Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ryan does not write the dime-store Buddhist how-holy-is-my-saltcellar poem one has seen too many of lately.

-- My new favourite line from a review of a book of poems (David Kirby on The Niagara River by Kay Ryan).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I have seen the rain fall in so many places / that I have ceased caring where the drops come from
What was the likelihood of global economic forces conspiring to deposit, over the course of 400 years, every major ethnic group, race, creed and religion into a space the size of London and leave them to work it out?

A prudent bookie might say they were about the same as a country with half a dozen football teams in its professional league making it to the World Cup finals.

Still, the average Trini will fancy his team against David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Co. For every credibility gap, there is a gullibility fill and in T&T and the Caribbean, that gullibility fill is a resource.

-- B.C. Pires, writing in last weekend's UK Observer about T&T's chances in Germany next June.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Not blogging

Georgia has been up in London discussing how blogging can save the world, & hanging out with her Global Voices regional editor, David "Oso" Sasaki. Taran has been in the Dominican Republic talking tech. Jonathan has been thinking about Winston Dookeran, Ryan has as usual been thinking about cricket. And I, after all the recent football excitement, have maintained blog silence for more than a fortnight.

After all, I had a magazine to put to bed at the end of November, & then was travelling for a week or so--headed north, saw some old friends, renewed an old acquaintance, met & interviewed A.J. Seymour's daughter & niece in Brooklyn, transacted some other business, & picked up the shiny new 12-inch PowerBook with which I'm writing this (the old iBook gently put out to pasture for the time being--pasture being the bookcase next to my desk at home, where it balances delicately atop a row of Jane Austens). So offline obligations & activities have occupied time that might otherwise have been spent whistling into the ether.... As I imagine they'll continue to do through the end of the year, as I try to knock off a couple of biggish writing assignments, get back to "Imaginary Roads", & survive the "holiday" season.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Imaginary Roads

In the Land Cruiser, driving through the forest between 58 Miles and Kurupukari, in the long tunnel made by the overarching trees, I had tried to imagine the course of the road as though the land were laid before me like a map. I imagined the road emerging from the forest near mountains I had yet to see; I imagined it winding round the Pakaraima foothills and plunging into the Takutu River near Lethem. The Land Cruiser jolted continuously and all of us passengers had long since grown accustomed to being thrown from one side of the cabin to the other with the rhythm of a rolling ship; but I managed to slide my small white notebook out of my bag, found a fresh page, and scribbled two lines, describing the road as a snake. Later, struggling with my memories of Guyana and trying to figure out how I could write about my trip, I thought I could make these lines into a poem.

I wrote a sentence from Wilson Harris at the top of the page: The map of the savannahs was a dream. In my head I had an image of a hill: black rock and pebbly red earth, crackling tufts of dry grass, a hot blue sky with some milk swirled in, and my face and arms crusted with sweat and dust. I wrote what I thought were notes for a poem.

A black snake thirsty for salt
fell asleep with a dream of the sea.
A red snake hungry for quartz,
we have not seen its head for a thousand years.

Never call me mighty. Never call me vast.
I am the lord's handkerchief.
I am four claws in the mud,
I am four weeping scars, named and remembered.

The lord sleeps long in the river,
his hair grows a thousand miles long,
swift as a season, shining in the mud,
a thousand razors dreaming of gold.

Why should a mountain be more patient than a god?
Lord of a vulture's voice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"My name is Nicholas. I am a dilettante."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Trinidad and Tobago had come heartbreakingly close in 1989 ... when Paul Caligiuri of the United States put the boot to the two-island nation on the final day of qualifying.

Americans remember that day with a touch of sadness and guilt. Never have we seen such sportsmanship as we saw that November day in Port of Spain. The stunned fans, all of them wearing red, patted American journalists on our backs, congratulating us, as if we had anything to do with it.

Caligiuri remembers that day, not only for his booming 25-yard goal in the first half, but also for the way the Yanks were treated after the game.

"We arrived in two little vans and walked right through the crowd," Caligiuri recalled the other day. Then, after the 1-0 victory, the United States had to leave in the same two flimsy vans.

"I've played in Latin America and the Caribbean, where they throw rocks at you, the military police have to stop them from rocking your bus," Caligiuri continued. "Never, ever, did you hear people congratulate you the way people did in Trinidad."

-- New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey, watching the big match with a bunch of Trinis in Flatbush & remembering that fateful November day 16 years ago. (NB: You'll have to register for TimesSelect to read the piece.)

Also: over at Caribbean Free Radio, Georgia has posted podcast #36, "Germany, here we come!", documenting last night's victory celebrations in Port of Spain. I pop in once or twice, usually sounding a little stunned....
The day after

The soundtrack for today ought to be 3Canal's "Good News".

A whole nation (actually thinking of itself as a nation) bleary-eyed but blissed-out.

The newspapers are full of coverage of the match & the subsequent celebrations, & many photos of jubilant red-clad crowds. I particularly enjoyed Peter Balroop's report in the Guardian (not a permanent link) on events inside the Red House, where the House of Representatives was adjourned so MPs could watch the final half-hour of the match in the tea-room:

PM Patrick Manning sat at his table next to Port-of-Spain South MP Eric Williams, silent as a lamb. So too, at a table behind them in the darkened tearoom, was Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday, eyes glued to the screen.

A polite Laventille East/Morvant MP Fitzgerald Hinds strolled in with a "Good afternoon, gentlemen."

Not having him to study, a pugnacious Clerk of the House, Jacqui Sampson-Jacent, opined that we could live with the one-goal lead.

Wild applause as Latapy takes to the field to replace a tiring Kenwynne Jones.

Manning advises our goalie Kelvin Jack as he collects the ball, having thwarted Bahrain's goal-scoring intentions: "Slow it down..."

Arouca South MP Camille Robinson-Regis has been calm so far, but the tension is getting to her.

"We can't afford to relax now," she declares.

She flies to her feet, just like several other nervous MPs and a chorus of "Ohs!" goes up as a desperate attempt on the T&T goal by Bahrain flies out of touch, off the crossbar....

Panday breaks his silence to say that as he watches the game he realises that it would be ideal for the Speaker to control Parliament by awarding red cards.

"We can see how the system works," he adds, an idea he was to elaborate on later.

And in the Express, Mark Bassant reports on the atmosphere inside his newsroom. The Express editorial tries to take a broad view of the victory:

If a country, as it must be, is judged by its best expression of itself then yesterday's epic win will have served notice that Trinidad and Tobago is far more than the sum of its seemingly disparate parts, the team coming together at just the right moment to rally the constituent groups of this multicultural if still fledgling democracy.

Georgia was out interviewing yesterday, & she's currently editing a CFR episode on the victory celebrations. Taran describes what was going on last night in San Fernando, i.e. "below the mango belt", & links to reactions from other bloggers. Over in Barbados, Titilayo is thrilled, even though, she says, she doesn't even like football. She links to Tuluum's account of the celebrations in Woodbrook & St. James, complete with many photos.

Gary Hector's prayers really worked....

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We win

I didn't leave the office till after four this afternoon, more than two hours after the match ended, so I missed the most immediate & spontaneous celebrations--people streaming out into the streets waving flags etc.--but from the moment we turned onto Long Circular Road it was clear something extraordinary was happening. Cars went past with their horns blaring, headlights on in broad daylight, flags streaming from windows. People stood on the side of the road waving flags at passing cards, matador style. Little knots of people had formed outside bars or rumshops. And everywhere: smiles.

A friend on the phone from St. James, astonished: "All I can think is, this must be what it was like when the war ended."

Traffic was crawling round the Savannah, but no one seemed to mind. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen people looking so happy to be in a traffic jam--because it felt so much like a parade. Outside the Sagicor building on the western side of the Savannah, a rhythm section had formed, & people were dancing & singing, cars slowing down, drivers waving or shouting.

We decided to head for Woodbrook first. A block above Ariapita Avenue we could hear the roar of the crowd. "It's like a cross between Carnival Friday & the last day of school," Georgia said. The centre of the action was the intersection of Ariapita Avenue & Carlos Street, just outside Crobar--pavements thick with people, a sea of red, flags in the air, policemen trying to divert traffic. And--at five in the afternoon!--almost every car heading into town, many filled with more cheering people, horns still blaring.

As we stood in Adam Smith Square, what looked like a small Carnival band came chipping up from downtown. Georgia began interviewing anyone who would stop. "I cried in '89," one middle-aged man said, beaming. "You could imagine how I feeling." The gutters were already stacked with empty beer bottles--green underfoot, red overhead. We pressed through the throngs a block & a half to Veni Mange, where Roses Hezekiah sat with a small group of people on the pavement, looking dazed. Next to her, her sister Alyson Hennessy was trying to make a call to Bahrain on her mobile phone. A friend was helping. "Hello? It's Alyson Hennessy trying to reach Dwight. Is that Dwight? Hello? Where is Dwight?"

