Keep Calm and Play Mas

We’re in the home stretch – the week before Carnival. This is the time of year that thousands of Trinbagonians have been pining for since February 13th 2013. National productivity levels over the next two weeks will drop to record lows while alcohol consumption and partying scale dizzy heights. From now until Las Lap Carnival Tuesday it’s non-stop feting. If you can’t handle the winery, best to leave the country now.

This is the only time of year when traffic lights are needed on the footpath around the Queens Park Savannah as people jostle for position; desperately trying to fit in as many workouts as possible before Carnival Monday. Every public green space and gym is crammed with sudden fitness fanatics frantically trying to work miracles. Trinidad is the only place I know where people eat themselves into a food coma at Christmas then expect the Fitness Fairy to transform their bodies into a living work of art eight to ten weeks later.  (*raises hand* – guilty)

Carnival itself is a great workout. We do more bicep curls, squats, and good ole peltin’ waist in two days than we can manage all year. People who normally can’t make it around PriceSmart without an oxygen tank will blissfully jump the length and breadth of Port of Spain without complaint. Even our facial muscles get a thorough workout from eyes popping, ear to ear grinning, and lustily singing lyrically-challenged compositions.

Thanks to Mr. Killa’s Rolly Polly, sales in XXL spandex leggings and fishnets tights are at an all-time high. To misquote Sunny Bling – man toting more meat than rice these days and big girls are rejoicing. Trini men think they can handle anything but many a man has attempted to test a bam bam and found himself up against a penis destroyer. Free caution tape for dangerous bumpers should be standard issue during the Carnival season – “Wine on this at your own risk”. I agree with Machel – we need a Ministry of Road to handle Carnival affairs. The Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism just ain’t cutting it.

The Ministry of Road should have a department that specialises in Carnival Clothing Legislation. Carnival fashion is always a lottery and the odds of good taste are not stacked in our favour. Peacocking is not only allowed, it’s expected. And what ridiculous lengths we go to in our efforts to be noticed! A woman at Prestige Fete this year was proudly flaunting black pleather shorts, black knee high boots (presumably also pleather?), skin-tight gold spandex top, and a gold lamé cape. Who the hell wears a CAPE in everyday life?? It certainly shouldn’t be anyone who remembers the day Kennedy was shot.

There is a fine line between cosquelle and clown. Unfortunately, with the fashion police taking their annual vacation during the Carnival season, this line can be hard to see. (Blame Machel for fogging up de place.) The seemingly nationwide obsession with exposing as much flesh as possible – because we “tun up” – pushes common sense aside in favour of the ghetto fabulous and the garish. I remember asking a friend – where do people go to buy these clothes? I don’t know what is more ludicrous – that shops actually sell such eye watering couture, or that people buy it.  And judging by the number of women strutting around in boots you’d think Trinidad and Tobago had undergone a drastic climate change.

Competing for attention with the atmosphere of gaiety and abandon are the usual controversies and bacchanal without which no Trini Carnival would be complete. Annual favourites for the season:

  • Fete promoters being threatened with injunctions
  • Carnival artistes complaining about prize money
  • Woodbrook residents complaining about noise and traffic
  • Masqueraders and band leaders protesting changes to the parade route
  • Panmen claiming disrespect

And the list goes on and on…because this is the FIRST time we are hosting Carnival. To quote Sparrow – we like it so.

Musically the 2014 soca crop follows the tradition established in recent years – catchy, disposable wine and jam fodder we will have forgotten by this time next year. But I’m not complaining. The music pleasingly numbs the senses and consolidates the real purpose of Carnival – a temporary escape from the grim reality of everyday life in Trinidad and Tobago. Let’s face it – if we didn’t have Carnival (and 14 Public Holidays) life here would be really hard to deal with. Between now and Ash Wednesday I will be moving  like Iwer – going round country mashing up fete; fete after fete after fete. I’m claiming Carnival immunity for all my actions over the next week. It’s not me – blame it on the music.

What are your Carnival plans?

Who will take the Road March title this year?

Can you really lengthen a dhoti with cloth?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.


The Horrible Mother’s Mantra

I am a horrible mother.

I will go through your possessions and invade your personal space on a regular basis.

Your phone, computer, iPod etc. are subject to inspection at any time.

I will enter your room without knocking and rifle through your belongings.

I will smell your breath for alcohol and check for signs of illicit drug use.

I will talk to you every day and take a personal interest in all your activities.

I will listen to what you say and what you leave unsaid.

I will meet your friends and ask probing questions about their backgrounds, their parents and their home life. I will embarrass you.

I will follow you on social media and keep up to date on all the latest trends in music, fashion and deviant behaviour.

I demand that you stick to the agreed terms for curfews, use of my car, and spending of my money.

I demand that you respect me and my house.

Soon you will be an adult with your own home and the freedom to live your life as you see fit without my approval.

Until then you can make me a better mother by rendering the above personal incursions unnecessary through your responsible behaviour.

I love you unconditionally and will defend you with my dying breath.

This is the mantra of horrible mothers everywhere – parenting with love and discipline.

