Archive for the ‘Exploring Life’ Category

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.


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.


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 This week I am in the Cook Islands at a meeting convened by the Pacific equivalent of CARICOM. Unlike elsewhere in Asia, everyone at this meeting knows the Caribbean, and indeed CARICOM. That is, the policy makers do. Most recently, Pacific states met in Barbados in a Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) meeting.

Raratonga (one of the Cook Islands) is Caribbean beautiful, though I suppose it could be said in the reverse. All depends on who is doing the comparison. Skies are crystalline, light is squinting bright, the sea, variations of blue – royal blue deep, light aquamarine, and the breezes are constant and cool.

photo sea


I feel definitely a belonger in the environment, flora the same as home, green hills in the background. This could be Tobago, St.Kitts or Grenada. Except, a very small population of about 10,000.  Yesterday, with no vehicles behind ours, one in front and two motor bikes to the side, the driver told me that when he wants peace and quiet, he goes to another island. Raratonga is too busy. I sighed, me the Bangkok transplant, living with people, traffic, noise, light, happenings.

pacific-mapWhile there is some sense that we are all SIDS people together in similar waters, in fact the Pacific SIDS are in a  geography that challenges the reach of globalisation. Spread across the most vast of oceans, there are some 20,000 plus islands. Even nation states can be comprised of hundreds of islands, like the Bahamas, but dotted over a large expanse of ocean. There is no  equivalent of our little LIAT which can and usually, reliably does (despite all the ungrateful hating we lump on it),  impeding the kind of connectivity which we take so for granted.  Pacific Islanders have to travel through hubs, New Zealand, or Australia, or Honolulu or Fiji to move within their region. What ought to be a 4 hour direct flight may take 20 hours and two connections. The expense of it all.

The Pacific is also facing climate change with rising sea levels threatening to submerge islands. With a small population, the region grapples with diseconomies of scale. Economic and social opportunities for young people are limited, the big countries attract and the brain drain goes on.

But Pacific Islanders are hopeful. They speak like many of us do, with a fervent passion and commitment to their space in the ocean and the world.

Yet the truth is, that to most people, Pacific islands are like Caribbean islands, too small to know or think about, low growth, donor dependent, indebted, food importers and questionably economically sustainable, at least in the neo-liberal market framework.

Ever so sensitive about those ignorant people who do not know where we are from, (who would not know the difference between Dominica and Dominican Republic????) we also do not know too much, if anything, about the Pacific.

 At the conference I picked up a brochure on Wallis and Futuna. Could that be a product, like chocolates or an ice cream brand???? Maybe a finance firm or engineering company?

Too shame. Here is the Pacific Islands lesson of the day taken from Wikipedia:

Wallis and Futuna, officially the Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands(Uvea mo Futuna), is an  island collectivity  in the South Pacific . Its land area is 264 km2 (102 sq mi) with a population of about 15,000. Mata-Utu is the capital and biggest city. The territory is made up of three main volcanic tropical islands along with a number of tiny islets, and is split into two island groups that lie about 260 km (160 mi) apart, namely Wallis Islands (Uvea) in the northeast, and Hoorn Islands (also called the Futuna Islands) in the southwest, including Futuna Island proper and the mostly uninhabited Alofi Island. Since 2001 it has the status of a French overseas territory.

So can we say that gooseberries are to cherries what Wallis and Futuna is to Turks and  Caicos .

Or that gooseberries are to cherries what Wallis and Futuna is to Martinique and Guadeloupe.

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Noel Charles died recently. I do not recall having ever seen him. But he was the owner of Alexandra’s Disco right there on the opposite bend in the road to the official residence of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church.

I got to be thinking again about Alexandra’s when  I came across the tune “Get Lucky’ via Alex. Like a time machine, I whirled back in times to the dancing hours spent in that darkened, light place with too cool danseur Beverley, Dawn, Linda and Wendy. I Will Survive, We Are Family, To Be Real, Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, Ain’t No Stopping Us and Ring My Bell with everyone doing the Rock for months. And then the rent-a-tile croonings of Teddy Pendergrass. Ah, for “Come on and Go With Me”. Except you would not want to be stuck in that song with the man with the flashing disco lights embedded in his T-Shirt, trying to impress his sweaty self into your chest. You are NOT going to electrocute me tonight. Battle for the sexes.

Described by one, as “one of the most sophisticated discotheques in the world”, Alexandra’s was the place for the hip, for us too and then for men lounging like lizards on velveteened chairs on the outskirts of the dance floor playing backgammon, smug as lions in the Serengeti. There was an upstairs and also side cubicles. Truth is, there was sense of the seedy about the place. What else, in the heady period of cocaine’s kaleidoscopic light?

We saw and even met celebrities. Richard Pryor, on to whose boat we were invited for a week-long cruising across the Caribbean. By the bodyguard.

But mostly it was a place for joyous dancing, all night long. We did get lucky, us dancing sisters, with life long memories of each other at our most carefree, interested in young men but not too much so in those moments on the circular floor, disco balls overhead, blinking UV lights capturing us in illuminating fragments, exuberant, more in thrall with our freedom, our sense of possibilities and Good Times.

