Friends and Graduation

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Previously I thought that I’d retire this ‘Happenings’ album after leaving Cam. I didn’t think that there would be anything new to add to the story. But, there is. The break from the UK was far from clean. There’s a sizeable chunk of emotions and feels that remain there, and it’s been difficult thinking of England and the people there as just a foreign blob of land with foreign masses of people. England has come to feel like a second home, not in the least because I’ve grown to feel closer to a few of those ‘foreign people’ than I feel to many strangers and acquaintances in Trini. Also, I left my paint and a pair of shoes there…so, yeah…

I came back to Trini in August and have been working at a cool job in UWI since September. So at least 2 people were a bit confused to see me on the other side of Trinidad and Tobago Immigration and Customs yesterday.

I’ve just returned to Trini from a short trip to the UK. Yesterday I left Cambridge to head to the airport at 2:30am, got to Gatwick at 7:00am, and had to wait until around 11:00am to board the plane…which spent about 9 hours in the air en route to Trinbago. Anyone who spent Saturday evening with me knows how much I was dreading that time waiting around in the airport, and so it was nice when I met a secondary schoolmate (Valini) at Gatwick. She was also on the same flight as myself ^_^. I hadn’t seen her in ages, so it was wonderful to spend the hours waiting to board the plane with her.  When I got on the airplane, I saw another friend who was returning to Trini ( Teocah ). Upon touching down at Piarco I saw yet another secondary schoolmate ( Jamie ), in the Immigration line. I still find it weird to bounce up other Trinis that I know, by chance, in a foreign country….but it’s nice when it happens.

Anywho, I went to Cambridge to graduate…and to visit some lovely people—some of whom I might discuss in future rants. I now officially have an MPhil…yay!! They said all the Latin stuff, I walked up when they called my name, I held the praelector’s finger, knelt down in front of the guy sitting in on behalf of the VC, he held my hands together as I knelt and said more Latin stuff, I stood up and bowed, and then I walked out of Senate house where they handed me my degree certificate.  I didn’t graduate with distinction, but I got the marks for a high pass ^_^ I’m pretty proud of myself.  When next I post a group of grad pics, I’ll be in a PhD gown with Dr. written in front of my name. It’ll happen; Believe dat!!
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Picture: The pic in the top left corner is of me when I first arrived at Cam, the other 2 are from after graduation.:)

It affects me

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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.

Blond people

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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.

No one warned me about this.

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Skin. The only thing that I heard when I was back in Trinidad, about skin changing in cold countries, is that it might become slightly lighter because of the lack of sun. I could deal with that if it happened. It’s not painful. It’s not irritating; and I could easily get back to my lovely, sun-kissed full-chocolateness when I get back to sunny Trinidad and Tobago.

But no-one told me about the itchiness, the dryness, or the flakiness.

At first I assumed that it was the water…maybe because the water is chalkier in the UK it was doing some bizarre thing to my skin (?).

Then (based on what someone said) I figured it was the bar soap I used…maybe shower cream or gel will be less harsh on my skin (?)

Then I figured it was my clothes….maybe I should wash my pants after one wear (?)

Neither of the above was the issue.

So, what causes the problem?

Well, turns out it’s that good old cold weather. I already mentioned that it hates me, but never did I think that its vengeance was so far reaching. The weather doesn’t only make you feel cold, but it makes your skin itch, and can have you scratching as though you went a week without bathing after rolling around naked in grass.

Apparently it achieves this by drying your skin until it becomes flaky, at which point it begins to itch….sometimes mildly, sometimes like crazy. My thighs tend to itch the most, followed by the sides of my belly and lower back. I don’t know why those specific areas.

Now, this probably doesn’t happen to everyone, but in the event that you are planning a trip to one of these cold countries, I’d say to be prepared to intensify your moisturizing routine. Moisturized skin infuriates the cold weather.

Partially related mention: I also watch my body in amazement after I take off a piece of clothing and the hairs on my arm stand up at complete attention. I’ve seen my hair rise before, but never like this…hair rises dramatically here (exciting stuff!).

***The accompanying piece was inspired by Orchid’s and Mark Gellineau’s work together.***

White people…everywhere!

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I’ve been asked several times since coming here, “You must have to get accustomed to so much, what’s different?” I usually say the weather, or the manners of the people…never do I mention how odd it is for me seeing so many, and such a wide variety of white people. I mentioned that last week to a white guy though… he replied that where he’s from he doesn’t see much else but white people. I’m pretty sure that I look a bit strange to him in some ways. I know that my hair certainly is strange to some. There are white people with dreadlocks, straight hair, in gothic apparel, in bohemian clothes, in suits. It’s all very new to me, and ensures that a day walking, or just sitting and looking around would be absolutely fascinating. From an artistic point of view, everyone seems like a character, and I more often than ever feel like painting. The painting (with this note) was inspired by a lady living here in Cambridge for example… how can you not want to paint or sketch when you see someone who looks as interesting and cool as she does?

White people raking leaves, driving garbage trucks, white people doing all manner of things and from all manner of backgrounds. It’s outlandish to me, overwhelming at first. Ah mean, you probably could live your entire life in Trinidad and never meet a white person. Not only that, but the white people in Trinidad often have those office and managerial type jobs…not anything to do with manual labour and serving. I figure that in a country with a majority of white people, like England, someone has to do those jobs, but I don’t think it particularly occurred to me before I came here that many white people do those things. I know that it sounds naïve; but all my life I’ve been seeing the vast majority of white people do high paying work, having authoritative jobs, working in offices, living in the posh areas, being privileged…so it was weird having a white lady come in and clean my room. It just looked completely odd.

In a fair world it wouldn’t at all seem strange….but.