Party At Your Own Risk

A close friend of my sons got stabbed after a cooler fete a few hours ago and is now being operated on to fix a collapsed lung and who knows what other injuries. A few weeks ago my children and their friends were attacked by a young man and his bodyguards outside Prive nightclub in San Fernando. This was after the young man had shoved one of them, thrown a drink on another and his friends started slapping another inside the club; there was an altercation and everyone was evicted from the club (though the young man and friends were allowed back in). This young man is apparently a known pest, both in North and South, but appears to have loads of money at his disposal (How else would a 20-year-old have a choice of whether to drive a Hummer or a Lexus?), and that seems to give him licence to do whatever he wants and start fights for entertainment whenever he feels like it. (It helps, of course, that he’s well connected in South, because the bouncers from the club, instead of breaking up the fight that ensued outside when the young man and his people jumped out of the Lexus and rushed the group, instead joined in and attacked the young people they did not know). This incident has been reported to the police but I’m not taking bets on whether it will go much further. The young man has threatened to look for them in clubs in Port of Spain so is clearly fixing for a rematch. Like the mess in San Fernando, today’s incident seems to have been a random event as the young man who’s now in hospital was also unknown to the people who attacked him.
What is terrifying is that this seems to have become a normal part of life for young people. So many of them have been killed in car crashes and now every day one reads of more deaths during limes and fetes. A drink spilled; a toe stepped on by mistake; a glance at the wrong girl, a recollection of some perceived slight, all of these insignificant events have led to injury and death. There’s too much frustration, too much ‘beef’ and way too much alcohol going around these days. Why should it be a normal thing for people to attack others because they are from another part of town, another group, another ‘clip’? There are wars where the young men from one street dare not be seen on the next street or they will be shot dead. Why have our children become targets of other people’s children—their own peers—for no reason at all? Don’t for one minute think that it’s only young people from the so-called depressed or ‘garrison’ communities who are involved. The young man in the Prive incident is an extreme example of how well-off kids are involved as well—those who do not have the excuse of not having opportunities, education, family or social support. In a few recent incidents, young ‘rich boys’ have also been involved in these ugly dramas. Why we are making strangers of one another, fabricating reasons for people to be enemies? The adults—a government that pays little, if any, attention to its people’s needs, politicians who have no shame; people who drive on the roads with complete lack of consideration for anyone, and complete lawlessness; teachers who have no interest in the subjects they teach, far less their students—are setting a bad example, and young people don’t think there’s anything worthwhile for them to inherit (in my opinion, even the Lexus kid has not been served well by his adults). Alcohol has become this country’s answer for everything. Lime and forget. This is what the young have inherited from the adults, but they have started earlier and go at it harder. So they drink and they fight and they crash cars. And bid farewell to their ‘fallen soldiers’. Their attitude is Party With a Vengeance, Party No Matter What. And for a parent, every time they go out, we have no idea whether they will come back whole or come back at all. Nothing you can do to stop them; just try sleep and hope the phone doesn’t ring.


Obama: Signs of the time

Ric Hernandez

Obama/Biden ticket in Show Low, Arizona. Photo: Ric Hernandez

I asked my dad to go out to his front yard in Show Low, Arizona, and take a picture of their Obama-Biden lawn ornament for me. It’s the nearest thing I have to a campaign button since my son ripped off my “Vote Obama” bumper sticker way back during the primaries. It’s true Trinidad is a long way from the US, I’m not American and have no voting rights, but still I wanted to publicly show my support for this extraordinary man in this once-in-a-lifetime moment, something too-cool teenagers can’t understand or abide.
Last week I came back from a short trip to Barbados where I found that like here, the big topic of conversation—every time—was Obama. We were at a Caribbean health conference and when we got together after hours, the talk would always turn to the US elections and the growing probability that he would win. Over the months people here have gone from not even imagining he could beat Hillary, to not wanting him to get the nomination for fear we would lose him to an assassin’s bullet or a bomb, to slowly daring to believe—and now the excitement can hardly be contained, even by usually taciturn Bajans. People say they are praying for him to win, and for his safety, powerless to affect the outcome with their vote but “trusting in the Lord”.
My father and step-mother have been canvassing for the Democratic ticket where they live in the mountains of Show Low, and will be working on election day. They say theirs is the only Obama sign on their street, but like the great mass of campaigners all over the US they are pressing on for their candidates. This seems to be paying off as the polls show Obama ahead and that even in Arizona, there in McCain’s backyard where my folks live, Obama may be catching up. But people hold on to their prejudices and some strange ideas put into their heads and repeated every day, like Obama’s a socialist, that he’ll encourage Islamic terrorists, and one just doesn’t know exactly what will happen on voting day. Even an associate of mine in the US told me yesterday that he’s always been a Democrat, always voted Democrat but he’ll be sitting out this election. Why? Because if Obama wins “black people in the US and in Trinidad will crow too much”. I guess he believes, like so many racists who don’t think they are racist, that it’s cool for African-Americans or black people on the whole, to entertain the rest of humanity with their music, dancing and sporting ability, but that’s about it. I think it’s time for something else to be imprinted on people’s minds: I think it will make for a better world for all of us. I think it’s Obama’s moment, and I feel it is “our” moment too…all of us who don’t want to die without seeing hope for the future.

Sunday lunch and bullets

Sunday afternoon, doing jigsaw puzzles on the computer, the big rain of lunchtime already drying up. Crack! Not lightning this time, just a gunshot, followed by a few more. A few months ago I would have been able to tell you how many shots, but I’ve forgotten already. Not even too sure which direction they came from. These sound nearer than similar eruptions earlier in the day, though. The three of us in the house silently note the disturbance, but it’s not followed by any scrambling or sirens, so we continue to read papers, chat on MSN or whatever, with only a slightly hightened sense of our surroundings … in case. But nobody moves. For here in the quiet valley, we have become too accustomed to these sounds.

