The sun decided to shine brilliantly today. I think that it’s because four Caribbean people came together to lime: a Bajan, a Dominican, a Jamaican and a Trini. It was quite wonderful to spend some time with some fellow Caribbean students at Cambridge… to hear lively talk about Tessanne Chin and uncanned breadfruit. Hopefully it will happen again some time.
I was sitting in a lavishly decorated hall. An empty glass and a plate of duck, which was glazed with some fancy sounding thing, sat in front of me. There were various glasses, various utensils: various little things each with various little purposes- purposes which I only knew of in the most general of senses. Spoons and forks are used to eat foods, knives are used to cut foods and glasses are used to drink liquids.
The time to eat eventually came. I watched my duck. I watched my utensils. I watched the neatly folded napkin, the pitcher of wine, the butter, the ceramic cup and plates, the glass cups, the little cup with cubed substances, the shakers, the bowl with different breads, the little chocolate coin and I became confused…. What do I do next?
I looked at the guy across the table from me.
—Can’t stare too long at him Kalifa–
I looked at the guy next to me.
–Can’t stare too long at him either Kalifa. Find someone else to observe!–
I looked at the girl next to me.
I looked at the guy opposite her.
People were talking, smiling, and doing things with all the shiny metallic, glass and ceramic pieces as though it were second nature.
–Ok, I think I know what I’m to do next…I have to use this particular knife, this particular fork, this particular glass, none of the spoons and the napkin goes on my lap–
I breathed. I had passed phase one… the duck was about to be eaten-appropriately!
“So, what university did you attend previously?” asked one guy to another.
Hesitatingly and with a hint of shame, the other guy responded, “It’s no big university, it’s ONLY ranked as number xxx”
I listened to the conversation and I thought to myself…
–Kalifa, UWI isn’t even ranked!! If he sounds so pessimistic about his past education, how should I feel?–
How should I feel? That thought, and various similar others, stuck with me for the entire term. I didn’t know whether it would be right to feel like I could cope here…because I didn’t know if I could. Everywhere I went I felt like was surrounded by brilliance…who did what, who went to where, who could answer this, talk about that, make veiled jokes about which theory, story, book, statistic, event. I’d go through each week thinking that maybe I don’t stand a chance…maybe I hadn’t learnt as much, seen as much, and experienced as much at UWI. Maybe I’m not at their level, maybe I can’t compete. I wrote about how I felt…based on my frustration at not being quick enough to grasp everything in class at times, about not knowing or remembering all the names, theory, facts and what they meant…and I saved my notes: Users/Kalifa/Documents. (I couldn’t share that note on Facebook… it would be like unloading 100statuses*Emo^4 on the world)
How should I feel? I didn’t know how I should feel, but I knew how I did feel. I felt fearful.
The end of the term was drawing nearer; we would have been getting our essay results soon. I didn’t want to think about it.
— Kalifa, let’s hope you didn’t mess things up–
I walked past the building containing the people who I knew would have my results. My heart began to race. I felt it in my chest…*thump, thump, thump*, breathe, *thump*
–What manner of sorcery is this? Get a hold of yourself Kalifa!–
I passed the building and began to feel alright again. I didn’t want to know, but I wanted to know- did I do well enough?
Days passed and the last day of the term came: A Friday. I was feeling alright, a bit confused by what was being taught, but alright. The class was made up of students from different departments. It was a training course…and sitting behind me was the guy who had said glumly, “It’s no big university, it’s ONLY ranked as number xxx”. He wasn’t from my department. I looked across the room and a few other students from my course were standing around and talking about something. One of them motioned to me to come. I got up, walked across and someone said, “Results are out”. I can’t remember how I felt in that moment…slightly excited, slightly scared-maybe.
–I’m a UWI alumni: not ranked, not known–
I walked back to my computer to check my e-mail. My results weren’t out as yet. I waited…they came. I clicked…message opened. I smiled…eyes watered; But I didn’t cry.
I had done alright. I had done alright.
