Naina dat Rum

•April 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

All this talk about the lack of adequate representation of the diversity of Indo-Trinidadian culture in the  showcase at the Fifth Summit of the Americas’ opening ceremony, has had me thinking about what it means to be a Trinidadian of East Indian descent.

Let me preface my commentary by writing (once again) that I am a Trinidadian of primarily East Indian descent.

My concept of the Indian-ness of others has been formed largely by my encounters with family, at school (primary through tertiary level), at work and of course, by the media. Those have been my points of comparison.

Remember that stereotypical forward “You Know You’re a Trinidadian When”? I’ll phrase my general observations in that fashion:

  • You are Hindu, Muslim, Presbyterian (or recently Born Again).
  • You, your Ma or some immediate blood-relative can make roti and sweets.
  • You have access to home-made curry 3-5 times a week and have eaten on more than one special  occasion with your hands from a leaf.
  • You know what are same and curry leaves and can distinguish amchar from kuchela, dabla from puchara.
  • You enjoy ZeeTV, Bollywood movies and listening to local “Indo” radio (classical, chutney, tassa music).
  • You own formal Indian wear (and women: you know how the sari, salwar kameez and garara differ).
  • You follow cricket.
  • You have been on a river lime.

Now all of these things can obviously be known / shared / enjoyed by Trinbagonians (or even non-Trinbagonians), regardless of race or heritage.

But what if you are “Indo-Trinidadian” and respond in the negative to all or most of those  oversimplified assertions?  Are you any less “Indian”?  Should you find out the answers to those questions / fake it before someone calls you on it?  Can you stake as strong a claim on that Indo-Trinidadian label due to a common history, appearance,  or origin of family name? Are there other intangible things attached to the notion of Indian-ness?  The concept of the family, certain morals, ethics, codes of conduct?

Hmmm. I don’t think so.

If not those things, then what?  There is no answer?  It is a fluid concept?

So, the issues surrounding the cultural presentation speak more about diversity and identity than anything else. I did notice the dominance of certain themes throughout the presentation, but as Mosquito said, if Indo-Trinidadians took umbrage at their comparatively small cultural presence in the showcase, what about the groups of people who were not even represented? Given Trinidad and Tobago’s diversity (race, culture…), would it have been possible to adequately represent everyone as how they perceive themselves?

If I do not strongly identify with tassa music or Indian dancing, but recognize those things as broad threads in the colourful, complex tapestry that typifies Indo-Trinidadian culture, would I have just been satisfied to see more persons who look like me?

Or here is this for logic that is not so logical, should such performances be divided according to population statistics, (region and race), span of history?  A percentage for Trinidad, a percentage for Tobago?  However much for those of African, Indian, mixed…heritage?  A chunk of time for the indigenous peoples who were here long before us and less time for the newcomers?

Artistic license aside, the organizers of such showcases need to ask themselves, how do we want the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, to be represented to the rest of the world? Can we identify the  unique elements and artefacts created here?  Is there a national culture in Trinidad and Tobago?

As far as I can see, dominant groups still seem to be holding on to the possibly unifying fusion aspects that exist here.

To make matters even more complicated, I have no doubt that the concept of the Caribbean person, the West Indian, needs further clarification on the international stage.  Have you ever tried to fill out an official form overseas and find yourself confronted with the designations of Caribbean / West Indian (as if that were a race) along with the usual Caucasian, African, Asian…?

What do you choose?  Is the Caribbean an acknowledgement of our diverse populations? Or does it refer to one group as opposed to the other?  If so, why?

Today I am Trinidadian, tomorrow Trinidadian of East Indian descent, the next day Trinidadian of mixed descent.

Most of the time, I just feel like I am the Other.

Can any one group advocate on my behalf?

Mango

P.S.  Things that got lost (deliberately so) in the fire of the draft entry:

I omitted references to political affiliation.

It just muddies already murky waters. Just this week I was having a discussion about local politics with my significant other and soon, at the losing end of the argument (he will disagree!), my race-politics connection was called into play.  Now that can make me see red!

I also left out the alcohol issue.

I am concerned for the image of Indo-Trinidadian males with all these songs on the air-waves about rum-drinking.  It is another stereotype that I do not care for, even if perpetuated by the same.  I have been trying to get others to not dance to those songs, but when a good riddim takes them, there is no holding back …

The Greatest Show on Earth: Redux

•April 19, 2009 • 1 Comment

Continuing with my Trini Carnival – Summit of the Americas parallel…

Here are some other familiar themes that I observed:

Imagination

  • Caught a story on one of the local news channels about how the Charlotte Street Market vendors were disappointed that the wives of the visiting leaders did not stop by their stalls as part of their tour of the island.  The logic of my fellow citizens never ceases to amaze me.  Why on earth would people who are not voluntarily engaged in the rough guide tour of T&T want to go there?  Downtown POS is not all that fab (just being real), but Charlotte Street, least of all…  Hopefully all that yam did not spoil in the hot sun.  Nothing like heavy root vegetable to quell those economic hunger pangs.

