Before 7 am:, I hear the hum of soft voices. Sunday morning in the big, blue house off Righteous Road, Trinidad. Antoinette’s family is waking up.
The home I’m staying in here is fascinating to me. I have friends (like Premila) who are closely connected to their whole, big family, but they don’t all live together in the same house. This family seems to be very harmonious, and I don’t think it’s just for my benefit.
Antoinette told me that a sense of privacy for individual family members was instituted by Mom at an early stage in this family’s life cycle. It remains now, as I discovered when Antoinette told me one sister’s husband/boyfriend (father of one of her children) was suddenly gone, with no explanation ever forthcoming.
This is a family with eight, grown children, and four of the siblings now live in this house (three of them have mates and children [7 children live here]). The grandparents, as I mentioned yesterday, also live here. Antoinette is the Auntie who babysits and has an independent life outside the home. She’s the most highly educated of all the kids (she’s currently going for her Ph.D at the University of the West Indies [not her first choice; she did her masters at the University of Florida in Gainsville]).
Every family unit here has their own bedroom: each daughter’s family occupy a bedroom, Antoinette has her own bedroom, a brother lives upstairs, the parents have their own room, and even I have my own room here. It is always a luxury to have a door I can close to lock out the world half the time. The house has internet, too, and I think it’s one of Antoinette’s contributions to the household since it’s in her name.
Everyone stays in their own room a lot of the time; the kids, of course, wander around. There is one big kitchen with an adjoining dining/family/TV/computer room. Then there’s a smaller kitchen with an attached, small, very clean (hardly ever used? for guests?) sitting room.
The concept of Gypsies or nomads–a life of travel–is unknown here in T&T. I feel like an alien in this kind of culture. I couldn’t comfortably spend much time in such a society. On the other hand, the level of virtual invisibility I have here is rather nice. The absence of “My Group” (Travellers) would eventually wear me down and the pleasures of invisibility would fade. I thrive on self-expression and making myself understood; this is impossible in a place like T&T. But many people here are good and wise. Perhaps they see into my soul and know me that way. And that’s what’s eternal and real.
I posted this on Facebook today:
As a writer, my job is to tell the truth as I see it. Writing is not about telling people what they want to hear. It’s not about pleasing or flattering people. Writing is not about saying what’s expected. If it is any of these things, it’s just a load of shit. The good writer is not influenced by anyone’s demands that we write what they want us to write.
People know the truth when they hear it, but telling the truth is another matter entirely. Many people hide behind half-truths and illusions; they preserve their own–and others’–self-image (which is always false). SOMEONE has to say the words that need to be said and tell the truth that needs to be told. Writers do this. It’s our job, and it does not make us a lot of friends.
Some quotes on WOMEN IN RASTAFARIANISM
1.) By Sencia in “Women in RASTAFARI” (online):
womyn are largely subordinated to and controlled by their husbands and fathers as well as the rest of the men in the community. This kind of sexism can be seen in the practices, norms, and rules of the Rasta culture.
2.) Inequality of Women in Rastafarianism:
“…Becky Michelle Mulvaney states that ‘Rastafari’s capitulation to mainstream patriarchal attitudes, and its spiritually imbued glorification of subservient women’s roles work in direct conflict to Rasta’s own stated purpose.’ (Mulvaney, 1990, p.2) This quote accurately illustrates the contradictory problem with the Rastafarian struggle for equality in the world. This power and equality as a people will never be reached if Rastafari views on women do not change.” (from The Evolution of New Rastafari, by Georgie Greville, 4-20-’98)
3.) From the (online) Roots, Rock, Reggae Dread Library: an excerpt from a paper by William Grant (April 2002):
One unfortunate part of Rastafari is their negative attitude toward females. Most Rasta’s believe that females are not equal to men. They believe that a good woman must always respect men and do what they ask. This is very contrary to much of their other beliefs about people being equal. Rasta men often beat their wives for being lazy. from the Roots, Rock, Reggae Dread Library (online), in a paper by William Grant, April 2002. Rasta men believe that being naked is good because you are closer to god in your natural state. However Rasta’s believe that women should not show off their bodies. Rasta’s belief of sexual contact also differs from men to women. Rasta men often have many different partners, while it is wrong for Rasta women to give more than a hand shake to more than one man.
Many T&T folks are very fat. This is the first country on this trip where this is true.
