Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Voting Time.....almost.

2015 promises to be an interesting one for Trinbagonians. With the impending general/parliamentary elections set for May, those who've been clamouring for social change will finally have their chance to help chart the  islands' political future.

Of course when the issue of elections is raised, there are always murmurings on whether we expats should consider returning home to vote, an approach that I myself often joke about but am now giving serious thought to actually doing. But aside from the potential legal ramifications (which I'll also address), one must stop to consider the social implications as well.

Simply put, is it right for a Trinbagonian living abroad to have the right to vote in affairs at home?

Those that argue against the practice cite various reasons such physical/geographic isolation from the voting base, unfamiliarity with local affairs as well not contributing to the nation's tax revenue base should preclude any expat. But then on the other hand, with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, expatriate Trinbagonians are now more informed than ever if not certainly more involved in local affairs. And with many of us with financial and real estate holdings on the islands not to mention still having family and friends living there, many would see this as justification enough to give us "foreign locals" a vote.

Let's explore the arguments for and against voting rights for expats.

Geographic Isolation
The premise here is simple, if you don't live there, you shouldn't vote there. Living thousands of miles away in another country should preclude that person mainly because of an assumed unfamiliarity with local affairs. When roads go bad or there are issues with public transportation, crime, cost of living, food prices and things like the erosion of public trust in law enforcement, it is assumed that decisions on issues like these should be made by the persons actually affected.

On a local level, constituents each region are most aware of the issues specific to their region which is why it is impossible for a resident of one local regional council to go vote in another. As a former resident of  St. Anns East (i.e. Maracas, Santa Cruz, St. Anns, etc), I couldn't cast my vote at a San Fernando West polling station. Following that line of thinking, as a current resident of Gwinnett County, Atlanta GA, USA, it would make sense that I be excluded because I don't live there.

Simply put, only locals should have the right to vote on affairs that only affect locals.

Counter argument - Trinidad and Tobago is no longer the isolated little twin-island republic it used to be. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Ian Alleyne (lol) and Rachel Price as well as various prominent local blogs serve to provide outsiders like myself with an inside look at the day to day happenings in Trinidad and Tobago. Conveniences such  Google Voice, Skype, Magic Jack and Apple Facetime help to keep expats directly connected with loved ones and keep us updated in real time, so much so that I am often aware things happening in T&T long before many of my family and friends. That being said, should isolation really be an excuse for cutting us out?

Tax Basis
I probably shouldn't have to go into detail here but for argument sake I will. As a foreign-based Trinbagonian, it is assumed my contribution to the nation's revenue theoretically amounts to a "sizeable" zero dollars and zero cents. Uncle Sam gets all of my income tax revenue. That being said, the premise here is that if I don't contribute money to the country's coffers, that I shouldn't have the right to help determine how that money is spent.

Counter argument - Income tax isn't the only form of fiscal contribution. Many expats have sizeable cash holdings, land, businesses and other such investments, most of which are taxable. We pay property taxes, we pay capital gains taxes on interest not to mention the often obscene amount of Uncle Sam's dollars that expats tend to pump into the economy especially around Carnival time. I'm almost sure expats buy enough Shandy Carib and Naparima girls cookbooks to match the GDP of Grenada.

As such, it is my belief that if one is from there and one spends/invests there, that one should surely be able to have a say in electing Trinbago's next government.

Perpetuating the perception of racial bias
This is really the gorilla in the room for which I don't think I have a counter. The situation is this, Trinbagonians have not evolved beyond voting along racial lines. Political parties are often deeply ingrained in family tradition. You often hear "I was born into a PNM family." I vote PNM because my parents voted PNM and my parents parents before them voted PNM, etc......I basically wear my balisier proudly on my chest.

But lets face it, I vote PNM because I am an afro-trinbagonian. Most UNC/PPP/COP supporters probably do so because they're East Indian. Any talk of returning home to vote is really just a thinly veiled ploy to bulk up the ethnic support for one group or the other. One ethnic group is tired of the other ethnic group being in power basically.

This racial undertone to our political process is the one aspect of Trinbago culture that I cannot stand. Despite that fact, I still couldn't convince myself to vote outside of the racial trend myself. Besides, it'd be a shame to have to go cut down all those pretty little balisier plants we have growing round the back.

Wrapping up
Race relations aside, the fact remains that 99% of the people I care about, continue to live their lives in Trinidad and Tobago. Decisions on political affairs affects them and their well being. Further to that, I myself have no intention to remain in the US of A the rest of my natural life. Someday I will say goodbye to these hellish winters to return to the land of fresh doubles.

By the time I move back, I'd like to see perhaps a modern transit network, proper roads and highways, free tertiary education, maybe drainage infrastructure in Port-of-Spain that doesn't date back to the 1800's (a brother can dream).

I believe that the parties in power definitely do shape a nation's future and I feel that as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, it is my right to help elect leadership best equipped to get us there.

.....................whether that's legal or not is another story for another day.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Nigerian Affair

I happened to find myself at a Nigerian wedding a weekend or two ago and my first  thought was holy cow. I'd been under the impression that no group of people on earth were capable of celebrating like Trinis do. I was wrong.

How foolish of me to think only the Irish drink like Irish. I was also wrong.

And since we're dispelling myths, let's address the main one, that Africans are always late. Let me say that continuing to perpetuate this mindset is narrow minded and short sighted, the wedding ceremony started reasonably on time, off by just 20 minutes............oh who am I kidding, the reception started 3 hours late.

The Ceremony
Mr. and Mrs. Osonwa
What's interesting is the fact that the wedding ceremony itself was quite ordinary; a standard Christian affair, scripture reading, vows, etc. To be honest, I really couldn't say what my expectations were going in, but I was at least thinking there'd be bloodshed, you know, halal goat, maybe a mini chicken massacre or something.

