Tag Archives: caribbean life

Nazis or Ninjas?

Image credit: beautyramp.com

Image credit: beautyramp.com

I really try not to pay too much attention to controversial issues on social media, because everybody and her mother will have something to say – and I can almost always imagine what the sparring points will be.

In addition to that, there’s probably nothing I could add to the conversation that hadn’t already been said.

I’ve discussed the issue of hair somewhere else before so I’ve never felt the need to address it here. When I had talked about it previously, it was about the popularity of us women attaching hair to our heads that used to belong to somebody else and using it as one of the benchmarks of our personal beauty.

But the length (or at least longer lengths) of our hair is not the only thing that makes us beautiful – or so we’re told. Wearing our hair exactly the way it grows out of our heads should be everyone’s ultimate goal.

The natural hair movement, complete with Youtube tutorial videos on hair care, hair styles and hair typing adds to the confusion. “Natural Nazis”, or people who look down on you if you go near a hot comb or a tub of lye relaxer, may or may not be the same type of people who think that it’s okay to use a wig just as long as you sign a declaration that you’re only using it as a “protective style”.

With that brief background, you can understand why I chose to ignore the discussion centered around a Change.org campaign designed to get a popular American singer to comb her daughter’s hair. Joke or not (which the instigator initiator later claimed it to be), it was meant to show up a mother who decided that she would let her daughter’s hair be free – of (supposedly) a comb.

Image credit: BlogSpot.com

Image credit: BlogSpot.com

As a girl growing up in the Caribbean, and as a descendent of African slaves, I knew that my hair grew up and out, didn’t bounce and sometimes had to be manipulated in order for it to “behave”. Some West Indian mothers don’t discriminate between a boy and a girl when they’re babies, so you have to pay close attention to the clothing and not assume that the girl is the only one with her hair out.

These are probably the mothers who hold out for as long as possible before cutting their son’s hair, but that doesn’t mean they don’t comb it – even though it might look that way. Starting school means that boys get their first haircuts and girls enter the wonderful world of hairstyles – which for some mothers means seeing how many different ways they can put their daughters’ hair in “one”.

Over the years whenever I would see a little girl with disheveled hair I’d say to the mother (silently of course), “Wait, can’t you comb that child’s hair”? Because I thought that surely she could take a little time to wave some Vaseline over the child’s head and put in a couple of bubbles since, left to most kids, playing will always win over getting their hair done.

Even with all that, I never considered it appropriate to tell somebody else what to do with this thing called “hair”, but there does come a time in life when some things need to be dialed back – and we need to (gasp) conform.

This is how my determination to say nothing about this hair debate was foiled; it happened when I read that a woman is suing her former employer because she was fired for refusing to “tame” her hair. As a cancer survivor, she decided to eschew the use of chemicals that would make it easier for her to have a hairstyle that (to put it delicately), didn’t make her stand out as much.

Her large afro seems a bit on the unkempt side to me, but maybe she’s decided that a brush would mess up the look that she was going for. I’m all for being able to express yourself – even through your hairstyle, but I fail to see why the woman (who preferred standing on principle over having a job), didn’t just go to Youtube for a couple of tips, because some youtubers are really (hair) ninjas in disguise.

Image credit: onlinehairacademy.com

Image credit: onlinehairacademy.com

But who knows? Maybe she was afraid of the Nazis.

The Sun Rises in the East

Image credit: acig.com.au

Image credit: acig.com.au

“But wait…You not a West Indian?”

This is the question normally asked of somebody who does or says something that the typical West Indian or Caribbean person wouldn’t do or say. In my case, it’s not being able to do what most West Indians can – which is, being able to tell north from south and east from west.

It’s embarrassing, but I’m just going to put it out there and admit that I am directionally challenged.

This island is a pretty small place, so when I visualize the map of it in my head, I know where certain areas are located. But stand me up in the middle of the street and ask me to face east, and I’ll ask you if I should turn left or right.

