Feels Like Home

For the past decade, getting to Trinidad required a painful, mind and ass-numbing, exhausting 24-hour trip from Asia back to the Western Hemisphere. But now that I’m living in O Canada, in one easy 5-hour flight, boom! There I am in Piarco, looking at a sign that says HOSEINS ROTI SHOP. I definitely need a roti, and a Carib.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 8.03.15

 

There are some things that are just quintessentially Trini.

It’s the total and complete GREENNESS of the mountains, the trees, the plants everywhere, a sea of lush green that was like a balm for my eyes after four months of hard, cold, dull winter.

It’s the cool morning air at 6am, before the heat rises, when the sun is coming up and the kiskidees start making plenty noise like they vex – ki-ki-KEE-KA-KEE! It’s the rooster crowing somewhere down the road in the village. It’s the sound of rain on a galvanized roof, with the inevitable midday shower.

It’s the flash of a green iguana running across the road, and sight of the old veggie stand down the road which looks exactly the same as it always has for donkey’s years. It’s the man covered in white soap, bathing in the stand pipe, because WASA probably hasn’t pumped to his house.

It’s the smell of fresh Caribbean herbs while cooking – it’s picking chadon beni from the garden and chopping it with pimentos, chive and thyme. It’s the flavors of amazing food, from simple saltfish and Crix to corn soup and doubles, the rich flavor of herbs which are used to season up EVERYTHING and infuse it with deliciousness.

caribbean-green-seasoning-300x225

From CaribbeanPot.com – click picture for recipe

It’s the man who parked his car outside the tuck shop, blocking up traffic, and coming out drinking a Guinness at 8.30 am for the morning commute. (Guinness is Good For You, right?)

It’s the TRAFFIC, good lord the traffic, the millions of cars driving the same tiny roads that were originally built for donkey carts.

It’s the way people say ‘pleasant good mornin’ when they open the door and enter an office.

It’s jiggling your legs when you sit at the table or stand washing the wares in the sink, because mosquitoes are always hiding.

It’s how the radio stations still faithfully and enthusiastically play 80’s music like it’s the hottest thing.

Some things never change! Josie’s on a vacation far away!

For me it was a short trip, but it still gave me a chance to see family and friends and soak up those uniquely Caribbean sights, sounds, and flavours.

Till next time, T&T.

Advertisements

Chinee Parang

I was putting up the Christmas tree last night, and of course looked on YouTube for a good Trini parang mix to make the evening nice and festive. For those of you who don’t know what parang is, it is a Christmas music that came out of Trinidad, traditionally sung in Spanish, but nowadays sung in damn near anything.

The first song that came on was a tune I am very familiar with – ‘Chinee Parang’, a song by Los Paraminios. But the lyrics made me stop in my tracks, because for the first time I really listened to how shocking the lyrics are.

Here’s the first verse and the chorus. Or better yet, just click on the song and listen while you read. Catchy, isn’t it?

CHINEE PARANG

Christmas last year I spend in China
I had some fun in Chinatown
In front my door, out on the street
I heard music, it was sounding sweet
I looked outside to see who was playing
It was some Chinese playing music for me.

Chorus:
Wang-sing poong-pong chang-sing woong-wong
Poong wang chong
That’s how they sound
Chiniling-ping chiniling pang
Poong-sing poong-ling wang-loong wing
That’s how they sing
Chinee parang, Chinee parang, Chinee parang
Wang, wang, wang
Chinee parang, Chinee parang, Chinee parang
Gimme Char Siu Kai Fan

Now as you know, I have been living in Hong Kong since 2007 and probably haven’t heard Chinee Parang in just as many years, so it made me laugh out loud and shake my head. Because only in Trinidad is this kind of song actually played on the radio, and nobody cares — not even the Chinese Trinidadians!

And you know what was the next parang song I found? It was ‘Mamacita’, sung by a young Sharlene Boodram, who is Indian, and the song is about cooking paratha for Santa. A Hindu girl singing a Spanish-style Christmas song about cooking Indian food for Santa Claus. Well, if that isn’t colourblindess, I don’t know what is.

p.s. I found out from a little Internet digging that Chinee Parang actually won an award! Ha! 

p.p.s The funniest part? The image of Bruce Lee transposed in front of the Trini flag with Chinese lettering above his head? Yeah, that’s not Chinese, it’s Korean

Is T&T a good tourist destination?

There’s an interesting website that I noticed circulating on Facebook called the Travelice Compendium, which describes itself as “a collection of observations, oddities, travel tips and techniques, facts, foods, dangers, annoyances, and all-around interesting or enlightening stuff that’s undoubtedly of value to someone, somewhere“. (Kind of vague, but whatever).

The compendium has various sections, such as how to do business, whether the country is safe for female travellers, whether you can do volunteering, the best and worst street food, gay and lesbian travel, customs and etiquette, and getting around.

Interestingly enough, it also has a section on “Reasons to Hate” countries, including Trinidad and Tobago.

“Not every country can capture the hearts of all the travelers passing through it,” the Reasons to Hate section says. “For some, the reasons to love a country can be surprisingly few. Travelers, please submit a list of reasons explaining what you hated about visiting ________ .”

Boy oh boy were people willing to throw in their two cents about why they hate T&T! Unfortunately they were all from a resident’s point of view, rather than a tourist’s point of view. The locals complained, and rightly so, about the schools, the hospitals, the policemen, the crime rate, and so on.  I had a good chuckle at a lot of them.

