Horizon at Sandy Point

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When we die

“We are stardust; we are golden…” sang Joni Mitchell of the “child of god” heading to Woodstock, in her 1970 anthem

The quantum theory of consciousness now proposes
That the conscious energy of our minds
What we call the soul
Is unextinguished – and liberated - when the body dies.
Scientists Hameroff and Penrose present the hypothesis
That death is a threshold
That there is a quantum soul that exists after a body dies.
The immortal soul, they say, returns to the unconscious universe
When it is no longer sparking and singing in the cells of a living brain.

This certainty underlies the traditional practice
Encoded in the Tibetan Book of the Dead
Which is a text for guiding souls transiting from one plane of existence to others:
Prayer poetry for the liberation of souls
recited by dedicated mediators, meditating on their behalf.

The prayers gather momentum in the days before and immediately after death.
If death is unexpected, recite the passages for the “liberation by hearing” in the days that follow:
For hearing continues beyond the body.

O child of the universe, do not be afraid
For at the moment of dying, the pure heart
Is liberated to the great unconscious
What some call heaven
Others purgatory
And science calls the universe.

O child of the universe, do not fear
The compassionate ones
Who appear to help you on your way
Assembling at the time of your passing:
Your liberation is at hand
Abandon all thoughts of fear and terror
Recognise what you see now
Are projections of your own mind:
The light and the dark
Your wisdom and insecurity
Satisfactions, achievements, and your yearnings.

After death, the Tibetans claim, hearing is the sense retained
By the departing and wandering soul.
Hearing opens the way to the Great Liberation.
Hear and do not fear, O child of the universe:
The light beings of wisdom are benevolent;
The light beings of wrath and envy are not far behind.
Recognize all as projections of your own mind.
Stay relaxed in a state free from thinking.
At any moment, your liberation is possible
Just recognize the play of your own mind
In the luminous light path of pure wisdom
Ignoring the wrathful deities and contradictory manifestations;
The seductive and sensuous, the beautiful or bizarre;
Recognize all as projections of your own self,
And be instantaneously liberated.

It’s impossible not to be liberated, according to the Tibetan Book,
To the Pure Realm of Space:
In this state, after life in a physical body
The mind becomes astonishingly infinitely clear
Just hear, without disbelieving, to be liberated.

O child of the universe,
Liberation is at hand
When you realize that all life is Maya, an illusory state.
Moksha - liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth - is freedom
From ego-consciousness and karma.

O child of the Universe
Recognise who you are
Your true nature is not to be reborn.

None of this is consolation for loved ones left behind.
We too have a duty to the dying:
O child of the universe, do not be sad, do not weep
Do not cling to the departing lover
Do not hold her back with tears and pleading
Do not delay him with children or responsibilities
Sing them on their way with the reminder that
Liberation to the universe is certain.


The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Shambala Pocket Classics

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How we are racist

Trinidad and Tobago prides itself on being the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. Tolerance is one of our watchwords. We are remarkably harmonious in our interactions. We have perfected the art of getting along; and it's no artifice, we genuinely like each other. To be Trinbagonian is to be an amazing amalgam of Afro, Euro, Indo, Sino, Amerindo, Christian, Hindu, Orisha, Muslim ... We wear the garb of many continents. We enjoy all foods with equal relish. We are oriented from birth with an array of multi-lingual multi-cultural words, sensations and responses. We are curious about all tribes and appreciate differences. Our ability to discern roots, mixtures and bloodlines extends to fine shades of distinction, especially in skin colour: high brown, darkie, blue-black, yellow, brown, cream; hair texture: kinky, natty, straight, fine, naturally curly... . By and large, such knowledge which is innate in the average Trinbagonian is a source of enjoyment, amusement, even superiority over other nations.

However, the same enculturation provides us with the means to taunt, to undercut, to undermine the close-woven fabric of our harmony. We become savages with our tongues: picong we call it, or fatigue, or joke. Witness the current debacle over the expenditure on "roti," where the leader of our country is able to question, humble, demean not just the opposition, but the tribe, the perceived sector of roti-eaters and their partisans. Truth is that I - like all Trinbagonians - enjoy a good roti, it's not just part of our tradition, it is part of our diet. The tone, the taunts, the remarks, about roti, now sully all of us who take delight in the traditional style of eating, with our hands, off a leaf. It picks at long-healed scabs where roti in your lunch box was something you hid to eat. It marks and subliminally separates those who eat roti, those for whom Divali has special significance. More than that, it is deliberate, orchestrated, a politician's strategy.

