September 7, 2011 issue


Border Crossings
Next Sunday the USA will observe the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster to remember the 2,977 victims (excluding 19 terrorists). It is said that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda intended to show the USA its vulnerability to resolute assaults by enemies of its policies, especially the global military/industrial forces and their aggressive parasitic businesses. While this is the prevailing theory other hypotheses have been suggested at various times some intending to show collusion from within the United States itself, perhaps from an influential and egomaniacal subset of the very wealthy.

Many feel worried that American administrations seem unable to secure the social and economic welfare of the general citizenry beyond that small elevated percentage. Many claim that major media have allowed this to go without criticism, having lost the capacity to probe serious threats to the populace, and point, not to warfare, but to the expanding drug industry and the powerful forces promoting it. Where, they ask, are the investigative journalists of yesteryear?
Yet America is becoming more a fortress than a land of accommodation and understanding. In the last few years enormous sums have been spent to secure the border with its friendliest neighbour, Canada. This is surprising but understandable in view of the widespread American paranoia that terrorists enter the United States from Canada, which is perceived as lax and perhaps even negligent in areas of security. This of course is a matter of opinion and probably not true. What is true however is that Canadians visit the United States in large numbers, and increasingly so as the Canadian dollar rises in value. Thus Americans might be forgiven their concentration on securing crossing points.
I saw an impressive display of modern technology facing us as we drove through a border checkpoint recently. I understand that a trillion dollars are being spent on border security. Much of this will melt away as gravy into the pockets of those whose business it is to profit from adversity and who, it seems, have increasing influence over authorities, perhaps including those in the Department of Homeland Security. I've found several analyses and notes of events surrounding 9/11. These two are of particular interest:
"Sept 10, 2001: Former president Bush is with a brother of Osama bin Laden at a Carlyle business conference. The conference is interrupted the next day by the attacks. [Washington Post, 3/16/03]"
"Sept 10, 2001: Defence Secretary Rumsfeld announces that … the Department of Defence 'cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.' CBS later calculates that 25% of the yearly defence budget is unaccounted for. A defence analyst says, 'The books are cooked routinely year after year.' [DOD 9/10/01, CBS, 1/29/02] This announcement was buried by the next day's news of 9/11."
In a recent letter, local social activist R?m Sahadeo wrote the following re 9/11: "… lest we only associate that date with division, hate, destruction, and cowardice, (there) are famous examples of unity, love, hope and courage associated with it. On September 11, 1893 North America was first introduced to the unifying potential of the (Bhagavad) Gita's universal message. It was on that day that the dynamic Swami Vivekananda first addressed The Parliament of Religions in Chicago and planted the seeds of a philosophy of love, peace and unity: 'Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope, that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
"On September 11, 1906…Gandhi adopted the first mass protest meeting involving … Satyagraha (truth force) to oppose the passage of the law compelling registration of the colony's Indian population. The next 7 years … (of) non-violent protest and … public outcry over the harsh treatment of the peaceful protestors caused General Jan Christian Smuts to compromise with Gandhi. As the concept of Satyagraha matured it became more and more refined and was the main weapon in the struggle for Indian Independence. Yes we must fight injustice but we can do so by peaceful means without destruction of property and loss of precious lives."
Now if only we can get the CIA to behave this way!


Memory as delicious as was
dinner itself

We lament in our household whenever the unchallengeable matriarchal decision is made to "cook-up a pot of pelau".
Now don't get me wrong – pelau is delicious. I grew up eating this non-stop, as they also say of flights from Toronto to Port-of-Spain, and today have strong bones and healthy teeth because I didn't say 'No' to a second helping as a boy.
Given my grandmother's cooking, it was impossible to refuse a second helping of pelau, or ground provisions with fried saltfish, or the Saturday pot of oil-down soup reduced to its glutinous, gluttonous fulsomeness.

Whenever my good doctor shakes his head today, hindsight tells me that perhaps I should have not had those second helpings, some as recently as the day before. But that is another story.
Back to the pelau. There is a ceremony in my household whenever the decision is made to cook a pot of pelau. It means bringing out the large, wedding-sized cast-iron cooking pot from the bottom shelf of the capacious cupboard by the stairs.
To give a sense of how large this pot is, it can only reside in the cupboard where large items are kept. Here the big bag of rice is put to squat in one corner, sagging and gloomy like a bare-bellied, yams-and-cassava vendor in a village outdoor marketplace. This pot is so large it contains smaller pots. Taking the pots out of each other is like playing with matryoshka dolls, the ones that fit into each other.
Washing this pot takes two kitchen sinks and a faucet that swings 180 degrees. It is then put on the stovetop to take up a burner, and then half of the next. So similar to the economy section on an aircraft when your newly-designated passenger companion unintentionally occupies half of your seat and crushes you against the bulwark.
The ingredients for the pelau are assembled, the oil and sugar caramelised, and the pot "chunkayed" with the massive sizzle similar to pig-iron being cooled in a foundry. The 'chunkay' could be heard a block away. The smell of the initial stages of pelau-making then fills the house. It is an explosion of flavours. Soon the house is incapable of containing this expanding emporium of herb-based cooking. It begins to creep under the front door and squeezes through the cracks in the windows, then to make a break for freedom down the driveway.
The smells collide with the Canada Post lady, interrupting her thoughts about a Big Mac lunch, tripping her as she carries handfuls of admail, flyers and dwindling correspondence. Sinuous like a cat, the pelau-smells cannot wrap around the solid trunks of oaks; it gives up after one try at a marriage with blueberries on a bush, and then gets overpowered by the headiness of spruce and pine.
It's a different story inside the house and in the kitchen. The large bag of rice has been visited and deeply delved into, the sag in its belly noticeably smaller. The peas have been washed and are in the stew. The uncooked rice is poured in and the pot is set to simmer, its heavy lid put into place with a clang using the arms like an overhead crane.
The rice swells up with cooking, the bulking-up filling out the capacious pot up to the rim, the quantity within pushing the heavy lid upwards with slow and inexorable tectonic intent.
As a boy I helped Ma cook her pelau. She did it using ingredients days out of the ground, so to speak. Most of the times rice was not bought - Ma husked her own that was grown in fields by relatives in another part of central Trinidad. I recall the musty smells from soaking the freshly-threshed grains, and then the husking; then the drying on the ground, outside in the sunshine on brown crocus bags, with a watchful eye for birds and coming rain. In what was half of a large tin cut in horizontally into two, Ma skillfully fanned the dried grains of rice when a soft wind blew. The chaff blew away as the rice fell repeatedly into the tin.
We picked green pigeon peas together. Her hands were adept and quick. She would pull down branches from the pigeon peas trees for me. It would be heavy with "full" peas, the pods round and distended. I hugged the branch under one arm and tried to not pick immature peas. She cooked on a "chulha", the fireside smoke mingling with the zesty smells of freshly-picked herbs and truly fresh ingredients. Today the memory of her cooking is even more delicious than those moments when she spooned out my dinner.
We had no refrigeration then, so Ma made enough for the family for one meal. It is not so today and the sole purpose for the wedding-size cast-iron pot. Enough pelau is made at one cooking to feed an army, the majority of it frozen for use later in a marriage of economy and convenience. On some days dinner is microwaved and fulsome, lacking an ingredient that is essential and wholesome.


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