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Archive for the tag “Caribbean”

Memories Of My Centenarian Granny

Note:  Last week, my grandmother hit another milestone.  She tied her own mother in terms of longevity.  I spoke to her for her birthday and she boasted that she is the eyes of her daughter, my aunt Ermine.  “I still does thread the needle my boy.” She related.  “I do the reading for Ermine too because her eyes not too good.”  To commemorate her birthday, I dug up this blog that I wrote when she turned 100.  Here’s hoping that Nenny lives to see many more birthdays in good health.  What a blessing!

Nenny, as my grandmother is affectionately called by her children, grandchildren and villagers alike, celebrates her 100th birthday today, June 22nd.  No one in the family is surprised.  After all, her mother, my great grandmother, lived to 103.  Up until the day that she died she was still gardening and tending to her bananas and other crops.   Nenny is healthy for the most part and walks about 3 miles to church every Sunday.

I have many treasured memories of Nenny as a kid.  Her story telling was legendary among her grandchildren.  No one could bring a story to life like Nenny and even though we requested them nightly, we would still get the chills and cower in fright as she told us a jumbie, (ghost) story about some dead person coming back to avenge their untimely death.  Our favorites were the stories told about a cunning spider called Brer Anancy who would tricked the other animals to get whatever he wanted.  They were appropriately called Nancy stories.  Every Caribbean kid fortunate enough to have a grandparent tell them these stories, loved them.  We never got tired of hearing how Brer Anancy tricked Brer fox.  Nenny would also share her growing up stories with us and we enjoyed sharing in her memories just as much as she obviously enjoyed sharing them.

Some nights, Nenny just wanted to sleep but us kids had other plans for her.  We would beg and beg until we finally learned how to trick her into telling us a story.  One of us would start re-telling one of her favorite stories and intentionally messed it up.   Nenny would get so annoyed at this that she would interrupt with ‘That not how it goes!” “It is!” We would reply. “How does it go then?” She would then correct us and before she realized it, would be deep into telling the story.  We would look at each other and smile conspiratorially.

Coupled with her penchant for telling stories and a hard worker, Nenny also possessed one of the most colorful vocabularies of anyone I know, complemented with a great set of lungs.  She could cuss  you out in any shade you prefer and it could be heard for miles.  (Apparently, this is something she inherited from her mom and maybe a secret ingredient to long life).  Her use of profanity was also well known and shyness was not one of her weaknesses.  Young, old, black, white, rich or poor, no one was exempted.  (The poor Governor). If one of us did something wrong, Nenny would verbally tear a strip off us, dropping F- bombs like it was Hiroshima all over again.   Even though she never hesitated to go ballistic on us, she would not tolerate anyone else taking the same  liberties. No way! Not her grand kids.  If Nenny called us idiots, don’t mistakenly think you could too.  Many learned that lesson the hard way.  Nenny never hesitated to put on her fighting gloves and go to war for us.

Nenny had her own quotes for everything. “Bwoy, ah way oil ah oil yo?” was often used when I was misbehaving. It simply meant, ‘Boy, what is the matter with you?’  “Play Play does bring belly” meant that too much playing could result in someone getting pregnant. “Leave me ah Jesus feet” was one she used to tell us to leave her alone.  “Yo ah a watch me like how Johnny ah watch town basket” was one I never quite figured out. I know Johnny but not exactly sure what a ‘Town Basket’ is.

I remember Nenny would accompany us to dances and fetes and wait outside until they were over then walk us home.   She would bring a flashlight to guide us through the pitch-black darkness of the 3 mile walk home.  We would never get embarrassed by her escort. Well except for this one time when my cousin took too long to leave the dance hall and Nenny asked the doorman to let her in and walked around the dance floor looking for my cousin.  She found her slow dancing and untangled her from her partner and escorted her outside.  That was Nenny.

