November 24, 2005

Why We Hate Homosexuals So Much

As talk of decriminalizing homosexuality (to be more accurate, anal and oral sex between two men) sweeps through the Caribbean region and the resulting outrage ensues, I cannot help but ask myself, how come our people hate gays so much? Some would say, “We are islands that embrace Christian values and the bible says it is a sin.” However it is an oversimplified response. The most virulent homophobes are usually not Christian nor strict bible adherents. Dancehall artists famous for calling for violence against gays are certainly are no bible behaving saints. In fact most of us in general, do not abide by strict biblical law in everything, from eating pork to losing our temper to premarital sex to our Carnival revelry to gossip. They are just a drop in the bucket of biblical sins most of us are guilty of, yet we are very quick to quote scripture when it comes to homosexuals. Our “bible says so” explanation is more of a convenient excuse than anything else. In an effort to find out the root of our hatred and intolerance we need to dig deeper beneath the predictable reactions and religious arguments. We need to look at our history, our origins because our fear, shame and hate of gay people (men in particular) is far more universal a modern cultural phenomena among black people whether we are from the Caribbean, America or Africa. Therefore I must ask, what is our common experience? What is our common heritage?

An unbiased historical and anthropological look back will show us what our past feelings towards homosexuals were probably like when we were back in our indigenous tribes in West, Central and Southern Africa long before the arrival of the European colonialists. I know many Afrocentrics often deny that homosexuality was a feature of African cultures in ancient times. They love to spread the myth that homosexuality is primarily a modern phenomenon, a “white man’s disease”. Ironically, they have been unwittingly anglicanized to have this myopic view. Every great ancient civilization or culture has had homosexuals in it, whether tolerated or not. For two centuries at the height of the Han, China was ruled by ten openly bisexual emperors, whose names have been recorded in the official histories of the period by Sima Qian and Ban Gu. There is the legendary "nanshoku" loves recorded by
writers and shunga painters who immortalized "shudo," the love between samurai warriors in feudal Japan. There is an abundance of homoerotic art from ancient Rome, Greece, Inca and Mayan civilisations. French colonists have recorded accounts of the “bedarches” among the Native Americans and “fa’ faine” of the South Pacific. During the Islamic Renaissance, famous Iranian and Arab poets such as Hafiz i-Shirazi and Abu Nuwas wrote pages of homoerotic poetry. Therefore homosexuality and bisexuality are ubiquitous, existing in all cultures, and at all times in history. How come these Afrocentrists want us to believe that our mother land was somehow the exception to the rule? Simple, they are being dishonest and it begs the question: “Other races and cultures have owned up to gays in their history, why is it a source of shame and fear for our descendants of ancient African civilisations to do the same?”

The answer is we were taught to feel that shame and fear by the same colonial influences we now speak against. So deep is the indoctrination we cannot even look at our own Motherland honestly. Dictator Robert Mugabe is such a prime example of such a person. He accuses the British of bringing the “disease of perversion” to his country of Zimbabwe and refuses all attempts to foster tolerance and equal rights as colonial interference”. What Mugabe does not or chooses not to recognise is that that homosexuality existed in Zimbabwe long prior to European contact. We know this because the "San" people, a tribe indigenous to that country did rock paintings that date back many thousands of years which depict sexual acts between men. The Bantu-speaking peoples of the plateau country have also admitted to ethnographers that homosexuality has been traditionally present in their culture. In Nigeria, another place where advocacy for tolerance is dismissed as “European meddling”, the native Hausa people of northern Nigeria and the surrounding countries offer interesting examples of homosexuality among their people for thousands of years before British colonialism. They speak of, 'yan dauda, which is usually translated as "homosexual" or "transvestite" and 'dan dauda, which translates as a “homosexual wife." There are many stories among the Pangwe of Camaroon of men within their tribe who even when offered a large bride price, still prefer to court other men. The indigenous Igbo people of Nigeria allow “female husbands”, women who display more masculine tendencies are treated as men and allowed to hunt and to marry other women. On the Swahili coast and among many tribes in Lesotho romantic love or intimacy between women was allowed because the perception was that two women could not have sex and such interaction was non-threatening. That these behaviours existed prior to European contact is evidenced by the richness and number of these anthropological findings. Contrary to Mugabe's and other Afrocentrists' assertions, analysis of the old colonial court records shows intense prosecutions of homosexual behaviors among the indigenous peoples of the Shona, Ndebele, Xhosa, Basotho and Zulu by early colonialist courts.

It may seem weird to many that so many people, from the Native Americans to the peoples of the South Pacific to Africa were permissive of homosexuality. However, we must keep in mind that among non-Abrahamic/Judeo/Christian cultures, homosexuality was usually tolerated and even celebrated because they simply had a moral code influenced by different values. First peoples revere nature for life’s lessons and in nature they found abundant examples of sexual anomalies (which modern science has now begun to understand) like hermaphrodites, same-gender sexual behaviour among animals even species that could physically change gender. Therefore to many indigenous tribes around the world, a man who manifested feminine traits was not seen as unnatural or immoral. Gay people were often seen as “twin-spirits” possessing both male and female souls and thus gifted with invaluable talent and insight as spiritual guides, healers, artists and craftsmen. The indigenous peoples often demonstrated an acute awareness and acceptance it took colonial societies years to achieve. On the other side of the world, the European people had long converted from their shamanistic earth religions by a powerful Roman Catholic Church which since the 1200s began to rule with an iron fist. They had a rather different view, one they would end up forcing upon our ancestors.

The history of the church in Europe reveals that there was once tolerance of homosexuality throughout the middle ages. Believe it or not, (though the Church tried to sweep it under the carpet) it is now publicly known that many of its priests and abbots prior to the 1200s were openly gay. Some even left us literature celebrating their gay lovers, among them Marbod, Bishop of Rennes (d. 1123 C.E.) and Saint Aelred whose poetry lives on to this day. However after a dismal loss in the Crusades the church began an intense legalistic campaign that would climax with the Inquisition and last until the 17th Century. Of course, this led to all kinds of repression. The first to feel it were the Jews and Muslims of Europe, then came all women practicing midwifery and traditional healing, all racial minorities and of course homosexuals. In the face of growing Islamic threat from the Mediterranean and Middle East and pagan invaders from Eastern Europe, Mongol and China, there was a zealous thrust to replenish diminished European armies and increase the population and power of the Church’s domain. It was at the Lateran III Council of 1179 the Church took its first official position to outlaw all forms of non-procreative sex. In the 1200's the writings of Thomas Aquinas, reinforced the new thinking of the Catholic Church that semen was thought to be life itself and must never be wasted. Early illustrations of sperm in those times depicted them as tiny human souls. Sex was for pleasure was sinful, even between a husband and wife and should only be used for reproduction. Any men caught in the act of anal or oral copulation were burned, this traditional punishment led to the derogatory term of “faggot”, which means a piece of wood for burning. This was the Europe that came to colonise Africa. Can you picture the culture shock European colonialists felt when they came upon our people?

