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Thanks Mom!

So we are in the last quarter of 2018 already. And so much has changed for many of us and will continue in directions promising, challenging, fun, depressing, frustrating, exciting. Life after all.

siblings.pngA few years ago,  my mother went through a serious not-good-health moment. She came through it well and with equanimity. And it caused me pause for any number of reasons. I do not know what the psychologists have to say about it, but as her last child I felt (feel) that I had an extra claim on my mother. Step aside siblings!

In my feverish worst case scenario imagination, what anguished me the  most as a child was the thought of losing my mother. And so it was interesting to see how she managed that moment of shaky health and her adult children, steering us to a place of relative calm, even  acceptance in the face of the possibilities.

More recently she again had things to see about but she is fine (if only for the odd aches and natural pains). The siblings do a bang up job of looking out and taking care. But no doubt we are at that stage of life where mortality does not merely lurk in the shadows, but comes a little too  regularly to meet and greet.

It must be the biggest cliché – we do not know what time will bring. Thinking of that, I was asked recently if I had said everything I want to my mother. I thought so but maybe not. She is well adored by five children, in laws, and 12 grandchildren. She knows and feels all that love.

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Missing Warren. Pic by Ed Inniss

So beyond love, I would say thank you Mom for the humour, the honest sharing of your life’s trials, the fun appreciation of absurdity, the sacrifices, the wise non-intrusion, the dignity, the example of reading, curiosity, the constancy and care, the connection to your parents, the converting of hurts into happiness, the love of Nat King Cole, pepperpot, coubouillon, innate respect for all, the gentle attention to the grandchildren, the post-mortem ole talk, getting vex, forgetting being vexed and not holding grudges (mostly). So  much more!

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She says that she is the happiest that she has ever been. I think she means her eyebrows are in place, she is carefree, well loving and beloved.

 

 

 

 

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No place for shame

Female eunuchEarlier this year, Germaine Greer, feminist author of ‘The Female Eunuch’ and now some would say contrarian intellectual, allowed herself to say out loud about rape that “society should not see it as a “spectacularly violent crime” but instead view it more as “lazy, careless and insensitive”.

In this category of “lazy, careless and insensitive” was a conflation of circumstances in which rape occurs, including marital rape. “Every time a man rolls over on his exhausted wife and insists on enjoying his conjugal rights he is raping her. It will never end up in a court of law.”

In trying to make sense of Greer, who herself was a victim of a violent rape at 18 years old, the reference to court and law holds the clue. She considers that one of the reasons for the low conviction rates for rape is that juries and judges are loath to sentence men to long prison terms. And so, to increase the likelihood of justice, she is suggesting that we lower the tariffs for rapists. But to do so, one would presumably have to find a way to reduce the sense of violation that is associated with rape.

Greer thinks that this is a realistic approach to improving access to justice. But it is  misplaced and inaccurate. The most serious offence is murder. Yet juries routinely find people guilty even when life imprisonment or the death penalty is the sanction. Jury reluctance to convict for rape is not a reaction to stiff sentences, but more often the result of the devaluing of women’s testimonies, the trivialization of rape and a systemic failure to hold men accountable for violence against women.

Just a few years ago, a Japanese tourist was raped and murdered in Trinidad at carnival time. The then Mayor’s response was a caricature of victim blaming and rape myths – “You know before Carnival I did make a comment about vulgarity and lewdness… The woman has the responsibility to ensure that [she is] not abused.” … “You have to let your imagination roll a bit and figure out was there any evidence of resistance or did alcohol control?”

not-asking-for-it.jpgMen are predators and so a woman’s security is her own responsibility. Postscript: women let their outrage be known and the mayor was  forced to resign.

 

The other aspect of Greer’s perspective seems to be that scaling down the psychological meaning of rape by those who have been violated is better for resilience. “Society wanted women to believe that rape destroyed them, she said. “We haven’t been destroyed, we’ve been bloody annoyed is what we’ve been.”

IMG_9410This trend of thought was raised on Saturday night at a public lecture in Kathmandu by Indian feminist, Kamla Basin. As an aside to a lecture on how patriarchy is also bad for men, she called on women not to ‘mystify’ the vagina. (I think I heard that correctly). For those raped, get medical care, she urged, and seek justice. Like Greer, Basin is suggesting that we think of rape in the same way that we think of any other physical assault – traumatic but not life defining.  At my most generous, I take Basin to be advocating that women  not cede their stability and personal power to rapists.