The very last comment posted so far was by far the winner –

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 8.37.09 AM

Poor banana! Sounds like he or she is desperate to move.

This post, however, is not about what makes T&T a great or a terrible place to LIVE. It is supposed to be about T&T through the eyes of a visitor.

After travelling around in South East Asia, where many countries are poor but have very thriving tourist industries, I’ve been looking at T&T from a new light, and have come to the conclusion that our underdeveloped tourism industry has a long long way to go.

In general, the people that I’ve met who have been to Trinidad have only been there because they know a Trini, and had someone to show them around. The fact is, we just don’t care about tourism. We have oil. Tourism is a joke because we really don’t care whether or not the tourists come. We don’t rely on them, we don’t need them, and we can’t be bothered to provide a good tourist experience to the few who do come to our shores.

I personally don’t think Trinidad is the kind of place I would ever recommend to a tourist just travelling there for fun. Here’s some of the reasons why:

1. It’s hard to get around. Public transport is the pits, and travelling in maxi taxis is not for the faint hearted. Buses are infrequent and don’t go to many destinations. You’d really need to rent a car, and not everyone has a license on wants to drive while on holiday. Or, you’d have to hire a driver. Parking is also difficult to find and you run the risk of getting wrecked.

2. There is little if any signage about how to get to our tourist attractions, so even if you were driving, good luck trying to find your way around.

3. Our capital city is a disgrace. When I used to work in Port of Spain on the promenade, at lunch time I’d walk around and would often see confused looking tourists, clutching little maps, walking around quite perplexed, as if thinking, “What is it we are supposed to see here?”  If you get off at a cruise ship complex in another island in the Caribbean, you’d have a pretty port, lots of choices for food, little shops selling fun things. What do you get when you land in POS? Garbage. Vagrants. Traffic. Noise. You can’t find any restaurants because they are hidden up in the drag malls. What kind of a capital city is that? Port of Spain must be the absolute worst port of call to stop in.

4. Customer service is extremely poor. In T&T the customer is NOT always right, in fact it is quite the opposite. Many tourists are not willing to deal with the ‘I’m too good to serve you’ mentality that people working in customer service tend to have. We move slow. It makes no difference whether or not you buy the goods. All we want to know is who is going out to get the KFC for lunch.

5. Crime. Let’s face facts — it isn’t that safe. A female traveller, for example, would be taking a big risk going out at night time alone. I’ve travelled alone in many countries and have never felt like I was in danger. But if I were a tourist alone in Trinidad, I would never go out alone after dark.

6. We have amazing eco-tourism potential, but no infrastructure and not enough businesses working in the industry. For example, when I went diving for the first time in Charlotteville, Tobago, I was shocked that there were no other boats around and no other divers. In fact, all the dive shops in Charlotteville were closed down. In places like Thailand, where they NEED the tourist dollars, the beach is lined with dive shops, little restaurants and bars, and hotels and hostels of all kinds. The diving in Charlotteville was incredible, and it is a shame that we literally have no tourists to enjoy it.

7. Our best attractions are mismanaged. Take Maracas Bay as a perfect example. There are toilets but they don’t work. It’s filthy and it stinks. I’d rather go pee in the sea than step foot in the bathroom, and I’m sure most people do just that. The beach huts that once used to sell bake and shark on the beach are now deserted and an eyesore. You have to walk all the way down to a wet car park to buy food. There’s no benches or shade. There are no souvenirs on sale. These are all simple things that should be provided to visitors.

8. Pan is only promoted at Carnival time. Why is it you can’t go hear pan any month of the year? How nice would it be if it were easy to go hear pan on any given Friday night? To go have a beer and eat some corn soup and listen to pan somewhere? But no, you have to be there at the right time of year.

On the flip side, some would say these are all GOOD things — that the fact that we barely HAVE a tourism industry is what makes Trinidad and Tobago a great and very unique place to visit. After all, you know you are getting the real, authentic local experience, because we aren’t pandering to the tourists. We don’t have touts harassing you every step of the way, we aren’t pretending to be the picture-perfect little Caribbean island and kissing tourist ass. And who knows, maybe the fact that it is hard to get around makes it all the more rewarding. Maybe some travellers are fed up of the busy beaches full of tourists, the crappy hostels, the dive sites flooded with boats. Maybe the fact that we are just a little nation, doing our own thing, and not taking on anyone else, is something that some travellers might actually enjoy for a change.

Still, it would be nice to be able to find a clean toilet on Maracas one day.

Nope, no tourists here...

Nope, no tourists here…

Christmas Tabanca

Christmas is always a tough time to be far away from your family. Regardless of how much of a pain in the ass the process leading up to Christmas day itself is — the endless traffic on the roads, the commesse of people frantically shopping, the long lines in the supermarkets as everyone rushes for turkeys and hams, the making of lists and checking them twice, the buying of unnecessary presents that you can’t afford and that the other person doesn’t need and probably won’t even remember come this time next year — regardless of all the fuss and hassle and the cussing and the swearing that you are not doing it again next year, Christmas day itself, especially in Trinidad, is something that tugs at the heartstrings, and makes you feel nostalgic. Oh yes, as the song goes, Trini Christmas is de best.