 

 

 


My Life as Bridget Jones

I am currently reading Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones – Mad about the Boy. It struck me that whereas I tittered smugly over Bridget’s trials in previous novels, middle-aged Bridget and I suddenly have a lot in common. I wondered what would my life look like if I documented it Bridget Jones style? Apologies to Helen Fielding.

Tuesday November 12 2013

Calories – 1200ish (excellent); Cardiovascular exercise completed – nil. Cardiovascular exercise contemplated – lots. Alcohol units consumed – 1 glass of wine (v. good)

8.50am Frantically searching my desk in vain for the scrap of paper on which I scribbled the name of the person I’m meeting this morning. Bugger. Oh well. At least I know where the office is.

10.00am Arrived at destination and attempted to bluff my way past Nigerian security guard.

“Who are you here to see ma’am?”

“Err…the HR Director”

“Who?”

“The HR Director…umm Manager…Ms….”

“I need the name of the person you are here to see. Please pull to the side.”

“Umm yes…I’ll just make a call…”

Hurriedly dialled a colleague who (thankfully!) took the call and provided me with the all-important name.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Coglan.” I declared authoritatively.

“This way, ma’am.” Success!

11.00am Skillfully negotiated first face to face meeting with potential client. Delighted to observe the poster of Idris Elba on Mrs Coglan’s office wall. I like this woman.

Now at second appointment; meeting with my charity ladies group. Channelling charitable thoughts…

2.00pm Home. EXHAUSTED. A Pretty Woman panini from MovieTowne, hurriedly wolfed down in the car, served as lunch today. Was accosted by the gardener as soon as I drove through the gate.

“Boss Lady – not sure you noticed, but we have a bee situation on the external wall.”

“Eh?” What is he talking about. What bee situation?

“Could be a hive. Maybe you could get someone to look at it?”

“OK…will do…” I replied vaguely. Odd. Where is George who cuts my lawn? He hasn’t shown up for two weeks.

Should go straight to the office but really need a sit down first. And maybe a cuppa.

5.05pm Bugger! Should have picked up youngest child (Son Nº 2) from orchestra practice 5 minutes ago! How did I fall asleep? To the batmobile.

5.30pm Fought my way through two miles of ridiculous traffic to be confronted by bemused offspring.

“Mum why are you here? I told you I was finishing at 7.30pm today.” What???? Mommy brain is real, y’all.

Irritated. Back to the car…

“Where are you?!” – Irate husband. Crap. Supposed to drop him to the airport.

“Almost home! Five minutes away!” Bugger, bugger, BUGGER.

8.50pm Collapsed on the bed; fingers loosely wrapped around a wine glass. Dropped husband at the airport to catch international flight, made tomorrow’s lunch for Son Nº1 (SN1), tidied kitchen, checked and responded to work emails. 

Picked up Son Nº 2 (SN2) at the correct time, albeit in my pajamas. I forgot I had to leave the house after 7pm. I would have gotten away with it if I didn’t have to get out of the car to speak to the music teacher and SN2 hadn’t said rather loudly “Mum why are you wearing pajamas?” (My youngest child was born without a volume control button. I think it broke off in delivery.) To the music teacher’s credit he only slightly raised his eyebrows at my flowered pants.

Speaking of SN1 – where is he? Don’t think I’ve seen him today….This is not unusual as he works an early shift and we often pass each other like ships in the night; but I’m struggling to think when last I did see him. I’ll wake up super early tomorrow and catch him before work.

God, I’m such a terrible mother. At least I messaged Daughter In University several times today. Or I think I did. What if someone stole her phone and was pretending to be her?  I must call her first thing in the morning.

But for now…The Originals and Daniel Gillies require my undivided attention.

 

Wednesday November 13 2013

Calories consumed – 2000 (homemade veggie pizza is low cal, right?). Alcohol units – nil (hurray). Cardiovascular exercise – nil (boo)

12.25 am WTF? Why are all the lights on? Is that broken glass? I should wash my hair.

5.45am Gaaaah! What is that noise? Bloody alarm! I feel like death…what day is it?

7.00am By some miracle got SN2 ready for school and out the door. This is my most difficult task of the day.  Unless I stand over SN2 he will not get out of bed. I have to wake him, get him in the shower, get him out again, stand over him while he dresses and instruct him to eat breakfast. All this while making his breakfast and lunch; and appeasing the increasingly insistent demands of the cat to be fed immediately. WHY ARE THERE MAGGOTS IN THE RUBBISH BAG?? 

3.15pm Spent morning and afternoon in the office; fielding inquiries from potential clients and steadily working through huge pile of paperwork – important stuff like invoices and that sort of thing. I am efficient, productive Chief Executive Officer. Mistress of My Domain. Even found time to make myself a tuna salad for lunch. Had tiny panic attack when I noticed today’s date and realised I had forgotten my housekeeper’s birthday. Hurried back to be house and enveloped her in a massive bear hug. First rule of survival – never piss off people who cook your food.  I’ll make it up to her with the Christmas bonus.

Made 8.00am appointment to go through house repairs list with my Mr Fix It tomorrow. I’ll mention the bee thing to him.  Seriously annoyed about the lawn – the grass is knee high in some places! Just wait until I get my hands on George. Why hasn’t he called?