Of course it is better to contain the pain of violation so that one’s whole life is not tainted. But the idea that girls and women can ‘move on’, I find simplistic and reductive, especially where there is impunity and rampant injustice.

Diminishing the meaning of rape is in fact the status quo.  What’s new here? Ending rape culture will come with an improved justice response but more so, through a rejection of victim blaming and a transformation of gender relations. We need more, not less, outrage.

But both Greer and Basin allude to another issue. Why is the experience of rape so shaming for victims and survivors?

The literature largely explains this by reference to the unrelenting questioning of women’s judgment, common sense and behaviour- before, during and after the rape. The English law applied in the Caribbean was full of harmful stereotypes. The corroboration rule required judges to warn juries that it was unsafe to convict for rape on the basis of the evidence of a woman only. Rape was the only criminal offence to attract this warning. Defense lawyers were allowed to cross-exam victims on their entire sexual history as an active sexual life somehow reduced the credibility of the victim’s testimony of non-consent. And women were required to report immediately as delayed complaints signified fabrication of rape tales.

For the most part, these sexist conceptions have been eliminated from the law in the Caribbean and in many parts of the world. We know a whole lot more now about the relationship between a certain kind of masculinity and rape culture and we have a better understanding of the range of responses of rape victims.

But rape shame and stigmatization endures. So few men face police and courts for rape, yet the self-serving myth that women lie pervades culture.

Beyond victim blaming, I wonder whether the stigmatization associated with rape is another feature of wide spectrum sexism. Rape may also be understood subconsciously  like defilement and a devaluation of womanhood in a world where women are expected to be sexually moderate, if not chaste. Rape, amongst physical violations, is singular. Society can blame women for being raped and then judge us as deficient consequentially.

Enough. There must be justice for victims and survivors in the court of culture and law.

In this regard only, I agree with Greer and Basin. Let us reject rape shame unless it is that which attaches to perpetrators. We must address  the system of patriarchy that makes rape a shameful and dehumanising choice for too many boys and men.

In the foreword to the 21st anniversary edition of The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer reflected that women want freedom:

“.. freedom from rape, whether it is by being undressed verbally by the men on the building site, spied on as we go about our daily business, stopped, propositioned or followed on the street, greasily teased by our male workmates, pawed by the boss, used sadistically or against our will by the men we love, or violently terrorized and beaten by a stranger, or a gang of strangers.

…The freedom I pleaded for twenty years ago was freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood.”

I would say she got all of that right, back then.

 

One of the many things that I did not know about Cape Town is that between 17th and the 19th century, persons from other parts of the African continent, Madgascar, the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia were enslaved by the Dutch and British for the purposes of forced agricultural labour. The emancipation proclamation of 1834 was followed by another four years of ‘apprenticeship’ in Cape Town whilst the planter class,  delayed what limited freedom would come for those enslaved.

Like the Caribbean, the language of ‘pioneering’ and ‘founding’ is part of the Dutch and British historical narrative. But in what is now known as Cape Town, the indigenous people, the ’Khoikhoi’, had been settled in the region for at least a thousand years before the Dutch arrived. They were pastoral people and dispossessed of their land and way of life by the Dutch East Indies enterprise.

Overlaid on this history, is the experience of apartheid, the legalization of land theft and the directly consequential poverty of the majority of Africans in the Cape and South Africa as a whole.

This week we spent a few days in Cape Town. It was an experience in sensory dissonance. The vistas are stunning. They inspire awe, as in a feeling of reverence for the natural world. The coast lines are gently undulating and the backdrop of Table Mountain,  a solid reminder of the effects of time and climate. The land is fertile even though it is a region that experiences drought. The coastline is a Mediterranean blue with powdery white sands.

IMG_9334It is a wealthy city full of posh residences and office buildings. Many would say, it has a European feel. By which they may mean, that the signs of poverty which may be expected in a developing country are not evident. They may also mean that one sees few African people in the malls, restaurants, wineries, scenic sites or public spaces. Those you see are mostly in the service sector.

After a while, it is hard to purely enjoy the natural and built up beauty. The politics of ethnic presence and absence are so intruding.

Through a mutual friend, Arlene, we met up with Lucelle Campbell and Melissa, both who self-describe as indigenous people. Lucelle, who advocates for ‘ethical tourism’,  spoke of the phenomenon of invisibility in Cape Town not only of indigenous Africans but also the invisibility of the history of slavery in the Cape region. Indeed, in our tour of wineries, with all the talk of the people who started wineries that go back to the 18th century, no mention was made of slavery. But if you looked closely enough, the past ideology of racism lurks. Ambling through one  winery, we came upon these books on a shelf.

