A Nutmeg Princess

If I were to go out for Halloween this year, I would dress up as the Nutmeg Princess. “Nutmeg is very good,” Grandma informs me. I am interviewing her for a GRSJ course where I am to talk to a family elder about folk medicines. “Good for everything” she emphasizes. She lists a bunch of its purposes including as an analgesic. “Put it on the pain” she directs me.

I have never been to Grenada. When I was a child, and I dutifully would respond with the ‘expected’ answer [“Grenada”] to the inevitable question posed to me by a new acquaintance [“where are you from”]. I knew they were asking why I wasn’t white because they never cared about my Magyar-ness or my multi-generational Scottish settler family living in Guelph. The adults would often correct me – oh you mean Granada, the place in Spain. “No,” I would insist. “It’s a small island in the Caribbean, located just above Venezuela. It’s the second largest producer of nutmeg in the world.” Of course, Grenada is named for the place in Spain… but I did not know that then.

A map of Grenada. It’s actually multiple islands. Including Carricou where my Grandma was born. She told me it used to take 6 hours by ferry to get there, and now it’s an hour on the road.

////

My first queer love is giggling hysterically because I call my paternal grandfather ‘Old Daddy’. I don’t think it’s funny. I am super hurt that she thinks a core part of my identity is so mockable, but I am laughing along. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Old Daddy was born in Sauteurs, Grenada. The name literally means “jumpers” in French, so named for the Carib people who chose to launch themselves off cliffs into the ocean rather than be subjected to slavery by the French colonialists. My family doesn’t teach me that, this is from my own learning as an adult.

My first queer love’s cousin later shares that their grandma is brown (like me) from the Caribbean (like me). I’m hurt she never told me this information. We never directly talk about it. Instead, she shares excitedly at finally being old enough to be gifted her own rum cake for Christmas. A delicacy soaked with care by this mysterious brown female ancestor that takes months to prepare. We break up way before then…but in the time between, I wondered each time as I caress her pale white skin, how many generations it would take for my own Blackness to be erased. How long until my descendants laugh uncontrollable at me and my brown otherness.

In her memoir, Shame on Me, Tessa McWatt writes (p.18):

“It’s my African ancestor—my great-great-grandmother—on whom I focus my imagination. She is the gap in my family’s storytelling that I need to fill, though I can’t trace her precise roots in Africa. Hers is the story that has been buried deeper, most painfully ignored. Hers is the story that bear such deep shame it has been erased. But the body is a site of memory. If race is made by erecting borders, my body is a crossing, a hybrid many times over. My black and white and brown and yellow and red body is stateless, is chaos. Her body is stolen territory.”

My relationship to my own brown body is inevitably shaped by shame. Grandma very strongly believes that “no one in our family was ever a slave”. She also feels that she has never experienced racism in Canada. I respect her conviction, but I do not hold it. The disconnection within my own family and the realities of being Black from the Caribbean is not a Grenadian trait. See the work of Malcolm X, Audre Lorde and the people’s revolution led by Maurice Bishop.

////

The author, unhappy, age 18

I have been to a slave castle in Ghana. I have seen a Door of No Return. I felt dread in my entire body during the tour (for this is an industry for economic gain & profit now. Small children yelling ‘oburoni’ at me and trying to sell me a spin toy right outside the castle gates.). I’m 18 years old. I had wanted to go to Italy with my high-school friends. My [white] mom said she would fund my airline ticket but only if I went on this trip instead. Her cousin, a researcher, has lived in Ghana for many years and is planning on returning home to Canada. This is a great opportunity to see the country with an expert. I’d go for three weeks there. The compromise is that I will join my friends in Croatia for a week. “You will get to connect with your roots!” she’s so excited about it.

