2018: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Begins.

UntitledA lone drunk walks down the trace where I live, shouting, “Pay the devil jab jab” at 3 a.m. this morning – lost from a J’ouvert somewhere in South Oropouche, I’m sure, where WASA water flows more slowly than puncheon rum. Where WASA, in fixing things, inordinately breaks something else.

It’s the start of Carnival 2018. There are plenty of people out there right now enjoying all the festivities, and there will be many more. Celebrities like Trevor Noah are around, giving local performers their 15 seconds of fame in the Internet age.

It’s not my thing. To say that out loud, or dare write it, is seen as a travesty by some. But really, it’s not my thing. I haven’t enjoyed Carnival since the late 1980s as a young man full of hormonal energy – not that I haven’t tried, or others have not tried to have me do so.

Right now, photographers I know are out there getting brilliant shots of Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest event. One, Sarita Rampersad (unrelated), even took even more pictures of people on mobile phones, which you can see in an album properly titled (Dis)connected Mas. Global Voices interviewed her in 2016 about the same thing – we can see that it hasn’t had much of an effect on what people do. This year, they went with her ‘Steups emoji‘ which – and Sarita knows this – I see in a different way, as do a few others, but it is something. And a steups is appropriate when selfies and phones are disconnecting people from the most extroverted event in Trinidad and Tobago.

Because that’s what extroverts do these days, too. Where is the line between extroversion and narcissism? There isn’t any; there’s just overlap. It’s also odd to explore in the context of what we decide to share of ourselves. I’m neither, yet I share plenty that I wish to. There is room for exploration here, introspection, and some thoughtfulness.

But it’s Carnival – seen by some to be the antithesis of thoughtfulness. I know better. There are very thoughtful people out there, the vast majority, keeping things fun and real – which should be the focus. It’s escapism that comes from new found ‘freedom’ – a debatable topic if you look around Trinidad and Tobago and the financial chains that burden so many, where the hand that you hold is more often than not the hand that holds you down. That’s global, though.

Yet the news, even internationally, talked about the squelching of a terrorist threat – locally you can see the smoothing over of it; Newsday, Trinidad Express, Trinidad Guardian. The facts are lacking; now 7 men have been held last I checked. One target was allegedly the U.S. Embassy (how original) – internationally, CNN covered the story and put the U.S. military on top of things. Local police are saying otherwise, smoothing that over, while I first read about the potential threat from a British source. It’s anybody’s game. In the end, though, nothing is actually publicly known except how many were held – and one has to wonder why it made the news in the first place until one considers that it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt. That spread like wildfire on WhatsApp groups.

But T&T has short term memory loss, which leads to not being able to remember much in the long term. Until something happens. Or happens again. And then short term memory loss happens again – even in local media. Trevor Noah showed up. What terrorists? How is this not on Global Voices yet?

Never fear. The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service are keeping everyone safe and secure from 8,000 lbs of Venezualan dasheen. The guns and drugs come from the very same place, but the dasheen problem is real enough to local farmers. Unfortunately, because of the lack of dealing with drugs and guns – people have theories on why – the Minister of Agriculture was mocked for supporting the police here even though violent crime isn’t his jurisdiction.

We’ll all sleep better with that contraband dasheen off the streets.

It’s a comedy that writes itself into tears. We won’t even get into ‘tiefing a wine‘, a strange thing given the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, where outfits for Carnival get smaller every year and costs for them go up. Where suggestive dancing is encouraged; where some say only men ‘tief a wine’. We know better. Yes, it can be construed as assault.

Don’t hug me without consent, by the way. With an accusation, I can get you sent to jail for assault.

And until Ash Wednesday jail, Trinidad and Tobago will forget all of this. As it should.

But on Wednesday, will it remember?

The Bookstore

Rain. Bookstore. I read the Glad well before, but find myself referencing when I don't have a copy.I’d needed a haircut for a few days, but the stylists – whatever you wish to call them – were having bouts of the flu. Today, though, I called and faced the traffic to get there, to have my hair cut – and the lady in charge was kind enough to throw in a complimentary shampoo. The shampoo involved a head massage by a woman I can only describe as gifted.

I was in a good mood. It was rainy. I did not want to go home; a lady asks me if I was hungry – a hint that I was boggled at to the point where I fumbled it. I left, and went to a place I am always comfortable. A bookstore.

In entering, I was immediately asked if I needed help. I said no, and began perusing titles – I liked the Louis L’amour, I always have, so I picked that up because I hadn’t read these stories by the dead author. Some will point out that he wasn’t the best Western writer, talking about how his publishers made sure his books were prominent… I don’t know. I do know that my father purchased all of them, that a Louis L’amour novel lasts me about 4 hours at most, but that I always enjoy them.

Another young woman comes up to me and asks me if I need help. I said no again.

A few more minutes perusing. Looking for minds more original than my own has become difficult; I scan titles and look at cover art. I read the back covers, instantly annoyed at how marketers have taken over that spot to tell people what other people have said about the book.

I don’t give a shit what anyone else says about the book, I want to know what the book is about.

