Friday, September 30, 2011

Only Monkeys Dance for Peanuts

~ In life things happen to remind us of who we are ~

Tuesday morning I received a phone call from a woman who asked me if I was interested in attending a screening for Texas de Brazil. I was temporarily confused because I'd almost forgotten sending my resume to the restaurant about four months earlier when I was out of a job. I agreed to the screening the next day and the woman on the phone told me she would e mail the directions. 

Waiting to go in to my class that afternoon I checked my e mail and was quite surprised to see that along with the directions to the building was a list of requirements, including a $40 registration fee. I ran this by some of the other women in the Gender Department as well as my mother who all agreed that this was at the very least exploitative if not illegal. I decided then to reply to the e mail, seeking clarification on the grounds for this registration fee. The woman explained to me that she was running an employment agency J.A.&A. - Human Solutions and this was one of the ways in which she recouped her costs. This I agreed was not unreasonable but explained to her that I was unaware that an employment agency was even involved in this recruitment process and after a subsequent phone call, I decided to go to the interview based on this new understanding.

On arriving to the interview I had a brief conversation with the man at the front desk, having worked with him at a previous job. I spoke loudly to him based on my prior knowledge of his hearing condition. While being seated in the waiting room a woman attached to the agency asked if I had passport sized pictures to which I replied no and then she asked if I had the registration fee. Before I handed her the money I asked if the fee was for registration with the agency to which she replied yes. About ten minutes later I asked how long I'd have to wait before going in and asked someone else for the time to adjust the clock on my mobile after having just switched sim cards.

A few minutes later I was next. The woman who I'd spoken to on the phone and exchanged e mails with shook my hand and I had a seat. I told her she looked familiar and she responded by saying that we would have met at the previous screening. I realised then that she still did not understand that I'd never attended any prior screening or was even aware of her agency's involvement up until the day before.

Ms. Adams questioned me about my previously held job at a radio station and my reasons for leaving and I explained that I was not interested in being in news and the job was not a right fit. She then questioned me about a position I held in another media house WIN TV years before and I explained that I had a lot more creative freedom based on the length of the news cast and other factors. She asked again why I'd left the job and I explained that I had to go back to school and most of the jobs listed were held between June and August when school was on break. 

 J.A: Why haven't you tried to regain a position at WIN after graduating, maybe doing some other type of program?
Me: Well I'm no longer interested in working at WIN TV
J.A.: And why is that?
Me: Well I've been trying to get out of the media and WIN TV is now and Indian station
J.A.: But wasn't it always?
Me: No
J.A.: But doesn't an Indian own it?
Me: Yes
J.A.: So that doesn't mean that you can't do something there
Me: No it doesn't.I'm just not interested in that type of work right now.
J.A.: Well what type of work are you interested in? (raising her voice a decibel) I'm just trying to get to know you here.
Me: Well I am an academic and I would like to continue to with school, do my Masters, publish and teach.
J.A.: So what exactly are you doing here?
Me: Well to be quite honest my mom lost her job a few weeks ago and I just really need work now.
J.A.: Well everybody has their stress. Someone came in here earlier with cancer (and some other story I can't remember) but you have to remember this is a screening process and you have to present your best face.
Me: Excuse me? (confused)
J.A.: Well Stephanie I've been looking at you and you seem quite angry. It's not my fault your mother lost her job.
Me: *blink blink* she did not just say that!
J.A.: continues... Companies want to know that the people who work for them are committed and not just there to receive a pay cheque. I mean look at the way you dealt with me, Oh my God you sent me three e mails ----signs off--- Do you understand me?
Me: blank
J.A.: Have you paid the registration fee?
Me: Yes, which I quite regret now.
J.A.: So am I to take it you are no longer interested in the job?
Me: That's right.
J.A.: I will organize for you to get your money back.
Me: Thank you for your time.
Me: Would it also be possible for me to get my registration form back?
J.A: *cut eye*rips it to shreds. Even the woman out front said you had an attitude.
Me: Walks out the room humming Gyazette's "Crabs in a bucket" 

From the time we come out of our mother's womb we are taught to dance. For some it is a dance of liberation but for most it is one of constraint. How can we put one foot in front of the other without disturbing the water or rocking the boat? Existing in a post colonial space creates a hierarchical dimension to the West Indian dance, that being white over brown over black. So my question is: Are we still required to dance like porch monkeys if we want to eat from the master's plate?