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I wonder whether this avoidance of history of slavery, of the meanings of emancipation shapes the defensiveness of the former oppressors as well as a fragile self-appreciation of the former oppressed. That it seems to me is also part of the story of the Caribbean. How can we have a genuine integration where economic structures maintain  the privileges of a few and inequality persists? How can we have reconciliation without, as Lucelle promotes, remembering and revisioning?

Driving home from our meeting with Lucelle, our Uber driver, of European descent, spoke knowledgeably of many things. I asked him about race relations in South Africa. He said things are getting worse.  How so? I expected him to speak of the failed expectations of the post-apartheid period, the continued poverty of Africans, the corruption of the politics and governance. Rather, his frame of reference was the proposed plans for land reform.

It was another sobering moment, a reminder of the deep challenge of redefining power relations and the struggle that lies ahead to get to social justice for Africans who already have had so much taken away from them.

 

Riding the rough route

Early this year, my brother in law, Roger invited me to join him and Denise on a hike in Brasso Seco, Trinidad. He said, “Sock eye. You fit”, sock eye being his most used and cavalier phrase to encourage others into physical activities.  I should let you all know that Roger is an extreme athlete. He leaps up mountains almost in a single bound, cycles the tour de france route and has done triathlons. He is a lean, but not mean, machine.

Anyways, I almost lost my life on that hike- 11 hours of trekking up, along and down the side of a mountain, precipice within every eye full.  I managed it but with a slightly battered ego and fully sore body.  Most everyone on the hike was over 50 – people in their late 50s. 60’s and even 70s. But they were mountain goats, the lot of them. Throughout the climb but especially the descent,  that old Sesame Street song taunted me- three of these things belong together…

People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And this is how Douglas and I found ourselves on a cycling trip with Roger, Denise, Bertha and Andrew in Swaziland.

To be fair, Roger did his best to prepare us. He even located two bikes and brought them to the house, months in advance. (Thanks Jenny!). I placed the bike out of eye sight and was complacent. After all I run! How unfit could I be? Full confession – I did not read the trip notes though I should have been more clued in when my niece Asia sent pictures of her sojourn in Swaziland.

You see Swaziland is  hilly, very hilly. Mountainous one may even say.  And so beautiful

Eight days later, the riding is over. I started off tentative and weak, with little ability to manoeuvre the bike up and down very rough, big stoned terrain. Otherwise described euphemistically as ‘off track’. And there is nothing that brings broken bones to mind like  hurtling down a ‘single track’, rooted and rutty on spinning wheels. For mountain bike beginners, I would advise against talking to cyclists. All of them, without fail, have an injury story – serious injury.

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My hero Roger himself has experienced  the odd ‘shattered’ scapula- left and right- and cracked four ribs! But they are a hardy lot and relish the mental and physical challenge of cheeky climbs and break neck descents.

I completed the riding. Most days I filled the time and distance quota on the saddle and felt  more sure and slightly more daring by the end.  But there is no getting away from the under preparation.

 

Still, in the moments between the clenched teeth cursing, there is exhilaration which comes from the heightened awareness of the unity of mind and body. You see, this kind of cycling requires the discipline of attention. Look away, let your mind wander and roam, well, that way lies danger.

I had lots of good coaching along the route and improved some for it. The best advice is to look to where you want to go. That was counter-intuitive to me. After all should I not be paying attention to that big hole just beneath the wheel?  It turns out that when one is so closely focused on the here and now, the mind freezes, you pull brakes and the bike wobbles. It is in these moments that you teeter and lose momentum.

If you look to where you want to go, trust your body and the bike, you will more likely get to the destination in one piece and at a faster rate.

That is advice of general life application.  Do practice first though! Confidence comes not only from the belief in one’s abilities but also from the experience in using those abilities.

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A luta continua

South Africa has a particular hold on our imagination, those of us who came of political age in the 1970s. I think of it as a noble country, with people of such courage and fortitude who fought long and hard to end systematic, violent and totalizing oppression. The release of Mandela and the political prisoners, the coming to government of ANC, the adoption of a Constitution which recognized a wide range of human rights, these were victories as well as  promises of a larger freedom and justice to come.