I tossed around in downtown Arima for a few hours today while Antoinette sang at a wedding at her church. One man passed me saying, “Welcome, welcome.” People in general are very friendly. The T&Ts are gentle, quiet people for the most part. The mix of Indian and Africans is marvelous! It has produced a real nice social atmosphere (despite the gender inequalities [which are slowly being addressed]).
Here’s what I learned about life/myself during my foray downtown:
1.) It’s the love and compassion in my heart that counts, not how I look.
2.) Why get angry (eg. if someone purposely bumps into me)? There’s no reason for anger.
3.) Don’t worry (about tomorrow). Relax.
I was saying these mantras to myself during the whole time I walked the crowded sidewalks of the streets that branch out from “the Dial,” the clock tower in the center of Arima. Being in public like that is almost always a positive growth experience for me. I am usually repeating mantras like prayers, guiding me through the masses of humanity. I actually do see the people all around me as good, loving people who are, like me, struggling to make it (survive, find meaning, be happy) in an often difficult world.
It’s time I lost the superior, critical attitude that allows me to put myself above other people. This is also part of who I am. Peace Pilgrim (the woman who walked thousands of miles around the United States in the name of Peace) said that if someone makes a mistake, it’s because they don’t know the right thing to do. They are not doing this “wrong thing” on purpose; they really don’t know the right thing to do.
We are all searching for “the right thing to do.” Once I realized this, I became a bit more kind and compassionate. All we really need IS love. And adequate quantities of alcohol, marijuana, sex, food, sunshine, enough money (for someplace to live and for clothes), health, music, and travel. Not so much.
Peace Pilgrim in Hawaii – 1980
|Born||July 18, 1908
Egg Harbor City, New Jersey
|Died||July 7, 1981
Peace Pilgrim (July 18, 1908 – July 7, 1981) born Mildred Lisette Norman, was an American pacifist, vegetarian, and peace activist. In 1952, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.Starting on January 1, 1953, in Pasadena, California, she adopted the name “Peace Pilgrim” and walked across the United States for 28 years.
A transcript of a 1964 conversation with Peace Pilgrim from a broadcast on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, California, was published as “Steps Toward Inner Peace“. She stopped counting miles in that year, having walked more than 40,000 km (25,000 mi) for peace.
Expressing her ideas about peace, she referred to herself only as “Peace Pilgrim.” Peace Pilgrim’s only possessions were the clothes on her back and the few items she carried in the pockets of her blue tunic which read “Peace Pilgrim” on the front and “25,000 Miles on foot for peace” on the back. She had no organizational backing, carried no money, and would not even ask for food or shelter. When she began her pilgrimage she had taken a vow to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.”
Free women have to be tough. This is a new theme I am starting to write about. Women like me and like Peace Pilgrim (yes, I put myself in the same sentence as Peace Pilgrim!) are women alone, out on the road. I will talk about myself here because I didn’t know Peace Pilgrim.
I know I have to be very tough and independent to live the way I do. I am growing myself in this way. I am watering and feeding and caring for myself by forcing myself to be brave and wild and free in a way that’s new to me. I’m usually scared and nervous. I usually don’t know what to do so I wing it. I look to others for help and guidance constantly. I have absolute faith in the (unseen) spirits around me, and in the wisdom and sacredness of Nature (which to me means all Sentient Beings [including, but not limited to, humans]).
I like that Rumi quote about there being a place (a “field”) outside of/beyond (all concepts of) RIGHT and WRONG, and us meeting there. Human definitions of good and bad are not needed; life itself, in its constant unfolding, makes everything quite clear (if we pay attention). We don’t need to impose false boundaries on it.
Here’s what Jamal, a Couchsurfer in England, wrote to me today:
“Please share your experiences in travelling around the world. That’s always my dream, when I was ten, I used to fill my bicycle tyre with coconut fibres by hoping I could cycle around the world without problem of a punctured tyre.”
My Morning With Aisha:
I went out this morning with CSer Aisha ( a native Trini woman who teaches school on Tobago). We drove to the golf course for breakfast; they were closed. So we got coffee/tea at a local mall. Then, we drove up in the hills of Arima to an old cocoa or coffee plantation (slaves did the work) called Lopinot after Count Lopinot, a French nobleman who ran the place centuries ago. Beautiful salmon trees! Wonderful, wild countryside!
