Trini Time (Year 2 Part 1)

It should come as no surprise to me that it would take an old leg injury flaring up and some unexpected sad news from home for me to finally sit still long enough to do some writing and reflecting (it’s been a year since I posted!  Yikes!  If you haven’t already I highly suggest reading that post for more background on my experiences here).  I guess it was time for something to slow me down but damn if sitting still for long periods of time doesn’t piss me off and give me anxiety like nothing else.  Yesterday I was about to head out to see a movie with my friend André, since there’s not a whole lot I can do with this leg injury right now, when I noticed an email from my mom.  My grandfather had passed in the middle of the night, after a fall in the bathroom.  Everyone was gathering at the farm to be with my Grandmother and to send him off.  It felt so surreal because I’m so far away…but luckily my friend was on Trini time (at least a half hour late) so I had a moment to absorb the news with Claire by my side, holding my hand.  When André arrived I asked if we could instead get some good food, some good wine, and be by the water in my grandfather’s honor.  He said he knew the perfect spot and took us to this cute quaint little nautical themed restaurant that reminded me so much of the little coastal town of Elk where my grandparents have spent most of the last few years in quiet retirement.  They would have approved had they been with me.  I ordered a glass of red wine, which was always flowing in my grandfather’s company, and when I poured some out into the sea for him, the memories started flooding in.  The orange peel sailboats he used to make for us in the hot tub, him out in the driveway raking and watering the gravel to perfection, the way he gave every baby in our family a champagne cork to suck on to start developing our palate (we would eventually graduate to wine coolers with less and less 7up until we could take a real glass of wine with dinner), and the rare moments when you would get him alone and hear stories of the glory days in Yountville at the Vintage and the French Laundry.  When our food came a little blackbird swooped right down onto our table and ended up keeping us company for the whole meal.  One of his legs was bent and broken and the other was just a small piece of bone sticking out of his torso…and I couldn’t help but notice that he shared the same voracious appetite as my grandfather..so of course we kept him well fed. 

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Last night I was plagued with nightmares in which I felt my own mortality threatened and also was taken back to high school when I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put my beloved Arabian horse, Shorty, down due to a broken leg.  In the dream he was colicking and I had to do everything I could to keep him on his feet to keep him alive.  An interesting metaphor considering the frequency of my Grandpa’s falls the last few years.  When I got my sister and my mom on the phone this morning I realized that this is really the first time her side of the family (who we are very close with) has had to endure a significant passing.  For me losing Shorty remains one of my most poignant experiences with death to date, as I was there with him through the whole process, changing his bandages, crying with him, and comforting him as he slipped into his final rest.  I am devastated I wasn’t able to do that for my grandfather and I think my dream really highlighted that…but I am so grateful he passed with so many loved ones nearby, with his belly full of my grandmother’s perfectly cooked rare duck breast and good local wine, and having lived to know his legacy, extending to great-grandchildren, intimately.  Rest in peace Grandpa, you will truly be missed. 

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Aside from that sad news it has been an interesting and strangely quite week for us here in Trinidad.  Its been pretty frustrating to have come back to here specifically to dance and stilt even more than last time only to be held back by an injury I thought I had completely healed from (after the initial stilt injury, which took about 6 weeks to heal myself from, my leg would “pop” occasionally but usually be fine after a couple days of soreness).  My best guess is its a strained or partially torn Vastus Laterals (part of the quadriceps muscle) but because my insurance wouldn’t switch from Oregon to California when it happened I still haven’t gotten an MRI or a proper diagnosis. 

The first time it popped on me in many months was about a week ago while I was dancing at this awesome outdoor club called “The Big Black Box.” It felt minor in the moment and I wasn’t going to let me stop dancing because the music and the other dancers around me were just so good.  It was sore for a couple days but I was still going to dance classes, rehearsing, and learning Tahitian dance for a show that I was supposed to be in tonight (I jumped last minute into one a week ago, as you can see below), and training aerial hoop with our friend Louise without too much pain. 

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But then yesterday Claire and I went out dancing after her Panorama performance (she’s such a badass…she decided to start learning to play steel pan and got invited to join a band like a week ago and now she’s basically competing in the Steel Pan olympics with them!) with our incredible new friend Dominique.  We met her a couple weeks ago in a way that I can only describe as synchronistic.  We were walking down the road where we were staying in Cascade (for January….now we are back at the little apartment behind the dance studio where we stayed last year) and this beautiful woman came down the hill, said “Good day” as Trini’s tend to do, passed us moving at quite a clip, and then suddenly it was like her phone literally jumped out of her hand and separated into several pieces when it crashed onto the pavement.  We helped her pick it up and struck up a conversation.  Then we ended up traveling with her (Trini speak for catching one of the many cheap route taxis along de road.  You basically put out your hand and if they are working they will stop for you and you make sure they’re going where you are going and will charge you the right amount…and that there are other women in the car for safety) and standing on a corner and talking for like half an hour before we parted ways.  We later discovered her boyfriend manages a bar where there’s an awesome weekly salsa class/event that we had been trying to go to…and now I go with her almost every week and have met a lot of awesome people through it.  She also told us she dreamed about meeting us years ago! 