The other side is no better in its racial stereotyping of the other's "outside children."

The defence might say: "but look, is true, they did spend that amount on (mere) roti," and we have already lost sight of the actual issues, overspending, waste, failures of accountability, behind base schoolyard heckling. Truth is bi-partisan politicians' platform agendas are seldom about cohesion to create the common good. And when the electioneering is over, winner takes all, the slurs remain. It's hard to remember what the way forward together might be when what you are feeling is victory over the other, or the hurt of the taunt. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Photo album: Khanta Dhanook Ganase

Old photos - black and white, small, even slightly out of focus - have the power to take you back to understand moments in a person's life. If that person is someone as close as a husband or brother, mother or sister, father or son, photos become touchstones for emotional memory. Family photos are place maps you can use to rekindle feelings - how close you were, how happy, how comfortable -  information and remembrance.

Here are some photos from the life of Khanta Dhanook Ganase, the boy from Arima who went to Africa - Ghana and Kenya - and finally settled in  Draguignan France. A chronology is suggested, but each image is its own talking point. Enjoy!

The first is Ganase Dharrie Maharaj, who came from India when the colonial power was recruiting sugar cane workers. He would have arrived in Trinidad in the later decades of 1800s. Legend has it that he simply walked to the docks and got on a ship bound for Trinidad. After his five years' indentureship, he chose to stay in Trinidad. Together with three or four other jahaji brothers, he founded Trinidad's first bus company. He also founded a few branches of Maharajs. His grandson took Ganase as his surname, Khanta Dhanook Ganase. Other branches took Dharrie, and others Maharaj. Ganase lived to 95 years old. This is the story of Khanta's family.(See previous blog post for the fuller story: )

Ganase Dharrie Maharaj, the one who came from India
Khanta's  parents: Dhanook Maharaj and Dukhanee
 The selection of photos of Khanta Dhanook Ganase in his earliest decades are mainly from ID photos. In all of them, he was a man who was always smiling. Here he is as a young man in his twenties, in uniform and a professional in the aviation industry.
The boy from Arima: one of the earliest photos of Khanta: you can see the features of  sons and grandsons.
In his RAF greatcoat, hat at a rakish angle
Kenya Airways?

Khanta at the Eiffel tower 1949: "The two chaps were university mates from UK. They all came touring France by bicyclette in August 1949 and stayed at la cité universitaire in Paris during the summer holiday."

Khanta met Adrienne LeComte, a girl from Versailles, in September 1949 in London. In 1950, she came to Trinidad to marry him.

Those men and their flying machines

In France?

Khanta's pride

Beach beauty

These are photos of Adrienne and Khanta, and their children in Arima and later in Piarco

Before Indra

Arima house

Indra, Rikhi, Ranji, Vidia, Carl, Krishen and Nadine
These photos are in no particular order. You're invited to say what your memories are at those times. Send emails and the information can be added or clarified.

Adrienne with two!

Beach races with Rikhi and Indra

Piarco house with Rikhi, Indra, Vidia, Carl and Ranji

Travelling with Vidia, on the way to see the Statue of Liberty in New York

House in Piarco: Indra, Rikhi, Ranji, Vidia, Carl

Arima house

First two: Indra and Rikhi

First three: Indra, Rikhi and Ranji

Arima house

A backyard with coconut trees: Piarco

At the house in Piarco

At the house in Piarco

The aviation engineer in London and Kenya.

In London with the RAF

Chief engineer and his crew at Kenya Airways
Festive occasion in Kenya

River lime with other Dharrie Maharaj cousins in Trinidad

Adrienne says that Khanta always loved roses. So this rosebush in Draguignan is his tribute and final resting place.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Inward Journey 3

Continuing this interrogation of living with dying: as only the living might do. You should note that this metaphorical language should not be taken for scientific or literal fact.

