to care.