Right now, back home, I can see the tree twinkling in the darkness of the living room while the crickets and frogs chirp outside. It’s cool in Trinidad at Christmas time, even nippy in the evenings. The bakeries are full of fresh, hot, steaming hops. The pastelles have been made and carefully wrapped up in banana leaves. The radio plays the traditional Christmas music called parang — a remnant of Spanish colonial days. There’s endless house limes, people passing by to have a drink and talk shit. There’s the excitement of little nieces and nephews eyeing the presents under the tree, wondering what they will get this year. There’s the wearing of nice, fresh, new clothes on Christmas Day to like yuhself (feel good in something new). There’s far too much food, turkey, stuffing, macaroni pie, pigeon peas, with a healthy wallop of pepper sauce on the side. There’s the wearing of funny paper hats popped out of a Christmas cracker and the reading of a lame joke or riddle around the table. There’s lots and lots of drinks, and maybe someone passes out on the couch, snoring loudly.

Yes, Christmas Day with family is something that is hard to beat. So as a Travelling Trini, what do you do when you are a million miles away in a place where Christmas may not even be celebrated? Right now there are thousands of Trinis all over China, Malaysia, Thailand, Dubai, Croatia, Singapore, Jakarta, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, and everywhere in between, far far from home, missing out on all the action. I wonder, do they all feel the same longing to be back home on Christmas Day with family?

The only real solution, as a Trini abroad (or anyone who has left their homeland, really), is to begin your own new Christmas Day tradition, with your friends. Because let’s face it, in the absence of blood relatives and lifelong childhood friends, your new friends in your new home become your family. And having people to mark these occasions, these annual events, these traditions, makes you feel like you are not just a transient, passing through a place, but a part of a community. You may be far from your home, but you are not alone.

Now that I’m about to become a parent myself (T-minus 4 weeks), I’ve recently have been thinking about what kind of Christmas I’d like to be able to eventually give my own little one. And I think it will be my great pleasure to introduce the kiddo, once it is old enough, to the traditions of a Trini Christmas, regardless of which country we may be living in. For sure I will have to learn how to make pastelles and sorrel (though I’m not sure sorrel will be available)… Hopefully one day I’ll have a big enough home with a big enough oven to cook a turkey or a ham… And the kid will know the silly songs because as my husband rightfully pointed out, what other country in the world could have an Indian girl singing a song half in Spanish about cooking paratha for Santa? These are all the fun and silly things about a Trini Christmas that I hope my kid will know and love in the years to come.

Anyway, enough Christmas tabanca. The fact remains that this year is one far away from home, but hopefully in the future I won’t be quite so far away. In the meantime, as long as I’m in Asia, I better start researching some pastelle recipes.

Merry Christmas to all the other Travelling Trinis out there, and hope you all enjoy the holidays, regardless of where you might be, and who you might be with.

Simple Pleasures

 

I’ll be honest — when I come to Trinidad, sometimes I don’t do very much. Sure, I could use my time to go to the Gasparee Caves, or hike El Toucouche mountain, or trek out somewhere to go buy a specific kind of doubles, or whatever. But quite frankly, after the past year, where moving was a way of life and month by month things could change all over again, I am quite happy to just be here, in old familiar territories, to just relax, and enjoy the simple pleasures, such as…

  • Watching the parrots roosting in the tree across the road (see pic above… the kiskedee is NOT impressed)
  • Picking chadon beni from the garden to make smoked herring
  • Counting hummingbirds fluttering around the Barbados Pride flowers
  • Playing with my niece and nephew
  • Watching my favorite shows in English (not Japanese)
  • Gazing at stars at night from my grandmother’s porch
  • Seeing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same
  • Swimming in the pool
  • Drinking coffee in the cool temperature of 6 am, before the sun has come over the mountains
  • Listening to old calypsos on the car radio while driving down the road
  • Talking shit with friends and family

What else do I need?? Not every trip has to have a full itinerary of things to do and places to go. I really am quite content to just… be… here.

 

 

 

Good Morning T&T

Boy, it’s good to be home….

Early morning WIN

.

It’s such a simple pleasure, to sit on the front porch as the sun is rising, listening to the parrots making their morning flight, and reading whatever chupidness is in the newspaper. For example, this man with the cheese balls. Only in Trinidad, yes! Yesterday while driving I could not help but smile when I turned on the radio and heard the announcer say, “Dat is de onlyest problem”. Trinis have a very unique way of using English. I wonder what to call it… in Singapore they speak ‘Singlish’, and in Japan they speak ‘Engrish’… perhaps Trinis speak Tringlish?

Anyway, the flight from Tokyo to New York was, surprisingly, not as bad as I anticipated it would be. Because I had bought THE cheapest ticket available, I was not even allowed to choose a seat — it was assigned to me at the boarding gate which made me quite nervous. I was imagining being sandwiched in the middle seat next to two people with massive bottoms, in the middle of the plane, or even worse, next to the toilet where people line up right next to you and fart while they wait to go in to the bathroom.

But luck was on my side — I got an aisle seat up in the front, next to two very petite Korean girls who were part of some kind of Christian charity called ‘Love Nicaragua’ and were heading down there to build houses or baptise Nicaraguan orphans or something like that. The Korean troupe all wore these weird bright yellow vests, which looked strangely like life jackets, or perhaps traffic conductors, and everyone blew up those neck pillows and walked around wearing them for the entire flight. I thought to myself if the plane crashed, I was going to hold on to one of them.

