The Bret of Different Skies.

NASA Sees Bret, Cindy and DoraIt’s no surprise, really.

Some cyclone became a Tropical Storm, and that Tropical Storm gained a name. Bret. An unimaginative editor or writer at the Trinidad Express newspaper quickly dubbed it ‘Bad Bret’. Now Bret has a price tag of a billion dollars. Politicians have resorted to… oh, I suppose you should call it politics though it resembles the refuse on the floor of a flooded kitchen, recently pumped out, the smell of decay evident.

It was all fairly predictable, and I truly wanted to write something funny about it – but in the end, I was sick after having mopped up Brett’s drippings from a roof all night and I haven’t been feeling very funny. In fact, it’s the beginnings of a dull rage.

Trinidad and Tobago has a love affair with a few things. It’s important to understand this.

Litter

Let’s take that low hanging fruit. The drainage is typically filled with rubbish, and that rubbish did not magically appear there. It did not suddenly get warped in from another dimension.

People threw it on the ground, it ends up in drains, drains lead to rivers… and so on. So, when you occlude waterways… well, let’s put it this way: Trinidad didn’t flood as much as it had a stroke from living a poor lifestyle, plastic plaque on it’s arteries finally stopping the flow and creating the hemorrhage that people are complaining about now.

Lack of Planning

Forget for a moment the technology failures surrounding Bret that I documented, Let’s not talk about the Minister and Minister, Prime, out playing golf – because, really, if I were the Prime Minister I would be expecting people to do their jobs and know that my job would come after. Personally, I might have shot some pool.

The point here is that there were people who were supposed to be doing jobs. The day before Bret struck, my social media accounts were filled with a long list of who would be closed after Bret, including Tobago’s governmental offices. The Prime Minister would come out and say that people in government offices should come out to work. I’m not sure what he meant, but what I thought was that the one time that government offices need to be open and dependable would be the day after a potential disaster. Instead, this all beckoned the bacchanal of the Prime Minister not caring. I’ll stop there with that because calling political opponents names is also something I’ll be touching on.

In some ways Trinidad and Tobago is a Libertarian paradise. There are Laws for building that are conveniently enforced, there is some rudimentary land Law that puts private landowners in financial straitjackets when it comes to people building on their land. Nevermind electric connections or water connections. Someone always knows someone.

By the time you could get an injunction, you might have 3 generations of a family in it – and the police, despite it being trespass, even with a surveyor present, will tell you that it’s a Civil matter, and that you should go to a lawyer. All of this will require High Court, which means it’s not cheap and it’s a long and arduous process – which culminates, unpredictably, on either the landowner ‘winning’ – where the house is torn down at their expense, with public outcry… or the landowner ‘losing’, where some other arrangement is come to.

At no point in all of this do you hear about whether it was a good place to build a house. At no point in all of this do you hear about whether there’s good drainage. So much time could be saved before a High Court matter by dealing with practical issues, but instead the options are very limited and time consuming by default. In fact, if you blink, a landowner has to go about proving that the lands belong to he or her while the person building a house doesn’t have to prove anything. Wait, what?

So that’s the base layer – what I call ‘vikey-vike’ development. If Town & Country planning actually rolled through flooded areas, should we bet on what percentage of homes would have plans?

Let’s not get into Regional Corporations going rogue, running roads on private lands based on the requests of some people… with no plans filed. Nothing.

So, this has been happening for decades. It creates it’s own problems of infrastructure, which you would expect, but it also caused some call to action – the government made some weak steps toward developing infrastructure in housing schemes, etc, but they were typically as well conceived as a stillborn. This is to say that they were well conceived, but conception is not the issue – bringing things to term is. And, really, Trinidad and Tobago isn’t very good at taking things to term. Since my earliest memories of Trinidad and Tobago, the Godinot bridge and Mosquito Creek were being widened. 2 Attempts so far have only compounded flooding issues rather than resolve them.

Oh, there’s fire under this pot. Plenty of lack of planning.

Substandard Projects

Speaking of substandard projects, here’s another problem. If, for example, there’s a WASA project going on – water pipes – and there are materials brought to do it – do you know how much of those materials are actually used? Do you know how much are sold by people who aren’t getting paid but have bills to pay?

I’m sure I don’t. I’m sure that every piece of material for a project is used as it is supposed to, and that none of it is sold. I’m sure that everyone is paid on time, and I’m sure that there are no problems like. that. I’m also sure that I have been sarcastic in every sentence of this paragraph save this one.

