Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The dynamics of dialogue

I am a by-stander, always have been, and likely always will be. I have made a profession out of by-standing. This doesn't mean that I won't occasionally make a move, or oppose a move, but that my natural inclination in interactions, meetings, family discussions, even creative brainstorming is to observe, to process, to playback, to critique, to review. This is also a deliberate, cultivated stance developed over years of practice in which I learned that "only fools rush in." And as a communicator by profession, it is wiser to insert considered commentary and guidance in areas that may already be overflowing with options and opinions. I realise however, that the system, social, family, community or company must recognise this as a valid and valuable role.

The opportunity to self-reflect and understand a persistent position in conversations and discussions, was provided by Peter Garrett in his workshop on creative communications. A Yorkshireman by birth, Garrett has lived in Rhodesia, South Africa and the UK, and worked as a farmer, importer-exporter. He has now turned communications coach through a deep dive and analysis of conversation dynamics. The system articulated by his Dialogue Associates is built on the assumption that we communicate for specific purposes; the highest of which is creative or generative dialogue. "Working up an idea together so that it is owned by everyone involved" is his definition of dialogue (from the Greek dialogos we derive: words across or through; converse and conversation.)

In his field guide and workshops, Garrett lets us know that not all conversations are created equal. The modes of talking and thinking together include: monologue, debate, discussion (superficial "batting ideas back and forth"); conversation (turning ideas over together); and skilful conversation. At the top are dialogue and generative dialogue. Each mode is useful and has a place. And it is the skilful communicator who is able to identify the modes, and use them to advantage.

See yourself in conversations with family, friends, and with co-workers, in formal and less formal but nevertheless purposeful meetings. What are the modes of these interactions? Talking to your children - is a monologue productive? Settling an argument with your partner - you may be debating, but do you really want someone to win, someone to lose? Meetings of the new board, how do you build the environment for consensus?

Being a by-stander is a dialogic action. There are four. The other actions "round the table" are Move (who makes the proposal or takes the lead); Follow (who agrees and supports the idea and the Mover); Oppose (who presents reasons why not); and By-stand (who takes a step back to consider deeply, choosing to insert more information, diferent perspectives). If you can look at yourself in a conversation with others, you will soon realise that specific players are not assigned specific actions. Anyone can Move, Follow, Oppose, By-stand at any time. It is useful to know, though, what is your preferred position (zone of comfort). It is a good lesson to practise self-observing, and choosing to adopt different actions from time to time. Be versatile and take part in lifting your meeting or discussion to a level that is purposeful (or playful) and benefits everyone.

Having learned these modes and techniques, the challenges remain: to have the discussions with those closest and dearest that don't sound like quarrelling (debates); to propose thoughts and ideas so that there is openness and understanding that all views are valid, indeed essential, to progress; to let others know when you are enquiring (collecting information) or by-standing; to help to transform discussions and meetings that have become stuck (the same persons always move, or always follow, or seem to always oppose) into purposeful and enjoyable consensus building.

A peek into Garrett's 'field guide" indicates that dialogic actions and dialogic practices (listening well, with respect and suspension of assumptions) can lead to energised meetings, deeper enquiry, more information, better decision making. There is the asurance that "higher purposes" of collective communications -performance, knowledge, fulfilment of potential - may be achieved. The starting point is the art of dialogue.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Jean and Dinah B.F.F.

Sometime ago, my friend and I took to referring to ourselves as "Jean and Dinah." I am Jean and she's Dinah. Or is it she's Jean and I am Dinah - we were interchangeable when we first giggled over our pseudonyms. But now, for sure, she's Dinah, the one from country. And I, Jean in town. We are old enough to have gone past the Mighty Sparrow's salacious perception of "de girls in tong." Our "Jean and Dinah" catches at the spirit of friendships like "Thelma and Louise" or the immortal "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

In 1956, the "girls in town" came to the notice of a fresh-faced cheeky Sparrow who crowed in his chorus: Jean and Dinah ... round de corner posing! Bet your life is something they selling. And if you catch them broken, you can get it all for nothing. Don't make no row, the Yankees gone, Sparrow take over now! And in his legendary prize-winning calypso he captured indelibly and irrevocably, a moment in Trinidad's history. See Jean in the flush of youth, desired by stick fighter, kaisonian, panman and the occasional US Marine "on shore leave" from the naval station in Chaguaramas. To see Dinah would be to wonder what she was doing here - but the chance juxtaposition in Sparrow's song creates a bond that lasts longer than events in 1956. (Fifty-five years later, Cassi continues to ask in calypso, When last you take a wine on a town ting?)