At my last residence, I had cemented in my brain the location of the north side of my house and of course, everything would fall into place after that. But I haven’t yet gotten my bearings at my present residence – and it’s been four years!

Yes, I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but that’s not going to help me in the middle of the day.

Don’t ask me for directions and expect to be told to travel south along a particular road until you come to the gas station. What I am going to tell you is to make the left over there and continue along the road until you come to the fork, veer left and continue until you reach the gas station.

Image credit: images.clipartof.com

Image credit:

If I’m recounting an accident that I happened to see, I can’t tell you who was travelling in an easterly direction or who was going west on Parliament Drive. But I can tell you that the car with the most damage was on the left side of the road and the other car came over there to join it.

Like I said, this island isn’t very big, and having lived here all my life (even with a four-year hiatus for college), I pretty much know where most places are. And if I don’t, just give me a landmark and tell me how many left turns to make.

It doesn’t matter if the car I’m driving has an onboard navigation system. It doesn’t make a difference if there are plenty of directional signs – unless they’re saying “left”, “right” and “go around this way”.

That’s why, sadly, whenever I travel overseas, I’m pretty content to take a back seat, enjoy the scenery, and have somebody else drive. Because that’s the only way I’ll ever hear the lady on the GPS say, “Girl – you have reached your destination”.

Privileged Information

One of the first celebrity "tell-all" books Image credit: Wikimedia.org

One of the first celebrity “tell-all” books
Image credit: Wikimedia.org

There’s really no way in heaven that I am going to have you people all up in my bed grass – as we say locally. But we can’t all be so circumspect. There are tons of others out there who have no problem speaking about things that should probably remain private.

Sure I’ve told you before about people who think that I’m a good listener, but those conversations are between me and them, and I’m not calling any names. And besides I realize that sometimes, some people just need to vent.

How does a person feel comfortable though, saying that he or she smoked an illegal substance, or had an abortion or had thoughts of killing himself or somebody else – without obscuring his face or altering her voice? But you can’t really do that if you’re hoping for a book deal or making the rounds on the talk-show circuit.

Most of us like to talk about ourselves and the types of people we are. How many times have you heard a person say, “Well if it had been me, I would have done so-and-so”?, because deep down we like others to know what we think. But some of us should really consider writing a tell-all book, since the details therein would let others know why we think it.

And why we do the things we do. And why we choose the wrong men. And why…

These days, everybody and her pig has written, is planning on writing or is in the process of writing a book. Some people are barely in their twenties and have already recorded for posterity, portions of their life (so far).  Maybe they think that the rest of their years won’t be nearly as interesting as what’s gone already.

But increasingly, the scourge of too much information or TMI is masquerading in memoirs of people’s lives where you get to know every nook and see every cranny of the person’s life – and it goes way beyond the person’s favourite colour and most desired food.

The authors who write personal stories of childhood abuse, molestation, mental illness and other tales of woe, probably do so with the intention of helping other people who may be going through the same thing. But I don’t think the publishing houses would waste all that paper if they didn’t think that somebody’s anguish was going to make them a boatload of money too.

There’s nothing wrong with telling your true story if you want your life to be an “open book”, but as a reader of other people’s blogs, I am sometimes amazed at how deep down some people go into their souls, then open up their hands to show you. It’s cathartic, I guess, but no amount of accolades is going to make me go there.

Sure I’ll tell you some stories, but I think I’ll keep the information about my dysfunctional family entirely to myself.



That’s Out of the Question

Only the most self-involved person living on this island would be unaware that we are awaiting the culmination of a too-long election season. So I was not surprised that my son had some curiousity about the process.

However, I wasn’t prepared for his bold inquiry regarding who exactly I was going to vote for.

Sweet thing.

But given that I’m not one of the people flying fifteen flags and sporting eleven bumper stickers on every part of my car, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t have a clue.

After getting over the initial shock, I realized that he wouldn’t be aware that there are some questions that you just don’t ask somebody. So I told him that certain topics such as politics and religion, and particular queries such as “how old are you?” (after 40), and “how did he die?” are usually off-limits.