So, a few years down the road, when a pipe fails or a drain collapses or is occluded, it becomes an emergency then that could have prevented during the project… simply by paying people.

Unless, of course, they order extra materials to sell ,which becomes a taxpayer issue and is not relevant to flooding.

Soap Opera Politics.

Even before the rains began I could picture the Members of Parliament in their tall boots, firing off as much political rhetoric as they could. And of course, distributing things. People want to be coddled, to be seen in their distress – but to use that as a political soapbox is as abusive as the rains themselves, even if the people do not feel abused. It’s amazing what sorts of abuse people will consider love if that’s all they know.

This just makes matters worse, really, particularly when it comes to floods. Playing on people’s emotions is the worst part of politics, particularly stirring the pot of anger when it has no productive way to come out. And it’s not to say that it’s a matter of who is in power – it’s what we call a pappyshow in Trinidad. Everyone acts as if they are concerned now when they did not mak their concerns concrete before.

Show me hot air blowing after Bret, I’ll show you air that was not moving before it.

“God Is a Trini”

Well, if you’re not an atheist, that’s a hopeful thing to say, but it’s about as true as saying that any other abstract concept is a Trini. That anything that people pray to is a Trini. That anything that matters is a Trini. That a Trini is omnipotent.

“Pardon me, your omnipotence, Your Honourable Trini-Ness – your ass is soaked.”

And What Happens Next?

It’s all as if we live under different skies. Different perspectives of the same problems.

Apparently the politics hit the level of accusations of racism yesterday in Parliament – you’d think that a group of professionals that were elected could work together for the common good, but in the end it is not so. I won’t even do you the discourtesy of linking to articles regarding it because there is no journalism to be found.

Personal differences, high emotions, what have you – people were elected to do a job to govern the country and are always somehow doing their utmost not to work together.

It’s one of the wonders of Trinidad and Tobago, eclipsing the Pitch Lake – the illusion of professional governance, of working together. If there is only one thing to blame for the state of the flooded areas in Trinidad and Tobago, I would say it has been decades of politics that have robbed the citizens of progress. Of followers that will not criticize their own and will defend til death (or drunken stupor) their candidates of choice.

Nothing changes. The waters will recede, life will go on. Whoever is Prime Minister will change, or not, but the dysfunction will continue because of the one phrase in T&T everyone knows.

“We like it so.”

One day, people may stumble upon the idea that they live under the same sky, that the Members of Parliament are supposed to work together. Someday they may just elect someone else when their representative doesn’t get them results. Whining doesn’t matter.

But we’d have to get past a lot of other issues, issues that assure the soap opera continues to assure people think they live under different skies.

 

 

Without Time

We are creatures of time, of heartbeats, of solar rotations and lunar rotations all affected by things that, if we dedicate our human lives to it, we can only map partially. There are people who dedicate their lives to standing on the shoulders of previous giants, peering further into the murky depths of our reality. And then we have others, dedicating their lives to attempting to assure that we as a species survive, while we have others that allow us to grapple with the uncertainty of being human.

What we do in time is interact. We interact with each other. We interact with our environment, be it moving stones or working collectively to visit the Moon. The harsh word here, the pat on the back there, the clearing of a drain or the tossing of refuse  in it – we all interconnect, and all of these things happen over time. How we grow. How we change. How we do these things as individuals, and how we do these things as societies, and how we do these things as a species.

We measure ourselves by time, but when we die time no longer exists for us and we become summarized by the universe in the actions we took and didn’t take. A life well intended is not always well spent, where we might think we’re doing something good when, generations later, we find that it was wrong. We make the best decisions we can with the information we have and, if we are intelligent, we know we don’t have all the information – that we’re just winging it. And if that bothers us, we look to comfort rather than answers. Fragile, we’re so fragile.

Remove time; that we are living or dead only matters to us – no one else, nothing else, we are the ants under the child’s magnifying glass at most and the ant you don’t see while walking around. We are affected by things that we do not understand and we affect things that we do not understand.

Without time, we simply used energy to use energy.

Without time, we are nothing, and with time, we become nothing. We are agents of change on the things around us.

We are as real as the wind; alone we are nothing, together we are a passing breeze on the universe, a force of nature. Temporary permutations of particles looking for meaning in a universe that has already defined us.

The Rains of Cultural Change

Rain of numbersThe rains have come.

