Monday, September 10, 2012

Trini Anniversary

Twenty years ago this month Mr. Lime and I moved to Trinidad, West Indies.  We'd visited two times before but this was to be a settling in for the long haul.  It feels like a lifetime ago, and I guess in a way it is.  Diana was not yet two years old and Calypso was just conceived though we didn't yet know it.  So it was their lifetime ago.  I posted this piece a year and a half ago but it captures one of our early days and the wonder of it all.


We lived in Arima, Trinidad for the bulk of our stay on the island. Come with me as I remember my first walk through Trinidad's third largest city.

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It's a hot September day in Trinidad. We've just moved into a lovely house on the outskirts of Arima. It's the biggest house I've ever lived in to date, a yellow one-story, concrete block house. We've got palm trees, hibiscus, fruit trees and all sorts of flowering tropical bushes in the yard. Our shipment of household goods from the US hasn't arrived and we haven't had a chance to buy any furniture yet. We have some borrowed folding chairs, a mattress on the floor, Diana's porta-crib and what we could carry in suitcases. We have no phone service, that won't come for weeks yet. Things move a bit slowly down here. We haven't got a car either. But we are here! Let's go grab a taxi and see what we can find in Arima.

The three of us walk the half mile out to O'Meara Rd. to catch a taxi. There are maxi-taxis which look like airport buses. They have colored stripes on the sides to designate whether they travel east/west or north/south. There are also all sorts of private cars that function as taxis. We recognize them by the license plate number which starts with 'H' for 'hire.' On a busy road like O'Meara there is no trouble finding a taxi. The slightest eye contact with a driver or nod of your head brings one to a screeching halt. Even if a full one passes by it is only a matter of a minute or two before another one comes along. An H-car stops for us and the driver asks, "Long drop or short?" The befuddled Americans look at each other and he clarifies, "Where all yuh goin'?" Oh just into Arima, please. "Ok, dat is a long drop as I will be crossing de Bus Route den. Just so yuh know. Tree TT dollahs fuh a long drop, two fuh a short." We peer out the windows all along the ride, watching coconut trees, strange buildings, and an endless parade of other taxis whiz by. The driver rather skillfully dodges the massive potholes and ditches along the side of the road in spite of some of the tight squeezes that look utterly impossible. We disembark in downtown Arima and the driver indicates where the O'Meara Rd. taxi stand is situated so we know for our return trip. Aside from being white Americans, which makes it impossible to camouflage, we must have that "just off the boat/deer in the headlights" look to us. I'm grateful for the kindness.

We head right into the thick of the action. It's market day so the town is full of shoppers, though it is late morning and the latecomers will be scrambling for the remnants of the fresh produce. Hills of bright red tomatoes, sheaves of local dasheen bush and cooking herbs, mountains of more kinds of bananas than I knew existed stretch out on rows of tables shielded by tarps or wooden roofs. Gigantic pawpaws dangle from roofs and pyramids of watermelons tempt me. Watermelon in September! Awesome! I'm a bit shocked by the booth with all manner of pig parts. And I mean all manner! The table draws my attention like a car wreck. There are rows for ears, tails, snouts, whole heads, and feet! I silently swear to myself not to ask what parts of a pig are in a dish I may be served in the future. Ignorance will be bliss. The call of, "Potatoes $2 a pong (pound)!" and the counter of, "Oh gosh, gyal! So much? De next one ovah have it $1.75 a pong!" snaps me back to attention.

We slowly work our way out of the market and back to the street. We pass Royal Bank and stroll toward The Dial. At the central crossroads of Arima stands a clock. When the town was first founded it was an actual sundial. No one remains who would have seen the sundial but the spot is still referred to by that name. On our way, we stroll through the main business district. There are stores and a few restaurants. We see lots of Trinidadian franchises among the appliance stores, the grocery, clothiers and fabric shops, lots of mom and pop type stores too. We take notice of the offices for the local utility companies. Little do we realize how much time we will spend standing in those lines over the next few months. My eye is so drawn to the fabric stores (so much variety, so cheap, and such good quality! I can't resist!) and I ask Mr. Lime if he minds me wandering through one. He says no but he will keep walking with Diana since she has lots of energy. They will meet me back here in 20 minutes.