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Twenty four years later, the scorecard on progress towards economic justice is decidedly mixed. Truth and reconciliation notwithstanding, the  structure of the South African economy has not been sufficiently transformed to allow for redistribution of resources to benefit the many. Despite state investments in education, health care and housing, without access to productive assets, most are denied the resources needed for productive development. Seventy-two 72% of the land is owned by white South Africans. More than half of South Africans were poor in 2015 -55.5%.

According to a World Bank report, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. One percent of south Africans own 70.9% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 60% controls 7% of the country’s assets. One in five South Africans are unemployed.

We are in South Africa,  my first time here and I came with a sense of restrained expectations. A tour of the Apartheid Museum underlines the scale of the transformation needed. It is thoughtfully  constructed taking the visitor through the history of the country, starting with the misadventures of the British and Dutch in the nineteenth century and their battle between themselves to control the extra rich territory whilst making common cause in the oppression of South Africans.

The thought and artifice which were put into devising the dispossession of Africans and the edifice of apartheid is staggering. The museum records what looks like well over 50 laws which provided the architecture for apartheid. The Native Land Act 1913 prohibited the purchase of land by South Africans in some 93% of the country. And it is the continuing legacy of this that partly explains persistent and enduring poverty and inequality. How can the country progress without land reform?

IMG_8249Soweto is a stone’s throw away from the largest stadium in Africa. But between the stadium and Soweto is a large mound of old (and toxic) mining debris, placed there, our guide tells us, by apartheid authorities as an impediment to those in Soweto  coming into parts of Johannesburg.

IMG_8278The tour guide took us through what he described to be rich Soweto, middle class Soweto and poor Soweto areas. He was proud of the progress, hopeful and mindful of how much else was needed to improve the lives of those in the area. There are many areas without electricity still, without indoor plumbing and without proper sanitation.

 

But for all the challenges of corruption and inequality (these two are always closely linked) the history of all that struggle and courage is beyond moving. The Hector Peiterson Museum tells the story of a 14-year-old boy who was mowed down by bullets in a 1976 student protest against sub-standard education and the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in Soweto. Hundreds of children were massacred and many others injured by the police. But the beginning of the end of apartheid has been attributed to this  tragedy as it gave rise to a new era of political mobilising within and outside of South Africa.

The determination to end apartheid and the eventual triumph has to be one of the social justice beacons of the twentieth century. It remains inspirational, giving hope and encouragement that justice can and will prevail with struggle and solidarity.

But South Africa so far is also a cautionary tale.  I keep thinking of Langston Hughes’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

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Basdeo Panday, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, famously said, politics has its own morality. There is no right or wrong, just shades of expedient greys in capturing and maintaining power.

And so it was only seven days into a 30-0 electoral victory by the Barbados Labour Party that the party’s parliamentary number was reduced to 29. Without an elected opposition, the Prime Minister had signaled earlier that she would seek to amend the constitution to allow the Governor General to appoint the two mandatory opposition senators from the party that commanded the most votes after the BLP. That would be the DLP.

Before the country could weigh in all of this, one of the BLP 30 defected, proclaimed himself an independent and was sworn in as Leader of the Opposition. In the turmoil that followed, Joseph Atherley, leader of a church, came out alongside or ahead of the gathering storm to say that he was no treacherous Judas, but rather he was putting the country first. An opposition was needed and he could be a provider of feedback on the implementation of manifesto which he would have had a hand in drafting and finalizing.

The tales of conspiracies swirled on social media. Could it be that Atherley felt slighted by non-inclusion in the Cabinet, an emotional state which made him vulnerable to the manipulations of the prime minister of the land of anti-Mia? Or maybe he was approached by the DLP in some reverse inclusion politics? Perhaps he did it because his parliamentary salary would be increased? Or the worst of the conspiracies, he was doing this at the bidding or with the tacit blessing of his erstwhile party, seeking to keep the DLP in the wilderness.

Who knows the truth? All of these conspiracies have been denied.

The fact is that a constituency voted for this individual because of his affiliation with the BLP, a party to which he was  long associated, including as a minister in government. Within the space of one week, he invalidated those ballots. It is a stunning  betrayal of people who voted for Atherley based on his own representations of fidelity to a party and its manifesto.  In the name of providing opposition, this move also denies the party with the second highest number of votes the space to represent their considerable, if disenchanted number of supporters in parliament.

Crossing of the floor, done where there are no known philosophical or principle differences between Atherley and the BLP, can reasonably be interpreted as opportunistic and self-serving. It surely will give oxygen to the already high levels of cynicism and lack of trust in politicians and the political process. Out of a clean and decisive victory, the body politic has been infected by lack of transparency, hubris and self-interest(s). What message do young people take away from this?

