Kings and Queens

Kings and Queens

First off, this post is extremely late, it was meant for a few weeks ago, and I’m very sorry. Carnival has taken up the majority of my time here!

Kings and Queens is a celebration/parade/demonstration of the artistry behind Mas. What is Mas you say? Well it is technically short for Masquerade, derived from the French celebration of dressing up for the pre-lenten season. However, it has since been changed into Carnival’s extravagant and beautiful tradition, often reflecting unique characters specific to Trinidad.

Some of the characters were considered vulgar by some colonials during the 19th century. However, Mas is meant to be a direct reflection of life, and in the barrack yards for the emancipated slaves, life was tough.

For instance, one of the characters still seen today is named “baby doll”. She is a character dressed in bonnett and frills, carrying a baby doll, harassing the onlooking men and accusing them of being the father. She will usually ask them for money, and demand that he take responsibility for her pregnancy.

Kings and Queens is not Traditional Mas, but still is a part of the Carnival experience. Kings and Queens is a demonstration of the Mas Camps/bands ability for extravagance and beauty.

Many costumes will tell a story, this one is an Aztec Queen, a reflection of the gold Columbus was in search for, her costume stretches to over 20 feet above her head.

Canboulay: Fantastic Friday

Canboulay: Fantastic Friday

This is a stick fighter, the one on top of the crowd. Stick fighting is an ancient art, many considered to be diminished since colonial times. But Trinidad still keeps it’s vibrant culture alive through traditional African art forms such as these, and made them their own unique flavor

Carnival: Fantastic Friday

Carnival: Fantastic Friday

So Fantastic Friday is one of the most well known days in Trinidad, it is technically the real ‘kick off’ to Carnival weekend, even though most people it starts in October.

Fantastic Friday we all woke up early to participate in Canboulay, wich is a re-enactment of the Canboulay riots that occurred in 1881, against the French Colonialists. This riot was a result of the hardships after emancipation, black Africans couldn’t find jobs, or even participate fully in Carnival the way that the upper class did, so a rebellion broke out.
Candice, our coordinator was a participant in the re-enactment.

I have forgotten the most important part, we all had to get up at 3:30 am, as it started at 4 am!

More pictures of the festival started after, with traditional Carnival characters such as the Blue Devils, Pierrot Grenade, and Moko Jumbie.

Settling In

Tunapuna’s style of living is very different from the average city life in the United States. Tunapuna and Trinidad in general has a kind of energy that I have never experienced before. I first realized this when I stepped out of the airport into to the humid night air; I felt as if there were damp cotton balls in my nostrils stopping the air from getting in. I soon became accustomed to this change in humidity, but the heat I think was much different. It has now become second nature to me to freshen up several times a day, showering, washing my face, and even taking a cloth with me to wipe my face. Although it was at first astounding to me to see men and women in the middle of the day wearing jeans and even sweaters, I have grown accustomed to layers I have to wear during the day.

The Caribbean Lodge’s location has also been a change for me. In contrast with my home in the suburbs and residents halls on campus, the lodge is located right in the middle of a metropolis. I am grateful to have this experience however, the location is much more convenient for a pedestrian lifestyle. I no longer have to beg for a ride, I can simply walk down the street for almost anything I could need. Some of the harder adjustments I’ve had to make to this location would be the sounds of cars and people right outside my window. I’ve never experienced city sounds so close to home before. My body seems to have tuned in more acutely to the sound of an alarm, rather than a bass in a car.

CULTURE: PEOPLE DIALECT/LANGUAGE

One of the most bothersome culture shocks I have found hard to become accustomed to is the cat-calling and attention I receive walking down the street. In the United States, this is a rather aggressive sign of male dominance, and often meant as a harassment. To ease my preconceived notions about this cultural habit, I simply partake in it! During my first day of class at UWI, I was walking alone on Gordon street, and a couple of men kissed at me as they drove by. Somehow, something clicked, and I understood this gesture to be non threatening, and almost automatically, I responded!

During our home stays was when I truly understood how very different Trini culture and especially language was from American lingo. I felt terribly guilty asking over and over for the Barras family to repeat phrases or questions. To my untrained ear, I was convinced that they were speaking a different language. I had the idea in my head that because Trinidad and Tobago was and english speaking country. I thought that I would have no trouble with communication as opposed to my friends studying in a country that spoke a totally different language. How very wrong I was. The dialect and oral practices are so contrary to American vernacular, I am constantly looking at people’s mouths when the speak, to find the visual for the words spoken. The speed and slang manipulated through sentences is much harder for a foreigner to pick up. The  solutions I have found are still in need of some improvement, but one of them seems to be working well. I practice by sitting downstairs in the lodge, outside of the computer lab, and simply listen (with out looking at facial movements) to the conversations inside. It is with great triumph when I finally follow fully the conversation with out prompts, or slowed speech when someone directs their questions or comments at me.

