Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gold by any other name

My namesake "aquarium" fish: koi

My name is Goldfish. Around the time I was born, my father who kept aquarium fish in tubs in the backyard had a spawn of goldfish. And he gave me my Chinese name, Gummoi, which may be simply translated gold, or golden fruit. My mother gave me my English name after a nun, Sister Patrick, who was kind to her as an Anglican child in a Roman Catholic school; but it was my middle name that the family used, a name that means "father's joy," and for the first year of life I was "spoiled."

By the end of that year, my sister came along; she too had a home name that was her middle name; a name that is synonymous with "beauty" and it is no wonder that she pursued a career in the arts, fabric and fashion designer and now a glass bead jeweler. By the time the second sister was born on Carnival Saturday three years later, she got the female version of my father's name and Joyce, for the celebration of her birth. Her home name was not even among her registered names and eventually had to be added by affidavit. Both brothers received good solid names English names from my mother, Charles and James - my father did give his eldest son his own name - and both have good solid steadfast lives.

Because I was born on Sunday, I was, according to the rhyme, "... bonnie and bright and happy and gay!" I had a duty to live up to my name day, and I felt bright and lucky even as a child - and I believe I've been that way ever since.

I grew up in a family with uncles and aunts called by their Chinese names, Chan, Sim, Whoonie, Didd, Seemoy, Leemoy, Powkee. They were not strange sounding to me. Now I have an Indian surname - for the elephant-headed Hindu god who is the invocation of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune; and there's always puzzlement when strangers meet me for the first time. People I went to school with and and those I grew up close to still call me by my maiden name. Not because they don't remember the married name, but perhaps the sing song Chinese fits what I look like.

Naming in our family tradition, I felt (still feel) is a focusing of potential. My son received epic names: Orion the Hunter among the stars and Alexander the greatest coloniser of the ancient world. My father conferred on him the Chinese "precious dragon." How could he possibly live up to these? I think he does. Later, when the daughter asked what her name means, I would say "princess of flowers." Came the day that she accosted me, "You lied, my name really means mother of Hanuman." Well, it is still an auspicious name, beloved of Shiva. If you had been born in July - as you were supposed to - you might have been called Anjuli, but you came in June! Your middle name is for my mother's mother who died the year before I was born, and is a variation of your aunt's name for "beauty." Your Chinese name also means golden.

Some of us try to escape our names when we are small. I wanted to be called Edith at one point. I liked the gravity of it. And later on, Renee, because it seemed to offer transformation, rebirth.

But in the end, I believe we live up to how we are called. At "inception," one of the first ideas planted is your name. How you are called gives the first idea of who you are and what you become. Like my grandfather who loved to hear his name: Ham goo mah (how do you call me?); obliging us to respond, Akung! (grandfather)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A school in Tobago

My friend Mary Rutten Hall has a school in Carnbee Tobago. In existence for 19 years now, the school has 39 students enrolled for the current year. The Michael K Hall School - named for Mary's father-in-law, the schoolmaster parent of playwright Tony Hall and Dennis "Sprangalang" Hall - is a place of learning through play and practice, an integrated approach to education.  Here, Mary's process draws groups across different age levels, and synthesizes concepts according to themes. Not only has the system worked to fulfil the standard curriculum, it gives students confidence in their own ability to investigate, understand and share findings. Mary's school has proven itself by graduating students into mainstream secondary schools, and grounded their growth into enterprising citizens in a wide range of professional and technical fields.

In the early days, the MK Hall School was housed on an acre plot in Carnbee. Today, the school is an annex to Mary's home and includes an ajoupa roundhouse as one of its classrooms. If necessary, the lessons could be taught in a field or a village hall. All it needs are teachers with the commitment, knowledge and will that Mary has exhibited. It has been commended and visited by government officials and educators; but over the years, no one has looked into its process to see how it may be emulated for children - especially those at risk - in rural and even inner city communities.