In the tropical island calendar, the rains mark ‘Wet Season’ – a time of traffic, accidents and water-filled potholes ranging in size and depth up to Olympic size swimming pool. A time of umbrellas, of inconveniently wet feet, and of replacing windshield wipers.

It was not always so. In Trinidad and Tobago, corporate attire so many attempt to use to forget the agrarian roots is something I often view as a pretentious veil. I did not grow up in an agricultural environment, despite my roots, despite the roots of anyone of East Indian or African descent in this country. I grew up in the “fix things” sector where weather meant either you worked dry or wet – but you worked.

The planet is 71% water. If you’re afraid of getting wet, it’s safe to assume you’re on the wrong planet.

Now, though, the rains mark the end of one part of my agricultural project and the beginning of another. There’s little in project management literature that talks about, “when it begins to rain”, but there should be.

It has been a race. Clearing bush,  getting land brush-cut and plowed, clearing as much of the hill as I could and making my space on my land. Having the pond dug, then dealing with a suicidal hog plum tree. Getting the hill graded and moving stones. Finding things to plant from wherever I could find them and planting them.

The rain is soaking in. There will be some more things planted when the sun dries the top layers a bit. It makes no sense wandering through the field with five pounds of mud on each boot while sliding down the hill. I do not enjoy doing laundry that much.

Now comes the maintenance – keeping the crops in good health. Cutting grass. Spraying when absolutely necessary. The molding of trees, trees that I am happy to say I have planted more of than I have cut down. Before the land fasted, now the land is to be nourished so as to grow things.

Cassava. Eddoes. Corn. Peas. Sweet potato. And the longer term trees – where I plant at least one for each tree I have taken down, the stumps a memorial to that. Each tree I plant, I remove a stump, and so I keep track.

No one says I have to. I simply know I should.

Meanwhile, I visit places where people drive cars that they can barely afford, attempting to convince each other and themselves on how well they are doing, how successful they are. The latest fashions parade like price tags, the smiles gleam too white – unnaturally white – and all the while, they see the rain as a problem. An inconvenience.

Only a few have followed the business side far enough through to understand the importance of the rain – how it affects the crops, the food – how that in turn affects pricing, how that in turn affects the purchasing power of a currency, how that in turn allows for more disposable income to buy things.

It also means things that have not been maintained may flood. It means that the plastic bottles that Trinidad and Tobago so loves in drains present a problem, and while work has been done to clear them, it’s a matter of finding out the hard way. Unfortunately, flooded fields mean less to people than flooded parts of Port of Spain, where the imported goods sector will weep because of lack of foot traffic, etc. People forget where the food comes from.

The food comes partly from the rain – not the plastic bottles woven into the drains, discarded by humans who then complain about the effects of their presence. The food sustains the society.

Our agrarian ancestors understood those things. They kept drains clear. They did not throw things on the ground that would end up in drains. They had the cultural capital to understand poor habits in society can create great obstacles. They knew about these things.

Somewhere, that cultural capital seems to have divested itself. To progress? It would seem not.

That capital still exists, but it is being sold for a chance to act like an inconvenienced overseer on a plantation of plastics. Look at how many have jumped at this opportunity.

Perhaps they should be reaping what they sew; and yet, we all seem to have reaped what they sew.

Alma Matters.

IMG_20170610_181942Last weekend I spent some time at the reunion of my alma mater, Presentation College. It was odd measuring myself against the school again after all these years – there have been 29 of them so far. I met old classmates and new ones. There was a sense of brotherhood.

Alma Mater. Many people use the phrase without knowing it’s root Latin meaning – Nourishing (Alma) Mother (Mater). The Mother aspect comes from the Roman Goddeses Ceres (agriculture) and Cybele (‘Great Mother’), the latter having a history that can easily eat the time of an interested reader.

Nourishing. When we look at plants, we know that there is more than one nourishment – there are different types of nourishment and if we keep it simple, we have water, earth and sunlight.

The Monday, on invitation, I went to the school during regular class-times. I interacted with staff, mainly, and watched how the interiors of buildings had changed – how the people had changed… and how much stayed the same.

A friend of mine from my year was collecting some data for a thesis, and students were voluntarily filling out surveys. As I walked in, my first shock.

Young students in uniform, without knowing me, made eye contact with me and said, “Good morning, Sir.”

I blinked. ‘Sir’. Not ‘sir’. You can tell the difference between the two; the capitalized ‘Sir’ conveys sincere respect, the lower case conveys the casual respect. Suddenly, I was an alien in my old school, someone automatically given that respect by simply being present, having made it past the guards and the staff. And we former non-commissioned officers balk at either use, returning, “Do not call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.”.