One more ethical way of doing this would have been to resign. A by-election would have followed in which Atherley could run as an independent.

And one way for the government to deal with this scenario for the future is to amend the relevant election law allowing for recall. This way, someone who wants to cross the floor, will have to answer to his constituents. There is a right and wrong here.

 

My father is the real Barbadian. My family was transplanted to Barbados in circumstances that were traumatic for my mother and so we spent quite a time, my brothers and sisters, looking back with longing for the calm, untroubled and loved up feeling associated with my grandparents’ home and with Dominica.

But as it was bound to happen, we gave in to Barbados and this giving in, this appreciating, oddly enough, continues even now that we are all old(er).

This week was another reminder for me of all the things that I find inspiring about Barbados. It was the week that Barbadians rejected homophobia and bigotry. We kept our focus, almost with singular resolve, on how the country could be fixed, could be recovered from 10 years of reckless government, corruptive practices, narrow-mindedness that is the same as hatred and attempts at populist manipulation.

The once conscious DLP, now without a moral compass, has taken this proud country to the brink of ruin. We are on our knees, bowed but definitely not broken.

MiaUnder the leadership of Mia Mottley, the BLP ran a campaign that veered away from personal invective. They resisted the bacchanal at every turn and temptation. Maybe a singular experience in Caribbean political campaigns?

The DLP spent their depleted political capital trying to focus the country’s interest on Mia’s love life. They did so because they are outright hateful bigots, the lot of them. Those who were vocal and those who remained silent and complicit.  But they also did this as some kind of strategy to distract from the outrage that we have about the sewage crisis which has hobbled the economy and is such threat to public health. They did so to avoid questions of public maladministration. They did so to befuddle us away from thinking about the decline in public health delivery and the breakdown of public transportation. They did so to avoid admitting that beyond taxing Barbadians into the poor house, they have no plan for economic recovery and development. They kept ranting on about ‘wickers’ and ‘bullers’ (offensive Bajanisms for lesbian and gay)  when the BLP was speaking about missions critical – how it intended to ease the economic burden on the poor and how it was going to adjust the debt to free funds for social spending and the encouragement of small businesses.

In the end, Barbadians, resident Caribbeaners and others entitled to vote, rejected the DLP completely, completely. What a thing. I was at a polling station for my fine and sensible candidate, now Member of Parliament, Marsha Caddle. The atmosphere there was not euphoric. It was very Barbadian, reserved. A sense of relief that the result was the correct one and a pervading quiet satisfaction that those who had abused power and betrayed the people’s trust had been laid low. But also, in the discreet glances and murmurings, there was hope and the belief that Mia Mottley could bring a new kind of leadership to the country.

We need a leader who will motivate us all to pull together in the direction of self-esteem, authenticity, and conscious care for each other. We need a leader who has zero tolerance for breaches of integrity and who urges us by example, to be deeper thinking about the changes that have to be made to stabilize the society and economy for the next generation.

We need a leader who will steer her colleagues away from pomposity and distance from we the people. We need a leader who will deter her Cabinet from the lure of the literal and metaphoric cocktail party, from the things that get Caribbean politicians stuffed with superficiality and self-regard.

We need a leader who will hold herself and her colleagues accountable for integrity in public life. We need them all to have a checklist of things to be done. We need them to DO.

In Mia I think we have someone who can, if she stays the course and others join her on that course, inspire generations the way in which Errol Barrow did. It occurs to me now that she is Errol Barrow’s true successor. We want and need a leader who will encourage us to really see our true individual and collective beauties; to remember all that we offer to the world, us Caribbean people with our joyousness, our cultural creativity, our open-mindedness (..in peril!), our lessons from resisting oppression and discrimination.  She has that vision and all the capacities.

The BLP will no doubt make compromises that discomfort those of us on the left. Politics, the exercise of power, requires that other powers and interests in contestation are managed. But we must be made to understand what those interests are and how they are connected to the higher cause of peace, equality and development that benefits the many. Transparency is usually the first thing to go in governance as deals are made. And when transparency goes, we are down the precipice of the personalization of power and the failure of accountability. These are the landmines that are already laid in waiting for this government. Our Prime Minister with her experience in government knows all of this and much more.

So really happy today but not naively so. And anticipating that better lies ahead. Onwards Mia! And congratulations to Marsha who put in two long hard years of thoughtful strategic work to win a constituency where once her opponent was considered unbeatable. What an asset she is to this government.