Post 192.

Watching from backstage. Photo by Maria Nunes.

Watching from backstage. Photo by Maria Nunes.

Rustling with energy backstage, dozens of children waited in darkness and silence, as senior dancers with Lilliput Theatre Company performed lines from Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Laureate acceptance speech. A few girls in front of me mouthed lines as they listened and fidgeted, impatient for their cue.

Malala’s words were starkly humbling. My chest quietly swelled with feeling, over the three nights of this weekend’s performance, every time I heard the young performers quoting her say: “I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”

What a lesson for us adults.

When Malala visited Trinidad, I had explained her story to Ziya. I was explicit that Malala had been shot in the head, and that there were men who did not want girls to be educated. “Why?” Zi kept asking, as four-year-olds do, when adults struggle to explain complex situations.

Lilliput’s show now led Zi to seize upon Mighty Gabby’s song, Government Boots, which played just before Zi went on stage. “What are government boots? Who is Tommy?” she started asking, taken with the catchy refrain of “left, right, left, right.”

I explained that the song was telling Barbados’ PM Tom Adams there should not be so many soldiers. “Why?” she asked.

The sound of soldiers’ boots frightens many people. Soldiers hurt people with guns, and some children are forced to be soldiers after being taken away from their families.

Again: “But why?”

Imagine the show, in which Zi played a child bride, making her start these conversations, real ones about girls being forced to marry men they don’t know and boys being forced to hurt people, instead of them all being safe with their families and in schools.

Imagine me wrestling with how and how much to tell her the truth, wondering what constitutes ‘age appropriate’ knowledge when it’s about the realities of children her own age.

Imagine her at night, with her mind effervescing, as all children’s do just as you want them to close their eyes and sleep, with questions about Malala and government boots.

“Do the children see their families again?” she asked. Imagine all this because I only wanted her to grow less shy and more confident, and make friends, by taking a dance class.

But it seems the world doesn’t allow girls to grow up innocent so.

I admired that Noble Douglas and her company compelled parents, past students and more to invest in one way or another in giving our children a chance to dress up and dance to the chorus, “No, no, no.” And there’s one line Zi now remembers from Malala’s speech: “Let this be the last time.”

For me, seeing the whole process, from weeks of Saturday morning classes to rehearsal chaos and finally to a huge cast of exuberant children on stage, also humbling was the show’s determined mix of community parenting, feminism, global politics, children’s rights, Caribbean culture and joyous creativity.

There was a small ‘army’ of mostly women, helping with children, costumes or make up, making me appreciate how much labour matters beyond what is waged and counts toward GDP, making me recognise the sacrifices of women who never saw the show because there wasn’t anyone who equally shared their childcare responsibility, making me want to ask: “But why?” like Zi.

Unbelievably, after all this, all Zi told her school friends about the show was that she had on makeup. I had to laugh. Seems Lilliput also scored in Zi’s world of actual priorities of four-year-old girls.

Me with other mummies, happy and proud that the babies' class got their routine right on the second night after the super cute but chaotic opening performance. Photo by Maria Nunes

Me with other mummies, happy and proud that the babies’ class got their routine right on the second night after their super cute but chaotic opening performance. Photo by Maria Nunes.

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Post 176.

Je suis Ayeesha. Three years old.

Je suis Maezol. Eight years old.

Je suis each of dozens of innocent children killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. For there is no self-censorship such as curtailing all that you do, and learning to wish for dark clouds rather than clear skies, simply to survive.

Je suis an unnamed Nigerian girl, misrepresented in this week’s press as a ‘suicide bomber’, though there is no evidence that she was suicidal and she was never a bomber, but another innocent child among the others murdered.

Je suis Mary, Esther, Blessing, Glory, Fatima, Awa, Rahila, Rejoice, Hauwa and Zara, who were also kidnapped by extremist men and may never again experience freedom from daily fear, injustice and violence.

Je suis the jailed Bradley Manning who exposed how unarmed Iraqi civilians were massacred by US troops from their helicopter, without any trial by jury or right of appeal, for nothing close to satire or blasphemy. Je suis Raif Badawi who is sentenced to flogging and imprisonment in Saudi Arabia for criticizing Wahabbi rule.

Why choose Charlie but not Ayeesha? Why see an attack on us all in religious-based violence without also seeing it in state violence, class violence and corporate violence? This is a good moment to denounce all violence that forces silencing of dissent and critique, and acceptance of injustice and inequality.

