There is no escaping it, my friends. Carnival in Toronto is broken.
And I am responsible.
Caribana is as old as me. We were born in 1967. I was born in south Trinidad, while Caribana was born right here on Yonge Street. And just like my other siblings and courtesy-cousins, I always assumed Caribana would grow big and strong. I never expected that much would, or should be expected of me in helping her along the way.
While we were growing up, Caribana and I would see each other every year. Every year. It was always a wonderful family time. Grannies and Aunties, with a passel of cousins in tow would turn up each year and we would all meet up at the prearranged time at our special spot, near Dundas and University. Cousin Caribana would always be the last to show up, but that never mattered, as she was always the favoured child. We would wait for her.
And it was always worth the wait. In fact, it still is worth waiting for cousin Caribana to turn up each year.
As we grew older, Caribana and I grew closer. Daddy worked with some of her family. He was a welder, and all-around handyman, so some years you would find him bending wire for some Mas, or building rigging for some big truck. One time I recall him creating a set of steel and brass cowbell for a Bahamian “junkunu” side.
Then, in the 80's it was my turn to really start spending some quality time with that side of the family. I remember the first time I spent the entire parade with my newly adopted family, Afropan. From the heart of the U of T campus, down the Avenue, under the bridge (oh how I love the sound of pan under that bridge!), straight through to the end of the route.
And then, other times I would hang out with my cousin playing dress up. Sometimes we would get dutty together.
Every year was something. From playing official Marshall, (Ha! With t-shirt and all, thank you very much! Who tell them to put ME in charge of bossing people), to selling food, flags and whistles.
But always I made sure I came out to lime with cousin Caribana every year.
In the 90s, she start to get political. Or, as a big person now who understands better, I must say, I just start to _notice_ the politics. Lots of scandal talk. “The ballroom full, but de Treasurer say we have no money”. Bandleaders bawling how they win in August but not getting prize money ’til past Christmas. And on and on.
I look to my Uncles and Aunties in the community - the parents of cousin Caribana. I want to see guidance and clarity from them. What I see is a set of fighting, cussing, name calling.
One year me and a couple friends, decide maybe we should help our cousin, so we go check out a meeting or two when the big people are deciding how things would go. Election time was a remarkable thing! The speechifying, the cussing, the personal attacks, the insinuations and outright allegations. I think there was even a lawsuit or threat of one in the mix.
Yet for all of that, somehow, every year our cousin manage to come out in some shiny new costume, and put on a real nice show in the August sun.
So we looked past the obvious dysfunction (I was only then really learning the full meaning of that word), and said, “Yes, cousin needs help, but the big people in the family will take care.”
Then boycott hit, and find we trekking all the way up to north Markham to see Mas on a farm. Steups.
Around this time we get official news that we ting is a Big Ting! Some accounting agency run by White Men(tm) publish a big number and say this is the economic impact of Caribana. From what I remember though, the government didn't get the report, as they didn't give cousin any more money to organize herself.
Finally we hear cousin Caribana can’t find any receipts so she not getting ANY money to come back the following year. It was right then I knew my dearest, oldest cousin really and truly needed my help.
And I, I did nothing.
Oh, I still played with her every time she came to visit. But I was lying to myself.
I jumped inside a big 6-bass bin and said, as long as I stayed true to the good things from our past, all would be good. I convinced myself, and others, that politricks was for tricksters.
We “true Carnival people” could still play Mas or pan or write true, true kaiso, and that would be enough to save our dear cousin Caribana.
But I was wrong.
Cousin Caribana and I turn 46 this year. She’s managed to stay looking good, but me, I showing my age. So it's a little ridiculous for me, with my long grey dreadlocks, to be calling for Uncle and Aunty to come fix things. Like it or not, cousin and me are full grown now, and the excuses for not fending for ourselves and looking out for each other -- well, there are no excuses.
People always talking about how “the route is this, the judging is that, and don't get me started on ticket prices!”
But all of this we could fix.
The whole family and I must find a way to help cousin out. We have so much professionals in this family. Some with education, and title. Some with all 26 letters behind their name. You can't tell me we can't help her out.
People blaming the bank for taking over and changing everything. In truth, it was family who invite the bank to give big cheques and splash their name everywhere. Poor cousin couldn't say nothing in her own defence. And me, I said nothing. So who’s to blame?
The issue is not really about fence, or wristband, or dancehall, hip hop or samba floats. It’s also not just about the money we let the government steal from cousin.
It's about giving a damn!
More and more people seem to pass through the house each year, and cousin will always accommodate. You know how she is. She’ll break her back to fix up whenever company is coming. She might not have enough for light bill, but somehow she will find a way to put a pot on the fire, and fill it so every belly in the family could full. Every time.
The shame is, we know she on hard times, yet we refuse to ask ourselves, “But eh, eh, how old girl making out?”
Cousin Caribana and I are now Aunty and Uncle in the family. She have children all across this country, and even grandchildren up and down the States. Yes, every year they pass by to see her, but even the ones living close, like me, we always seem to forget she need help.
I feel it's high time I stand up for my cousin. Somebody has to support her from love. She’s always been there for me. Now I get to step up and return the favour.
It's my time to fix Caribana.