Jean and Dinah could have stayed forever in that vignette - pick any two Trini girls, pumping behind or flag-waving in front any steelband; wining in any mas band; chipping behind the truck; on the road to las lap. Today, they texting and BBMing in the band!

But Sparrow's girls in town have had their lives. And Tony Hall's play (based on the improv work from Susan Sandiford and Rhoma Spencer with the actual old girls) reveals some of the circumstances. Jean's life is a calypso epic, looking for the man to be the man in her life, as different as Warlord and Ramon, different child fathers. Dinah's only seems more conventional - "dancer" waitress in a club, a home and five girl children. For 35 years, they have survived, hardened by the events and experiences of living.  Carnival, however, remains an annual awakening, re-kindling youthful urges -  pushing pan, playing sailor. On this particular Carnival Tuesday, there's more than the approaching sounds of steelband music, more than the infirmities and discomforts of lives lived hard and on the edge - the diametre - even to middle age. There's memory.  And in the jamette life - violently even savagely - lived, there is friendship as untarnished as in any epic. And redemption. Jean and Dinah, BFF.

(Work has already begun on the movie based on Hall's play.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For the future of a small island

I met the Prime Minister of Curacao today. His name is Gerrit Schotte and he has been in office for five months. He entered politics when he was just 30 when the party he co-founded, MPK (national movement for Curacao), nominated him to be the Commissioner in charge of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Agriculture, Husbandry and Fishery. He is proud of the tourism effort, and talks about the natural underwater riches of the reefs - one called "the wall" - off Curacao. Not that he has actually seen them - he's not a diver he admits - but everyone who has, speaks with awe.

He became an elected member of parliament in 2007. And in January 2010, he received the most votes ever achieved in an election in Curacao. When the island became independent at the break up of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010, he became Prime Minister, the head of a coalition government in which his new party MFK (movement for the future of Curacao) took five of the 21 seats.

He has come this week to Trinidad's big gas-processing company as if to the promised land. His energy policy which took all of five months to complete envisions a move from oil to cleaner fuels like natural gas, and renewable sources like solar, wind or wave.  The refinery built at Schottegat Harbour for oil discovered in Venezuela in the early 1900s, was sold by Royal Dutch Shell to Curacao for one guilder - a steal of a deal with no guarantees or assurances about reliability or safety. It's about time to shut it down.

Trinidad - as any promised land - does not deliver its treasures readily. And especially not to one so young, so quixotic as Gerrit (Dutch version of Gerald, he that rules by the spear) who came directly to negotiate on his people's behalf, to bring liquefied natural gas to Curacao. One can almost smile at the bright balloon of optimism pricked by the complexities of gas business in a similarly small Caribbean country that had the good fortune to enter a global game - building the trains for the gas in sync with terminals and consumers on the far shores of other countries. He needs to speak with the shareholders, he's told, by the end of the hour.

But Gerrit is not to be side tracked. For the hour, he has listened for the most part. Asked a few questions. And brightened visibly when commended for Curacao's foresight in having the legislation to protect its coral reefs. His demeanour says that he has more information now than when he came in; and he looks like he is already formulating a plan, perhaps for his meeting with the prime minister of Trinidad. He intends to be remembered for actions,  he says, not for promises. In eight years when he leaves office, he will be 44! He does not intend to grow into an old politician.

It's refreshing that a people could place trust in one so young that he still believes he can achieve his dreams. "We grow big by dreams. ... nurse them through bad days the sunshine and light, which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true." This was written, one of a very few English entries, on his facebook page on February 21, 2011. He speaks four languages - one of them the Spanish of his mother who was born in Colombia.

He goes, surrounded by his elders, a leader on a mission!

The young can inspire the old. And even a small country - one of the newest in the world - can be an example. There are things that the small can teach the big, the rich, the powerful; that the weak can show to the strong. It is a boon of democracy that all are eligible to hold office - by the people, for the people. Another is that no one should die of old age in office!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Food of the gods

An old woman in the country chews dried cocoa beans to soothe the pain of her arthritis. It's the antioxidants in the beans, explains the professor.