Back outside Crobar, the crowd was thicker, spilling into the street--cars could barely pass, but the only people still driving past here were themselves celebrating--young woman waving through sunroofs, horns making a continuous fanfare. Everyone seemed innocent with joy--I've never seen or felt anything like it. I didn't realise how desperate we'd become--after all the trials of the last few months--for something to celebrate, something inarguably good.

I counted at least a dozen people in vintage football jerseys from 1989--I still have one too, somewhere, & can probably still fit into it. But today, having dressed in a hurry this morning, I was wearing a bright blue t-shirt, & I stood out in the crowd.

I spotted some Belgian acquaintances on the pavement, managed to make my way to them. They were wearing red, had the same look on their faces of bewildered delight. Belgium didn't qualify for the World Cup--they'll be supporting Trinidad & Tobago next year--& so would "everyone in Belgium", they assured me. Georgia was asking people if they'd expected the "Soca Warriors" to win. To my surprise, most said yes. (I certainly didn't--right up to that goal this afternoon.)

It was dark by now, with a big yellow moon rising. We decided to check out St. James, but first we swung down Wrightson Road to see what was happening downtown. The celebrations there were more subdued, concentrated on Independence Square, where people clustered round the Cipriani statue. A big cement truck was squeezing its way down Frederick Street, blasting its powerful horn, & people were cheering it on as if it were some kind of celebrity.

The Savannah was quiet by now.

Western Main Road was closed for six or seven blocks, so we wove through the back streets of St. James & parked near Bournes Road. Another rhythm section, chipping along, then pausing outside a bar. Western Main Road itself was so thick with people we could barely move. Red t-shirts, red flags, a tassa side, people dancing. Modest fireworks were bursting overhead. We managed to take up position in the middle of the street right outside Smokey & Bunty. There was a big screen rigged up, displaying messages of support for the team & showing replays of highlights from Saturday's match. This was clearly settling down into an all-night party. Over the music & the noise of the drums & of thousands of gleeful people, a man on a loudspeaker was trying to make an announcement: holiday declared tomorrow. So no need to go home early.

But I needed to go home. It's been too much of a week already, & it's only Wednesday night. Too much to think through, too much to understand. We going to Germany! people kept saying, & somehow it happened: we are. But in another sense--a more fundamental & urgent sense--all of us here in Trinidad and Tobago are partway through a collective journey, & still have a very long way to go, & this journey is the far harder one. We're celebrating tonight, & thank God for that. Tomorrow we'll sleep it off. But after that, we have to strap on our sandals, pick up our burdens, & plod on. (Or, as Lloyd Best put it the other night: "Pick up your bed and walk!")
Got home not long ago after spending a few hours taking in the celebrations in Port of Spain. The prime minister's declared a public holiday tomorrow--probably a good thing, since half the country will be severely hungover, from what I've seen. And I've just managed to catch the last ten minutes of the match in a TV replay.

Ryan Naraine says it's "a win for the Caribbean", & links to photos.
Online reaction to T&T's victory over Bahrain:

Taran Rampersad didn't watch the match & didn't expect T&T to win, but he's pleased.

Ryan Naraine, who was following my live coverage, is surprised by how nervous he was.

Georgia was broadcasting the match to three listeners via Skype.

Also: a report on celebrations in London:

Hundreds of ex-pats travelled from all over the UK to watch the match unfold live on TV in The Famous 3 Kings pub in West Kensington along with many tourists from Trinidad.

They had to endure a nail-biting SIX minutes of injury time before the Caribbean Carnival-style celebrations could begin.

Many fans spilled out on to the street outside at the final whistle waving their red, white and black T&T flags and passing motorists joined in the impromptu fun, blaring their horns as the unlikely celebrations kicked in to gear.
The match has been over for about an hour, & cars are still sounding their horns in celebration on Long Circular Road, near my office.

Read a Sky Sports report on the match.

I'm hearing about all sorts of celebrations breaking out across Port of Spain--a spontaneous convoy of cars with flags round the Savannah, bands of people with bottles-&-spoons in the streets of Belmont. Similar report from St. Clair. People gathered outside office buildings & shops, singing & waving flags. I can imagine the gridlock on Western Main Road. About to head out with Georgia to take some of it in--now that we have a very big story to cover for the May/June 2006 issue of Caribbean Beat.
Not watching this match either, Part 32

[Phew!] Radio coverage over. Must admit trembly hands have made typing the last couple of posts tricky.

So--sixteen years later....

This effectively ends the working day in Trinidad & Tobago, I imagine. Now I need another cup of tea to recover. NL signing off for now....
Not watching this match either, Part 31

T&T team making their way off now--being booed, says the announcer.

"One or two idiots are throwing seat covers. FIFA isn't going to take too kindly to this."

Laventille Rhythm Section making their way onto the track.

"Reggae has been to the World Cup, samba has been to the World Cup--now it's soca time."
Not watching this match either, Part 30

Phone just rang. I have no idea who it was. "We won! We going to the World Cup!"

But the announcer seems worried about what's going on at the stadium--jokes that he's wearing a white t-shirt, not red. He keeps talking about "ugly scenes".

Someone in the announcer's booth in Bahrain is singing in the background.
Not watching this match either, Part 29

Ugly scene at stadium. Announcer says "a hundred" security personnel have come in to protect players & officials. Ref being escorted off the field. All sorts of object being pelted.

But we won!

"Ugly, ugly scenes." Firecrackers being thrown onto the field.
Not watching this match either, Part 28

Confusion. Two minutes of extra time, but the radio announcer thinks this should already have expired. Security moving in. "Last chance for Bahrain." Brilliant save by Kelvin Jack." Game over!
Not watching this match either, Part 27

Bahraini players protesting a disallowed goal. Their coach has had to come onto the field to restrain them. Bottles being thrown onto the field. Ref explaining to Bahraini players why he has not allowed the goal. "A lot of plastic bottles being thrown."
Not watching this match either, Part 26

Controversy--referee being pushed by Bahraini players....
Not watching this match either, Part 25

"Tempers are flaring here, because it was a very rough tackle on Yorke ... this is certainly an ugly scene at the moment." Regular time expired--waiting to hear how much added time....
Not watching this match either, Part 24

"More and more people are leaving the stadium ... in droves." Half a minute to go....
Not watching this match either, Part 23

Another free kick for T&T. A minute & a half to go.

Latapy booked for time-wasting....
Not watching this match either, Part 22

Bahraini fans already leaving the stadium, with a few minutes to go.

"Antics by Stern John."
Not watching this match either, Part 21

"He's won a throw. No, he's won a free kick. No, he's won a throw."

Yorke being pushed.

"Five minutes to go. You can hear a pin drop in the stadium."
Not watching this match either, Part 20

Announcer: "T&T trying to close up shop."

I'm eating Oaties biscuits madly.

Another substitution for T&T. Edwards off, Cox on. And Georgia continues to broadcast to the diaspora.

"Eight minutes from glory!"
Not watching this match either, Part 19

Substitutions for both teams.... Another break for an ad, good lord.

Back again. "A chance here, a chance here! What a chance for T&T!" But Latapy's shot has hit the bar.

Another substitution for Bahrain? I'm losing track.
Not watching this match either, Part 18

"Can T&T hold on?"

Four yellow cards, two for us, two for them.

"The Bahrain crowd here getting very, very angry and very frustrated with their team."

Hmm! I'm just starting to feel a little twinge of nerves.
Not watching this match either, Part 17

Apparently I'm covering the match faster than ESPN-- so says Dylan Kerrigan, following the match in Washington via Georgia's Skype broadcast & my blog.

One of Bahrain's players down--"a little bit of an elbow from Stern John"--free kick.
Not watching this match either, Part 16

Announcer counting down the minutes.

Kenwyn Jones just missed a goal. Announcer: "Another bad move by T&T."

Jones down. Break for an ad.
Not watching this match either, Part 15

Announcer: "You cannot sit back and just try and defend one goal. They've got to play as positive as they can. They're creating problems for themselves."

Hearts are racing & alcohol flowing in bars, rumshops, offices, private homes across the country.

Free kick for Bahrain: "Is he going to go for power? He goes for power--high over the bar."

"This stadium is extremely quiet at the moment."
Not watching this match either, Part 14

"Well, all of a sudden Dwight Yorke has acres of space."

Another yellow card for Bahrain, I think--audio quality very variable. But the announcer sounds terribly happy.

Bahrain just missed a very good chance for a goal. Another break for an ad, lordy.
Not watching this match either, Part 13

Georgia (read comments) is apparently broadcasting the match worldwide via Skype. I see Ryan Naraine is following the match via my coverage....

The excitement in the radio announcer's voice has gone up a few notches.
Not watching this match either, Part 12

"That was not a great tackle at all by Dwight Yorke." Yellow card.
Not watching this match either, Part 11

Dennis Lawrence, bravo. Announcer: "Just like that." Hopes revived....
Goal! T&T has a goal!
Not watching this match either, Part 10

In-studio discussion: "Forget whatever little things are happening on the field.... Can we now break this jinx?"

Express headline today: "BLOOD & SWEAT". Guardian: "BAH! RAIN!" (a reference to the torrential downpours of the past few days, which have caused floods & landslides in northeast Trinidad). And the Guardian's Hitchhikeresque back-page headline: "Beenhakker tells Warriors: Don’t panic".

