Creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas

For those of you who may not know, I do theatre in my spare time.

“Spare” may be a misnomer. “Unassigned” may be a better way of putting it. See, I work for a living because I have to; I need that regular income, and most of all I need that health insurance. I’m a college professor. I’m not dissing that. In fact, I happen to think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s the only job in this country that will pay me to do half of what I love to do, which is write and talk, and that will even include that writing and talking when it comes time for promotion, and at the same time also allow me the flexibility and space to do the other half of what I love to do. I bless the people who dreamed up the College of The Bahamas and I bless those people who made it do all these things.

But if I had my druthers, I’d be working in theatre too.

OK, for those of you who do know me, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But she does work in theatre.”

And you’d be right, after a fashion. After all, I am one of the founders of Ringplay Productions, a theatre company that’s been around for the past 13 years, and I’m the founding director of the Shakespeare in Paradise theatre festival.

But nobody pays me to do either. And so I have to do it in spare, or unassigned, or off, time.

Before you ask me, the answer is, yes, I do have a problem with this. I didn’t twenty-five years ago when I started working in Bahamian theatre. In the 1980s, the Bahamas was in its second decade of independence, and had much bigger things to worry about than about providing careers for young artists. I wasn’t raised to pursue such a career, anyway. Even though my father had studied what might well have been the most esoteric thing for a young Bahamian to study at the end of the 1950s—classical piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music, London—my parents brought me up to be employable (my father wasn’t, not in the Bahamas, so a teacher he became). So I did not go to school to study theatre, even though I liked being on stage. I grew up “knowing” that the theatre was something one did for the love of it, despite all odds, and not something one did to make money from. Even though I wanted to write plays I never thought of doing it for a living.

But times change, and people change, and the world changes. In the 1980s we weren’t welcoming five million tourists to the Bahamas and wondering what on earth there was for them to do onshore here. In the 1980s, there were still some things for them to do (although that was the decade when things started to change). There were still cabaret shows in casinos which provided regular jobs for dancers; there were still nightclubs here and there which provided regular jobs for musicians; and there were record stores that bought musicians’ music. Maybe I’m painting too rosy a picture here, but it seems to me that in the 1980s Bahamians liked Bahamian culture.

But we’re not in the 1980s anymore.

It’s the twenty-first century. And if there were every a century in which creativity could flourish, this is it. We live in a time of revolution; publishing and production and filmmaking and composing and making music are in the hands of the creative artists, rather than locked up in boardrooms thousands of miles away in somebody else’s country. And tourism is also changing to reflect this new century. Tourists are not travelling merely for sun, sand and casino winnings. They are looking for unforgettable, unique experiences, and they’re paying premium prices for them. It’s never been a better time to be a creative artist anywhere—except the Bahamas.

Those of you who know me well may remember that ten years ago this October I took on the position of Director of Cultural Affairs for the Bahamas government. Those of you who know me very well may remember what I was like when I took on that job. I am a happier person now, they tell me. I am not so angry all the time. Not so driven. (I would dispute the second, but WTH). I wasn’t always angry and driven. I took on the job believing, as one does, that I could make a difference. I took on the job to help bring back some focus to the Bahamas and to revive a sense of pride in Bahamian culture. It’s important, I believe, to for individuals to have some things done by the collective around them that they can be proud of, but in 2003 too many Bahamians were behaving as though they were ashamed.

I had no idea I was embarking on a wild and crazy ride that would take me through wildernesses and woodlands, across oceans to different continents, to high heights and even lower depths and bring me back right to where I started.

When I worked out that I had gone full circle, or maybe had made a spiral which brought me back to the same point as I’d started from, only maybe further away from where we wanted to be, I left. And started the theatre festival you see me working with today.

Shakespeare in Paradise is now five years old. We have survived by the grace of God and our own hard, hard work. We have grown and done some work that we’re proud of, and because it’s our fifth year and the fortieth anniversary of independence for this country, we’re taking a big, big risk.

And I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of October. In all honesty, it looks like we’ll be tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The reason?

We dream too damn big.

We’re reviving Sammie Swain, the folk opera that should be my father’s legacy but is dying because it hasn’t been performed for too long.