Resistance

  • In spite of the best efforts of the authorities to stifle the voices of the people, the unions and their supporters came out in small numbers in POS for a peaceful protest.  Forces (fatty bullies) in full costume (in riot gear) outnumbered the protesters.  Check out the news story and accompanying photo here.
  • Environmentalists, musicians, performers and members of various interest groups turned out at the  Drummit 2 Summit at the St. James Amphitheater to make known their views on the Summit and current issues of interest.  Drama ensued (permission granted, permission revoked, speakers on, speakers off), with the Guard and Emergency Branch (GEB) coming out.  Had no idea that we had taken a step back in time, that we had come full circle to a point where the authorities and drummers would find themselves in conflict.  Check out the news story and accompanying photo here.

Masking (related to Masquerade/r below)

  • The authorities and Summit organizers succeeded in completely hiding the real Trinidad and Tobago.  According to household media monitor, Pa (he has been glued to TV all weekend), visitors complained about being shuttled from official point to point with little opportunity to interact with the people of T&T.
  • Due to the suppression of protest action by the authorities, the population of T&T, a vociferous people by nature, were rendered (or depending on your take, allowed themselves to be rendered) relatively voiceless.  Compared to the actions by the local populations at other regional and international meetings, our passivity has been conspicuous, our silence deafening, our identities masked.

Inefficiency

  • Like the Dimanche Gras shows of the past, the Fifth Summit of the Americas was plagued by snafus of one sort or the other (accreditation delays, Ortega’s three-hour wait, scuffle with Kirchner detail).  Read the Associated Press’ take here. I suppose all of this will eventually be attributed to the teething problems associated with hosting a meeting of this scale for the first time, co-ordinating efforts across mutiple agencies.  I hope that the  post-mortem analysis of the Summit is critical but productive and that those involved in planning the CHOGM later this year, learn from the mistakes made.


My grade for the Summit:

B- / C+ . Improvement needed (in terms of planning, execution, communication with the people, freedom of expression of the people).

Still heard too much about Latin America and the US and not enough about the Caribbean  (with the exception of Cuba). Think that future bi-lateral meetings (e.g.  Canada-CARICOM) will be more beneficial.

Not that I am all for conflict, but Ortega’s speech at the opening ceremony, Chavez’s book exchange  and Morales’ comments were the only interesting moments of the whole affair.  All those fiery personalities  seemed to have boiled down like bhaji…

Was happy to see / hear the name Trinidad and Tobago in the international news.  But we were merely a venue.  Do not know if the viewing public learned anything much about us.

My opinions aside, the visiting leaders used words like change, co-operation, openness and optimism to describe the Summit.  Consensus as opposed to unanimity to describe the Declaration of Port-of-Spain.

Waiting for those words to become deeds.

Mango

P.S. As it is T&T’s most important production, terms / themes associated with Carnival are used in my discussion of the Fifth Summit of the Americas as a point of departure, not as source of disparagement.

The Greatest Show on Earth

•April 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas took place yesterday in my home city of Port of Spain, Trinidad and after months of not blogging on any developments of importance or interest, I now feel like I can chip away at my writer’s block, shake off my malaise (Internet fatigue) and finally write something.

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, the media were filled with commentary about the event, the pros and cons of Trinidad and Tobago’s hosting (a moot point), the impact of any decisions (economic, social, political etc.) made at and implemented out of the Summit, Cuba and of course, Obama.

T&T seems to have truly lived up to its claim to fame as home to the “greatest show on earth.”

Where is the Carnival mentality evident?

Hmmm? Let me see…

The masquerade/r – the clean up efforts along the main transportation routes, the area immediately surrounding the venue (berm-building, road-paving, painting, removing of vagrants, upgrading of signage), the “appearance” of increased vigilance on the part of our national security (want to patent a “tint scraper” but not sure if it will get much use again until the CHOGM).  Ministers, I really believe that these campaigns will be sustained.

The spectator – Vex like when the band doh pass their way, Trinis all ahow about not getting to meet Obama.  If he had tong-hall meeting with Germany and Turkey, why not we?  But the real question is “who are we?”  Do we play as critical a role in the international relations / strategic plan of the United States of America?  If he wants to meet the people he will.