Writings of Belgian, Dutch, French, Spanish and British colonists to the new worlds in Asia, Africa, North and South America are filled with their horror over the polygamous, sexually-liberated, minimally dressed people who because of their reverence for the earth regarded sex in general as a perfectly natural, life-affirming even spiritual. They could not believe many of the tribes didn’t view homosexuality with the same severe condemnation they did. Among the earliest references to this are some of the records of the Inquisition in Brazil. From the Denunciations of Bahia, (1591-1593): "Francisco Manicongo, a cobbler's apprentice is known among the slaves as a sodomite for 'performing the duties of a female' and for 'refusing to wear the men's clothes which the master gave him.' These passives are called jimbandaa in the language of Angola and the Congo, which means passive sodomite. The accuser claimed to have seen Francisco Manicongo "wearing a loincloth such as passive sodomites wear in his land of the Congo and immediately punished him." It’s funny how today we may see Europeans as sexually liberal when thousands of years ago, they were the prudes. They were the homophobes. Of course they were being immensely hypocritical (just like we are now after being indoctrinated by them) because the fact remains that while they were punishing what they saw as sexual deviancy in our various tribal cultures, homosexuality was still rampant in their own ranks. Europe had a great double standard with richer classes and royalty being excused from prosecution for homosexual acts while the plebs felt the full wrath of the iron fisted church. Indeed, among noted homosexuals was King James, the royal for whom a version of the bible was named. Added to this their racism led to their presumption they were innately and culturally superior to our people. They forced our ancestors to wear their impractical style of clothing in the boiling tropical heat, to cover the naked human body which they felt was shameful. They forced us to practice their form of religion and its moral code and laws. Our culture was condemned by foreigners too close-minded to understand it. They embarked upon a well-financed campaign to indoctrinate our people to feel violently ashamed, fearful and hateful of their own traditions and of each-other.

Abused victims turn their fear of punishment and hatred of the punisher inward. As is often the case, the new convert becomes more of an extremist zealot than the one who converted him, especially when there is much at stake for him to gain if he proves his utter devotion and dire consequences if he does not. Therefore we began to fear and hate our own deities, earth and ancestral spirits. We began to fear and hate our skin colour and features. As for the minorities who love people of the same gender for whom many tribes had a special place in their traditions, we began to hate them too. To make matters worse, the morally hypocritical Europeans, used anal rape during the slave trade as a means of humiliation and emasculation especially on mentally and physically strong black men to break their spirit. Paedophilia was rampant in the new slave based colonies because a culture of repression, injustice, violence and hypocrisy always breeds dysfunctional predatory behaviours. Many young African boys were sexually abused by their white masters and especially picked because they had no recourse. In addition, the family unit was split, black men kept in isolation from their women, they were housed together in cramped barracks and this as well led to many non-consensual releases of sexual frustration and the resulting anger and shame about it. All the ill-feelings created by this common experience among our people have been handed down, distilled, supplemented with religious belief from generation to generation down to this day. So now even after emancipation, even after the fight for civil rights, most black men’s impressions of homosexuality are related to either violent events stemming from being incarcerated, degraded or emasculated in some way. The systematic destruction of the black man’s worth as a man for hundreds of years; the resulting desperation to prove his manhood as well as the fear of being “soft” in tough, racist, poverty-stricken societies all have led to a culture of accepted homophobia, a common thread among all Afro-ethnic communities worldwide. Ironically when we feel we are lashing out against “Babylon system” by bashing our gay brothers and sisters, we are really lashing out at a part of our own African heritage which they represent. Colonial racism and homophobia go hand in hand. White racists who believe black people are supposed to be subhuman slaves and the bible justifies it also persecute gay people as well. Who would have thought that dancehall artist Buju Banton and David Duke Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan have something in common?

Today Europe and America continues to apologize for its contribution to slavery and oppression that imprisoned people like Nelson Mandela. They have long since condemned their old laws used to imprison gay people like Oscar Wilde as discriminatory and inhumane. Even the Catholic Church has acknowledged the atrocities of the Inquisition, forced conversion and slavery (although they still cling to the legislation formed during that time with regard to non-procreative sex) were wrong, unjustified and have attempted to be more compassionate towards homosexuals. However, we who live in the Caribbean and places like Zimbabwe cling to colonial fear and intolerance, claiming it as our own even when the nations that forced it upon us have long reconciled them to be unjust. So deep is that colonial wound that even when we try to “return to Mother Africa” we refuse to relinquish the homophobia inculcated in us by Europe. It would be a different story if our intolerance was helping us in some way, but unfortunately it is doing the exact opposite. Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, speaking four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband's assassination, said, "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice, but I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’” Speaking before nearly 600 people at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, she called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias. "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood," King stated. "This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spreads all too easily to victimize the next minority group." ** We may be predisposed culturally to this form of hatred, but we do not have to let it run our lives. It’s time that we black people whether from the Caribbean, Americas or Africa emancipates ourselves from homophobia which is only another form of mental slavery.

References: Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality- Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century by John Boswell, Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan by Gary P. Leupp, Changing Ones : Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America by Will Roscoe “Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands- Studies in African-American Homosexualities” by Will Roscoe and Stephen O Murray , ** Chicago Defender, April 1, 1998, front page.

November 02, 2005

Could Dictatorship Be The Answer?

I cannot believe I am actually saying this, but could it be that we here in the Caribbean, the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to be exact, are simply not capable of having a functional democracy? Could it be that our present parliamentary system is just out of sync with the realities of our existence and actually works against us, not for us? Could dictatorship be the answer?

Now I am a big fan of democracy but at the same time it seems quite clear to me that such an ideal can only work under certain circumstances. Take a look at what is happening in Iraq and you will see the beginnings of a democratic disaster. Shush! All you who immediately say, “You are not giving Iraqis enough credit. Why do you underestimate them?” Silly optimists I say. Why? Because you are the ones not giving Iraqis enough credit. You are not giving credit to their history, their diversity and their fundamentalist religious sectarianism which all go against the notion that all men are created equal and shall have a say in the government. A democracy cannot work alongside a theocracy. A democracy cannot work alongside abysmal chasms in class, culture and gender relations. A democracy cannot work when the people themselves are not empowered nor inclined towards it. The Iraqi people as we know them today are actually comprised of three main separate tribes who were forced to form a de facto country by Western outsiders. Tribal politics is in their blood, their heritage, their culture. Of course, the Western world has always been blissfully and deliberately ignorant and unconcerned about the cultural preferences of foreign brown skinned and darker people with funny accents. We assume everyone wants to live just like Americans and Europeans not so? Don’t those people know what’s good for them?

