Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What US foreign policy?

US culture is so far-reaching, so pervasive and so influential that it is not unusual to find aspects of it evident in nations throughout the globe. From US clothing and dress, food and eating habits, customs, sports and music, all the way down to the way Americans speak, is very often copied and assimilated into other cultures. And with the advent of modern forms of media such as the internet, television and even print, it is easy to see why so much is known about the United States even before setting foot in the country.

Now, if so much is known about American culture, you'd think that US citizens would similarly be very knowledgeable about some of the planet's other cultures. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case especially if the US' foreign policy is an indicator of anything. At college and even in my day to day life, the lack of knowledge of life beyond US borders by the average citizen is astounding, if not amusing.

Admittedly, it would be impossible for me to cover everything within the confines of a blog post; I could probably write a book for all the odd questions I've heard asked of caribbean people. I will attempt to cover a few of the more common ones though. I will start by first outlining several assumptions that people seem to have about us, then I'll wrap it up with a few odd questions that people often ask.


Tourism and agriculture are the sole economic forces in the Caribbean
- apparently, it has always been assumed that Caribbean economies rely solely on tourism, bananas and/or sugar cane. I could see the tourism argument if we were talking about Barbados for instance, but this is simply not true. I mean really, have you ever seen promotions for an all expenses paid trip to Georgetown, Guyana? No, probably not. Guyana and Jamaica for instance, are renowned for their rich Bauxite deposits. If it weren't for Bauxite, we'd have a heck of a time finding aluminum foil. Trinbago has it's oil, petrochemicals and natural gas, as well as a strong as all hell financial sector.

Caribbean people do not possess any real world skills -
Needless to say, if folks believe that everything we do is tourism related, the next logical step is to assume that we're incapable of doing anything else. I have met more than one person who quite literally thought that I'd spent my entire life selling trinkets on a beach somewhere. Imagine if you will, the quizzical expressions on peoples faces when I told them what I'd done for a living back home."What do you mean accounting analyst? IBM Corporate? In Trinidad?! I didn't know you guys had jobs like that" (or power, running water, clothing, etc for that matter).

Caribbean nations lack modern infrastructure/technology, etc
- I will attempt to paint a clearer picture for you guys. Imagine if you will, life in the Caribbean without entities such as Liat, Air Jamaica, Bwee (or whatever the f*ck they're calling themselves these days)......and while you're thinking about that, go ahead and shut down T&TEC/Powergen (or whatever, don't judge me, I haven't been home in a while), WASA, TSTT.

When you've finished screwing with our utilities, go ahead and burn down Piarco International Airport then dig up the Eastern Main Road, Churchill Roosevelt Highway, Uriah Butler and the Solomon Hochoy. Next, take the family car and push it into the Gulf of Paria and go get yourself a donkey cart. Finally, I would like you to tear down your childhood homes and replace them with mudhuts. You're probably thinking, "wow Dwayne done finally lost his mind." Nope, I'm just trying to tell you that this is exactly how the f*ck some Americans think we live. No I'm not making this stuff up.

Caribbean nationals are all black - this is a big one. I have encountered quite a few people during my time here in the US, that honestly had no idea that there are more than just individuals of African decent living in the Caribbean.

"Oh wow, look at the Asian chick over there......cute."
"Yeah, she bottom serious"
"Oh damn, she sounds just like you.....WTF?!"
"Er......well yeah, she's (insert random island here)"
"Son of a bitch!!"

If you want to really blow people's minds, introduce one of your American friends to a White, Asian or East Indian Trini/Jamaican/Bajan/Guyanese, etc and watch them freak out.

The islands of the Caribbean consist of Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico (and Barbados from time to time) - Okay, in their defence, Americans do not honestly believe that there are only 4 islands in the Caribbean. Why is it then that when meeting someone for the first time, they automatically assume that I'm Jamaican? And if I'm not Jamaican then I'm clearly from "somewhere in Africa" as it's so often eloquently put. This situation has become less frequent as of late and I can honestly say that I meet more and more US citizens who are able to discern the differences among the various Caribbean dialects.


Here are just a few of the odd questions that I've been asked over the course of my nearly 8 years in the US:

1) How long did the boat ride take from Trinidad?
(right, like we don't have planes and international airports)

2) Are you some sort of prince/royalty where you come from?
(thanks a lot Eddie Murphy............frickin "Coming to America")

3) How long did it take you to learn English when you first moved here? (sigh)

4) Oh you're from Trinidad eh? What part of Jamaica is that?
("just a few miles east of Montego Bay")

5) What part of Africa is Trinidad anyway?

6) Do you guys have "regular" cars there?
(as opposed to what? irregular cars?)

7) Well this is beef, that's pork and you have some chicken in that bowl over there. What do you guys eat for meat where you come from?

I had to tap into the collective experiences of a number of friends of mine so I thank all who have contributed their harrowing experiences to this post. Feel free to comment on any other assumptions or common misconceptions that we might have missed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dear Old Morehouse

Many of you know the feeling..................your SAT scores came in and you did well. It's finally time to pick a college so you're sitting on your bed, several fresh, crisp, white packages spread out before you. For what's really the first time in your life, mail is coming to the house with your name on it. Which one to open first? Hmm. Let's see, a brochure from Morehouse College; this sounds interesting.

