Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CSA - Creative and Stimulating Associations (Reflecting on the Annual Conference) by Yaari

Sugar and spice,
ehan' all dem nice puppy dog tails
dat's what CSA is made of
Arriving in Barbados stirred all of my Caribbean memories. As the plane dipped toward the island and tiny lights blinked into view, my anticipation increased.

The touchdown excitement had nothing to do with the conference and all to do with the bitter sweet memories that come with the life of an immigrant. Memories, like thick bright colored paintings portraying vague images, lingered as the old me and the newer version collided. Childhood images and sensory memories crowded in and pushing on them were the memories of life in the US. The questions always intrude... Am I happier? Can I come back? Who am I in the US? In the midst of black and brown people, I became someone.

Leaving the plane, I stepped on to the slightly shaky metal stairs and welcomed the warm breezy kiss of the Caribbean. "Home" now is anywhere the accent sings, the people smile, and the colors vary from chocolate smooth black, mingled with caramel brown, repeatedly touched by golden sun kissed sugar, and creamy warm butterscotch.

Routine becomes reminiscing; I have patience in lines; it gives me time to eye mingle with the crowd. I watch shapes of faces, inclines of bodies; I wonder where they go. I recognize with casual acceptance the two customs officers at work and the seven or eight empty booths of promise. For a minute you stewups your teeth and ask yourself, "why dese people goffa do dis, eh. Dey does wait till deh got a big crowd den dey does disappear." The anxiety creeps into my belly when the bags start to jump out of the hole. It's the bags; will they arrive I wonder. I hold back and wait. Nervous tummy jumpin' all over deh place. And, wuh yuh know, deh damn bag nah show up.

I walked over to the airline counter and started to fill out papers. In the meantime, the thought of being in Barbados without clothes did not excite me. (Even though, the heat waiting for me outside might have changed my mind.) Runnin' tru meh min' was nuff nuff money spendin' again.

At the counter my mounting irritability was distracted by the pleasant smile and helpful attitude of the customer service officer. Sche look up at meh an' smile - yuh kno'... dat eye crinkle way we West Indians does flirt wid friendly. She brought me back home immediately. A warm smile goes a long way to sustain the endurance needed for such matters. Then the forms came and threatened my calm. I managed to breathe in and finish all the blank lines.

Outside the airport my eyes skimmed the crowd and there she was - old friend and colleague from UCB - with a frantic look on her face. Eventually, after hugs and laughter we climbed in the SUV and hit the road. The blast of air through the open window brushed tired away for a while; I leaned back and emptied my mind.

Next morning we ate breakfast and each other's experiences at the same time. We sat on the verandah with the cool breeze circling and the fowl cocks crowing. Dat didn't last too long doh. Soon it was swimsuit, sandals and bodies answering the call of the sun and the crash of the waves. Ahh ... the warm blue green ocean cradled my body and offered me to the sun. Then I knew that I was a member of the CSA cult - addict to my senses, an intellectual and sensual junkie - always hunting for that information high and selling my body to the sun goddess.

Next day seriousness stepped in and took over. Out the car I jumped; into the hotel lobby I moved among a bustling crowd of orange tagged academics rushing to and fro trying to register, check in and find panels - madness in the making. Keeping it all together was the nervous energy of greedy curiosity - who to see? What to hear? Where's the bar.. maybe some food too and, don't forget; ah wonder how meh presentation gon go? Five days jam packed with intellectual stimulation - all about violence. Crisscrossing tiled patios and grassy walkways people moved in all manner of walk and wear - hair up down and dreadlock long.

Violence centered subjects hit the airwaves - lectures, Powerpoint presentations, videos - dance, stage.. all engaging the audience and sending them rushing from one to the other. There was the constant surge of crowded conversations stretching across spaces over food and drink and in between emails to folk back home - other expectations and obligations.

What jumped out at me was the women focused conversations and presentations. The air was charged with necks stretched to see and the uuummm huummms of patient agreement and the hand clapping to control the frustrated excitement of the shared lived experiences of perpetual endurance and the longing for change. Pride straightened my back and stretched out my chest and made it worthwhile to have crossed ocean and the guilty spendin' of lill' plastic money. In my head I heard .. yeah yeah yeah, I am woman hear me roar.

Special to me is the chance that CSA gives me to explore and get to know the local folk and hear the lore of oral histories so often ignored. This time it was Mrs. R - 99 years old - born 1911. Laud, the woman could tell a story; she circled me with laughter and in the midst gave me understandings of how race was experienced and community used to heal and endure. She revealed to me lessons of life and secrets of survival that might be useful to us if we listened well and listened more.

Too was the chance to ride the island with a dreadlock man of serious contemplation. He raised for me more questions of CSA leanings. As we circled the island, he brought to my attention that more and more walls were going up and he could not longer, "see" in. Dat there were people buying up deh island and, for me there was a little confusion, is who buyin' up deh island so? And if the buyers are foreigners what den will become of Bajan identity as people get squeezed into deh middle? The Rasta is a farmer and he let me know that he must sell to dem - is a relationship full a caution for him.

The CSA in me wondered about this "trade." Is this the "free market" experience that is repeating itself in many a Caribbean place? If we are getting pushed to the center of the land; if we are being circled by others; if the dependency grows, what will that mean for the future?

Creative and stimulating associations are necessary. CSA in my pocket; CSA as my compass; CSA as lens; CSA explorations and explanations. I look forward to the opportunity to hear; like Trinidad, Brazil, San Andres, Jamaica, and Barbados, I look forward to going deeper into community, to opening myself again and again to knowing family in the Diaspora.

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