Inside the school house, children from five to twelve explore themes and concepts in culture, the environment and arts. Outside, they plant food, keep horses, make mas, play music and sport, and roam special places on their island, becoming literate and numerate in the process. It is a brave ingenious curriculum that Mary devised and refined, based on her experience as a teacher, and training in psychology, special education and nursing. With fewer resources today, the learning continues with more ingenuity from Mary and her teaching team, and heartfelt responses from a happy student group.

In his day, Lloyd Best conceptualised "school in pan" - where panyards could be the classrooms for children of the community. Mary Hall provides the model and practical application of the school in the community. It is a school based on co-operation rather than competition as younger students learn from the older as much as from the teachers. It is the kind of teaching care that is urgently needed in communities all over Trinidad and Tobago. (Join the Michael K. Hall Community School on facebook: Read some of Mary's comments below:

Teaching in Themes:
We teach themes throughout the year, based on the festivals of Trinidad and Tobago. This works out very well as there is all the support information that we need each year in the newspapers, on the radio and television, there are actual events for children to go to, the history, the geography, religion, foods etc can be taught within these themes. We might cook for the various events or festivals, thus using the math and science that would entail.  Each year the children do these  themes, but at a more advanced level, and with a wider scope as they advance - more vocabulary, more geography, more history, more art, etc.  

What we have found is that we can also inject any other relevant themes along the way. These would include environment, which means absolutely everything outside of ourselves, starting with the plants and insects in the school, the garden, the care of animals we have had as pets, and extending to the community, the wetlands, the turtles, the endangered species of T&T etc. 

Teaching Math:
Here are a few examples that came up naturally, as they always do once you are teaching in themes.

1. When we got the horse, we kept a record of the costs of feed, veterinarian services, equipment etc. We also offered riding lessons for a fee, on Saturdays. The students made a record of these costs and the income too.

2. Carnival mas bands always give an opportunity to apply circumference (head pieces) and measurements of the body for costumes, cost of material for the costumes etc.

3. When we got Mandy we had to make a pen for her, so the Gr. 4 and 5 students went out and measured two different possibilities for a  fenced pen, two different shapes. We did the perimeters of each, and then found out the cost and number of posts that would be needed in both designs, and the cost of the fencing. And we chose the most economical 'shape' for the horse pen.That was one of our most successful lessons in perimeter, and area!

4.  With the garden, when it is flourishing, we hold a Friday market at the school. The children weigh the vegetables where applicable, and price them and then sell them at the school market.

Once you are not thinking in subjects, but in topics or themes, everything is already linked - as life is.  So there are always ways to bring in all the subjects, regardless of the theme. 

The Integrated Approach:
  Art is used in all our subjects but is also taught as a subject. Many of the drawings or paintings are of plants, leaves, flowers, from our school yard, so this connects nicely with our science. Our gardening is on-going, and we use it to teach most of our science, as most of the science in primary school relates very nicely to work done in the garden.

Environment, agriculture, art are central to our teaching. We did a carnival band once to teach Pollination. We also did a carnival band of Forest Animals - box puppets which the children wore on the outside of their bodies, the message was that the endangered animals of the rainforest had come down into the streets of Scarborough, as a mas band, to appeal to the people to help them to survive.

We, as teachers, always have the syllabus close at hand, and make sure that we constantly refer to the syllabus in every subject. Every subject is connected to every other subject, and you get a clearer picture of that when you teach this way. You can write essays on any subject. You do descriptive writing in every subject.  We use the Christmas Concert as a chance to highlight the music programme of the school, but also for the children to design the programmes and make the Christmas decorations (usually using recycled materials.) They also learn group skills and leadership skills by helping organize the concert, help with rehearsals, instruments, solos, props, group presentations etc.