But not quite, it was reading, sermon, vows, kiss the bride.

I'd also noticed very few people in attendance at the actual wedding ceremony. Those reading this who've been to any African weddings, I know you're chuckling right now because you all know what's coming. I didn't.

The Reception Fete
Perhaps I've lived in the US for far too long as my concept of time has skewed somewhat. To Americans, 6:00 p.m. on an invitation means 5:45. Trinbagonians seem to think it means 7 o'clock. When Africans say 6 pm. they really mean 9 o'clock, which is the time the damn thing started. Folks were still walking in the door in droves even as the wedding party was processing in.

Dance Dance Revolution
I now understand why the wedding reception is so popular in this culture. See in my experience, wedding receptions can be a bit of a drag, talk talk and more talk, then talk some more, then you eat.

Take a gander at the program over to your right and tell me what you notice.

Dance, pray, dance, dance, break the kola nut, dance, eat, toast, dance, cut the cake, dance, toss the bouquet, dance and when you're through dancing, dance some more.

But there's a point to me even mentioning the wedding here in the first place. I came to a certain revelation once all the dancing started. The music they were dancing sounded very much like soca.

At one point the dj played an old school African music segment that sounded remarkably like calypso/ole skool kaiso.

But the similarities didn't end there, eventually they got around to serving dinner and I was handed a plate of  fry plantain and some other dishes that looked like, and tasted a lot like coo coo, callaloo, salt fish, stew fish accra and a beef patty. Here's a head scratcher for you, the dish that looks and tastes like accra is actually called akara, though it's made from mashed and fried black-eyed peas rather than saltfish.

You cannot tell me that we didn't come from these people. I have no further doubt as to true origin of afro-Trinbagonian culture; we are West African, our music is the same, our food is the same.

Be it Nigerian, Ghanaian, Liberian etc, certain aspects of our cultures appear to be too similar to ignore the link.

Now this of course is no scientific study, just my own personal observations of the various cultural aspects on display that night.

I used to feel offended whenever someone assumed my accent to be West African. It no longer bothers me. I now fully understand why they would feel that way

..............though seriously folks, if you've guessed more than 3 African nations and I've said no, just stop, try a different hemisphere.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Southern Identity

Some may find me difficult to categorize. In most ways the typical islander, a classic "trini to de bone." But placed within a foot of some collard greens and I suddenly appear to be something else. Apart from my stubbornly robust accent, I've been told I might otherwise easily pass for an American southerner.

I have a well documented love and appreciation for the history, culture and culinary traditions of the Southern United States (the South). I shocked a gentleman the other day, his great grandfather having served with the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. He couldn't remember the name of a certain US senator credited with saving Madison, Georgia from Sherman's March..........Joshua Hill by the way. My response and evident Civil War knowledge base prompted him to ask what part of Georgia I was from.

That's just the thing, I'm not from here but I sure act like it; but does that make me Southern, Caribbean or both?

(funny because I'm Southern Caribbean, owing to Trinbago's geographical location, but not Southern Trinidadian which often (but not always) implies a whole different ethnic group).

The answer should be clear, I am Trinbagonian, but more and more lately, that no longer seems clear.

One's environment tends to govern one's behaviour, speech and mannerisms, even the way one thinks. For twelve years, Atlanta has been my environment and something about this place has had an effect on me.

Most of us Caribbean island expatriates obviously wouldn't pass for American, but folks at home would have little difficulty in identifying any one of us as foreign.

Permanent Residents
We expats tend to live a dual life, carry two passports, can switch accents on the fly and seem very much at home watching American Football as we might be watching cricket and who will gladly down a funnel cake or a corn dog with the same sort of zeal normally reserved for bake an buljol.

Island-born, island-raised, curry loving, catfish eating, chicken jerking, grits making individuals living happily (mostly) in the United States. Trinbagonians in particular should be intimately familiar with this concept, it is the foundation upon which our own society is built; disparate foreign elements displaced from various places of origin, living together harmoniously in one single place, forming a unified culture all their own.

Our East Indian forefathers (yes I said our) had no idea that their descendants would go on to create doubles, saheena or aloo pie; our African forebears knew nothing of the pelau and oil down that would soon come to pass. But through the passage of time, we went on to create something distinctly different from our own ancestors.

What then will be our legacy? What will those American-born descendants of island parents go on to create? I'm not entirely sure but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it'll at least involve some type of curry shrimp and grits.

Ponder that till next we meet.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The True Meaning of Support

A damn shame
I'm disturbed a bit by the images appearing of Brazilian fans angrily burning their own national flag. It is times like these I think folks can learn a thing or two from Trinbagonians.

It matters little what manner of misfortune is besetting our little nation; one may burn tyres, one may block roads, one even puts the lotion on its skin; but one does not harm the RED, WHITE and BLACK.

Had it been the Soca Warriors eating seven of Germany's finest, without question, Trinbagonians would have been in the streets feting and partying HARD, heads held high, flags waving proudly. At least we were there, and that's good enough.

I've heard it said that as a people, we revel in parda, we revel in US.  I think no people on earth love themselves more than trinis do, no people on earth "bad-talk" their own more than WE do but without a doubt, no people on earth can match our support. Our support in essence matches and exceeds our own self ridicule.

So take comfort people of Brazil, if you love the Samba Warriors even half as much as we do our Warriors, half as much as we love West Indies cricket, you'd honour your team today; stop this nonsense.

Anyways, onto the quarterfinals, I fear even more drama and heartbreak tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Classic Southern Fare

I think by now most of you are aware of my penchant for southern culinary fare. Plainly speaking, I LOVE southern cooking. I live in the land of  battered, fried, battered again, dipped in butter THEN wrapped in bacon and I can't get enough of it. I have died and gone to heaven, what's not to love?

