Monday, June 25, 2007
I arrived in Trinidad on 6th January, 2007. I was met at the airport by Dearice, the matron at the shelter. She drove me to the shelter and showed me my room, where I had a table with some biscuits, milk, cereal and tea bags. It was quite nice. I think I fell asleep almost immediately. The next day Dearice prepared some mac and cheese, calalou, chicken and beans for lunch. It was delicious. I also got to meet Trevor, the security man/handyman at the Shelter. I also heard the three dogs who are part of the shelter staff. Dearice had to ran some errands so she took me along. I don’t know how I communicated to Twum and my parents that I had arrived, but somehow I did. The next day, Monday, Liz, who is the fundraising person for the shelter and has an office that is out in town, came to see me. I had slept till late, and she had to leave for her office. Later on I met her older sister, Jen, who works as the Shelter Coordinator. Auntie Jens took me under her wing and took me everywhere she went. We went to get donations of food and linen (bedsheets and towels), and we also went grocery shopping for the shelter. As the days progressed, the shelter gradually filled with women, peaking at nine women and five children. Some left while I was still staying there, and others were still in the shelter when I left.
While at the shelter, I realized how hard it must be to leave your life and everything you’ve had as a constant in your life, and flee to a shelter. It’s not an easy decision to make, especially if you don’t have any financial support or are not working, like some of these women. The shelter had curfew of 6pm when you had to have returned from town, you had to have given prior notice the day before if you wanted to go out, and you couldn’t use your cell phone on the premises. Wake up time was 6am everyday, and lights out was 9pm on weekdays and 10pm on weekends ( I think). The children had different lights out times, and there was also a TV schedule for both the women and the children. Each woman had to take part in the cooking and cleaning of the house in addition to taking care of their children. Of course this would cause some friction, as you have all these people who are used to doing things their own way.
Some days I got to sub for the matrons and supervisors on their day off, and I was in charge of the house, and locking up. It was quite scary. One night the person supposed to relieve the day supervisor was very late in coming, and one of the women had an epileptic fit, causing the day supervisor to be delayed even further till 11pm. It was a scary night. I was not there that day, because I had gone out for a Carnival program with one of the night matrons who was not on duty.
For my work, I visited Families in Action (FIA), an organization that works with anybody and everybody on various issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism and domestic abuse. I got the chance to tag along with their Peer Counseling Education team when they went to a secondary school in the southern part of Trinidad to train some students who had been selected to be Peer Counselors. It was a lovely day. I also visited the Rape Crisis Society (RCS), another NGO that deals with rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence, offers free counseling, and also goes out to sensitize the public and educate people, especially in rural Trinidad. RCS established one of the first hotlines in Trinidad. Lastly, I visited the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), another NGO dealing in domestic violence. They had a lot of different programs such as Stopping Elderly Abuse Now and Childline, in addition to their Domestic Violence work. CADV responds to different DV clients based on what the client needs (counseling, help with divorce, court proceedings, child custody hearings, understanding their rights under the law, etc.). For all three NGOs ( and I think a lot of NGOs worldwide), the main problem is getting funding, and also keeping staff for a long period of time, as this work is hard, demanding and not as financially rewarding as other jobs, causing some people to burn out quickly. I also learnt that a lot of people arrived at their jobs in the NGO/DV field through a lot of avenues. Some had volunteered while pursuing another career, until they finally switched over. Others had never had any experience with the field until they just decided one day to switch careers. Very few had started out working on the issue of domestic violence.
Now for the fun part: I happened to be in Trinidad during the carnival period, so I got to witness and partake in it. I know most of you have already seen my pictures from that time, but it was a lot of fun. I went for fetes where I saw some of their musicians such as Destra Garcia, Shurwayne Winchester and Patrice Roberts. I also attended Calypso Shows, and went jogging on Lady Chancellor Hill like everyone else, in preparation for the carnival. I ate doubles, which are two delicious small, fried rotis filled with beans, chili pepper, mango slices, and other lovely things. I also enjoyed rotis, especially those with goat meat curry, green beans curry, pumpkin, channa and potato, and these greens I love but I can’t remember their name. Oh, I also fell in love….with Sorrel Shandy! Oh Lord! That is the best drink ever. I could drink about six bottles of that a day. I saw the St. James Children’s Carnival too.
Then, Twum joined me in Trinidad, and we had fun walking around and watching Carnival on the Carnival Monday. That night, I decided to play mas on Tuesday, so we called around until I found a band that had space, and I went and got the costume. You all saw what it looked like. I KNOW what it looked like, but I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I went for it! Now my kids and grandkids can never say that Mummy/Grandma was boring. Teeheehee! I played with Rhythm Nation, and had a lot of Sorrel Shandy, water and juice to drink. I only played for a half a day. I think playing carnival is mainly tiring because you spend most of the time waiting to move along the street, as all bands have to pass in front of the judges at specific points, one of them around the Savannah, to be rated.
After carnival, Twum unfortunately fell sick. We think it was something he may have picked up on the plane, as after he got to Trinidad, we ate the same food. He however got well before he left, and I was grateful for that. It was a lovely time, and I’m especially glad I got to share it with Twum. We left the same day, him for the US, and me back to the UK, to get visas for Uganda and South Africa.