The children become very independent, as they progress up the school. They also take responsibility for younger students ( peer teaching). Having the various ages together is a real benefit to all and not the opposite. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Back to the Garden

Pink for love?  Delicate Mussaenda at the entrance to the garden walk
Our notion of heaven as supreme harmony suggests sameness of emotions opinions and satisfaction, a placid ambience in which everyone lolls lazily, with or without harps wings and haloes. Even Nirvana with 24 hour yogic bliss - slipping effortlessly from downward dog to soaring crane, candle stand or light as air levitation - might conspire to be unchanging however colourful its pantheon of deities, blue Shiva, elephant headed Ganesh, many-limbed Lakshmi and Kali girded with her belt of skulls. As for Hell, many surmise that it could be the more entertaining with everybody else but the saintly consigned there.

But places of peace - as close as we may be to heaven on earth - are not without discord, discontent or differences - that is to say, life. And a garden - be it Eden or the Elysian fields - can be made anywhere. In the heart of a concrete jungle. Within the walls of a forest. By the sea. Next to an airport.
Hummingbirds love these golden bunches
On the garden island of Tobago, the Kariwak Village and Holistic Centre is such a place. For over 30 years, the owners and hosts, Cynthia and Allan Clovis, have tended these few acres using abundant flora of the islands to create a haven for birds and small creatures. Their first uniquely designed poolside huts still enchant visitors with a simple asymmetrical interior. And Cynthia's pleasing repertoire of daily menus have evolved as a Kariwak take on familiar local food, seasoned with homegrown herbs and complemented with vegetables in the most delicious ways.

Today, the village includes garden rooms entered by pathways of palms, forest vines, heliconias, fruit trees and flowering shrubs. Hummingbirds and birdsong are everywhere. Bluejays and bananaquits chase each other through the branches. And cockricos, Tobago's national bird, flap from tree to tree, to roost unsteadily on the highest branches.
Ajoupa of Peace

View across the ajoupa's polished floor

Centre of the holistic practice is the towering ajoupa with the sheen of its polished floor luring you to spreadeagle and contemplate the roof. The thatched long room invites you to rock to the breezes in a hammock. And the forest pool and waterfall, shaded by traveller's palms, will wake you up.
Secluded forest pool and waterfall

... shaded by traveller's palms

Water falling into a fish pond for contemplation

Shy koi, elusive skeins of slipping silk, a living tapestry

Four days in the garden - whose origin we witnessed in 1981 - are a timely celebration of marriage at the end of the 30th year. It's been a place for contemplation and contentment, a punctuation point, as we continue the journey. Who knows what comes around the next bend. Heaven or hell, it's all here in a garden, as in a marriage, with everything in-between, a lesson in impermanence, continuity, ceaseless change. Who needs an after-life when there's this?

Into the bush?

Luise Kimme's Tobagonian mother and child
If you believe in signs, you can see them everywhere:
heart shaped leaves for love!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hiding in the bush

Let's take a walk ...
... to look at something that's not on a screen!
My husband, the photographer, says he takes photos of what he wants to keep for himself. That's not completely true, but a way to end discussion about some of his photos that others may consider ordinary or weird. I take photos to tell stories, and impose the plot through selection and sequence. Better photographers are even more clever as they frame, edit and use light from the very inception of each photo in the camera.

Peeping through the bush
Today's story is of an estate in the Santa Cruz valley, one of the oldest cultivated in the Northern Range (the easternmost cordillera of the Andes) of the southernmost island in the Caribbean archipelago, Trinidad. This over-long explanation is for the chance person reading who may not know these islands, far less the valley, and to avoid confusion with other similarly named places wherever the Spaniard colonisers left their marks.

San Antonio Estate in Upper Santa Cruz was surely named in the same era as the valley and may once have grown the traditional crops of this valley, cocoa, coffee and citrus. Today it is a thriving horticultural enterprise, propagating and exhibiting in one of the loveliest gardens in the island. The estate house is a ruin, but its walls and foundations provide the setting for the organised bush which has been allowed to take over. The gardens and the business is wholesome and contemporary, a living extension of the family which takes care of these lands.

Walk with me through the San Antonio gardens, an inspiration in industry and a gentle way to live.

Remains of the old house as backdrop to luxuriant bush!