Why it hasn’t been performed is a long story which I’m proposing to tell here on this blog. There are some villains in this story, and some heroes too, and the villains and the heroes might not be who you think they are. And it’s all part of a much bigger story, which is still being written, but which so far is shaping up to be a tragedy. I want to tell that story too.

So I called this “creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas” because I had hoped to get to the theatre part of the story. What you have is just the setting and the backstory. Bad storytelling, but live with it.

We’ll get where we’re going if you stay with the ride.

Nassau, What Happened?

Check this out:

Nassau, What Happened? Is a group project that anyone can contribute to by adding his or her own line to a collective poem about the city of Nassau. It will be part of Transforming Spaces 2012 under the theme of “Fibre”.Inspired by an exercise by the poetry festival O, Miami, this exercise is designed to bring many voices together at once in order to hint at a larger, complex voice.via Nassau, What Happened?.

The Caribbean Review of Books • A bimonthly review of Caribbean literature, art, and culture

Big congratulations to Nicholas and company for this venture.I'll be checking back regularly!

A note to our readers: Welcome to the new website of The Caribbean Review of Books. From May 2004 to May 2009, the CRB published twenty-one quarterly print issues, featuring reviews of books of Caribbean interest, interviews with writers, original fiction and poems, essays on Caribbean art and culture, and artists’ portfolios. In May 2010, the CRB’s sixth anniversary, the magazine has been relaunched as an online publication, offering the same intelligent, incisive coverage of Caribbean literature, art, and culture.via The Caribbean Review of Books • A bimonthly review of Caribbean literature, art, and culture.

Killing with kindness

We on the arts community in The Bahamas often like to believe that things are different for artists in other Caribbean nations. This blog post from PLEASURE blog suggests that it's not so:

Tomorrow, the spanking new $518 million National Academy for the Performing Arts around the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will officially open. But a few blocks away, at the corner of Roberts and White Street, Woodbrook, the historic Little Carib Theatre will remain boarded-up and shut. The restoration of that historic theatre, which was founded by local dance legend Beryl McBurnie in 1947 and which has played a key role in the development of the arts in this country, has stalled for about two years.The problem? Reportedly a lack of funding, with an additional $2 million needed to complete the restoration not forthcoming from the State. The same State that can pump $2 million into a flag around the crumbling Hasley Crawford Stadium and which can build arts academies apparently at the snap of its fingers.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

It sounds all too familiar -- white elephants being created by decision makers more interested in showing off, attracting foreign investment, or negotiating cool perks than in building a nation for real. Of course in Trinidad, where oil money confers delusions of splendour, the showing off is of the glitziest kind.

The context: the T&T government has built, with Chinese money, something it is calling its National Academy for the Performing Arts, which is fancy, and which can ensure that the T&T government can have something that can be plastered on glossy magazine pages as evidence that the Caribbean is not home to transplanted savages and native beachbabes clad in Lion of Judah hula skirts and floral arrangements. At the same time, though, as is common with us all in Caribbean societies, the things that have made central contributions to the development of the arts are left to languish, perhaps because they're not glitzy enough, or because they mean nothing to the philistines who far too ordinarily get themselves elected to positions of power, or because they represent too much competence, outspokenness or creativity for the individuals who have been given charge of the government departments responsible for implementing government's policies. In Trinidad, the Little Carib Theatre and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop share fates that are not very different from the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts here in The Bahamas, which is being eaten from top to bottom by a very happy army of termites, or from any of the so-called "National" performing arts entities, not one of which has an adequate home:

Examine, for instance, the traumas of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), once housed at the Old Fire Station Building on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. The TTW, whose founder was Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, was housed at that historic building for ten years from 1989 to 1994, when Walcott won the Nobel, and then to 1999.
Yet, after a swanky restoration, and the construction of a National Library around it, the TTW was quickly booted out of the building and left to find accommodation in a small gingerbread house on Jernigham Avenue in Belmont. To date, despite its name, the TTW has no real theatre of its own, with a small space at the house in Belmont acting as a performance area. The Old Fire Station is used for such things as press conferences by the Ministry of Information as well as hosting administrative offices.