Well lots actually. As I alluded to previously with hog maws, cooking in the south can and does get a little weird, ask anyone who's stood anywhere close to chitterlings being cooked (the smell never goes away). I've so far eaten everything from pig stomach, to pig ears, tongue and snout, I've eaten chitterlings and giblet gravy, had buffalo burgers and alligator tail spring rolls, but nothing has quite intrigued me as much as what I'm about to talk about.

(I'm an islander in love with American southern food, how weird is that?)

I see that look of desire in your eyes. What you seem to be gazing at longingly is a dish affectionately known in the deep south (not pretend south like metro Atlanta) as Chicken Purlough or Chicken Bog. Basically a chicken and rice casserole created out of necessity during the American Civil War. Rebels and Federals alike needed something quick and simple to cook and eat quickly while out making war.

That's the other thing I really do enjoy about living in the State of Georgia, the fact that there is a historical basis for practically everything, including the food.

Chicken is typical but any available meat will do; I happened to find a variation that included an extra special ingredient:


2 whole chickens
1 or more squirrels
1 plus c. rice
1/2 lb. smoked sausage
Salt and pepper

Simmer 1 (or more) squirrel for approximately 2 hours (do not boil). 
Add 2 whole cut-up chickens; boil approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 
Remove chicken and squirrel and debone.

Boil 1/2 pound smoked sausage 30-45 minutes (cut up in small pieces). 
Put meat and 1 cup of broth into pot with fresh water. 
Add appropriate amount of rice; stir frequently with lid cracked. 
Remove to eat in approximately 30 minutes. 

Serves 10-15 people.

Salt and pepper when desired. Best prepared in an iron pot. 

Frankly I don't think one squirrel will do (unless it's the size of a cat); I was thinking at least four. And where in the world is the green seasoning? No shadow beni? With all that wild meat, this recipe is in dire need of some trini modifications, namely pepper and lots of it.

I had planned on inviting a few friends over for the customary curry duck and geera pork summer lime but I'll have to cancel that. The next lime is definitely going to be a squirrel bog cook up.

Until next time folks, behave allyuhself.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

PARTY GUIDE - Atlanta Carnival 2014

Atlanta Carnival 2014
Party Schedule
                                                   Memorial Day Weekend
                               May 22nd  - May 26th 2014

(the weekend before Carnival)
May 17th, 2014

Cooler Fete*
Performer: Lyrikal
Jolie Event Center
5240 Panola Industrial Boulevard
Decatur, GA 30058
General Admission - $40 advance
Tickets: International Roti House - 404-534-2318
              Georgetown Foodmarket - 404-534-0208
              Thomas Bakery - 404-284-8421
Synopsis: This is a no-brainer, the premier Atlanta Carnival launch party several years running, it has been consistently good with the added benefit this year of a live performance by Lyrikal.

May 21st, 2014

Carnival Hangover 8
Free drinks, free food all night
186 Auburn Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30303
General Admission - $20 before midnight with text or flyer (link below) or join the VIP List
Synopsis: If I had to go anywhere the Wednesday before Atlanta Carnival, I'd definitely do Hangover which has always been consistently good, you can't go wrong with a Krushmore fete, not to mention the all night freeness (food, beers, liquor). 

Army Fete
D1 Event Center
2520 Park Central Boulevard
Decatur, GA 30035
General Admission - $10 at the door, ladies free before 11:30
Tickets: N/A
Synopsis: I'm not so sure about this one honestly; from a trini soca lover's perspective the line up (with the exception of DJ Stephen) seems heavy on the dancehall and VI music front not to mention that it's a Wednesday night, folks still have to work the next morning. By all means go if you like dancehall or small island music but soca lovers beware.

May 22nd, 2014

Performers: Kerwin Dubois, 5StarAkil
Museum Bar
181 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard
Atlanta, GA 30312
General Admission - $25
VIP - $45
Synopsis: Kerwin always gives an electrifying live performance and with the inclusion of the "To me heart" man 5 Star Akil as well, I Am Soca 2014 should not disappoint. I highly recommend this fete.

Flag Party 2014
Performers: Iwer George
Cream Ultra Lounge
3249 Buford Highway NE
Atlanta, GA
General Admission - Free entry with any flag before midnight
Tickets: N/A
Synopsis: This is the first time I've ever seen Flag Party featuring a live performance. My recent experience with this particular Atlanta Carnival regular has seen Flag Party become a very small island affair, which is fine if you come from the VI, St. Kitts etc, but doesn't bode well for bonafide soca lovers. This might have been the fete to go to had there not been I AM SOCA taking place the very same night. Iwer George may have been better served hooking up with Kerwin. 

May 23rd, 2014

GBM Showcase*
Performers: KES, Destra, Ravi B, , Lyrical, Shall Marshal, Nutron 
Golden Glide Roller Rink
2750 Wesley Chapel Road
Decatur, GA 30034
General Admission - $25 advance, more at the door
Synopsis: How much more convincing do you need? It's Kes, Destra, Shal, Ravi B Nutron and Lyrical, don't be ridiculous.

Atlanta Carnival J'Ouvert
Performers: Bunji Garlin, Fayann Lyons, Beenie Man
The Atrium
5479 Memorial Drive
Stone Mountain, GA
General Admission - $25 in advance
Synopsis: Not to be confused with actual jouvert, this confusingly-named annual Atlanta Carnival party has been perplexing generations of party goers for years. Here is where things begin to get a little complicated; feters are now faced with a choice, either Bunji/Fayann/Beenie, or GBM Showcase with Kes, Destra etc which are both frustratingly on the same night.