The double-entendre (double-speak) – with the exception of local, general elections, I do not think that I have quite seen a media blitz like the one that preceded this event.  But after all that was said and done, still unsure if Joe and Jane Public really understand what is going on (or maybe the arrogance of authority is such that we are not expected to).

There was all this talk about the visiting “democratically elected leaders” but no productive dialogue about Trinidad and Tobago’s infringement, in the shadow of Summit security, of the democratic rights of people.  This year: no “social justice” march for workers and trade unions in Woodford Square on a weekend.  Read story here.  Last year: fine to bus political supporters to the heart of the city on a weekday, to that same Square, to show their support for the PM.  Read story here.

What is it with the banning of entry into Trinidad to “known protesters”? Given that every week, there is the likelihood that drugs and ammunition are being brought into T&T, the intention to protest does not seem all that damning.  Read the full story here.

Curious as to whether T&T’s Constitution can be trumped by “government policy” regarding freedom to express political views, freedom of movement, of thought and expression and of association and assembly.

The excess – when the ordinary taxpayer cannot get reliable services (healthcare, water, electricity, transportation), we have footed the bill for a fleet of must-have luxury vehicles, surely paid for the hundreds of fancy costumes for the lengthy, but certainly very entertaining (Hilary has already deemed it “fabulous”), cultural showcase at the opening ceremony and sponsored many other hidden, “necessary” things.  Quality, quantity, economy. Waiting on accountability Mr. Mariano Browne.  Read money story here.

So what now?

Will the leaders of the thirty-four nations gathered here from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean be able to put aside their many differences (a motley crew if I ever saw one) and get beyond “ponging” the US (albeit at times deservedly) in order to have meaningful discussions about matters of common interest (drug trafficking, energy, environment, HIV/AIDS, immigration, trade and the economy)?

Will those discussions lead to the formulation and implementation of sound policies and practices at the regional and national levels?

Thus far I have heard much about North America – Latin America concerns, but will the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Caribbean get their moment in the sun?

Only time will tell.


Mango


P.S. Nicaragua’s Ortega made me laugh with his complaint about a three-hour wait at the airport (a passing reference in the midst of his long rant through history). Join the club senor presidente.  Trinis have waited longer in Immigration.  Trinis face that kinda traffic every day travelling to and from work (more PTSC buses, fewer of those luxury vehicle woulda help…).

BTW. Did anybody else see the transportation for the entourage that accompanied the various leaders? Saw some PTSC buses, but what are private maxi taxis doing there?  Who got the bligh?

Measuring Up

•December 14, 2008 • 2 Comments

I have placed a self-imposed gag order on commenting on my work life (we’ll see how long it lasts!).  Was beginning to sound like a bit of a broken record to family and friends (and I guess to you readers as well).  More than that though, instead of feeling unburdened by all the venting, I just ended up more tense than ever.

So on to new topics.

An interesting news story came up in the UK last week with respect to the (selective) use  of crime statistics for politically-motivated reasons.  Read the full story here.

I was amazed to learn that there is an independent body, established by law – the UK Statistics  Authority – that is charged with the responsibility of assessing “national statistics” and monitoring the reporting of such statistics.  Furthermore, there is a National Statistics Code of Practice and the log of issues raised with the Authority is publicly accessible (talk about the appearance of accountability and transparency!).

Is this sort of thing in the works for us?  I remember the debate surrounding national literacy statistics some time last year (if I am not mistaken) and more recently, poverty figures. Given the fact that statistics can play a huge role (greater than graft?) in shaping policy (i.e. Where to build the new school, health centre, sporting facility?  Why build a monorail, buy another water-craft? What social programmes to allocate funds to?  Where to cut budget spending?),  accountability is so dearly needed in this aspect of Trinbagonian life (like many others).  I think that while we should not be “copying” everything wholesale from everyone else, once again, our former colonial masters are showing us how something could be done.

I recently got my hands on the Central Statistical Office’s Report on Crime Statistics 1996 and twelve (12) years down the line, it was still fascinating to scan.

Highlights (for me):

  • “In recent times there has been a growing awareness of the need for crime statistics in Trinidad and Tobago, for purposes of policy planning and crime prevention” (Preface, p. i).
  • In 1996: 107 murders were reported, 295 sexual offences, 81 kidnappings, 200 acts causing danger to life, 11 cases of manslaughter, 505 woundings and shootings and 36 cases of attempted murder (p. 2).
  • With respect to the number of serious crimes reported in 1996 by police division: overall the Northern division had the greatest number and Tobago the least.   In Trinidad alone, the Eastern division had the least (p. 12).
  • 464 males were convicted in 1996 of offences against a “person with violence”, as opposed to 17 females, which is male/female ratio of 27.29 (p. 23).
  • Overall, the county of St. George had the greatest number of persons convicted in 1996, while Tobago had the least.  In Trinidad alone, the county of St. Andrew / St. David had the least (p. 23).
  • In 1996, with respect to the number of persons committed to prison by religion, Roman Catholics were the greatest in numbers, while Non-conformists were the least (p. 25).