To paraphrase
Hawking et al
A black hole is a space-time singularity
A dying star of infinite mass
Collapsing upon itself
From which not even light can escape
A place in the universe that is so enigmatic
That it requires a theory
Merging gravity with other fundamental forces of nature.
You can detect the presence of a black hole only by the pull it exerts
Upon giant stars in its event horizon
Inescapably attracted to the invisible heart

To lose a child
However old however young
Is to fall towards a black hole
Inexorably to face our own extinction
Loss so inconsolable
Unimaginable by those
Who have their futures still
Learning to inhabit
A world without imagination
Becomes the event horizon
In which existing continues
Ever in the orbit of this singularity
This inevitable dying alive

Barely alive after surgery
Limbs lie heavy
Groggy slur upon thickened tongue
No wonder, visitors to this wreck of pallid flesh
Unsmiling unanswering unable
Do not return
Terrified as they must be by this inert shade
Of the animate friend companion colleague
Gone beyond the event horizon of the black hole
Inside closed eyes
I feel the tug a gentle passing
To another realm
Easy to let it go
Go into the night, like falling asleep
Freefall, gravity jerks me back:
To lose children in this way
Is to lose the world
That calls me back
To daughter’s embrace
To light on son’s face
To go or not to go...

This body needs blood, declares an angry nurse
Is that all a body needs?
No black hole white light mystery
Just blood

A fortnight since
You came to this bed
You are withdrawing
Into slurred speech gestures
Eyes opening wide but briefly
Is this how we go gently into that good night
No fireworks
Barely a whimper
Should we sing you softly on your way
Allow you to shut down
From exhaustion of inactivity

They say astronauts returning to earth
Have to be taught to walk again
To regain control over muscles
Become unused to gravity
They must be carried from the landing craft
What do angels need returning from earth:
Do they relearn to fly?

To frame these phrases of loss
Is not to make less of pain or grief
But picking at life scabs
To leave indelible cicatrix
Tattoos of remembrance on tough skin

Is dying a fall into a black hole?
Or instead, do we pass through another kind of hole in the universe?
A wormhole

A wormhole unlike a black hole
Also called an Einstein-Rosen bridge
is a hypothetical topographical feature that might be a shortcut
Connecting two separate and distant points in space time
Pathway to an alternate universe
Maybe there is a heaven after all
Somewhere above the sky
Where we’ll meet on the other side
By and by!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Inward Journey 2

Another few chapters of intense feeling, and maybe, this writing will be done. Hopefully, it will not become a habit; we will not become addicts to this word-mongering!


My father lived without major illness or accident
Most of his life
Worked and played harder
Gusto in every endeavor
Farmer fisherman traveller
Someone who so loved to feed his family
And to eat heartily
Struck down by bilious poor digestion
Plagued by ulcers til they were incurable
He stomached them all
Forcing feeling down
Swallowing to quell the burning
A core of existence in flames
Explodes in a million searing suns
Spews hordes of memories yearnings desires
Into a sea of morphine dreams
Extinguishes the stars

Losing a husband
After 70 years
Must be like losing that fifth sense
That keeps you treading water
In a rising tide
The heart lurches on
Involuntary propulsion
Through a sea of faces and places
Time divided by this watershed
Another life shed
70 years of coupling uncoupled
The sky shifts
Glaciers melt
Tears fill the valley
Mainstay and mooring disappear
Loss is the pole star

Pain puckers the brow
Headaches unrelieved
No ginger, tiger balm, acupuncture
Soursop leaf tea
To cure a life lived pure
Now become a novitiate
To life's last drug
Composes the features
Fists unclench
Eyes open
Smiles play at lips relaxing
There’s an awakening they say
When a body will sit up take food talk
As if the rest was merely a dream
Something miraculous is happening
Some change is coming

You came home that night
Fell out of the shower
Met the immoveable unbreakable
Shattering the upper arm in a million fragments
Or three
Just lie me down til tomorrow
Jagged loose broken tile inside a sack of skin
Can break the unbroken
Unglue the undemented mind:
Immobility may be a response
Pain must be the answer
No living without pain
No pain but lets us know 
how we are alive

Friday, October 14, 2016

Inward journeys

Perhaps I haven't written much this year because many things I want to say might be perceived as darker. Morbid mom, too morbid! Well, comes a time when you have to say and be damned. So here goes. This is the start of a small series, written in a different form. Let me know what you think.