Olympic chief tries to put Bolt in his place

Jacques Rogge really got me mad this morning. I’ve been listening to peoples’ comments about Usain Bolt’s exuberant celebration of his mastery after his record-breaking 100m and 200m runs at Beijing, and most of the negative feedback has come from commentators whom people could choose to take on or ignore. But when the IOC chief puts his mouth in it, that’s another matter. Rogge thinks the Jamaican sensation was not gracious enough and should have shaken hands with his rivals after the race, and on the whole been more gentlemanly. The chest-thumping, dancehall-stepping, lightening-bolting antics that thrilled millions of people were just not good enough a performance for the Olympic boss:

‘I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters.’

Please. This is not only deluded and out of touch, as Rick Broadbent so rightly wrote in The Times today, but also plain racist. Why shouldn’t Bolt let loose and show his joy at this great performance? He hugged the other winners after giving the crowd and the cameras a great show (and after they caught up with him) but why should he stifle himself for Rogge and others’ benefit? Before Tiger Woods, golfers wore plaid Bermuda shorts and would never have dreamed of punching the air with their fists. Muhammed Ali was too lippy and radical and disrespectful. These men are giants, and so is Bolt. He’s a home-grown hero and everything about him is Jamaican and Caribbean. No ordinary man, no slave child. And don’t try to turn him into one—no “Thank you Massa” for Bolt. Caribbean children of my generation were taught that we should be ‘seen and not heard’, but this new generation, living under conditions of great stress in our little islands, has a different stride, and I admire their attitude and style—men and women. And when Usain Bolt puts his face up in the camera and tells the whole world, “I am Number One”, he’s damn right!

Happy Birthday to You, kid. You’ve made the Beijing Olympics our own.

As my garden grows (not a soap opera, I hope)

I’ve decided to replace some of the flowers in my patio garden with edible plants. We’ll always have the resplendent bougainvillea and the impatiens spilling out from everywhere, but I love the idea of picking fresh produce, no matter how small my garden is. I’ve started with seasonings, and already I don’t have to buy those when I go to the market (instead I stand there chatting with the Paramin man who sells herbs, and eat oranges, or cake, or whatever he’s offering that morning—not the home-made wine, though).

I now have three types of thyme, a spearmint plant, small leafed basil, purple and lemon basil, chive, pimento pepper; also a bay leaf tree in a large pot which I may eventually plant in the ground. So I’m starting small. When the seasonings are managing well on their own, I will ask Johnny and Susie for some more lemon grass to replace the plant Benton, the rabbit, ate. I’ll also get some sweet leaf from them; then I’ll do tomatoes.

Up to a couple years ago, many of the plants I touched committed suicide in a matter of days, but my thumb seems to be getting greener as time goes by. I don’t use any chemical fertilisers and once the plants get used to that, they strengthen themselves and do really well, with the occasional help of manure fertiliser.

My next job is to pot the new plants I bought at the market last week. Will keep you posted as my garden grows.

(PS: The UK Guardian previews the Chelsea Flower Show which opens this week in London. There are examples of gardens that can adapt to global warming—fascinating.)

If you’re homophobic, check this before you shout “Fyah bun…”

I recently read a summary of findings of a US study on homophobic reactions that I found very interesting. It was part of a larger study carried out by the Psychology Department of the University of Georgia, Athens, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in August 1996. That’s a long time ago, but clearly the homophobes of the world haven’t yet got the message. The question asked by authors H. E. Adams, L. W. Wright Jnr. and B. A. Lohr was “Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?” Researchers provided subjects with porn material featuring hetero, lesbian and male homosexual sex. The subjects were straight males: either self-professed homophobic men, or men who didn’t consider themselves homophobic. The study also measured levels of aggression. While all the men were found to have a similar level of aggression, and to be aroused by hetero and lesbian sex, the study showed homophobic men were the only ones whose penile circumference grew when they watched men having sex with men. Pretty cool, eh? So this one’s for the homophobic guys: either you don’t know it, or can’t admit it, but gay sex turns you on … and just maybe you’ll think twice next time you get the urge to down-cry your gay brothers.

Journalism 2.0 … multimedia stories

Our final assignment in the Journalism 2.0 course: Find 3 great multimedia packages and post to your blog about them. Describe what makes them effective and provide screenshots and links. Add a link to your blog post and upload it.

Cuban Revolution:

Opening photo and beginning of slide show on the 1959 Revolution

This is an interactive story, laid out newspaper-like and not as a package that’s navigable from one part to the other. However, I think it’s successful as a multimedia project because there’s a wealth of information in various formats, and all the components complement one another, with hardly any overlap. It was put together when Raul Castro was formally designated Cuban President in February this year. There’s a brief history of the Cuban Revolution and brother Fidel Castro’s role, and his presidency, timelines, audio, video, archive material, lots of great photos. Everything you wanted to know about the Cuban Revolution and even some stuff you didn’t.

Charlton Heston 1924-2008

• Charlton Heston wasn’t one of my favourites, but I thought the slide show and article commemorating his life was done well, and with judicious use of photographs and text. Very simple, with photos that told the story of his life, from his roles as Ben Hur and Moses, to his more recent role as champion of the gun lobby. I particularly liked the photo of him together with Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in August 1963, for the Walk on Washington. (Is he looking a tich uncomfortable?)

The Joy Fit Club

At first this did not look like a particularly attractive package to me (too much colour and busy-ness for my taste), but the sheer amount of information on weight-loss and issues around the topic, and “true-life” videos on women’s stories, make it interesting as a multi-media story.