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It’s an awesome connection because part of our goal for this trip was to connect with more women.  It’s pretty easy as a foreign woman to meet men because we look so different, and it’s also easy to not push beyond that…so we wanted to make an intentional effort to change that dynamic, especially in light of the way women’s rights and safety are being threatened both here in Trinidad and in the US right now.  It feels more important than ever to build strong bonds and alliances with other women and to lift each other up instead of buying into the competitive mode of interacting that is all too common yet serves no one.   I’d say we’ve done pretty well so far…more on that later…now back to my leg…

So we were out at this bar called Paprika and not much was happening inside…plus the bartender was an asshole and drastically overcharged us for the tiniest shots ever…so we posted up on the patio and discovered that Dominque, besides being a super talented model, is also an amazing dancer!  Claire’s back was already hurting (also an old injury that flared up while we were doing acro on the beach last week…ooops!)

….so we told the staff it was Claire’s birthday and then got cake and free drinks for the rest of the night and Dom and I had our own wild little dance party outside.  I got a little too excited, was totally not thinking about my injury, and put my strong leg up on a railing, leaving my weak quad supporting all my weight.  When I started to wine down it couldn’t take the strain and buckled under me not once but twice.  I played it off in the moment but Dom saw the look on my face and knew I wasn’t ok.  So here I am…resting and icing and writing and trying to stay positive.  Claire and I have been doing this little body awareness healing meditation every morning (it helped me heal the original injury) which is definitely helping our mindset, and Nalini, the artistic director of N9 dance company who we are working gave us a “bush bath” on the beach (basically a sort of herbal/spiritual cleaning and healing ceremony involving lemon and salt water in this case).  We also both had acupuncture appointments with this incredible Chinese woman (Dr. Xiao-Ping) that seemed to help relieve some of the pain. Fingers crossed.

It’s hard to believe we have already been here a month and our trip is halfway over!  “Trini time” moves at such a different pace than we are used to in the bay area and it took a while to get used to.  It wasn’t until our trip to Tobago during our second week that I finally felt myself fully accept island time and embrace it.  We had a great time staying with our friends who we met last year (they work on the ferry that goes back and forth between the islands) and renting a scooter and cruising around was definitely a highlight. Claire was in a motorcycle accident back in November and she was very lucky to walk away with just some stitches and a wound on her foot, but she was pretty shaken up by the experience.  It was important for her to “get back on the bike” and we tried to find one in Trini but no one really rents them and everybody told us it was far too dangerous with the traffic.  Tobago is much smaller and more scooter friendly, though it took us several hours of waiting around for the owner of this bike rental place before we actually got moving.  We had taken a little tour of the island by car with a friend (and found all sorts of fun things to climb on-see below!) the first day so we kinda knew our way around and were able to explore more thoroughly on our own, and on our own time which was nice.  On our way to Argyle waterfall we found a small little beach called Bacolet that was quiet and calm (the water was pretty rough everywhere else the whole time we were there) and perfect.  It was there, floating in the clear shallow water, that I finally felt my whole body relax and let go of the very American need to be constantly running, hustling, doing something. 

I’m terrible at being “on vacation” and the first two weeks felt a little bit like that and I got a little anxious, but now it feels more like we are really living here, experiencing daily life, and finding our little ways to fit into it.  On top of aerial training, rehearsing for dance shows and panorama, and taking Nalini’s bellydance class (fun, new experience!  She’s such a great teacher!) we have also been leading friends in what we are calling “Carnival Bodyrock Bootcamp” workouts at the dance studio.  When we were staying up in Cascade we would run the 2 miles downtown, lead a warmup, an ab workout that I learned from Circus Mecca, 2-3 sets of calisthenics workouts Claire put together with her personal trainer, and then I would finish with a yoga/pilates/stretching set.  Our injuries have slowed that down for the past week but we will hopefully get back to it soon—gotta get strong because dancing and stilting for 2 days straight “on d road” is not for the faint of heart! Aside from all those activities it can be amazing how long it can take here just to get basic things done…like set up a functional kitchen (we helped buy a mini fridge and stove in exchange for being able to stay by the studio) and find groceries.  Mike and Jody and Nalini have been incredibly helpful with all of that…and recently took us on a rare early morning to show us their favorite street vendors.