Second half about to start.
Not watching this match either, Part 9

Right, half-time means an opportunity to make a cup of tea.

"We're 45 minutes away from either a happy nation or a sad nation," says one of the announcers in the studio--they're doing a first-half post mortem. Bahrain is "not giving T&T any sort of rhythm".
Not watching this match either, Part 8

Announcer: "The referee is indicating that he's had enough." Half-time. "The game has gone to sleep in the last thirty minutes or so."

Another announcer: "Not a very interesting first half."
Not watching this match either, Part 7

Yellow card for one of Bahrain's players. Announcer: "He must have said something towards the referee."

"Trinidad and Tobago haven't been playing all that well ... The longer it stays like this, it's not good news for T&T."

Georgia is now taking up a collection to buy me a new PowerBook--she's disgusted that I apparently can't run Skype....
Not watching this match either, Part 6

Back to the match after the ad, but the audio quality has suddenly deteriorated & I can barely make out what the announcer is saying. Going to fiddle with the dial.... No, that does no good, & it seems 106 is the only radio station carrying live coverage.

Radio announcer: "Somebody somebody is everywhere."

Lots of shouting--sounds like something important is happening--can't make it out.

Ah, audio has suddenly got much better--sounds like the announcer was doing something silly with the microphone, & has just readjusted his equipment. "Still, it's no goals, and if this game stays like this Bahrain will qualify for the World Cup."
Not watching this match either, Part 5

"It's probably more exciting on radio," says Georgia on the phone. "They're just running around."

"The longer this game stays goal-less, it means T&T will not qualify. They need a goal," says the radio announcer.

The Jamaica Observer has a reporter in Manama--he files this report on "the Soca Warriors' last stand":

A 0-0 scoreline will see the Bahrainis through, a 1-1 draw would force the match into extra time, but a 2-2 result would see Trinidad through, which would have added another place to CONCACAF in Germany next year.

But that's a long way away and the tension here his high from both camps, as they look towards what must be the greatest moment in the lives of these athletes.

Radio station has broken for an ad!
Not watching this match either, Part 4

Trouble with "following" the match at the office is that the phone keeps ringing & emails keep flooding in. Something just now about Birchall--our lone goal-scorer on Saturday--being injured. "Chris Birchall is struggling, and that's not good news for T&T ... I don't think Chris Birchall can make it," the radio announcer says. "Just twenty minutes gone in this game and he's limping off to the bench."
Not watching this match either, Part 3

I missed the kick-off. Listening to radio coverage right now--looks like Skype hookup isn't happening (application keeps quitting, even after a reinstall--perhaps the fault of my clunky hard drive?).

Something about a free kick for Bahrain.

Over at Caribbean Free Radio, Georgia has posted a link to a scan of the Caribbean Beat story she wrote in 1998, when Jamaica made it to the World Cup. I've also posted over at the Caribbean Beat blog about the editorial planning we'll have to do if T&T wins today--to prepare a special feature for the magazine next year.
Not watching this match either, Part 2

Skype hookup not in place yet, but I'm listening to radio coverage at the moment--offices across the country have closed so staff can watch the match, & even the Senate has adjourned early today for the sake of senatorial football fans.

Meanwhile, over in Manama, Jack Warner has been complaining about "psychological warfare" against the T&T team--the talk this morning was that the Laventille Rhythm Section & the Woodbrook Playboyz steelband, both of which flew to Bahrain for the match, weren't being allowed into the stadium for "security" reasons; also that T&T fans were assigned to poor seats behind one of the goalposts. But I've just heard a radio report that the Laventille Rhythm Section has after all been allowed into the match.
Not watching this match either

So it's about ten minutes to the kick-off of T&T's final World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain, in which, it's generally conceded, Bahrain has the advantage, after drawing in the first match on Saturday. I'm at the office, where there's no TV, so I couldn't watch this match even if I wanted to--but Georgia is preparing to broadcast the audio from the TV coverage to me via Skype--so I'll be following the team's progress with my ears at least.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Taran Rampersad links to an Association for Progressive Communications report on events earlier today in Tunisia, where journalists & human rights activists meeting ahead of the UN's World Summit on the Information Society were harassed & in some cases attacked by Tunisian police. See also this report from Reporters Without Borders & this story in the UK Guardian:

The European Union has made a formal complaint to the Tunisian government on the eve of a world internet summit in Tunis over heavy-handed police tactics....

The argument itself surrounds a violent scuffle at the German cultural centre in Tunis on Monday morning, which involved the German ambassador to the UN and representatives of more than 30 local and international human rights bodies.

About 70 plainclothes policemen physically prevented representatives from a number of non-governmental organisations from entering the Goethe Institut at Place d'Afrique in central Tunis. They were meeting to review plans for an alternative "citizen summit" in the capital after their booking at a conference venue was cancelled at the last minute.

The police did not provide an official reason for their actions, according to the representative for the World Association for Community Radio Broadcasters and chairman of the Tunisian monitoring group, Steve Buckley, a Briton.

"We were physically pushed away from the institute," he told us. "I saw one person frogmarched down the street and one colleague pushed over." Another eye-witness from the Danish Institute for Human Rights said the police were attempting to drag Tunisians away from the crowd of mixed nationalities.

Trinidadian blogger Jacqueline Morris (recently nominated to ICANN's Interim At Large Advisory Committee) is in Tunisia for the WSIS--perhaps she'll supply a firsthand report.
Introducing ... the Caribbean Beat blog. Actually, it's been up & running for a few weeks now, quietly, under the radar as it were, but today we "go live", i.e. start linking to it & telling people about it. As Caribbean Beat editor I've been the chief blogger so far, with help from Georgia, but my colleagues Jeremy Taylor & Tracy Assing will soon be joining in, plus other members of the editorial team (I hope) as we go along.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Our Best

Today is the 37th anniversary of the founding of the Tapia House Group, the groundbreaking intellectual & political movement whose heyday was the late 1970s, & which was eventually succeeded by the Trinidad & Tobago Institute of the West Indies. Today is also the day that Lloyd Best--economist, political scientist, philosopher, & one of the major intellectual figures of the postcolonial Caribbean--formally retires as director of the TTIWI & publisher of the Trinidad & Tobago Review.

Lloyd has been ill for some years now, & his health has declined dramatically in recent months; his friends & colleagues inevitably see this moment as a farewell in more ways than one. In his honour, the T&T Review has published a special edition today, with tributes & reminiscences from many of his associates over the years, all of whom count him above all as a friend. Last night the TTIWI held a "cultural evening" at its headquarters in Tunapuna, which began with performances of poetry, calypso, jazz, steelpan, & ended (when we were prematurely driven indoors by squalling rain) with a very moving speech by Lloyd to his assembled friends, including most of the surviving major figures from Tapia's early days. Tonight the commemoration concludes with a formal dinner, where Peter Minshall will deliver the main address.

I've been thinking a great deal about Lloyd these last few days--not just about his landmark place in the Caribbean's intellectual & political history, but about his qualities as a man--his generosity, gentleness, thoughtfulness, which I've experienced at first hand, as a green contributor to the T&T Review nearly four years ago, & more recently as someone overwhelmed by the notion that Lloyd Best might actually consider me a colleague, take my ideas seriously. I usually find the best way for me to try to understand things, to sort out confused feelings & thoughts, is to write about them; so I've given myself the assignment to write a profile of Lloyd for Caribbean Beat, hoping this way to get closer to coming to terms with his real achievement, & to discern his legacy to Caribbean citizens of my generation.

But I want to mark today with some kind of small tribute of my own, & the best I can think of is to tell this little story. Before last night, the last time I spoke to Lloyd was in February, the Saturday before Carnival (too long ago, too long). Out of the blue he rang me--the rest of the country was already descending into bacchanal, but Lloyd wanted to make contact, ask how I was doing, talk about the Caribbean Review of Books, about how my work was going. (That he should have the time to even think of me!) I told him I'd been planning a trip to Guyana the following week, but now was thinking of postponing--the recent catastrophic floods had triggered a leptospirosis outbreak, some coastal villages were still under water, & a few of my Guyana contacts has advised me to put off the trip. Lloyd was firm. You can't let that sort of thing stop you, he said, or you'll never go anywhere. He was right, of course, & I would have made the same decision eventually, but his simple advice made the choice seem obvious.

A little story that can mean something only to me, but I treasure that conversation, & am immensely grateful for the "accidents"--as Lloyd would say--that put me in his path, & for the illumination & encouragement he's given to so many of us.

Listening to him talk last night--age & illness falling away from him as he spun sentence after sentence--I thought to myself, we are all Bestians now.
Bakr's role in shaping this society's current culture has not yet been closely studied, and while it remains largely immeasurable, it is by no means insignificant. When he abandoned his name, Lennox Phillip, and assumed the title of Imam Yasin Abu Bakr many years ago, he invested himself with a new and striking identity.

