on fame and shame

Woke up yesterday morning at 5:30am, fed the cat, handwashed a tub full of clothes (including towels and sheets. Yea is so I roll, aint got no washing machine. Those who believe I collected some big $$ from somewhere to ‘set up’ and ‘provoke’ Bheri crack me up), cooked for and fed the stray dog, then went to the library to catch up on my email and messages before heading to the drop in center. When I came back from Whim on the 20th of April, after Bheri-gate, it was to find the phone and internet service out at my apt. Feeling a bit paranoid, I was kinda glad when I learnt later that vandals had stolen the copper wire in the lines and the whole neighborhood was affected. Almost 2 weeks later, in the midst of all the drama, I was half happy/half annoyed that I didn’t have internet at home. I was glad, on the one hand, that I was missing all the idiocy on social media, but it made following the news as well as the non-idiots a bit harder. To get online, since I just have a mango pelter phone and not one of those insanely expensive fancy ones, I had to either lug my too-heavy laptop to the Red Thread office, or go to an internet café and pay for service. I did both for almost two weeks, resulting in severe shoulder and neck pain, as well as the less than welcome renewal of an acquaintance with a maddish man who I had last interacted with years ago during People’s Parliament. I ran into him outside the library one day, where I had gone to check email and he immediately latched back onto me. Oh well, at least I could now semi-honestly tell my mother that I was not walking the streets of GT alone, that I have ‘security’ hah.

Anyway, after an early morning rise and busy-ish day, I was in my bed, sleeping good good until around 12:30am when I was awakened by loud shouting from my neighbor upstairs. “Beat he!” she was hollering at the top of her voice, not caring who she was disturbing. I guess I wasn’t going to get to sleep through the ‘fight of the century’ after all (Btw, how de arse can it be the fight of the century when the century has just started???). Somebody was getting his ass beat and Beyonce was at ringside. Yawn. If I was awake, I was betting that neighbor’s baby was too. Lil boy was not yet two years old but he’s already getting nuff training in ‘manhood’. His mom, the boxing fan, was a Guyana public school teacher as well and she was making sure her boy wasn’t going to be any anti-man when he grew up. Shouts and licks are given regularly. So maybe he wasn’t really going to be affected by watching these two adult men bash themselves for fame and fortune. As I lay there, listening to the blows land and the excited chatter, I recall the story I read recently, about a Chinese-American man who was bullied badly as a child and who turned to boxing in an attempt to gain self-confidence and respect on the streets. I recall also, a conversation from the past week, about people needing to know self-defense and the classes that I helped organize for members of the LGBT community years ago. The eyes of the 15yr old trans youth who came to the picket outside the Ministry of Health with bruises on his face after getting beat up by three adult men earlier that day flashed before me. The incident was reported to the police and restitution paid but that was no guarantee that violence wouldn’t recur. I don’t think I’m traumatized, but almost two weeks later, I can still feel the waves of anger and hate that emanated from Mr. Ramsaran as he advanced towards me in Whim. I remember the moment it dawned on me that this man wanted to knock me, and the realization that if other people had not been around, he surely would have hit me. I remember sizing him up in that instant, measuring his stature against mine, thinking that he wasn’t that much bigger, that I could take him on if I had to. Wide awake now, I heaved a sigh and got out the bed, the bell from the boxing ring dinging loudly and clearly in the room. I dream daily of peace and quiet.