Once I arrived in JFK, I had another stroke of luck, even better than petite Korean seat mates who never get up to pee. I was scheduled to arrive in JFK at 3.30 pm, and the Caribbean Airlines (CAL) flight was at 4.30 pm, and knowing how long it takes to transfer in JFK, what with all the taking-off-of-shoes and throwing-away-of-water-bottles, I decided to play it safe and book the flight at midnight instead. It would have meant waiting about 10 hours in JFK Airport. However, we arrived in JFK arrived almost a full hour early, so I made a mad dash for Terminal 4 to try to see if I could get on stand-by for the 4.30 flight. By then I barely had 40 minutes to get on that plane, but not only did they manage to get me on the flight, but they also helped me when I didn’t have enough US currency to pay for the ticket change (I was $2 short), and the very kind woman at the counter spared me some change and chipped in the rest. How kind is that? Out of her own pocket! Ah, bless the kindness of strangers. I breathed a sigh of relief when I sat down on that flight and we took off. It was a full 20+ hours of flying, but I think I was lucky to do it all in one shot and just get it over with. When I got home I chugged three very cold Stags, and went straight to bed.

Carnival is done, and I missed out on all the action, but I don’t mind. Right now, I am very content to just sit on the porch, drinking coffee, and chuckling at the dotishness in the papers.

 

 

Transitions – How long does it take to adjust?

It is an understatement to say that moving to a new country is never easy. We humans may be advanced creatures who have the technology that allows us to wake up in Trinidad one day and go to sleep in Singapore the next, but we still have some basic instincts, and one of those instincts is to have a normal routine in a familiar environment to feel safe and secure. But when you move away to a foreign land, you leave your comfort zone behind, and surrender yourself to a wide range of uncertainties and difficulties. New languages, new weird food, new weird people who may think YOU are weird, weird things like pillows full of beans instead of feathers (that’s Japan), rules about when to take off your shoes, different social etiquette, train systems you need to memorize in order to get around, names you can’t pronounce… the list of things you have to learn are endless and it is pretty much sink or swim.

Through this blog I’ve gotten in touch with a lot of other Travelling Trinis who are abroad in far away places, so I decided to ask them how long it took to adapt in their new countries, and what, if anything, helped with the transition. These are their answers.

Participating in de local roots and culture

 Nicole – Jakarta, Indonesia:  “The most uptight West Indian ever”

Two years ago, if I had to pick the last place on earth that I’d like to live, Indonesia would’ve made the top 10 on that list. In spite of that, when my company offered me a post in their Jakarta office, I accepted the job on the premise that it’d one day make for a good story and at very least, earn me a little extra cash.

To say that Jakarta was a bit of a shock to the system would be an enormous understatement: The place I had envisioned on my plane ride down was a conservative tropical island with slightly less pork availability than back home. What I found was a filthy mess, an over-crowded port and a mass of contradictions.

The country with the largest Muslim population in the world also plays host to the city with one of the biggest pollution problems, perpetually gridlocked traffic, the greatest inequalities in wealth that I’ve seen, and some of the most notoriously seedy nightlife in Asia. This was a far cry from the Bali postcard pictures I had in my head. Was I really in a country famed for it’s tranquil beaches and yoga practitioners? People smoke in elevators for God’s sake!

Surviving in Jakarta requires a laid back outlook, and having on several occasions been referred to as the “most uptight West Indian ever” I had doubts about my ability to cope. I felt like I had hit rock bottom on one day in particular. My passport was stolen, I had a “peeping Tom” at my window and I had just about had it with this awful excuse for a city, but couldn’t leave thanks to the passport thief. In an effort not to be defeated, my attitude slowly changed.

Things I hated about Jakarta gradually came to be things that I secretly liked about it. 3 hours of traffic on a Friday afternoon? No problem, have your driver stock a cooler with drinks and ice, and the after-work lime starts in your car! The unpredictability of the city, which was the source of much frustration in the early days, became the most endearing thing about the place. Only in Jakarta could my trip to the grocery could turn out to be a random adventure; I loved that!

In early 2011, my contract in Jakarta ended and an opportunity came along in Edinburgh. My home for the foreseeable future is now Scotland. Edinburgh in all respects is the anti-Jakarta. It’s clean, beautiful, ordered and largely predictable. On most days I love how easy life is here, and I’m looking forward to winter markets with cheap and abundant wine, but there are moments when I reminisce about Jakarta’s chaos and its element of surprise. For now, I’ve traded on my nasi goreng for haggis and enjoying getting a handle on my new city.

.

Say ‘cheee-zu’!!!

 Sarah – Okinawa, Japan: “I found chadon beni!!!!”

Life in Okinawa is different to other parts of Japan, mainly because there are several American military bases here so the usual adjustment to being gaijin (foreigners) wasn’t too big for me.

My biggest hurdle after initial culture shock was winter… and a mild one at that!

I think it took me about 8 months to truly feel at home here. My biggest coping strategy was cooking. Food was my comfort, especially familiar foods. Though, I can’t tell you the day it all came together in my head.

Adjusting to life in Japan improved when I created what I call “own my space”, that is, knowing how to move around and make plans the same way I did back home and think less of the language as a hurdle. I found a church, albeit Japanese, made some friends, talked to my neighbours and discovered a real world outside of ‘gaijin-land’ where locals and foreigners enjoy alike (aka a salsa club)… that helped big time!

.

A far cry from Maracas Bay

Dionne – Rijeka, Croatia: “Welcome to the family”

I can’t say how long it took me to adjust to life in Croatia, as I worked for many years on a cruise ship and was used to living out of a suitcase, and in fact part of me is ready to go back to the suitcase way of life after being here for 10 years! I think I was open to the idea of living in another country so it did not take me long to adjust, plus I had visited Croatia on a few vacations before actually moving so it was familiar, and I had a lot of stuff here already.

