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Sunday, October 2, 2011


I was appalled and saddened to read the caption for the cartoon on Friday, September 30, 2011. It read, “Imagine Baldwin ’tap ah de Waldorf and den tun round an beg fuh reparations.” Jumping Jehosaphat! Or, as we say here when we are nonplussed, ok then. In the continued spirit of cartooning, let me ask the cartoonist and the vessels that will have made this empty noise, where did they find the money, to get the money, to make the money, to spend the money to build the hotel?

But Langston Hughes said it better in his satirical poem, Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria:

“…..Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
Why not?
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
because your hands dug coal, drilled stones, sewed gar-
ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
and live easy
(Or haven’t you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bitter bread of charity?)….”

I am forced to register that the historical sociologist, Orlando Patterson, writing in what has been referred to as his profound treatise, Slavery and Social Death, argued that slavery cannot be understood without comprehending the importance of honour. This kindergarten requirement is because slavery is much more that an institution allowing property-in-people. Slavery is “the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonoured persons.”

And it is to Patterson we must turn to define honour: “True honour is possible only where one is fully accepted and included, where one is considered by one’s potential peers as wholly belonging.” This “wholly belonging” status probably explains why even some of our best and brightest minds want us to, “get over it”; like a dirty pool of water they have left behind; as if water can’t swim. They must disabuse themselves of their migrant, belonging status or be prepared to face ad hoc deportation. Look at the President of America. Look at him.

I can only end by reminding that the first four syllable word all West Indian children, of all races, should learn to pronounce is, e-co-no-mics. That is what brought us here and that is what will take us where all honourable (and not so honourable) citizens of the world should reside. My dear good people, reparations for slavery and its offspring are the diametric, the antithesis, of charity.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

All Alone

Hell Is Empty

You woke up late. The brainless alarm clock did not go off. It was set for 6 o’clock alright, but for 6 PM. Who would want to wake up at 6 PM? You must have gone to bed really tired and very sleepy; just the state in which you do not want to set the alarm clock in error and the state in which you need the alarm clock set right. There is a hellish, familiar, alarming ring to this irony.

Many years ago, at a very important conference, you had decided not to trust your alarm clock. You called the receptionist after midnight and, assured that she would be working until 7 AM, you requested a wake-up call at 6 AM. The gentle woman spoke softly, almost somnolently, and suggested that you used the telephone. Shaking your head in certain thought that she must have fallen asleep, you responded in your most caustic and sarcastic tone and questioned why on earth would you rise from your slumber, extend your sleeping hand to an inanimate telephone, call the receptionist, and ask her to wake you up, when you would have been awakened already? When the insistent, decelerated response came that you should kindly use the telephone, with “Sir” prefixed and suffixed, you twisted your imploding head like a confused dog and transferred your daft conversation to the telephone.

When you are late, you either rush to minimise the lateness, or you just give up and carry on as if you were not late, as if it did not matter. Can it be that persons who are habitually late for work (and almost everything else) are the very same persons who used to be late for primary school? And knowing that they would receive a lash and a lashing from the headmaster, they would just amble on like a lamb to be exampled.

Late or not, the bathroom must be engaged, prefaced by a banana and a cup of tea to get your bowels into motion. Bananas in abundance for half the week and then nonexistent. You should not rush through the toilet. In fact, it is one of the best places to read and think. All modern bathrooms have a design flaw. Since you must wash your hands afterwards, why, after doing your do, do you pull up and push down your clothes with your unwashed hands, and then wash your presumably dirty hands? Surely, the wash basin should be within arm’s length of the toilet whilst you are seated on the throne so you can redress yourself with washed, clean hands. Or, maybe you should doff your clothes before using the toilet and don them after washing your potentially dirty hands.

Somehow, you get going on the road. Being late, everything appears magnified. Why is there a sign in the road saying “road” followed by “hump”? If there is a hump in the road, why warm me with the word, “road”. A hump in the road must be a road hump, unless hump by itself refers to a caravan of camels crossing (with pedestrians in saddles). In some countries a “road hump” is called a “sleeping policeman”. That would be too confusing for this country.

Driving along, you decided not to stop and allow the school children to cross the road; not because you are late, but because they are usually so unappreciative. But knowing you always stopped, they sauntered across the road and, with your sudden stop, the driver behind waltzed into you. Figurative road humps, caravans of camels with saddled pedestrians. You then have to wait on the “sleeping policeman”.

You recalled rushing to catch the village bus when you were a child. Granny was trying to sew a button onto your shirt pocket. When the bus passed down the hill you earnestly suggested that instead of sewing one button on, she should take the other button off. Granny must have been a frustrated violinist, the way her disarticulated hands descended on you. Your cousin, following instructions to speak properly since she was then attending big school, in town, threw faith and hope to the wind and proclaimed to the village that the “burse” was coming back. Granny’s arthritic hands ascended into heaven.

You finally arrived at work. You begin to settle down to a day of calm, intelligent discourse. The alarm-clock irony chimes again. The devil had dispatched, by overnight delivery (and without any tracking number), a series of earthquakes and tsunamis that pushed you back all day until you got back home. On the way home you were impeded by two drivers in prolong conversation. Another form of road humps.

When night falls and you reset the alarm clock, you remembered that it was your dream about West Indies cricket that caused you to get up late that morning. After all, with India and Sri Lanka playing in the final match, West Indies still managed to lose.

You are afraid to go to sleep. The day had been so bad, it must be a sign of more bad things to come. You might dream of hell, die in your sleep and end up there. But you decide to sleep nonetheless; not because you are not afraid of dying and going to hell. You sleep very soundly and peacefully because you finally realised that in your moments of tempest, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”.