There are times, indeed, when I'm thankful for the studied and deliberate contempt paid to Bahamian artists and arts in this country, thankful for the fact that the turn-of-the-century $3 million gift the Chinese government earmarked for our own Centre for the Performing Arts was not spent the way the Chinese wanted it to be spent (i.e. on renovating the NCPA on Shirley Street so that it could actually house performing arts, rather than function as it has been doing for the past 9 years now, as a glorified church hall). PLEASURE blog shows what might have happened:

The new academy was designed without any real consultation with the local artist community whatsoever, according to artists. The design was done by a Chinese firm, built by a Chinese contractor in accordance with Chinese building codes and specifications.

The building was supposedly inspired by the national flower, the Chaconia. But that is a loose association; the structure looks more like an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. Or a kind of sophisticated alien space-craft. How it fits into its environment also seems to have been an oversight by the designers, as the building looks away from the green of the Savannah and its environs, instead of paying tribute to them. This week, as preparations for tomorrow's opening continued with curious members of the public strolling around the academy, Chinese workers who will never be afforded the luxury of attending the swanky performances inside worked overtime to the sound of Chinese techno music playing from speakers housed in large wrought-iron boxes around the building's perimeter.

Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the steel used to build the structure, as well as the suitability of the design for performance. One Government minister has even pubically admitted, at the hearings of the Uff Commission of Inquiry, that some aspects of the building may be unsuitable to "performance" and more suitable to "training". And the myriad of concerns over top-level  corruption looming over Udecott, the State company that handled the project, go without saying.

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

Despite all of this, in the face of it, the arts in Trinidad and Tobago are flourishing, thanks to individual action in the vacuum.

It is a crowning irony that throughout all of this, some have managed to find fertile places for art in the most unexpected of places. For instance, the million-dollar, shimmery structure that will open tomorrow may be an audacious sight, but it may never compare to what is happening at smaller spaces like Alice Yard, which is a few blocks away from the neglected Little Carib Theatre on Roberts Street.At Alice Yard, a simple backyard has, over the last three years, done more for contemporary arts and discourse in this country than any $518 million mega-project can hope to do. Could it be that the State's neglect has actually engineered the conditions for true artistic creativity?

* P L E A S U R E *: A place for the arts

The answer, apparently, lies in taking matters into one's own hands, in not waiting for the "government" to deliver what one needs. (Hail Rik and Idebu!) So here's to us, artists. Artists of the Caribbean, unite!