Well, actually they DO. The separate fractions in Iraq each want back their own homeland. They each want to live and be governed within their own tribal culture and religious rules. Those who believe women should be covered up from head to toe and be little more than property do not want to abide by any constitution that says otherwise. Those who believe the opposite do not want to have to answer to those who disagree and so on. A piece of paper is not enough to reverse hundreds of years of tradition. A democracy rooted in Western idealism more so than Arab reality, will crumble under religious revolt. Sad to say it but the only thing that was able to hold that fragile nation together was a powerful dictatorship. And yes, Saddam was an infected asshole of universal dimensions who committed genocide but the fact remains that people feared him and got in line. Religious fundamentalism had to take a back seat and women were allowed to seek higher education and careers. Now the Islamic extremists are killing female teachers and students.

On that note, let’s return home. The present situation in Trinidad and Tobago, like Iraq, is beginning to make me question our readiness for a democracy. Note I used the word, “readiness” instead of maybe a word like, “worthiness.” For while we are indeed worthy as all countries are of whichever system of government they so desire, I am starting to question our ability to handle a democracy. In fact I doubt we ever did have a democracy. Let me get specific here. The people of my home land have no real power and cannot effect change in any way. The government simply does not listen to them. The media is either under government control or is stifled and threatened when it probes too deeply or works against the government’s political agenda. Many of our laws are not rooted in equality or even practicality for that matter, but are arcane Victorian inspired, semi religious relics. Top government officials can be bought. There are deep divisions in our country along racial lines and two equally horrific choices of government based solely on race. Each choice is just as autocratic and demeaning to the people as the next. So in fact, we already have an oppressive, corrupt dictatorship. No matter which party is in power, they together with the business sector and criminal masterminds assume free reign of the country. The people are nothing but chattel. Our island’s forests, rivers, beaches, natural resources are nothing but their playground. It is a triune dictatorship that gives a new meaning to our La Trinity which now stands for Business Sector “The Father” (The brains, financier, decision maker and implementer), PNM/UNC “The Son” (The opiate, mouth piece and enabler) and Crime Lords “The Holy Ghost” (The executioner and subjugator).

My people, the time has come for we the people to slay the three headed beast and in order to do so, we cannot direct our attack at the Son. It is not the decision maker in this triangle, it’s power is only given by permission and is nothing more than a puppet of the Father head. The hit must be aimed squarely at the Business Sector. The only power we the people have over our Trinity dictatorship is to cut off their money flow. In order to do this, we must stop being such sissies and learn to live without certain things. We must embrace temporary hardship with hope and comfort in each other. Do not give in to fear and do not believe the PR made-over financial reports that says our economy is booming and so things, “couldn’t be all that bad”. Economic reports only indicate how much money was made by the very same Trinity monster we want to kill. It is getting fat and healthy, why should that be of any reassurance to us who are either outright starving or getting there? We know the vast majority of Trinis are not the ones reaping the benefits of the biggest energy boom in the world’s history. Trinidadians need to stop pretending we currently “fit in” with the popular USA girl and her G8 clique at UN High School. We don’t. We sit at the losers table with Jamaica. Haiti and Rwanda as far as ethnic division, corruption, degradation, disempowerment, human brutality, underdevelopment and just plain frustrating poverty and glaring lack of social services are concerned. Developed countries look at our sorry asses and laugh, wishing they could skip the long route of unfair trade and foreign policy and instead come and directly take everything they envy away from us since we obviously don’t even appreciate our own island, people and our worth, which is why we continue to spread our legs and let that Trinity monster dictatorship rape us for the developed world’s voyeuristic pleasure. “Tsk, tsk, those black people, they have so much wealth and as usual they don’t even know how to run their affairs and stand up for themselves.”

This week my Trini pride was given a hard slap in the face, when in a news report, my country was used in a cautionary tale about corruption and crime along with Jamaica and Colombia. Do you remember when we used to be the island everyone in the Caribbean wanted to imitate? When you told someone in Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia etc you are a Trini or they caught your accent their reaction was, ‘Hey! Trini! You know, I visited Trinidad once! San Juan, I have cousins there! Which part of Trinidad are you from? Maraval? Oooooo I heard there is nice. Oh I love the food, love the parties, love the people, my aunt, cousin boyfriend married to a Trini……” and on and on they will go, happy to bask in your glowing Trini aura. Nowadays it’s, “ Woah… Trini eh? Man, how you surviving living there? I don’t think I could live there nah.” Imagine now we are used as an example of what other islands should NOT become. Despite all our “Miami-esque” condos, shopping malls and wholesale clubs and sports bars and beauty queen material, we have only succeeded in a superficial, materialistic imitation of those powerful developed countries. “New York” of the Caribbean my ass! Who the hell do some Trinis think they are fooling driving their BMWs and Audis on pot holed streets littered with rotting vegetables and used condoms, past shanty towns and vagrants shitting on the sidewalk and street children begging for money? We ain’t all that. Not yet. Some Trinis who worship at the altar of the Father head need to realize that and snap out of the Marie Antoinette daydream they are living in. What we should really imitate from the developed countries is the spirit of the people of those nations when they were not always so rich and powerful. Their people sacrificed life and limb in civil wars, world wars and political revolution and civil protest for social change to make their current affluent democracies what they are today. We have not even begun to sacrifice a grain of rice!

My friends, if indeed we must endure a dictatorship, at least let it be one that sprung from our revolt against our oppressive and inept so-called democracy. If we must endure a dictatorship then let it be called thus openly and honestly. At least with such transperancy we have a greater chance of getting a good leader. One with strong ethics and charisma who can inspire or if necessary FORCE Indo-Trinis and Afro-Trinis together again; go ballistic on the criminals with heavy artillery and manpower; close the class gap, fix the health system and for the sake of us all decree some common sense laws rooted in equality and protection of our environment and resources. If so called ‘democracy” means another 20 years of PNM and UNC then give me a dictator any day. It is more power than we could ever hope to have at present. If our leader gets out of line, we can overthrow him or ask the USA to do it for us, after all, we have oil and natural gas and we’re a stepping stone away from Venezuela, the next country I predict they will soon invade and on which they will force their version of democracy :).

October 28, 2005


Do you have to brace yourself?
As you feel the sick tension rising?
The hairs on your back standing on end
The fists clench in disgusted anticipation
You bristle preparedly
Jaw tight
Eyes blank but harsh
And why?