The cruise ship is where I met my Croatian husband. I’ve always dreamed of living in Europe so after we got married we moved back to his home town.

When I first arrived here I thought I came to a backward country. There were no fast food outlets or shopping malls! The groceries were small and I had to drive around to numerous grocery stores before my shopping list was complete. I was unable to get simple things like salad dressing, BBQ sauce, ginger, condensed milk and even Tampax! Who would have thought?

On top of that I also got stares everywhere I went. The locals were not used to seeing coloured people except on TV, so I was a feast for their eyes. They made it obvious too. A guy walked into a pole while watching me and a lady at the check out counter in the grocery stopped packing her bags to stare at me, then when I left the shop she came to the door and stuck her head out to watch me walk away. It was like that everywhere I went, people even asked me if it was possible for me to get sunburn! Ah… I have skin, flesh, I can feel… so yeah After a while I started to feel like I was an alien!

Settling in with the family was not an easy task because of cultural differences and the language differences. I had to live with people who felt that my things were their things as well, so a lot of my stuff would go missing, and their way of thinking was not normal at all, even the neighbors would agree. That took me years to get used to, and ignoring the in-laws was harder than adjusting to life in the country itself!

What really helped me adjust was making new friends, mainly other foreigners living here who went through the same thing. I even met another Trini woman! Unfortunately they hated living here so much they all left, so I recently formed an International Group in order to meet other foreigners and new-comers in my city, and made new friends who I can get together regularly with. Joining all the arts and crafts classes I could find to keep me busy and creative was also a big help. If you want to adjust to a new place you have to make the effort to put yourself out there and get involved in different things.

.

Summer time in Xi’an

Laura – Nanjing, China: “You never get chicken breasts on the menu… so where do all the chicken breasts GO??”

I’ve lived in 5 countries, and coming to China has been my hardest move yet. It has taken me one full year (where as it usually takes me 3-6 months) to adjust and feel comfortable. The language, both written and spoken, has been a significant barrier. However, nothing could have prepared me for the cultural differences and social norms in China. I have never felt more different and more foreign.

Making friends here who feel the same things I feel and understand what I am going through has been a huge help. A good laugh with friends is so important. More than anything though, it took time. With time I’ve learned to be patient, tolerant and accepting of our differences.

With time, I found a place to get a pedicure, buy cheese or find chicken breasts. I learned to say my address in Chinese, tell a taxi driver when and where to stop, and how to ask for “one more cold beer”. With time I learned that I was saying “Chinese people are very bad” when really I was trying to say “my Chinese is very bad”.

Dining out is always interesting. I’ve learned to surrender myself to eat whatever the server brings me when I go to a restaurant.

In a nutshell, I’ve had to allow myself more time than usual to figure things out and laugh it off with good friends!

A comedy of errors from the greatest country on earth

If you have ever met a Trini, you will know that we are fiercely patriotic. Trinis love being Trinis. We’re obsessed with it. It’s not just a nationality, it’s a way of life. For example, look at our annual Carnival, which is a huge celebration of our Trini culture. Almost all the calypsos sing about the joys of being a Trini. In fact there is a song from last year where the chorus goes ‘I’z ah Trini, ah Trini!’  I don’t think I know any other countries that have so many songs where people sing so much about how much they love being a Trini. (Except maybe Americans from the deep south. They seem to have a lot of country songs about the pride of being American.)

When you come from god’s chosen country (don’t you know the old saying, ‘God is a Trini’? All Trinis believe it, by the way), you tend to not take things too seriously. Some people take things with a pinch of salt. Trinis take things with a splash of rum, a few cubes of ice, and some Angostura Bitters. When bad things happen, we don’t fret, we write a calypso about it instead. Nothing phases us, not even states of emergency.

During my 3-week trip home to visit an ailing grandmother (who has made a full recovery, thank you), just before I left the government announced that they were imposing a Limited State of Emergency, after a weekend where there were 11 bloody murders in under 48 hours. Something had to be done, they said. Criminals, we comin fuh yuh.

From the very start it was a comedy of errors. People asked, what do you mean by ‘limited’ state of emergency? Nobody knew. The government then said that they would impose a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am, limited to certain ‘hot spots’, heavy-crime areas. People looked at the map. ‘But is de whole island!’ they said in response. So then the government came back, and said the whole country is under the state of emergency and the curfew, not just the hot spots. ‘So what was the point in the hot spots, then?’ people asked. They then took it back, saying the whole country is NOT under curfew. Which is it? Nobody knows yet, and this state of emergency has been in place for four days now.

.

Definition of ‘hot spots’

.

The people said, ‘but I work at night, I have to be able to go out during the curfew’. So, the government announced people could get Curfew Passes. By the next morning, the Attorney General held a press conference about the Passes, urging citizens to ‘exercise some common sense’ when going in to the police stations to apply for a pass. ‘Curfew Passes are for people who need to get to work during curfew hours, such as hospital workers and oil field workers. The passes are NOT for you go to liming on Ariapita Avenue at night!’  It quickly became the best quote of the day.

Trinis, being the good-natured, easy going, ‘dem-no-worry-we’ kind of people, immediately recognised the state of emergency for what it is, and started writing it off as a big joke. Facebook, the all encompassing social media site that is a great way to spread information, was quickly flooded with posts from popular bars, restaurants and clubs, saying ‘Come to the Curfew Lime! Happy Hour from 2 pm to 6 pm! 2-4-2 specials on all drinks before lockdown!’  The local beer, Carib, even started doing a series of curfew ads, poking fun at the curfew restrictions.