In her 90’s, my grandmother detested clothing that made her look her age.  “Yo tink me old!” She would often say when we tried to dress her in age-appropriate clothing.  She wore high heels and dresses and enjoyed the comments from her fellow church goers on how young she looked in her stylish attire.  She would often comment, “Did you see sikkay bikkay ah wear de same frock like mine?”  (Sikkay Bikkay was her code for anyone whose name she didn’t want to say). Yes, but you wore it better, Nenny, even though she was more than half your age.

Nenny is the consummate matriarch of  the family.  She is like the queen on her throne. the family revolve around her. It’s a blessing when someone lives to see 100.  It’s an even bigger blessing that in my 40’s, I still have my grandmother alive and well.  Incidentally, both my grandmothers are alive.

Nenny, thanks for all the stories and memories.  We hope that you will stick around for a few more birthdays.  Today, you will be in the presence of the Governor General and other dignitaries so please use restrain.   As you would tell us when we talked too much, ‘Piece ah yo tongue war clip!’

Happy 100th Birthday Nenny!!  Say hi to Sikkay Bikkay for me.

Nenny, (left) and her daughter

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Pass Me The Avocado With Coconut Oil and Don’t Forget The Oolong Tea

A few weeks ago while shopping at my local Costco, I overheard a woman asking a clerk for help in finding coconut oil. Nothing wrong with that but it made me think.  Not that long ago, when I first came to Canada from the Caribbean, the very word ‘coconut’ was an island thing, something the tourists sampled to take selfies showing they were indeed on vacation. No one outside of the islands knew much about it.  No one knew that growing up, coconut was a regular staple in every household.  The branches made excellent cricket bats, the dried husks were great for starting fires, the coconut water was the perfect mix for alcohol, especially brandy.  Coconut jelly, which was the meat of a young coconut was eaten with a spoon made from the shell of the coconut, when dried, the meat was used to make coconut oil.

Coconut oil is a versatile product, but by now you know this.  it can be used for various recipes, healthy skin and even cure for ailments.  Heated, it was applied to my chest and back as a kid when I had a cold. That was many years ago. Now the benefits of coconut is filtering through to North America, just like the avocado, another island staple.

Next time you are looking for coconut, remember, I saw it first.

 

 

Where In Jamaica Are You From? St. Vincent?

Flag-map of Jamaica

Flag-map of Jamaica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I was talking to a guy who was trying to impress me with his knowledge of Caribbean lingo.  “What’s up mon?”  He greeted,  proudly letting me know he’s a frequent flyer to the island of Jamaica which he incorrectly assumed was my ‘home’.  He then asked me where I was from, meaning where in Jamaica.  I said, “St.Vincent” and started to explain that it was also an island in the Caribbean.  He didn’t let me get to that part.  He interrupted with an excited response, “Oh I have been to Negril and Kingston but never that part”.

The guy continued to extol the beauty of the islands, based of course on his visits to Jamaica and I pitied him for not having a good geography teacher when he attended school.  Darn North American Education!  As I am apt to do, I let him stew in his ignorance and rolled with it.  We talked about Ocho Rios, Ganja and resorts.  I even humored him and spoke like a true Jamaican.  He asked when I was last there and I told him when I last visited St. Vincent.  Then he left.  No wiser than when he walked into my office.  Bad Bad teacher!  No Jamaican rum for you!

Why am I blogging about this?  Well too often it is assumed that because of my skin color and maybe accent, I have to be either from Africa or Jamaica.  It’s not a big deal as I’m used to it but assuming someone is from a particular place because of their skin color is a bit ignorant, isn’t it?  Or is that just my take?

I do not assume every white person is from England.  To do so would be bordering on presumptuous, don’t you think?

Just my take.  Everyting irie, mon.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T, Find Out What It Means To Me

Living in the Caribbean, I was taught as a kid to respect not only my elders but also those in authority.   Respect became a part of my life and I respected everyone until they they wore it out.