Years later my mom visits me in ‘Vancouver’ (on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) . We have a fight about this trip on Kits Beach. “I didn’t want to go!” I yell at her, “I felt forced to say yes”. That’s not her memory, she shouts back at me: “well you could have said no Kyra!”. She forgets how persistent she can be… particularly when she is enthusiastic. Her friends nicknamed her the bulldozer. She is also my mom; I wanted to please her. I do a lot of people pleasing but I am rarely credited for that labour…She is also my mom; I am dangerously similar. Yet, my mom cannot argue that I was miserable on that trip. That I made everyone else on the trip miserable. By the end of the conversation, we’re laughing again. Lighter, after all, what’s done is done.

////

So here I am at a famous slave castle, trying to hold back tears while our guide is pointing out a line on the dungeon walls where the colour changes. “That’s how high the excrement was” she informs us. The walls are permanently stained, the line is higher than you are imagining. It reaches my belly button. The enslaved Africans [nations unknown] stood [my ancestors but also somehow not my grandma’s], shackled to the walls while their skin got peeled off from the acidity of all that literal shit.

There are other things I remember from the tour: a schoolhouse where the mixed-race children [products of rape] of the enslavers learned; the shiny plaque on the wall commemorating the recent visit by the American president Obama; the beauty and tranquility of the ocean from the governor’s quarters.

////

Nutmeg is not indigenous to Grenada. It’s a transplant, brought from the Moluccas (Indonesia) to the small volcanic island by the white Europeans, for economic exploitation.

////

Grenada. A place I’ve never been. It was Old Daddy’s dream to go back and swim in the ocean before he was too immobile from his Parkinson’s. My entire family, except for me, went in January 2014. My university told me if I went I would [very very likely, read: absolutely] be kicked out of the nursing program. That it would be unprofessional of me. I did not have any clinicals, or quizzes…just lectures on med-surg… slides read verbatim by bored professors, pulled directly from our textbook.

Last year I was a TA for a nursing program in the lower mainland. It was a required course, but I found out when only 20 of the expected 140 students showed up that they are not mandated to attend lectures. The course was about cultural safety and equity-based nursing practice. Each course had a guest speaker, a welcome by a brilliant Coast Salish Indigenous elder, and such important only can be experienced by attending learning.

It is hard to not feel resentful. Resentful too of a family that chose to go on this important trip during an impossible time for me as a university student…a family who never seemed to see me. Old Daddy died in the late summer of 2017. He got his final wish. He had to be carried into the water, but still.

////

I dream of islands, jumping off cliffs and sinking to the bottom of the ocean floor.

////

One of the only connections I feel I have to Grenada is from my childhood. My [Black] Daddy reads a book to me, published the same year as my birth. The Nutmeg Princess by Richardo Keens-Douglas, illustrated by Annouchka Galouchko. The story takes place on the Isle of Spice, a stand-in for Grenada.

This story is how I know about the relationship between nutmeg and Grenada– but not the larger story: about how and why that connection existed. The forced movement of people and plants for profit.

I watch a video of the author telling the story online for a festival. His accent is clear and crisp, lightly flavoured with some flakes of mace. He does not sound like my family; they are the whole seed. Old Daddy and Grandma are speaking English, but I’d have to turn to Daddy for a translation. Daddy tells me had an accent when he was a kid, he’d say “axes” instead of “ask”. He actively unlearnt it.

I hunt down the book, located at a branch of UBC library’s but not the public library.

The Nutmeg Princess, a young Black woman, incredibly beautiful [the beauty radiates from her soul]. She’s sometimes sad, sometimes happy. She sings. She chills in the middle of a lake, at the very top of a mountain. The princess only appears when the nutmeg is in bloom. She can disappear quickly – in a blink of an eye. She wears a blue dress and has long braided hair. At the end of each of her braids is a small gem, a diamond. The Nutmeg princess is invisible to everyone but a few who really believe in her and care to see her…fully/unselfishly/authentically…

////

Last night, I did end up going out for Halloween.

“KYRA!”

I’m walking along Commercial drive towards the parade of lost souls. I hear my name “KYRA!” I pause and search for the sound “KYRA!” .

The street is busy, the rain hasn’t come yet… but suddenly I spot her. One of my best friends in the passenger’s seat of a car. She’s just leaving a drag show.