On Culture, CARIFESTA, and the Bahamian Economy, Part I

It came to my attention last month that our government was planning to postpone, once again, the hosting of the Caribbean Festival of Arts, if it had not yet done so. Announcements to that effect would be made very soon, I was told. The fact that such announcements have not yet been made may make this post obsolete. I rather doubt it, however.It should be no surprise to anyone at all that I think this is a terrible idea. It's not just because I would like to write for a living and make that living in the country in which I grew up. It's also because it's flying in the face of what international agencies focussed on development economics suggest is the place of culture in that development.For those of us who don't know, or who haven't noticed, the world has changed. As I write, indeed, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, the US President is opening the door for negotiations with Cuba, which, as we all know, is the only viable competitor for The Bahamas' prosperity in the Caribbean region. In fact, it's possible to argue that the only reason The Bahamas has maintained its supreme position in the region has been because the fifty-year long US embargo of Cuba, has coincided with the latest Bahamian boom. But now, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting Cuba, and the Obama administration is making very clear noises that the embargo will soon be lifted.At the same time, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Bahamian government's plan for prosperity -- foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment -- is not bearing fruit. Why not? The reasons are various. Perhaps the biggest is the reason Barack Obama himself gave for changing the way the USA has done business for the past generation or so -- that trickle-down economics, or the spreading of the wealth accumulated by the rich and mighty -- does not work. It no longer works in the USA, which is the greatest nation in the world; and it has not worked in The Bahamas as an engine of development for a country that has not yet invested in itself.  Oh, it has done well in providing a couple of decades' worth of get-rich-quick money for a smattering of people. But as we are noticing, where the sharing of wealth is dependent on the goodwill of the greedy, little gets shared. And so our current "wealth" is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill of the foreign investor, who is interested in the people of this nation only as workers -- as block-layers, lifeguards, toilet-cleaners, cooks, drivers, or middle managers who have no ability to affect or shape company policy.It is not foreign investment that economists and development agencies are suggesting is the engine of economic development in the 21st century; it's culture. If you don't believe me, go and look it up. Culture is no longer regarded as peripheral to development. It has been recognized as a viable, resilient, sustainable and renewable source of economic gain. A quick look at any international economic arrangement negotiated since 2002 will illustrate this truth. International agencies everywhere, from the European Union to the Organization of American States to the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, are recognizing the place of culture on the economic agenda.But here, in The Bahamas, for a generation and a half -- the entire time since Independence -- our national policies have been shaped by a group of men and a handful of women whose actions and behaviour cumulatively suggest that they would rather erase Bahamian culture than invest in it.Despite our so-called prosperity, we are the only Caribbean nation that cannot demonstrate our government's pride in what makes us us. Part of this is because Government policy since 1992 has focussed on conning foreign investors to put in infrastructure that (we are told) the government cannot afford. The result? Despite soaring tourist arrivals (and, presumably, soaring demand for authentic Bahamian cultural products), the cultural industries are in effective decline. Those foreign investors in whom we've placed our trust? They don't care whose culture visitors consume, as long as the profits flow to into their coffers.  What we should have learned by now is that no people -- or their representatives -- can depend on someone else to develop their own cultural resources. We have to do that job for ourselves.But we don't. The recurrent budget allotted by our goverment to culture, despite all the fussing about a so-called Ministry of Culture and the appointment of Ministers of State, only crossed the $2 million line in the 2008-2009 budget year. The government agency charged with the development of Bahamian culture is not a Ministry, nor is it a Department; it is a Division, which means that even that $2 million is not administered by anybody in that Division. (It isn't administered by the Minister, either, for anyone who remains fooled into thinking that this may be so.)  The Chief Financial Officer in any government agency is the Permanent Secretary, or the Director of any Department that has a budget head; and the Cultural Affairs Division is so far away from having a budget head that it would be laughable if it were not so frightening. That $2 million is inscribed in a single line item under whatever budget head the Division is attached to (Office of the Prime Minister (Head 14) one year, Education (Head 38) the next, Youth, Sports and Culture (Head 47) the next). And that $2 million is expected to support festivals throughout The Bahamas, maintain a "national theatre" (which is so far from being either thing that it demonstrates the depth of the contempt that our governments have for us) run a National Arts Festival, finance sundry cultural events throughout the year, and run the $1.5 million festival of Junkanoo.Stand this up against the over $91 million we allot to the Ministry of Tourism, much of which is spent outside The Bahamas. I was once told, laughingly, by a senior official in that Ministry that the budget I was given to work with (that was back in 2004, when the budget was maybe $1.2 million, give or take) was what Tourism managers were given to make mistakes with. We can afford Miss Universe, which will benefit Atlantis; but we cannot, it appears, afford CARIFESTA, which will benefit us all.But it is not Miss Universe, which is a cultural brand developed elsewhere, with economic returns for the owners of the brand that will develop the Bahamian economy.According to international agencies and economists the world around, it is our culture.This is why the planned postponement of CARIFESTA, if it is indeed so planned (and if it isn't, the lack of any progress towards the hosting of that festival in 2010 indicates that a decision has already been made, if not announced), is the terrible idea that it is.I have yet to be convinced that Miss Universe will benefit the Bahamian economy substantially, other than in the collection of departure taxes, which will be funnelled into agencies that spend their monies outside the nation anyway. I am sure it will keep the Kerzners happy. I know, however, that I and mine will certainly not benefit in any way from Miss Universe; nor, I imagine, will most other people in the cultural industries, unless their name be Ronnie Butler or K.B. and unless they be set to open for whatever international giant that comes to perform. I do not think that food vendors or writers or poets or improv performers or even the broad Junkanoo community will benefit in any substantial way from Miss Universe, not to mention the car rental agencies, the restaurants and watering holes on the Bahamian side of the bridge, the small hotels and guest houses, the vast majority of taxi drivers and the tour bus companies not sanctioned by Atlantis, the street cleaners, the road-repairers, the marching bands, the graphic designers, the t-shirt makers, or the film community.These are the people who will benefit from CARIFESTA, however, which is unsuited to be housed at Atlantis, that most inauthentic institution, that theme park for the unsuspecting, which only resides among us, but is not of us.  The influx of visitors, and the type of visitors that will make up that influx, will be interested in us, who we are, what we do, and will spend money on what is most Bahamian, will not be conned into overspending on what is fictional at best.And yet (I'm told) our leaders believe that to host the Festival will be a waste of money in the end.I know this much. Economic evidence from around the world exists which proves our leaders wrong. And common sense suggests it too. Our development will not happen at the hands of foreigners; it is in our own hands, and the hands of the governments we elect to lead us. We can read the reports for ourselves, and accept the idea that culture is the economic sector in which to invest for nations that are still developing; or we can share the delusions of our politicians, which confuse the grandeur of the monstrosities the foreign investors build (and usually protect behind gates and bridges and visitor passes) with development of a nation and of a people. We need to make up our own minds. From here on in, it's up to us.