The time passes. I exit the store and wait for a few minutes. I see no sign of them. I check my watch and see a half hour has passed. I'm not worried but I wonder if I should stay here or go look for them. I stand on the corner at the Dial, in the center of Trinidad's 3rd largest city, looking up one street and down the other. I am a complete stranger but a lady going on her way and without missing a step informs me, "Yuh husban' an' chile up by de post office." Um, ok. Thank you! I take my chances as I find my way to the post office and sure enough, there they are! I guess when you are so obviously foreign, people know you belong together. As I tell my story Mr. Lime and I share quite a giggle over it.

It's getting hot and we are getting hungry so we decide on a street vendor for some doubles, two small saffron-colored, soft pancakes filled with curried chickpeas and potatoes. The vendor asks if we want pepper. We ask how hot because we've had some encounters already. The vendor obliges us with a short course on the types of pepper available not only for doubles but for any dish you can imagine. Mr. Lime decides he is content with "slight pepper." The vendor counters with a bit of picong (good natured ribbing) about the relative weakness of American tongues and stomachs in being able to handle a proper Trini pepper. The doubles are incredibly cheap and really filling and delicious! We wash it all down with "sweetdrink." Mr. Lime goes for a Coke, I want to try the local favorite Big Red. I'm not a big soda drinker normally, but under the blazing tropical sun it sure hits the spot. We double check with him about the location of the O'Meara taxi stand and head over.

We decide on the maxi-taxi this time since one has been parked a few minutes and is waiting for a final set of passengers to fill up before leaving. We squeeze in and settle among the other passengers and all their goods from market day. The aromas of herbs, peppers, ripe fruits and various toiletries swirl around inside the maxi. It may be tropical but it's unlikely you'll encounter BO on a maxi in Trinidad. People here are fastidious in hygiene. Even if you don't have running water in your house you either haul water to bathe twice a day or you take your turn bathing at a public standpipe by the side of the road. As we bump down the road toward home we see a couple of children being lathered, scrubbed, and rinsed by one such standpipe. Our road is coming up, we indicate to the driver where to stop, pay our fare and step out. Diana is asleep on my shoulder and we slowly walk the half mile back to our house. It's the heat of the day and time for all of us to be resting.

10 comments:

Beach Bum said...

I silently swear to myself not to ask what parts of a pig are in a dish I may be served in the future.

LOL!!!!

I have to wonder is it really that different here in the States? I have been told by someone who should know its not a good idea to question anyone working in a hot dog plant about their product.

Daryl said...

you are a great writer .. since you've got the time why not try to sell this (and any others like it) to a travel magazine?

Suldog said...

I remember, perhaps in another post, wherein you gave some detail about the "other" pig parts. Something corkscrew shaped, and it wasn't the tail...

Great stuff. I love reading about your Trini days. You have such an obvious love for the place and the people.

Craig said...

Wonderful slice of life, Lime! Thanks!

So Mr. Lime hadn't yet developed his taste for the fiery peppers by then?

And, what Suldog said. Your love for Trinidad, and most especially its people, never fails to shine thru. . .

I do love sundials. You remind me of the time I was at a conference at a small Christian college one winter, and I was struck that, on the side of the science building was a sundial, properly calibrated for longitude and standard time, the whole bit. It was very cool, and I paused to admire it for several minutes. Then I noticed that it was only visible because it was winter, and there were no leaves on the large maple tree that obscured it from both the sun and general visibility, for eight months of the year. . .

Stephen Hayes said...

It sounds like they sold everything on that pig table except the oink!

WizzyTheStick said...

As a Trinidadian, it's always fascinating to see ourselves through the eyes of others.

coopernicus said...

Is that an oversized White Castle???? If it is the painter was color blind....

Kat said...

Such vivid and lovely memories. I could practically smell the spices and feel the heat.
Thank you for sharing this with us again. :)

Jocelyn said...

The easy appreciation of this post feels like the perfect balm to events of recent days--a way of recalling moments when your life was heightened and all that you wanted it to be.

LOVE.

G-Man said...

I'm lookin for the Shark'n'Bake!