Starting Over

Some of you may know that after 4 expanding years in Thailand and Asia and the Pacific, I am back in Trinidad. Back in Trinidad as a resident after being away for 12 years. Of course I was never truly away, but living is not quite the same as wonderful, carefree, disconnected stretches of holidaying. As the Trinis would say, ‘see me and come live with me is different’.

For these four years, I wrote episodically in this blog and finally not at all. I am not sure why. In the beginning I felt that I did not know enough to write about what I was observing. That my observations in any event were too superficial  and I was leery about the voyeur thing. And then the work overtook me, or at least that is the excuse I gave mysef. But all a  mistake. Writing helps  organize thought, helps one think through and think deeper. So my  loss.

Anyways, I start anew now. And to say, yes superficially for sure, that Asia is a mind blow with its diversity, dynamism, difficulties, sheer scale of population, land mass, antiquities, hustling modernity, consumption, reverence, human efforts and nature. Over the next months, I hope to be able to explore some of this.




Family, friends and folks, I have fallen well off the blogging wagon and looking for a way to get back the discipline. This one is a bit of a cheat, but here goes as I turn 55. These are some lessons living with and learning from others:

  1. Joy is the best emotion
  2. Giving and receiving love and gratitude is the stuff of joy
  3. One person can influence the whole trajectory of your life. Choose carefully.
  4. Do unto others really is the golden rule
  5. There is grace in forgiving
  6. There is happiness in releasing and indeed, forgetting some things
  7. Connected family, good friendships and good works equal the good life
  8. Everyone feels better receiving and giving affirmations
  9. It could be so much worse. Perspective generates optimism and vice versa
  10. Sometimes it IS the answer that brings the row
  11. Smiling with strangers is a good habit
  12. Talking to strangers in the airport is curiously relaxing
  13. There comes a time in friendships when you just accept your friends as they accept you. Troubles, flaws and all. Old friendships should be treasured and new friendships always a possibility
  14. Interdependence is an existential fact of life. Embrace it.
  15. Bitterness is like bile, your insides are the only things being eaten up
  16. Cooking together can feel like love
  17. There is no chore that does not build some skill and understanding of life
  18. Clutter is just that but neatness can be over-rated.
  19. Make the decision and the details will take care of themselves
  20. Grandparents can make so much difference to children experiencing turbulence
  21. Nature is definitely a thing but nurture can reinforce, break or improve
  22. Your children should know exactly who you are
  23. Naturally wise parents are few. Most of us have to work hard at the discipline of self-management
  24. Children do not learn life values only through osmosis, words must be used.
  25. You have to stop judging your adult children’s choices (unless you are affected)
  26. Knowing when you are affected by your adult children’s choices sufficient to intervene requires wisdom
  27. There is luck in geography
  28. The Caribbean really, truly is beautiful
  29. The outdoors should be enjoyed. Fresh air, blue skies, greenery, rain…
  30. Caribbean people at their joyful, argumentative best are such fun
  31. People are as corrupting of politicians as politicians are of people
  32. Human beings seem hard wired to find and amplify small differences amongst ourselves
  33. Identity politics untethered from principles of equality, justice and integrity is the ultimate rabbit hole
  34. Volunteerism is the main ingredient in sustaining social movements
  35. Curiosity is the other side of open-mindedness
  36. Yet understanding is not the same as acceptance
  37. Discrimination, bigotry, ignorance, domination ought not to be accepted or tolerated
  38. There are too many ways to know the world now to remain ignorant.
  39. Sisterhood is powerful and powerfully comforting
  40. Patriarchy may be resilient, but it is an endangered ideology
  41. Do not judge your insides against the outsides of others (especially for the social media generation)
  42. We can always be our better selves. Trying is important for the community.
  43. You are in the sweet spot if you like and are good at what you work at and your community needs it
  44. Taking care of the environment is the most important thing that we can do now. It is also the hardest as it means giving up on lots of immediate comforts and delights!
  45. Balance is a thing to be measured over the lifetime. Not every day. No, no one can have it all every day. Choices must be made and things given up, for a time
  46. There is time
  47. There may not be time. Somethings ought not to be deferred. Like love, like care, for self and others.
  48. Work life can be as rewarding as family life. Just in a different way.
  49. Those who say, ‘Me! I speak my mind’, are usually giving themselves permission to be offensive. Try to get away quickly
  50. I do not need to express an opinion on everything. Hard!
  51. Somethings should be said.
  52. Exercise is a discipline, you have to form the habit
  53. Everything has meaning though not everything is meaningful
  54. You cannot help everyone. But everyone can help someone.
  55. It is like they tell you on the plane, put on your oxygen mask before you do the same for others. You can help others better, when you are well and healthy.