These young students had served me notice. They had their end to live up to that they would uphold, and I had my end that I must uphold. “Good morning, Sir” had ushered me into a calm and pensive silence. I looked over the young men differently, wearing the uniform that I once wore.

The hairstyles had changed. Little more. I thought about the young man I once was and I looked around for him, not seeing him in one young man – that would be too easy – but aspects of myself spread across many of them. It has been a while since I taught.

There were the side conversations, done quietly. Some of the young men busied themselves with French textbooks, others quietly passed notes back and forth (yes, I saw it), some told each other jokes at the back and some were in their own little worlds, daydreaming.

I helped a little with the survey set up on the machines. Nothing noteworthy. I’m curious what my friend will find, and when I told him so he gave a half laugh and said, “Me too.”

We broke for lunch. I went to the new cafeteria. They have rotis, burgers… I had a chicken burger. And we went to the old Dean’s office area that had been reinvented.

My relationship with Staff and Deans in my day had been less comfortable. I’d found out years later that I had almost been expelled at one point – perhaps more. I wasn’t a very nice young man, a simmering rage I couldn’t understand always below the surface, a bored intellect I couldn’t understand constantly being told to stay on the rails of the education system. With creativity, those two were dangerous things.

Despite my weed-like appearance, it was decided to nourish me instead of weed me – something I am grateful about in no small way.

The Deans had these fidget spinners that they were collecting. I’d never seen one before. Honestly, having now seen a collection and live demonstration, I don’t see the appeal.

The Vice Principal who suffered me as a French student – an abysmal one at that – looked no different to me but frowned significantly less at me. In fact, I don’t think she frowned. She did smile, something she didn’t do very often around me when I bore the school uniform. We all spoke about things that I would not have thought, 29 years before, I would ever discuss in that area of the school – analysis of data, the challenges of the infrastructure, etc.

How peculiar after all these years to find that the alma mater still nourishes, and can help make sense out of the nonsense of life indirectly. The casual conversations break the old chains and ways of thinking, even as back then they did as well. To me, that is the true mark of education – when 29 years later, I can walk into my old school and still learn things of value.

This goes back to the German concepts of Lehrfreheit and Lernefreheit – of Academic Freedom. This is a part of the Presentation College that I remember, where the Principal or someone else would talk about present events and give we young men food for thought – nourishment – even as we pressed along the road-map of formal education.

Nourishment matters. We forget that too often, filling our lives with things that aren’t nourishing and even rob us of our health – be it the fast food, or the fast ‘facts’ circulating on social networks. It is possible to starve when overweight, our bodies seeking the nutrients we need in the gluttony of what we want. Yet in this case, nourishment is a communal effort, and to be nourished, you have to nourish.

Nourish, be nourished. It matters.

On Suicidal Trees

Suicidal Hog Plum Tree.Like most suicides, it gave no warning. The machinations of digging the pond included the tree being over the pond.

The pond was dug right at the very end of dry season. The tree seemed to be fine, this large hog plum tree. No roots were broken, no damage to the tree.

Leaning against it, I learned of the biting ants and learned… not to lean against it. It became a landmark of one of the many things to avoid casually touching on the land, like the weaponized chlorophyll of the Trinidad Roseau.

Maybe it was that lack of touch that was the signal. Maybe, somewhere in the latent consciousness of trees it decided it was not just alone but lonely. Maybe I had chopped down some of it’s children and it couldn’t stand to live without them. Maybe it had seen it’s reflection in the beginnings of the collected water of the pond and it didn’t like what it saw.

Whatever the reason, I found it in the pond one day, broken at the roots. At the roots, I saw the stone.

IMG_20170604_154150

I do not know why it committed suicide. It seemed happy enough. And here I was left, having to remove it’s burdensome body from the pond, something that between the pickup, tractor and excavator was done… dismembering it accidentally here and there. Corpses are so fragile.

I write all of this to show how easy we are to anthropomorphize non-human things, and how we treat humans like non-human things. About how people commit suicide every day – U.S. military veterans alone at a rate of 22 per day, once every 65 minutes – dismissed as numbers that march into the sunset.

Civilians, too, who pass quietly into the night, not the celebrity.

And here I wrote about a suicidal tree.
And you read it.

Share this to support Suicide Awareness. The life you save may never know. 

The Lurker

Liminal IIHe’s out there. Right now.