We are a motley bunch in office dress, in the middle of a working day. There's an air of breaking biche, escaping the ordinary, out on a field trip. We have arrived in what might be a clearing deep in a tropical rainforest. The trees here are short - most about eight or ten feet - gangly looking, with a few sturdy mottled branches starting low on the main trunk. The leaves might have been drawn by a kindergartener - the classic shape in various sizes and shades of green. The occasional clump of banana trees in between. Green ferns like stars growing through the leaf litter. And towering above, one or two immortelles just past flowering. Small signs on pickets indicate Amazon, Peru, Ecuador and other origins.
In the pommerac lined lanes of the cocoa gene bank

We are in the International Cocoa Gene Bank in Trinidad. The estate is 33 hectares (81) acres. It is home to 2400 different types of cocoa, planted 400 trees to the acre,  about 16 trees per cocoa type. Because it is the only collection in the world, it has been designated a Universal Collection by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). 

The group that walks the pommerac-lined lanes have come for different reasons. The "gentleman farmer" has timber stands in the north east of the island: perhaps cocoa might grow as the understory to cedar. The eco-trustee is keen on rehabilitating cocoa estates as a means to utilise land and employ families living in remote communities. Several Caribbean states with investments in cocoa are sharing information and looking to Trinidad to provide new technology, and more importantly, new plants developed with the magical formula - disease resistant, high yield and excellent flavour. The Cocoa Research Unit's work in mapping the DNA of cocoa, its access to germplasm of all the types in the world and almost a hundred years of research, knowledge and cross-breeding make the dream possible.

For Trinidad and Tobago, the dream is more than just enlarging its place as a fine flavour cocoa producer. We have the potential to capture the entire value chain and create the Trini brand of exquisite chocolate. We can also take the lead in the region - nine Caribbean states - that produces flavour beans sought after by world-renowned specialty chocolatiers.
An understory tree that originated in the Amazon

But, as gentleman farmer points out, there are too many "its" in cocoa farming - plant it, prune it, reap it, shell it, ferment it, dance it - before you can earn a living.

A cocoa resurgence, however, requires more than harking back to an age when the "cocoa panyols" were content to live and mind cocoa in the remote valleys, making a ritual of the harvest and drying in sheds with rolling roofs, a celebration of "dancing" the beans to a fine polish with their bare feet; and the trek to town to deliver bags of beans by donkey or lorry. It requires new technology yes. Cocoa also requires collaborative thinking and effort, and a Cocoa Board that is in tune with the potential and threats of globalisation.
Gold of the Mayans and Aztecs

A handful of entrepreneurs are already showing what's possible - Duane Dove with his single estate chocolate, grown in Tobago and finessed in Europe; Isabel Brash and her brother with their Cocobel "bean to bar" single estate gourmet chocolate made and flavoured in Isabel's kitchen.
Among the fruits of the new world forests that have made their way around the world, cocoa was more than food. Made into a drink (xoxoatl means bitter water) by the Mayans, it was referred to as the food of  the gods (theobroma cacao) - no doubt for its bracing restorative quality. The Aztecs too regarded it as an elixir of health. The cocoa pod was the symbol of fertility, wisdom and power; and the beans were used as currency. While these early Americans enjoyed their cocoa water au naturel or spiced with hot chilis and cornmeal, it became popular in Europe sweetened and flavoured with spices such as vanilla and cinnamon.
Symbol of fertility, wisdom and power

In Trinidad today, we have all the ingredients for a vibrant cocoa industry - the knowledge, the trees, the lands that once produced 300,000 tons each year (against the 400 tons currently). What are we waiting for? Surely the "food of the gods" might be worth the hard work.
Flowers of Theobroma speciosa, a cousin to cocoa

Monday, March 14, 2011

Artist at play

Sandy Brown, the British ceramics artist, lives and works in Appledore, Devon. She came to Trinidad for 2011 Carnival and gave a talk at the Trinidad Arts Society on play as creativity.

Sandy Brown with a ceramic piece "played"  into being
Her life work begins in the early 70s, when she leaves everything behind for four years of study with a potter in Japan. She learns the craft and her capability by copying traditional techniques. This is clearly a crossroads in Brown's life; and she returns to Britain with a Japanese partner, and continues to confront the challenge of her identity as an artist, a woman, a creative being. With simple language and a couple hundred images, she describes the process of self-discovery. A style emerges that is large and expansive as her generous good humour, as her throaty laugh.