Arriving in North America, I was surprised to see that respect was not as forced fed as I was used to it being.  Everyone seemed on the same plain. Old, young, teachers and students, there were no differentiating.  At first I was aghast.  If he said that in my country, he would get such an ass whupping…How could she talk to her grandmother/teacher like that?  Then I got used to it.

Getting used to it didn’t mean I forgot what I was taught and followed the disrespectful crowd.  No, I got used to seeing the lack of respect.  No one seemed to make the obvious connection that lack of respect goes hand in hand with criminal behavior.   Rape, theft, molestation, all direct manifestations of the lack of respect by the perpetrators.  I am not saying that having no respect means one is going to commit a crime but committing a crime is a result of not respecting the victim.  You can’t dispute that.

In my work place, I give due respect to those in authority.  I do not get confrontational unless I feel I have to be, and then I still maintain a respectful attitude.  Unfortunately, many of those who are in supervisory or managerial positions tend to abuse their power.   They expect to be respected by their employees but do not believe that it should be mutual.  Respecting their minions seems weak and unprofessional.  In fact, this is quite the opposite.  Humbling yourself to be able to respect someone who is ‘beneath’ you is a show of strength.  Some consider it sexy.

Respect is dying.  It’s not quite dead yet but it’s terminal.  Unless it is resuscitated, we would continue to be selfish savages.  But again, that’s just MY TAKE.

 

Related articles

Musings Of My Island Home

thAs my North American city remains mired in a week-long cold snap I cannot help but long to be back home, sitting on the beach, sipping on some coconut water.  Where is home? I know that I have been here in Canada long enough to be considered a naturalized Canadian and I am a citizen and all but as they say, home is where the heart is.  So right now, my heart is in my birth country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Home.

Many of you have never heard of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I won’t  hold it against you.  It’s easy to miss this beautiful island as it is so tiny.  If you go looking for it in a plane, make sure you kill the engines  when you are miles away so as not to overfly it.  If going by boat, do the same thing.  Actually drop anchor.  It is so small that NLF players go there to practice.  They would stand at one end of the island and one on the other and pass the ball to each other.  Ok, I’m just kidding, it’s not that small but it is small.  But as they say, good things come in small packages.

Bequia waterfront

Bequia waterfront

St. Vincent is a mountainous 133 square miles island nestled in the Easter Caribbean.  Where’s that?  Sorry, I don’t have the time to give you a geography lesson.  Because of its lack of an international airport, it is basically untapped as a tourism resort.  This is great as you get an island unspoiled and almost virginal. That’s soon changing as an international is in the works and scheduled to open for business next year.   Black and white sand beaches await the visitor.  Should you not wish to stay on the main island, the Grenadine islands await.  These are a string of islands stretching from the north of the mainland all the way to the island of Grenada in the south. The most beautiful and popular being the island of Mustique.  Celebrities including Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger, Donald Trump and Racquel Welch have cottages and homes on this island and it is known for great diving and privacy.  Bequia, the largest of the Grenadine islands, holds its own quite well.  It has a sheltered harbor that many boaters like to take advantage of.  There’s also an annual regatta that attracts many.

bequia

St. Vincent’s has an active volcano that last erupted in 1979.  It is a nice 4049 ft climb up the mountain where you would see different plants and wildlife in abundance.  It also boasts one of the oldest botanical gardens in the western hemisphere.  Some parts of the movie ‘Pirates of The Caribbean were also filmed in St. Vincent as movie producers are starting to see the island as great for filming.

The Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens

Ever heard of Carnival in Rio? New Orleans Mardi Gras?  Or Toronto’s Caribana?  Well the island has its own scaled down version of these.  It lasts for 10 days and involves street parties with costumes, music, drinks and food galore.  It’s one of the best carnival in the region and runs from late June to early July.

Carnival!

Carnival!

I can go on and on but that’s what Google is for.  Look it up.  Read all about it and see why I long for home when I’m freezing my butt off here in the freezing tundra.   Yes mon!

