By Chantal Keshwah
In between the time it took me to chip off the ice from my windshield and to shovel snow from my driveway, was the moment when I decided I wanted to move to sunny Trinidad and Tobago.
I did my research and before you could sing Nailah Blackman’s catchy song, “Baila Mami”, I was on a 6-hour flight to Sweet, Sweet TNT.
I always heard stories from my parents about living in Trinidad, but I never knew how it would actually be, living there on a daily basis. I heard stories surrounding how my parents worked on a farm and walked long distances to school.
I really had no expectations of how my life would unfold here.
When I arrived, I was greeted at the Piarco International Airport with the aroma of freshly made “doubles”. This is a spicy, delicious, local dish made from curried chickpeas and flour.
I ate six doubles, one after the other (or perhaps I just lost count). This meant that I had to postpone treating myself to the famous local KFC for another day. It was well worth the wait because the seasoning used gives the chicken an undeniable difference in taste.
Driving away from the airport I was mesmerized by the rich, natural landscapes, including the tall coconut trees and the brightly colored flowers.
As a Canadian, I quickly went into withdrawal from the absence of my morning Tim Hortons’ coffee, but that was surprisingly substituted with caffeinated drinks from Rituals and Starbucks (which recently opened in various parts of Trinidad).
Another stiff contender was the fresh coconut water, which is sold along the roadside with tropical produce for your convenience. I admire that there is an abundance of tropical fruits.
As soon as you get bored of one Caribbean fruit, another one comes into season to take its place. I love how you can pick mangos, avocados, bananas, pineapples and sugarcane, even seasoning from your own backyard or even from a neighbor’s (but please ask first!).
When cooking in Trinidad I learned to incorporate Shado Beni (Coriander/Cilantro) on everything, as it makes everything taste better!
The radio in Trinidad blasts out a music menu of Chutney and Soca. As a result, I familiarized myself with the latest music of the Caribbean “rel” fast! The music really makes you feel bazodee, which is a French word meaning “disoriented”, that strikes a chord into your soul and pumps you up with energy. I appreciate that it is played at my gym in Chaguanas.
Driving in Trinidad can be a stressful task. Before I continue, I want to personally thank the creator of the GPS cell phone application, Waze. When you ask a Trini for directions, it often entails describing surrounding areas and key words such as junctions, colours of buildings and houses. All of this can be a quite confusing experience, but Waze has made island living so much more enjoyable.
For the most part, locals say to “turn where the yellow house is”. In a panic, suddenly all the houses begin to appear yellow. Then I begin to question the variations of yellow or wonder if the house had recently been repainted in another color.
Ultimately, after a few weeks into my stay, I realized (that) to move around easily in this country, I would require my own transportation. Having so many things I wanted to accomplish, while in Trinidad, I would need to be driving.
Eventually, I would need a local Driver’s Permit. This was my motivation to apply for it. I was so nervous about the written test that I actually believed that I had failed! (Disclaimer: I received a perfect score!).
I attribute my nerves to the hand signals, moving counterclockwise and clockwise were foreign to me. I still, to this day, have a tough time sticking my arm out of my window to do them!
Driving on the opposite side of the road (left side) was challenging at first, but luckily (to my relief) a new driving speed limit was enforced. They even started to use cameras at intersections and on highways to enforce the traffic laws. This was all to my delight! (My apology to all, who thinks it is a nuisance, but safety first!).
I noticed that honking the horn is the standard practice. By using the horn it can be used for alerting others drivers that you are approaching, saying thank you or saying no thank you! It took me sometime to use it because, in Canada, it is so infrequently used.
I was able to continue to follow my passions in Trinidad with raising funds for local charities and volunteering. I helped with supporting local humanitarian events such as the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation Walk for Children with Disabilities, the International Coastal Beach Cleanup, Scotiabank Women Against Breast Cancer Run, and I even participated in a Charity Medical Clinic held in Toco.
Coming down to Trinidad with a strong Canadian accent has also been quite an interesting one. Many people don’t believe that I actually speak this way. Many people answer my questions by asking me if I’m not from here? I would then have to prepare for allocated time for such questions like, why did I migrate? Where am I living? And where are my parents? Once these questions are satisfactorily answered, I will only then be able to move forward to what I was initially there for.
Another difference I experienced, while living here, is that Trinidadians are very warm and friendly as they greet you with hello. Unlike Toronto, where you could potentially go through your day without saying hello to a single stranger, Trinidad is the opposite. Initially it felt odd to me to say hello to people I didn’t know, however I now try to beat everyone to it.
I have been fortunate to work for a major distributor in the Caribbean. Working in this field has allowed me to interact with so many people from all areas of Trinidad and Tobago, giving me a real sense of the culture and country.
Sure, everyone has his or her opinions but, essentially, it’s really up to you to try out something in order to form your own opinion. Listen to that inner voice, take a chance whether it is trying to play a new instrument (such as the steel pan), trying out a new type of food or even moving to a different country. Sometimes rumors can give you the wrong impression. So mute out all the talk, because there is plenty of that, and go for it!
Everything here is refreshing to me: the mountain views from the highway, colorful houses, all the spacious greenery, beautiful beaches, warm weather and the many public holidays.
In one year of living in Trinidad and Tobago, I experienced the various cultural and religious festivities such as Eid, and Diwali. I was able to watch CPL T20 Cricket live in the Queen’s Park Oval and I was able to attend Band Launches for Carnival.
I participated in J’ouvert with my family and friends, and I safely joined a hiking group to discover some exquisite waterfalls, such as Rio Seco and Mermaid pools.
I would highly encourage tourists and even citizens to participate in local events, so you too can experience and appreciate what this country has to offer.
I want to personally thank everyone whom I have met here and soon to meet. You are my inspiration to write and express my thoughts and to share my feelings with admiration.
Overall, life is good here; it’s all in the attitude you have. You have to adapt some of the carefree attitude when things don’t go your way. Believe me, you will have many of those while going through the system or applying for employment. But if I can do it in half a year, so can you!
I am content that I made the move, as I always wanted to experience life here. Every day is like a new adventure for me. I love waking up hearing the roosters, dogs, birds and insects.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but as for today, I can say that I am the happiest woman alive, and to me, that is what it is like to be a “Trinbagonian”.
Chantal Keshwah, a former Miss Brampton, has a Bachelors Degree in Nursing and Post Graduate Studies in Counselling and Case Management in Health Care, and did volunteer work across Canada, Africa and the Caribbean. She has a wide variety of hobbies and interests, including, playing competitive soccer, running, and modeling.