There are few disputes, both within the Pacific Lutheran group and the larger community in the lodge. At least in the sense that I have never come across a situation that I couldn’t solve by simply talking about how I feel. I’m very comfortable within the lodge, almost everyone I’ve come across, (particularly Delthia, Jevonne and Mark) have been very helpful and easy to converse with.

Charlotteville, Tobago

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Charlottville is located on the North-Eastern side of Tobago, around an hour car ride away from Scarborough. Although it is a small town, Charlottville has many different venues for locals and tourists to partake in, such as Pirate’s bay for swimming, and Allan’s hut for jewelry and memorabilia. Charlotteville is considered by locals and by Tobagonians alike to be one of the last remaining villages to be virtually untouched by mass tourism and industry, and this is evident by the vast natural landscape surrounding the village. The rainforest and organic topography has been and is conserved by Pat Turban’s and Charlottville’s fight against commercialization.

 

We visited many different scenes in Charlotteville and Scarborogh, the rain forest, Bucco reef, boat rides, and Pirate’s bay. I couldn’t turn my head fast enough to see all that was to see! Bucco reef was incredible, even in the stormy weather, we had tons of fun seeing anything from puffer fish to parrot fish to sting rays. The rain forest was absolutely stunning, it was so quiet and peaceful, only the parrots seemed to make any noise. The group did see a rare species of hummingbird, the silver tailed humming bird. It was about the size of my fist, and buzzing away merrily, but it was too quick for a picture.

 

Islands off the North Coast, in Man O' War Bay

Islands off the North Coast, in Man O’ War Bay

Charlottville is located on the North-Eastern side of Tobago, around an hour car ride away from Scarborough. Although it is a small town, Charlottville has many different venues for locals and tourists to partake in, such as Pirate’s bay for swimming, and Allan’s hut for jewelry and memorabilia. Charlotteville is considered by locals and by Tobagonians alike to be one of the last remaining villages to be virtually untouched by mass tourism and industry, and this is evident by the vast natural landscape surrounding the village. The rainforest and organic topography has been and is conserved by Pat Turban’s and Charlottville’s fight against commercialization.

We visited many different scenes in Charlotteville and Scarborogh, the rain forest, Bucco reef, boat rides, and Pirate’s bay. I couldn’t turn my head fast enough to see all that was to see! Bucco reef was incredible, even in the stormy weather, we had tons of fun seeing anything from puffer fish to parrot fish to sting rays. The rain forest was absolutely stunning, it was so quiet and peaceful, only the parrots seemed to make any noise. The group did see a rare species of hummingbird, the silver tailed humming bird. It was about the size of my fist, and buzzing away merrily, but it was too quick for a picture.

Socially, Tobago has many different roles and interactions in comparison to the US. Charlottville’s community members also placed more of an emphasis on individual philosophy rather than one’s choices or profession in order to define another’s character. For instance, the seemingly myriad of duties every person in society played. In the US, it seems that once you reach adulthood, you are expected to ‘become someone’, in essence, which usually means you must become a profession in a sense. When first introduced in the US, most people will say ‘who’ they are; “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a doctor”. Even when describing their parents, relatives, or acquaintances, one would usually refer to a person’s job as being their primary source of description. However, in Charlottesville, I noticed most people would not even mention what they do career wise in the first few hours of conversation. A career seemed not to be a central focus of one’s character. Upon meeting Junior (a fisherman and friend of my teacher Barbara), for instance, before our trip out on the boat to see the bird sanctuary, we met up on the beach, and spoke for a long while. Junior began most everything with the way he felt, and his spiritual connection to what surrounded him. Junior’s nature and personality was expressed in his life experiences, hopes and fears long before his profession as a fisherman was known to me.