Je suis Charlie to evoke a global defense of truth, justice and freedom for all, and to mobilize a politics that equally abhors the violation of some individuals in some places as much as it does in others. Je suis Charlie to refuse distinctions regarding torture, terrorism and armed violence, and to challenge dogmatism regardless of who imposes their worldview with guns and war.

It’s absolutely true that self-righteous religiosity, whether Islamic or Christian, powerfully continues to deny equality to some because of their gender or sexuality, resist women’s complete autonomy, and perpetuate the violence of illegal and unsafe abortions which kill tens of thousands of women worldwide. It is also true that nationalism combined with state violence decides whose bodies matter, which countries we emotively connect to, and whose lives can be ignored by citizens, media and states.

Forty-seven nations’ politicians gather in solidarity in Paris while state terrorism against other innocents fails to make us sufficiently act against the intolerance behind such crimes. Indeed, one cannot blame cartoonists, French racism, Western colonialism and war, or economic deprivation for provoking a ‘Muslim’, Algerian or masculine response. An egotistical claim to sovereignty over others, meaning the assumed right to repress and kill, is at work here and it is as illegitimate when claimed by individuals or nations. This is therefore also a moment to remember that contemporary religious fundamentalism, state militarism and extremist male violence are entangled in ways that it is ahistorical to deny.

The hijacking of religious tolerance, individual freedom, women’s rights, collective peace and global as well as local forms of economic equality connects Charlie Hebdo with Nabila Rehman who was picking ochros in her garden when drone missiles killed her grandmother, injuring her and seven other children.

Will we identify with freedom for all or sacrifice fairness for tribalism? This, to quote Maajid Nawaz, “is the difference between choosing principles and choosing sides”. An attack on anyone’s human rights is an attack on all we cherish, and all that connects our humanity across every national border.

Je suis Mahmoud, a Palestinian teen who rushed to help Israelis attacked in a West bank supermarket.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ayeesha. No to all terror. Not in my name.

Post 157.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children. Children in Gaza, in South Sudan, in Brazil, and in Trinidad and Tobago. Children being killed by bombs. Children facing mass starvation. Children living in a state that can find money for football while they barely survive on the street. Children being abused in shelters and in their own homes.

In one way or another, all us adults are collectively responsible for all children. Our responsibility isn’t about charity, though that has its contribution to make. Our responsibility is about ending violence of every kind, relentlessly pursuing disarmament on every front, infusing a commitment to child rights into every culture, and refusing to let children be unprotected against our own mercilessness, whether from cruelty or neglect, from corruption-caused poverty or avoidable war. Who will hold adults like us responsible, and empower us to do better, if not also us?

Here at home, another taskforce presented a vision for a way ahead for children, and we can almost predict being disappointed by its implementation, because of delays regarding personnel, resources, legislation and political will, even as well meaning public servants press on with commitment and passion. Malala Yousafzai came and, because she was a girl child, was silenced from presenting a crucial message to all adults in her midst, including and especially Muslim men, whose leaders somehow missed the entire point of her global struggle against patriarchal definition of girls’ rights. Another video circulated of a child being beaten, this time with a shovel, and we already know there are no social services that can provide true rescue.

If I’m like other parents, there’s that moment of unmatchable peace at those times when I’m falling asleep knowing that Ziya is safe and near to me. I think of her absolute trust in us when she is scared, her reliance on us to provide for her needs, and her unquestioning expectation that she is loved, and can feel at home and be herself. That should be the reality for every child, but also I lie awake at night just thankful that she’s been able to experience what seems like a privilege for precious few, feeling like getting it right for her is as much as I can do.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children, knowing that our global failure is not good enough. Marches can bring people together and show that an issue merits public concern, but marches won’t help children in Pakistan, Jamaica, Uganda or here. NGOs can take responsibility where the state and families fail, but we can’t leave often women-run, volunteer- dependent NGOs to fix our society. We can always blame deficient state services, but the problem remains the world that each of us adults allows to continue as is. All us adults are collectively responsible in one way or another for all children because every single one of them is vulnerable in a way each of us is not, because the civility of a society is marked by the quality of life of its most vulnerable, because their vulnerability is a result of our domination.

We can’t entirely prevent what is happening to children in India, China, the US or Europe, but almost a million adults don’t need an extra cent to transform the terms of childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. We adults need to grow up. Commitment by us all is necessary, and possible. Right now, it is heartbreakingly clear, from Gaza to South Sudan, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, children everywhere desperately need our far greater, non-negotiable commitment to care.