“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.


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.

Battling The Trinidad Roseau

Bactris major Jacq.I lost 2 pounds of weight in 4 days. And I did it dealing with a Trinidad Roseau (bactris major) clump. It might be interesting to market the “Roseau diet”.

Roseau is, in my best description, weaponized chlorophyll. It’s nature’s answer to botanical warfare, designed specifically to keep out invasive species. Like mammals. Like humans. Like… me. Those spikes that you see in the photo break off from the stalks very easily. They go through the ‘cut proof’ gloves with relative impunity. And they cling together, thumbing their metaphorical noses at the Hedgehog’s Dilemma.

I loved every minute of battling it, and I’m almost a little sad that I’ve gotten rid of most of the clump, on the downhill slope of the battle that it is losing. The only casualty I’ve had is 50 feet of rope (264 lb test) that failed while I was pulling down some with the pickup, “Artsy”.

During the last days of battle, I’d come out of the bush – jersey and pants soaked with sweat. “Picker” from other plants, those annoying seeds that cling to you, all over my clothing and in my hair. I had half a mind to go into a Starbucks down here, order a coffee and sit down while writing in a notebook just to offend a few people, but I was too tired to bother.

There are people all over the world, sitting in offices, spending money on gym memberships, paying tanning salons… when all you have to do… is go outside and work on some land.

Thoreau was onto something good:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

— Henry David Thoreau.

Yes, you’re breathing, but when last have you lived?

Intermission: Maracas Bay.

Maracas Bay, Trinidad and Tobago - fishing village side.It was time for an intervention.  So I headed to Maracas Bay, a place of memories and where I could think. More importantly, it’s a place I don’t have to think.

The drive up from South Trinidad was without event, a meditation in it’s own right (and some new exercise for the newer pickup) – and the North Coast Road a pleasure as I went through the gears until I came behind someone whose use of brakes was… mildly annoying.

I found a spot between two coconut trees, and eyed the trees for dry nuts. They’re usually picked clean, but until you’ve seen what a falling coconut does to a vehicle, you don’t truly understand the peril. All clear. And, without hesitation, into the water.

It’s cool. Cold. It’s early in the morning – 8 a.m. – so the water’s latent heat hasn’t risen from hours in the sun. It’s quiet on the beach at this hour. A few people bathe nearby, but not too near. Trudging in, the cold water licks it’s way upward even as the waves come in higher on the upper body. A decision has to be made. A dive, going under the waves, feeling it rush across your skin, through your hair. The sound of the wave rolls behind you, and you feel the pull of the next. Hold your breath. Feel the wave pass. Surface.

And you’re staring at the horizon, the little annoyances of life beginning to rinse off. It would be a long day to get rid of them all- the lies that you’ve heard, the excuses, the relegation to some sort of beast unworthy of their thought. The time spent dealing with the ashes and dust of other people’s mistakes, their demands, their fickle wants, their implicit selfishness inflicted on others around them. Everyone wants to organize their sock drawer, few actually wear socks. And it washes away as I stare at the horizon, occasionally plumbing the depths on this side of the beach where the boats swing in the water.

It strikes me that as a boy, I stared at the same horizon and my goal was to see what was beyond it – and here I am now, having seen what is there. It was magical then, a sense of wonder, a sense of escape as I grew older – to go beyond that horizon. I went well beyond it, and while there are places I will never see, those places that I have seen I have truly seen. I know how people live there, I have eaten in their kitchens and even my own there. I have seen them dance and sing, and I have heard their frustrations and felt them myself to an extent when I was there – wherever there was. I have seen the beaches, the forests, the deserts, the swamps, and I have seen all four seasons. And I have seen things I never expected to see, like the Aurora Borealis, or Mt. Fuji, or… so many other places and things.

And in each place, there is a horizon with someone wondering what is beyond it, but trapped in the bubble others made, little man made prisons that are large enough for a soul to survive but inadequate for it to truly draw breath.

Something hits me. It’s a plastic Solo bottle. I uncap it to fill it partially – the orange scent rises – closing the cap, 1/4 full, it easily sails to the waves before crashing to the shore when I throw it. Damned litter everywhere.

How this beach has changed over the years. Despite the broken cousins of R2-D2 on the shore across the bridge painted in garish cheap colors, litter finds its way into the water that was once pristine. The use of those bins is as alien as my description. I encounter more bottles washing in, a blue plastic bag filled only with sea water – probably the former home of the plastic bottles. Humans are a plague. Some people wander around doing ‘cleanups’, but that’s not sustainable.

