Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Trinidadians or "Trinis"

Since Rich went back to the states things have been a lot less like an adventurous holiday and a lot more like work. Luckily, people here are very friendly so even though I miss my husband desperately, I’ve met quite a few people who are helping me keep from being terribly lonely.

The very first thing that struck me here was how friendly the people are. Trinis like to chat and laugh and all of them that I’ve met have been warm and friendly. Woman commonly greet each other with an embrace and a kiss on the cheek. The people I’ve met so far divide up more or less into three groups: people I work with at UWI, my neighbors, and people I’ve met at church.

Noticeably missing from that list are the UWI students. Classes started last Monday and the campus is now filled with students. I am team teaching two classes this semester but my lectures don’t come until later in the semester, so although I have been to both classes and seen the student’s faces, my interaction with them so far has been very limited. The teaching staff members in Chemical Engineering are a very international group. We have people from Nigeria, Iran, Nicaragua, England, Barbados, me from the US and even a few from here in Trinidad. My department head, Dr. Bobby Pilgrim met us at the airport and took us straight to his house to eat Christmas leftovers and meet his family. He has been very helpful showing Rich and I around and helping me get settled.

UWI arranged a furnished house for us so we had a home to move into the day we arrived. We live in a gated community that consists of a row of 15 townhouses that is about a 20 minute walk from my office. Our place is right in the middle. Most, but not all, of the people who live here are associated with UWI. Our neighbors to the left in are a family from England who’ve been here for about 6 months. Katie, the mother, is a lecturer in the English department and Justin, the father is in film studies. Katie is a blond haired Anglo Saxon type but Justin, although he was raised in England, is a Trini with African ancestry. They have 3 children, Kip (5), Lily (4) and Nive (3), who get up early in the morning to ride their baby bikes up and down the short street and jump on the Trampoline in the common garden. Living on our right, we also have three children Chantel (~12), Nathan (8) and Justin (2). Their mother, Annabelle, is a lawyer and a native of Trinidad. Annabelle is very cheerful and fun to chat with. Justin has a large collection of toy cars and Nathan thinks bugs and lizards are really creepy. All six children play together on the street and in the common neighborhood garden. They keep me informed about all the important neighborhood news like Nive’s birthday party and the snake someone saw in the yard. Prof. Hongloo and his wife Sherika (sp?) who are from Kashmir live two doors down. He is a professor of history and she is in physics. He is here teaching South Asian studies on exchange from the Indian government and his expertise is in the history of northern India and Pakistan. They’ve invited me in several times to chat and have told me I should drop by when ever I get lonely. There are several people in the neighborhood who I’ve met (2 from India, and 1 from the US) who are working with the UWI veterinary medicine program and one gentleman from England who is in Civil Engineering.

I am what they call here in Trinidad “churchy” meaning that I go to church regularly. There is a lot of religious diversity in Trinidad. Walking around the area you can see a Muslim Mosque, a small Hindu temple, and a wide variety of Christian churches. Among the Christians, Catholics are the most numerous but I’ve seen many other churches around. Mormons make up only a tiny part of the mix. I’m lucky to live a 15 minute walk from the Curepe branch which meets in rented rooms above some shops. On the Sundays I’ve been there, we have had 50 to 60 attending. The church is relatively young in Trinidad so most of the members have been in the church for a few years at most. The first thing they asked me when I said we were moving here was “do you play the piano”. Sadly, I think I am the best piano player in the branch. Or I was the best piano player in the branch until last week when we were joined by a family from the states who will be here for the next six months. The mother in the family has taught piano lessons so I figure I’ve got six months to practice before they will need me to try to accompany the singing. Last week I started teaching early morning seminary classes for the high school age students. I teach 2 mornings a week at 6 am. I had 4 students the first morning I taught and 5 the second. The teenage girls in our branch are a strikingly beautiful bunch. We have one girl who leads the singing in sacrament meeting who, in Rich’s words, could be a super model and several others who are every bit as pretty.

I find it very interesting to study the faces of people here. There is so much diversity. When Columbus first visited Trinidad it was settled by the Carib. For the following three centuries it was a Spanish colony but Spain had a difficult time keeping colonists in Trinidad because they preferred the gold and silver rich territories in Peru and Mexico. Eventually they invited French planters to run many of the tobacco, cocoa and sugar plantations. Like most of the Caribean, slavery has been part of this countries history from virtually the moment of Columbus’ “discovery”. Slave traders followed on Columbus’ heels to capture and sell the Carib. Then when the Spanish colonists arrived, they were “given” the Carib in an arrangement much like European serfdom. After the Carib had been nearly wiped out by disease, over-work, mistreatment, executions and war, the colonials began importing slaves from Africa. During the French revolution and reign of terror, many more French, both royalists and republicans, sought refuge here from other places in the Caribbean. The British saw the growing French presence in Trinidad as a threat to British control of the region and seized control of the Island in 1797. It remained a British crown colony until 1962 when Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation. When England abolished slavery in 1838, the blacks who had worked in the fields migrated to the cities and refused to do farm labor. To fill the labor shortage, the English brought in indentured laborers mostly from south Asia (today’s India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) but also a few from China, Portugal and Ireland. The last two groups of immigrants were Syrians who came around 1913 to escape religious persecution in Lebanon and Jews who settled in Trinidad during WW II. You can see the contribution of all those different people, Carib, Spanish, African, French, English, Chinese, South Asian etc) to the names and faces on the island. On the books the population is said to be approximately 40% East Indian (as distinguished from West Indian and Amerindian), 40% African, and 20% other with less than 1 % white but looking at the faces the divisions are much less clear. Although almost everyone has dark hair and dark eyes, skin color varies from almost as light as mine (rare) to charcoal black and everything in between. There is an enormous variation in facial features and there are many strikingly beautiful people. Rich often jokes that “white people all look alike”. After studying people’s faces, here I have to say he’s right.

No comments: