Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, August 30, 2012

States of Independence

My almost 11-year old self is lying on my stomach on the top bunk, face pressed against the window pane overlooking the steps outside. My mother, her head covered with a towel, is walking up carrying a pot. She's bringing our favourite meal to serve us in the bedroom, bowls of oxtails and red beans on rice. There is no inside staircase, but there is a lull in the wind and lashing rain. Having brought us home over the Saddle, the only car on the road for miles, Daddy is still outside in the weather, putting the dogs in the feed room, feeding chickens in the 100-foot long low pens that are certain to get water-soaked despite the feedbags hanging over the chicken wire. For the evening and night of hurricane Flora, we could "pretend for real" that we lived in a cabin in the woods, our two rooms sufficient against the fury.

Back in 1962, we have been living on the farm in Santa Cruz for over four years. From Port of Spain, centre of schools, groceries, friends and all commercial or official business, the twisting seven mile drive via the villages Boissiere and Maraval and the narrow road with a precipice on one side, rises to The Pass and descends into the broad valley of citrus orchards and old cocoa lands. Early in the year, immortelles in bloom painted the foothills with an orange blush. Bamboos bending over the main road sighed and creaked; and in the end of a very dry season seemed to spontaneously combust. There were no streetlights and night time driving might be lit by moonlight; but the ragged edges of the road and pitch dark night made for adventure sometimes compounded by low lying fog.

This farm, a seven acre strip in a cocoa plantation turned to citrus, running from the main road to the river which even then we were told was polluted by the homesteads that lined its banks up to the springs in the foothills, became county, country and nation to our family of five children. It freed my parents from the indentureship of the Chinese shop. The fruit trees, many of them planted when we came to live - orange, avocado, West Indian cherry, guava, five finger and four or more kinds of mango - made this Eden and the promised land. How many idyllic August vacations saw us swinging from branches, prowling the underbrush, making tracks to the river. But humans were not made for Eden, and by teenage we were plotting escape to the world whose seeds were watered by education and fertilised by movies and tv.

In 1962, not yet eleven, I transitioned through the first ever Common Entrance exam to high school. Leaving behind Miss Umilta McShine's daily drills of good citizenship, sung to her vigorous piano accompaniment:
So, there's dawning another new day:
Think, wilt thou let it slip useless away?
Out of eternity this new day is born;
Into eternity at night will return.

Leaving behind pitch with marbles in the dry dirt under the peepal trees; vendors selling tamarind stew, channa and chillibibi in paper cones, tambran dasan, and channa bara (the single bake precursor to doubles). To be replaced by the walled enclave of high school, pergola, fountain, chapel, music room, tuck shop, science labs, gym, and library. Morning assembly was mandatory common practice, starting each day with a common purpose.

God bless our nation
Of many varied races
May we possess that boundless love
That binds and makes us one.

In the year of the changing of the flag, school children all over Trinidad and Tobago learned national songs, of which the anthem - "Forged from the love of liberty"- was but one. "Together we aspire, together we achieve," was the motto, and watchwords, "discipline, tolerance and production" to live by. Without quite knowing what it meant, a cohort of yellow, brown, red, black brothers and sisters dedicated their ten year old lives to the Red White and Black, fire, earth and water, binding us as one people on two islands.

That farm is now gone, replaced by grand suburban residences, each three or four times the size of the two room cottage we slept in. The parents are in the ground, the children scattered to the far corners of other lands. Some of us have wandered far from this land where we raised chickens and ducks and guinea fowl, fed our faces with giant graham mangoes, buttery pollock avocados and the sweetest five fingers (carambola); where we roamed the acres like explorers; and with hard work earned the care and craft and skills for independent thought and productive life. But this place remains planted like the seed of who we are. Here indeed, the navel string is buried.

(Written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence of Trinidad and Tobago, and for siblings and children in Italy, USA, UK, Australia as well as those who remain here.)

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