This month I am coming to you LIVE from my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, the twin islands in the Caribbean. I don’t visit home very often so I will definitely indulge myself here and share some photos of the country with you.
I am here for my 30th School Anniversary Reunion and a holiday. Therefore, I have been thinking of my schooling and education in general. I was fortunate to have my nursery school closeby and my first primary school, Esperanza Presbyterian School, only two houses away from my home. The motto of this primary school is ‘Knowledge is Power’, and still is today. I was an average achieving child and the teaching focus was on Mathematics. It was fun to go home during breaks, lunchtime and even to use our own toilet. I remember putting on my mother’s lipstick sometimes in breaks, and doing the privileged things you would do if you live two houses away from your primary school. I quite liked the school and have fab memories of playing in the school yard at weekends and during the holidays with other children in my neighbourhood.
At the age of seven, I changed schools to attend a private school called Sevilla School for the employees of the now defunct sugar producing company Caroni (1975) Limited. I initially had some difficulty adjusting to the new teaching styles, and a curriculum that was focussed on literacy more so than mathematics. Reading out loud in front of classmates was a dread for me, but my Grade Three teacher, Mrs Lalla, recognized that I needed some extra help. To assist me with my literacy, she allowed me to take home a book from the school library in the head teacher’s office (Mrs L. L. Mike) to read at home with my mother. It was not all scary as my forte at that time was in mathematics, learnt at my previous school, and I distinctly remembered getting the equations finished and correct before all my classmates in that grade. I even received an award, which was the book of the story of Heidi, in my first year in this new school for mathematics at the end of year prize giving ceremony.
The next three years at primary school I eventually caught up in my literacy levels. So much so that I received a prize for ‘Steady Progress’ in my last year, which was a book of Girl Stories which I still have. My sister on the other hand, had adjusted very quickly to her new school and was very academically inclined. She won prizes every year in our new school including three prizes one year for Mathematics, Good Citizenship and Perfect Attendance. There is a Caroni (1975) Limited corporate news article on her in a family album, and I am very proud of her even today.
My next school was Holy Faith Convent, Couva – a secondary school for girls that has been one of the top performing schools in Trinidad. I had seven happy and memorable years growing up and learning at this school. Recently, our 30th anniversary school reunion was suggested and organized after most of the school mates joined a Facebook Group. A few hardworking, committed and kind schoolmates volunteered to help plan and organize our reunion with meetings internationally via Skype, What’s App, email etc. I personally want to thank the main organisers for a terrific weekend for re-connecting with our ‘sisters’, as we fondly like to call ourselves.
There are so many wonderful, innocent, brilliant and funny memories we shared at school that it was no surprise that when we all met again after 30 years a couple of weeks ago – we chatted non-stop, and carried on like we haven’t been apart for decades. Some of us have kept in touch over the years, others have fallen off the radar, and three schoolmates sadly have died. Regardless of time, we share memories and an understanding of a special formative time in our development. Our school song was excellent for transporting us back to those days and reinforcing us with the kind ethos of the school. Attending an event like this gives you a perspective on where you came from, the journey you made and the road ahead. I was proud to see the girls, now women, and hear about our struggles, the challenges and achievements. It makes you realise the importance of roots, genuine friends and that basic right…a good education. Learning never really stops.
Thirty years ago our Graduation theme was a ‘Time to Remember’ (my chosen suggestion as it was a song title by Billy Joel). Our valedictorian then and now is the Honourable Judge Marlene Smith. Marlene reminded us of her speech and linked it back to us 30 years on to the present with her recital and understanding of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Four Quartets’ – it all seemed to make sense with time. We are very proud of Marlene and she also came from my village in Trinidad.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
We also had thoughts on the current way of the world, gratitude for and anecdotes on our teachers, the nuns in the school convent, praise and even some heckling for our fellow schoolmates. There was excellent food, drinks, steel pan band, DJ, photographer, songs by students and teachers, and dancing until 2am. The venue was on the East coast of Trinidad and was great for relaxing as well as seeing each other over two days. It was utter fun and I am so glad I came to Trinidad for the reunion – do watch out as we are planning a school reunion in London and Paris in 2021.
On the Sunday morning after our reunion, one of my schoolmates offered to lead us on a hike in a nearby rain forest near Salybia. It was an offer I could not refuse as I was looking for something exactly like that for my children to experience. Akeeta Ali, our hike leader, was amazing and clear at giving us instructions from the onset, pointing out risks, tips and the promise of the beautiful Waterfall at the end of the trail. The trail was wild, muddy, wet, humid and you certainly had to watch your step and hold tight at most times – frequently using the roots of ginormous trees to pull you up or their root groves for support. The sound of the rivers, birds, animals, fishes and the wind were also spectacular.
Like with most things in life – some of the novice hikers went at a slower pace while the more confident and experienced ones went ahead. Certainly there was teamwork and camaraderie as we formed groups, and it was good to see the novices take the lead at times within the group. All in all – I loved every moment of it and the experience was worth it for the beautiful waterfall at the end. We then had to make our way back with the whole exercise lasting about three hours. This is a great exercise for team building and I am pleased I had experienced this type of nature exploration as a child growing up in Trinidad.
I am still on holiday in Trinidad and Tobago and there is no place like home! A place where you have nothing to prove to anyone – you can just be yourself. I love coming home to Trinidad and Tobago for this reason and it is very nice to spend time with family and friends you haven’t seen for a long time. The country is also in constant development and it is amazing to see new roads, buildings, shopping malls, foods, musical styles, and reacquaint oneself with the familiar. It isn’t always a perfect paradise here – there are high levels of crimes for a small island and litter annoys me as much as it does in London – but hopefully this can be changed with some extra pride and public awareness campaigns.
As I literally switch off here, most of the year we are busy with work and our own busy interests – but being on holiday is a dedicated period when we can enjoy going at a slower pace, take it easy and to simply relax. My holiday in Trinidad & Tobago is certainly a time for me to rest, before I get ready, steady and get going again in this wild world.