July 4th was an interesting holiday to celebrate in a foreign country. We had no sparklers or fire crackers, no parades. I was pleasantly surprised when a few Trini friends offered a 'Happy July 4th!' to us.
We did have an invitation to a picnic though. Every year a party was held at the American Ambassador's residence. It was by no means exclusive. American citizens or Trinis could attend. We did, however, score a bunch of tickets because we were 'wardens.' That basically required us to call through a list of American citizens in our area to verify their phone number and address every 3 months or so, and then give the updates to the embassy so they could locate us in event of emergency, theoretically. Perks like these tickets were the pay.
We decided to take a set of 5 teeanage sisters with us. Mr. Lime had been tutoring them. They lived in a squatter village in a 2 room wooden shack with no electricity or running water. I hasten to add that while this sort of situation is easy to find in Trinidad it is by no means the way the average Trini lives. These girls were all very bright but handicapped terribly by their economic situation. In addition to tutoring we took them on outings because aside from trips to school they rarely left their village. Part of their education needed to be an exposure to life outside their settlement.
They were understandably nervous about going to the Ambassador's residence. Heck, so was I for that matter. The residence is on a hill high above Port of Spain and it's an intimidating drive to it. There was a long receiving line we had to stand in so we could meet and greet the ambassador, Sally Cowell ( I think). I guess I got over my nerves because when I heard her making obnoxious comments about Trini culture and recalled some of the other comments I'd read in the text of addresses and interviews she'd given I told her I didn't think she was doing a very good job building bridges between nations. I think I may have been slightly less diplomatic. Ms. Cowell screwed on a plastic smile and turned to shake the next hand. Mr. Lime hustled me off before I could dig a deeper hole. The girls stood in shock then declared, 'Gyal yuh have plenty belly talkin' dat way!' (And I wonder where Diana gets it....hahahaha)
We enjoyed typical American picnic food in portions compared to a Trini lime were very stingy. After close to a year in Trinidad it was really odd to be in the company of so many American accents and white faces and still be on the island. The girls giggled all evening about being 'Americans' for the day. They always loved doting over Diana and Calypso, who loved the extra attention. And given Diana's propensity to wander away, 5 extra sets of eyes were not a bad thing in that crowd! We all enjoyed the small fireworks display and then descended back to reality as we drove the girls from this imposing fortress of a dwelling back to their tenuous life on the edge.
When I went back to visit a few years later, the girls' mother was living in the same house but so proud to report that the 3 oldest girls had all finished school, found steady jobs, and moved into an apartment with electricity and running water. They were also helping to finance the education of their younger siblings.
Happy Trini Tuesday!
Happy July 4th, take time to be thankful for your freedom and opportunities.