Fear: 4 packs, 10 oz. each

Fear is the name of an art exhibition mounted and curated in Canada, but produced in Trinidad and Tobago. It's the work of Christopher Cozier, whose bio notes that he is

an artist and writer living and working in Trinidad [who] has participated in a number of exhibitions focused upon contemporary art in the Caribbean and internationally [and who is, among other things,] a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of The University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) and ... Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College during the Fall of 2007.

What's exciting about his exhibition is the way in which it's produced. It might be perplexing for most of us, who are used to the prettiness of art, the decorative quality of paintings, the controllability of our response to them: it consists of "a rubber stamp and 3x3x3-inch cardboard boxes that gallery viewers could stamp and take away with them from the exhibition." (Fear, 2009: 5)  But that is entirely the point. The boxes and the stamp symbolize the state of the world at this end of the first decade of the 21st century: consumers of the fear exported by the USA that justifies and legitimizes the way in which that country exercises its authority as the last superpower on earth. It's exciting, collaborative and subversive all at once. As Andrea Fantona, curator of the exhibition, explains:

The addition of this participatory element to the exhibition was exciting. Furthermore, producing theelements comprising Available At All Leading Stores resulted in a fascinating reversal of the production-consumption chain that generally defines North-South relationships. Here I was in Canada, producing awork of art for consumption here in the North that was conceived and designed in Trinidad. The irony ofthe process rang loudly for me. It seemed that the age-old system of capitalist development that favouredthe North had been turned onto its head, as I was now adding value to an idea, turned into commodity,conceived in the South, yet produced and distributed in the North. (2009: 5)

What's even more exciting, for me, is the way in which Nicholas Laughlin, fellow Trinidadian writer and editor, responded to Cozier's work. For J'Ouvert (for those of you who don't know what that is, follow the link and look it up) this year, he created his own riff on it: a cardboard box turned into a headpiece for the festival, on which he wrote


As he says:

For three or so hours on J’Ouvert morning, Paradise is an empty space, an absence, in a cardboard box Ibalance on my head. Watch me, turning into a metaphor for a nation bearing the burden of false advertising and false hopes. If anything and everything is for sale, if art is just another product with varying profit margins, if Cozier can taunt us with the joke of commodified Fear, then I can re-commodify, re-sell, re-brand. (2009: 15)

Oh yes oh yes.

R.I.P. Hubert Farrington December 12, 1924-December 8, 2008

For those of you who hadn't heard, Hubert Farrington, the first Bahamian classical dancer (that I know of) and the founder of the Nassau Civic Ballet, was knocked down and killed on Sunday past. (I'm not clear exactly which date he was killed, but as I heard of his death two days ago, I'm guessing it was last Sunday. If I've got the dates wrong, please somebody let me know).Mr. Farrington was one of the three "stars" taught by Meta Davis-Cumberbatch in the second quarter of the twentieth century, the other two being Winston Saunders and E. Clement Bethel -- students for whom she desired much and expected even more. Perhaps because of her ambition and expectation, and certainly because of her discipline and hard work, each of these men laid the foundations for a vibrant cultural life in this country. That we have not capitalized on it is not their fault. But we must remember them anyway.Mr. Farrington began as a musician, but when he migrated to New York in the 1940s he learned to dance and, most remarkably, became a good enough ballet dancer to become a professional working at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He returned to Nassau in the 1960s to found a ballet school, the Nassau Civic Ballet, and that action was seminal to the future development of dance in the capital. From the Civic Ballet came the New Breed Dancers by way of Alex and Violette Zybine, and the New Breed Dancers provided many many of the professional dance teachers working in Nassau today.Mr. Farrington was one of the most brilliant men I have ever met. He was not easy to talk to. He was often in another world, but when he was in ours his intellect was staggering. He remained like that until his death.R.I.P., Hubert Farrington. Another cultural giant has passed on.

Presentation Zen: Is education killing creativity?

Came across this:

our education systems (around the world) are outdated and mainly designed to meet the needs of industrialization. Sir Ken [Robinson] makes many good points — some you may not agree with — but he certainly is not saying that math and science should be taught or studied less, rather that music and the arts and creativity in general should be pursued more.Presentation Zen: Is education killing creativity?

I think I tend to agree.Forget being tentative. I totally agree.Here's what Sir Ken says in his own words:

Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects ... At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth. And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in school than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics.

See for yourself - the YouTube clip via Riz Khan:[youtube]And the whole thing itself thanks to TED: and culture make good business.

CARIFESTA X - An Alternative to the same old, same old

wonder of the world: CARIFESTA X - An Alternative to the same old, same oldThe Bookman, a blog from Trinidad and Tobago, muses on art, CARIFESTA, and society.  It's not coincidental, I think, that this week I've been to two talks already about the same thing:  one on Wednesday at PopOp Studios about CARIFESTA XI to be held in The Bahamas, and one last night at Chapter One Bookstore about the role of the writer in society.  At the end of the panel discussion from last night, where six of us, writers from very different backgrounds and with very different bodies of work, spoke about that role, we were answered in the discussion that followed by a visual artist who told us that our conversations were not isolated, that they were happening all around the country.   Something is happening nationwide about the Caribbean arts.  Perhaps we are coming into ourselves.  The Bookman suggests that perhaps this something is happening regionally.  Because I believe in the latter, I'm going to quote from The Bookman's comment on CARIFESTA X to illustrate, just a little, what I mean, and what I hope:

One cannot help but feel that art is held as a fringe. That artists are at the edges of society, almost invisible, except for moments when society is engaged with it and comments on talent. It is always the same trite comment at that, that there is so much talent in Trinidad and Tobago…and? What are we doing about it?
So I am going around in circles with my point. The public need to be educated about what is happening in the arts locally and regionally. The corporate world needs to get more involved in the arts and make it much more relevant to their own business mandates, and the artists themselves must start to hold themselves to the highest standards, look at their profession as deserving of much more than handouts and government support and we need to be very loud and clear about just how much we mean to our society by having alternative spaces to show our work and encourage the society to see that we mean business and that it isn’t business as usual.

