Long time readers of this blog know I did a regular feature called Trini Tuesday for the first year and a half I was blogging. Many of you are more recent readers and may not even know I lived in Trinidad for a little over a year. In fact, Calypso was born there. This weekend I visited my mom and since she has recently acquired a scanner which adapts to scan slide film I took a pile of slides down to convert into digital format. It's been forever since I got to look at some of these and they really provoked a lot of memories. I thought I'd share a few today.
For the sake of clarity, what you will see here is not representative of how most folks in Trinidad live but it is a level of poverty which is not at all difficult to find on the island. We lived in a middle class neighborhood in a concrete block house with electricity and running water (but no hot water heater). We found out the hard way it is not at all safe for Americans to live elsewhere. Many of the folks we worked with were squatters though. They had built their homes out of whatever scrap materials they could find or bought bits of lumber here and there as they could afford. They had no running water in the houses. Any electricity they had came from the ingenious use of car batteries, if they could afford a battery.
Join me for a trip out to the village to visit some friends.
Follow the highway out of one of the cities until the buildings become sparser and the vegetation denser. Turn off the highway onto a still paved road and find the water standpipe with a dirt road by it. No one out here owns a car so the road only has to be decent enough to walk. You can park yours at that first house on the left since you know the family and the road really isn't fit to drive down much farther. We'll stop and lime here a while before we head further in to the village.
No, the driving age in Trinidad isn't quite this young but Calypso was having fun climbing around once we parked.
Here's a little perspective on the house. Yes, it's leaning pretty heavily. It's built up on stilts to prevent flooding during rainy season. Farida and her six children moved here after her husband left them. She also shares it with her current partner. He disappears for long periods of time so when something needs repairing Farida needs to see if she can scare up the supplies and borrow some tools to fix things up as best she can. It may not look like much but Farida is proud of it and keeps it neat as a pin inside. The local paint companies give out free paint (the stuff not good enough to sell) near Christmas. She makes sure to get some so she can repaint each year. She also stitches up the holes in the furniture and sews new curtains if she can get some fabric. When you are 11 degrees above the equator the sun takes a fast toll on paint and curtain fabric. The front room is a kitchen and living room. The back is a bedroom with two mattresses. Sleeping quarters are tight. Privacy is barely existent. Without electricity there are no fans to run at night for relief and to blow the mosquitoes off you. You've got to shutter up those windows each night to keep bandits from coming in to steal what few things you have. You'd better hope you can afford a mosquito net and then keep it from ripping. The outhouse is in the back. Fortunately, since their house is closest to the road they have the shortest walk to the standpipe for water. Farida and the girls also like to keep the landscaping as nice as they can. You can see the trimmed hibiscus lining the walk to the front door.
This is one of Farida's daughters. Her daughters are beautiful and smart. Farida worries about their opportunities for education because of the cost of textbooks, uniforms and passage to school. One of the girls needs glasses too. She's probably the most promising student among the sisters but gets headaches when she reads. Taxis cost so much because they are so far on the outskirts of town. In this village it's a pretty common state to have to choose between buying food and paying taxi fare for your kids to get to school. Sometimes in big families, if they don't have enough school uniforms the children take turns going to school. One wears the uniform one day then the next day another child wears the uniform. No matter how smart you are it's hard to get ahead when you can't get to school regularly or afford your textbooks or concentrate through blurry vision or a hungry stomach when you do read them.
Before we go we take a picture of everyone who is home because we know it will be a long time before we get back this way again. We can't believe the way everyone has grown. A few years later when we went back the younger 2 kids were in school. Farida cried with joy to tell us her three oldest girls had finished school, had jobs, and were living in an apartment with electricity and running water. She was also very grateful they were helping with taxi fare, books, and uniforms for their younger siblings. Farida intends never to leave her house but she can't contain her happiness over the children who made it out of the village.