His Libyan connections and the arms and money that he wielded gave him an aura of mystique and power. For many he was a romantic figure, outspoken and unafraid to challenge authority. He shrewdly found the mechanism to widen his appeal by invoking reverence through the religious platform that would provide the structure for his recruitment of young minds.

Drawn to this figure that promised to bestow an identity that would yield status, hundreds of youngsters flocked towards him. The anonymity that would otherwise have cloaked these poor youth for life could now be shed under a regime that provided more than a uniform that set them apart, but gave them new faces and stature. A paramilitary lifestyle interwoven with the rituals of Islam and closely aligned to the concept of enforcing righteousness through the muzzle of the gun, created a cadre of young people who learnt to follow a leader who would feed, clothe and arm them as he pursued his own dreams of glory.

-- From Vaneisa Baksh's op-ed piece on the arrest of Abu Bakr in today's Barbados Nation (thanks to Ryan Naraine for pointing it out).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

One of my recent worries has been that this sudden burst of football frenzy--& the national delirium that would be triggered by a victory over Bahrain on Wednesday coming--could distract vital public attention from the urgent matters of crime, governance, & political accountability that have engaged Trinidad & Tobago these past weeks. (As Georgia put it in a phone conversation yesterday, this could become the rug things get swept under.)

Today's Guardian, however, keeps up the scrutiny, with a fairly detailed report on last week's crime debate in the House of Representatives, including a substantial excerpt from national security minister Martin Joseph's rather trite contribution (not online, it seems); an analysis of the debate by Judy Raymond (none of these are permalinks; good for a week); & Lennox Grant on the feeling of anxiety that currently prevails in Port of Spain, & on the public's perception of Abu Bakr ("the revolution in sensibility is yet to come").

Perhaps most valuably, Anand Ramlogan examines Bakr's arrest on Wednesday (on charges of sedition) in the context of his shady political alliances over the last fifteen years:

On the eve of the last general election, Prime Minister Patrick Manning addressed the nation and announced that he was going to give the Jamaat a large parcel of state land for free....

Both Panday and Manning had warmly embraced Abu Bakr. His influence on both parties was clear. He wasn’t simply tolerated; he was treated with deference.

He featured prominently at the celebrations held at Balisier House when the results of the last general election were announced. There he was, consorting and cavorting with persons who would control and rule our nation for the next five years.

Joan Yuille-Williams reportedly had secret meetings at her office with Bakr. He was always given the red carpet treatment, it was reported.

Franklin Khan defended his decision to give him a VIP priority pass to access the PBR, because he was "a religious leader."

Bakr took control of acres of state lands in the hills of Valencia and started illegally quarrying. EMA officials were chased away by menacing gun-toting men in full Muslimeen garb who terrorised legitimate quarry operators whose pleas for security fell on deaf ears.

None of this is news, of course--we all know, on or off the record, that both the PNM & the UNC have compromised themselves with Bakr, when it suited them, for short-term political gain. We've all heard stories about voter intimidation & "protection" rackets, & we've all seen how Bakr has been trying for years to position himself as some kind of "statesman" or power-broker--when the truth is, as most of us know, that he is a thug & a bully, & his continuing presence on the public stage is one of the most destabilising factors in the history of Trinidad & Tobago in the last fifteen years. Both major political parties, & far too many other people who should know better, have contributed to "legitimising" the man's megalomania. Everyone who has appeared with him on a public platform or treated with him as with a community leader, every media outlet--I have one particular radio station in mind--that has uncritically allowed him to broadcast his lies, is deeply complicit in this country's current state of guerilla civil war between our inept constitutional government & the dangerously efficient gang government of the streets--of which Bakr is unofficial figurehead.

That's why his arrest on Wednesday & the bulldozer raid on Jamaat headquarters on Thursday are simultaneously satisfying & alarming. "About time they got him," we think, but also "what are they starting up now?" Because--though my language may seem hyperbolic--we see this as another tactical move in the ongoing war. And how far can we trust a government that has already compromised itself with The Enemy? Or an opposition that has done the same? And we know that the battlefield of this war has been the daily lives & homes & safety & well-being of ordinary citizens. And we wonder how many more casualties we will have to suffer.
The morning after

"LET-DOWN" screams the front page of the Guardian. "Warriors held" says the rather milder Express, which also runs B.C. Pires's interview with Gary Hector, jointpop frontman & T&T football fanatic:

Why covered stands as opposed to grounds?

Sometimes it lacks a bit of passion but the view is good. I always sit on the half-line, as high as possible. You get to see the full spread of the field, more of the tactical plays and so on. Sometimes you miss the little old talk the uncovered will give you; but when it comes to a Trinidad & Tobago football match, you just want to pay attention.

Also this morning Georgia releases the long-awaited Caribbean Free Radio podcast #35, recorded last night around the time of the match, including some "babbling about football".

And Taran Rampersad reports on the atmosphere in south Trinidad yesterday:

San Fernando was abuzz with excitement. One cousin that I know of was trying to get tickets at Skinner Park, and he gave up on Friday. There were lots of people wearing the national colo(u)rs yesterday - red, black and white - and it was good to see the country pulling for something positive. Had Trinidad and Tobago won or lost - and in this case, drew - it would be good to see the momentum of the national spirit drifting into other aspects of Trinidad and Tobago.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

After the match I didn't watch

The stands have emptied rapidly, & the fans still there in the stadium look despondent, at least on TV.

Alyson Hennessy was just interviewing Dwight Yorke. "It's only half-time," he said--meaning that there's another match to go, but a draw in Bahrain won't do T&T any good. "Brian sends his love," Alyson said, clutching a microphone in one hand, an umbrella in the other. "I have the text right here" [that's Brian Lara, currently in Australia].

Perhaps I won't watch the match on Wednesday either....
Not watching the match, Part 16

They're drawing the Lotto Plus--is it over?

[Going to check.]

It's over. 1-1, & T&T has to win in Bahrain to go to Germany.
Not watching the match, Part 15

Minor roar from crowd.

Ruskin Mark: "This is the thing about Bahrain: when they want to play quickly, they can."
Not watching the match, Part 14

Three minutes of added-on time.

Ruskin Mark: "T&T has to be very careful here, because the last thing they want to do is concede a goal now."

Still can't believe I didn't hear Bahrain's goal. Have turned up the volume on the TV.
Not watching the match, Part 13

Commentator whose voice I don't recognise: Bahrain is "taking the tempo out of the game. They're slowing T&T down."

Just stuck my head into the next room & saw men with stretchers running across the field: two players lying face down, one in red, one in white.

Still 1-1.

Just three or four minutes left. Georgia is on tenterhooks.
Not watching the match, Part 12

I'm trying to remember the last time I actually watched an entire football match. I can't remember a thing about the last World Cup, but I followed France 1998 fairly closely. And I have good reason to remember the final in 1994: Germany [correction: Italy] vs. Brazil. I was staying with my family at a beach-house up in Toco, & five minutes before the match started I dropped a glass in the kitchen & a freak shard nicked the corner of my right wrist. A tiny cut, but I'm not good with blood. Then the match started, & no one paid me the slightest attention--I lay on a sofa with cotton wool pressed to my wrist, in a half-faint, while everyone was absorbed by the match.
Not watching the match, Part 11

Shows how closely I've been following--Bahrain already had a goal I didn't know about. (How did I miss the howls?) So now it's 1-1.
A roar has just gone up over the neighbourhood--T&T's scored a goal.
Not watching the match, Part 10

Snatches of commentary from the next room, & the noise of the crowd rising & falling like the needle-track on a seismograph.

Ruskin Mark: "Five white shirts in there."

Ruskin Mark: "Trinidad & Tobago just starting to get back into some kind of rhythm now."

Georgia says the match has interrupted her recording of a new podcast.
Not watching the match, Part 9

Yellow card for one of Bahrain's players. Booing from the crowd.
Not watching the match, Part 8

Ruskin Mark: "Trinidad & Tobago living dangerously here."

Link, via Georgia, to a story about the match on FIFA's World Cup website.
Not watching the match, Part 7

My father's not happy about how the team is playing. He's wondering if coach Leo Beenhakker has told the players to "take it easy".

Snatch of TV commentary from the next room: "The sun was very, very hot."