Haven’t heard from hubby either. Slightly worrying, especially as he’s in the UK dealing with a family crisis. Do I have time to go to the bank?

4.10pm Spent annoying forty minutes in the bank paying bills and depositing pennies. Of course my phone rang the minute it was my turn to approach a cashier. Hubby. Family crisis worsening. Oh dear.

Now on my way to pick up SN2 from after school history class. Still haven’t seen SN1. Must call him if I don’t see him tonight.

6.30pm Why does this country have so much goddamn traffic? Ridiculous that it took me 65 minutes to drive 8 miles! Humph. Must finish off work in the office. Poo.

11.08pm Brain fried. Spent the evening doing Client reports. Ugh. Almost fell asleep on my laptop again. Confirmed SN1 was alive with brief conversation in the hallway.

Was joined in the office by my two office assistants – Lily (cat) and Van Persie (dog). Predictably the animals’ playful posturing soon descended into a brawl over control of the waste bin. I threw them both out.

 

Thursday November 14 2013

Calories consumed – stopped counting after 2500. Alcohol units – err…

Major problems encountered – several. Major problems solved – none

2.00pm Bloody HELL. Absolute tits up day. Barely managed to scramble into clothes before persistent knocking at the back door alerted me Mr. Fix It was here. Spent an unhappy hour trailing him as we went through a surprisingly long list of necessary house repairs. The coup de grace was the bee situation. I had no idea such danger lurked less than 100 yards from the house.  Mr. Fix It and I gaped horror-struck at the humming swarm, thousands strong, steadfastly protecting a massive hive, half-hidden in a tree next to the external wall. How had I never noticed it?? How long had it been there? Even Mr. Fix It and I know he can’t fix THAT.

Panicked, I sought help in social media. Found it on Facebook! Took the advice of friends and called the Ministry of Agriculture’s Apiary Unit. Just spoke to a very helpful lady who took my details and promised to call back for directions to the house.

3.00pm The Apiary Unit hasn’t called me back. Maybe I should call again?

3.15pm Called the Apiary Unit again. No answer.

4.30pm Still no response and I’m living next to Bee Armageddon. Thank God it’s Scandal Thursday! I’ll just pop a bottle of wine in the freezer before I drop SN2 to orchestra practice.

 

Friday November 15 2013

Calories consumed – who cares? Mostly alcohol based. Cardiovascular exercise – does heart pounding count? Crises – growing.

12.27am So sleepy. Ate my wine slushie while watching Scandal and finishing off a teambuilding proposal. Managed to clean most of the glass out of the freezer…perhaps I should set an alarm next time.

6.00pm I wish today had never happened. I feel trapped in a disaster vortex of growing proportions.

Three men arrived from the Apiary Unit shortly after 8.00am to prevent Bee Armageddon.  They took one look at the angry swarm, collectively exclaimed “Oh Gaad oye! Nah man!” and hurriedly retreated to the safety of their ministry truck.

After some discussion they called a beekeeper who happened to be in the area. He arrived within ten minutes and immediately took charge, much to the relief of the Apiary Unit “experts”, who sped off. Before I could say “honey” the beekeeper had donned semi-protective gear (I noticed he wasn’t wearing gloves. Very odd.) and was putting up caution tape and traffic cones.

There is nothing like caution tape to attract a crowd. People see the wispy neon yellow plastic and immediately gravitate towards the danger. Surely that’s the opposite of the intended purpose? Mr. Fix It, the gardener and the housekeeper materialised out of thin air and were soon joined by my mother’s handyman, whose macometer is exceptionally well tuned. Just as the beekeeper began smoking out the bees, the pool boy rocked up and launched into a lengthy discussion with the gardener about what hurts more – a bee sting or a jep sting.

The plumber, who was scheduled to fix the guest toilet and who usually works alone, arrived with a crew of four others (to fix a toilet???). Naturally they decided to take in the show, along with some of the neighbours, who by this time were observing nervously from their gates.  My normally quiet street was soon full of traffic as people driving by slowed down to watch, comment, and give the beekeeper unwanted advice.  By 10.00am we had a good sized crowd of spectators watching the bee removal from behind the safety (lol) of a few rolls of caution tape. I half expected a news crew to show up.

It occurred to me that whatever kept George from cutting my lawn the past two weeks probably saved his life. The beekeeper calmly explained that the hive was a mixture of Italian  and African bees, who will attack at the slightest provocation, especially noise. If George had turned on the lawnmower or weed wacker…the outcome could have been deadly.

At 11.00am a message from Daughter In University alerted me that all was not well with the family in England.

“Have you called Dad? You should call Dad.”

I retreated to my office and began frantically calling my husband, brother-in-law and mother-in-law without success. The inability to make contact only heightened my anxiety and fueled the nightmare scenarios already playing in my mind.  Eventually a call from husband confirmed my worst fears. My father-in-law – a good, decent man – had passed away.

I made it through the rest of the day on autopilot. This was not the time to fall apart and grieve. This was the time to remain in control and keep my ship steady.

The beekeeper completed his task and departed with a buzzing box. The crowd dispersed. The housekeeper cooked a meal. I bought groceries. I sent emails, made calls, and broke the sad news to friends and family members, including SN1 and SN2. I made plans. In reality I was keeping busy until I could collapse in bed with the remainder of my broken wine bottle. That time has finally come.