In regards  to the scads of duties and positions community members seemed to play, it seemed obvious to me when Michael, our bus driver, revealed his ‘main’ occupation as a fire fighter. Michael expressed this as if it was nothing, as if it was expected to spread one’s eggs in many baskets so to speak. Allan also seemed to portray this quality; that of the dualistic occupation holder. I had thought I had the measure of Allan after a few days; a man with a simple desire to ponder life whilst making his craft. However, on the last day we met Allan’s children! He had two boys, of whom he had not spoken of or hinted to in the slightest! Allan’s character is that of a philosopher, a craftsman, a guide and a father.

One of the similarities Charlotteville and Tobago in general possessed with the United States was the general decidedness most people had for their political preferences. Very few times did I have interactions with anyone in Tobago where a person was undecided on their political views, or even found some merit in the opposing  party. This seemed very similar in light of the recent elections in the Unites States. Most people will ask, even on your ballot, which party are you for? This is curious to me as I don’t belong to any party, and will vote either way according to whomever I deem the best person for the job, if they are republican, democrat or otherwise. Tobago was also very expressive on this point. Tobago’s parties were expressed even in one’s clothing. A man at a shop told me I should change my red t-shirt so I wouldn’t get beat up on that part of town, a predominately T.O.P. voting area. There was little middle ground for citizens to vote on.

One of the most important values that Tobagonians and those from Charlotteville in particular seemed to posses most would be hospitality. I witnessed many different examples of the ‘gracious host’ in Charlotteville, each of which commonly shared an emphasis on showing off their home. The phrase ‘showing off’ as a pompous or condescending intention is by no means what I mean. Pride in one’s work is perhaps a better description, pride in one’s house is prevalent in Tobago certainly.

Most people I encountered were simply eager to share their home with me, an outsider, and to help me feel as comfortable as possible. For instance, when I went out at night with some of my classmates, we met a few intoxicated people, who were asking us many questions, but Allan (the jewelry maker and shop keeper), beckoned us over while he talked to us. He said he didn’t want our first impressions of Tobago to be meeting a stranger in a poor state of health and mind, and asked us to stay a while and chat, and ask about our exploration of the town. Allan was so eager to point out the most interesting places to visit, the people to meet, and the foods to try. Each time I passed by his shop, he would be sure to ask after us, and warn us about high tides at Pirate’s bay, of what parties were going on that week, and a general concern for our well being during our stay. It seemed similar in most households. Junior and Luna were very gracious to me, showing their unfinished house with out hesitation, and offering me drink and a place at their table for dinner. I was astounded at this level of hospitality, particularly to strangers. It seems that Tobagonians have a very high level of optimism for people, to expect the best of humanity.

One of the ‘aha’ moments that demonstrated this to me was Michael’s invitation for drinks and cake, after knowing our group for little over a day! He was completely unabashed to find that we accepted his invitation, and welcomed us into his home with open arms, even showing us his view, and a little bit about his life. I had heard that it might be a bit of a culture shock to find how open and friendly people in the Caribbean are, but I was not prepared for the level of kindness we had in Charlotteville, it is truly beyond words and must be experienced first hand. In America, it might be considered creepy or strange to invite a group of strangers to your house for drinks, but it is a very small gesture in Tobago for good company to keep.

 

Yet again was this demonstrated to me towards the end of the week during a church service at the Pentecostal church in Charlotteville. As I had barely begun to realize what a small place I had been living in for the past week, I look back in shame on my feelings of disgruntlement during that church service. I now however, feel I am beginning to comprehend the Trinibagonian way of life rather than just observe it.

Here is the source of my embarrassment. As I have not been exposed to many different forms of religions in the past, I was not at all prepared for the length and content of the service before I attended. The service consisted of a series of chants, (repeated over and over, often for ten minutes at a time) rhythmic songs, and individual spoken prayer, and this was far beyond anything that I had ever experienced in a quiet, old-fashioned Lutheran service. Needless to say, I was far too quick in my assumptions of this service. I was getting tired, and hot, and impatient as I didn’t understand what the service was about, I assumed no one would even notice If I were to leave early. However, I was put to shame when, at the end of the service, the Pastor and his wife approached me to welcome me to Tobago personally, and invite me into their home for Sunday lunch.

I was speechless. Not only was I ashamed of my close-mindedness, I was touched that anyone would invite a foreign stranger into their house for a private family dinner. That instance will mark my end to my expectations for this semester, and for my life I think. After that moment I began to loosen my grip on my American way of life, and to ease into the Trini way of thinking and acting. The accomplishment of becoming more “Trini” in the week in Tobago was accepting the Pastor’s invitation, and forgetting about my own selfish agenda. To become hospitable is to become a Trinibagonian.