Passages and lines inspired by a cousin who is walking her own walk now

Living with diabetes
My mother
Was always taking pills, at specific times,
Before meals, at the end of the day…
Routine to regulate sugar
Too sweet her blood may be
But acrid the tongue
Retorts like the tail of the scorpion
Scorpio she was
She had our respect, maybe love too
Tough love at the end of the day
Making women of us
All of us, with a little mother’s clay
Could we say that she died of diabetes?
Complications of a condition
Compounded by a broken heart.

Breast cancer
They told my little cousin
A daughter’s age
Two years ago she gave up both breasts
Took back her life
Now here she lies on white sheets in a place called Vitas
Refuge for body and soul's ease
No cell
But a sentence:
Something migrated to the brain

The hospital bed
Becomes a land of counterpane
Room for reflection
Untravelled space
meditation mat
where prison is a brain racked with pain
Here she conserves inward
For outside is a phalanx of people
Pity comes unbidden to their faces
How much time until time becomes irrelevant
How little time to reach the otherwise unknowable

Let us take comfort in death’s presence
Come, sit, we may not speak
Death smiles:
Let long silences fill our companionship.
Be not afraid it whispers
Come let’s be on a new adventure
Precipice and watershed
Shall we call it lifeshed
Trust trust trust the footing you cannot see
Open the heart to new suns moons nebulae
“We are stardust we are golden”
Old language falls away.
We can be friends, death says
Even as we walk these miles
Not to the end, just a walk on the milky way
No one knows the distance like I do
Death says
Stepping on stars scattered like the scans of your brain
Trust, and I will bring you safely home

Thursday, September 29, 2016

And that was your father...

I met my husband's father in late 1981 or early 1982. Khanta and Adrienne Ganase were on one of their regular visits to Khanta's home country. At the time, they were living in Kenya where Khanta was chief engineer at Kenya Airways. Over the preceding 20 years, Khanta had built his career and international reputation in aviation.

Before the parents came to Trinidad, I had met older brother Rikhi on our first date, a party that seemed to have been put together by someone using the opportunity presented by an empty house to invite everyone. Rikhi sailed in with an entourage of BWIA colleagues and sailed out again. So much for "you must meet my brother!" I met the three sisters, Indra, Vidia and Nadine, and brother Carl the doctor, on their various vacations to Trinidad.

Young retirees: mid 1980s at the new house in Draguignan

Khanta and Adrienne, Draguignan 1988
Khanta and Adrienne, c 1992

Eventually I met youngest brother Kris who came to do a graduate internship with the BWIA engineering department, and lived with us for a short time. I mention all this because even though Khanta Dhanook Ganase was born and grew up in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago was always primarily a vacation place for the family who were taken away in the early 1960s: to Ghana, then to Kenya. The three eldest boys were sent to an English boarding school in Reading as soon as they reached double digits. After high school, all were sent to university in France, the youngest boy opting for England.

Khanta had left Trinidad for the first time to join the RAF just as World War 2 was ending. He met the French girl Adrienne LeComte in London where she worked with BOAC.

Khanta, RAF, c 1946

Khanta and Adrienne c 1949

Later I heard the story of the “French woman of Arima” who arrived by boat, expecting to marry Khanta whom she met while he was serving England in the war. She stayed with his mother learning to use a coal pot and make dhalpuri while he fended off the cousins who had arranged a marriage. He was handsome, a war hero, dashing in a uniform. They were an outstanding interracial couple in rural Arima. Then he built a house near the Piarco airport. And Adrienne commuted to jobs in Port of Spain where the children were in primary school.

By 1962, when - as the story goes - he fell out with someone in authority at BWIA, he went to work with an airline in Nassau in the Bahamas. Eventually, he moved the family to west Africa via London where the eldest boys were registered in boarding school. He was in Ghana for the bloody coup (1966) that toppled Nkrumah. Then he moved to Kenya where East African Airways (the airline run jointly by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) was headquartered. He was on duty in 1976, through the daring rescue of Air France hostages at Entebbe by an Israeli force.