 “What are you doing?” she asks me, the cars behind begin to honk. I tell her about my plans, “it will be fun” I say. She’s never heard of the event, but she trusts me. She spontaneously joins me and off we go on an adventure. We wave goodbye to her friend, the driver.  

I’m surprised that she saw me… there were so many people walking, but she sees me! So many fun costumes, flashing lights, sparkles… I’m wearing dark leggings, a toque and a winter jacket. I smell like campfire smoke, after a failed attempt at camping the night before (drove to the site, started to get set up. Forgot my tent poles. Returned.). I am not radiant at all. She asks how I am doing, “I’m so sad” I tell her, “but I’m trying”. I force myself to smile. My brain screams don’t cry, don’t cry, my gut soothes: crying is okay, release! release!, my heart wonders when can I come home?

She reminds me we became friends when I was incredibly sad. When I just began to practice self-compassion. I ask her if I’m always sad. “No,” she says, “sometimes you are happy”.

The author, happy as a child.

I tell her about my costume. How I am a Princess that only a few can see. How much it has warmed my heart that she saw me. That she sees me. We march in a parade, we take in some funky brass music, we watch a fire show, we get expelled by witches, we dance. She asks me about my future. I tell her about my confusion, my uncertainty but also my ideas. By the end of night, my smile is no longer forced. Suddenly, I’m at at the start of something new… and I cannot wait! [But don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know what ‘it’ is!]. However I feel I can face it with a deep and genuine joy.

I don’t need to a princess for everyone. Just for folks who really want to see me as I am [compassionate mess/ full spice/sometimes happy/sometimes sad/dreaming of water]. In return, I promise to see you too.

In love/in kindness/ in endless compassion.

Kyra Philbert is a LOSER

Vancouver Reddit users casually mock me

Well, the results are in! I did not get elected for ‘Vancouver’ City Council during the October 15th, 2022 municipal elections. Unlike most of Vancouver’s Reddit community, I don’t need to imagine getting less votes than Amy “Evil Genius” Fox nor Rollergirl. With a resounding 3 382 votes, I’ve lived it, and I can use my creative thinking for other things. Also, it was super exciting. I absolutely thought I would get 50 votes max. If you voted for me: wow! thank you! endless gratitude for supporting my vision for radical, intersectional, queer, feminist, compassionate healing…Considering that I did no active campaigning, made no promotional materials, talked to no strangers (dangers), put up a few social media videos to my 300 then followers, got zero media coverage and did one debate (thanks Vancouver Public Space Network!)… I feel proud of my first foray into politics!

I’m not even remotely upset about my defeat… I am way too focused on that a ton of people voted to increase the police everywhere: schools, parks, every city block?

Excuse me while I go vomit.

I am in anger and disgust now. Honestly- I spent Saturday night, and nearly all day Sunday and Monday just bawling my eyes out. Sad about our new reality in a police state. Sad about the scary drought/fires/smoke. Sad because I was not expecting this result (naïve much?). Sad that I feel so betrayed by fellow citizens. How dare you! All these folks claim to be concerned about the DTES and helping people… so like my job for the last six years… ? They are concerned about Chinatown and helping the seniors out… so again, my job for the last six years…? They claim they want nurses providing an empathic response… so again, my literal job for the last six years. They claim they want solutions… but what outcome are they looking for?

***

To add insult to injury, the major elect, Ken Sim, and his party are trying to make nurses complicit in their pro-police agenda- particularly mental health nurses. Today, on CBC radio, he stated “to give your listeners a little bit about my background […] my background is in nursing… so we understand the moving parts” [11:03-11:09] – I am not a journalist, but I can tell you, he is not registered with the college. Being an employer of nurses is not the same as having a “background in nursing”. As a self-governed profession, ‘nurse’ is a protected title. He did not say, “I’m a nurse” but he certainly implied he had an expertise in nursing that that he may or may not hold. Nurses are a highly respected and trusted profession in Canada. He is falsely leading the public into a belief that trusted professionals, like nurses, think more police is a good idea. In actuality, many Canadian nurses are calling for the complete abolition of both the police and prison systems.