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We have also been working on dance a lot.  I started choreographing a Soca/dancehall stilt piece with my amazing friend Aimee before we left. My arts collective Daring Arts Movement (D.A.M) started really taking off in the last few months and we have been choreographing, collaborating and performing a ton!  I finished the stilt choreo here and put it to a new Soca song called “Shake” by Kes and have been teaching it to Claire.  She hasn’t done a lot of choreographed dancing since she was a kid, so that was another goal for this trip and it’s going really well….though we still have a lot of work to to do get it looking good on stilts.  Stilt choreography is not something most of the Moko Jumbies down here do so I’m excited to see how we can add it to the mix.  Claire has also been trying to break into the music scene and offer her vocal skills in various ways.  It’s slow going so far but we made some awesome connections at the university (which is how she got into pan) and have been playing around with writing and starting to record a Soca song for next year with our awesome friend Mark who we met at salsa! We have also been making fun little Youtube videos to showcase her range and tonight she had an opportunity to perform at a Charity event with N9 dance company. 

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Another amazing thing happened in the first couple weeks.  We have been spending a lot of time with our dear friend Rian, who was so helpful and awesome to us last year as well, and her amazing cousin Keon and they helped link us up with the creative director of The Lost Tribe Carnival group.  We tried to connect with some groups that might want us to “play mas” with them on stilts before we came down (our experience last year was not so great because the Moko Jumbles we played with were extremely disorganized and last minute) but everyone told us that in Trini you really have to show your face and meet in person to get anyone to agree to do anything with you.  That’s proven to be very true!

The Lost Tribe is a smaller band that branched off of Tribe, which is one of the largest groups, last year with the intention of bringing more theatre, art, tradition, and performance back into the carnival experience, which has become very commercialized (most bands import all their costumes from China, very few really incorporate the traditional characters and spirit of carnival, and not many have much of a prepared presentation for the stage).  Rian and Keon are both playing with them this year and thought we would be a good fit so Rian took us with her to their office when she went to pay for her costume. Their theme this year is Riddim, and each costume includes an element of sound that represents a traditional Trinidadian rhythm, so we we walked inside their headquarters to find a big basket of colorful instruments.  Claire immediately started playing with them and caught the attention of the beautiful woman working the desk, who was confused when she suddenly heard loud percussion along with the Soca that is constantly playing everywhere.  Rian introduced us and Sanian came out to greet us in person…as it turns out she is also part of the creative team.   We told her we were Moko Jumbies, had designed and sewed our own costumes, returned for a second carnival, and were looking to collaborate in a new way.  She seemed really excited and took our information to pass onto Val, the creative director.  We got in touch and before we even met I remembered that we had a photo of Claire and I on stilts from last year Carnival Monday in front of a big door painted with the words “The Lost Tribe.”  I sent it to him and he was super excited because a friend of his had been inspired by the band’s concept and painted it on his restaurant doors and it was only there for a few weeks and we had managed to capture it (I later ended up eating there—great food and ambiance that reminded me of home—realized on the way out that it was the same place and happened to comment on it in front of the owner who was sitting outside!  We struck up a conversation and I thanked him for the connection and now I see him everywhere!  It’s a small ass island!) 

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We ended up having a great meeting with Val and it seems like our creative visions are totally in sync.  He’s been wanting to incorporate stilts since the beginning, and maybe even create a whole section that teaches people to stilt leading up to carnival, but didn’t really have anyone to spearhead it.  He is also working with another group from the south who we connected with last year at the Soca Monarch competition so we are really excited to collaborate with them more (been trying to get in touch with them for weeks to play around on stilts but things move slowly here).  So this year the plan is to put us in one of their costume sections (which means we won’t get to use the costumes I designed and created before we left, but hopefully we can use them for something else while we are here) and perhaps have us do our stilt choreography as part of the presentation, and then afterwards talk more about how we can continue to collaborate in the future.  It’s such an exciting prospect!  My dream is to bring stilters from other countries down for carnival season and bring Moko Jumbles from here to the states and work together to create a global stilt community! Now we just need to get strong and healthy so we can pull it all off! 