Ruff neck posse of men approaching
Contstruction workers at 3 o’clock

Oh God let me be invisible
Let me pass quietly like a baby’s gentle fart
Let my tits shrivel up into my chest
Let my lips become a hard line
Let me hunch over like a grandmother
Let my ass fall off and lie bloated like roadkill
And why?

Hungry eyed men on my block, waiting
Old men leechers at 12 o’clock

They devour my body with yellowey eyes
Tongues slimy on bulbous black lips
Snake-like hisses and sucking wet body noises
Callous hands grabbing their smelly crotches
Necks craning into my personal space
Trying to penetrate my shield of protection
Trying to avert my straight-ahead dead stare
Trying to verbally rape me
And why?

I am female
I am black
I am forever to be made a victim because of it
By my own black brothers, who undress those they cannot possess
Black men who refuse to allow a woman to feel an iota of pride
Because it would make them feel impotent inside
Because all they have is a mouth, muscle and cock and little else to offer
And the only way to feed the aching hunger is to tear down another
And why?

©Jessica Joseph

October 26, 2005

Emerging From Hibernation

Greetings fellow aliens!

Yes I know about the search and rescue parties sent out on my behalf. Thank you for all the warm fuzzy thoughts. I am alive and well, winding down my third year in St. Lucia and anticipating everything from a fourth year here (hopefully on a CSME certificate) to God knows what. The universe always has a way of dropping drastic changes into my path.

Right now I am just coming out of a Mt. Everest pile of work and obligations. As those of you who have shared the advertising experience know, August to December is HELL in an agency. Calendars, annual reports, xmas promotions, 2006 marketing plans and more. Furthermore with Digicel's acquisition of Cingular's Caribbean operations in Antigua, Anguilla, St. Kitts, Nevis, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Curacao and Dominica, I have time for little else.

That however does not mean I am not brimming over with issues I need to vent on. Foremost on my mind is the island closest to my heart, Trinidad. I am fighting off massive depression over what is going on. I have stopped reading the online newspapers because it is feeding a fear of returning to my country to start a life. At night I dream of tidal waves, volcanoes and mass panic in the streets of my country. I keep feeling something BAD and unavoidable is going to happen and like most of my friends, the powerlessness is overwhelming. At times the anger in me wells up and I just explode into a rant, sometimes at the most inappropriate of times.

You see, the disgusting mess in Trinidad is part of a wider epidemic that I see infecting almost every island I travel to. Right now in St. Lucia, there is a crime wave and law enforcement too incompetent to stop it. In Trinidad it is kidnappings, over here it is theft and rape, pedophilia in particular is rampant. For an island of only around 160,000 it is disgusting how high it is. The cost of living is going up and the gap between the classes is widening at a fast rate and you can feel the anger and frustration brimming. People snap and quarrel over any petty incident. Just as Trinidadians are losing their joie de vive, so too are Lucians losing their docile demeanor. The office where I work has been broken into THREE TIMES this year, even with an alarm system installed. Attacks on and harassment of tourists is escalating. Just like my home country, those with money have become tense, insular and suspicious. People are desperate and I am growing tired of living in the midst of it and not being able to do anything to dramatically change it. I know so many of you feel the same way.

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? We who have had the comfort of a middle class upbringing and a good education are now experiencing the fear and a dose of the hard financial times of our working class and poor brothers and sisters. Like them, we now know it feels to live in fear in our own neighbourhoods. Like them we now have to decide between two or more equally necessary purchases. Nothing brings into sharp focus all the other problems than fear and swiftly approaching poverty.

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.

June 24, 2005

Basdeo Gandhi and Patrick Mandela - A Trini Story by By Ken Chee Hing

This was so good to read, I just had to put it up on my blog. I think the author has it right on!

DOTISHNESS, like crime, is running rampant in this country these days.

Mere days after the so-called Father of the Nation, Patrick, stood before the Tunapuna masses, and without so much as blinking an eyelid declared that "crime was temporary", along comes Roodal Moonilal — who bold as brass compares the Silver Fox's incarceration at Panday's Pleasure, akin to the sufferings and sacrifices made by Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

What the hell have we the people done to deserve this foolishness?* What could have caused Roodal, a man I once held in high esteem as being intelligent and above party politricks to utter such piffle? I mean to say milking as much political mileage from a silly situation is one thing, but does Roodal not know his history and that it was Panday who decided to stay in jail? In the game of Trini polittricks men and women will say just about anything to score points, after all, we are a great nation of robber talkers. But one would have thought that Patrick's "temporary crime" faux pas would have caused politrickcians to be a bit more careful with what they said especially in the public domain. But I guess we were all wrong. Mooni, if the TV6 news is to be believed — and that is questionable — said Panday's eight-day incarceration at Golden Grove was a struggle against oppression and tyranny and it was similar to the struggles of Mandela and Gandhi. Give me a break!

Now, in my humble opinion, to place politicians and opposition members (even those of the silver fox persuasion) from a third world, back-a-yard country whose leaders and great minds are at best myopic and at worst plain
dotish, in the same hallowed class as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, is not only sacrilegious and obscene, it is looking for jail yuhself.. The world will never see the likes of a Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi again. Panday is ahead of me when it comes to learning Hindi as he was taking lessons at Golden Grove during his self-imposed incarceration. If my supremely inadequate Hindi knowledge is correct, the name Mahatma really means "Great One" or "Great Soul", which was bestowed on a humble fella named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, by a grateful Indian nation after Gandhi's almost single-handed brought down the mighty British Empire's rule over India. Now that is greatness! Nelson, too, had a cause. He spent 27 years of his life locked up and away in Robben Island, breaking stones with a small hammer, all because he stood firm in his belief that all men were equal under God and that Botha and white South Africa had no right to treat black South Africans like animals, denying them rights to land and even simple housing.His humble attitude and acceptance of what was a terrible fate — to be locked away from the world, from loved ones, from family and friends — caused the entire world to stand up and take notice of the atrocities of apartheid. Now that is greatness! Patrick preaching to the masses that he could raise the dead because crime was only temporary — now that is plain dotishness and not greatness. Moonilal and the other UNC players telling people their leader Panday's stay in prison was in the same class of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela — has to be plain dotishness and not greatness on Panday's part. That is dotishness in the extreme and certainly not greatness.
Could you imagine the Silver Fox living in India at the time of the British Raj? Picture Bas turning his back on the luxury of power, doing away with his power suits and Mercedes Benz and instead opting for a humble, simple "Kapre" and walking staff as he leads the masses in a march to the sea to make salt from seawater as a mark of protest against unfair taxes and what not.Picture Oma in simple sackcloth, forsaking the high gloss nail polish and Loreal Deluxe Hair Colouring System and dark Gucci shades, opting instead for a simple Sari and sitting before a spinning wheel with which to spin thread to make Bas' clothes.Oma making sada roti and baigan choka for Mahatma Panday as he reads the Holy Gita, Holy Qur'an and visualises a land free from hate and tyranny. Do you think this could ever happen? Never! I say, the very thought of Bas in sackcloth is just preposterous. And in the words of a certain politician: "That's Insulting!"