Got lots of local info both from Aisha and at Lopinot. Poisonous snakes on Trinidad: Mapapi and Coral snakes. Wild hogs (peccary) here: they are shy; won’t attack humans (unlike warthogs/wild boars). Howler monkeys (like in Costa Rica!) live up in the mountains of Trinidad; mothers with children will pee on people who pass under their arboreal homes. Whip or garden snakes whip pregnant women: our guide saw this happen to his own mother when she was pregnant. The ghost of Count Lopinot haunts the place.
from Wikipedia: see Lopinot
Today, the small village of Lopinot remains largely unchanged despite the fact that the cocoa estates have been cleared to a large extent to facilitate the building of the school, the church and houses. Cocoa estates still remain, and many people still engage in agriculture for a living. Also, remains of his cocoa houses and a jail are still evident in the village. By the 1970s, the Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board found that the Lopinot Village had great potential as a historic site and began to restore old structures to maintain the historical appeal of the village. Thus, Lopinot Village remains a part of Trinidad and Tobago that blossoms with natural and almost undisturbed beauty, and limitless history to be appreciated by all. The village is reportedly haunted by a soucouyant, and the ghost of Loppinot himself (as seen in Ghost Hunters International).
More from My Morning With Aisha:
I have a responsibility to be informed. I can’t travel and not know about the societies and cultures I visit. I can’t be ignorant or feign innocence (as a foreigner, especially as an American foreigner).
I told Aisha all about my own experiences with upwardly mobile parents who were raised poor and were hated (as Germans) in the USA. I told her about the Hippie movement and how hundreds of thousands of privileged, middle class, American kids rebelled against the materialism and focus on money, status and possessions. I told her about Hank and how having money and social status healed some of his childhood wounds.
We talked about how some people disparage folks who are poor and how destructive this is, to a society and to individuals. I told her that, long ago, I decided to limit my income, social status and possession so as to not use as many natural resources and not be part of the American middle class. Aisha told me that developing nations like T&T are where American society was in the 1950s when I was a kid. The focus on the material world in such societies destroys or obscures a belief in the spiritual world. When the spirits are not acknowledged, they disappear. They appear to people who have faith in them.
“Shouter Baptists” here in Trinidad base their religion on African spirituality: they are not like American (or other) Baptists. Taking out your Kindle (or Smartphone, etc.) on a maxi-bus may result in it being stolen by someone with a gun. “The driver can’t do anything,” said Aisha. Political parties here are racially divided: Indians vs. Africans/Blacks. Aisha sees this–not gender inequality–as the main divider in Trinidad. Trini population is about 50% Indian and 50% Black. Paramin culture in the Trini hills speak French Creole; they are famous for their dances.
Paramin is located in the western area of the Northern range above Maraval in Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago. A sprawling steep and mountainous village, residents have traditionally been farmers, producing herbs like chives, thyme and parsley as well as vegetables like tomatoes and yams.
Many of the original residents of the area are descendants of the French migrants to the island and the surnames reflect the heritage. French Creole or Patois was spoken by most residents in the 1960s, but today, it is no longer taught and many younger people no longer speak it.
The area is also home to two specific music genres—Crèche and Parang. Both are specifically played at Christmas time. They reflect the French and Spanish influences of the island mixed with Afro/Caribbean beats. Parang has seen a large resurgence in recent years where we are seeing mixes with both Soca and even Chutney music with lyrics in English. Crèche, on the other hand, appears to be disappearing. The Maraval Folk Choir, known for both Crèche and Parang, produced a Crèche album in the 1970s, and the Paramin Folk Choir produced one in 2004.
People in T&T can legally drive a car while drinking a beer!
I just posted this on my Facebook page in an ongoing message to Bronson in the D.F. (Mexico City):
“What do you think the 1960s Hippie Movement was about? Hundreds of thousands of middle class kids rebelled against the materialism of their (otherwise well-meaning) parents. The effect of post-WW II upward-mobility on US society and the environment is incalculable.”
Antoinette’s sister just brought me a big plate of food: Sunday dinner. Antoinette brought me grape juice. Listening to Cajun and Zydeco music on WWOZ radio live from New Orleans.
Loud, wonderful Soca music all afternoon here at the big, blue house.
Once Aisha realized that I am a true believer in the spirit world all around us, she began to talk a little about the spirits. One bad on comes around at night and bites people. I asked her if these spirits are from Obeah; she thought not, but I think so. Materialism is turning the ambitious Trinis away from a belief in the spirits.