In the half-time crowd shots, it looked like people were partying with a kind of grim determination--jumping up & waving their flags not for fun but to show they weren't dispirited.
Not watching the match, Part 6

Second half just begun. Still not watching, but now I've left the TV on at full volume in the next room. Georgia, meanwhile, is relaying live audio to her cousin in Washington via Skype.
Not watching the match, Part 5

Switched on the TV for five seconds: Play Whe drawing. So it's half-time. And no goals.
Not watching the match, Part 4

Back in 1989, even I had one of those red "Strike Squad" jerseys--I wore it just once, the Friday before the match, "Red Day", when, unprecedentedly, St. Mary's allowed us to ignore the strict rules about uniforms & nearly every boy in the school joined in the national display of--what to call it? Patriotism or madness? After 19 November I put it away at the back of a cupboard, & I suppose I must still have it somewhere.
Not watching the match, Part 3

Just switched on the TV for a minute. Commentator Ruskin Mark, in a hopeful tone: "Trinidad & Tobago being very patient here, which is good."
Not watching the match, Part 2

I didn't watch the famous match on 19 November, 1989, either--the one when we had merely to draw against the US to make it to the World Cup, but instead lost by a goal. The TV was on, I remember, but the whole thing was too nervewracking--the general excitement had got even to me--& I spent most of the hour & a half pacing up & down the lawn in the back garden. This time around, public behaviour has been far less frenzied. Partly because, I suppose, we learned that lesson sixteen years ago about not counting unhatched eggs; partly because of the worried & distracted state of the nation; & also this time it isn't as simple as winning (or drawing) a single match--after this evening there's the second game in Bahrain to decide things.
Not watching the match

I've managed to pay almost no attention this last week to the mounting excitement over this evening's T&T vs. Bahrain World Cup qualifying match, in progress as I type. This morning I was mildly amazed at the photos in the papers of thousands of people queuing for tickets, jumping fences etc. I've spent the afternoon calmly reading. But as match time approached, I felt little twinges of curiosity, & finally I switched on the TV in time to see Max Richards glad-handing the players, & everyone dressed in red in the stands singing the National Anthem (the steelband racing ahead of the voices), & then the coin-toss. As soon as the referee blew the starting whistle I switched the TV off.

But I'm idly wondering now if I should have tried to get a press pass, gone down to the stadium, looked & listened....
A Judge's Journal, Part 2

Who has time to worry about football? I've brought home a small stack of books requiring brief reviews--the new Shani Mootoo, a gothic novel by a young Jamaican named Marlon James, new collected editions of Nicolás Guillén & Edouard Glissant--& must start some serious reading-up for a Lloyd Best profile due in a few weeks, plus I have a month-end deadline for a Guyana Arts Journal essay. And then I glance at the calendar & realise the date for deciding the winner of the Derek Walcott Prize for Fiction is within arm's reach, & the box of typescripts sits beside my desk barely touched.

A couple of weeks ago the two other judges--Ken Ramchand & Marjorie Thorpe--& I worked out a system for dividing the labour of reading the eight novels so as to reduce the shortlist to a shorter-list. The first novel I tackled begins with a boy adopting a stray dog. In the opening pages the sex of the dog changes several times--he, she, he, she--entirely due to the author's oversight, as far as I can make out. I'm so distracted by this that I manage to temporarily lose the typescript in the El Tucuche of papers that rises vertiginously from my desk.

I bring the second novel home in its manila envelope & it quietly settles against a bookcase, where its neighbours are paperback volumes on the Reformation & Wedgewood's Thirty Years War.

This morning, as I sip from my cup of the hot & most strengthening, my eye falls on a note scribbled in my datebook, & a cold ping of fear races from brain to heart to spine. Surely the other judges have not merely read their allotted novels by now, but also turned out a concise, lucid, & witty precis of each?

I ring Ramchand, the head judge. He is cleverly vague about whether he's done his reading or not. Our respective tones of voice seem to commiserate about packed schedules. We agree that another week should be enough to plough through the remaining reams of prose, & decide to meet next Saturday morning.

Nothing for it but tea, a comfortable chair, & strong light.

(And by coincidence I hear today that Walcott--whose watercolours are well known to his readers from dustjackets & the plates in Tiepolo's Hound--is about to have the first New York show of his paintings, at the June Kelly Gallery, 18 November to 30 December.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Children of the twilight, everything is gonna be all right....

I was sitting at my desk yesterday afternoon reading galleys when S------ stuck her head round my door & said, "They're bulldozing the Jamaat!"

"Better switch on the radio," I said.

I wonder if this is how it starts, I thought, the Big Thing we're all expecting.

The Express already had a couple of "breaking news" blurbs on their website, but I didn't get the details of what was happening down on Mucurapo Road till I got home & switched on the TV. CNC3 had the best coverage by far, a reporter on the scene & Shelly Dass back in the studio quivering with enthusiasm.

An excavator, a jackhammer, rifles, bullets, policeman, soldiers, a "secret tunnel", an "underground chamber", the tape of Abu Bakr threatening "war" on wealthy Muslims, the Muslimeen praying in the middle of Mucurapo Road, & a mild-mannered, skullcapped man saying this was all the fault of "certain groups" scapegoating the Jamaat.

On my way to CCA7 I drove along the foreshore & glanced north to the Muslimeen compound, but couldn't make out signs of anything out of the ordinary.

Joe Boyd's A Film About Jimi Hendrix was on at StudioFilmClub, & before & after the movie 12 was playing, a full set, three songs to start, four or five after (including a cover of "Hey, Joe").

I sprawled in the front row of chairs, big sound booming around me, Sheldon Holder's big voice (big enough to contain its own echo, I thought). And Peter was projecting an old documentary about the Esso Trinidad Steelband as a backdrop for the band--gold & orange & pale blue light flickering across Sheldon's big, open face.

And as I chewed my pen & bobbed my head Sheldon seemed to have his eyes on me ("Tell me why oh why should I change my life"), & I smiled, even though I knew he couldn't actually see me.

We have the moon at night and the sun in the daylight....
The Stabroek News runs an incisive editorial today on the question of Bird Rock, a.k.a. Las Aves (a name Stabroek declines to use), the sandbar islet 140 miles west of Dominica that is claimed by Venezuela. Recall that last month Venezuela symbolically asserted its sovereignty over the islet by staging two weddings & three baptisms there, on the stilted platform that houses a small crew of sailors--a move that worries some Eastern Caribbean states. Stabroek considers the matter in the context of Hugo Chavez's PetroCaribe initiative as well as Guyana's own longstanding border dispute with Venezuela.

All those bedazzled by President Hugo Chavez's seeming generosity towards Caribbean states after he made available the PetroCaribe payments' facility, should perhaps pause for a moment's reflection to consider the full context of the accord. That context is a spurious claim on our Essequibo region, on the basis of which he has prevented us, among other things, from pursuing off-shore oil exploration, and a claim on Bird Rock (also called Bird Island) belonging to Dominica which interferes in a fundamental way with the maritime rights of a number of Caricom states.

I've long thought that the tricky question of maritime boundaries in this corner of the Caribbean--imaginary lines on the map that determine ownership of known & suspected oil & gas fields--could be the spark that starts real trouble, & increasingly unfriendly relations between Chavez & the US government bring the whole mess into starker relief. I look at the volatile state of things here in Trinidad these recent months & the little conspiracy wheels begin to turn in my head. What if we're just too close to discern the bigger pattern?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

At the root of my artistic practice is the exploration of my identity in relation to that of a nation; that is, the dialogue that exists between me as an artist and my social space.

-- Rachel Rochford, from her short statement in the "catalogue" of her show of paintings & drawings, Atelier, currently on display at CCA7.

Last night I went to hear Rachel--who's just graduated from the University of Reading & moved back here to set up a studio--give an "artist's talk" at CCA. During the discussion period, the question of the relevance (fraught word) of her work to contemporary Trinidad was raised by the moderator, the formidable Pat Bishop. I suggested that the kind of self-scrutiny Rachel claims--& which is apparent in some of her strongest recent work*--is vitally "relevant" here & now.

*[Rachel's earlier work was largely abstract, it seemed from her career-overview slide-show. But in the last two years or so, as she's moved towards a conscious engagement with her "social space", human figures have begun to appear in her paintings & drawings--stylised figures in repeated poses, their otherwise unremarkable postures & gestures asked to assume some wider & as yet uncertain significance. Pay attention, this detail is important, the work seems to suggest--at least to my inexpert eye.]

There's a general & growing consensus that Trinidad is in a state of crisis--& "crime" is just a symptom of the real problem. To my mind, our prolonged crisis is one of national self-identity--the dilemma of what it does, can, could mean to be "Trinidadian", now that so many of the old Independence assumptions have proved flawed or false. Who are "we", what do "we" have in common, is there even a coherent "we"? You could argue this is nothing new, this "crisis" is the story of modern West Indianness, but it seems to me that the query--& the imperative to try to answer--is becoming increasingly urgent as we strain & twist under the forces of global politics & economics. Simply: we do not understand ourselves.

I thought about this again, from a different angle of approach, when, after Rachel's event, I was talking with a young editor from the Venezuelan magazine Plátano Verde about the current literary scene here in T'dad. I began by explaining that many--most?--of our best or best-known writers still live elsewhere, in bigger, colder countries. Then I began to follow the thread of an idea that started when I was reading B.C. Pires's recent book Thank God It's Friday: that some of the most interesting work by contemporary Trinidadian writers does not come in conventional fictional or poetic forms--the forms mastered by the "canonical" West Indian writers of an older generation--but rather in the form of fragmentary, discontinuous, first-person non-fiction narratives in the periodical press, i.e. newspaper columns, which we may have some difficulty identifying as "literary"--or identifying as "narratives"--because of the format of their publication.

I'm thinking here of B.C.'s short essays--originally written for various newspapers--the best of which I have no qualms about describing as literature. And the best of Keith Smith's columns (some of them collected recently in an Express supplement). And the best of Wayne Brown's "In Our Time" pieces (such as those collected in The Child of the Sea), & the best of Raymond Ramcharitar's earlier newspaper pieces.