An elderly man of East Indian descent, working as security outside the coffee shop. We’d chatted a few times, and every time he felt compelled to tell me about how stupid it was to buy a cup of coffee when it would be cheaper to make it at home.

He’s right, of course. It’s so much cheaper, if I could actually get some writing done – and then, too, I’m not really in a place I would call home. I exist in between right now, waiting for people who owe me to pay me so that I can create a home. Things that I don’t share with him. Things he doesn’t know. Things that I do not have to explain to anyone.

Things I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone.

And he’s out there. He shouted to me a few times over the last few weeks, across the road, and I ignored him or briefly waved. I bit back a few times, restraining myself against his barbed comments. I bit back  that if he was as bright as he was portraying himself, he wouldn’t be a security guard making small talk with anyone polite enough to listen. About how his theories on governance and his expressed thoughts on race went beyond dating him and actually seem to have married him unhappily.

About how his anger at the way the world is has nothing to do with me.

He is outside right now. He is unhappy.  Why is he unhappy? I imagine the world is not what he wants it to be – why else would he be unhappy? Why else would his negativity overflow through his mouth so readily? What stories would he tell? Decades of misplaced hopes and dreams made into human form….

We all have stories. We all have disappointments. What path took him so far down this lonely road? What was it that made him so unhappy?

There would probably be a woman. Or a man. Some romantic interest that didn’t work out. To fit the stereotype, they probably didn’t even look at him or acknowledge his presence – and if they did, it was to unconsciously let him know that they had found someone they liked who, in his opinion, had the misfortune of not being him. Maybe they made more money, maybe they were better educated. That sort of thing twists people into knots, making evil caricatures of them until they unravel.

Or maybe he lost someone close to him that he couldn’t help, and so he blamed himself – but in being unable to accept that pain, he pushed it into the mirror of the world so he could look at it and be angry at it. People do that, you know. Life is unfair, and we all have our ways of dealing with it.

Or, perhaps – just perhaps – he’s an asshole and has simply been refining it over the decades.

Regardless, he does not speak to me anymore. What he thinks of me is a topic for the next person polite enough to get trapped in that web. And he’s outside, lurking for the next victim to twist into his evil circus of a world.

A Box of Kittens. (Updated)

KittensUpdate: Seems like someone was monitoring the box – it was gone today, with the kittens. Guilty consciences can be a bitch.

Someone left a box of kittens next to my freshly graded driveway on the land. Not the ones pictured, I did not take a picture of them.

In fact, I passed the box for a few days before one day I looked inside. Kittens.

“Kittens”, I thought, “What should I do with them? And what sort of asshole would leave them here? They must have been here for at least 4 days.”

I looked them over. They seemed in good health, but I am no kitten expert. I do know, however, that there are cats nearby. I know that there are homes nearby that had kittens. I look at the kittens again.

Genetics are pretty easy to go by. I knew where these kittens had come from. I could toss them in the back of the pickup and take them back. I could also take them to some humane society, but I know how that works too – languishing animals waiting to be adopted, pictures circulating on Facebook posted by upset people – typically women in my streams – and how they wish people were better… people.

And no one seems to have thought all this through, or seen it through, and seen that domesticated animals procreate even more than humans. There’s just too many.

I peer in the box again. I have no space for them where I am staying until I build my home – I barely have space for my thoughts there, much less kittens when the resident cats on the roof would probably eat these things alive. Literally.

It’s a cat eat kitten world, children, it’s not dog eat dog.

Wait. How did this become my problem? I’ll tell you how. Someone had a cat, or cats, and they leave them outside to fend for themselves – much as they do for dogs in Trinidad and Tobago. They control pests, and they’re of fleeting use that way though they are more of an invasive pest that kills birds – which, really, on agricultural land we’re good enough at with pesticides, weedicides, fungicides, all the ‘-icides’ that we use.

I could take them somewhere and hoist them on some children whose parents would be stuck with them. With litter boxes. And let’s not forget the links to mental health that cats have.

The mother is nearby. This I know, because I know where the kittens came from.

I move the box from the drain so they don’t get swamped in a rain. That I can do.

The next day, I look in on them. They seem to be well. And the next day, and the next day. I do not interfere anymore. This is the world we live in. There is little out here for them to eat when they grow older unless they hunt, and they will eventually find their way back to the place that dumped them off and tried to make them my problem.

Failing that, the predators will get them.

Failing that, they become predators.

It is the way of things.