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Ok so this is getting to be a lot all at once, and I want to leave some things for the next post, but there’s one more observation I feel I need to mention here before I go…

As far as we can tell this seems to be a place of many contradictions and inconsistencies when it comes to sexuality.  Our first week back we were marveling at the number of men who present in what we considered a very effeminate way in regards to speech, dress, dance, and the way they interact with each other.  We assumed many of them must be openly queer, only to find out they had girlfriends, or, according to friends and family, were definitely not gay. 

In the second week we kept finding ourselves having conversations about queer men, and noticed just how many people (men in particular) felt the need to express that they feel it’s ok for women to be lesbians, but not for men to be gay.  A complete double standard that people could not present any reasonable explanation for (because there isn’t one?), nor could they even begin to hear our arguments about why that is unfair and how there is really no difference.  In Tobago we met an amazing lesbian couple, who confirmed rather apprehensively that they were in a relationship, but then began to open up and tell us what it’s like for them here.  In Tobago everything is a little more lax, and they feel comfortable holding hands and being somewhat affectionate in public.  In Trinidad they have to be a little more careful for fear of harassment.  I asked them how it was for gay men, and they expressed their frustration at the double standard and told us it’s not necessarily dangerous for men to be out in public, but it’s definitely frowned upon and they are much more likely than women to be targets of hate speech and public shaming.  It is also still technically “illegal” to be queer here, although it’s not really enforced.

Recently we lead a workout at the dance studio and were joined by a new young female friend.  When we were stretching our splits she commented that our male friend couldn’t or shouldn’t do it because “that’s for women.”   Then when we were leaving she commented that Claire looked like a boy with her hat on.  Claire said “perhaps but boys don’t have breasts or hips like I do” to which she responded “some of them do, some of them pay for them now,” which opened up a conversation about Trans people.  She insisted that Trans men were actually still men and that on top of that they were gay.  We tried to explain that some people feel trapped in the wrong body and that it’s their choice to decide what they want to do about that and how they want to present, so who are we to judge.  We also tried to explain that a male to female Trans woman being attracted to men isn’t considered gay but she wasn’t having it.  She did say she was accepting of both men and women being gay in general (props for that) and that she had many queer friends who she did not judge, but extending that acceptance to Trans people was, sadly, still beyond her reach.  She’s not alone in that either.

Another 20-something female friend who has lived in the US and seems to have a more open mind about queer people in general suggested that, as is often the case, the men who are the most vocally resistant to other men being queer are likely struggling with their own sexual identities.  It was refreshing to hear that acknowledged here…

Unfortunately it seems like a lot of people are stuck in a bad catch-22…they haven’t had positive experiences with openly queer people because there aren’t very many (especially queer men), and there aren’t very many because there is so much resistance to it.

If this is indeed the case it makes me wonder how I can effectively continue to have conversations about this subject in a way that models acceptance, because honestly my first inclination is to distance myself from people who are close minded in this way, which really doesn’t make me much more accepting than them does it?  And it definitely won’t do anything towards helping them open their minds to it.  And if they are struggling with their own sexual identity I want to support them in exploring that, not push them away for not being ready for that yet.  Perhaps presenting examples of my own positive experiences with queer friends and family would be helpful?  Or insisting that I love and accept people in my life no matter what their sexual preferences are?  I have to remind myself that being openly queer hasn’t really been considered acceptable in the US for very long either (and who knows how much things could start to backslide with this new bigoted administration!  It’s been a trip watching it from a distance…I’m sure you’re all inundated so I’m keeping this post rather apolitical to give you a break) and try to remember that society here is just at a different phase in the process. 

Even though most of the people in our generation that we meet here don’t consider themselves very religious it seems that the undertones of religious upbringing are still very present in their beliefs.  Because it’s so expensive to live on your own here many people still live with their parents well into their 20’s, and therefore have to live by their parents’ rules to a certain extent.  Yet at the same time they are rebelling against this in their daily lives.  We have already met so many wonderful, generous, open minded people on this trip and we are so grateful for the ways in which they have opened up their worlds to us.  This is truly a beautifully diverse and culturally rich society and it never ceases to remind me to be grateful for friends and loved ones and to always be willing to take time out of your day to show kindness and love towards other humans…we all need an extra big dose of that these days. 

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2 thoughts on “Trini Time (Year 2 Part 1)

  1. Your tribute to your grandfather is really beautiful. As for your point about men struggling with their sexuality and criticizing LGBT people, I just finished a satirical essay about exactly that. I hope it gives you something enjoyable to do while resting your leg. Get better soon. https://medium.com/@HurtzDonut/how-i-figured-out-where-the-anti-gay-activist-are-right-even-after-my-burning-man-orgy-38f04cd34475#.168m6ddqj

    Liked by 1 person

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