2nd Annual Official Atlanta Carnival JOUVERT
Herndon Stadium - Morris Brown College
643 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Atlanta, GA
General Admission - $10 advance, $15 at the door
Synopsis: Closer to what should be expected of an event called "jouvert," come prepared  to be covered in mud, oil, paint, chocolate, etc, definitely not an event for the clean minded folk. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure about this event; first introduced last year, it does not yet have a major following and also faces stiff competition from the GBM Showcase and the Bunji/Fayann/Beenie Man fetes that same night.

May 24th, 2014

Atlanta Carnival Parade*
Atlanta Underground
50 Central Avenue SW
Atlanta, GA 30303
General Admission- $10 
Synopsis: This year Carnival moves to Underground Atlanta; please, for the love of everything holy, buy your tickets ONLINE. Do not under circumstances attempt to purchase carnival village tickets onsite, you will be in line for've been warned.

NOTE: Be very careful folks, there appears to be two listings on Eventbrite claiming to be "The Official Atlanta Carnival Village 2014." There is always some confusion with Atlanta Carnival every year, I swear, but please be mindful that the only Official Carnival, is taking place at the Atlanta Underground, NOT Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College, that was last year's venue.

Kooler Fete*
Karibbean Konnection
2620 Park Central Boulevard
Decatur GA
General  - $20 advance
Tickets: Thomas Bakery - 404-284-8421
               Sugar Island Jerk - 770-985-0491
               International Roti House - 404-534-2318
               Tassa Roti Shop - 770-977-3163
               Marlies Food Kitchen - 678-647-3389
               Karibbean Konnection - 770-883-4566
               Fadda Slackey - 646-541-6435
Synopsis: Every other fete this year (except the other Cooler Fete) offers online ticket sales, what exactly is the holdup? Who exactly has time to drive around trying to buy tickets? It is my hope that they address this issue in future, it's 2014 after all. Kooler Fete 2013 was fun but there were issues. For one the DJ didn't have any of the headline act's music which led to an a capella performance and worse, him singing other artistes' music. Secondly the sound system was horrible, the outdoor speakers shorted out, leaving those outside with no music. It is my sincere hope that important lessons were learned, that these issues shouldn't resurface this year, I thoroughly expect to have a good time.

Carnival Scandal
Performers: Benjai, Tallpree
Agape Event Center
6420 Hillandale Drive
Lithonia, GA 30058
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: I'd be careful with this one folks, Benjai and Tallpree are definitely tempting prospects but I don't know much about the promoter in question and there does not appear to be much buzz around this. Don't be surprised to find only you Benjai and Tallpree in the building when you get there.

Atlanta Carnival VI Wuk Up
Performers: V.I.O, Spectrum International, Pumpa, Rudy and Show Dem Band
5479 Memorial Drive
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
General - $25 advance
Synopsis: A great fete option for the VI Crew and small islanders among us.

May 25th, 2014

Sunday Morningbreakfast fete (8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
Mc Bride's Complex
2272 Park Central Blvd
Decatur, GA 30035
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: Third year running, Sunday Morning is the place to be on erm.....Sunday Morning. Good food, great music, nice vibes, be there if you can wake yourself up to go.

15th Annual Wear White*
Performer: Iwer George, Blaxx
Golden Glide Roller Rink
2750 Wesley Chapel Road
Decatur, GA 30034
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: Even though the Machel fete last year was the same night, it did nothing to tame this party which ran tim 6:30 Monday morning. With no Machel to steal its thunder this year, plus the inclusion of Iwer George AND Blaxx, one would be silly to miss this.

So that's it folks, I hope that you will all find this information useful this year, it's always my goal to help you the soca lover, to properly navigate the mess that Atlanta Carnival can be from time to time. Go on out there, be safe and more importantly have a very good time.

As usual, if I happened to miss something, please leave a note in the comments, I'll try to update the listings as quickly as possible.

*highlighted events are ones that I personally plan to attend.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Preconceived Notions

My son's school asked me to present at their Career Day this year.

I was immediately concerned because for one, my robust trini accent perplexes even adult Americans, how would their children cope, and secondly, my job isn't even remotely interesting, not even to me, and probably much less so for a classroom of 8 year olds.

But as the non-custodial parent, I already struggle with limited visibility at his school so I'm always keen on stepping up when an opportunity like this presents itself.

First graders seem to react best to visual stimulation thus my challenge was to formulate a presentation that would keep them engaged with as minimal verbal input as possible from me (pesky accent remember). I thus showed up armed to the teeth with the tools of my trade (land acquisition agent by the way), measuring tape, hard hat, caution vest, measuring wheel for ground distance, etc.

And you know what, I think my presentation went exceedingly well, the kids certainly seemed to like it. They all got a kick out of trying on my hard hat and vest, and running the measuring wheel around the classroom. I'd even go so far as to say daddy was a hit despite not being a policeman, fireman or pilot.

The way these things work, parents come in, talk for ten minutes then take questions. What happened in the latter portion is what threw me for a loop. It began innocently enough with questions ranging from "what hours do you work, or "do you sit behind a desk all day," to "where's Nick's mother" (awkward).

Okay this is getting weird. 
But then the weird questions started popping up. (and bear in mind most in the class were age 7)

What did you live in back home? A hut?
How did you move around? Are there cars back there? Y'all have roads?
How was it possible to come to America by plane when planes don't fly to Trinidad?
Are there white people there?

If this all seems familiar to you, it's because I've written about it before.
What foreign policy?

The difference is I was talking about college age adults back then, not young children. Where then are these concepts coming from, these preconceived notions that children as young as six and seven already have of life in the Caribbean?