And… a young man comes up to me and asks me if I need help. I stare at him. “You’re the third.”

“What?”

“The third person who asked me if I needed help. I don’t understand why. If I’m in a bookstore and I need help, I probably shouldn’t be in a bookstore.” I said this maybe a little more annoyed than I should have, but I let it sink in a moment. This attempt to play librarian in a bookstore forgets that the librarian sits quietly until provoked; the librarian doesn’t go around asking people, “Do you need help?”

I scan titles I’ve seen easily in the background as I considered the plight of the young man.

“Look, I’m sorry, you didn’t deserve that and you’re doing your job as your employer says you should – and maybe even as the market dictates. So I apologize. It’s just that I know my way around the bookstore, I like the joy of finding things I couldn’t possibly tell you about because I don’t know them yet.”

He accepts the apology, but I see that my former words had stung more than my latter words had soothed. He wanted to explain. I let him, let him let the ooze rip from the cyst I had accidentally incised with my words, nodding at moments, keeping eye contact, but flipping through the books I had scanned in my mind. He needed to let go of something, I didn’t need to hear it. His face relaxed. He was done. I smiled, nodded and said, “I think I understand” and continued looking over the shelves of books.

The young woman who had asked me if I needed help first witnessed the exchange. She assured me he was fine, but her assurance didn’t mean he was fine. He was sensitive. People had been nice to me today. Part of me wanted to shout at him to toughen up, the other part regretted my casual abrasiveness. The latter won this time.

Most of the books were ancient in the age of the Internet; a point of anguish for me sometimes, but also a time of opportunity to see some of how the roots of present ideas form. I read very, very fast – not ‘speedreading’. I just read fast and have a reading comprehension that frustrates me to no end when people with degrees are so bad at it. So, while the books are generally what’s sent and left in this tropical armpit of the planet, where books come to die, there are opportunities to explore things – with the knowledge that the information in them is likely outdated. It’s better than reading ingredients on soup cans.

I peruse some more, finding the Gladwell that I so often tried to use as a reference for some of the solid concepts he has written about – but I had left my copy in Trinidad the first time I had left, had left the copy I had in Florida, and was down here without a copy. And I picked up one on the rise and fall of information empires — something that I’m constantly researching new perspectives on (because none of them truly fit). I explore more, seeing the same tired titles that no one wanted yet.

I encounter the young woman I had first met upon entering the store – she’s nestled quietly in a corner with a book, reading.

“Ahh, that’s exactly what I would be doing if I worked here.” Nothing makes a literate person more comfortable than seeing the person working there reading instead of pestering them, in my mind, but we’ve already established I’m an outlier (gratuitous Gladwell reference).

She looks up and smiles, “I love working here. I get to read.” Well, look at this – a rare bird in this day and age, the Literati Exoticus.

She looks at the books in my hand, “I see you found some things. Why did you choose them?”

So I go through, explaining, “Well, the Louis L’amour is like cocaine to read; it’s fast, action packed, well paced and unfortunately over quickly leaving you wanting more. The Gladwell is something I like to refer to when writing, but I don’t have a copy so I’m getting this one. And this one is about Information Empires, which I’m interested in because I find myself writing about them indirectly.”

“You’re a writer?”

“Ugh. I wrote an eBook that got published back in 2005 or 2006. I wasn’t pleased with it, but yes, I’ve been published and I do write… though I haven’t published a book since then.”

“Why not?”

“Partly things changing so fast, partly procrastination and all the excuses not to write, and partly too many projects I’ve started and not finished.”

“I want to write children’s books.”

“Then write one.”

“I’m procrastinating.”

We laugh. In conversation she points to the bookshelf next to her as a generic reference to books and accidentally points at “50 Shades of Grey”. I laugh, telling her what she pointed at – and looking around to see that the store was empty of other customers, went on to say, “That book is so horribly written.”

Enter sensitive Third, who apparently loves the book. I try to make the distinction, “I’m not saying it’s a bad book… I’m saying it’s horribly written.” An attempt to be honest without being dishonest to smooth over the sting. This poor guy looked like someone kept walking by and killing puppies. I decided that there was nothing to be done, that I had been kind enough, that part of growing up was facing facts and that the “my puppy died” face was just to trigger enablers.

Fuck enablers. I’ve seen too many make children of what could have been men in my generation and prior. There’s a place for sensitivity, but there’s that thin line.

“Listen, it’s a popular book, but being popular doesn’t mean it’s well written. In fact, the BDSM community came out against the book. Writers mock the book openly. But people buy it, just like people think McDonalds sells hamburgers.”

His eyes grow distant, as if I had also killed puppies in the distance. Or maybe he was sad yet thoughtful. It’s not my business, my business is being honest and, at times, hurting feelings – conscientiously, for ‘the greater good’.

I bought my books, having made a friend of one person there and having killed a few virtual puppies of the other – a shame because if the puppies were real, I’d probably still be playing with them. Who doesn’t like puppies?

Exited stage, left.