When my husband heard the question, he just about jumped down the boy’s throat, so he had to soften it by explaining that after listening to what the contenders had to say, we would, on Election Day, determine the most suitable candidate. Which for some voters really means choosing between the lesser of two evils.

But on Election Day? I thought to myself that waiting until then might be cutting it a little close, because shouldn’t I already know who I was voting for long before then? But I suppose that’s why there’s a section of the population known as undecided voters.

Well I’m not going to spill the beans and say that I’m one of them, but what exactly could cause a person to take such a long time to make up her mind? In our local situation, both parties have a track record that can help in decision-making, Granted, one is more recent than the other, but frankly, a leopard can only rub out so many of its spots.

It can’t be that the undecided voter is taking stock of the many promises that are the calling cards of all politicians? It can’t be a comparison of whose rallies have the sweeter music or which entertainers seemingly indicate their support by taking on the job? It can’t be whose voices are louder or whose faces loom larger from the innumerable billboards occupying every available square inch of land? Can it?

Well in that case bring it on. Because now, with a little over two weeks left to go, there is probably still a lot more that can be done to convince. I just can’t imagine what that could be.

However, I am planning on having an election night soiree – something akin to a Superbowl party – so if my son stays up late enough, depending on my reaction, he may just be able to find out who I chose.


The Boy With The Teardrop Tattoo

Image credit: tatoodesigns.com

Image credit: tatoodesigns.com

Do you remember when the quickest way your mother could bring you down when you were busy singing the latest pop song was to ask whether you knew your schoolwork?

And if you didn’t quit the singing, the dancing or whatever she considered to be inappropriate behaviour quickly enough, you’d be asked to recite your 9 times table or some innocuous fact from last week’s homework that you didn’t think she remembered – just so that you could prove it to her.

Back then, parents were quick to nip in the bud, whatever they considered to be troubling issues or unsuitable conduct.

These days I wonder if some parents are paying any attention.

Take tattoos for instance.

I’ve been on my soapbox with this before. I’m not a big fan of them even on people who have been around the block more than a few times, have all their wits about them and have clearly thought the whole thing through.

Not that tattoos are a sign of deviant behaviour or proof that your child is on her way to hell, but when I hear that a teenager who is still in school is showing off her tattoo on Facebook, I realize that times certainly have changed.

The parent who was telling the story wondered what kind of relationship this daughter had with her mother where something like that was acceptable in her house, but maybe that’s because it was perfectly acceptable in her house. Not all parents see things the same way.

Truth be told, there probably are a lot of these expressions hiding underneath the collars and cuffs of more school uniforms than we think. So now we know where all the money from those chores is being spent.

But there are some kids who are obviously running the show where they live.

My husband told me that last week he saw a boy riding a bike. He was surprised not by the wheelies he was executing, but by the fact that plain as day, were two teardrops tattooed on the teenager’s face.

Now I don’t know if these tears were designed to be an everlasting reminder from his mother of the butt-whipping he got when he had put a tattoo somewhere else. Or if like the basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire, they were placed there to show that he’s always crying inside.

Maybe his tattooed tears represent the number of people that he’s killed so he’s silently telling us to stay away before he’s forced to add another tear. Maybe he wants to erase the stigma associated with that particular tattoo. Maybe he thought it just looked nice.

I’m not sure his mom is any the wiser either, because this school-aged boy has been missing quite a few lessons – and not just the type that we get in class, either.


“School Call In”

Quite a few months ago, my daughter asked me if there was such a thing as a parenting class. I told her that there wasn’t and that as parents, we learn as we go along. My son laughed. I’m not sure if the funny part was because he thought it was a ridiculous question or whether he felt that I was falling down on the job.

Since then, however, it’s come to my attention that such a thing does exist and in areas where it doesn’t, people are thinking that maybe it should.

A few years ago I was a member of a woman’s networking group that hosted a series of forums designed to help parents deal with the many issues they face as their children grew and matured. The title of this post is taken from the name of the series that was presented by the group.