The sweet tidings of power is, I am afraid, too great. So what nonsense isthis that people are talking about Bas walking in the same crowd as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela? Undoubtedly, Basdeo Panday will forever stand out in the annals of Trinidad and Tobago politics, but in whose company? Certainly neither Mandela or Gandhi.
And what about dear Patrick? Could you picture Patrick living in South Africa in the days of Botha and the Apartheid? Do you think Patrick Mandela could have the heart (pacemaker included) to sacrifice 27 years of his life in lonely isoloation on Robben Island, solely in the belief that men are created equal? Picture Patrick in simple prison garb — the PNM tie thrown away — and breaking rocks in the hot sun. A vision of Patrick painting stones and pebbles is more possible especially in this CEPEP day and age. But breaking rocks like Nelson Mandela did? Nah! And while poor Patrick is incarcerated on Robben Island, his dutiful wife Winnie Hazel tends to the children and goats wondering if she will ever have the opportunity to make breakfasses for her husband again. Do you think Patrick would have done that? Sacrificed 27 years of life, not to mention the opportunity to run a country's treasury any which way he chooses? Hell no!

I mean, get real people. And Mandela and Gandhi had no choice. They were locked up. Panday on the other hand choose to go to jail. Grand charge! So you see what I mean. Politrickcians too quickly and easily like to equate
themselves with greatness and truly great people who made their mark on World History. And their supporters will go along, ranting and raving without for a moment taking to time actually listen, to hear the rubbish coming out of their leader's mouth. And as for those meddlers — the IRO — who do they think they are? In 1973, when Dr Eric Williams announced his retirement they went on bended knee to beg him to stay. This week they were back at it again rushing up to Golden Grove to beg Panday to go home. If you ask me it was the front page picture of Panday in Wednesday's Newsday looking old and beat up that scared the hell out of them and sent them rushing to his side, not even recognising that the whole episode in prison was phony. I, on the other hand, make no attempt at proclaiming myself great. I am a simple writer with a soft spot for sada roti and weird haircuts. And besides, Ken Mandela or Ken Gandhi sounds damn weird to me.

April 22, 2005

In response to the article "Does distributing condoms in prison condone homosexuality?" which appeared in the Monday 18th April, St. Lucia Star, I sent this letter to the editor. While I have nothing against distribution of condoms in prisons, it is a very simplistic solution to a greater problem of poorly run prisons where sexual violence is allowed to flourish. It was also necessary to address the consistent ill-use of the word "homosexuality" as the only motivation behind every single kind of male-male sexual interaction.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dear Editor

Star Newspaper,

Do Condoms In Prison Condone Homosexuality or Male Rape? What Is The Difference?

It is heartening that finally pragmatic solutions to addressing the spread of AIDS in our prisons are being discussed. But discussion is futile if we fail to understand the situation realistically. In order to do so, we must start by using the right words to categorize what we say. I find it a little perturbing that the Director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme does not know the difference between “homosexuality” and “buggery”. As professionals we must get our terminology right because we are often the ones educating the public. Let us clarify matters with the correct definitions for the words used in this discussion.

Buggery/Sodomy- This is used to refer to both anal and oral sex, most particularly anal sex practiced by two men, although it can also refer to the certain sexual acts between a man and woman. The word “buggery” is most often used to refer specifically to violent, non-consensual anal sex perpetrated by a stronger, older male on a weaker younger male.

In his comments about the legal and cultural climate of the country with regards to the legalization of sex workers, Jn Baptiste mentioned that, “The argument is whether we should be distributing condoms in the prison and that if we give condoms we would be condoning homosexuality, an illegal act.” Homosexuality is neither illegal nor is it an act. What Nahum Jn Baptiste should have said is “sodomy or buggery” because no one can be arrested for simply being a homosexual, not without evidence that at the time of arrest they were caught in the act of engaging in “sodomy or buggery”. The word “homosexuality” in this discussion has been misappropriated, the correct definition of homosexuality is:

Homosexuality-A psychosexual orientation where a person is attracted to members of their own gender instead of the opposite gender, it is the reverse of heterosexuality. (See The American Psychological Association website)

Of course, many would say, “Well what is the big difference? Doesn’t engaging in sodomy/buggery mean you are a homosexual and visa-versa?” Well to answer in short. No it does not. There is a big difference between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are psychosexual traits, not sexual acts. A particular sexual act in isolation does not indicate sexual orientation. Remember that many people act contrary to their innate sexual orientation. Some do it for money, some to survive but no example is as powerful as the one currently under discussion- male-male sex in prison.

Are the vast majority of the men engaging in sodomy/buggery in Bordelais, homosexual? Are they “attracted only to other men?” Is the sexual activity happening as a result of prison inmates “falling in love or in lust and having relationships?” No. All observations and investigations by professional studies, indicate that most sexually active men in prison are heterosexual, many with common law wives and girlfriends on the outside. Under regular circumstances they would be having sex with women and when they leave prison they will resume having sex with women. According to, “Sex, Sexual Violence and Coercion in Men's Prisons” a study presented at an AIDS in Context International Conference, 4-7 April 2001, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa- very little of the sex that happens behind bars is consensual and even less of it happens between two men who are genuinely “homosexual in orientation” and attracted to or love each other. The study reports “Sex is currency in prison and a crucial component of the intricate systems of power". South African studies (Kola et al, 1997; Community Law Centre [CLC], 1999; Goyer & Gow, 2000” the study goes on to say. “Rape is one of the many forms of physical violence feared or experienced by numerous prison inmates. Although reliable statistics as to the actual extent of the problem are not available, male rape, at least in some prisons, is reportedly a common occurrence. As has been mentioned… rape and gang-rape are reportedly sometimes used both as recruitment and punishment methods.”

Now if you are asking “If the majority of these men are not homosexual how can they perform the act itself? They are rapists. The psychological profile of a rapist shows that what triggers arousal are not their victim but their domination and violence over the victim. A rapist is turned on by their victim’s pain and humiliation. Gender is easily a non-issue because a rapist does not even see a “person” but an “outlet” for taking out his sexual frustrations. In order to survive many men in prison who are too young or weak to compete for power, decide to become the “bitch” of a dominant inmate for whom any hole will do. This self sacrifice is rewarded by winning the protection of the “top dog” from a worse fate, death or gang rape. The submissive role requires nothing more than a long suffering disposition and strong stomach, a homosexual orientation is irrelevant.