–Kalifa, you did alright–
One marker gave me a distinction, the other gave me a high pass… I’d done relatively well. That unranked university that I went to, the one that didn’t have ‘a name’, had produced someone who was capable enough to write a decent essay at Cambridge.
–Kalifa, you’re alright. Your friends back home are alright. UWI is alright… Don’t ever think that you’re not good enough to stand equally amongst the greats. You don’t have to be ashamed of where you came from–
*Yes, I know that that’s not duck on the plate*
I don’t enjoy talking about race, or colour, or slavery or colonialism…but it affects me. I know it does. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t, and so each time I write something like this I risk being seen as a ‘racist’. Maybe though, it’s a sacrifice that needs to be made for all of us to begin discussion, to try to see things from a perspective other than our own…so that maybe one day we can truly empathise, know, relate, love. So much more than back home I am forced to confront certain uncomfortable realities. So much more than back home I feel the need to write the things that I experience. I find myself in the position of not wanting to stir things up, to offend, or to create awkward situations, but also feeling like I need to share what I go through and how I feel if anyone is ever to understand or discuss; if change is ever to occur. We often go through life in glorified ignorance whilst declaring liberal intellectualism. We won’t know how far away we are from the truth if we’re always afraid to see it, hear it or confront it.
Since coming here I’ve had to face questions, on numerous occasions, like:
“But why are things like that in Trinidad? Don’t Trinidadians have a native language and customs (that don’t have a connection to Europe)?”
I fully admit that I am highly uninformed concerning Europe/Europeans and so I like when people explain things to me and tell me about their experiences, customs, trials and lives. Similarly, I generally am happy to educate people on Trinidad and Tobago. However, it does get a bit frustrating to have to explain colonialism, and it’s effect, to people (some Europeans) whose ancestors did the colonising. I often feel like “You should know this!”
So many European people seem to be surprised at the fact that people in Trinidad and Tobago speak only English officially, and not some ‘native’ or non-English-dialect language…like many countries in Europe that have their own native languages, be it English (England), Spanish (Spain), Polish (Poland) or Dutch (Netherlands). Many also seem surprised that Trinidad and Tobago has European and East Indian customs. Usually, the conversation would end up on slavery, indentureship and colonialism in trying to explain why things are the way they are. The frequency with which I confront these questions has made me wonder what some Europeans learn about slavery and colonisation. It makes me wonder whether they learn of the effects it had on cultures and on people globally. It makes me wonder if they learn about it at all, especially in countries such as England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
I hear a question like: “Is that the island we colonized? (when trying to figure out where Trinidad is) I know that we colonised A and B. We also colonized X, Y and Z and they gave us L, M and N. *Smiles* It must be very convenient now that you speak English! *Smiles again*”
… and I think to myself, “Do many people really view ex-colonies as having ‘given’ them things as opposed to them having stolen it?”
… “Do people really see the convenient gain of English and not the erasure of other languages and customs?”
… “Do people here really see themselves as having simply freed Caribbean nations as opposed to/alongside any acknowledgement that people had to fight for their independence?”
… “Do people here learn about the agency of the enslaved and indentured peoples, or do they learn of the Quakers and Wilberforce?”
… “Do people here teach their children about Africa and the Caribbean as being in constant need of a good saviour as opposed to/alongside why the global distribution of wealth is so skewed or of the fights and triumphs of the peoples of these regions?”
How is history taught in the UK, in Europe?
What do people learn?
How is the world presented to children?
I don’t know. Maybe my next project should be to find out.
Either way, when I could sit down in different classes, right next to different white guys and not have them conveniently happen to choose examples to share, of black ‘inferiority’, then….
When I could talk to different people without Africa always being used as the example of all things poor, bad or backward, then….
When I could talk to someone and they are aware of some of these reasons behind inequality in the world, then…
…Then I will feel like maybe it’s time to talk less. Right now though, No… I’m not quite into sugar-coating.
Standing with a smile and a confused look on his face, the nice English guy from upstairs asked “What?”
I replied, “I’ll organise to suit”.