This weekend gone, the women’s movement in Trinidad and Tobago, led by IGDS, held a conference honouring the activism of Hazel Brown, about whom I have written here. Here is my reflection on Hazel and the significance of her work:

There are some who wake up every day to make change. Those persons, driven by a vision of a different world, keep focus, even when the rest of us pull away, distracted by the dimensions of our daily lives. Hazel Brown is one such person. Utterly compelled to be engaged with her communities, forcing action by her unrelenting attention to injustice. I say communities because over the time I have known her, Hazel has focused my attention variously on cancer support, on consumer rights, on solar cookers, on politics and mostly on gender equality.

What connects all of that is her conviction that we must be better and do better. That Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean must live up to its historical obligation of ending discriminations and inequalities- whether gender, colour, race, sexual orientation, disability.

Hazel asks us that we live sustainably and engage politically to ensure democracy, equitable development, rule of law, access to information and social integration.

Over time, some have been discomforted by her singular focus on increasing the numbers of women in parliament and local government, arguing that numbers are not enough and that what we need as much or even more is women’s transformative leadership, a leadership that would both model and demand greater equality and accountability.

And Hazel does not disagree though she holds fast to the view that without critical mass in parliament, patriarchy triumphs every time.

And so we have all come to take for granted that she will be there, holding the placard, making press statements, and seeking meetings with the decision makers to push our common agenda. And when troubles erupt, when misogyny outs, people will say “What Hazel Brown have to say about that?” As if she is carrying the whole side. But simply, her voice matters to the body politic.

Hazel will be the first to say that she does all of this with the sisterhood and indeed the brothers working on social justice and rights. This Conference with its title Fearless Politics asks us to stop taking for granted the voices and actions of those who speak to our conscience. To stop making invisible the courage and leadership of women, like Hazel, like Asha Kambon, like Rhoda Reddock, like Brenda Gopeesingh, like Merle Hodge, like Andaiye to name just a few.

Let us celebrate them all by joining in social movements.

Say Enough

What else is there to be said about domestic violence that has not been said over and over? So much advocacy, yearly campaigns, law reform and yet, I understand in Trinidad in January  4 women were killed by partners or former partners. Most women murdered in the Caribbean are killed by men with whom they have had an intimate relationship. Every day on Facebook, a page titled Walking into Walls shares the horror story from the region. This is a deeply dispiriting reality.

When I was a lawyer, I had the opportunity to speak to many men who had been accused of domestic violence. There would have been a variety of circumstances but without exception, the men all confirmed that they had indeed perpetrated violence. That was never in dispute though there was always a ‘but’ as men articulated their inherent right to violate women. But she went liming. But she laughed at me. But she was nagging me. But she have a next man. And then the lawyer would add other buts in defence. But he was drunk. But he was stressed, under pressure. But yes, she have a next man and you know how man can’t take horn.

Years later, working with a fabulous group of psychologists, social workers and lawyers, a psycho-educational batterer intervention programme was adapted for the Caribbean. Partnership for Peace seeks to assure the safety of women but also to hold the mirror up for men to self-reflect on the social meaning of their behavior as a pathway to behavioural change. For there is no doubt that we cannot eradicate domestic and sexual violence as long as men view control over women as central to their sense of being a man. As long as men and yes women, continue to think of women’s difference from men as not just biological but also social, of different and lesser value.

There is so much in our culture that reinforces this. From man-as-head of household demands reiterated every day in faith-based institutions to rejection by state institutions that women are autonomous, self-determining beings, as in hospitals which (unconstitutionally it must be said) refuse to do tubal ligations without a male partner’s consent. The private sector pays men more than women and most especially, because its influence is so pervasive, so much of our music advances a crude and sexualised version of femininity and indeed of masculinity.

We will not reach widespread safety for women and girls in the home or streets so long as most men stay distant from the advocacy for gender equality. We will not get there unless our socializing institutions (the schools especially) consistently contribute to civic values of respect, equality and peace. We will not get there so long as so many women, themselves also breathing in patriarchal monoxide, keep sending the mixed messages, opting in and out of the obligation for self-determination.

And we not get there so long as individuals, communities and institutions fail women when they say they are afraid.

Let us keep talking and talking out.

Sometime in 1985, new to Trinidad and searching for an activist home, Rhoda Reddock invited me to a meeting of Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen). On a dreary afternoon, in a desolate room on St. Augustine Campus, I met five or six other people sitting in a circle- Liz, Jacqui, Lyris, Shelleen, Naomi and Gertrude. Rhoda with her historian self, took notes. I do not remember what we discussed but I recall leaving the meeting knowing that I had found my people.