Now you might ask, “Why do we need to know all the gory details of prison sex and inmate society?” Well, for the same reason why it is so very important the decision- makers and professionals understand the correct terminology of the words they use. It aids our correct understanding of the situation, without which we will resort to oversimplification and never arrive at the correct solution. Already, we have failed to ask the right questions which are:

How do we expect responsible condom use to work in predominantly non-consensual, impulsive and violent sexual situations? How do we know that when we distribute condoms they will be used in consensual sex and not by sadistic prison rapists? Can this problem be solved simply by offering condoms or is the real solution better prison infrastructure, inmate supervision, isolation of offenders, rehabilitation and protection of the younger weaker inmates? Are we taking steps to improve prison facilities and hold prison guards more accountable for any misconduct?” The study showed, “While the authorities do, on occasion, take steps to prevent abuses, it seems they are more frequently either ill-equipped to assist victims and potential victims, or they are complicit.” It also stated “In cells where sexual activity was reported to be most prevalent, there is less than 30cm space between blankets, and inmates sleep with their toes touching.” I believe the situation in South African prisons mirrors our own and I urge people to read the study. Let us not make the mistake of over-simplification of the issue, passing it off as a “homosexual problem” when it has little to do with the prisoners being homosexual and more to do with a glaring failure to prevent violent rape and sexual coercion.

Do you know what happens to inmates who are victimized sexually in prison when they finally leave? “Psychologists and rape counsellors believe that the pent-up rage caused by these assaults can cause victims, especially if they don't receive psychological treatment, to erupt in violence once they return to their communities. Some will become rapists, seeking to 'regain their manhood' through the same violent means by which they believe it was lost. (Donaldson, 1993- The Rape Crisis Behind Bars)” What makes this situation worse is now HIV is added to the mix when infected ex-cons re-enter society with a trigger happy impulse to vent their anger and prove how macho they are, to overcompensate for the fact that they were forced to be someone’s bitch in prison.

Before we start indiscriminately raining condoms down on our prison inmates, we need to look at what really motivates the non-consensual sexual activity there because as the study stated, “A better understanding of the nature of the circumstances in which sex in prisons occurs is therefore crucial both for the welfare of inmates and in relation to the interests of broader society.” Other than HIV tests, has any investigation taken place at Bordelais to uproot the sociological and organizational roots of the problem? Or are we just going for another quick fix like we always do on this island? Depending on condoms alone to solve the problem is like putting a band aid on a gushing stab wound.

April 01, 2005

Crumpled Paper In Wastebasket

Writer's block! How I loathe thee
For stopping me dead in my line
I stutter and doubt, the page I rip out
Hiding evidence my pen ejaculated prematurely

March 07, 2005

PMS Power!

Ladies, I want you to think of all the moments in your life when you came to deep and painful realisations, made dramatic decisions, ended relationships or gave someone who deserved it a good cussing out. Was it that time of the month?

I know we are supposed to be politically correct about these things now and most of you would cringe if someone (especially a female-threatened man) blamed PMS for any uncharacteristic outspokenness or less-than-ladylike behaviour you might display. But I must confess that all my great epiphanies, painful self discoveries or sudden bursts of inspiration are somehow related to my moon cycle. It seems to be the time when I am attuned to subtle frequencies of emotional vibrations. I can suddenly "pick up" vibes from people I never picked up before- the hidden sadness behind a co-worker's boastful retelling of their weekend; the purposeful tactics my lover uses to dig at my heart; the unhealthy threads holding weakening patterns of behaviour together. It all becomes so clear. For no reason, I get strong attractive or repelling reactions to certain people. It is also the time when my lover and I have had our most violent (in words and emotions only) fights and thus also identified the biggest problems looming beneath the surface of what is otherwise a leewardly calm relationship. I know I am not the only woman this has happened to.

Something tells me that if you were to keep a journal of your thoughts and your relationships with others you will see some very interesting developments happening in your life around your period. Ancient religions that revere the Goddess see a woman's menstruation as a time of power and renewal. Indeed, I find that it is often a time when I get rid of a lot of garbage, not just the blood itself but emotional garbage and spiritual garbage. Could this be that this natural "purge" is one of the reasons women live longer and can endure more emotional hardship than men usually can without resorting to suicide, violence or other forms of anti-social behaviour? Surely then, having your period is no curse, but a blessing. Indeed after the discomfort of the first two days, I find myself strangely light of heart, full of energy, sexually charged, creatively inspired and deeply motivated.

Wouldn't it be something if society started celebrating this time as a time of increased sensory awareness, emotional healing and renewal. Imagine if employers saw the monthly adventures of female employees as a plus instead of a negative-"Oh if you need someone with KILLER sensitivity to the emotional impact of this ad, call Joan, she's PMSing!" or "Lisa just came back from her one day mini-menstrual break and she now has the mental strength of ten men, give HER the extra work load." Can you picture a band of female vigilantes who got together during their PMS time to channel all that agitation and violent rage into neighbourhood security patrol. It sounds silly now, but women being placed in seclusion to use their special powers for the benefit of the entire tribe, during this time is not unheard of. PMS can be an asset. We just have to re-learn how to tap into it.

February 08, 2005

Kinsey and Dr. Phil

I rather enjoyed the movie Kinsey. What was so remarkable about the film is its significance to our time and present social situations. The pioneering efforts of this remarkable man to enlighten us about our own sexuality is worthy of praise. He dared to enter a part of our lives we felt fearful, ashamed, misinformed, isolated and helpless about and at great personal sacrifice. It was so powerful watching just how ignorant our grandparents were about sex and the myths they believed, myths often compounded by the church. I couldn’t help but laugh when a young married couple approached Kinsey for help with their sex lives because the wife thought she was frigid. Kinsey asked the husband if he still engaged in heavy petting with her and the husband confessed, “I thought that was just for dating couples. Now that we are married, why do we have to do it when we can just have intercourse?” Now at this time, Kinsey could have been a real boastful prig about his knowledge of sexual technique but the really cool thing was that not that long ago, he too was ignorant about sex. Kinsey and his wife were virgins on their honeymoon night. It was his own terrible first experience with sex; his clumsiness and her pain, which led him to try to get the correct information on how to do it properly. Trying not to display his own shock at how widespread ignorance among Americans was, he assured the young husband that heavy petting (essentially foreplay) was not only not just for dating couples but a MUST, for a woman to become sufficiently aroused to enjoy sex and have an orgasm. It was like a revelation to this couple, you could see the bells going off in their heads. Kinsey also recommended genital kissing as well, much to the husband’s disbelief as he was told by friends and instructed by religious moral books on marriage that oral sex leads to infertility. Another big myth! He refused to believe Kinsey’s reassurance that it was not only normal but deeply satisfying and asked for proof. This is what sparked Kinsey to begin his extensive sexual research. He realized then the power of scientific knowledge to dispel ignorance.