Could things get any worse? Sadly, I believe the answer is yes.

 

Sunday December 29 2013

Calories consumed – It’s Christmas time in Trinidad and Tobago – who and who counting calories?? Please, eh. Steups. Alcohol units – does it really matter? YOLO and all that. Cardiovascular exercise – will definitely do some in 2014.

3.00pm Six weeks have passed. During that time I’ve had a funeral (sad, but oh so wonderfully done), planned and executed a Christmas party (tremendous work but worth it), caught up with family and friends (lovely), and survived Christmas Day (a happy occasion despite raging migraine and crazy parents).

I cannot wait for 2013 to be over. Keeping everybody and everything going is draining. Frankly I am tired of looking after everyone at the expense of myself. I need someone to look after ME. My resolution for 2014 is to say NO more frequently.

Yeah, right. If I was capable of putting myself first I would have done that years ago. But somehow, somewhere at some time in 2014 I need to STOP and reassess my life. Maybe I just need some fun. A vacation would be nice. Alone. Well maybe a few girlfriends could come along for company. Or would a family trip be better? Gaah! There I go again! Perhaps it’s best not to think about it. At least for now. Right now the hubby and offspring are blissfully engaged  (elsewhere), the house is full of food, and most importantly  - there is cold champagne in the fridge.

8.00pm Had a teeny glass of champagne to toast the year’s end. OK, maybe two. The point is – God bless bubble therapy! Feeling much more positive and ready to face a new year! I am Mistress of My Domain! Or I’m drunk. Either way – I’m ready for 2014. BRING IT ON.


Wait Till Your Father Gets Home…

A departure from my usual light-hearted fare, but sometimes I just need to speak my mind. Non-Trinis may find my Trinbago Dictionary useful. Be sure to leave your comments after reading! Enjoy.

 

Much has been said about Miley Cyrus’s recent appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) and her new raunchy persona. While watching a clip of the controversial performance on YouTube I remember thinking – “If that were my daughter I would slap her so hard”.

My talented young cousin Battymamzelle wrote a thought-provoking post about the racial implications of Miley’s performance. A perspective which I do not fully share, but interesting nonetheless.

Forget about the twerking. Twerking is nothing new.  Here in the Caribbean we have been wukking up for generations. It irks me however that a sizeable portion of the US population think they invented the move because it’s new to THEM. (Those of you old enough to remember the oohing and ahhing over Bo Derek’s hairstyle in 10 know exactly what I’m talking about).

Questions swirl around my head about Miley’s very public embracement of her sexuality. What does Liam (Hemsworth) think? What does his family think? He and Miley are supposed to be engaged, after all. But more importantly – what do Miley’s parents think?

Publicly, Miley’s parents have expressed nothing but love and support for their daughter. Rightly so. But I want to believe that privately they are gritting their teeth and harsh words have been exchanged.

At twenty years old Miley has the right to do whatever she wants. She is legally an adult. I wonder though – did Miley consider the possible impact her performance would have on her parents, and if so – did it influence the actual presentation at all? Somehow I think not.

The issue here for me is – at what age do we stop being under parental control?

I want to argue that for many of us, particularly people of colour, the answer is never.  There are many things I would never ever consider doing because if my mother found out she would kill me.

Black parents live by the Bill Cosby motto – “I brought you into this world and I can take you out”. I dodged countless pot spoons and slippers as a child.  The scent of disapproval from my mother still strikes fear into my heart. As West Indians we have the added pressure from all the relatives constantly reminding us – “Don’t make the family shame!”

If at age twenty I had climbed onstage in  a worldwide broadcast and simulated masturbation with a giant foam hand – my parents, aunts, and uncles would have collectively jumped on me and beat the black out of me. Even now – despite her Zimmer frame – I’d risk serious injury from my mother. When you live in a society where the extended family is a norm; adult offspring live at home; and many generations often live under one roof; it is hard to escape that sense of family responsibility.

In Trinidad and Tobago we are identified by our familial alliances – Greta’s daughter. Indra’s sister. Nazir’s mother. My blogger cousin Battymamzelle recently pointed out that there is no such thing as six degrees of separation in T&T. The most you will get are two. Everybody knows you AND your family and they are quick to report on the slightest perceived infringement of the T&T Broughtupsy Code. Forget about the middle class – T&T only has two social strata – ghetto and stush. Guess which one so-called Nice Boys and Girls don’t want to be identified with? The result is that long after we stop pitching marbles we still feel obliged to do what our parents want.

I am not putting forth an argument for full parental control from womb to tomb. But that sense of responsibility to those who raised us – and fear of disappointing them – has stopped many people (myself included) from doing something which they might later regret. It didn’t stop me breaking into a public swimming pool in Cambridge at midnight to skinny dip with a group of friends but I figured there was NO chance of my parents ever finding out. Oops…

Billy Ray Cyrus admitted a few years ago that he spent too long trying to be Miley’s friend instead of her parent. “How many interviews did I give and say, ‘You know what’s important between me and Miley is I try to be a friend to my kids’? I said it a lot. And sometimes I would even read other parents might say, ‘You don’t need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.’  Well, I’m the first guy to say to them right now: You were right. I should have been a better parent. I should have said, ‘Enough is enough – it’s getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.’ I should have, but I didn’t.”

