Our dear friends expect to arrive here on Monday night. I'm getting very excited. In addition to giddy anticipation I've been ruminating on my time in Trinidad. The coverage of GOP debates and the blathering about how the USA is the greatest nation on Earth (which makes me want to gag) always gets me to thinking about the beauty I see in other cultures and how blind ethnocentrism really ignores all of that. I am glad to have born and raised in this country as it has afforded me incredible blessings that so many others in this world cannot even imagine. I want good things for my nation and countrymen but I do not believe that patriotism needs to come at the cost of recognizing the good in other cultures.
One of the things that always amazed me was the openness and acceptance of difference in Trinidad. Ethnically its people are roughly 40% of African descent, 40% East Indian descent. The remaining 20% includes significant Portuguese, Chinese, and Syrian groups along with a good smattering of other Europeans. Religiously, there is a majority of Anglicans (followed by a number of other Christian denominations) but a very large Hindu population, a significant Muslim population, and the local syncretic sect known as the Spiritual Baptists. Looking at that break down might make you think each group is entirely separate and distinct from the other but there is a great deal of intermarriage among the ethnicities; it's to the point that there are specific terms for various ethnic blends. The terms are in no way derogatory, merely descriptive. A common question upon meeting someone is, "What's your mix?" It's more or less assumed that most people have more than one ethnicity.
The mingling isn't only among the various ethnic groups but even among religions. At one point we had neighbors whose family was quite mixed. The husband was a practicing Muslim. The wife was a practicing Hindu. The children attended Catholic school. A common boasting point for Trinis is that they have more public holidays than any other nation (I never researched the veracity) because each religion on the island has at least one holiday recognized by the government. On such holidays neighborhoods and friends readily celebrate each other's holidays in a secular but neighborly sense. It's how we were introduced to the beautiful lights of Divali Hindus set up and some of the tasty Eid al-Fitr treats Muslims enjoy after fasting during Ramadan.
In the US we get all worked up about children being exposed to religious ideas in school. Oh, the shouting matches and righteous indignation that occurs over this state sponsored indoctrination on one hand or the impingement of religious freedom for others. It's all really ridiculous. Quite honestly, I think the Trinis seem to have a much better handle on this than we do. Public schools there do offer religious instruction classes but they are all entirely voluntary. If Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Spiritual Baptists families want their children to participate in corresponding classes they may. If they don't want to they don't have to. As long as parents approve, children can participate in classes from religions other than that of the family. Imagine that, no one is coerced, no one has to pretend faith doesn't exist, no one gets bent out of shape. There is respect all around. Isn't that what freedom is really for, so everyone can follow his or her conscience without interference?
Another area of freedom I enjoyed was the relaxed expressions of warmth among friends. People in Trinidad touch each other. They aren't afraid they might get cooties the way folks in the US are, especially the Northeast. Then again, Trinis are absolutely fastidious about personal hygiene so you're less likely to get cooties there. I have a whole post on how I feel about the wonders of physical contact in Trinidad. You can check it here if you want.
One thing I was surprised by was the freedom I felt in being a homemaker. Mr. Lime and I always agreed that I'd be at home while the kids were small. We both wanted that. It was not imposed on me. In the US I have always felt pressured to defend that decision, as if I somehow do not pull my weight in society or I am just taking it easy or somehow being untrue to all the feminists who worked for my freedom to have a career. None of that in Trinidad. And that's not because women don't have career there. Granted there are a higher number of women who stay home but it's also not hard to find very successful career women. Our friends who are coming next week are and example. Petal has worked at the Ministry of Agriculture doing research and field work for the entomology division since her children were very young. She was sent to the Netherlands to gain her Master's degree. She is a very bright, highly educated, capable woman. As far as I know she hasn't had to defend her choices either.
I don't want to leave the idea that Trinidad is some Utopia because that's not true. The entire reason we were there was due to a certain lack of educational freedom for kids who had even minor learning problems. At the time we lived there students took a test when they were about 12. At that time the Common Entrance Exam determined whether or not students would receive any secondary education at all, not college....junior high and high school. Failure meant no school unless their parents could afford a private school. There were some very serious societal consequences as a result of the numbers of students not afforded education beyond elementary grades. This situation has since changed and now all students are guaranteed education through high school.
Ok, so I have rambled on and I hope I haven't put you all to sleep. In my mind it boils down to this, neither the US nor any other nation has cornered the market on creating a flawless society but I really believe there is something we can learn from each other that might just help us each grow toward a better version of ourselves if we are willing to be open.