The resurgence of the right wing Christian propaganda machine in the States is trying to stamp out sex education for kids based on real human study and replace it with essentially the same standards they used in the 50’s and 60’s. They want to return to the days of educating via fear and false information coloured by morality judgments passed on as fact. Fallacious claims that masturbation leads to mental illness and homosexuality were standard in school hygiene classes fifty years ago and even though extensive research has proven that to be ridiculous, modern Christian texts on sex, still read the same way. In fact, prudery and narrow-mindedness concerning sex is very much alive and kicking and we in the Caribbean are at particular risk of swallowing horse manure from the USA. The self righteousness, ignorance, double standards and homophobia amidst rising HIV infection in the Caribbean is so like Kinsey’s time when there was rising syphilis and other VDs amidst similar facades. All indications show that we desperately need clear thinking people like Kinsey in our age, with no political agenda attached. The movie’s time setting may seem like the stone-age to most people but the ignorance and moral prejudice which blinds individuals to the truth about human nature and human sexuality still exists.

If I had to identify modern day Kinseys, I’d say Dr. Phil is a good example. Perhaps he is made fun of, because he states the obvious and his analogies can be a bit kooky. But the man knows what he is doing and he knows his audience. His advice may seem obvious and trite to some of us who are savvy to self improvement, but these are fresh concepts to his particular Red State audience. Plus, the fact that the right wing hates him so much, begs my respect. The pervading ideologies of “Christian normalcy” versus “Secular dysfunction” seem to be on the rise in our time and just like Kinsey, the scientific community and academics are fighting an uphill battle with the Christian conservative right to provide the public with accurate information based on clear unbiased research in the fields of human study. The reason the religious right can’t stand people like Dr. Phil is three fold:

His refusal to condemn homosexuality- Dr. Phil accepts the American Psychological Association’s stance and advocates acceptance of gay people. When parents come to him because they are distressed over their kid being gay, he does not tell them what the conservative Christians wish he would tell them- “He had better change or he’s going to hell! Either he stops being gay or kick him out your house!” Instead, Dr. Phil tells them that being gay is normal and they have to accept their child for who he/she is and support them because they will have a challenging life. In addition, like the rest of the respected psychology community, he holds fast to the proven research that you cannot “convert” gay people. On one episode where a gay man got married to a woman to try and live a heterosexual life Dr. Phil spoke out very strongly against such a marriage and said it would eventually fail (which it did) because when it comes to orientation, you are what you are. The religious right really HATES this.

Heartland, middle class, white Americans are as screwed up as anyone else- Unlike Jerry Springer and Maury where a disproportionate percentage of the dysfunctional and scandalous guests are black or Hispanic if they are not obviously poor white trash, Dr. Phil’s guests tend to be as white bread middle class as “immaculate” as the Bush family. His show completely dispels the myth that Caucasian, middle class, small town, suburban, church attending, mini van driving Security moms and middle management NAZCAR dads with 2.5 kids and a dog called Skip are doing JUST FINE. Christian conservatives never saw Jerry Springer as a threat because “those sick people” he featured were not OUR KIND OF PEOPLE. But now, Dr. Phil is destroying the shiny veneer of “wholesome all American normalcy” and all the UGLINESS underneath perfect American families is being exposed- Child molestation, domestic abuse, sexual dysfunctions in marriage, infidelity, addictions, lying, emotional retardation, shallowness, obesity, stifled potential and out of control teenagers. From that famous Mormon wife on his “Families in Crises” series who unrepentantly cheated and manipulated her husband to the upstanding Christian family where the father abused his daughters. To the long list of seemingly normal married couples who cannot please each other in bed, stay faithful, demonstrate caring or even communicate properly. Dr. Phil shows that his red state, morality espousing Bush supporting audience is not as wholesome as they would like to let on. He quotes the statistics that show America’s high divorce rate and displays exactly which demographic the problem afflicts the most- white, middle class, Christian couples, which brings us to.......

The promotion of secular knowledge over religious tradition to solve problems. Conservative Christians espouse that the bible has the answers to all the problems a person can face and faith can help whether any storm. And while I do not doubt the bible has wisdom and faith offers comfort in tough times, I am also a realist and as Dr. Phil’s guest audience proves, there are limitations to the issues that can be addressed by a book whose most recent authors lived 2000 years ago in a different culture and time. But let’s not get into that. Fact is Dr. Phil offers advice based on psychological study and it WORKS often better than anything his mostly Christian audience hears in church. He can identify and diagnose personality flaws and emotional dysfunctions that would otherwise go unchecked by biblical standards. For example, a husband with a submissive wife, whom he “loves as he loves himself”, according to the bible can still have a disastrous marriage. How? Well here’s one reason of many- suppose he never really loved himself to begin with because of all kinds of unhealed emotional scars leading to low self esteem. He can follow scripture till the fat lady sings and his marriage will still be unhappy. You see, the problem is that many buy into the “perfect Christian” image and think that being born again and following certain scriptures AUTOMATICALLY solves all their social, personality, sexual, relationship or emotional problems. Those who evangelise often sell this pitch as well to attract members. But it is bullshit. If you lacked proper social skills and were an obnoxious asshole before you were Christian, you simply become a born again obnoxious Christian asshole afterwards. And until you accept you are an obnoxious asshole and confront the deep seated emotional and behavioural roots of your problem, you will always be one. It also doesn’t help that church goers are encouraged to show an all accepting face to anyone who professes to share their faith, whether they genuinely like them or not. It promotes disingenuous love parading as “Christian brotherhood”. It allows moronic, emotionally inept people to flock to and exist in a welcoming environment where they know they will be tolerated free of the objective criticism which they so desperately need. All they need to do to mask a massive personality flaw is gloss it over with Christian zeal. Someone outside the “special circle of trust” will be more forthcoming and say, “Well I don’t care if you’re a Christian and Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re an asshole! Deal with your shit!”

