Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sound of Rain

When we were little, the only thing we ever wanted to do when it rained was to run outside and play in the water. But we were forbidden. We would ketch cold, or die of pneumonia, or be struck by lightning. (The worst case of rain that we ever knew was a bad cold!) So we would sit inside our elbows at the windows and watch the water falling from the sky, hear the swoosh of the wind and trees, feel the damp stickiness turn to cool breath the more it rained, and smell the green rot of the drinking earth. Thunderstorms were more exciting - counting the seconds to the crash after every sudden flash of lightning. When drains and river flooded, we were absolutely forbidden to step in the swirling streams of mud coursing across what was a front lawn or driveway. People drowned and were dragged through the drains their bodies lodging behind some mangrove in the Caroni or drifting out beyond the first Bocas - we had heard of one boy from Santa Cruz or San Juan whose body was found somewhere down the islands!

I think I was not yet twelve, that day in the long mid-year vacation when I led my brothers and sisters - four, maybe all five of us - and an older cousin, on an after-rain adventure to the swollen river at the back of our farm.  We went - shorts and flipflops, and some glass jars - a rag tag bunch of country children, to see what the river had brought down, maybe to pick up some small fish in the still places where the river made a bend, or tadpoles. Who knows what you will find in a river arriving from mountain rains? The river was high, and murky with red dirt. Its course had changed. I remember being awed, even a little afraid - but couldn't say it. We couldn't tell how deep it was off the bank. But we were kids, and we started poking around the bank. Look there's a snake! Watch the shoe running so fast in the middle of the river! Slipping and sliding off the soft bank. Hauling the little ones back up. Knowing just enough not to go in, even though this was our river that we knew as clear and sweet on sunny days.

It must have been the hour before lunch when kids must find something to keep their minds off the rumble in the tummy. But the river was amazing compelling, too exciting to leave -  until another raincloud broke the spell. We must have stayed hours! Could we make it back without getting very wet? Well, it's impossible to run a quarter mile with five or six year olds in slippers, and stay dry. Drenched, shrieking, giggling at the rain, the sky. Hot blood flooded our heads. We licked at water dripping off noses, felt the rivulets over necks and arms and down our backs. We had such tales  unworded in our pounding hearts...

Laughter was cut short. This was the angriest I had ever seen my mother. Where had we been for almost three hours? Can a child account for even one hour of a day? Of course we got licks. Me the most for knowing better, being ringleader... What if something had happened? What if...

But nothing bad had happened. And forever I remember the wildness of the running river the wildness of the child racing the rain. And welcome every roaring rain shower like the thirsty earth.

 No river here! View from my porch after rain

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Tobago frame of mind

 Wave off Sandy Point, looking west.

This is the island that floats on the horizon - the way the dim outline of Trinidad emerges on a clear day at Sandy Point (south tip of Tobago). It's a place to visit, once maybe twice a year, to repair burnt out brain circuitry and refresh bodies worn out by the weight of routine. It is easy to do nothing in Tobago, just be, unhurriedly, selfishly, sybarite. Eat well or simply, enough to take you from bed to beach and back. It must be hard to work in paradise.

My school teacher friend and her playwright-carnival artist husband seem to think not. They might begin or end their day with a swim at Mt Irvine. Otherwise, she has taught in her private school for over 20 years, with what might be considered play-to-learn methods developed in Canada and with skill and discipline developed from training in nursing and special ed. She has recently dusted off her brushes and watercolours,  pencils and sketchpad, the hidden artist in her family. He commutes to Trinidad to care for his mother and produce with others in his field. Their musician son and dancer daughter are in training abroad, but Tobago is always on their minds. The experiment of this family who returned to Trinidad with degrees, and the hope of being part of a new society is still to be examined, documented and assessed.

What about the lady whose liver string is buried under an ajoupa in the holistic haven. Why does she worry about a legacy? She who has fostered from scratch the spirit and soul of a Tobago enterprise built on relaxation, good food, patience, discipline and consistent effort while raising two girls and a husband. Does she feel a sense of time running out, or the life's worth of a family grown in Tobago with pumpkin vine members in almost every other country on earth?

On the 20-minute plane ride back to reality, the island fades quickly. The tan remains slightly longer - the outward and visible sign of something changed. The flight in, and out, are parentheses to a week that might not exist or even be missed.

The thoughts generated by idleness remain. What are the efforts of a life worth? Anywhere in the world? In Tobago?