By then, EAA had a fleet of16 aircraft (including DC-3s, DV-9-30s and VC10s) that operated the  domestic network within the three member countries, and international services to Europe. In 1977, the partnership dissolved with Kenya the first to set up its own airline. Khanta remained with Kenya Airways until he retired in 1983.

Michael Dolsingh, a BWIA veteran and global aviation financier had this to say about Khanta: "What a pillar of BWIA and other BOAC incarnations (East Africa Airways) Mr Ganase was, not only for the role he played in developing regionally-domiciled aviation, first in West Africa, then from his second African roost Nairobi. He served as a valuable Engineering and Maintenance resource for East African Airways, the forerunner to Kenya Airways, still a substantial carrier and now a public-private partnership, with KLM. Those of us who are passionate about Air Transportation, and about its integrity and sustainability in the 3rd World - in the face of formidable 1st World competition and global integration -  owe a debt of gratitude to pioneers like Mr Ganase." Khanta's aviation legacy includes sons Rikhi and Kris, both aviation engineers, and grandson Stephan a pilot.

For my part, I have lived for 35 years with the son who rejected the career path in engineering for one in the arts, photography; rebeled against the regimen of boarding school and organised religion, Catholic and Hindu; turned his back on jacket-and-tie social conservatism; married and remained in Trinidad and Tobago; who cultivated the father's wandering streak and absorbed his hard-headedness. Happy-go-lucky but determined to get what he wanted; stubborn even when rigidly wrong, the father lives in the son.

Draguignan, 1988, the family except Vidia

Khanta Ganase, Adrienne and their seven children, 2014 Santa Cruz
Khanta and sons, two aviation engineers, one photographer, one doctor, 2014

My husband claims he has no memories of growing up close to the father, separated as they were through the boarding school years. Still, he talks of being the teenager - during sixth form years in Nairobi - called upon to help service the family car "pass the 3/16, the wrench, the nose beak..." He remembers the songs his father would put on the record player on Sunday afternoons: "You have your Beatles, Rolling Stones, all that noise, now is my turn..." And he learned to sing "Prabhu ji me-de-ah..." while fixing Dad's scotch with one ice, matching his intake, several times until he would start to sing; the signal he had been waiting for. "Dad, may I borrow the car?"

And the questions: "Who you going out with?"
"What does her father do?"

By 1984, Khanta and Adrienne were living in the south of France, he was retired, she completing her term of engagement with the French Embassy. They welcomed the eldest grandson to Draguignan in 1984. In 1988, the growing family spent Christmas there. In between, there were always visits to Trinidad. 
Always smiling he was: one of Adrienne's favourite photos, taken in 2014

The last time Khanta was in Trinidad was 2014, the year the eldest grandson was married. 
Since then, he was in and out of hospital – a fall, then a worsening prostate condition – and finally, just to be able to sleep without pain. It’s ironic that the last drug administered might be morphine, named for Morpheus Greek god of dreams. Do we dream as we slip into the deep night? Do memories float unbidden to consciousness, so that we mutter the names of parents, children, comrades, “mammy”?

Khanta died in Draguignan early on Sunday, September 18. He was 94. 

He is survived by his beloved wife Adrienne; and children: Indra (Pierre Lorette), Rikhi (Annamaria Sampson); Ranji (Patricia Wong Chong); Vidia; Carl (Isabelle Chagneux); Krishen (Nathalie Hervé); Nadine (Xavier Huguet); grandchildren: Nelika (Iain Watson), Orion (Leah White), Kiran, Naomi (Loic Grabenstaetter), Sanjay, Anjani, Stephan, Ketan, Morgan, Mona, Anaelle, Ravi, William and Simon; and great-grandchildren: Brennan, Nathan, Rowan and Thea.
Khanta with Anjani and eldest grandson Orion, in Draguignan 1988

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Uncle Chang

 Earliest memories of the uncle called Chang are also the memories that I have of my grandfather, my mother's father. On occasion, one of the uncles - Chang, Didd or Whoonie - would walk the four year old me from the shop on Gatacre Street, across the very wide boulevard that is Ariapita Avenue to the grandfather's gingerbread house on French Street.