Screenshot from google re: the rules about calling yourself a nurse in BC

Can an actual journalist investigate Ken Sim’s claim about his ‘background in nursing’ and if it is misleading to people ? Can you also ask the BCCNM if it violates the use of the reserved nursing title?

I mean, maybe I am wrong and Ken Sim does have a real background in nursing. In which case, I want to know: where did Ken Sim get his nursing degree? Who is Ken Sim’s favourite nursing theorist? What is his area of clinical expertise? Where has he practiced?

Until then, if you want to hear Stephen Quinn interview an *actual* nurse, you can listen my interview with him from May.

*********
Nursing, like policing, is a problematic institution. It is based in white ideology, it has a history based on anti-Blackness, and that context has had very direct harms for folks of colour. Nursing, like policing, are composed of individuals – some are very lovely people (and some are murderous assholes)! However we work in *systems* and those systems make us do things that are straight up racist like birth alerts! Or arrest people because they peed outside! I am including myself in this.

Here’s a scenario : a young brown person is brought to the emergency room by the police. They are there to have their dog bite wounds treated, sustained during their arrest. Their crime was shoplifting (total amount, under 20$) and then fleeing. The police dog was deployed to apprehend the suspect/victim. The person was bitten on multiple points of their body, notably their head. Police dog should be trained to release their bite on command. The patient was bitten by the dog on their head/face repeatedly. The extent of the damage is deeply disturbing: They will require extensive plastic surgery, their vision will be forever impaired and they will have an obvious lifelong facial disfigurement. Worse, their healing outcomes are poor: the nurse expects that the person will develop infections and require repeated rounds of IV antibiotics due to the nature of the trauma [dog bite], and the conditions of the patient’s lifestyle (poverty, insecure housing, malnutrition). Each probable infection represents the possibility of a preventable death from sepsis. The police are joking in the trauma bay and minimising the harms the patient will now have to live with for their rest of their life. They do not reconsider their actions until the nurse informs them how much money this dog bite will cost our public medical system… their empathy is with the tax payer, not the real human whose life they have forever fucked. The patient is discharged back into police custody. The nurse is very distressed, and wants to take action. They are actively discouraged by hospital leadership from calling in a complaint to the VDP about the behaviour of the police re: excessive force. The nurse is reminded that VPD is a community partner. The nurse does not feel safe nor supported by the larger medical system. The nurse does not feel like they are acting within their own moral framework, nor their professional ethics. Still, the nurse does not report. They go home, cry in the shower and try to scrub off the shame/guilt/disgust.

****

It’s not a personal insult to be critical of the systems we engage with, particularly if they are harming people. I am certain lots of people went into policing because they wanted to make a positive impact in their community! However, structures of power need to be actively unlearned. Nurses have an ethical obligation towards social justice. Nursing is very actively trying to address its racism problem. My own scholarship does this– no one bats an eye when I tell them that nursing is racist… it is a fact! A necessary fact to openly acknowledge to shift the profession towards anti-racism.

Meanwhile, while I was calling the police complaint line during the ‘freedom convoy’ in Vancouver [which happened while our CAPITAL was OCCUPIED! Hello, it was fricking domestic terrorism! just need to go vomit again] – and I stated a fact: the police are a system build on racism. I was told not to be ‘controversial!’.

AHHHHHH

AHHHHHH

AHHHHHH

The complaint officer kept interrupting me, and comparing his experience as a white man going abroad to my own ! He demanded that I listen to him, while he spoke soooooooo slowly about *his* feelings of becoming cognisant of his race for like 2 seconds in a temporary position of his own making as the benevolent Canadian on voluntourism!… he said this to me while I was actively fearful for my safety within my own city [on unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations] .

He said this to me while I was getting ready to march back and forth at Main & Kingsway holding a little dinky sign in an effort to delay traffic slightly.