He asked, “You’ll wear a suit?”
I laughed and said “No, I’ll organise to suit”
He asked, “Organise to suit?”
I said “Yes, organise to suit”
He laughed and asked again “What?”
I asked “Ya’ll don’t say that in England?”
He replied, “No, I don’t think so.”
I said “It means that I’ll plan accordingly”
He laughed and said “Yeah, we don’t say that (organise to suit) in England”
It’s moments like the above that remind me that Trini English is not British English. So, in honour of Trininess, and in the absence of a copy of Côté ci Côté la, I’ve compiled a short list of Trini slangs, things and phrases. Please feel free to suggest more or correct me.
Waz de scene jed?
How are things going?
Buh wham to you boy?
Is something wrong with you?
Steups (referred to by foreigners as kissing one’s own lips)
Sign of disapproval/Kiss my ass
Yuh dotish awah?
Are you stupid?
To Lime (verb. -no relation to ‘lemon’ or ‘orange’)
To hang out
How yuh go see a bess darkie/reds/ting like dat and not hail de woman out?
How can you see a hot woman and not call her?
A rell mad scene.
A crazy event.
Buss a good__________
Do ___________ enthusiastically.
I cyah take he dotishness nah/oui.
I cannot cope with his stupidity.
Buh wah de jail is dis?
What stupid/crazy thing are you engaging in/is happening?
Cheers (if I reach back to Trinidad and anyone hears me say ‘cheers’ instead of ‘tanks’ then I’ll have to give you permission to tap me on the head and steups)
Bus (pictured) or Big Maxi
Organise to suit
Dog of no specific breed
Transportation van with two coloured stripes reflective of region (north, west, Tobago, central, etc)
Additions based on comments. 🙂
you nuh fer real- Are you serious?
is diss yuh dissing me or wah- Are you trying to insult me?
I doh know na- I don’t know.
wha de jail is dis – What manner of nonsense is happening here?
well look at dis bachannal here- Notice the drama that’s unfolding.
yuh too wotless -You are too lazy/nasty/perverted/bad (usually said in a positive way/not as an insult)
None ah dat! -I will not accept that response.
relax yuhself nah-Calm down!
dat ting rell dread- That’s really cool!
I dey, wham boss- I’m okay. What’s up with you?
I actually wrote quite a long note some time ago about things Europeans asked or said to me that I didn’t know how to respond to without disagreeing. I never posted it. However, one of those things that pops up often enough, as said to me by Europeans and non-Europeans here alike, is the typical description of beautiful people. People would talk about these awesome people who are “blond, tall, with blue eyes that everyone would fall for (as opposed to other ‘plain’, non-blond folk)”. My usual reaction is to smile, say nothing, or say “Yeah…I’m sure”; but running through my mind would be “Umm, no eh… I have nothing against blond people with blue eyes, but I honestly can’t identify with your objectification of them as some special group of hotness. They look just as pretty/plain as everyone else does”
It’s different because, having gone to an all-girls secondary school, I’ve heard many girls talk about beautiful girls and guys. Whilst the hot, blond, white dude from a movie may factor into a conversation, the description of a beautiful girl never involved blondness or blue eyes…it instead might have involved fair skin and long hair. This wasn’t because blondness isn’t ‘beautiful’, it’s just because people in Trinidad generally don’t go through life swooning over and thinking about blond folk. I think that of all the Trini black/brown people I’ve met who have a ‘thing’ for white people, they just have a ‘thing’ for white people…they couldn’t care less what colour their hair was. So it’s really strange to hear people in England make this special distinction between ‘blonds’ and ‘everyone else’. I’ve seen many a good looking blond person here, but try as I might, I can’t begin to grasp why they’re any ‘hotter’ than brown-headed, black-headed or red-headed white folk. Maybe if I had lived here longer I would be seeing things differently.
Either way, I generally never fit into any description of ‘beauty’ that people tell me; so for very selfish reasons it often goes in one ear and out the other. I still find the subject fascinating though… I wonder if people in the US also hold blond people up on some higher level.