Are we influencing these views and if so what can we ourselves do to help educate these young minds about us and our culture. Yes, we're classed as developing nations, 3rd world even but I do not think "developing" should be taken to mean "stone age."

Should we be responsible?
But then are we really responsible for how we ourselves are perceived by the American public? Think about it, as expat Trinbagonians, most of us already had a fair idea of what to expect about life in the US PRIOR to moving here. We'd already had an understanding of US culture, habits, standard of living, etc from a very early age. Though one might argue that this is because of the pervasive nature of american entertainment, it should also be considered that we educate ourselves.

Face the facts, our education system strives to give us a global perspective. High schools teach English literature and American history. We are versed on Americans by school age, why is the reverse not the same? There is the internet after all; Wikipedia, Youtube, Nikki frickin Minaj. There really shouldn't be a circumstance like this in the information age. But you know what, I didn't let it bother me. How could it? As far as I was concerned, I was present at the formation of an incorrect notion and I stopped it.

Fifteen years from now, these kids will enter college, meet someone from Trinidad or Barbados and hopefully be able to say "hey, I know about you guys, I know where you come from, come let's grab a doubles."

My work here is done.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Expatriate Son

Barely a week ago, I sat down to have a burger with my father.

An otherwise unremarkable event notable only for the fact that I probably hadn't done so in twelve years.

It's simple really, I live in Atlanta, the old folks, T&T. The problem is not that I haven't been home, I've seen the old man often enough, I'd made the trip at least three times since '02.

But I've never really taken the time to sit down to spend real time with him.

I suppose I can come up with several reasons for that.

The Freshman Phase
Many Caribbean expats began our US experience as foreign students, our first venture outside the parental sphere of control. Parents simply became a telephone banking service, the family home, a guest house during Christmas/Summer/Spring Break trips home.

Trinbago to us "study abroads" was an 1,800 square mile fete, which after months studying "in the cold," simply meant party, eat, drink, lime then party some more upon our return. My parents started calling me lahgahoo, invisible by day, rampant by night. Come to think of it, they really only got two full days of meaningful interaction, the day I got there and the day I left.

And by "meaningful interaction," I mean the time it took to unpack and hand out the foreign goods, (i.e. Planters peanuts, Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Pringles, etc). Here's the thing I never quite understood about older Trinbagonians; in their minds it is supposedly cheaper to have me transport a tin of Planters Dry Roasted 3000 miles as opposed to maybe a 2 mile drive (if that much) to HILO.

I don't get it.

Life after college
But then college didn't last forever. I eventually traded college classes for Class C office space, I had a job. Trips back home couldn't happen anymore, not when round trip airfare had to compete with rent, the car note, insurance etc. And for those occasions when the old folks came to visit, I still didn't get much time with them because, well, I had a job; American employers don't take too kindly to "I need a few days, my parents are in town."

The funny thing is that making the trip home in recent times, I'd follow the same paradigm from my college days, that is to say, fly in, dish out the foreign goods, eat/party/lime then fly out again; nothing changed.

And by the time the parents got around to traveling to visit me, I had a son; you'll soon realize your own insignificance the instant you grant them grandchildren.

I am envious of my son though, not because of his place in my parents' lives, but because of the place that he has in mine. I take the little rugrat everywhere, there isn't much that he doesn't get to experience with his father, and here I am, not getting time with mine. That burger made me realize how much I missed the old gaffer.

Nostalgic much?
I missed the simple things we shared, like him stopping to buy doubles every Friday afternoon after school. He always bought ten to go (two for everybody), slight pepper in all, and we'd all sit on the front porch eating them, that cool Maracas Valley breeze cooling hot mouths because clearly, Sauce the doubles man never quite understood what "slight" pepper meant.

I missed Sunday mornings in particular, right after church, the old man always took the time to open coconuts for everybody. With five trees on the property, there was always enough to go around every single weekend. I started to remember the frequent Sunday afternoon trips to Tetron barracks; growing up the son of a Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force officer certainly had its perks, sea bathing just off the officers' mess jetty was one of them.  I suddenly remembered that pops, hands down, made the absolute best cassava pone on the planet.

I could go on of course, the random Sunday drives, going to watch Defence Force football games, Christmas lights drives, Divali lights tours, etc, all these memories that came flooding back over something as simple as a burger.

Perhaps I am getting older, or maybe subconsciously, I've noticed my parents getting older, that I've suddenly become nostalgic (and very much aware of their mortality). I've made a pledge with myself that on my next trip home, I will actually take the time to interact with the old folks, suck a mango with daddy, perhaps help mommy make a pastelle or two.

..............let's not get carried away, we're still talking Trinidad and Tobago here, after a day or two reminiscing, trust me, ah partying HARD!!

Until next time folks, remember love allyuh parents.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Roti Worries

One would assume that among the items available for sale at a roti shop, that roti would be at the top of the list.

"buss up shut"

I recently tried to get my hands on a small quantity of paratha skins from a popular local Atlanta establishment only to be informed that "sorry, we don't sell roti skins anymore." 

I'm sorry......what? 

As the story goes, this business had just recently opened a new location and thus needed to make enough skins everyday to provide for both venues; roti skins were no longer offered for sale as a result. You know, because why not, we all keep a tawah, ghee and a roti making gnome tied out back right?

A good curry, is by no means hard to make, I think most West Indians are born with that innate ability. But to achieve the supple, verdant, buttery soft, melt in your mouth goodness that characterizes good paratha, a certain level of skill is required that is often out of reach for many of us mere mortals. This is probably why roti shops have always been a permanent fixture in Trinidad and Tobago society.

Could you imagine walking into Patraj, Hoseins or Hotte Shoppe and being told......."we doh sell skins again yuh know boss." You'd shit yourself right? It is thus inconceivable that the standard bearer for trini food in Atlanta would take such a drastic step, especially when the very nature of a roti shop is in fact to sell roti.