He said this to me while I spent the day bawling because I was so scared. My co-protesters were trying to be positive, with music and fun outfits. They were trying to cheer me up because I was very miserable and clearly alone… but (a) stranger danger (b) I did not want to have to mask my feelings for the comfort of randos when it was a very scary/upsetting situation, (c) I think crying was an appropriate response to what was going on!

taken from a Vancouver Sun article. Note the wig & fun nurse outfit? I did not look this joyful.
PHOTO BY JEFF VINNICK /PNG

He said this to me while his colleagues would yell at me to hurry up. “Ma’am! I’m worried about your safety!”. I would think that I know how to cross a goddamn fucking street! and they don’t care about *my* safety because if they did I would be sipping tea at home, not actively witnessing people honking their cars [and drive in from the burbs while unnecessarily emitting fossil fuels!], trying to block access to the major hospital, yelling transphobic stuff and doing white power gestures.

AHHHHHHHH

Eventually I said to the complaint officer, “I’m pretty sure your job is just to listen to my concern and log it… and I want you to do that now”. Judging from that interaction, it is clear to me that there has been very little critical thinking within the VPD about their social responsibility towards dismantling the systems of inequity. The focus is repeatedly on ‘public safety’– well safety for who? from what?

I am so sad and scared, yet again.

*****

The mayor elect Ken Sim’s rationale for mental health nurses working with the police is there would be a more ’empathic’ response. He claims he wants to be evidence-based. So let’s explore that claim – that nurses working with police generate more empathic responses- with a recently published academic article about mental health, policing and nursing in a British Columbian context. The lead author of the article, Maja Kolar (they/them) is a registered psychiatric nurse, holds a master of science in nursing, and very cool.

Kolar et al. (2022) employed critical discourse analysis to examine the provincial legislation The Metal Health Act (1996) and its interpretive handbook, the Guide to the Mental Health Act (2005). The act directs the involuntary and voluntary psychiatric treatment for folks in British Columbia experiencing mental health issues. Nurses, physicians, and police officers are professionals who regularly enact the act, which gives them authority to intervene on someone experiencing mental health issues. Kolar et al. identified “the need for protection” as a central discourse within these texts. The authors affirm the term protection is never clearly defined within the act but rather broad allowing the safeguard of the enforcers while legitimizing involuntary psychiatric treatment.

The police are given power via Section 28: Police Intervention for public safety to bring someone experiencing mental distress in for a medical examination in a hospital setting. This form of policing is considered an enforcement of protection through containment. Kolar et al. comment that this type of policing reinforces both the criminalization and stigmatization of folks experiencing mental health issues. They also highlight the danger of police intervention which “increases the likelihood of involuntary treatment, as well as detention, incarceration, violence, and in extreme circumstances, death of people experiencing mental health and/or substance use issues”(Boyd and Kerr, 2016; Wilson-Bates, 2008 as cited by Kolar et al., 2022, p. 11). Regarding my own profession, nurses might make clinical assessments on recalling a patient on extended leave based on missed medication or appointments. Together, a nurse and police officer might work together to locate a patient “for apprehension and transport to hospital” (Kolar et al., 2022, p. 11). Kolar et al. are mindful that neither the act nor the guide pays attention to nursing practice. The result is an invisiblization of how nurses might be complicit as agents of enforcement, within these structures of power that actively harm. Not to mention nurses acting in ways that go against our professional ethical obligations and best practice: harm reduction/ trauma informed. My own experience validates this concern.

Ken Sim’s claim that the nurse might provide a more empathic response is not supported by this evidence. The empathic and compassionate response I would want to provide to patients is made impossible by the presence of police. Perhaps he is conflating the presence of the nurse with less lethal outcomes for folks… but that does not mean it is a ‘good’ solution. Kolar et al. actually recommend intervening on social conditions like poverty, racism, unsafe housing, transphobia, and colonialism. What if we actually did stuff to prevent the need for a mental health crisis response in the first place?

****

There is a cycle:

without equity action to address the social determinants of health

a person’s mental state deteriorates

so badly

that eventually

they fit the criteria

to be removed

contained

detained

for ‘public safety’

by police

[and nurses]

and sometimes police + nurses working together.