From helping children with schoolwork, to understanding the transition from primary school to secondary school, to coming to grips with our children’s sexuality, to matters of discipline (to spank or not to spank), it was dealt with. By having teachers, psychologists, nurses and counselors as facilitators, the parents were “schooled” in what to expect and what to do when it happened.

Back then, I was only a mother of a two-year old, and when I realized the many issues that some of the parents of older children were facing, I prayed that his early childhood years would pass slo-o-owly.

My mind was drawn to my daughter’s question because of the recent incident in the US where a mother left her two young children unattended in a car while she attended a job interview. It would be heartless of me to say that she really left the kids home alone, because the woman and her children are in fact homeless and actually live in the car.

The woman was arrested, and then the firestorm of comments began, with people questioning what support she had or could access, and whether she was in a catch 22 kind of situation in wanting to take care of her kids but not being able to take care of her kids.

One article discussing the case referenced British Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2012 Can Parent Initiative, which provided vouchers to help pay for parenting classes offering advice on nutrition, behaviour and development.

By saying that it was “ludicrous” that we are expected to train for hours to learn to drive a car or to use a computer, he was probably mirroring my daughter’s incredulity because even she realizes that parenting should be more than the crash course that it is.

With the changing times, a lot of us are swimming in the deep. When we were growing up, we had fewer temptations than our children now have that can lead them away from the straight and narrow. We can make all the jokes we like about what’s in the water or what’s being put into the food, and we can reminisce every day about the fact that one look, two harsh words and a hand to the bottom was enough to straighten us out, back in the day.

However, we need to find out what works for us and for our children, today.

I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all about discipline for me, because guidance isn’t only about punishment, but would I have appreciated a parenting class when my young ones were younger?

Would I have liked to know that academically, some boys need extra encouragement to read and that finding books about topics that they like is a good place to start?

Or that socially, both boys and girls become interested in their appearances much sooner than we did, and with it comes an awareness of their sexuality?

Or that as a parent I should never make a promise that I can’t deliver on because my children might accuse me of not telling the truth?

Or that I should never announce a trip or an outing until a few minutes before we get ready to leave because doing so is a sure way to eliminate all serenity until we do?

As you can see from these questions, there are some things that the experts could have told me in advance. And then there are other things that I wouldn’t know until I got here.

School’s Out

I generally like to bump into old classmates who I haven’t seen in a while, despite the fact that their gray hairs usually mirror the ones in mine. The faces are familiar, but some names escape me. There have been one or two people who, even though they haven’t seen me in years, remember my name – and I wasn’t ever the most popular girl in school.


But maybe it’s my memory that’s bad.


I feel awful when I can’t attach that person’s name to my return greeting, because I know how good it feels to be called by name. And I’m embarrassed when I have to struggle to remember where I’ve met the person before. Did I go to high school with her? Did I meet her in college? Was she the teller that served me in the bank a few days ago? Or was she the person I introduced myself to when she cut me off in traffic?


Last week, I met a former classmate when he came into my place of business. I hadn’t seen this person in years, but he instantly looked familiar. And this time I knew exactly at which institution we had crossed paths. We recognized each other at the same time. He said my name, and as usual, I was struggling to say his. Luckily, I kept my eyes trained on his lips and I was able to say his name just as it came spilling out of his mouth.


Anyway, he was in a spot of difficulty and was hoping that I could help him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t assist with exactly what he wanted, but I did have an item that would tide him over. So I agreed to lend it to him and he promised to get it back to me a few hours later.


It took four days and two phone calls before I got my property back. Since I “remembered” his name, I was able to scour the phone book to get his number. Because if he thought that he was going to be getting a free what-ya-ma-call-it from someone that he used to know, he was quite mistaken.


This borrowing without bothering to give back is something that’s plagued my children’s classrooms as well – and they’ve unfortunately been the ones on the giving end. Sometimes, if they aren’t diligent in asking for what is theirs, they may not ever get it back. I, however, was not going out like that.