CARIFESTA X: Second Report

First off, a note:  though I want to update regularly -- every day if possible -- there's a teeny-weeny issue to do with connectivity.  We're online intermittently today -- the hotel's upgrading its system and of course the accompanying result is less internet service rather than more.  Presumably it's a temporary situation -- connectivity was better yesterday and the day before.  On the other hand, it could get worse when all the people get here -- the hotel is full for CARIFESTA.  We shall see.So today was a fun day.  It really started yesterday, while we were at the DDL houses, and Vola got a phonecall from the man dealing with the trailers letting us know that the Bahamas' container was not in Guyana.  This is the container, yes, that was packed during the first week of July and that was sent before Independence (July 10th).  (What date is it now?  Oh.)  This is the container that we made a big deal about sending, this is the container that we engaged a broker (I will not call the name) to help us ensure it was going where it was supposed to go, this was the container ...Where is the container now, today, the day before the day before the festival starts?In Freeport, Bahamas.At the other end of the Caribbean Sea.  Beyond Cuba.Further north than Nassau.Well, OK, it went from Nassau to Miami and then back (WHY?????).  And then it stopped.And after all the hoo-ha and to-do about the bill of lading from the brokers, they couldn't tell us the container hadn't left The Bahamas to head south yet?Such is the fate of these things.  A good deal of our presentation is in that container, including instruments, artefacts, books, costumes, and sets.  Whoopee-doopee doo. So what next?We're still waiting for the accommodation to be paid in full.We're still waiting for our accreditation to be finished in full.We're still waiting for our contingent to get on that charter and fly out here without too many surprises.It's quite a job, let me tell you, waiting.

CARIFESTA: Report from Georgetown

Well, here we are in Georgetown.After our late (LATE) arrival on Sunday night Monday morning, when we were met at the hotel by our liaison officer, we slept through a lot of the morning and didn't get started until midday.  First things first:  we changed US dollars into Guyanese currency (exchange rate yesterday - Bank of Guyana buying at $195:$1), and then moved on out to the CARIFESTA Secretariat.  There we touched base with the people who've been working hard for the past several months, and tried to finalize our accreditation and the like.  ASIDE:  It's a very frustrating job, hosting this event, especially in a situation where people are worried about security and stuff like that, and at the same time dealing with Caribbean governments, all of which appear to operate in a similar inefficient fashion, providing final approvals at the nth hour, or (worse, as happened with Turks and Caicos) denying approvals at the very last minute.  It's especially frustrating when, appreciating all the above, one tries to assist host country by sending them the information they need in advance, only to find out that the people in one's department who were charged with the task took their sweet time in sending the package to the couriers, so that one arrives in person before the information has been received and opened.  And so Guyana had to prepare our accreditation at the last minute anyway.So anyway, on we went to the Secretariat to register and to get our information into the computer so that our participants can be accredited.  The army has taken a key role in the hosting of CARIFESTA, access to the venues is to be tightly controlled, and anyone who doesn't possess a ticket or an accreditation will not gain access.  We assisted in the accreditation process, too, and then we came on home. By tomorrow, we are told, we will have our passes in hand.Monday wasn't as productive as we'd hoped, thanks to the time we arrived.  But today was much better.  We dealt with our accommodation -- our contingent is 140 strong and we're spread out over three locations -- today.  Once again, we've got an issue with long-distance payments and our accountants' performance takes on a centrality that it might not otherwise.  Let's just say that some things don't have to be done at the very last minute, but that invariably when we deal with our governments, they are.  Nevertheless, Caribbean people are very good at dealing in good faith, and so we were warmly received by the people at the DDL Estate, where we've booked 6 houses for our contingent, and we were shown around the houses and the complex.  We were similarly warmly received by the people at Buddy's International Hotel as well; and tomorrow we'll go and deal with the apartment block that will house the rest of our people.We have also been dealing with scheduling and transportation issues.  Tomorrow we hope to lock those down and be ready to receive our contingent when they begin to arrive on Thursday.But fellow bureaucrats, take note:  the world's a whole lot bigger than the desk before us and the papers we slide across it.  There's no really good reason for us to make the big world suffer any more than it already does.  Let's try to see whether, just once, we can do things efficiently and well all by ourselves.