***

I could not find any academic research about Car 87/88. This is the program that Ken Sim wants to expand by hiring all these mental health nurses. However, I can share from my experience working in a major emergency department in Vancouver that Car 87/88 were mostly bringing people in from their extended leaves [recalling]. My interactions with the teams were positive, and I think they do an important service for loved ones wanting to assist someone in crisis and de-escalating that situation.

However, the larger conversation that dominated the election was about ‘public safety’, crime and the DTES. Ken Sim stated in his CBC interview that increasing Car 87/88 alone would not be enough. “We need to go upstream, we need to figure out what the root causes of these challenges are and it could be… mental health, addictions, people experiencing homelessness…” [0803-0813]. Okay, well, that’s easy enough because it’s poverty.

****

For a long time, Vancouver’s DTES has been a containment zone. According to Dana Culhane (2003, p. 594) “Public health and law enforcement authorities, in an effort to respond to these “twin epidemics” [Kyra note: HIV + IV drug use] have treated the Downtown Eastside as a containment zone, rather than as an enforcement zone: few if any arrests are made for simple possession or trafficking of small quantities of illegal drugs, or for soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.” Now in 2022, we have even more epidemics to add: Covid 19, opioid poisoning crisis, missing & murdered women… [which is still happening, vomit, like the circumstances of Chelsea Poorman’s death that the VPD ruled not suspicious].

Screen shot of the DTES from google

Yet where is the DTES? It is obvious to me that this area is a heterotopia. The city has historically used this space to contain all its undesirables. The DTES is simultaneously Chinatown [headtax], Japantown [internment], Hogan’s Alley [destruction for the viaduct] and Strathcona [for ethnic Europeans like Italians, until they got absorbed into white]…

screen shot from the Chinatown Business Association website

The new mayor will have a “satellite city hall in Chinatown”. The Chinatown Business Association is focused on the promotion of Chinatown with their first item being (1) security patrol [aka, protect settler capital] and then (2) cleaning graffiti [aka beautification]. Their website make no mention about the other places/spaces that encompass Chinatown (for example: DTES/Hogan’s Alley). It focuses on tourism, profit, and revitalisation… which means

the undesirables

the trash

[the poverty]

must be contained… elsewhere.

****

The police might be up for the job… but I really hope nurses take a clear stand against this. This work goes against all evidence and our professional values. There is nothing that suggests nurses are ‘more’ empathetic to these situations other than that they get forced into being complicit and maybe make it less likely the police will immediately kill someone. There is no rationale that the police could not get training to be more empathic themselves (and clearly they desperately need it!).

The evidence for the root cause of these problems is overwhelming. The evidence against doubling down on policing is also overwhelming. Yet Ken Sim wants us… so as nurses, we have the power of the powerless here. All nurses can take a radical stand and refuse to do this outrageous work. Instead, that money can be reallocated into actually addressing the social determinants of health with radical interventions of care: finding safe & secure housing for people, feeding people and ending poverty.

I hope that we are supported by our nursing leadership at multiple levels: our major union [BCNU], our professional associations [CNA, NNPBC], our major employers [like the health authorities: VCH, PHSA, Providence], our college [BCCMN] and all our nursing scholars/researchers in the lower mainland. It would be very impactful if all these groups– who have made pretty significant claims of anti-racism and equity– now enacted their politics! Statements/press conferences/ big stink. The use of nurses for pro-police rhetoric must be challenged.

***

There is certainly a way for Chinatown to be fabulous, and everyone to have a cute time… but it’s not achieved through policing! The police only deal with a situation, after it has already happened. We got to invest in prevention and intersectional equity. It’s great that the new mayor has endorsed all the equity policy asks from women transforming cities’ hot pink paper campaign, among them washrooms for all, healing lodge, and alternative non-police models to community safety. These were also election promises, that will make an actual difference. I want to see how Ken Sim follows up on those.

but what do I know… I’m a loserrrrrrrrrrr