Rounding up the boats at the end of the day, near Pigeon Point

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theory of Cities

Consider the bachac. These leaf-cutter food farming ants can be seen in almost any
Trinidadian garden. Their soldiers and workers clear cut paths and highways from the nest to your rose bush or the sweet young leaves of fruit trees. The cuttings are taken back to central chambers of the nest where they are processed with the help of co-dependent fungus into food for the queen and the next generations of bachacs. Queens can live for a very long time (as much as 20 years) and nests can develop to house millions of these ants. "Bachac" is an Amerindian word known since the Spanish conquest of the new world.(http://www.amazing-trinidad-vacations.com/leaf-cutter-ant.html)

Consider termites. These industrious insects build giant nests on rainforest trees, or towering mounds in the savannas of Africa and Australia. They feed on, and are therefore imprtant to the recycling of dead plant material.When they find convenient and abundant sources of dead plant material - such as in human homes - they are our enemies. "Colonies use a decentralised, self-organised systems of activity guided by swarm intelligence to exploit food sources and environments that could not be available to any single insect acting alone." - (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Termite)

We tend to consider bees in a different way because we have long derived direct benefit from their activity, cultivating them as pollinators and providers of honey, beeswax and royal jelly.

Many species evolved co-operative societies long before humans. It took us some 50,000 years to begin to co-operate outside of families and tribes. Then followed centuries of conflict among groups based on superficial or ideological differences.We are still working through this era, even as we have developed co-operative and ecosocial clusters - call them cities - that may yet redeem the ecological imbalances created by havesting the wild.

Especially in the last 200 years, we have exploited to near extinction, species in the oceans and on the land. We have co-opted the world's mineral resources, and populations have exploded. Now, in cities like London, New York, Tokyo and even those as tiny as Port of Spain on a small island in the south Caribbean, we must confront the challenges of feeding and sustaining ourselves without further affecting the balance of life on the earth.

One very perplexing question: on a planet that we are told is over four billion years old that has created and discarded thousands of creatures, why do we believe that a species not yet 100,000 years old has the capacity to determine not just its own fate, but that of the whole world.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Healing hands

Four fingers and a thumb on each hand, released us from the earth to catch power from the air. Today, these connect us - our brains and our hearts - to each other and with or without technology, to the pulse of a universe with an expanding horizon. Bring your hands within touching distance of each other, but do not let the fingers touch. Feel the leap of electricity thumb to thumb, finger to finger, and the ball of energy that fills the space between your palms. Now try it with someone else.

I wrote the following as a meditation for self-healing and calm, after learning about, and experiencing reiki.

I close my eyes to see
the warm possibility
of calm channels
where anger rises unbidden
to choke the voice with bile and bitterness.

My hands over temples
help me to hear
undertones of singing earth.
And over the throat,
to release quiet assertion
that I am of the ocean, the universe.

My hands are not my own
But conduits
of energy brought from the air.

Our hands -  with touch or without touching
- enter the pulse and bloodbeat of each
and all.
We tune and synchronise
pitch and timing:
So like bells we chime clearly
vibrating with the song of the universe
the tones of each other.

In the rush of living, take time
to touch to calm to hear to understand
to access the pulse and heartbeat
the warm plasma, the glue
the conduits for re-calibration.
Take time to heal the self, and you can heal the world.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Grandmother

The grandmother was a suicide. In the middle of a day, at or around the age of 80, she tied one end of rope around a crossbar in the bathroom, the other around her own neck and fell off a stool. No one else was at home. It was a perfect plan, the perfect crime. Now consider the pandemonium when her grandchild came in after school, and the rest of the family. Her own children ridden with guilt and unanswered questions for the rest of their lives. Did her soul find release back to the earth of her birth?

A peasant childhood in China. Hard and self-sufficient adulthood as a teen mother of three sons. A long and incomprehensible journey across many waters with daughters at her breast. And a life locked in the cage of her skin -  a woman, not educated, on the fringe of a society where few spoke her native language, and many mocked the strangeness of the way she did speak.

She tolerated much.  The squalor of seven children growing untidily in living quarters behind a shop. Losing them to education in a foreign language, and the culture of the streets "behind the bridge" Port of Spain. Her husband's other family living down the road - the two sets of children with the same last name, unquestionably siblings of the same father. And then grandchildren of a different colour, hair texture. The death of the husband and then transportation to yet another land. Where no one outside the family spoke her language.

How much life is enough for one soul? Who decides? How long did she plot, behind the quiet daily pleasantries, the "good mornings" and "good nights," the meals prepared for grandchildren coming home from school, the occasional outing to the market where she chose food that was familiar. I believe we all choose - perhaps not the day or time, or the manner of going, but in the end, the soul chooses. And in the twinkling of an eye, all attachments are left behind. Life lifts off to suffuse those who remain with the sorrow of longing and lost possibility.