When my former classmate finally returned the item, he gave his apologies, but he didn’t even, as we say, have the grace to look embarrassed. And he didn’t bother to offer an explanation either.


I had planned on giving him a piece of my mind, but I didn’t feel up to teaching a lesson that day.


However, I learned mine.


“12 Years a Slave” isn’t ‘Must See’ for me

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup Image credit: metromag.co.nz

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup
Image credit: metromag.co.nz

How does the subject and content of a movie so distress you that you decide that you don’t even want to see it? Even though you know it’s well made. Even though some will probably say it’s just a movie. Even though some may say that you should feel obligated. Even though. But that’s how “12 Years a Slave” is for me.

I’m well aware that it’s based on a true story and that it is one of a few accurate depictions made recently about slavery. I’m aware that it was winning accolades long before it actually won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Lupita Nyong’o won the best supporting actress prize.

But to hear some of the people who saw it, I get the distinct impression that it’s something to be endured because of the subject matter. And that after they’ve done so, it’s like an accomplished feat. And they can, as we say locally, “breathe off”.

One person believes that the movie got made because Hollywood could sooner stomach twelve years as opposed to two hundred, but I’m not sure that I can manage two hours myself. I had deliberately avoided asking people who saw the movie about their impressions, so that when I eventually summoned the courage to see it, I would be able to do so without prejudice.

But after my husband went, told me a few highlights and how he felt while viewing it, I’m not even sure whether I’ll manage to see it even when I can cry out loud.

I was reminded of the 2004 Mel Gibson produced movie, “The Passion of the Christ”. Like that movie, which details the arrest, trial, conviction and crucifixion of Christ, the account of slavery is one we’ve heard told a million times before. We know the basic story and we know how it ends. But reading about it is quite different from seeing a realistic depiction of all the particulars.

When I did go to see the above-mentioned movie, it felt like a requirement after years of Sunday school and Easter services. That, and the fact that my mother wanted to see it too. Having previously been told that the whipping scenes were gruesome, I had to gather my courage to go. So I went.

I didn’t bother to purchase any popcorn. Somehow I just knew that munching on the kernels and sipping a soda would seem a bit misplaced given the subject matter. This was borne out by the buckets that were abandoned by the other movie go-ers just minutes into the film.

Similarly, I imagine that a visit to the cinema to see “12 Years a Slave” would mean expecting the worst and actually getting it. It might also mean testing myself to see how many scenes I could actually watch without closing my eyes or having my vision clouded by tears. And wondering, as we say here, how people could treat other people “so…”.

As a black Caribbean person, the story of slavery is the story of my ancestors, and although there may have been some differences in the North American version, (they picked cotton – my ancestors cut cane), the underlying theme of cruelty and dehumanization is the same. And being a member of the visual generation, a movie showing just how the people who came before me “lived” and died, should be “must-see” for me.

But even though I know that children were separated from their mothers in slavery, I don’t want to see the heartache etched on that mother’s face as her children are taken away.

Even though I know that all slaves lived in fear of whippings or death, I don’t want to see how their fate was balanced on the whim of a man who was considered superior simply because of his skin colour.

And even though I know that many women who were slaves were raped repeatedly by those who owned them, I don’t want to see the look of defeat on their faces and imagine what they must have been thinking as they were forced to submit.

If I do see the movie, I won’t consider it an accomplishment on my part. That’s already been done by all the people who brought Solomon Northup’s story to life.

We celebrate Valentine’s Day – Now and then

For quite a few years now, my husband and I have not visited a restaurant on Valentine’s night for the obligatory dinner, because frankly, we can cook a cheaper meal at home.

I’m a girl who loves to dress up and go out, and staying in does mean that dishes have to be done after we eat, but where’s the fun in sitting down in a too-tight dress and looking around at all the other people who en masse decided to take somebody else’s word, that it was the second best night of the year to go out to dinner.