When I think of the so-called murder figures today (500 plus!), I am just plain freaked out.

Mango

Note: The report distinguishes between crimes that are reported to police and those that are actually detected and provides comparative statistics for both.

 

Useful links

Central Statistical Office (Trinidad and Tobago)

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (UK)

UK Statistics Authority

Code of Practice for Official Statistics: a consultation document (UK)

Issues raised with the Authority as at 1 September 2008 (UK)

Tief Head

•December 3, 2008 • 6 Comments

After several months at my “new” job in the Public Service, I am at a loss for words (or rather I just had to think really long and hard about how I would phrase this, hence the really long delay between posts*).

The stereotypes that I referred to in my previous entry are real people who have the potential to bring down an entire department, institution, economy, country.

The average government employee* is often quite proud to publicly carry the mantle of the ministry / institution that he or she works for (“I am a so-and-so worker until ah dead!”) but the reality is that many operate like self-employed persons, not accountable to anyone but themselves.  

These workers come and go as they please (flexi-time is totally abused), partake of the offices resources freely (telephone, pc, printer, copier, paper, ink, space*…) and have mastered the art of making “doing nothing look like something.”  

(Note: if there is an event to plan involving food, drinks, dressing-up and more time off from work, you would be amazed at the levels of efficiency displayed by the same individuals).

As a relative newcomer to the scene, occupying a supervisory position (to persons older than you who may have worked in the organization for years, but who have had little to no upward movement), trying to implement change of any kind is a battle.

Responses to my suggestions so far have been:

Verbal

 

  • But this is the culture of XYZ!
  • But we have always done it that way!
  • Good luck!

Non-verbal

 

  • Who you? 
  • I am just going to pretend that I did not hear you! 
  • I am not talking to you! 

What is the newbie manager to do?  

 

  • Stay the course? They’ll come around eventually if you lead by example…
  • Enroll in some of the very same human resource / public sector management classes that they are in and try to apply the teachings? (Dang my overwhelmingly liberal arts education!)
  • Start reading some self-help / motivational books and try to apply that advice? 
  • Start praying (St. Jude, Patron Saint of Desperate Cases)?
  • Get the staff reshuffled? 
  • Get myself re-assigned?

I have my doubts about there being any change in the staff members’ attitudes / behaviour in the near future.  What can I expect from the individuals who claim that “At de end of de month, all I need to know is that I am getting my salary…” but who would be hard-pressed to say at the end of any given day how they have earned that salary?!  What can I expect from the individuals who act like their job is an inalienable right – they are entitled – the government owes them a job for whatever reason (maybe because of a vote…)?

All I can say is that working in the public service could be a real “tief head.”  The lack of co-operation can mess with your confidence.  I thought I knew something about certain things, but maybe I know nothing… (or is that what THEY want you to think?)

The Ministry of Public Administration has its work cut out for it.  What really motivates government workers? 

Between October 20th to October 31st, 2008, the Ministry of Public Administration conducted the Public Service Employee Survey 2008*, the slogan of which was “More than a job.”  According to the FAQs “The survey results will be used to feed into the National Public Service Transformation Agenda (NPSTA). The NPSTA is charged with building a developmental Public Sector that provides the highest level of services and promotes higher level energy and thinking, productivity and competitiveness from all levels across government. The results will also be used in Ministry specific improvement projects and programmes.” 

I wonder whether Public Administration will come to the realisation that there are plenty of unpatriotic beings, traitors, thieves operating from within the Public Service – persons who get paid by the State (i.e. taxpayers) to fulfill certain responsibilities but just do not do so (because they won’t or can’t).  Some can be transformed. Others cannot.  In a sector in which persons hardly ever get “leggo,” where Public Service dominance can drive policy, what is Public Administration going to do with the latter?

Mango

*I started to write this entry in October 2008.

*I have met many hard-working members of the Public Service, but there are others who put them to shame.

*I am tired of working in a place that looks like my Tantie’s sitting room (table cloth, doily, mystery bottles of this and that).

*Survey questions included whether you would speak (solicited or unsolicited) critically or highly of the Public Services as an employer, as well as of its services; whether you would recommend that a new graduate take up employment in the Public Service.