Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another state of independence

University after high school seemed a good idea. It was a useful way of leaving home without being kicked out. It's funny that my parents never discussed what I wanted to do - maybe I don't remember. I dreamed through life with my head in books. When I was packing eggs, cleaning windows sweeping under beds washing dishes watching tv, I would be in another world. It's hard to recollect how the real world of hanging upside down in trees, discovering the land beyond the hatchery, leading a ragamuffin band of siblings and sometimes cousins, connected with the virtual worlds that inhabited my head.

Perhaps they came together in the Poppy Club, a gang of Saturday youngsters that trailed my will. Sometimes we were two clans led by my younger sister and me. Mostly we made up plays, dressed in cast-off clothing and made up our faces with stubs of lipstick and crayons. We performed an annual Christmas pageant - complete with shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph and baby in a manger. We gave ourselves other names - Ethel, Edith, Ruby, Lil Joe - and refused to respond to our actual names, thereby making ourselves unavailable to serve the grownups. We would be off in the wild west, huddled in a covered wagon - the bunk bed surrounded with sheets - outracing Apaches.

School was a daily getaway from the feudal system of the family farm. There were so many sanctuaries here: a library, a music room, science labs, a chapel. I was conditioned to the comfort provided by structure, order, discipline, the freedom of walls. I loved literature, language, math, and a special session called "speech" in which we pretended to be television interviewers and interviewees guided by a woman called Jennifer Mitchell (later Als). The only bane in the walled kingdom was PE. I hated the "knickers" because mine were "bloomers" way too wide and made the short flared skirt stick out like a cancan. I could have been fast but didn't see the sense in running. No one helped make the connection between parallel bars or the horse and the trees I climbed. I dreaded the regimen of exercises in the hot sun; and once fainted on the field and had to be carried bodily to Matron.

BAHS as I knew it
The combination of math, french and chemistry for A levels didn't phase the administrators at the end of the sixties but was a dilemma for me. Where would I fit in? The path of least resistance led back to the conventional math physics chemistry stream; which was still less popular than math chemistry zoology. My younger sister knew she would be an artist; and pursued it with passion and vigour all her life. Me, I was a sponge soaking up everything. In my head I didn't struggle with what I thought I should be: mathematician seemed good enough; it wasn't physicist or chemist or teacher or lawyer or farmer or wife or mother. My dedication was to something called Wall News - a weekly newspaper posted on bulletin boards; my favourite features were the "getting to know you" interviews with teachers who were after all our first heroes.

How does a child of working class parents get to want to go to university? I drifted into teaching - a natural apprenticeship - at my high school. Math and beginning science, classes shared with my best friend who was a brilliant teacher. I remember hopeful upturned faces and wondering what I could tell them to turn them on. Another four years later, I was trying to turn young minds on to Shakespeare and literature, but I don't think I was "born to teach."

But university? Barely considered. My principal at BAHS turned the light on. While the others in my class were busy heading out to UWI, both St Augustine and Jamaica, and even further afield, I was looking wistfully at Canada, still not knowing what I was going to dedicate a few years of study to. The USIS (US Information Service) had sent an application to a small girls university in Virginia. The Dean of Hollins had spent a year in Trinidad on a Fulbright scholarship. He was so impressed with our multi-culturalism that he invited a Trini girl to take up a full scholarship every year he remained dean. Six - was it seven? - of us in five successive years filled beds that may otherwise have remained empty; each of us for three or four years each. All we had to do was keep our grades up - in any field.

Stephanie Shurland, principal at BAHS

Prefects at BAHS in 1969
In the turbulent times of the war in Viet Nam, the civil rights movement and riots across the USA, Trinidadians - together with some Jamaicans, Curacaons, and a smattering of middle eastern, Chinese, Indians - coalesced an example of racial harmony in a tiny university on Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway. And that's a completely other story.






1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, what great memories your childhood, life with siblings and of course Bishops. I remember you as Head Girl and your class picture made me remember people I have forgotten. Hope this is just a first installment. Looking forward to your memories of college in Virginia at that pivotal time in American history.

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