I wish I hadn’t been awakened, but then I discovered that finally, the phone and internet service are back. Woo hoo! I was glad for the lil enforced technological respite during all the madness, but I’m gladder for the neck/shoulder pain relief I’m going to have. There’s physical pain and psychological pain and sometimes it’s easier to manage one than the other.. It’s been great to walk down the streets of Georgetown these past days and hear shouts of ‘woman power’ ring out when I pass by, to get the smiles, high fives, and handshakes from men and women of all hue and ilk. (Aside: It’s not good to be ‘famous’ all the time tho- like when you lose control of your bicycle swatting a bug that flew in your eye and run off the road into the swamp. Apparently, the protecting blood of Jesus doesn’t cover those particular scenarios.. As I hauled myself and bicycle out the swamp and dripped my way home, I cursed my ‘fame’, kept my head down, and was glad that nobody was around to witness my humiliation.) There was a man the other day who told me to “jump overboard” lol, but the support far outweighs the idiots. Bheri has been ‘relieved from duty’, but not really fired, still collecting his salary, and still a ‘candidate’ on the ppp’s list, as he so proudly proclaimed that day in Berbice, still under their protection. The president recently said he felt sorry for him, that he was ‘set up’ and provoked. Ramotar’s statements make me laugh, they’re so clearly asinine. Men, like Ralph Seeram (who now wants to be my FB friend! Lol) will always stand by each other- that’s how patriarchy and misogyny works (how nice, btw, that we’re getting to introduce these words to the Guyanese public heh). When my brother tells me shit like “the family is embarrassed that their name is in the newspapers”, and the uncles call my mother to stress her out (instead of calling me directly), I just ignore them, knowing they are not going to understand, that they will just continue to stand by and support their ethnic brothers/ the status quo.

But I have to admit- I am bothered by the women who are standing by these sorry excuses for men/government officials. The Indo-Guyanese ones, especially, really get my goat (Yes, I know more there are Afro Guyanese men and women who support the ppp- hello Elisabeth Harper! I don’t really understand them either, outside of a desperate attempt to gain power and money). There’s an older Indo-Guyanese vendor who sells fruit and provisions at the back of Stabroek market. She has been cussing me out for years now, ever since People’s Parliament days. I never saw her stop by our encampment to find out what we were doing there, to look at the salary charts we had up, comparing public servant wages with the big timers at the Office of the President, for example. Maybe she’s doing fantastically well as a market vendor, has no complaints about the falling down roof, the passageways that flood after a light rain, or the sad state of the agricultural sector of Guyana where we seem to have regressed, importing more than we produce and constantly reinventing the wheel in terms of packaging and marketing. Whatever propaganda this woman has been fed just tells her to hate and curse me every time I pass her stall. I stopped taking her on long ago, ignoring her just like I ignore my brother.

I know some Indo-Guyanese view me as some kind of race traitor because I don’t blindly support those deemed my mati. I pity that blinkered thinking and continue speaking the truth as I see it, hoping that one day they too will see the light- that we’re all in the same boat, and that only solidarity with each other’s struggles will set us free. But my people always have the capacity to surprise me. Last Saturday, I paused by the Plaisance bus park where an older Indo-Guyanese woman had a stand selling knit caps. I stopped to ask the price but when she turned and saw my face, she just turned back around, ignoring my query. I asked her again, “Auntie, how much for the hats?” and again she ignored me. Staring at the back of her head, I slowly realized what was going on. I watched as another customer came up and she started selling to her. Pissed and burning by the snub, I persisted. “Excuse me, I was here first and you still didn’t answer my question!” Still silence and still the back. “Hello,” I tapped her lightly on her shoulder. “Do you have a problem with me?” I asked. She turned around then, with daggers in her eyes. “You’re assaulting me,” she charged hotly. Immediately, the wind went out of my sails and I lost all desire for a confrontation. This woman was not open to any dialogue. Indeed, she could call the police and have me arrested! Some ignorance knows no bounds. I walked away then, clutching hard to my sanity and freedom.