Anyone who is familiar with me knows that my temperament is far from giddy and I have been accused of a sedate countenance but does this mean that my lack of feckless enthusiasm should render me useless to an employer and worst of all condescended? In the same way we are guided by various conventions and political correctness that call for respect of all languages, including the many variations of dialect that were traditionally marginalized, why isn't the same applied to the various existing communication styles? Is a woman required to wear the smile of a beauty queen in order to secure a position, or is she hired based on her skills and willingness to work?

As long as I can remember my face has looked the same. In pictures at the age of nine I had the same straight stare. That is who I am. Who I have always been. It does not make me angry, aggressive, sour, unapproachable or any of the other negative attributes that one can attach to un-smiling face. This does not mean that I cannot be angry, aggressive, sour or unapproachable at any one time or another but this is not definitive of any (unrealistically) stagnant or outward caricature. The very fact that I possess these characteristics makes me quite typical, as is it does everyone else.

At no point was I discourteous to Ms. Adams, who chose to grill me about returning to a job I'd left five years prior. In fact despite my pridefulness I confided in a complete stranger about my situation at home, believing that honesty was the best policy (and might help to explain a university graduate applying for a waitressing job.) Instead that information was manipulated in intention and used against me not more than  thirty seconds later. I was spoken down to and insulted  - all because I wouldn't dance.

Dear Ms Adams,

The Colonial days are over and I am not a wind up doll or your slave. I do not dance on que. I do not cartwheel, do tricks or any other activity that compromises who I am for a successful interview. I'm sorry that my royalty offended you.


♫ One blood family we bun bad mind nuff a dem go bow just fih de dollar sign and on dey back de have monkey ah climb 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who Walks & Who Gawks: Reflections on the Walk Against Cancer

2011 was the second year I participated in Scotia Bank's Walk Against Cancer but this time around I seemed far more aware. I was part of Team Purple who represented the Women's Caucus, which according to face book has a  membership of one hundred and thirty, with only fifteen showing up. But in the typical style of benevolence those present expressed how grateful they were that the others were there. This however did not affect the overall outcome, with thousands of women turning up to walk/run against cancer. There were several starting points for those who wished to walk versus those who wished run marked out by a piece of tape. Women hurried to the marker when the time came while I strolled along mostly confused. Finally making my way, I was greeted by a number of hostile crabs who were upset that my presence was further crowding the bucket. Not as a consequence of this hostility but  my own discomfort, I decided to make my way back to the pavement where it was cool and I could breathe. What did it matter where I stood? I recalled an internal conversation I was having a few days before while watching Food Network reality TV, wondering what we have come to as a people where its ok to openly value competition over community and winning over helping others.

And we're off!!!!!! It was indeed a beautiful sight to see so many women moving forward together smiling, talking ... until I noticed one small detail. Where were the men? I mean even men can get breast cancer! (my attempt at humour - its very rare & difficult to detect due to being heavily shrouded by sarcasm) Why were we the only ones that cared? The pieces of the puzzle then came together when I realised that men were in fact participating in spectator capacity. All along the route were clusters of men with alcoholic beverages in hand cheering, jeering and evaluating women walking against cancer.

I also found myself admiring all the adorable little girls walking with who I assumed were their mommies and then I thought ... where are all the little boys? Why had mothers chosen to bring their daughters and not their sons? There was however  a Rastaman painstakingly trying to sit his son still on a bench while all the little girls ran by.

But this does not mean to say that no men took part. I did see a few in the warm up session but they all looked pretty fit/professional and were perhaps too far ahead of me. And I'm sure a number of mothers brought their sons but due to the large crowd I wasn't able to sight any. The point I am making is how come in an event that attracts thousands, men were hardly visible? When does that happen? Only when it comes to something... anything that concerns women. So please indulge my not so scientific reasoning -  Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than women and if  the walk attracted about 6,000 participants,  I assure you that no where near  six hundred men were present. Don't these women have husbands, partners, sons, uncles, brothers?