I lived somewhere in this valley

I lived somewhere in this valley

My Valley

My Valley

Pirates Of The Caribbean 1&2 filmed in St. Vincent.

Pirates Of The Caribbean 1&2 filmed in St. Vincent.

US Men arrested on gay cruise in the Caribbean

Caribbean sea

Welcome to the islands, Mon

In most, if not all, the Caribbean Islands, homosexuality is outlawed.  Making it a destination on a gay cruise is like a mouse attending feline party.   So what was this gay cruise doing docking on the island of Dominica, a Caribbean Island?  And what were these two men thinking? Obviously their top heads were not being used in this process.  

Anyways, I just found it an interested read this morning that I had to share with you.  Here is the original story.

2 US men arrested on gay cruise in Caribbean

Associated PressBy CARLISLE JNO BAPTISTE | Associated Press – 8 hrs ago

 
 

ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Two California men on a gay cruise of the Caribbean were arrested Wednesday in Dominica, where sex between two men is illegal.

Police Constable John George said police boarded the cruise ship and arrested the two men on suspicion of indecent exposure and “buggery,” a term equivalent to sodomy on the island. He identified the men as John Robert Hart, 41, and Dennis Jay Mayer, 43, but did not provide their hometowns.

George said the men were seen having sex on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship by someone on the dock.

The two were later charged with indecent exposure and are scheduled to appear before a magistrate Thursday morning. If found guilty, they could be fined $370 each and face up to six months in jail.

The ship carrying about 2,000 passengers departed Puerto Rico on Saturday and arrived in Dominica on Wednesday. It departed for St. Barts without the men, who are being held in a cell at police headquarters in the capital of Roseau.

The cruise was organized by Atlantis Events, a Southern California company that specializes in gay travel.

President Rich Campbell, who is aboard the cruise, said in a phone interview earlier that he thought the two men would be released. He later said in an email that the company has organized many trips to Dominica and would “happily return.”

“Many countries and municipalities that gay men visit and live in have antiquated laws on their books,” he said. “These statutes don’t pose a concern to us in planning a tourist visit.”

Campbell said he expects the two men to be released on Thursday and that they only face misdemeanor charges.

“The guests actions were unfortunate but minor in this case and have no bearing on our overall guest experience,” he said via email.

The pastor of Dominica’s Trinity Baptist Church, Randy Rodney, praised the police for their intervention.

“I am very pleased that the police were called in and have arrested the people in question. I have warned about gay tourism and its implications for Dominica,” said Rodney, who is a vocal critic of homosexuality and lesbianism.

The presence of gay cruises in the Caribbean has riled several conservative islands including Jamaica and Grenada, where anti-sodomy laws are enforced with strong backing from religious groups.

According to Cruisemates.com, no gay cruise lines sail to Jamaica or Barbados for fear of homophobia and possible violence. It said other places like the U.S. Virgin Islands welcome gay cruises.

In 2010, the Cayman Islands rejected the arrival of an Atlantis gay cruise amid protests from religious groups even though homosexuality is legal on the archipelago.

Don Weiner, a spokesman for Atlantic Events, referred all questions to Campbell, including why the company organized a trip to Dominica and whether it knew about the island’s anti-sodomy laws.

Elizabeth Jakeway, a spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises, referred all questions to Atlantis.

The last time authorities in the Caribbean intervened on a gay cruise was in February 2011, when agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested a California man aboard the Allure of the Seas, which had docked in St. Thomas. The man, Steven Barry Krumholz of West Hollywood, pleaded guilty to selling ecstasy, methamphetamine and ketamine to fellow passengers.

___

Associated Press writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.