But all is not lost, the honorary Trinbagonians in Atlanta (aka the Guyanese), never fail to pick up the slack whenever a trini establishment falters (remember The Roti Place?). International Roti House in Decatur and now Marlies Kitchen in Lithonia have risen up (yet again) to cater to our trini need for dhalpuri and buss up shut. USD$1.75 to $2.50 per skin......yes you read that right.

There is also a trini in Lawrenceville selling skins but only on weekends and when you think about it, who the heck is driving to Lawrenceville for roti? (me obviously, I live ten minutes from there).

Yes I know you caught that, I sure did call the Guyanese honorary Trinbagonians. I have often found people from Guyana quite difficult to tell apart from the average trini. The way we speak, the racial composition of our nations' populations and more importantly our culinary traditions are so very similar, it's almost scary.

I do not look forward to having to make the long pilgrimage to Lithonia every time I need skins, but I am working on a plan to remedy that, the next person I marry will definitely need to have some competent, roti making ability.

Special Thanks to Marlies Kitchen for providing my roti skins on such short notice, BIG UP.
Marlies Kitchen 
5978 Fairington Road
Lithonia, GA 30038

(*seriously, check these people out, they also sell some of the best trini chinese food, the best phulourie and a damn good cow heel soup)


Friday, February 28, 2014

Soca Monarch Friday 2014

Here is the link for this year's competition, everything starts tonight around 8......or was that 9? 

But anyways, it's that time again, it's Carnival Friday, Trinidad and Tobago is abuzz, thoroughly beset by a whirlwind of activity and anticipation as the "Greatest Show On Earth" begins in earnest. For those fortunate enough to be in Trinidad, somebody please jam a rolly polly for me. 

Sadly, like many reading this, there is to be no Trinidad Carnival for yet another year, having suffered the misfortune of being stuck abroad for one reason or another. But as usual, thanks mainly to the robust broadband connections available to us and the proliferation of online streaming options, we foreign-based trinbagonians still experience a bit of the bacchanal. 

It's just that this "experience" unfortunatley brings it's own unwanted form of bacchanal. Case in point, the aforementioned Soca Monarch finals......yes I can hear you all groaning already. 

Those that go through it every year, you know of what I speak, the crashed servers, the broken links, the frozen video feeds and dropped audio; trying to watch Soca Monarch these past few years has often required the patience of Job. I even had a friend who resorted to watching it on Facetime through an ipad setup streaming from a tv in Trinidad. 

Last year's experience I think was the absolute worst we'd had in years due in part to the removal of the pay structure previously in place to access the stream. Right on cue, the suddenly free service got slammed (I'm not sure why organizers didn't see that coming) and the servers were down and offline long before the show even got started. By the time we were able to find reliable access some kind soul on Ustream, our crew had already missed all of the Groovy Soca segment. 

But this year promises to be different. Soca Monarch is now available over pay per view on many of the major US cable providers. The option is also available for paid online streaming; the hope is that this new system would limit the strain on existing infrastructure hopefully leading to a stress free viewing experience later tonight.

Have a Happy Carnival.

...........please Lord don't let them mess this up. 


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stone Mountain Park - Snow Mountain

I have a unique dysfunction if it's even appropriate to call it that. I am a creature of habit, often settling into a routine from which I do not often stray. But when some force causes me to deviate and in essence, try something new, I tend to binge on that new experience if I happen to like it.

Case in point, Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain Park.

Fun without the added insurance premiums.
To put things in perspective, I hate snow; I am practically racist when it comes the stuff. I don't mess with it on any level. Georgia is my ideal habitat as the State shares with me an acute aversion to the devil's piss, having only had actual snowfall four times in the last decade, most times barely an inch or two.

The thing is, I hate the cold, I hate to feel cold and in order for there to be snow, a place has to be cold. How does one enjoy something that must be enjoyed in the cold? It is undoubtedly this line of thinking that had kept me from Snow Mountain these eleven long years.

Stone Mountain Park is arguably the State of Georgia's most popular tourist attraction. Snow Mountain is its attempt to bring some of the "joys" of playing in the snow to the people of the south.

For three months each winter, Stone Mountain Park converts their laser show greens area into a winter wonderland of sorts complete with lanes for snow tubing and and a snow play area for making snowmen, snow angels and the occasional snowball fight. Now hold on to your seats northerners while I explain this concept......we pay money to play in the "snow" down here.

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in.

In all my years living here, I'd never considered going but once I actually tried it out last December, I couldn't stop. I must have done Snow Mountain at least four times this past season, even got me an annual park pass to make going easier.

Quite the backdrop if you ask me, not quite the Poconos but close enough.

And what's not to love? Georgians get the benefit of experiencing the fun aspects of snowy conditions with none of the downsides. Just think, snow tubing, tobogganing, snowballs and snow angels yet none of the sidewalk shoveling, firewood chopping nonsense that they deal with up north.

As a matter of fact, the only downside to Snow Mountain (other than long lines) is the fact that it's only around for three months each year. If I had my way I'd have them drain that stupid, man-made lake no one goes near to make way for an indoor snow facility like the one in Dubai for year round Snow Mountain excitement......make it happen.


The author attempting to "not have fun" but failing miserably.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Attractions

Atlanta certainly cannot be accused of being stale or outdated by any measure (except transit).

Many of the popular attractions that have been around for decades, have been busily renovating and expanding their offerings. Zoo Atlanta for instance is in the midst of constructing an entirely new exhibit, Six Flags over Georgia, a new water park due later this year.

Stone Mountain Park, fresh from adding three new attractions last year, continues to seek new ways to entertain as has the Georgia Aquarium which also added several new exhibits recently.