One member of my team told me after the walk was over that she over heard some women talking about another woman's cellulite. Being the naive and hopeful individual that I am I was still surprised. You know the saying if you don't have anything good to say don't say anything at all. Apply this here _______ In fact apply it everywhere, especially when walking for a cause as serious and as important as breast cancer. 

A dear friend reminded me that we were a part of something sacred and that silence was the most reverent gesture  we could make. I like being alone ...  with my own thoughts and to walk or run at a pace suitable to me. Maybe next year I can wear headphones to block out the unnecessary noise but I will continue to see myself put one foot infront the other to walk against breast cancer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Love In Action: Mirror Article

Check out how d article accompanied by an advertisement for Adult Male Toys ... The Mirror good yes!

[Click Image for Larger View]

Another article published in the first edition of the Campus Chronicle a new online and print publication geared at chronicling the activities of all local tertiary institutions.  


Trinis embrace international campaign, hugs from strangers Featured

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Strangers share an embrace on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of-Spain during the Love In Action: Hug Someone event on August 17th. The event was staged in commemoration of Marcus Garvey's birthday.Strangers share an embrace on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of-Spain during the Love In Action: Hug Someone event on August 17th. The event was staged in commemoration of Marcus Garvey's birthday. MARK GELLINEAU / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A multiple-choice question for you: What do you do when a total stranger walks up to you and, for no apparent reason, requests a hug? (a) Give it to them; (b) bus’ a small wine; (c) take a feel-up; (d) politely decline; (e) run for the hills.
One rain-soaked afternoon on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain, 10 designated huggers witnessed all of the above. The event, “Love in Action: Hug Someone,” was organised by social activist Stephanie Leitch.
Leitch, a recent UWI graduate, explained that the concept of handing out free hugs, though new to Trinidad, is not an original one:
“Somebody sent me a YouTube video about the Free Hugs Campaign and they commented that they wished something like this could be done in T&T.”
She admits that although she loved the idea, it took a while before she could fully conceptualise the event. But then she learned about the “One Love Movement,” a global campaign geared toward spreading love and inspiring acts of kindness on Marcus Garvey’s birthday, Aug. 17.
The campaign’s organisers, the Bob Marley Foundation, encouraged individuals all over the world to enact the message behind Marley’s anthem, “One Love,” in commemoration of both the reggae icon and the founder of the Pan-African Movement.
Aug. 17, Leitch realised, was the perfect time to hand out hugs to strangers. Some members of the public, however, needed convincing.
“They have a catch in this or what?” one passerby asked. Attempts to assure her otherwise were met with skepticism: “Something wrong,” she said, a puzzled look on her face. “We don’t do that in Trinidad.”
Another onlooker asked if she had to give hugs “for free.” “You have to pay me for that,” she laughed, walking away.
And then there was the man who put his arms up defensively and shouted, “You trying for me to get charge or what?”
For Leitch, those moments of rejection were opportunities for growth: “To come out of yourself to offer a hug to somebody and to be rejected … It’s an enriching experience.”
“I don’t think it really matters,” she continued. “At the end of the day, we’re there to spread love. It’s what we have to do.”
For every person who refused a hug, however, there was somebody who accepted one. Outstretched arms were greeted with blushes and shy smiles. Cheeks touched; backs were patted and people wished each other “a good day.”
Whatever was being shared that afternoon made people feel good. So good, in fact, that once this reporter started hugging, she didn’t want to stop. Who would have guessed that hugging was so addictive?
Apparently, it’s contagious, too. Leitch says that she’s been asked to stage similar events in South Trinidad and along the East-West Corridor.
“I’m not sure if I’ll do it, though. I think I’ll pass the baton, let someone else organise it,” she said.
In the meantime, she plans to edit the footage of the event, put it over Bob Marley’s One Love and submit the finished product to the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
There is no doubt that the Love Movement will continue in one form or another. But can this reporter make a suggestion? One onlooker said, “Hug? Nah, man! I don’t give that. But I’ll take a bounce.”
Maybe we could have a “Love in Action: Bounce Someone” sometime soon …