My take, check it out before you whip it out

My Island Christmas

christmas 2007

As Christmas approaches, so too does my seasonal nostalgia.  I suffer from a self-diagnosed ailment that I call Christmas Nostalgic Disorder or CND. (Don’t google it, I said I made it up, didn’t I?).  When afflicted, I get teary eyed while reminiscing about past Christmases spent in St. Vincent. A Christmas song, the smell of ham being cooked or just an event could bring on an attack of CND.  The thing is, I miss My Island Christmas.  As my own doctor, I think a good prescription for CND would be for me to get it out of my system.  So sit back, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you all about how we do it. (Wait a minute, aren’t you at work? Well I am. Just kidding boss!).

As a kid growing up in St. Vincent, Christmas time was the most anticipated event of the year. Not because of what we expected from Santa as our non-chimney equipped houses would not facilitate the big guy but because it was one of the few times when we kids could get away with almost anything.  No one got mad when we were loud or when we didn’t do as we were told. It was as if the Christmas spirit was a contagion that had afflicted everyone, turning them into these unrecognizable and sometimes uncharacteristically ‘nice people.’  Smiles were a dime a dozen.

Then there were all the extras that came with Christmas.  We had the Nine Mornings Celebrations.  This was an island-wide event held in most village during the nine mornings leading up the big day.  You would wake up at around 1am and attend these festivities which included fireworks, talent shows, singing and dancing, best lit house contest and just about various other forms  of revelry.  Yes food was available.  Some activities included going for an early morning swim in the wee hours of the morning. In my late teens, I attended Nine Morning Fetes which is basically a dance starting at 1am and like I said, for 9 straight days. Nine Morning revelers could be seen stumbling home around 5am like zombies caught at the break of dawn.   On our walk home, which was usually a few miles for me but a lot longer for some, we would go in search of mangoes. It would still be quite dark so we used our hands to feel around the ground for the fruit.  This sometimes made for a few yucky or downright disgusting experiences.

Note that many of the churches held their own version of nine mornings where you could attend services coinciding with the fete times. Some of us would do splits where we attend church one morning then fete the next. The best of both worlds.

Serenading (Carolling) was also one of my favorites.  As a little boy, I thoroughly looked forward to waking up at all hours of the night to people singing Christmas Carols at my door.  We would stand there in the doorway, clad in various nightly attire listening in rapt attention to the serenders as they were called. (My aunt would make sure I held on to the tip until they were done their set as most were apt to leave as soon as they got the money).  On a few occasions, when us boys on the block needed a few bucks to buy treats, we would get whatever instruments we could lay our hands on and go impromptu serenading,   knocking up a few houses until we had enough money. I would be the lead singer and also the speech maker.  (Serenaders had someone delegated to make a funny speech which included a humorous plea for a tip. “If you are a faithful giver, give me something to cool my liver” was one such phrase).

I also had a weird fascination with the process of slaughtering animals at Christmas. (No! Not wanton, brutal killing for fun, you silly reader.  What kind of people do you think we are? No don’t answer that).   Many of the locals in my village would butcher a cattle in their back yard.  They would butcher it in front of curious and in my case, fascinated onlookers and sometimes sell some of the meat on the spot. This event was also another excuse for an informal holiday get-together which included story telling, more alcohol consumption and lots of laughter.  Sometimes you were allowed to roast a piece of the meat, usually the animal testicles on the open fire that happened to be burning.

During the actually week of Christmas, it felt like an extended Christmas day.  Everyone played Christmas music. (I have never met a Christmas Grinch back then).  The smell of homemade breads and cakes wafting in the air AND the daily consumption of alcoholic beverages were the order of the day. (Come to think of it, maybe that was the reason why they were so nice. Adds a whole new meaning to Christmas Spirit). This is the week when my buddies and I would ‘go around the clock.’ We would forsake sleep during the week, opting to stay awake all night then go to the fete.

The day itself came rather late for many of us.  We are usually tired and spent by Christmas morning so we usually crawled out of bed in time for lunch.  Well why not? We never really had presents to open and we never longed for any.  The Santa Claus thing never did catch on in the islands.   Most of us boys got into the practice of buying ourselves a Europa 5. (I know you don’t know what this is).  It was a brand of soccer ball that was the most popular.  I still remember  waking up late one Christmas morning and finding out that my brother had played with my Europa 5 before I did and kicked it into a barbed wire. So I had nothing to play with.  I still remember that with brotherly love.