These writers, I've been thinking, are or were* creating characters based on themselves--"B.C. Pires", "Keith Smith", etc.--& showing us how they respond, in real time, to the social forces at play around them. And these short stand-alone pieces eventually, it seems to me, add up to narratives of a sort. Ostensibly this is "journalism"--writing for today about today's questions--but, at their best, these writers are or were writing with a breadth of vision, depth of concern, & virtuosity of style that gives their narratives the permanence of literature (if we accept Pound's idea that "Literature is news that stays news").

*[I use this clumsy duo of tenses because, of the four writers I name, B.C. Pires no longer writes a weekly column (& his monthly space in the T&T Review does not allow the same rapidity & flexibility of response); Wayne Brown now writes for a Jamaican audience in the J'ca Observer, & only infrequently about his home island; & Raymond Ramcharitar, after many embattled years, seems to have lost the gladness of prose that made his biting commentary essential reading. Only Keith Smith continues to spin his "narrative" five days a week in the Express.]

Rambling, inconclusive, & not entirely coherent thoughts....

Monday, November 07, 2005

Looking for love on a Saturday night

jointpop, Saturday 5 November, 2005, Port of Spain
The November Trinidad & Tobago Review is out today; it includes a piece I worked up from my long blog post a fortnight ago on the 22 October "death march". Unfortunately it appears in the TTR minus much of its punctuation--quotation marks, em dashes--but a more definitive version is online here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Strange people in the neighbourhood is something that I have always paid attention to, but now everyone gets some scrutiny. I actually have things laid down throughout the property should I need to defend myself. I trimmed trees and bushes for a clear line of sight from the house itself. Am I paranoid? No, just careful. But where is that line between careful and paranoid?

Over the last 3 years, I've known people kidnapped. I have known people beaten and robbed, including an Aunt in Carlsen Field who is still recovering. I've personally had guns pointed at me a few times (and not from police or security) - and before my father passed away, he was chopped with a cutlass on the family property. I've chased one fellow with a cutlass from this yard once. So I'm paying attention, and I'm careful.

So what do I think about the Death March? I think it was a well intentioned, poorly named and poorly recognized start to something that needs to happen.... Basically if there is a position of authority the person filling the position just doesn't care....

The saddest thing, I suppose, is that I don't really care anymore. I know that calling the police is generally useless - from experience (they wait a few hours and show up, if they do show up). I don't read the newspapers, I just ask people what the number of murders and kidnappings is up to. I keep my eyes and ears open.

This is not the Trinidad and Tobago that I grew up in, and it's a matter of time before people really do have enough - and then it's anyone's game. I hear the Prime Minister saying that they want to get crime down to an acceptable level. I laugh. I expect nothing from them, and I no longer expect anything from the police.

-- Taran Rampersad, in a long, thoughtful post on the personal impact of our ongoing crisis.

"That line between careful and paranoid" is a boundary none of us can avoid contemplating these days. And the kind of frustration & quiet, urgent anger Taran describes is slowly becoming--I think, I hope!--a unifying force, linking us across the small, unstable chasms of ethnicity & class (whatever "class" means). The question is, will we achieve a critical mass of citizen anger in time to save this unwieldy experiment in "independence" that we volunteered for 43 years ago?
Today's Stabroek editorial puts the recent (& ongoing) flare-up in Buxton into a wider historical & social context:

We have always had something of a penchant for unreal debate in this country, but never more so than now. As the polarisation process continues in the penumbra of the 2006 elections, and the sense of insecurity and/or foreboding about what could happen grows, we seem to be spending more and more time railing against the miasma. We operate in a twilight world of half-truths, quarter-truths, myths and falsehoods, and the constructs being used to explain the inconvenient portions of reality which poke through the fog are neither grounded in a full appraisal of the facts, nor in a commitment to the truth.

(V.S. Naipaul in 1962: "In British Guiana it is almost impossible to find out the truth about any major thing. Investigation and cross-checking lead only to fearful confusion.")

Traditionally we have closed our eyes to any illegality committed by members of our own group, particularly if the perception is that it has contributed to making us feel more secure. On the subject of illegalities committed by the other side, however, we have always been voluble. It was in this context - as well in the larger one of our political history in general - that the Buxton crisis evolved. And the opposing accounts of that crisis, which still has not ended, continue to obfuscate reality and serve as an impediment to getting any handle on how the other side really feels....

The simple truth is that if one group is unsafe, then everyone is unsafe. True security can only come with the rule of law, effective law enforcement and strong, independent institutions; there is no alternative. And in the meantime, a little more honesty in debate all around would be helpful so we can grope towards discussing the real problems of the nation in a meaningful way, rather than unreal constructs which if taken to their conclusion can lead us into anarchy.
All artists worthy of the name wear the pain of the world, like scars, or radiant armour. And for Minshall, a white boy in a black country, there had to be a blessed liberation in refusing to be penned up in suburbia's ghetto but, to the contrary, in being perennially and vitally involved in 'their' world. And how vitally!

-- From Wayne Brown's column, in today's J'ca Observer, on Peter Minshall.

Ten years later, here in Jamaica, I had just that day returned home from bypass surgery in Havana when, from Trinidad, Minshall phoned. He was as usual aghast about something; he talked on and on. I was weak and very tired; after five minutes I was ready to hang up, and if it had been anybody else, I would have excused myself and done so.

But I didn't. Minshall proceeded to talk for a full hour, and long before he was finished I was blind with pain. But I lay there and took it, because it was Minshall - no, because it was Trinidad - calling; and when your country calls, you don't hang up.
At first glance, reading is a waste of time, turning us all into versions of Don Quixote, too befuddled by our imaginations to tell windmills from giants. We would be better off spending the time mating or farming. Darwinists have an answer - or more accurately, many possible answers. (Literary Darwinists like multiple answers, convinced the best idea will win out.) One idea is that literature is a defense reaction to the expansion of our mental life that took place as we began to acquire the basics of higher intelligence around 40,000 years ago. At that time, the world suddenly appeared to homo sapiens in all its frightening complexity. But by taking imaginative but orderly voyages within our minds, we gained the confidence to interpret this new vastly denser reality. Another theory is that reading literature is a form of fitness training, an exercise in "what if" thinking. If you could imagine the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, then if you ever found yourself in a street fight, you would have a better chance of winning. A third theory sees writing as a sex-display trait. Certainly writers often seem to be preening when they write, with an eye toward attracting a desirable mate.

-- D.T. Max, in today's NY Times Magazine, on Literary Darwinism.

(Are there selection pressures on mooncalfs and sprites?)

And three cheers for literarians!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Being Here Now

Ucill Cambridge, reporting in yesterday's Express:

Police are now investigating a claim that a number of people in the Diego Martin area are tagged for execution once the Eid fast has been broken.

The Express has been reliably informed that there exists a list with the names of persons in the West End district who are to be all killed once the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr ends today. The death squad is said to be a religious group from the Bagatelle area.

The Express spoke with a senior investigator from the West End Police district who said he was unaware of the existence of any list but promised to investigate the claim.

The man who told the Express about the existence of a list has also reported receiving a death threat shortly after the interview was completed.

Attillah Springer, writing in today's Guardian (no permanent link yet; my bold):

I am tired of Manning and Panday. I am tired of microwaved speeches delivered by frothing-at-the-mouth masters of rhetoric and old blag.

First the Daddy Oh Manning says he knows the "Big" man in the bombing business. Then the outside father Panday reveals his heretofore undisclosed seerman powers by declaring that soon Indo-Trinidadians would be the targets of bombing sprees.

So what I want to know is, if Manning knows and Panday knows, then how come the police don’t know who to go and arrest?...

One thing Mr Panday is right about. We should not lie down and accept discrimination. And what the politicians of the two overruling parties are doing is discriminating against the many many people of T&T who see through their games. Who cannot be lured into a false sense of belonging by party cards and fever-pitch speechifying.

Debbie Jacob, writing in the Guardian last Monday:

By the age of 16, my son, Jairzinho, has witnessed a security guard being shot, three acquaintances being kidnapped, and the horrific death of a beloved teacher's husband. I know he is not the innocent child that he could have been if he was not touched by such events....

I don't know about you, but it doesn't make me feel good to see Abu Bakr in the newspaper saying he is going to find the trash can bomber. It doesn't make me feel good to open up the newspaper and read that the FBI is in Trinidad.

These headlines smack of one feeling: hopelessness. When we look around us we see a government paralysed by ineffectiveness. Do you think the enraged, disengaged, disenfranchised people who graduate into criminals don’t look around them and get the same messages we're getting?

And two days ago, in the course of a wide-ranging four-hour conversation, an artist colleague asked me this question: how do we know that this new FBI presence in Trinidad doesn't have as much to do with President Chavez across the Gulf as with the Port of Spain bombings? And what better listening post than a small English-speaking island, heavily dependent on trade with the US; an important base of operations for foreign energy corporations with large expatriate staffs already engaged in (ostensibly geological & economic) intelligence-seeking; & flooded with young middle-class Venezuelans likely to come from anti-Chavez families?