A frame for a doorway?

Fountain focus
Orange ixora on mildewed wall

A place for contemplation
Pathways and plantings
A grand staircase to frame the wild bamboo on the far hill
San Antonio Nurseries is one of the longest running businesses in the Santa Cruz valley. Its garden shop is well-known for a huge array of plants, and gorgeous orchids. If you want inspiration for your own garden, however small, a visit to the plant shop is a worthwhile adventure.

So many unheralded blooms!

Green on green: the most soothing colour palette
So lovely - so disdained for being politicised!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Comfort in Nature

Cocooned in the morning mist which obscures the rest of the village and valley where we live!

Our friendly cobo in rain!

Are you ever disgusted and depressed by the bombardment of events and opinion that pass for news and box us in? I am often confused by the hysterical pitch to which issues are taken, driving the most pernicious mob mentality. It seems there's no room left for the middle of the roader, the mild mannered, or the meek (who should indeed be inheriting the earth).

It seems there's no "private" place any more. Retreat, if you can, into the mind. And choose, if you will, to not engage the mob, to withhold opinion when all around you is nothing but ...

Today, I share the "mists of Santa Cruz" and our very friendly cobos, about whom reams could be written and even performed. (Thanks Johnny Stollmeyer who first opened my eyes to the magnificence of these birds).

And thanks too to Mark Meredith, whose blog ( about New Zealand landscapes, has inspired and endorsed my own escapes into nature.

This is the view over which our cobos look!

We are not actually that far from the village, even though the views and sounds of nature are all around

Friday, September 7, 2012

Schooling the parent

My son's a clown. But in the middle of all the jesting, the jokester occasionally puts the question that rocks my stature as a parent. Why didn't you send me to the other school, he asked the other day? Most of my friends went there. Your friends went there, he says pointedly. The other school seems to have produced a better pool for success in business, the professions, better networks. And it is a better school, isn't it?  He proceeds to name the persons he has relationships with, who went to the other school. And I add, uncles on both sides, and cousins. So why not, why indeed?

Sixteen years later, I didn't want to send you to a Catholic school seems a less than facetious response. Don't get me wrong it's not that I dislike Catholics, but I have - or had - strong feelings against the forms and norms of organised religion especially those that have a vested interest in worldly power. (Of course, the irony for the thinking man's church is how its liberalism empties out the church.) And toobesides, your father still feels oppressed by the lost years spent in a military Catholic boys boarding school in England, far away from family and protection from bullying boys or over-zealous Brothers. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Not!

The school that you did attend has a fine tradition of bright people, artists, a prime minister, athletes, sterling citizens, achievers, thinkers, I say. I am searching the synapses for the names of the business leaders who graduated from his school, but not a one comes to mind. Instead, I say, aren't you glad to bring something from somewhere else to your friends who all went to the other school? Aren't you glad to have made your own way, and I think of him coming to me in the O level year demanding a mathematics tutor or he would fail; me responding in horror how could you fail math, and finding the tutor (a retired woman from the other girls' school) who brought him in two terms to his distinction. Thinking as well of his doing all the A level subjects through his own initiative and private lessons and his being AWOL for the term that I lay sick in bed and moving house.

You are an independent thinker I say. At every juncture, you chose your own path. (How would I not know that he would be attracted to corporate structure, the world of cyphers and logic, in which every hard question has a simple answer; or that he would do so well in business numeracy that I can't even begin to imagine. How would I not know that two hippie parents must produce someone so fitted in, excelling, in the world! Hopefully, there's still hope for the daughter to save the world.)

That was me, he says, in response to the assertion that he brings something different to the pool he now swims in. The better school would have helped.

How could any parent know that the boy might have preferred the other school, the one where fewer of his childhood friends went. You could have asked me. I think I did ask, but the answer was a foregone conclusion.

And on to the next 28 years! The child is father of the man! *

Why don't you send me to the other school?

* William Wordsworth: My heart leaps up when I behold (1802)