Alright , so it's a well-respected school, lots of history, yadda yadda, decent business programs, career links to Wall Street; I could dig this. Oh wow, the grounds are well kept, buildings well maintained, sizable international student population, sounds good. Hmm, that's odd; I don't see any females in the pictures, and why are all the students black? Oh, it's a black school? Really? Well that's different. I'm not entirely sure that such a concept would work in TnT but okay, we'll run with it.

But seriously, where are all the girls? Let me give you a glimpse in to my academic history up to this point. St. Joseph BOYS r.c. school, Fatima College (for BOYS).......and now Morehouse College (for MEN). I see a trend developing here and I just might need to have a little heart to heart with the parents here.

You remember the bit about Morehouse College having well-kept grounds, nice, clean and well-maintained buildings? Well they weren't lying.......oh and by the way, that conversation with my folks didn't go too well obviously but I digress. Seriously though, the college's campus is decent enough but it's what the brochure didn't say that is the most striking. This campus is smack dab in the middle of the not your "The Fresh Prince of Belaire" hood........we're talking "Boys in the Hood" hood.............charming.

This information might have been useful while I was still sitting safely at home thumbing through brochures (fyi, Howard University in DC is just as hoody if not worse). Seriously though, you could cross the street from campus and get anything from used text books (wonder where those came from) to new rims for your ride as well as a varied assortment of "night time services." And who could forget gems like the friendly neighbourhood crackheads if not purely for their entertainment value?

Do you need a better visual? Take UWI (University of the West Indies for all my non-caribbeaners), St. Augustine campus and imagine it being in the Beetham Gardens. Right.

Okay Morehouse, let's attract the nation's top academic talent; here's an idea for a marketing pitch.........."Come to Morehouse, pursue your dreams.......or get shot."

Oh and the girls? Well there aren't any. They're all holed up next door in that dark fortress of doom fondly called Spelman College (Spelly for short), the girl school next door.......32 acres of pent up hormonal rage and feminism surrounded by 12 foot tall, wrought iron fencing (topped with spikes) and a mean disposition (aka Spelman PD).

Friday, September 25, 2009



You don't quite realize that you have an accent until you end up in a place where no one can understand you. I mean really, you live on an island somewhere where everybody sounds the same, the only people that have accents are visitors.

Albeit some people from Tobago do sound like some people from Grenada, and we do often have little dialect mix ups like "that's my own" vs "that's my one" (it's neither really,'s mine), you never really feel like you cannot be understood. But anyways, Miami International Airport, July 31st, 2002; Burger King, concourse C (if I remember correctly):

"I'd like to have a Whopper with bacon and cheese please"

HUH - the way she pronounced it sounded more like HAAAH, and it seemed guttural as though coming from the depths of her lower intestine. HAAAH like she was mocking me for being a lowly islander with no communication skills. I really don't like this word now.

Huh........what, am I not speaking English? I clearly understand you, what exactly is the problem here? I would have thought that a burger with cheese and a coke was a simple enough request. Apparently, trinidadian, in its raw form (which is odd as I always thought I spoke English and not "trinidadian" or "islander" for that matter) is as difficult for the average American to understand as Jamaicans, Bajans and old school people from Paramin are to us.

I had a new found respect for the oft ridiculed "Freshwater Yankee." You all know what I'm talking about............your homeboy or your homegirl, travels abroad for the first time, spends 2 minutes in DC on a quick stopover but comes back home to T&T with a thick US accent as though born and raised in Montana somewhere.......freshwater yankee.

It is often said that there are 3 distinct groups of individuals gifted with an uncanny aptitude for assimilating and blending seamlessly other cultures.........Jamaicans, Trinis and Nigerians. Which brings me to another point; trinis are seemingly an unknown entity to the general American public. People hear me speak and it's automatically assumed that I'm either Jamaican or an African. No disrespect to my yard people but there are islands in the Caribbean other than Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

My run in with the Burger King lady also did something else. Incidentally, one of my favourite (spelled with a "u" in there like it should my Americans, don't hate) beverages to drink is Coke. Every so often when someone asks why is it that I only drink Coke, I think 7 years back to my first day in this country and my Burger King encounter........really and truly, the only word that the poor lady was able to understand from me was COKE.

From that point on, to avoid having to hear that annoying "HUH," I'd just go ahead and order a Coke.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ah doh want to come

I didn't want to come here you know........the US was a strange place; Trinbago was all I'd ever known. What would I do without doubles? without black pudding? without Maracas Waterfall or coconut water on the Promenade?

I had it good. I was 19, 2 jobs, no bills and living with my grandmother (incidentally, living in Laventille minutes from work was more preferable to living the nice life in Maracas but having to contend with the madness that was CITY GATE.....ugh)

Damn you SAT score. You don't often hear that unless the score was bad. In my case, the stupid SAT score led to a stupid scholarship and my eventual departure from the motherland.

"Yuh coming back right?"
"Yeah......gimme 4 years and ah coming right back tuh trini"

"Doh come back with no yankee ting eh!"
"Well you know wha dey say"
"I have no idea.....seemed appropriate at the time"

Seven years and a son later.......guess what?

ATL SHAWTY..............sigh.