.

.

Criminals apparently are poking fun at the restrictions too. Can’t go out to rob during the night time? No problem! Let’s go out and rob during the day time! At 8.30 am some masked gunmen held up a cell phone shop, tied up the shop keeper, and stole all the phones and money.

There were a few other minor annoyances, such as when people started spreading the rumour that Petrotrin, the local oil refinery, was going on strike, and people rushed to the gas stations for panic buying. On the news that night, they interviewed people sitting in their cars waiting for gas, and asked them why they were there. ‘Well me eh know,’ they said, ‘but my neighbour hear dey goin an strike dong in Petrotrin, so I came to fill up my car.’  Turned out the rumours were unfounded and untrue. Rumours spread quickly in a small island like Trinidad.

I would have loved to stick around and see what really happens with this state of emergency, as I found it all wonderfully entertaining, but I had to get my tail back to Dubai. The question was, with a curfew from 9 pm, how was I going to get to the airport for a 1 am flight to JFK? I headed to the police station down the road to find out.

So I applied for a Curfew Pass. A police officer with an IQ of about 0.5 spent a long time trying to decide how to enter my information into a big ledger book. Just as I was wondering whether our police stations would ever get computerised I spotted an officer nearby on a computer. What was he doing? He was on Facebook. The officer dealing with me continued to be baffled by the pretty blue lines in the ledger book, and called over another colleague for help determine how to best write between these lines. Another man then walked in and interrupted this difficult process, apparently bringing some breakfast for someone who works in the station. ‘I brought this for Ramlal’ he says. The man with the small IQ then stopped processing my information, took the book and carefully wrote down what the breakfast was: One Orchard Orange Juice Box, One Bake and Smoked Herring. I kid you not — he actually wrote down what the breakfast was. He even made the man open up the bake and show him what was inside. No joke! He opened up the bake and looked inside! Do they think people are trying to smuggle drugs in to a police station inside of a coconut bake? And we wonder why when we call a police station it takes them forever to come to your aid?

Anyway, they finally solved the problem of the coconut bake and the mysterious ledger book, and issued me a curfew pass. Ta daaa!

“Not valid for liming on Ariapita Avenue”

I left my house at 10 pm in a taxi and we drove through a silent ghost town. Not a car on the road all the way from Maraval to Port of Spain. Downtown the only people ‘breaking curfew’ were the pipers and the vagrants rooting through the garbage and sleeping on the sidewalks in their cocaine-induced haze. One police car drove past us, checked us out briefly, but didn’t bother to stop us and ask for the pass. An army truck did the same, and didn’t stop us. We reached the airport in record time, and before I knew it I was in JFK, being treated like a criminal and taking off my damn flip flops and putting them through a metal detector.

So, what will happen with this State of Emergency in the long run? Will they arrest a lot of people? Probably. Do we have enough room in the prisons? Probably not. Do we have a law system that actually processes people quickly? Definitely not. Will most of the people arrested probably get released? I would guess so. And the people who rob cell phone shops at 8.30 am, will they turn away from a life of crime, or just find ways to continue doing what they are doing? I would guess the latter. The fact is, Trinidad has been in dire straits for getting close to a decade, and while we keep holding on to how our country USED to be, and we keep on smiling and wining and feting, it is going to take a lot of work to fix the decay in our country. Let’s see if Kamla has the balls to carry it through long term, and try to undo the damage that has been done. Who knows, maybe one day the police stations will actually have officers who use them for work, and not just for checking Facebook. In the meantime, in this comedy of errors, I would suggest people laugh, because if you don’t laugh you will cry! Oh yeah, and don’t forget to stock up on the rum for Lockdown 2011…. this could take a while.

Dive Tobago

During the new year festivities I headed over to Tobago to stay with some friends, drink far too many beers, and go diving in Speyside. Kind of sad really to think that for my whole lifetime growing up on an island I never went diving. Better late than never, I suppose.

We linked up with a dive shop called Wild Turtle, and divemaster Richie took us on a great excursion up the coast to Speyside, a sleepy little fishing village in the northern part of the island. To give you an idea of how quiet it is up there, you can count more goats than people. We were staying in the south in the Crown Point area, which in my opinion is pretty ghetto but at least has a lot of amenities, restaurants and bars, and is close to some of the nice beaches. The drive from Crown Point to Speyside takes a good hour and a bit and is quite windy through the mountains. But a diving day trip is certainly possible.

Why do divemasters always look so damn happy?

The diving was absolutely superb. The first dive site was called Black Jack Hole, a gradually deepening slope of very healthy looking corals, big schools of fish, big fat moray eels, huge lobsters, and a lot of other pretty tropical fish, like the angel fish. The second dive was at The Cathedral, which again had a lot of eels, and this time we were treated to the sight of an eagle ray.

To anyone thinking of making a trip to dive in Tobago, do it! Beautiful, clean, high visibility, and lots of nice undersea life. And I would certainly recommend Richie from Wild Turtle. Speyside however has little other than a few dive shops, and the most popular restaurant in the town, Jemma’s, doesn’t even serve booze. So I would suggest staying elsewhere on the island and going to Speyside for a day trip to dive. Unless you really, really like quiet places….

Sleepy, scenic Speyside


The long trip home

So here I am, back in Trinidad, this time for quite an extended period, actually. I survived that monstrous flight route that went Samui -> Bangkok -> Tokyo -> JFK -> Port of Spain, and actually found it to be better than going straight from Hong Kong to JFK which is 16 hours non stop. Having a few breaks in between really made a difference, actually. Those of you doing long haul flights, I have two words for you: ear plugs. Never fly without them.