We laughed a lot. And how we smoked!

Here is the time machine:


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Moving on

After weeks of effort, sometimes furious, other times half-hearted, our Barbados home is now transformed into an empty house, awaiting its next occupants. We were all in suspended emotion, I suspect. And at the end, the girls were overcome by the hollow echo in a place where they have been so very happy and stable.

It is unlikely that we will be back in Snug Corner, just us bare six again. Life moves on and the young people will move away into their own families. However I hope to be back sooner rather than later to this pretty place. (Thanks Mark and crew, Angie and Stayon).

Getting our last swim on the best beach (Brownes of course), Rais said, for her, Harrison College was her stand out Barbadian experience. And I have no doubt about that. Like the others, she made what I hope will be life long friends in a school, which whatever its deficits, (shared by practically all schools in the Caribbean) gave them options and encouraged endeavours, academic, artistic and civic.

And so I enjoyed every moment of being back in Barbados, the home of my father’s family. I found the Barbadians with whom I worked, marketed and engaged on the street, to be direct  and plain spoken. Yes, its true, that Barbadians are past masters at cursing, rh this and that. Yes, they can be abrupt and not necessarily see the humourous absurdity with the Trini rapidity. But they are sincere about their country and proud.

Caribbean people ask me all the time (thinking me to be a Trini, which I am, if only a wannabe) “you like barbados?’ Well, what’s not to like?

Here are my top 10 things in no particular order:

1. The Barbadian concern for fairness in social relations

2. Sense of being at the centre of the Caribbean. It is a hub

3. Small size and accessibility for running, riding, getting around

4. The road network (there are 10 ways to get to any one place)

5. The majestic mahogany trees

6. Beaches, and Brownes in particular

7. Feeling of safety (Rais says  “children grow up in a friendly environment”, Safiya says, ‘the easiness”)

8. Views of the east coast and St.George Valley. Barbados is pretty in a pleasant, comforting way

9. The dry Barbadian wit

10. Family and friends. See No. 2. In Barbados, you are likely to find yourself in groups of people where most come from other Caribbean countries.

11. An extra: I especially enjoyed the Ne’er To Meet Book Club. A small grouping of eccentric book lovers who can agree on very little. But how they can cook!

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Finding a community

St. Phillip is a place I associate with isolation. My father being declared persona non grata for his communistic ‘thought patterns’ (using a favorite phrase of his), we were wrenched from Dominica, from beloved grandparents, rivers, lush flora and fauna and exiled in a place called Coles Pasture. This small village with three shops, was surrounded by cane fields in which plantation houses nestled cozily, their inhabitants living the life of race, colour and class privilege. The area was arid; sea swept and looked like what I imagined as the setting of Jane Eyre. Wild and desolate.

On the radio, Neil Sedaka, Platters, Tammy Wynette, Englebert Humperdink (who is still singing!).

I never felt I belonged there. Yet my memories of the place are so vivid. We had a lot of physical freedom,  walking the road to nowhere, bathing at dangerous Bottom Bay, tumbled to the point of drowning, like so much seaweed.  We were, as it is now described,  free range children. Ambling here and there, picking dunks, sea grapes, playing cricket in open spaces. Little parental supervision, there being no sense of lurking danger.

This weekend, I was once again in St. Phillip to listen to a Read-In at a children’s literary event. St. Phillip has both changed and yet remains recognizably the same.  It retains that sense of being a place onto itself, self-sufficient and slightly disconnected.  Huge tracts of land without housing, flat and scrubby in vegetation. Yet no doubt the standard of living has improved dramatically. 

King George 5th Park at which the Read In took place was an oasis of community togetherness. Barbados is like that. Despite its small size, one can be continually surprised to come upon vibrant community life going on unknown to the rest of the country.

The Park was  full of people, families picnicking, boys and men together playing cricket, the middle aged singing their karaoke hearts out (of time- Neil Sedaka, Platter, tammy Wynette!) and people line dancing to Wotless. Hard to imagine but surprisingly magnetic to watch.

And in the midst of this, Varia and Aisha commandeered the park’s PA system and the children read their prose and poetry. The readers, all under 15, were  thoughtful, some comedic, others heartfelt and emotional. My daughter Rais read and her association with Varia’s Mustardseed Productions (a drama school for children) was evident in the delivery.

“Varia is such a positive force’ was Douglas’ comment the next day as we were thinking about this Read In.

Yes she is.


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We are at that stage in our lives, those of us fifty somethings, where we must say goodbye to those of our parents’ generation. So it goes. The cliche of the cycle of life.

The thing I imagine about losing a life partner, one with whom one shared friendship, apart from all else in a long union, is perhaps the feeling of   bereftness. I do not want to dwell on it but just to share a poem by W.H.  Auden which like all good poetry, is accessible and expressive of emotions that we would all recognise:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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Something read: Hitchens

Hitchens: The definition of articulate.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Richard Hawkins and the now deceased Christopher Hitchens who said:

I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian — on the left and on the right.

“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy — the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquize the divine and tell us what to do.”

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