Needless to say I've been forced to add a few already visited items back onto my bucket list.

But expansions aside, a wave of development has begun in Atlanta, promising a dizzying array of brand new attractions to the City, attractions which will serve only to further cement Atlanta as the premier travel destination in the south east. This year alone, Atlanta will hopes to welcome the Atlanta Streetcar, the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Civil Rights History Museum.

But there is no need to wait till the summer to try something new, two recent additions have taken the City by storm: Skyview Atlanta and the Global Winter Wonderland (one of which I'll touch on today) have proven to be exceedingly popular already.

Global Winter Wonderland
Big Ben
With little forewarning, Global Winter Wonderland showed up one day at Turner Field's "Parking Lot C" and took Atlanta by storm. Promising to bring many of the world's Christmas traditions together in one place, the park dazzled patrons with a wide array of lighted displays featuring reproductions of many of the world's wonders, Big Ben, The White House, San Francisco's Bay Bridge and the Taj Mahal, to name a few.

In addition to the light displays, the park featured different cultural shows. On the night I attended, there was soca feature on the main stage, complete with costumes and the obligatory "jump and wave" session. I was thrilled to see my culture represented, though I didn't understand it's appearance at a Christmas focused event especially when parang might have been more appropriate.

To be honest, despite being billed as a Christmas-themed event, I didn't really sense much of a yuletide atmosphere. Apart from the gigantic Christmas tree near the entrance, I'd have easily mistaken the place for an ill advised, winter time carnival complete with the typical assortment of carnival rides, a carousel, bumper cars, funnel cakes, etc.

The carnival rides were an interesting choice for a winter time event because it was freezing that night. Who's  riding a carousel in December? There was even a circus on site, Universoul Circus to be exact.

All in all, Global Winter Wonderland turned out to be a smashing success its very first year in Atlanta. By the looks of it, the event will be returning every Christmas, my only hope being that next winter not be nearly as cold as the last, maybe I'd be able to enjoy the event a bit more then.

I'll eventually get around to trying out Skyview Atlanta but it's newness still results in ridiculously long lines. Atlantans are worse that Trinbagonians when it comes to "never see come see," I swear.


Monday, February 10, 2014

More Yuletide Revelry

Ben Hur, King of Kings, The Ten Commandments, three titles that should be instantly familiar to a Trinbagonian child of the eighties. Harkening back to a time when one television station (TTT) was all we had, one would be hard pressed to find an eighties trini who hadn't been forced to watch all three of these every year on Christmas Day.

Though the venerable Charton Heston's movies did dominate, by the early-nineties, another Christmas classic started to become popular, a Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Patrick Stewart's version in particular I grew fond of the most.

A Christmas Carol
Chris Kayser reprising his role
as Ebeneezer Scrooge
The Alliance Theater has clearly made a name for itself. While "The Fox" has The Nutcracker, the Alliance has its very own Christmas classic which it has been running for more than twenty years. For sixteen of those years, the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge had been played Chris Kayser, a gentleman who recently announced his retirement from the role (not from acting altogether mind you) to which Atlanta responded by selling out nearly all this season's shows a month in advance. Seriously, these tickets were harder to find than the Nutcracker.

I understand now why Mr. Kayser was so popular; he not only had the look, but the demeanour as well. The gentleman performed so well as Scrooge that I found myself actually hating the guy. I experienced genuine feelings of pity for him during times of despair and rejoiced at his seemingly remarkable overnight transformation.

Not to be outdone, his supporting cast absolutely impressed. There was a chemistry among the castmates, a near tangible sense of cohesion that made this whole portrayal seem believable. It's not often easy to convincingly emulate a time and place that far removed from your own, but this group pulled it off.

I should mention also, costumes and set design; tasked with creating a mid-nineteenth century, Victorian era English town, the set designers took care to include many elements intrinsic of the time. From furnishings to rugs, bedding and tableware, for two hours I was convinced I'd been roaming 1830s England. The set itself incorporated ingenious hidden trap doors for grand entrances or stealthy departures and rigging that made some characters fly. This was way more "theatrics" than I'd have expected for a stage play, and I loved every minute.

Like I did with the Nutcracker, I am highly recommending A Christmas Carol. Add it to your annual family Christmas rotation, particularly Alliance Theatre's version and be sure to take the younguns. Good stories with morals are often hard to find and morals are just what society needs more of these days.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Ice Fiasco

I'm not going to do an in depth analysis of Atlanta's Snowpocalypse, that's been done to death already.

I am however going to point out how this whole circumstance would have been avoided had this State been run by Trinidadians. Prior to Tuesday's events, word started going out from as early as Sunday, that snow "might" be in the forecast that Tuesday. By the following morning, the word "might" disappeared entirely and it suddenly became "it's snowing tomorrow......seriously."

At that point, the sensible trinbagonian would have said "dat sounding like trouble, me eh going to work."

Little Miss Slave Driver Boss Lady person's response however was "forget the snow, come to work.....I'm from Jersey, 2 inches ain't shit." And this scenario repeated itself throughout the city, schools, businesses, government offices all ignoring the warnings. True to form, Tuesday afternoon promptly at 12 pm (right when the weatherman said it would) it begins to snow and all hell breaks loose. 

I was fortunate in that east and northeast Atlanta were the last areas to get hit so I was able to get home before the worst of it hit Gwinnett County. My commute thus was only two hours vs the 8, 12, 15 and 25 hour commutes endured by some of my less fortunate co-workers. 

Why were were all at work exactly? 

I suppose we could feel vindicated in a ways, as Ms. Slave Driver Boss Lady, the same one talking the "I'm from New Jersey" talk, somehow managed to be the only co-worker to crash her car that day; karma at it's best....she's okay by the way (in case you were wondering).   

