I have just returned to Houston from Port of Spain, Trinidad, where my daughter and her family live. It had been over thirty years since my last visit. Back then, in the bad old days of a dreadful slump in the global oil industry, Trinidad was not a particularly pleasant place to live. We were in the south, in San Fernando. It was arguably my loneliest time, with an eight month old child, and no support system. Fortunately we were only there a year.
And so it was with slight trepidation I disembarked the frigid cigar-shaped contraption that flew me there. I was also hungry. United Airlines, in their infinite greed, having discontinued food service on that particular five-and-a-half hour flight.
There of course have been changes in the southernmost island of the Windward chain, though Port of Spain was always a bustling, hustling city. New buildings pierce the skyline, sadly some, despite costing millions, now stand empty and forlorn, and instead of monuments to progress are rather testament to corruption and short cuts. Chinese investment is burgeoning, though has done little for the local construction industry as terms agreed stipulate those involved in the building be employees of Chinese companies, with much of the labour being flown in from China. Plans are afoot for a massive water park development at Chaguaramas on the north west coast, but there is little infrastructure to support it, and an already jammed road system will inevitably clog even further.
Much has remained the same. Cricket and football are still played with passion. The doubles and roti are still just as tasty. Mayaro, the miles long stretch of palm-lined beach onto which crash the Atlantic waves is still hauntingly, and dangerously, beautiful. Life still revolves around limin’, that uniquely Caribbean term for partying. Carnival remains the highlight of the year’s social calendar. The same political party, the People’s National Movement, again hold the balance of power, led now by Keith Rowley. The Magnificent Seven, that row of superb and stately old buildings along the Queen’s Park Savannah, still stand, most now owned by the government, and most in need of repair.
For all that, there is though an air of vitality. Trinidadians who expatriated for university and then stayed abroad, are returning, bringing with them a desire for transparency of government. A desire to see their country flourish, without the pall of duplicity. And there are many who may not have left the island who want the same thing.
Apart from seeing my daughter in her new country of domicile, and having delicious cuddle time with my grandchildren, I also spoke to a group of women from the UKWCTT, aka the British / Trinidad women’s club. A support group I would have dearly loved when I lived in the country, but something sadly lacking in San Fernando.
As you know, I have a somewhat unusual name and have never been in the same room with another women called ‘Apple’, so have never had cause to pause upon hearing my name called. What you may not though know is my other moniker of Gigi – depending on my mood, Grumpy Granny, Gorgeous Granny, Global Granny, or more prosaically Granny Gidley. I have now learnt Gigi is not a particularly uncommon name, and sitting on the sidelines waiting to be called up to speak, I allowed my gaze to wander out the window to the pitch of Queen’s Park Oval. My thoughts drifted back thirty years to a cricket match watched in the same arena – Veterans v West Indies – and so for a blink I lost concentration.
“And now Gigi ….” was all I heard. Leaping to my feet, I gathered thoughts and papers to make my way to the front of the room, only to hear an inelegant snigger from my daughter behind me. Only then did realisation dawn, and feeling foolish I remembered I was being introduced by a woman, young and strikingly attractive not middle-aged and ordinary, who happened to be named Gigi! My lapse in attentiveness did allow a moment of levity, and eased me into my talk on the ups and downs of expatriation.
Going back can be difficult and frankly I never expected to return to Trinidad. I’m glad I did, though sadness brimmed briefly when my son-in-law, after a few false trails, found our old home on the now euphemistically named Bel Air Drive. In my day the view, and air, was lovely, but now encompasses a string of corrugated roofs on long dull warehouses, and the air is steamy from the plethora of construction that denotes progress.
My ten days in Trinidad were filled with memories, warmth, humour, and sleepless nights due to sick grandchildren, but above all a sense of pride. My daughter and her family have chosen to make the country their home. In many ways it is not an easy place to live, security is still an issue, but Kate has the courage and conviction to support her husband, one of those returning Trinis determined to make a go of it and to make a difference, whilst also making a life for herself. She is the product of a global upbringing – a true TCK.
And I will not be waiting another thirty years before I return – if they’ll have me!