Here’s the thing - your children will make and break many friendships as they grow up. But building a healthy respect for the parental bond and influence? You’ve got one shot. No do-overs. Get the parenting right and the friendship will follow.

Talk to your kids. I’m willing to bet twenty years from now when Miley looks back at the video of her VMAs performance she will wish her mum and dad had said to her “I brought you into this world…”

At the end of the day, we are all the product of our parents and the degree of control and influence they have/had over us.

But that’s just my opinion. What do YOU think?


The Not So Empty Nest

As the mother of a 14 year old boy and 20 year old man-child, the most frequent words I hear are “What’s to eat?” and “I have a problem.” The response to both is the same – make a sandwich. I’ve commented before on the trials of being a MOB but seriously – I’m beginning to wonder if my sons are bottomless needy pits. I look at them and I see open beaks constantly squawking for attention. When does the boy child become self-sufficient?

Lest I be accused of male-bashing, let me state that my female offspring has frequent bouts of mummy mania. But somehow the common sense gene seems slightly less recessive with her.

After discussing this with friends I realise my problem is far from unique. SMOGs report that girls grow up, get educated, seek gainful employment, and leave the nest. MOBs paint a very different picture. As boys increase in size, so do their appetites and capacity for causing mayhem and incurring unexpected, unwanted expenses.

In spite of the fact that – as one friend bluntly put it – Murphy has a “special” relationship with my family –  I think I have had more than my fair share of testosterone-tainted calamity. The bigger the boy, the bigger the issue. In my household we’ve graduated from “I’ve lost my school shoes” to “I crashed the car” and “I got robbed”. I spend an inordinate amount of time sorting out OPP* when I should be focused on myself.

But being Mrs Fix-It is only part of the problem. In the rare event you produce a boy who submits to formal education without protest, the chances of getting him to leave home post-graduation are slim. I recently suggested to my eldest that now that he is gainfully employed, perhaps he’d like to consider moving out? From his reaction you’d think I’d asked him to lop off a testicle.

I blame myself. Home is clearly Too Nice. At age 22 I was a fresh faced graduate living in a cold apartment and determined to prove I could make it on my own. My mother was thousands of miles away; and even if she hadn’t been, I doubt she would have been setting an alarm to wake me up, make my breakfast, pack my lunch, and wave as I drove off in her car.

By contrast both of my sons have made it quite clear that they have no intention of leaving home any time soon – perhaps never. Why should they? Free room and board, laundry service, transport, and Wi-Fi. I briefly contemplated losing the 14 year old in the mall after a shopping expedition last week. He’s 6′ 1″, 160 lbs, and wears a size 13 shoe. The expense of clothing this goliath is astronomical. And don’t talk about my grocery bill. He requires feeding every two hours.

I honestly don’t know how much longer my finances – and sanity – can withstand the constant and ever-increasing demands. I followed the rules of the parenting manual. Loved, nurtured and guided – so why the hell can’t they fend for themselves? I’m sure I’ll be relegated to the maid’s room when both sons take over the house with their wives and kids.

I love my boys dearly and these home grown money pits are my creations. This is my reward for helicopter parenting. Given the opportunity for a redo I probably wouldn’t change a thing. Living in a country where baby-faced thugs casually extinguish life for an iPhone and a pair of Supras has given me a grim appreciation for the endangered young male species. As much as I bitch about their dependence at least I know where my sons are. Sadly many mothers in Trinidad and Tobago cannot say the same.

So here’s to the bottomless laundry basket, the empty larder, and the dent in the just-serviced car. Drink a toast to mama’s boys everywhere; and the women who made them.

OPP* – Other People’s Problems


One In a Million

It’s been a while.

My time has been totally taken up with trying to run a business and keep the Cirque going; unfortunately to the detriment of my blogging. Trying to get back into regular writing and it just so happens I have something Very Exciting to write about.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or befriend me on Facebook will know that I am a tireless and passionate supporter of Positive Women, a charity working to improve the quality of life for persons in Swaziland affected by HIV/AIDS and TB, particularly women and children. Working with a shoestring budget and almost totally dependent on international aid, Positive Woman runs women’s self-help programmes, neighbourhood care points for orphans, and mobile clinics.

In August 2011 I visited the headquarters of Swaziland for Positive Living (SWAPOL), Positive Women’s African partner organisation. I recently caught up with Kathryn Llewellyn, the founder and chief advocate for Positive Women. Kathryn updated me on what current challenges the charity is facing.

“2012 was a difficult year for Positive Women. The charity depends heavily on international aid for survival, primarily from the Global Fund.  Last year the money never materialised. SWAPOL was expecting 1 million Rand (98,000 USD) but the aid didn’t come through. The result was lots of homeless children, and stunted growth.”

Not surprisingly, Positive Women found it difficult to sustain some of their ventures, in particular the neighbourhood care points.  Out of 100 centres, 45 have a regular food supply. The rest receive food sporadically, yet the children still come because they feel protected there.