Is this not an infusion to make us more alive? Lessons - if not in life - in death.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The ordinary life

My life as an over-achiever seemed much the simplest route to me. Compliance makes life so easy. None of these annoying distracting thoughts, like why? or too much trouble, or I'd rather be doing something else. Put books in front of me, and I was easily susceptible to the escapes they offered. Put numbers - and it is fascinating how even the longest number might be reduced to one of nine digits. Playing with numbers in your head - I mean who but a nerd does that? Expectations of such a child always look too good.

What was the first event that showed a different path? Was it the wedding party when I slapped a full plate of food out of my aunt's hands because she was insisting that I must be hungry and should eat? Is that what defiance feels like - a guilty satisfaction? How far down the slippery slope had I gone when - middle of my first year in college - I abandoned studies in mathematics for the unruly and seductive world of the arts, theatre, film and humanities. Nothing that would provide dependable work or predictable income! More than wanting - even believing that I could - to write, I just wanted to be, and to be spectacularly so.

The life of the "I" can be so exhausting. Self-importance stayed with me for a very long time - a sense of destiny, purpose and power that makes life difficult for other people, but never more than for the special one.

And in truth, if you stand too tall, life loves to take the mickey out of you. In this last decade, my challenge is to accept frailty, failure, inadequacy, a universe - even an immediate environment - in which I am completely irrelevant. And to find the joy in being ordinary.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Made from thin air

In the advertising world, I was not seen as a creative person.  Creativity there is a technical competency. You could be artist or designer, certified in drawing, colour, image or type composition. Or a copy-writer finding the right words and phrases or lyrics to tap into the cultural sub-conscious. At the top of the heap, the creative director who alone might be allowed to think "outside of the box." My toolbox was that of the "jack of all trades, master of none."

My sister is the artist. How we admired her work with famous fashion houses, the diligence and commitment with which she pursued her career - to be "discovered" and apprenticed by big name Europeans. All of that foretold by her drawing since she could hold a pencil - comic strip storyboards, costumes for carnival bands, fashion collections, and the patience and pizzazz in accessorising her own wardrobe. After a lifetime of making haute couture for a distinguished house, she has turned away from fabric and clothing. The garment industry is over-priced and excessive! She has taught herself the craft of glass-bead making, designs and makes beads, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Take them, she says, and add layers to personal statements of style. That's an artist.

In the meantime, I see myself a bit like the jack spaniard, or a bachac. I string words together - vegetation chewed with spit - adding to the nest. A process that - with so many others - builds a fragile and precarious architecture. That meaning emerges in the process is amazing. It's not like I have a planned - or any - idea of the whole story until the words start appearing on the screen. And even then - line by line, paragraph after paragraph, it's hunt and peck, delete and re-word - until what I didn't even know I wanted to say, comes out. It always feels like hack work.

This blog is working to see if there might be something wild (native, subconscious) waiting to appear.




An excuse to show off my artist sister's creations!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Memories in the blood

When my mother was the age I am now, she had open heart surgery. This means that a surgeon cut through her breast bone, opened the rib cage and had it held open for a couple hours while repairs were done to the tubing bringing blood to her heart. She had a triple by-pass. This means three tubes needed to be re-opened so that her heart could continue to function. This was one of the culminations of almost 30 years of adult onset diabetes. Having just delivered my first child and focused on this growing bundle of life, the significance of this event in my mother's life was only partially understood.

It was not until my own major surgery fifteen years later that there was deeper understanding. In our bodies, it is not just the brain that perceives, responds and holds memory. Experience is held in every organ, every cell, even every atom in the body. Some call it pain, others discomfort, still others do not understand their unaccountable fear or sensitivity to needles, smells, situations (such as hospital rooms).

Surgery for removal of reproductive organs at a time when child-bearing is past should be no big deal. It's not like an arm or a leg - which we are told feels like it's always there. But the body remembers traumas. Anaesthesia feels like falling into a black hole - have it too often and I suspect the black hole will be permanent. Even donated blood has a feeling. For me, it was something feral, yes wild. Are the memories of the donor somehow fused into me?

But pleasures are also remembered, and surely held more firmly in the body and blood than pain. Probably the reason that a woman can bear to have more than one child. The traumas of birth are over-ridden - though not forgotten.

My mother's heart was never completely whole again. The other insidious effects of diabetes which were never corrected or balanced, took their toll. How do I make up for loss in my own body? So many compensations, balancing activities, even lifestyle changes have been adopted - are they ever enough? Does mortality - in the end - have its own attractions?