There have been other Indo-Guyanese women, some supposed ‘activist’ ones themselves, who admit to “feeling sorry” for the Minister, sad that he’s been “relieved from his duties” (remember tho that he’s still collecting a salary, still on the party list etc). I haven’t heard any sympathy expressed for the families of Karen Badal, Athina Kennedy, or Kamili Arjune though, three women killed in recent years by bottomhouse abortionists, many of whom also work in the public hospitals, on the Ministry of Health’s payroll, while running their private clinics and performing procedures they’re not trained or licensed to do on the side, raking in the cash. I haven’t heard any sympathy expressed to Natalie Caseley, the mother of Jaden Mars, for the still unexplained and unexpected death of her healthy but for a 1 cm cut on his tongue 4 yr old son at the GPHC. I haven’t heard any sympathy offered to Teresa Lalltoo whose baby girl died most likely because the West Demerara public hospital had no functioning operating theatre. Teresa’s baby girl died on April 20th, the same day Bheri Ramsaran chose to spend politricking outside the Whim courthouse. Several Indo-Guyanese women, many of them mothers themselves, believe that I ‘provoked’ Bheri, that I have too much anger within me, that I need therapy. I’m sure I could use more therapy, yes, and I am indeed often angry, but I know no other way of being. My own mother, when I was a child, used to look at me in bewilderment and ask where I got all that passion from. I don’t know, that’s just me. I have chosen not to be a mother (maybe partially because I frikken of getting a daughter like myself heh), but I know about being pregnant when not wanting to be, being panicked, and not being sure about where to go for help. I know that pregnancy and childbirth has historically been a dangerous and deadly occasion for women and that great care and attention needs to be paid at this time. I know that Guyana has for years had the highest rate of maternal mortality in the English-speaking Caribbean and that there are too many inadequacies in the public health system today. I don’t understand how any woman could look at these facts and not be provoked! I don’t know how any woman could have compassion for Bheri but not for their fellow women and children who have suffered under this broken system.

Those “polite women” who believe there’s something wrong with persistent questioning of public officials, who believe people should not be interrupted even when they’re talking nonsense, that activism must be amicable and non-confrontational, that positions must be respected even if the people filling them are cretins- these “polite women” make me want to vomit, curse, and kick some ass. This narrative of respectability has been used to silence, shame, and suppress our voices for far too long. It’s what keeps women in abusive relationships, afraid to confront their abusers and help their daughters, neighbors, and friends who have been victimized. This behavior of course, is not exclusive to Indo-Guyanese, but they seem to be the ones who wield it the most. As an Indo- Guyanese woman who has been told to be quiet and not ask so many questions since I was a small child, this shit pisses me the fuck off. Thankfully, I stopped feeling shame years ago. Now I will talk publicly about abortion and homosexuality- the abortions that I have had; the fact that I am not heterosexual. I used to think that this was my private business, but in a world where women are still dying and getting maimed because they have no access to proper reproductive health information and care, in a world where lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people are still mocked, discriminated against, and beaten up, I have a duty, I believe, not to remain silent. I have come to realize, as Audre Lorde said in her essay ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’- that “what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” I will swallow no more tyrannies day by day. We cannot just sit back quietly and wait for change to happen magically, or for others to do the heavy lifting; no, it is our world and we have a responsibility to act, to create the kind of place we want to live in, that fosters health and happiness.

I could do without the madness and hullabaloo; I dream daily of peace and quiet. But I want the attention to stay focused on how to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights in Guyana, and how to ensure more justice and accountability to the people of this nation, no matter who’s in government. I don’t want another woman to die because she couldn’t get an abortion from a trained and licensed doctor. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Law must be properly implemented, nationwide. The Medical Council must gain some teeth and be able to effectively and independently discipline doctors and other healthcare providers who don’t do their job properly. The misuse of taxpayer dollars must end. I’m happy also, that I could use my recent ‘fame’, while it lasts, to get some local artistes to come to the drop in center and share their time and talent with the children there. I’m thrilled when one of the schoolgirls at the East Coast school where I did a ‘let’s talk about sex’ session back in March texts me to talk, not sex, but politics. I’m glad when my friends from Guyana Trans United show up on the picket line and lead the chants, while nuns, rastafarians, and others join in. Now, if only I could get every one of my recent ‘fans’ to stop beating their children, to feed or adopt a stray animal or two, to slow down and not drive like a maniac on the road, to embrace the non-heterosexual people in their midst, to spend more time with the youth and to give them accurate information about sex, then I’d be over the top happy. Until then, a luta continua!

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