Over time and with increasing core membership, under Merle and Rhoda’s co-chairing we moved from meeting at Merle’s home to a house on the outskirts of Curepe. Workingwomen’s membership expanded with quite a bit of diversity of age, occupation, education and interests, though mostly ‘easternerish’. The members struggled earnestly to take account of power dynamics, seeking internal democracy and individual accountability for inclusion and participation. Sometimes finding the balance, other times disappointing ourselves. But trying to apply what we were demanding from public decision-makers.

Workingwomen pioneered the commemoration of IWD in Woodford Square and the November 25th candlelight marches around the Savannah, always with children of the membership in tow. And true to the forward looking spirit of the members, we agreed that IWD should be an event convened by the Network of NGOs, and while difficult to release, release it we did.

We started a newsletter. The Group mobilized and worked with trade unions, trekking down to Fyzabad, on June 19th and to the OWTU hall for discussions on structural adjustment. Our members led deeply felt advocacy to end corporal punishment in schools and we made submissions in 1987 to the Constitution Reform Commission chaired by Sir Hyatali. There was always lots of internal education going on and at a session on reproductive rights, the sisters left me, big pregnant, to snore away in front the presenter.

Workingwomen has a realized vision to be largely self-sufficient. With the contribution of Lyris and Gertrude, we started a second-hand store cleverly named “New to You” on Charlotte Street. And through the credibility of its work and consistency of courageous activism Workingwomen secured a permanent home.

As the years passed and the number of children increased, I became less and less involved, until in effect my involvement ceased completely. But, can I say, I have never stopped considering myself a member of Workingwomen.

With all its achievements and challenges, the membership has remained steadfast in their contribution to a Trinidad and Tobago in which all have fair and equal opportunities for well-being; where men understand their responsibility to end sexism and women are empowered to claim autonomy, safety and equal voice in the public and private spheres.

Workingwomen expects accountable government; it demands that political parties represent the people and not the powerful; that the private sector engage in decent employment practices; that the education sector prepares youth for critical thinking, empathy and productivity; and that everyone is responsible for living ethically, respectfully and peacefully.

This is an organization whose membership indeed, never get weary yet. The long name says it all- Women working for social progress. Happy 30th Anniversary.

A luta continua.

Full frontal exposure

I suppose the question I am asking is why do the young women who do it, want to show their bodies to the world?

Every year the exposure goes to another level. This year in Barbados, many young women attached small, bejewelled pieces of fabric that drew, no, compelled, attention to their breasts and vaginas.

And every year like a recurring decimal, there are those like me who wonder about this, what seems like self-perpetuation of the grossest reduction of women’s sexuality.  But the push back is forceful as well  including by the next generations of feminists who argue that women can and should do what they like with their bodies, whether in burqa or bikini.  Questioning and judgment are akin to constriction of women’s agency.

I look at these young women in their crop over costumes on Facebook. They are ambitious, a creative lot, hard-working and striving for meaning in their lives. They are the product of mothers who lived the generational shift in women’s access to freedoms and rights.

Many of these young women embrace this representation of femininity that seems  to me (of my generation of feminist activism) inextricably connected to patriarchy and to misogyny. They do so with gleeful literalness, not with tongue in cheek. This is no ironic performance.

Are they living in the matrix, imagining and therefore forcing a new reality of non-exploitative celebration of women’s sexualities and bodies? What does this full frontal exposure mean to them? And what does it mean to the young men watching , all with their trousers on?


There are times when words are not enough, cannot express the insult to the soul of humanity. Such it is for the gang rape and hanging of those teenage girls in India; such it is for the stoning to death of Farzana by her unrepentant father; such it is for the girls of Nigeria, still missing. Such it is for the daily killing of women in the Caribbean.

But words are what we have, the main tool in our kit to grow the knowledge and outrage to mobilize all of us and our states to take effective action against the perpetrators so that, if nothing else the families of these girls and women get some comfort. That they know that the world has not looked away from monstrous cruelties.

What can we do? What is to be done? So many words already, more than ever before about violence against women and girls. In laws, in conventions, in national action plans, in the media, in poems, in research papers, in posters, on YouTube, in campaigns…. So many words already.

We can go into the development speak about political will, effective implementation of laws and policies, awareness building. And yes it is all needed.  But what we must have now, as much as we have always needed it and not got it, is for more of our menfolk to see this as their issue.

We need more of them to organise the marches, make the statements, go as delegations to Ministers of government, call out their friends who abuse women, seek appointments with parliamentarians, refuse to laugh at sexism, obsess about violence against women and girls, about how to stop it without any buts about women raising boys, or being perpetrators or whatever.

We need more men to defend a shared vision of a world intolerant of violence against women and girls, not to be defensive. There are men doing this work already. Praises. Just not enough.

The mind can hardly process what the eyes see in the image of these girls hanging from that tree. Strange and bitter, bitter fruit. Murderous misogyny.

In her Ode to the UN, Maya Angelou ends with these words:

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.