SWAPOL had to release staff to cut costs. The organisation is more streamlined now but not necessarily with the right resources.  SWAPOL is currently trying to secure funds for organisational development and training. This will enable the organisation to offer staff 3 year contracts and maintain continuity in their programmes. In the long-term SWAPOL hopes to set up more nutrition gardens and maize farms so that the most vulnerable in Swazi society can learn to provide for themselves while establishing food security.

Swaziland cannot depend on international aid to solve its social problems. The country is classed as “middle-income” by the United Nations and therefore ineligible for many funding programmes. This is devastating for a country with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world (26%) and an average life expectancy of 50 years old.   In short, the situation in Swaziland is grim. But not hopeless.

Kathryn Llewellyn is determined to make a difference and quit her fulltime job to focus on Positive Women. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. This year Kathryn was nominated for an Ogunte Women’s Social Leadership Award

Last month Positive Women launched the Just A Million Campaign. The premise is simple – they want one million people to do one thing that will make a difference and help the people of Swaziland. I’m ridiculously excited about this campaign because two of my nearest and dearest have decided to do a Very Brave Thing to raise money for Positive Women.

During the week of 27th July to 3rd August 2013, my husband and his younger brother are going to do a sponsored climb of the highest mountains in Finland (Haldi, 1425m) and Sweden (Kebnekaise, 2111m). Both mountains are situated over 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle and will involve significant treks to reach. I still can’t get my head around the sheer insanity of it, but they are committed to the venture and hope to raise £2000 for Positive Women in the process.

I’m shamelessly urging you to become one of the million by supporting my husband and making a donation here. (For obvious reasons I want the climb to be a success and my spouse to return in one piece. It would mess up my carpool arrangements if he didn’t)

Every donation, no matter how small, will help. All it takes is one action.

Read about the climb here:

http://www.everydayhero.co.uk/simon_westcott

Do what you can to publicise this venture by sharing this post and encouraging others to do the same.

One million people. One million actions. A country (population 1 million) saved.


Giving Up For Lent

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. As the Lenten season draws to a close I am reflecting on my forty plus days of going without. This year I decided to forgo meat. A popular choice but not an easy one for me as my diet consists of 98% chicken. Perhaps this explains why my feathers are easily ruffled.

As it turned out, going meatless was relatively stress free and I wondered – how does modern day abstinence compare to times of old? It used to be that giving up meat, alcohol, sweets, or…ahem…other pleasures, was considered sacrifice enough.

Times have changed.  According to a recent survey conducted by the UK Church Times, traditional Lenten abstinence is highest among students and people in their early 20s and declines steadily with age. Surprised? I was. Even more surprising is what young people choose to give up – swearing, online shopping, and social networking. Lenten abstinence takes on a whole new meaning when one announces “I’ve given up Facebook for Lent”.

My first thought – no big deal. Online shopping I could do without – God knows my credit cards could use the rest – but swearing? That might pose a few difficulties for me.  Remember, I live with Cirque de Westcott. Repeat – CIRQUE DE WESTCOTT.  Expletives are seldom far from my thoughts as I come to grips with my family’s latest exploits.

As for giving up social networking,   consider the difficulty in trying to prise a laptop or smart phone away from a teenager. In my house that involves the use of Extreme Force and more often than not I find myself wishing I had a taser. I vividly recall a Christmas vacation spent in a lovely cottage in England without telephone or internet. The children were rabid by the end of the first day.

Has our need for constant access and accessibility become the New Vice? How often do we encounter someone without a cell phone these days? It is practically unheard of, and on the rare occasion when it does occur, we regard the individual with shock and awe, unable to comprehend how they get through the day. Forty days without whatsapp or Twitter might be a stretch after all.

Whenever I choose to ignore my telephone for whatever reason, I am rewarded by increasingly hysterical voicemail messages from family and friends: “I called, texted, whatsapped, bbmed, tweeted, and Facebook messaged you! Why didn’t you answer me?” Being “off the grid” has temporary advantages but could I do it for an extended period of time? I’m not so sure. For starters I’d never remember anyone’s birthday without Facebook. Isn’t that the purpose of Facebook? Birthday reminders and opportunities to gawp at friends’ photos?

Lent is not an endurance test. It is a chance to examine our lives and look for the temptations that we could resist. Or so I thought. According to some persons polled by the Church Times, the meaning of Lent is:

  • A time for giving things up
  • A Christian festival
  • A diet before important holidays
  • A type of tropical fish
  • How the EU is keeping Greece afloat (These are real answers).

Maybe the younger generation is on to something. Traditional sensory pleasures have been replaced by the allure of the internet. In giving up the internet, social networking or even just the use of a mobile phone, this represents a real sacrifice for some. The point of the sacrifice – giving up something we really want or need – is to draw us closer to God. Perhaps next year I’ll give up Twitter; half-killing myself in the process and definitely drawing me closer to my maker.

What’s your guilty pleasure? What are you prepared to give up?

Tell me your thoughts.

 

 


Who Will Attend My Funeral?