In one week's time, the Opening Ceremony of CARIFESTA X will be over.  We'll be in Guyana, the place CARIFESTA originated, celebrating the festival's return to its birthplace.  Guyana stepped in when we in The Bahamas relinquished our commitment to host, and, despite having had only one year to plan the festival in, took the plunge anyway.There's a lot of discussion in cyberspace about whether or not it'll be a success.  There's debate, particularly in the Guyanese global community, about whether it's even a good idea to "invite people to Guyana", given all the social and economic difficulties in the country.  There's criticism of the CARIFESTA Secretariat in Guyana, there's criticism of the organizers, and it's true that on some levels and in some ways the way in which CARIFESTA has always been conducted continues -- in particular the way in which the festival is promoted globally.  On the other hand, though, there's a current of excitement out there that indicates that there's a change in the way this festival is held and perceived.  The very fact that there's independent discussion about CARIFESTA, whether the discussion is critical or supportive, indicates that it's no longer the best-kept secret in the Caribbean -- last time, when I began to blog from Trinidad and Tobago, people I knew in the artistic cyber-world had never heard of the festival, which has been in existence since 1972.  This time, Guyanese from the diaspora all over the world are at least contemplating attending the festival!  This in itself is a step in the right direction.  And this time, too, the Bahamian delegation is going to CARIFESTA accompanied by observers, well-wishers and people who are paying their own way to get a chance to see what's happening on the ground, or just to have a slightly different kind of vacation.  We're going to be accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Tourism so they can get an idea of what the whole thing is about, and also by some other advisors who can get a sense of what it is we've committed to hosting in 2010.I have no idea what the Festival's going to be like, but the buzz is growing.  We'll need to ride it if we want CARIFESTA XI Bahamas 2010 to be a success.  I'll blog from there and keep people posted.

Signifyin' Guyana speaks out on CARIFESTA

Signifyin' Guyana: Finally!

Bahamian blogger, Lynn Sweeting (womanish words) says she'll be participating in the upcoming festival of arts (Carifesta) in Guyana. Finally, somebody else (besides Ruel) who can lay claims to artistic talent has voiced a public commitment to doing something (ARTS RELATED!) for Carifesta. Okay, two down many to go.

Yes, so it's an old post. And if you go to Signifyin' Guyana's main page, you'll find a countdown to CARIFESTA. But all I wanted to say here was:It's really happening. This country (The Bahamas) is putting together a contingent of 135 performers and observers to go to Guyana. The contingent's so big because we are supposed to be the hosts of the next CARIFESTA (I know, we've been there before) and we need to know what we're getting into.I'll keep people updated. Guyanese blogs are keeping track. The countdown is on -- 12 days to CARIFESTA now! And our advance party (with me in it) leaves a week from today.There it is.Here are links to CARIFESTA news stories, courtesy of the CARIFESTA page.

ARC Review #1 - Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, (Lalami)

Country:  Morocco, North AfricaAuthor:  Laila LalamiReview:  This is a novel/collection of related short stories, and in this way reminds me of Naipaul's Miguel Street. The stories are about four Moroccans who take the risk of crossing the narrow straits between Morocco and Spain, and are separated into two main sections: "Before" and "After". The book grew on me; to be honest, I was not hooked by the prologue until I'd read the whole thing. By the end, though, I was sorry to finish the book.Lalami's style is clean and spare, and her four characters rise off the page and we care. Each of the characters gets two full stories, a "Before" story and an "After" story, and the prologue tells the climax -- the moment when they cross the straits and succeed, or fail, to make it to another life. One of the characters -- a man with an English degree, a voracious reader of American literature -- gets three; it's his POV in the prologue. By the end, the short stories lock together in a single whole, and the novel is there -- its protagonist is The Immigrant, and its resolution is variable.There were a couple of bits that stand out. One of my favourite stories in the collection, the first one after the prologue, "The Fanatic", is told from the POV of a character who never recurs. He sees, and affects the life of, one of the immigrants, someone whose story is told in the second part of the book. I suspect that it's a weakness, especially if the stories form a novel, but on its own it's very fine. Of course it is. It was shortlisted for the Caine Prize -- the African Booker.I imagine that for others part of the allure of this collection is the fact that it's rooted in Islam, which is the religion du jour for many Western literati, and that the characters do not conform to the expected stereotypes. Only one of them is particularly religious; the rest behave remarkably like people (warning: sarcasm intended).Comment: I've not read any North African literature proper, other than Camus, which masquerades as French literature, and Gide, who's an expatriate anyway. I keep meaning to read Mahfouz but haven't managed yet. My North African exposure is narrow. Lalami's a welcome change from that.I've been following her work for some time now.  I came across her blog, oh, sometime back in 2005 maybe, before Hope was published, and have often intended to read the book. I'm not disappointed I finally did.