Clearly, in her 40 years as a potter, Sandy Brown has let go of many things - her mother's inhibitions, society's expectations, boundaries of place and time. Her paintings are deceptively childlike, daubs and scribbles in pure primary colours that also serve as doodles for utilitarian vessels (bowls, jars, cake plates!) and maquettes for larger than life ceramic sculptures. Sandy is not a small person, and it requires more than average strength to throw and turn figures that punctuate impressive landscapes. So her creativity extends to devising the way to shape, glaze, fire and mount a 12-foot  tower of ceramic beads or parts around a steel core.

The technique for loosing creativity is letting go, she says. You intuit that this is more than a process of going at your artform with ouija board blindness. Play allows you to free your deepest creative instincts. Openness taps the experience and ingenuity which you will require to take it to completion.

This is what she says: "When we are responsive to what is happening during play, when we have an open mind, and lose all attachment to having to produce a 'work of art', that is when it happens. By it I mean creativity. And when we are being mot creative we are most ourselves, so you will discover more abouut yourselves too. You just do it, instinctively, spontaneously, playfully."

Each in his or her own way, every creative artist understands this process. It's what allows us to do our truest work. The page - or computer screen - may be blank. The canvas clean. The clay an earthen lump. But  the mind - call it the collective unconscious - is teeming. This is what we tap into when we "play." We stream the void.

And so we have from T. S. Eliot:
"At the still point of the turning world;
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
At the still point, there the dance is..."
Image of Dancers from Sandy's website

And from Sandy Brown: "Dancers "conceptualised through playfulness; and completed with the artist's precision, experience and technology.

Should we not all be at play in the field of the universe!

See more of Sandy Brown at http://

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Music from Hell?

I was planning to forget calypso
To go and plant peas in Tobago
But I am afraid I can't make de grade
Every night I lying in my bed
Ah hearing a bassman in meh head
pom pom pi ti pom poom
pom pom pi ti pom poom

A generation ago (1974), the Shadow (Winston Bailey), in a long black trench coat and hat low to shade his eyes, threatened to leave the carnival calypso arena. He performed his original signature prance, the bassman from hell dance, and the rest is history. So much has flowed from Shadow and his bassman muse since then. Good thing he stayed to give us greats like I come out to play; Pay de devil; Dingolay; and Poverty is hell!

In 2011, we hear the similarly tortured Iwer George rebuking his muse:

Ah planning to stop singing soca
And go and live in Grenada
Start to sing some jab jab songs
Eat lambie and drink mih rum
Every night ah lie down in my bed
Ah jabjab singing in meh head
He say allyuh allyuh allyuh
Allyuh Trini people - ah say come to meh
Come to meh...
Stop! Move! Away from meh...

Shadow chose Tobago where his memories of a carefree childhood were made. It's not surprising that Point Fortin born Iwer looks to Grenada, the likely ancestral home, as it was for many who came and settled in Point to work in the oil industry. And perhaps there is something in the nexus of Point Fortin and Grenada and Calypso to be investigated - Sparrow came from Grenada; SuperBlue, Duke, Iwer and others from Point Fortin (via Grenadian ancestry?) on a southwest promontory of Trinidad.

Iwer's pain is poignant because - like Shadow's in his day - he feels disenfranchised in the soca community; like de judges against him. Hopefully, he too will come to understand that the competition is less relevant than the music; that even public acclaim can be fickle or fashionable; that it is only the jabjab in his head that will be the true and faithful friend. Ent!

Blue Devil from Point Fortin Borough Day

Small glossary:
Soca: genre of calypso that favours faster beats, danceable music for the road
Jabjab: (diable) devil mas
Lambie: conch
Bassman: person who plays the bass pans

Friday, March 11, 2011

Krishna's dream

A golden dream - marigolds at footprints
If I could distance myself from the world for a month, I might choose footprints on Tobago. Located on an old cocoa estate, the property sprawls in a narrow valley between Culloden village on the way to Golden Lane, and the rocky coast with a shallow living reef at Culloden bay. Its footprint is 62 acres of undulating land, part of which has been cleared for the centre of the resort. Here, you'll find an open sunny park sloping to the sea, with pools for soaking, swimming or wading; the cocoa house reception area; bar and restaurant; and butterfly gardens. Your room could be in one of two locations here  - overlooking the bay; or looking across the butterfly gardens. But the preferred place for solitude must certainly be in one of two self-contained villas hidden in the bush.