Life has been a bit grim lately and it is reflected in my writing. As I explained to someone, I have no control over what I blog. The thoughts come and I chase them to the keyboard. I haven’t lost my sense of humour. That’s harder to shift than a politician in the limelight – but my musings are currently not trotting down the laugh track. Trying – truthfully somewhat unsuccessfully so far – to channel my inner Maya Angelou: “No matter how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”

 

Life After

Recent events have me thinking about what will happen when I die. No, I don’t mean the hereafter. I’m a Christian (Anglican with a capital A, to be precise) and I believe in the afterlife. I know I will see my loved ones after I’ve passed on.  What I am talking about is the sequence of events once I’ve departed – specifically my funeral. Who will attend?

I did a rough count in my head of the likely suspects. I reckon about fifty people. Surprisingly, when I analysed the attendees I realised most of them would be people who felt obliged to my parents, husband or children. Less than 40% would be attending for me.  This got me thinking – what does this say about me as a person? Is it that I have made so little impact on the world that my passing will be relatively unnoticed? Or have I lost my identity and am now seen only as somebody’s wife/mother/daughter?

Further questions arose. Why do we go to funerals? Of the funerals we attend, how well do we know the deceased? What did they mean to us?  I came to the conclusion that my attendance at the vast majority of funerals has been as a result of my connection to the family of the deceased. Most of those who passed I knew peripherally at best.   Perhaps this is a good thing. It implies that in my lifetime I have lost few persons I truly loved. But it also implies that I attend funerals principally out of a sense of duty – and I’m sure I am not alone in this.

The aha moments kept coming. So….if I don’t know the people whose last rites I attend very well, how well do the people who (may) attend mine know me? Despite my dependence on the internet (OK, so I need a twitter or FB hit to get through my day), the truth is – not many. I share what I feel comfortable with the world knowing. The inner me is very private. Which leads me back to the original question – who will attend my funeral? Is the number of attendees a reflection of my life?

Experience leads me to think emphatically yes. But I’ve also realised that it is not necessarily how many people you impact, but why. If only three people attend but they are people to whom I truly meant something, and who I have influenced positively in some way, my life was not wasted. The death is not important. It’s the life that matters.

And therein lies the answer to my question. I should not be concerned with who, but why. Luckily I figured this out while I still have time to impact the eventual outcome. A life lesson learned…through death.

Care to share your thoughts on this topic?  Comment away.


Two little girls

This blog post is a departure from my usual witticisms and rants. I’m sorry to disappoint my regular readers but I had a life changing experience yesterday. Talking about it is difficult but for some inexplicable reason, I find myself compelled to write. Maybe this is part of the healing process.

Inane crazed musings will resume…soon.

The Sister I Never Had

Yesterday my best friend SA passed away. I don’t know where I am on the seven stages of grief but I suspect I’m still in shock and denial.  Today I don’t want to think about death. I’d rather reflect on the treasure trove of memories SA and I built over a friendship that spanned 36+ years.

On a warm September day many moons ago I joined 104 other young girls and their parents in the auditorium of St Augustine Girls High School for Form One registration. I recall nothing about that day except this – the principal asking the assembly to acknowledge the girl who had achieved the highest mark in the entrance examination.  As I turned to look at the pretty girl dressed in red with the big smile I remember thinking – that’s the girl I have to beat. Over the next seven years I would occasionally match but never surpass SA’s academic achievements. She was quite simply, the smartest girl I knew.

In a friendship that grew from childhood to adulthood we shared everything – disappointments, triumphs, celebrations, and heartaches. Our conversations evolved from whispers about first kisses at the back of the classroom and furtive notes hastily written on torn scraps of paper, to late night conversations on childcare and the directions our lives were taking. Every school experience, painstakingly written letter, phone call, text message, email, Skype call, girlie vacation, and raucous night out brought us closer together.

What didn’t I share with SA? Not much. She was my sounding board, advice columnist and favourite liming partner. Being born a month apart, every birthday and milestone was a reason to celebrate together. If I were to line up all the bottles of wine and champagne we’d shared over the years….I doubt one landfill would suffice.

Many a time we rescued each other and she quite literally saved my life. Separation by distance did little to dim our friendship. Somehow we slipped seamlessly from innocence to womanhood without losing the candour and strength of our bond. Out of all my friends she was the most like me. SA fully understood my complex family relationships; like me she strived for more and struggled with periodic bouts of self doubt. We comforted and supported each other.

Many people were baffled by the close nature of our friendship. SA was a perfectionist and could be intimidating. But I saw beneath the sometimes prickly exterior to the warm person inside – the nurturing mother and loyal friend who never missed an opportunity to lavish care and attention on those she loved.

We had great plans to meet in London last August for a memorable weekend of the kind we had become accustomed to over the years – lots of food, alcohol, and female bonding. When SA called the day before we were due to meet up to say she felt unwell I suggested rest and a check-up. She concurred and agreed to see a fellow professional (she was a doctor) the next day. I was not prepared for the phone call less than 24 hours later informing me that what we thought was a tummy bug was in fact cancer.

I last saw SA in person four months ago when I visited her where she eventually drew her last breath. We both knew the time was fast approaching. We said everything we had to say to each other and most importantly – expressed our love and gratitude for the positive impact we had on each others’ lives. Not many people get that opportunity and I know we were lucky. We maintained regular communication via Skype and text until three weeks ago when SA’s health deteriorated to the point that this was no longer possible. Today’s news was inevitable and expected; I monitored her condition to the end.

