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)