.

.

Anyways, the worst part of the trip was going intransit through JFK. I absolutely abhor this airport and have decided to try to never fly through New York ever again. First of all, Trinis at Christmas time carry home everything but the kitchen sink. Everyone had at least six suitcases and it took forever to check it. Then when the check in was done, they don’t even take your bags for you. You have to tote your luggage over to yet another line and run it through a huge X-ray scanner. And then of course all the stupid security measures of making you take off your flip flops and put all your items in different containers for the x-ray machine, etc. etc. etc. etc. And only Caribbean Airlines starts boarding 90 minutes before the flight, but 15 minutes before take off, people are still not on the plane and are still figuring out where to stuff their millions of bags into the overhead compartments! Yup, after a few years in Asia, I have forgotten how to slow down my clock to Trini time! I better drink some rum or something…

.

How to Get Out of Trinidad

Although who would want to leave this?

Maracas Beach. Shark and bake. Doubles. An ice cold Carib. A scotch and coconut water on Pigeon Point. Crossing the stage on Carnival Tuesday (well… when there was a stage…). Feting till the sun comes up and crawling into bed at 6 am. Cruising down the islands. Cricket at the Oval. Sunday lunch with family. Liming with friends who you’ve known all your life. All of these things make Trinidad a beautiful and blessed place to live.

But, for people who have itchy feet, these things are sometimes not enough to keep you there for ever and ever. Some just feel the need to get out, whether for a few months, a few years, or for good.

If you feel a desire to spread your wings but don’t know where to start, I have compiled a mother load of information and links on things you can do to get yourself overseas………..

1. Going abroad to study
A popular choice for many Trinis, particularly for Canada, the US, and England. Many who go as a student end up working part time, then changing their visa to a work visa once they find a company to employ them full time. But don’t just limit yourself to the Big 3 (US, UK, Canada) — how about New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Spain, Slovakia? Your possibilities are endless. What you will need, however, is a lot of capital. Hope you have some savings in the bank, or some generous parents, or if you are brainy, a good scholarship. Foreign fees are not cheap. You may need to forgo that Carnival costume to save some cash… Start checking out some uni websites and see what inspires you.

2. Work Holiday Visas
This option allows you to work overseas and make a little cabbage. Don’t expect to make a fortune. Many end up working in pubs and hotels or shops, but it’s enough to get by, pay the rent, and go out. If you’re willing to do any kind of work just for the sake of living abroad, this is a good way to do it. Usually you have an age limit of 18-30 so if you are pushing your late twenties then now is the time to go before it is too late! It is not hard for Trinis to go to England. But be sure to check the immigration department of each country to get an update on the rules. They seem to be changing a lot, especially in these “days of terrorism” where countries and now becoming more particular about who they let in…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_holiday_visa

3. Join the JET Program
The Government of Japan has an exchange program with a number of English-speaking countries, including Trinidad, which allows you to teach English in Japan at a Japanese high school. Participants usually need to have a Bachelors degree in pretty much anything. Note that as a JET teacher, you may be placed in a rural area of Japan, and not necessarily one of the big cities, but it will be a real cultural adventure. If you hate kids and speaking in public, this is not the job for you, as you will work alongside a Teacher’s Assistant in high school class of up to 40 Japanese students. This job has pretty good benefits — housing, flights, good salary, good holidays. Contact or visit the Japanese Embassy in Woodbrook to find out more about applying. If you get into the program, start learning Japanese immediately before you leave Trinidad. Trust me on this, you will need it…

http://www.tt.emb-japan.go.jp/

4. Teaching English in other countries
Although Japan is the only country at this point that has a formal teacher exchange program with Trinidad, you still have options. The whole world is scrambling to learn English, particularly in the east, and the further you go, the higher the pay. The top three in Asia are China (not my pick, but many seem to like it), Korea (good salary, free flight over to Korea, usually free housing), and Taiwan (which is a beautiful, lovely place). These countries typically pay up to US $2000 a month or more. Everyone in Singapore and Hong Kong speaks English, so there are fewer jobs. Often Asian countries prefer teachers from the UK, US or Australia (read: whitey native speakers), so if you happen to have one of these passports, you are set. However, I know Trinis teaching overseas who do not have a foreign passport (and are not whiteys).

If money isn’t a big problem, you could consider South America. You won’t make much (probably US $500, maximum), but it’s bound to be a good adventure and you will probably become fluent in Spanish. You will likely need a university degree. There is a chance you can find a job in the European region, but only if they are not official members of the EU.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Which_European_countries_are_not_in_the_European_Union

Do a lot of research. Be careful of accepting illegal jobs which pay under the table (I speak from experience after teaching illegally in Turkey for six months and then getting kicked out). Never send any money overseas to any “school” or “recruiter”. Never send your original documents, such as university diplomas, to anybody.

It also helps to take a course in Teaching English as a Second Language (sometimes known as Teaching English as a Foreign Language). You can take a certificate course at UWI. Teaching English is much harder than you might think and taking a course to prepare you is very useful.

Here are some sites for teaching jobs all over the world:

http://www.eslcafe.com/joblist/

http://eslteachersboard.com/cgi-bin/intl/index.pl

5. Cruise ship jobs
How about a life at sea? Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean regularly employ Trinis to work on board in hospitality jobs. Can be a great opportunity to see a lot of different countries in a short period of time. I’ve been told you have to get used to living in small quarters with a roommate, and quite long hours. Good option for saving cash, as you’re stuck on board anyway and don’t have much to spend it on.