Uncle Chang (Claude Lynton): 2nd from left at the back. My grandfather (Johnson Assing) in the suit; and grandmother (Ellen) on his right. I believe that's my mother, Yvonne Lang behind my grandfather; Uncle Powkee (Horace, back left), Uncle Hang (Alfred, middle), Uncle Didd (Lambert, far left, front), Uncle Whoonie (Leonard, far right, front). I would speculate that this photo was taken in the late 40s - my grandmother died the year I was born, 1951.
On those occasions, the grandfather's treats were iced gems, tiny biscuits topped with a tinier blue, yellow, green or pink minaret of hard sugar. Those treats were treasures; those days stored in some deep recess of memory come alive when I think of those uncles. They were favourite uncles. Moreover, we always received the best Christmas presents from Uncle Chang. The way my mother explained it did not dim nor tarnish the thought in the least: Uncle Chang was a working man!

That he was a handsome eligible bachelor was also not lost on us, the three sisters, as we grew into our teens. He was Helen's godfather so we knew there was a special relationship there, But at New Year's when the family got together at Aunty Chan's house in Diego Martin, it was Uncle Chang who taught us all to dance, one step, two step, waltz.

When the confirmed bachelor married Molly, the god-daughters - Helen among them - were bridesmaids. My mother was godmother to their first child, Michelle, who as an infant spent time with us on our farm in Santa Cruz.

And then we all grew up. And apart. Uncle Chang's family grew to include Molly's, as each of us in the later generations expanded home circles to include in-laws, some from distant places. More than  40 years have disappeared in a twinkling, punctuated only by family occasions, dinners, weddings, and more recently, funerals.

Here we are, gathered to fill All Saints' Church, to honour the uncle who was husband, father, brother, uncle, and most recently grandfather; an accountant who gave unstintingly of his time and expertise to many. It was no surprise to learn of the high regard in which he was held by friends and colleagues.

Ruben McSween, his lodge brother and friend, remembers "his noble spirit, generous nature, kindness and rare personal attraction." He also remembers his love for Cokes (coca-cola) bringing to mind a story of Uncle Chang travelling - was that with my father and sister, or was it with Aunty Sim? He approached the young cashier, and in a broad Trini accent, said "Gimme a hamburger and cokes." He had to repeat his request many times, and was only understood when he asked, in clipped Americanese, for "a hamburger and a coke."

Uncle Chang was not always a country bookie as this memory suggests. By the time he went to China eight years ago, he was the Emperor, the title given to him by McSween for his guidance on all things Chinese or otherwise.

According to McSween, Claude Lynton Assing was a Freemason for 42 years, developing friendships in Lodge, respected and admired by Freemasons and lodges in many other countries. He founded the China Friendship Society of Trinidad and Tobago, and went to China with the Society's officers who, it should be noted, in their Trinidadianness represented the motley ethnicities that make up this nation. He also travelled extensively through his lodge, in the Caribbean, to Scotland, New York, South America. He liked to travel.

Finally, there was no irony in Bishop Abdulah's homily on love. When all else is gone, this is left: love that is patient, kind, long-suffering, love that conquers death. So even as death washes over us, shakes us alive, leaves us breathless, we hold on to the love.

Uncle Chang has rejoined an extended family circle: parents, brothers and sisters, friends; maybe he already has a seat near the card table, waiting to "sack in sack out" in a Pedro game with Aunty Chan, Aunty Lang (my mother), Uncle Whoonie, Uncle Didd...

Claude and Molly at Orion's and Leah's wedding, 2014

Monday, May 16, 2016

Going with the Coyotes

 No one wants to be a refugee. But in countries around the world today, ordinary citizens who would prefer to raise their families in peace and provide enough for their children to thrive and grow to be better than they, are leaving, in boats, in risky conditions, walking thousands of miles away from untenable circumstances, hoping to find themselves in places where their families might thrive. In the Caribbean, crime and criminality are driving Jamaicans from Jamaica; Venezuelans are fleeing the failing economy and impending crisis; and Cubans are leaving the oppressive political and economic regime that gave them values, skills and discipline. Refugees are rarely uneducated, unskilled; they know there's a better life waiting somewhere. They have the same aspirations - perhaps held more fiercely - as the rest of us.