In a similar way, with the Kinsey life story, there were things no religious study or morality code could help people with but unwavering scientific research could. I love how that woman came to convey her gratitude to Kinsey at the most feeble point of his life. He was disenchanted because he felt he had not even made a dent in the study of human sexuality and what little he had done was to no avail. The woman told him that she was married for decades, had children but was never complete within herself. At fifty years old, after the kids grew up and left home, she started doing volunteer work and met another woman at the centre just like her. They became fast friends and before she knew it, she fell in love with her friend in such a way it made her suddenly realize that this had never happened to her before. Sure she cared for her husband but all that time, she never was in love with him. Suddenly the pieces fit, she was complete. She had been a lesbian all her life and did not realize it because things like that were not spoken about in her time and everyone, especially women, followed a pre-ordained routine whether it suited them or not and people kept feelings hidden. But even though she had discovered herself, she was even more distressed because being a homosexual was unthinkable in the 1950s. She got depressed, became an alcoholic, her marriage ended and she was ready to resort to fatal measures. Then one day she came upon Kinsey’s book and read it. It was the big turning point in her life, like a light breaking through a crack in the ceiling and cutting a path through a dusty room unto her face. She got the courage to reveal her true feelings to that woman she worked with and to her great surprise and delight they discovered the feelings were mutual. They have been together ever since.

To a deeply moved Kinsey, she held his hand and said, “You saved my life. Thank you. Thank you!”

February 03, 2005

Enjoying the view at Asa Wright, Trinidad Posted by Hello

January 31, 2005

The Death of Pelican and The Death of The Middle Class In Trinidad

On my last visit to Trinidad, last week in fact, it finally hit me, Pelican is essentially dead and with it the beautiful mix of upper, middle and no class debauchery I used to enjoy. The death of Pelican is not only the death of an era, it’s the sounding of the last trumpet before the government and business sector complete the total destruction of the middle class in Trinidad. Now not only is the cost of living becoming restrictive to the middle class, the cost of liming is too.

It used to be that on any given night at Pelican, in the glory days, I could find myself having a rum and coke with a group of people ranging from visiting rugby players, crazy copywriters, UWI graduates trying to make it in the working world, journalists, some ole ho’ trying to pick up a few German tourists, hard core rock n roll headbangers from Curepe, millionaire businessmen, a drag queen or two, several lesbians and gay men and a few old geezers who should have been out of the game ages ago. Imagine there was once a time where I could buy a beer and lime in the same place my boss who earns ten times as much as I do, used to. We might even share a pat on the back and a drunken smile in passing each other on the way to the loo. Pelican was the place where black, white, Indian, Chinese and everything in between used to bump and grind till the wee hours of the morning. You never knew who you would meet there on any given night. Pelican was all embracing. It was the kind of place where you would find two lesbians grinding poonanies together just an arms length away from the director of Tidco and some fashion designer. Two usually hoity toity Indian princesses from Valsayn would suddenly break into a cat fight in the car park over some man, reminiscent of a brawl outside a rum shop in Barrackpore. The air was rich with the smell of greasy burgers, shark and bake, cigarettes and marijuana smoke. Pelican was perfect!! Then the sports bars came.

Typical of those that cater to the tasteless Americans’ fondness for using food and drink to replace their lacking social skills, they started to dot the social landscape and assert their insidious influence on our social scene. As an upscale family restaurant, they were not a bad place to treat yourself to a high calorie fest but soon they became something they should not have- a watering hole for the “upwardly mobile”. Suddenly the sports bar revolution was born. Prohibitive prices on drinks and food to demarcate the classes catered to our over-bloated sense of self importance and inner shame about our small island Trini self identity. What is essentially humble pub fare and cheap “family style” food devoured in ridiculous quantities by redneck Nascar dads in the USA was revered as highfalutin cuisine in our island. And we all fell for it, even I did. It was new, it was tacky and decadent. It was when it began to dawn on me that liming at a “sports bar” was starting to become popular and more importantly an indicator of social status that my red flag went up. It wasn’t about the vibe of the lime anymore it was about “being seen” at so and so’s with so and so nibbling on some loaded potato skins. Then gradually, Trinidad’s night life started to take on a very distinct hue and feel of the fake. Today, those of us that truly have the positive energy to share in a party are at the mercy of an unforgiving imitation velvet rope that is slowly strangling the beauty the multi-coloured collective soul of our nation.

You see, the truth is that even though there are rich people in our island, they all live next to poor people. On one side of the mountain, you have Morvant, and on the other, Cascade. On one side of the mountain, Goodwood Park, on the other Caranage. And even if you drive a new BMW XL you still have to drive on pot holed filled roads past garbage, slums and vagrants. The wonderful thing about Pelican was that it honoured the reality of life in Trinidad by throwing us all together, the CEO and the sexy receptionist, the Sabga and the sales clerk. At least in that way; we could all develop some depth, empathy and awareness. We were made to notice each other in a non threatening environment. The director of an ad agency could interact in a friendly environment with someone from a working class family. You got to meet foreigners, losers, big wigs, intellectuals, artists and sluts all in the same night. Today, the social scene now encourages everyone to lime with people who are either exactly like them or who desperately want to be like them or liked by them.

We have stupidly partitioned ourselves off from one another as if we didn’t rub shoulders in the office just a few hours ago. The rich tell themselves that somehow the restrictive measures taken by the new establishments have something to do with preventing undesirables and crime. Bullshit. The middle class is just as affected by crime as you are, perhaps even more so and it’s them you are excluding from your establishments, not the unemployed rasta in Beetham. In reality, the upper classes are only isolating and singling out themselves more than ever as “ostentatiously privileged” on a small island where the vast majority of the populace is becoming poorer and more frustrated. And to add insult to injury, they set the bar of price distinction so low, cheap shit is now expensive. I mean, it’s one thing not being able to afford fine French cuisine at a real restaurant, but there is nothing “special” about ribs, onion rings and frozen margaritas; it’s dressed up fast food, yet it is out of the reach of a middle class family with kids. But to be honest the high price of imitation American mediocrity is not really what bothers me, what bothers me is its triumph over our authentic Trini excellence and the decreasing alternatives as the local watering holes dry up in defeat.

We have created a new class of vapid professional socialites and their cronies along with bottom feeder wannabes. And while this structure may gel with the cutthroat New York or LA scene, where (1) classes are kept in totally self sufficient communities, demarcated by bridges, different area codes and miles and miles of hills and roads (2) there is at least the hope and opportunities for moving up (3) even the working class American has basic needs met, it will not work here. Why? Trinidad’s demographics and development cannot support such a cultural and class shift and rift without damaging the fragile bonds that hold us together as a people. We are too closely intertwined in close quarters. The demolition of our middle class due to the rising cost of living and our increasing exclusion from the limelife that is our country’s pulse and lack of other options when the Pelicans and Martins start to close down will not go unnoticed. Our access to welcoming places to blow off steam may be restricted, but come hell or high water, steam will be blown off. Just be warned.