Monday, October 31, 2005

News from Rome

The rumour that Keats is dead.
A poet itching verbs
like tattoos into his skin.
Limbs stitched into his bed.
The furniture chopped and burned,
the pink house sweet with smoke.
Severn destroys the umpteenth draft of his letter,
the legend is still absurd,
these names sinking in stone.

A letter to London takes one month.
A letter to me takes 183 years.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

It's not included in the online edition, but today's Guardian reports on 3Canal's concert last Thursday night at Bois Cano:

Rapso artiste Wendell Manwarren weaved a stinging commentary into his group 3Canal's Kapok Hotel performance on Thursday night, lashing out at junior National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and critics of the Death March....

3Canal was one of the groups that performed free for the march.

"It was about people doing something for a change," he told a selection of T&T's art, music and media elite.... Manwarren, working in his comments at the end of one of their songs, also challenged criticisms that the march was for the middle and upper classes and not the poor black community, the source of the majority of the country's 310 murder victims.

On this point, band member Stanton Kewley retorted, "What wrong with being middle class?"

Hammer, nail, direct blow to the head. "What wrong with being middle class?"

I entirely understand the causes of the vituperation with which the (sometimes self-appointed) representatives of the working class, black or otherwise, have responded to the Keith Noel 136 Committee & last Saturday's "death march". But surely the only route out of the crisis we're all snared in starts with recognising common concerns, common hopes, a common cause--& believing that these outweigh our differences and grudges?

The middle classes are frightened & angry, & last Saturday they did something dramatic to express that fear & anger. (When last, outside of Carnival, did you see white people marching through town in the hot sun?) To dismiss them out of hand is to say that blind loyalty not so much to class or ethnicity but to the PNM is more important than the good of our society; that party trumps country. And very little that the PNM under Mr. Manning has done suggests that the party has any meaningful goals apart from holding on to executive power. Ditto for the UNC under Mr. Panday. Maybe that's what it comes to--party or country? It's a symptom of our crisis that, it seems, there can be no coincidence of the two.

And here's the thing about the middle classes: they have been the least prone to blind party loyalty, switching their vote to whichever group seems most likely to address their concerns (remember the ONR? the NAR?). There's nothing wrong with that--that's the foundation of politics, seeking your own interests, but also recognising that often the best way to get what you want & need is to learn what your friends & rivals want & need, & find compromises that achieve a common good. The alternative is to allow selfish interests to tear our society apart--& that is exactly the crisis we're in. All are guilty: working, middle & upper classes, black people, Indian people, white people, everybody. "More unites us than divides us", read one of the placards at last Saturday's march--lyrics from "Trini to de Bone", of course, a song whose cliches still make me cringe, but cliches often derive from truths.

What unites us most urgently now is that few of us feel safe, few of us feel we're truly benefiting from the massive energy boom convulsing our economy, & few of us feel the party politicians care about our concerns. Can we not agree on a common thrust to address these matters on everyone's behalf? And does it matter who starts or leads that thrust?

Remember this: Henry Alcazar, A.A. Cipriani, Albert Gomes, even Eric Williams, were all men of the middle class, & they all led battles on behalf of the wider populace. There's nothing wrong with being middle class.

Friday, October 28, 2005

From a report by Yvonne Webb in today's Guardian:

Reeling under pressure from various sectors to curb the spiralling crime rate, Prime Minister Patrick Manning said on Wednesday that he hoped the people who are attacking his Government were not guilty of criminal activities themselves....

Last Saturday, thousands of citizens participated in the Death March in Port-of-Spain. The march, organised by the Keith Noel 136 Committee, highlighted the need for the Government to fix crime.

Referring to this, Manning said, "A number of people are attacking us for crime and I hope, and I am very careful with my words, I hope that those who are attacking the Government on crime are not guilty of criminal activities themselves."

I didn't think a Trinidad & Tobago politician could still surprise me, but I'm astonished today--this is how Mr. Manning responds to the 15,000 people who marched in Port of Spain last Saturday? No, I'm astonished--by the pettiness, the callousness, the spite.
Reporters sans frontieres has released its fourth annual worldwide press freedom index. Trinidad & Tobago is once again close to the top of the ranking (higher means freer), tying for 12th place this time with Hungary, New Zealand, & Sweden (last year T&T ranked 11th). By comparison, Germany ranks 18th, Canada 21st, the UK 24th, & the US 44th. Of other Caribbean nations, Jamaica comes 34th, the Dominican Republic 51st, Haiti 117th, & Cuba, near the bottom of the list, is 161st.

How did RSF decide T&T has such a free press?

Reporters Without Borders compiled a questionnaire with 50 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).

It registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media (such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behaviour of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and the foreign press. It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.

Three cheers for Trini boldfacedness & macociousness.
This week's Caribbean blog roundup over at Global Voices takes the form of a chat between Georgia & myself about the state of the Caribbean blogosphere--who's doing what, why, how, & where could it all go? Or something like that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Over at Alien in the Caribbean, Jessie has emerged from hibernation to comment on the current state of Trinidad & Tobago, point out parallels in St. Lucia, where she's been living for the last three years, & ask the question many of us are preoccupied with right now: what next?

I know I am living in the "third world" but until a few years ago, that was never even an issue. Although our islands were never big contenders on the world's economic landscape, I certainly never felt like a "third world" citizen and there was always a feeling of hope. Our ability to cope, innovate, commune, rally our spirits compensated for much inconvenience and social problems. We held this spirit that things could get better and we would live to see it get better. My generation especially felt like the one with the ideas, energy, will and power to make it happen.

Could it be that we are actually running out of that juice that nourished us in the face of challenges? As I struggle not to once again fall into the pit of living from paycheck to paycheck like I did in Trinidad, even while I work harder than I ever did professionally and all the while coping with the very palpable human misery all around me, I feel one overwhelming feeling....... FATIGUE. Not of body but of spirit. I understand so completely the way Trinis are right now, "to themselves" reserved, withdrawn and holding fast to personal strength. There is none to share anymore. Those of us who give, give, give, give, give and give some more of our positive energy, ideas, creative expression know what I am talking about. And yet, still I keep thinking maybe just maybe there is a very good reason for all of this. We've had it GOOD the past twenty years or so and what have we REALLY accomplished for our country with all of our BIG ideas, creative endeavors and philosophical thinking and talking over wine at our dinner parties?...

The truth is that revolution requires a massive dose of desperation to ignite it. Many of us have always been the fire proof buffer of reason and status quo maintenance. We would think of protesting, of starting a revolt but then we'd chicken out because we have "responsibilities" and a "reputation". To be honest, few of us have felt it like we do now and there is a dangerous excitement about it. Let's not become afraid again. Let us embrace our rage and perhaps we can find in it the fuel we need to fire our activism against our corrupt and inept governments and disempowered societies.

Monday, October 24, 2005

In the face of a massive outpouring of concern about the crime situation on Saturday, with thousands of people gathering around placards, music and theatre to demonstrate the need for more effective action, the PNM was able to issue one clear directive and that was to its party members, ordering them not to attend.

Chairman of the committee organising the march, Stephen Cadiz described the no-show as contempt for citizens and an insult to the nation, but it was, more likely, another indicator of the haplessness of the ruling party when faced with problems outside the traditional boundaries of politics.

The problems of crime in Trinidad and Tobago aren't being faced decisively because there is little in the machinery of political representation to prepare those elected to high office to handle the outpouring of violence, anger and lawlessness that has characterised crime in the country over the last five years.

-- From today's Guardian editorial (their archiving system is annoying. Read the editorial here today, here from tomorrow), which also refers to the results of the UWI/ANSA McAl Psychological Research Centre poll published in yesterday's edition. Asked whether the government's crime-fighting measures were "having any serious effect on crime", 90% of the respondents said no. 54% said Martin Joseph should resign. But 52% said there was no one else in the PNM administration they thought could do a better job with national security, & 19% said they didn't know. Just 2% said Patrick Manning himself would do any better. By any fair standard, these numbers add up to a damning vote of no confidence in the Manning administration's ability to deal with the security crisis, & give the lie to claims that Saturday's marchers were not representative of Trinidad & Tobago as a whole.

The Guardian editorial concludes:

It's time that this government left the safe perch of continuous planning to execute a strategy to manage crime that the public can understand, endorse and engage.

A lucid, stringent and clearly-articulated plan to limit opportunities for unlawful activity is unlikely to win friends and votes in a country that so dearly loves its freedoms, but the alternative is a slow and steady loss of confidence in the capacity to lead that now registers the Government's management at a nadir in public perception even as it continues to drop.