There are some people who enter our lives and despite their constant presence, their impact is minimal. That was not the case with SA. She significantly affected those around her. To paraphrase Senator Edward Kennedy eulogising his brother Robert Kennedy – she need not be idealised or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life; remember her simply as a good and decent woman who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.

At some point the tears will come, but not yet. I am mindful of Rabindranath Tagore’s wise words – “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

To my beloved SA – thank you for a lifetime of friendship. I am a better person for having known you. Rest in peace.


Fetiquette

“The bouncing done, the bouncing done, the bouncing done!”

Ash Wednesday and I’m recovering (slowly) from Carnival. I meant to post this last week but the partying got in the way. Use the Trinbago dictionary if you are struggling with the slang!

Fetiquette

Carnival season is a wonderful time in Trinidad and Tobago. The country buzzes with energy and a sense of excitement seems to engulf the whole population, irrespective of whether they take part in Carnival activities. The wonderful thing about Carnival in T&T is that it can be enjoyed at everyone’s level. You can spend as much or as little as you want to indulge your Carnival passions.

For many people the fun lies in attending the increasingly expensive all-inclusive fetes.  When I first returned to Trinidad as an adult, the average cost of an all-inclusive fete was circa TT$300 (US$50). Consequently I went to many such events. One memorable season when I was between jobs I hit eleven fetes.

Times have changed. Ticket prices shot up – $800 (US$130) is now considered reasonable for an all-inclusive fete ticket; especially in light of the Hyatt charging $3000 (US$500) to attend its LIME fete.  My income has…ahem…not kept up with the increase in ticket prices and I am now very discerning in my fete attendance.

Over the years I’ve come to understand the unwritten Fetegoers Code of Conduct, or Fetiquette that governs the all-inclusive party. There are many rules, but I’ll stick to the basic six which every feter should know.

Rule Number 1 - Arrive In Daylight

There are several reasons for this. After spending the equivalent of a Latin American GDP on clothes, shoes, makeup and hair, one needs to be seen.  Equally important is who one is seen with. Men want their peers to see the attractive arm candy (of either sex) standing in the shadow of their biceps. Women want other women to know

a)      I arrived with a man – stay away from mine; or

b)      I arrived without a man – hold onto yours; and

c)       I look good and I know it (I may be delusional).

As members of a bourgeois society, a significant percentage of fetegoers want people to know they can afford the exorbitant ticket prices. So what if they’re secretly living on bread and cheese? Update your Facebook status – “On my way to Salybia!” –  tweet about it, post a picture of your fete tickets on instagram, change your BBM and whatsapp status to “Having fun at… insert fete here”.

Rule Number 2 - Better Belly Bus Than Good Food Waste

The good stuff goes early and quick. Check out all the food options as soon as you arrive and decide which food queue to join first. If moving with a posse it may be wise to strategise. One person can queue for doubles, while another hits up the bake and shark stall, and you load up on Chinese. Always remember the fetegoers mantra – I paid for it. Eat everything. Leave it too late to eat and you’ll be lucky to get the pomerac chow no-one wanted.

Ironically, at a fete Trinis will line up in sun, rain and mud to sample cuisine normally rejected by their pets. The queue for horse meat at Old Hilarians’ All-Inclusive is always extensive. Take note Tesco.

Rule Number 3 – Bus De Bar

Start with the premium drinks and work your way down to puncheon. What is your mantra? I paid for it.

Rule Number 4 – Dress to Distress

Carnival fashion has nothing to do with style or modesty and the all-inclusive fete is the ultimate peacocking opportunity. Choose an eye-popping outfit you wouldn’t want your mother to see you in and make it worse. When it comes to Carnival fashion, more is more. To quote the Dowager Countess Grantham – nothing impresses like excess. Over accessorise – wear bangles, garish earrings, glitter, press on jewellery and have all your tattoos on display. Better still if you have gold teeth or a mouth grille.

Rule Number 5 – Control Your Property

Swappi  said it best – What yuh mean yuh cyar wine? Trinis are born knowing how to wine. It’s in their DNA. While other nationalities are learning the Three Rs in school, Trinbagonians are taking lessons in how to bubble and flex.  Trini men are programmed to track it, grab it, and wine on it. When soca music infects the brain it’s hard for women to resist the urge to put their hands on their knees and push it back.

Nothing Trinis like better than an opportunity to display their skills, but time and place people, TIME AND PLACE. You do not want to end up featured on the front page of the dailies doing the wheelbarrow.  Save the dutty wining for a private audience.  There is life after Carnival. Nobody wants to be remembered by their pundit/boss/peers for sending Shakira into early retirement.

Rule Number 6 – Spread Your Hands and Leh Go

Have fun! Whatever you end up doing for Carnival – partaking in the festivities, spending quiet time at home, or having a mini vacation – enjoy it to the max. YOLO is real. We get one shot at life and it is up to us to make it good. As I write this my neck, shoulders and feet are sore; legs are covered in unexplained bruises; and after two days in the sun I am so black I’m blue. Worth every minute.

Tell me your Carnival experience. What do you like/dislike the most about Trinidad Carnival?


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