Expansive cocoa house used for reception and dining, weddings and birthdays

We first stayed here almost 15 years ago at the invitation of Dr Krishna Persad, the dreamer dreaming footprints into being. A geologist by training and profession, Krishna's creative streak made him a writer of science fiction, a naturalist painter (original work hangs in many of the rooms), an ecologist, and an adventurer - he was the first local to set up an independent oil company. His dream for footprints now includes an arboretum of native trees; and perhaps the re-introduction of cocoa.
Explaining footprints, Dr Krishna Persad

Living footprints, Mia Persad-Douglas
If footprints has the feel of a family estate opened up to special guests, it's run by Mia, Krishna's eldest, who lives in Tobago, raising three sons. Krishna and the rest of the family commute from home in Trinidad.
Rooms sided with teak off-cuts
Plunge pool and outdoor dining - view from Queen Shell suite

Capturing the essence of Tobago, footprints is a place apart, like a dream on the horizon of all our everyday working lives.
The reef at Culloden

Sunday, March 6, 2011

All-Rounder go dong!

OMG! What's that getup for All Rounder at Soca Monarch? Someone said "history in the making"? I say pappyshow. Who mek 'im believe dat he's a sexy ting?

Look at de ole ting wid he skinny ass self in ah gold satin pants and ventilated (slash de fabric!) jacket! Coulda be worse, he coulda be in a skin-colour speedo! And how dat gold Elvis muff-mohawk (muskrat you say?) staying plastered to his shave picky head - an architectural wonder!

Is it to show that he too (at 71!) can "go dong go dong wuk up wuk up wuk up?" Kitchener (yes, the late great Grandmaster himself) also "went down" on a winer girl in performance on the Savannah stage! Not his best, or even most memorable, performance!

Looking at All Rounder, people laugh til dey wet! All Rounder humping de ground with he front wine; he back wine, neck wine, over and under his harem of winer girls! How come we admire the youthman doing this - Machel or Kes - but take it as comedy when the ole guy shows off:

Is he the most clever of all - spoofing the perennial senior male sex fantasy? Wine and go dong boy! Take de body wine!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Takin de stage!

It's Carnival Saturday in Trinidad and Tobago. We are ushered into the music-mas explosion by the crowning of Machel Montano Soca Monarch with his pounding "jump on it stamp on it trample it ... we takin advantage ... jump on de stage!"

"The stage is in front of us!"

He refers to the giant open air platform that is the arena and ampitheatre of carnival shows and parade of the bands in the Port of Spain Queen's Park Savannah. The structures had been removed for almost ten years, putting the parade on the streets, and other competitions camped in yards and greens around the city.  The promise was made of an architectured carnival dome which would remain closed for certain shows, or open like a giant venus flytrap to the sky for the parades. It would be part of the city's cultural complex that started with the giant silver beetle that now houses the National Academy for the Performing Arts. It would have put the stage in a climate controlled dome.

Who would have thought that we would celebrate "the stage" that just 25 years ago we deplored for its size (diminishing the individual performer); lack of acoustics (challenging pan); and the single point parade bottleneck (masqueraders monopolise the spotlight hogging more than their ten seconds of passage, causing a pile up of other bands waiting to "reach de stage...")?

The generation that now threatens to manners the stage by jumping, stamping, trampling on it would certainly have crossed the same stage in the Carnival Saturday parade of children's mas, for their ten seconds on de people tv. For this generation at least, there's affection for de stage which - for two days from Dimanche Gras to Mardi Gras  (no time to sleep) - with cameras and all technology focused there, will beam our ritual to the world!

De stage is what everyone has been getting in shape for, getting in costume for - ten seconds - or more (how many jumps takes you across its expanse?) to bask in de heart of  de carnival village, at the centre of carnival city, de capital of carnival in the universe! This is the daylight posse, the "look me see me" side of la diametre (the other side - which has given us jamette carnival - today all ah we is jamette!)

But there's another carnival passage too. Narrow as the birth canal through which we enter the world. It takes place in darkness - fo' day morning -  in the shuffle of feet, the jostle of greasy muddy sweaty bodies pressed close, and emerges with the dawn, Carnival Monday, jouvay - the annual promise of a rebirth for the collective soul.

Advantage it!