Coming from the land where a little rain and "oh the labasse on fire" is ample reason to skip work, had Kamla been running the show here, Atlanta would have been a ghost town Tuesday. Traffic gridlock? Walmart the day before. Schools would have been shut down pre-emptively for at least a week and there would not have been a single train or bus running anytime that day. 

We can learn something from all this, first off........this is the south, we cannot handle snow here, not even a little. Our drivers are not conditioned for this, our state and county budgets do not include ample funding to handle it. Northerners always speak of their cold weather driving experience; that experience doesn't count for much on southern roads with southern drivers.

So the next time there's snow on the forecast, tell the boss to go somewhere an scratch, politely excuse yourselves from work/school, and keep your behinds safely at home.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Nutcracker - A Trini Christmas continued

It seems that every year in December the city goes just a little crazy. One couldn't take more than a few steps without running into a billboard, sign or flyer dedicated to The Nutcracker. From just around the end of November through year end, it's suddenly "hey, go see The Nutcracker, it's at the Fox, did you see it yet?"

I've been meaning to see it, really I have, but life, finances and former sweethearts not keen on going always got in the way. Not to mention that getting tickets often required nothing short of ritual sacrifice.....but that was a bygone era, before Groupon.

Let me explain something to you fine folk, if you can find the time to do nothing else each Christmas, make it your business to come see this. In the span of two hours, I was made to regret not having seen this each of my eleven years an Atlanta resident. I also regret not taking the youngster with me either, everywhere I looked, whole families present.

Atlanta Ballet's The Nutcracker
I may be no expert on interpretive dance, but from my layman's perspective, the performances were spellbinding. The choreography had a rhythm that when combined with the musical score, created an effect that was enchanting, almost magical. The costumes, though unique and imaginative, still maintained the classic Nutcracker look. What I liked most was despite the lack of dialogue, the audience was still able to experience at various points, the emotional depth evident in the story.

There  were times of joyful celebration, youthful exuberance, other times a sense of foreboding and fear, I remember feeling a knot in my stomach in the lead up to the Rat King's appearance.

Obviously because of the lack of dialogue, some familiarity with the story is needed lest you be totally lost. The ballet still lacked that bourgeois element that normally accompanies productions of this nature in that there were more than a few instances of genuine comedy resulting in raucous laughter. Many of the performers also engaged their audience throughout which really left us with a sense that we were all part of something truly extraordinary.

As one might imagine, Atlanta Ballet's production isn't the only Nutcracker outfit in town. Atlanta-based African American dance company Ballethnic has been staging it's immensely popular Urban Nutcracker at Georgia Tech's Robert Ferst Center for the Arts for more than a decade. I'd actually seen it twice during my Morehouse College days as well as another production of theirs called A Leopard's Tale. The Gwinnett Ballet also stages it's own production which it has apparently been doing for thirty two years.

Theatre isn't always on the bucket list for the average islander family at Christmas especially when there's ham and black cake to be had; but perhaps it's time we try something a little different. Next week I'll talk about Alliance Theatre's A Christmas Carol which I also saw this past Christmas. be continued.


Friday, January 17, 2014

A Trini Georgia

In my twelve years abroad, Christmas had always posed the greatest challenge as one might imagine, recreating an authentic Trinbago Christmas is no easy task. For years each December, Atlanta's own "The Parang Side" did their very best to bring some sense of home to the dirty south. Following the pattern of a traditional parang band, the paranderos went house to house on weekends and we their rabid fans followed right along, eating and drinking as we went. Trinis delighted in the experience and our hosts responded in kind with platefuls of black cake, sweet bread, pastelles, endless food and of course, ponche a creme, sorrel and ginger beer.

But the Parang Side has long since passed from existence, it's various members now married, had children or moved away and this trini eventually had to find some other medium for Christmas entertainment. I suppose their absence was a good thing (please bring them back) as it had forced me to open my eyes to the dizzying array of alternate Christmas-time festivities right here in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Christmas Lights
"Garden Lights" - Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Among my fondest of childhood memories, were those of "old grey", the family Nissan Bluebird, all Johnsons on board on our annual Christmas night pilgrimage to look for Christmas lights. One of the more popular destinations was always (and probably still is) the Bhagwansingh home in Valsayn just off the highway. The lights at this home were always a treat. For those of you that might remember, this custom was often repeated on one other popular night of the year, Divali. 

Finding homes was quite a chore though often relying on daddy's near encyclopedic knowledge of past years' displays and of course a little bit of luck. Here in the US, the house-to-house grind is certainly an option but it's far simpler to just visit a dedicated Christmas light display instead. Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier, Garden Lights at the Atlanta Botanic Gardens and the now world famous Christmas lights at Callaway Gardens are just a few of the better ones in and around Atlanta. 

This was my first year doing Garden Lights and it was absolutely worth it. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens had gone to great lengths to create an enchanting display that demonstrated why theirs had been consistently lauded as one of the city's best light displays. If nothing else, I'd highly recommend adding this to your Christmas routine.

A word of caution though, as popularity often brings problems, on peak nights, the traffic situation gets out of control. With some knowledge of Piedmont Park and it's environs though, the hour-long parking nightmare can be avoided. I was able to quickly secure parking near the Atlanta Beltline just off Monroe, only suffering a 10 minute walk in the cold for my troubles.

Christmas Plays
As Turkey is to Thanksgiving, The Nutcracker is to Christmas, in Atlanta anyway. The popular ballet held each year in December practically begs it's own dedicated post........which it certainly will have. Catch me next week as I continue to expand on this my first attempt to experience a not so trini Christmas.


Atlanta Botanical Gardens
1345 Piedmont Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30309