I think about the Trinidad and Tobago property tax, an attempt to make money, and how simply charging people who litter with exorbitant fees would probably bring in more money. A Sisyphean task.

That rinses away, too, in time. The sun presses upward. It’s 11 a.m. – an underwater swim to one of the boats, then back. I’m reminded that I am no longer 16. Or 21. Or 23. In fact, I’m no longer 44 numbers. Fortuitously, there are infinite more, though I know I have probably seen more than half of the number I will see. That’s life. Empty promises, glass ceilings with sharp stone floors, the misplaced rendezvous,  being unimportant to some while being too important to others – it’s all life. The lies and deceits of others continue washing away.

You cannot lie to yourself in the ocean. It will simply not let you – it will kill you otherwise.

Hunger. I decide to walk to the places on the more popular side of the beach.

Wandering past the blaring and distorted chutney music, where Puncheon rum is going down faster than sobriety, across the sharp stoned area where the children are playing…. “Go, children, play on the sharp stones while we drink rum! What could possibly happen?”….

I cross the bridge. The little riverlet that leads to the beach has some rubbish in it – less than I expected, more than I would want to see. It’s the dirty little secret someone with a brain would have put a net across, but those with brains in civil service are forced to remove them during working hours so as not to interfere with the status quo.

I see the new white chairs- the signs for rentals. There are rows of these plastic lounge chairs, congealed with an odd combination of tanning oil and sunblock in the proportions of the colors of the people who use them. Women in a fashion show of their own makeup, perfect hair and makeup, speak among themselves. The wind blows the mixture of perfumes my way. A confused bouquet, an olfactory disaster reminiscent of the skivvy houses in Okinawa – where the jobs of the women are easily seen by the underwear on the lines during the day, only here that is not the case. Here, they are simply strutting to be seen. Maybe. I have no time to go ask, and it’s probably better that way.

I smirk to myself as I continue on, watching the newer culture of the beach. People stare at their phones, people getting drunk, everyone looking very trendy – in that, they all pretty much look like each other from a distance. A sea of people of the same mindset. That’s what a culture is, where it ends up dressing the same, speaking the same, and largely saying the same things – right or wrong, largely indifferent.

Shrimp and Bake at Asha’s. The line for the ‘best’ at Richards is longer than my patience will allow for, so I order a shrimp and bake at Asha’s, load it with spicy mango and hot pepper sauce -they claim it is very hot. ‘Very hot’ north of the lighthouse, I suppose. The shrimp is more flour than meat, the bake paltry, but I am hungry and it fills me. I walk back, feeding my empty Red Solo bottle into a stray cousin of R2D2.

People try to sell me things. The calabashs were attractive, but I don’t need things… that I don’t need… and if everyone can get one simply by coming to what has become the most popular beach in Trinidad, then it’s not worth having. Of course, you should buy one, because his stuff is nice. I’m just a minimalist. I don’t want to have to worry about a calabash I won’t use.

Neat rows of cotton candy are also being walked around the beach. Necklaces, wrist bands, all hand made of course. I wore similar things 30 years ago. It’s good to see them making a comeback, but I know that jewelry has a tendency to break off of me.

Back to the water. To the depths. I can tell it’s almost time to go as people begin imposing in my area. One starts speaking to me, telling me he’s from Penal, and how someone paid him $700 to come up here, that he’s staying sober – only a beer every now and then – and providing them with food and everything for their excursion. An entrepreneur servicing people without vehicles, or who choose to drink rather than drive. Not a bad thought. I think to ask for the father of a woman I once dated from Penal, but decided not to open that can of worms.

It is time to go. The people are here en masse. I head to the pickup and grab the camera to snap a few pictures. A fisherman pulls in with his net:

Pull the net, get the fish

A child runs up to help, encouraged by the adults, and starts pulling too. They call to others on the beach of the white lounge chairs, and a crowd begins to form.

Pull the net, get the fish

It grows larger, pulling at the net of fish until it is ashore. And the fishermen literally give away their livelihood, unlike when it happens in Mayaro. People are rushing for bags to put fish in.

Pull the net, get the fish

Meanwhile, with all of this going on, the police officer next to me mentions the boat that pulled into Pirate’s Bay during all of this. “A distraction.”

Time to go.

Intermission is over.