If I’m to be completely honest, though, our tradition came into being by accident. Valentine’s Day invariably fell during the week, and our babysitters just weren’t making themselves available, so although my sister-in-law once took her daughter along in her car seat to a romantic dinner with her husband, we decided to stay home and make our own fun (and food) instead.

My husband cooks quite well, so with a menu of food items that we have only once in a while, some soft music, a few glasses of wine, an early bedtime for the little one, we were set. When the second child came along, we just decided to make it a family affair, with the baby in her car seat and the four year old with his own place setting.

I guess as the years pass, you become a bit more practical and you make adjustments where necessary. I’m not saying that romance goes out the window, but I have to get up to go to work the next day.

But lest you think that I don’t appreciate a romantic gesture, there’s one that my husband made one Valentine’s Day BC (before children), that I won’t ever forget.

Saying that he had a surprise for me, he asked me to stay in the bedroom until he was ready. I was aware, since he wasn’t in the house that the surprise was happening outside, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t a new car.

Finally he was ready. When he came back inside, I was surprised to see that he was sweating bullets – and having long since proposed, I didn’t know what all that perspiration meant. I wasn’t pregnant, was I?

Across the road from our house was an empty lot. And there on the grass were about forty small paper bags lit with votive candles that had been placed in a heart formation. I took his word for it, because it was probably more obvious when viewed from the air. My first thought was “what a beautiful thing to do”. My second was, “Lord that was a ton of work – no wonder he was sweating”.

Since those were the days when we paid to eat dinner on Valentine’s Day, we got ready to go. But since we didn’t want the neighbours to think that we were irresponsible – or worse, engaging in the dark arts – we made sure to blow out the candles before we left.

Canned Sardines

My husband tells a story about the time that his father was travelling on a small plane that developed engine trouble.

Faced with the possibility of having to bail out, his father spent some time scouting an escape route while still in the air. He thought that he would be able to survive if the plane went down near a certain island, allowing him to swim to safety.

I found myself doing something similar when I took a plane recently. The tops of the trees looked pretty close, but I knew that it was still a long way down – to the ground.

The story about my father-in-law demonstrates his sense of optimism. But in my case, I was already lamenting how close we would have been – and yet so far – from our destination if something untoward was to happen. Pessimistic, I know.

I hate flying. And as I get older I like it even less. If I could take a bus to get to New York I would, but it’s kind of hard to get off this island without taking a plane.

So the one ritual that I have (besides prayer), is that I always make sure to watch the flight attendant as she does the safety spiel. Every time. Even though I’ve seen it a million times before.

But I always wonder how many of us would really remember what to do “in the event of an emergency”.

You know when she says that the light from the life jacket will “illuminate on contact with water”? How many of us know that by the time that happens, we are well and truly screwed? I know for sure that I’d be blowing the hell out of that whistle to “attract attention”. But I wouldn’t be surprised if nobody paid me any mind at all. Anyway I might be too busy experiencing hypothermia to even care.

I’m amazed at the science of flying, but since even a stair stepper gives me vertigo, I don’t think that I’ll be coming back as a pilot in my next life.

Somebody described a plane as a sardine can flying through the air – for all the protection that it doesn’t provide. But maybe it is true what they say about flying being safer than driving a car – because I’ve actually been in more than one car accident, but never in one involving a plane.

A few years ago, on a particularly bumpy flight, my husband and I were sitting behind a woman who hated flying more than I did. I consider myself the aviophobic equivalent of the quiet drunk. So even though the plane dips and shudders when flying through bad weather, I stare stoically ahead, or keep my eyes glued to my paperback, reading the same line over and over again. But I’m quiet.

The passenger in front of us was just the opposite. Whenever the plane dipped and cavorted, she would grip the hand rests tightly while praying loudly to her Jesus, always ending His name with a sibilant “s”. It was still funny after the fifteenth time, and since I knew how she was feeling, I could empathize with her.

I love to visit different places, so flying will always have to be a minor bump along the road to getting there.

But I’ve never looked at sardines in quite the same way again.