"A lucid, stringent and clearly-articulated plan" "that the public can understand, endorse and engage"--exactly. But I disagree with the Guardian's implication that such a strategy need curtail our "freedoms". We don't need a curfew, draconian new legislation, or the suspension of habeas corpus (as permitted during a state of emergency by the constitution). We need to have our existing laws properly enforced. We need for our elected officials and members of the security services to do their jobs faithfully & efficiently. And we need for ordinary citizens to stop putting up with the minor infringements--littering, petty vandalism, unsafe driving--that help create an atmosphere in which major infringements like murder, kidnapping, & theft thrive & breed. Above all, we need for the current government to take responsibility for its failures. But when Mr. Manning, a day after the "death march", describes Martin Joseph as "one of the best Ministers of National Security ever in Trinidad and Tobago" (as quoted in this Express article), it's utterly clear that taking responsibility is the last thing on his mind.

He promise the fire next time, he promise the fire next time....
Addendum to the preceding

I've just noticed this NY Times story on a World Bank report on the effects of "brain drain" on developing countries around the world.

Poor countries across Africa, Central America and the Caribbean are losing sometimes staggering numbers of their college-educated workers to wealthy, industrialized democracies, according to a World Bank study made public today.

Its conclusions are based on a far-reaching survey of census and other data from the 30 countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which counts most of the world's richest nations among its members....

The World Bank's study is part of a broader intellectual ferment about the role that migration plays in the development of poor countries. Scholarly research has tended to focus more on the impact of foreign aid, global trade and foreign investment, but there is a growing sense that the movement of people is also a major and little-understood factor.

The four Caribbean countries examined in the report are Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, & the Dominican Republic. Some of the statistics are, literally, shocking--such as the estimate that 80% of Jamaican & Haitian nationals who have been to university live in developed OECD countries. The percentage for Trinidad & Tobago is almost certainly lower (but by how much?); I imagine the figure for Guyana is about the same.
From the Guyana Project

A week & a half after the release of the preliminary report on the 2002 census, Ian McDonald writes (in his column in yesterday's Stabroek News) about Guyana's continuing "brain drain" problem:

I wish absolutely accurate figures could be made available but, even in their absence, who can doubt that the exodus, if illegal is added to legitimate, is still running at as much as 15,000 people a year, perhaps more. These include many of the best, most skilled, most experienced, and hardest-working people in the community.

I cannot understand why this threat to the whole nation is not more discussed in public, and with greater concern, especially as the exodus on the face of it seems likely to grow as the numbers abroad who can sponsor those at home goes on increasing. A couple emigrating a few years ago opens the way for a dozen more up the road. Remember also the devastating fact that people planning to leave have already left in the sense that they have lost all feeling of commitment and wanting to work hard and contribute as they coast towards the Promised Land. The cumulative loss of commitment slackens the sinews of effort in the nation most insidiously.

Recall that the census figures show an overall increase in Guyana's population, but also suggest that 40% of the Guyanese born in the late 1970s--i.e. my generation, the generation who ought to be preparing right now to assume responsibility for Guyana's future--have left in search of better opportunities abroad.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Georgia has posted a photo of yesterday's Red House ceremony here at Caribbean Free Photo, & images of the march at flickr.

And the T&T newspapers today are full of coverage of the "death march" (I persist in using this slightly hysterical term because what we all need now is to be shocked out of complacency). Ucill Cambridge's lead story in the Express quotes a police estimate of "10,000 to 15,000" marchers, & includes this account of an exchange with Martin Joseph:

When contacted yesterday, National Security Minister Martin Joseph said he could not talk since he was at a constituency meeting in Mayaro. He terminated the phone call before a question could be asked.

Because, as far as Mr. Joseph is concerned, the outrage of 15,000 citizens is an irrelevance.

The Express also runs short interviews by Darren Bahaw with Commodore Anthony Franklin of Communities Mobilising Agsint Crime, Brother Noble Khan of the IRO, Professor Kenneth Ramchand, TTMA president Paul Quesnel, and calypsonian Singing Sandra, all of whom were at the march. On the op-ed pages, Martin Daly rages against the politicians who are refusing to acknowledge their true responsibility for the crisis:

The Prime Minister of our Republic is fully accountable for the murders, bombings and kidnappings rampaging throughout Trinidad and Tobago and turning our lives upside down, no matter what evasive words are used. So is Mr Go-Stay Panday, who is not electable and, by denying us some choice other than the cruel, uncaring, bunch of limp jokers we have in office, Mr Panday is also killing the country.

And Ramesh Deosaran asks the hard question all of us who marched yesterday now have to face: what next?

... it will eventually take the Cabinet, the Ministry of National Security, the Police Service Commission, Commissioner of Police, all constitutionally empowered agencies, to get the job done....

Will the death march and signatures help get this desired result which I believe is the main aim of the Keith Noel 136 Committee. In other words, you can march up and down the street from now to Christmas, you can collect 1.2 million signatures, all these marches and signatures will amount to nothing if these bodies do not do their respective jobs properly and expeditiously.

If the Police and even the Commissioner of Police are not doing their jobs to public satisfaction, how can the public say so in their presence and get effective action? The real issue is therefore this: How can you get these authorised bodies to do their work and account for it publicly now?

Today's Guardian editorial (no permanent link) makes a similar point, more bluntly:

... marches by themselves, however well supported, will not reduce crime.

A first-time visitor, surveying the crowd and the oral and visual messages yesterday, could gain a sense that some fairly obvious thing to defeat crime is being done neither by the authorities, nor by the Parliament. Such a visitor would not, however, have learned what that obvious thing is.

In his address to Parliament last month, President Max Richards lent his prestige to the conviction that Parliament need only take action, which he did not specify, to make a difference with crime.

The belief is apparently widely-shared that tough new laws are needed to put criminals on the run, as President Richards put it.

Placards held by marchers yesterday called for brisk, no-nonsense approaches expressed in "Start making sense," and "Stop kicksing in Parliament." But even those marchers who called for the prompt hanging of murderers must be aware of the practical obstacles in the way of implementing the death penalty.

Before the Keith Noel Committee, with its many supporters, can become a movement for change, expressing the "new culture of leadership" called for by some T-shirts, it has to meet a responsibility to clarify not only what it opposes, but also what it proposes.

The Guardian is right; if yesterday's march is to be the beginning of something rather than the end, if the Keith Noel Committee is to have any lasting impact, it must move quickly to focus citizen anger on some goal more clearly defined than "do something". That means accepting that the Manning government time & again has proven itself unwilling to listen to the criticisms & suggestions of the public, partly because of Mr. Manning's particular delusion of infallibility, partly because of a constitutional system insidiously designed to eliminate actual representation from representative government. It means accepting that the UNC under Mr. Panday did & likely would do no better, so a UNC where Mr. Panday is still calling the shots is under current circumstances a force for harm.

It also means realising that our current crisis goes beyond "locking up the criminals" or enforcing the death penalty (to which I am inexorably opposed), & needs to be fought on two fronts. First, immediate measures to restore public safety: fundamental reform of the police service, of the prison system, of the judicial system; real intelligence work to infiltrate drug & gang networks & destroy them (the information is out there, we all hear the stories, people know the names--why are we afraid of acting?); & immediate action to destroy the legitimacy that our venal politicians have granted to crime kingpins by treating them as "community leaders", hiring them as enforcers at election time, accepting donations from them, and giving them positions in the URP & CEPEP hierarchy, which amounts to public subsidy of criminals. It means giving all these measures priority over new cricket stadiums & downtown high-rises & a new prime ministerial residence.

The second front of this battle is the state of our society & social infrastructure forty years after independence: vast inequalities in an ostensibly booming economy, failing education and public health systems, & the feeling among the general populace that there's nothing "we" can do about these problems because the power is in the hands of the government--which, once elected, forgets about representing citizens until the time comes again for election rhetoric.

None of these ideas is original, all of them have been argued more eloquently by other commentators, & many of them are succinctly expressed in the FITUN flyer I quoted yesterday. But instead of forthrightly dealing with these problems, the Manning government engages in personal aggrandisement and pappyshow projects (like Vision 2020), throws hundreds of millions away on extremely expensive & thus far ineffectual "crime-fighting" equipment and monuments to Mr. Manning's self-esteem, & insults anyone who dares criticise or disagree.

Stephen Cadiz said yesterday he hoped the "death march" would finally make Mr. Manning sit up & take notice. I know, most of us know, he won't. So what next? On the one hand, the widespread publication of a clear, detailed programme of practical steps to deal with all of the above: immediate reform of & action by the security services, massive, meaningful, long-term social investment (anyone who says in 2005 that we can't afford it is lying), &, fundamentally, major constitutional reform to give Trinidad & Tobago, finally, some kind of real representative democracy.

On the other hand, since the current generation of PNM & UNC politicians has proven to us that they simply don't care to "do something", a radical campaign to either force Mr. Manning & his cronies (& for all intents & purposes Mr. Panday is one of Mr. Manning's cronies) to do what they don't want to do, or eliminate them for good. And for good. Under present circumstances, that probably means a campaign of civil disobedience. Two modest proposals: from the businessmen, a pact to withhold all direct & indirect tax revenues from the government; from the trade unions & the ordinary man on the street, a general shut-down of the country. Hold the government to ransom, just as most citizens feel held to ransom. With no violence, & no tolerance for anyone who would make this out to be an anti-PNM campaign. The UNC is complicit, & all are involved.