(The names have been changed in this account. For those of us who witness the journeys of refugees, their adventures rekindle in our own memories what it is "to live on the edge." Let us always appreciate that we are part of one tide of humanity.)

Three weeks ago, we watched Kaleb and Jonathan running through the orchard, heavy backpacks bumping on their backs. "No," said K, "stay here until we leave," to the offer to drive them out to the mall where the unmarked minivan was waiting. They had been expecting a later rendezvous, with a boat heading to the mainland in the small hours of the morning. When the call came, six hours early, the transport was minutes away. Last minute snacks, a loaf of bread, a tub of peanut butter stuffed into the packs that would be the only luggage they were allowed to carry.

They were heading to an unknown adventure that would, they hoped, take them into the USA. With no thought of arriving, they left all to divine guidance, to the people who would lead them from Trinidad, on the underground passage - hundreds of miles - through the jungle between South and North America.

The boat that took them from Trinidad to the Main surged through 4-metre waves. Three hours turned into seven. They were blessed they said, just three voyagers instead of the usual 14. Ashore, they were bussed to Caracas. There, they would spend five days waiting for the group, or transport, or word of the voyage to the border of Costa Rica and Panama. This was not to be. Costa Rica had closed its borders; Panama threatening to do the same against the tide of Cubans seeking escape in America from the rigors of discipline and privation imposed by their government. Obama's visit brought not hope for easing relations, but fear that the code - established at the time of Cuba's cultural revolution - which allowed Cubans to enter the USA with amnesty by land, but not by boat, would be reversed.

On the sixth day, they joined the group of refugees, not only Cubans,  that was prepared to "go with the coyotes" (people that take you through the forests illegally) in the interior of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras into Mexico. Two days later, they set out walking to Panama, through the jungle. Sometimes, the coyotes are the most humane beings.

Message from K: "From panama to costa rica to nicaragua to honduras to mexico to EU. It is crazy but if we see no other option we will have to do that. We are telling to every one we know to help us. We trust the Lord everything is going to be allright. We have to take the risk. Say everybody we are ok. We are walking through the jungle going to Panamá City.

On the same day, the first cruise ship to dock in Havana in fifty years signalled the return of US tourism to the island, an opening up that was not yet matched by painless travel for Cubans.

photo by Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

In the Central American jungle
At home in the jungle

Water from the rivers

Resting for a while

Crossing the river

One day later: "We need your prayers. We are in the middle of the jungle. So I don't know when you will get this message."

And so, the special "aunties" in Trinidad prayed and waited. In Cuba, the wives waited and worried. A triangle of prayer enfolded Kaleb and Jonathan.

Five days later:  "We are in Panamá. Tomorrow we will go to join the group of Cuban people in Paso Canoa."

And these insights to the rigours of the jungle trek: "My feet are broken. My lips also. I was bitten by an ant in the jungle named congolesa; my hand was dead for many hours and I got fever and a very sharp pain. We saw monkeys, snakes, and many other animals. But now we are good." Later, we learned they had no food for the last two days in the jungle.
Camp in Panama

The last week in Panama brought clarity to the Cubans. They would be given their papers to enter the US. Eventually, they would fly from Panama City to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico on a commercial flight for which they would have to pay. By bus, they would cross the border to El Paso, Texas.

On the day that eight Cubans landed at Bal Harbour, a friend called to say she was sure Kaleb and Jonathan were among them. But they were still in Panama. We held our breath until the final day when K and J - with papers in hand - were flying from Panama to Mexico: even that flight seemed to have been delayed several hours.
Travel documents in hand

Today, they are in the USA. They have travelled and endured considerable hardships to get here. The period of adjustment is brief for some, for others it takes time. But K and J have already demonstrated the determination, strength and willingness to bend themselves to shape the future for their families. May they and other refugees find peace and happy lives in new lands. May ordinary citizens always be willing to help their fellow man along the way.