Our breakfast consisted of home-made bread and ham and hot cocoa.  (Yes that’s about it but then, it is still one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had),Then we played soccer while the adults engaged in entertaining the wanderers who came by to partake in our Christmas offering of drinks or cake. After lunch, us kids would ‘make the rounds’. We gathered up the neighborhood kids and do some wandering of our own, visiting to houses that we knew would have good food, cake and drinks to offer. (It was fine. Everyone was doing it, even adults). By the time we were a few houses in, our ranks would be tripled as we pick up would-be wanderers along the way.

The big picture here is that these Christmases were celebrated not as a family unit but as a village, as a country. No one was left out.  If someone couldn’t afford a proper meal at Christmas, people in the village would take it upon themselves to deliver food to them. The true meaning of Christmas was never more evident. I actually felt the CHRIST in CHRISTMAS as amidst all the afore mentioned revelry and good times, the reason for the season was front and center.

Even surrounded by family and friends here in Canada at Christmas time, I still get that lonely feeling which sometimes gets me teary-eyed.  It’s bigger than just friends and family.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOURS

or as they say ‘back home’ HAVE A IRIE CHRISTMAS, MON!

The Mighty Sparrow

LP cover - Sparrow - Knock Dem Down

This blog is about a song bird but not the kind that you might think.  It is about the greatest Calypso singer (Calypsonian) ever.  Calypso, for those who do not have an inkling of what I am talking about, is a musical genre from out of the Caribbean.  The Mighty Sparrow has dominated this musical category for a number of years and made himself into a household name wherever Calypso is known.

Back in the islands, I grew up listening to the songs the grown-ups listened to.  Many of these were by Sparrow.  Most of us kids were able to sing one or more of his songs in its entirety.  The man is a legend in every sense of the word.

Maybe it was a childhood fantasy to emulate the Mighty Sparrow but I grew up always wanting to sing Calypso to a wide audience. At least, wider than just my immediate family.  in 2004, I did just that, winning my first ever Calypso Competition and becoming the face of Calypso in my city. I now regularly perform at many functions mostly in a Calypsonian capacity.

Last week to my surprise, I got a call from a promoter asking if I could open up for a New Year’s Eve dinner and dance featuring the man himself, The Mighty Sparrow!  I was floored!  Sharing a stage with the master is like a dream come true.  (He is quite a bit older now and maybe not as spry as he once was but it’s still him).

 

 

 

Whispers in the wind

Mustique in the Grenadines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My most recent poem, written for St. Vincent and The Grenadines’ Independence Banquet, 2010.  (I was to read it but couldn’t attend due to illness).

WHISPERS FROM HOME

Psst…I hear whispers in the wind

echoing through the trees.

I can hear it in the distance,

approaching on a breeze.

As I get even closer,

I could then understand,

they were not just idle chatter,

but whispers from my homeland.

I hear the drums of Chatoyer,

our national hero.

Sending out a cryptic message

to the beat of a calypso.

Ocean sounds assail my ears,

waves lapping at the shore.

The whispers are calling me,

getting louder more and more.

I hear a faint melody,

distant but still clear.

It is the sound of steel pan,

sweet music in the air.

I close my eyes to take it in

but it does not last.

Another whisper in my ear

and I am back in my past.

The early morning rooster,

crowing, cock-a-doodle-doo!

I can hear so plainly,

as if I am there too.

Laughter rides in the wind,

a happy child at play.

It is like music to my ears

until the wind whisks it away.

“Hush”! The wind whispers to me,

in a soft and breezy tone.

“Listen with your heart and mind

to the sounds of home”

The whispers then grow fainter

and I could barely hear.

and with a gust, they were gone,

inaudible to my ear.

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