“Please take a seat”

She asks me to sit down. This is, of course, innocent and polite, but the system itself has done this to me one time too many. I was here for my contacts, I’d been through the testing, I’d been through two aftercare appointments, and every wait starts with, “Please have a seat in the waiting area.”

I’d been told on Monday that they would order the contacts, that they would be there on Thursday, and when I asked if they would call me I got an uncertain look about it which told me, “Maybe”, which tells me, “Probably not”, which I infer as “No”. While it’s nice to assume good, when it comes to systems of bureaucracy, unless you get a confident ‘Yes’, the answer should be taken as ‘no’.

I tell her, “No, I’ll stand right here. This should not take long; either you have them or you don’t and if you don’t, there’s no reason for me to linger.” She gives an awkward assent, scurrying to the back, this poor young girl used to the domestic herbivores who do as they are told when they are told because they are told.

I drift to the back, watching as people awkwardly come to the front desk looking around at the room full of employees, trying to decide how to politely get someone’s attention. One bearded fellow adjusts the stapler, ignoring the people at the desk. These are the same people who would call me twice when I had an appointment, to my annoyance, to make sure that I would be there – and here they were, unable to deal with the asynchronous.

As it happens, they didn’t have my contacts – it took 3 people to tell me that, a symptom of disconnected systems, of silos. The second one asks me to take a seat again, “No, I’m tired of sitting in here over the past few months.”

She tries a joke, “Well, we don’t have an option for people to lie down.”

She wriggles away under one of the looks I give people when they say something stupid and I don’t want to be a jerk. There was a time when I would just look down and shake my head, now I make eye contact and let my mask fall away. More than one person, even friends, have said that this is uncomfortable.

The third woman cuts in quickly, having dealt with me before.

“Did someone call you about them?”
“No; On Monday I was told they were ordered and would be here by Thursday. Today is Saturday.”
She properly apologizes, double checks. “I will personally call you when they come in.”

“Thank you.”

None of this required me to sit down. None of this required an elaborate process where I had to be handed off between people. And I’ve found, as much as I hate it, by unleashing myself just a little bit – just enough – they learn to adapt when they see me.

But the first pass is always so annoying.

Retirement Eclipse.

eclipseI’ve grown used to not worrying about things. It’s a comfortable way to live, like a hobbit in the Shire, having done my travels and having avoided coming how with any rings. I’m content, my health is better, and I sleep well at night – something that I’ve not been able to do since I was an infant. I may not live a life many people want but it is a life I have been content with. I’ve been writing a lot more. Some of it has even managed to slowly become something like a book.

I’d forgotten that I’d promised to attend the 13th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum at a local hub here in Trinidad and Tobago for at least one day. Flattery was tried to get me to go, and that almost never works because I don’t believe thinking highly of one’s self is of worth – knowing one’s value is. And in the end, it was the latter that got that promise out of me. From there, it was a simple matter of me keeping my word.

Well, it wasn’t a simple matter. The morning of, as I sipped my coffee and planned the day as I usually do, I realized just how much I didn’t want to go. For about 15 minutes, I toyed with the idea of saying I would come on the last day… but I had given my word, and I had written a day, so I could not do otherwise. Instead, I thought about why I didn’t want to go. Here’s what I came up with. I expected:

  1. The organization of the event to be done on the cheap, with glaring issues, and with inhibited participation.
  2. To hear much the same things I had heard before.
  3. To see more bureaucracy being created to try to change things, which is exceptional in that bureaucracy is created so things do not change. (Read James Gleick’s book, “Faster”).
  4. I would meet new people who would be thinking that these problems were all new and that we hadn’t been working on them.
  5. I would meet old people who had gotten so lost in the details that the larger picture was not as clear to them anymore (it happens; don’t protest too much).
  6. I would have to listen to bureaucratic doublespeak, something more tedious than Latin because Latin has the good sense to be accurate and does not tolerate ambiguity. Bureaucratese, on the other hand…
  7. I would end up involved since so few people are involved and engaged.

And, as it happens, I was exactly right. 

Repetition: Trinidad and Tobago

Nothing To HideI don’t comment much on Trinidad and Tobago because there’s not really that much to comment about. It’s all the same thing over and over again. To write commentaries on most things is simply to repeat myself.

I hate repeating myself.

I hate repeating myself.

I hate repeating myself.

I hate… well, that’s my threshold. I can’t find myself doing it again.

There’s only one thing that’s worse than being wrong: It’s being right.

Reading B.C. Pires’s Thank God It’s Friday, I can’t help but wonder how he has handled this over the years. There are others who comment as well, and they too continue to repeat themselves – a litany of the ills, a litany of what could be changed, a chorus sung at one time only on paper and now more interestingly on the Internet.

Through the volume of share ideas and opinions on things in T&T, if you hit squelch the same solutions keep popping up. Emotional opinions, grounded in nothing more than how something is said or written, drive the rational underground into caverns where they shake their heads. Rum talk, all of it.

In this way, Trinidad and Tobago is the planet in microcosm.

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?

And if it’s government land, that’s another problem altogether.

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 make 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.

 

 

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.