The only recruiter I know in Trinidad is called Shipmate Services. Their office is right by Zen. You can visit their office to get an application.

http://www.cruiselinesjobs.com/eng/recruitment/trinidad/24/

6. CARICOM visa
If you don’t want to go quite as far and exotic as Bulgaria or Finland, you could apply for the Caricom single market and economy scheme which allows for free movement of skilled people in any Caricom member state. A good friend of mine is working right now in Barbados on this and loves it, and I know people who have been to Grenada and Barbuda for work.

http://www.caricom.org/jsp/single_market/skill.jsp?menu=csme

7. Volunteer
You don’t need a bleeding heart to volunteer abroad, but you will need money to get there and keep yourself afloat during your stay. If you want to work with a reputable international organisation, you usually have to pay them to join. Don’t expect any payment in return.

In Asia there are opportunities in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and India, just to name a few. You probably won’t find them in the more developed places in the region. This could include volunteering at an orphanage, or teaching English to kids in rural areas, to helping out at a local hospital. Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, etc.) is also an option. If you really have balls of steel, go to Africa. Definitely for the brave hearted who are not in it for the money. I have heard of a Trini couple who work half the year in the UK and then spend the other half volunteering in poor countries. Quite admirable.

http://www.volunteerabroad.com/search.cfm

http://www.i-to-i.com/volunteer/

http://www.oxfam.org/

http://www.gonomad.com/destinations/0010/axelrod_dharamsalaguide.html
(I am seriously considering doing the last one myself!)

8. Marry a foreigner
I hate to say it, but marrying someone from foreign is of course an easy way to get yourself overseas! My guess is that it’s easier for a hot Trini woman to marry a foreign man than vice versa, as there are more foreign men working in T&T, especially in the energy industry. If I were a young Trini girl trying to escape from the island, I’d personally go or a European man, because that EU passport is golden and gives you the right to live and work across Europe. Imagine you could have the right to live in Greece, Portugal, Spain… wherever you fancy!

So, in conclusion, obviously for a determined young Trini, there are many ways to ship yourself abroad. Just start doing research, and start saving money. Take a course, if necessary. It may take many months to finally get the opportunity you want, but patience is a virtue. The day that you get that letter saying that you have been accepted to the program/job/course will be a happy and exciting day. Leaving home for a foreign land is a scary and wonderful experience, but well worth the risk.

In closing, my favourite quote, from the movie Big Fish:

“Kept in a small bowl, the goldfish will remain small.

With more space, the fish can grow double, triple, or quadruple its size.”

Hope these tips will help you find that bigger bowl out there…

A December to Remember

In retrospect, maybe going back to my home country, Trinidad, for a whole month was not such a good idea. After all, even though I love the experience of living overseas, especially in Asia, there is truly no place like home. I am Trini to the bone always will be, and after spending a month there, it was incredibly hard to leave!!

My life is in the city, but my heart is in the bush

But what a busy month! One huge wedding, one Christmas Day, one Ole Years Night and one New Years Day, two hikes to a waterfall, many trips to Maracas Beach, one trip to the Bat Caves of Tamana, one night of the sweet sound of steel pan with the Silver Stars, countless doubles, far too many rum-and-waters, and one baby baptism. All in all a good month. Here are some of the highlights….

Seiji and ‘Marilyn’ on Maracas Beach

This was Seiji’s first time in Trinidad. I think he had a good time. He certainly enjoyed the food! That man could real eat! And he had a great time bobbing in the green Caribbean sea.

Grooving with the Silver Stars

We went one night to the Silver Stars Pan Yard on Tragarete Road, and were simply blown away by the music. Talk about sweet sweet pan, boy. Many of the pannists were young, and one guy looked like he was barely 14! But they were absolutely incredible. They also did all kinds of things I’ve never seen before in pan — playing each other’s pans with their eyes closed, playing the pans upside down, and for the grand finale the ENTIRE band rotated and played each other’s pans without missing a single beat! They are truly taking pan to the next level.

Jimbo and Amy

I also truly enjoyed spending time with the two little monkeys in my family, Alex and Amy, and was very honoured to become Amy’s godmother. We took the kids up to Avocat Waterfall (a.k.a “Pop’s Waterfall” because you park your car by this 86-year-old Indian man named Pops who lives nearby) and had a river baptism. Much better than going in a church, in my opinion! Oops. That probably will offend some people.

The bat women of Tamana

My good friend Lisa, who I lived with for many years while I went to university in Toronto, came down for a visit. We also did some great sightseeing — in the picture above we are at the mouth of one of the Bat Caves of Tamana. Every evening, hundreds of thousands of bats start streaming out of the mouth of the cave to go into the forest to eat fruit. Why would anyone want to get so up close and personal with a bat colony? I guess some people have a funny notion of ‘fun’!

Here they come!!!!

Now imagine that this picture was taken in a fraction of a second, and look at how many bats there are. We watched the bats for about 45 minutes — how many bats do you think could be living in there? Millions? Amazing!

Anyway, if you want to go to the caves to see this amazing sight for yourself, contact Stephen Broadbridge of Caribbean Discovery Tours, who is an amazing eco-guide and has a trusty Land Rover to take tourists deeeeeep into the jungles of Trinidad. I would highly recommend going, if you have the time.