Archives - ‘Trinidad and Tobago’

Life in the Carnival Kingdom

25 février 2020 | Max, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Development and Globalization, Mines Action Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Women's Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Office

When most Canadians think of the Caribbean, they might picture the white sandy beaches home to all-inclusive resorts that are flooded by cruise ship-loads of tourists. Trinidad is admittedly not this. On the surface, Trinidad is heavily industrial, and at times might feel overwhelming from the staggering tropical heat, the incessant traffic and seemingly non-stop noise. Only a few weeks into my stay however, I began to get an immense appreciation for the passion and pride of the people, the natural beauty, and the fascinating cultural landscape of this twin island republic.

I chose Trinidad and Tobago, because of how little most people (including myself) know/knew about it. Many would be surprised to find out about the significant cultural and ethnic diversity here as a direct result of the country’s complicated colonial past. Trinidad and Tobago was colonized at one point by nearly every major colonial power. As a result, a wide array of different religions, ethnicities, and cultural traditions are represented here. Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival, one of the island’s most acclaimed celebrations, is a perfect example of this blend of cultures and traditions.

When I first got here, people were very eager to tell me how visibly other cultures are represented here, and how commonplace it is for people to celebrate each other’s religious holidays/traditions, and even pray at each other’s places of worship; something which I found very interesting given how little some people interact with people of different cultures back in Canada.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is easily one of the island’s biggest events of the whole year. When I first arrived, everyone told me that I picked the best time of year to visit. Carnival season starts right after Christmas, and it’s said that during the year, you’re either celebrating it, or reminiscing about how good the previous year’s festivities were. I recently participated in J’ouvert, Carnival’s opening celebrations that begin around 4AM, which involves parading through the streets covering yourself in mud and paint until the sun comes up. This was truly an experience I will never forget, and it was incredible to witness the energy and excitement as the streets come alive during this time.

Trinidad and Tobago is seen both as developed and developing at the same time. The country has the third highest GDP per capita in North America, thanks to a well developed oil and natural gas industry. However, in recent years due to the decline in oil prices, and a host of other factors, the economy has seen relatively little growth. As with many countries, this inequality of income can be drastic and very visible. There are many neighbourhoods here that host large mansions and driveways full of Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes, while only a few blocks over, there are single-room wooden shacks with tin roofs.

This duality of development can lead to logistical challenges as well. I recently had a meeting with the High Commission of Canada where they told me that due to T&T not being on the list of ODA countries, they are unable to provide funding directly for local initiatives, even in areas that may not be getting adequate funding from the local government. This is especially challenging in parts of the country that are more susceptible to natural disasters and severe flooding.

I am here as an intern with the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD), working as a Disarmament Program Support Officer. Although WINAD is a relatively small NGO, their impact is comparatively large. When I am out in public with my supervisor, I am always surprised with how many people recognize her and commend her for the work that she is doing.

Already at the halfway point, I am excited to continue seeing different parts of the island, and learn more about the unique cultural experiences Trinidad and Tobago has to offer. When I first arrived, it felt like I was taking a big step into the unknown. It’s true that there are always challenges when you enter a new environment; however, I am grateful to have been welcomed graciously into Trini life by a caring and thoughtful group of people.

Time is going by too quickly!

22 juillet 2019 | Mashal, Honours in Political Science, Mines Action Canada,Trinidad and Tobago, Women's Institute for Alternative Development - WINAD, Disarmament Program Support Officer

It has been about 5 weeks since I started to work with WINAD as a “disarmament program support officer”. I arrived to the country 6 weeks ago, and I am still letting its beauty sink in. Trinidad is a warm, colorful and vibrant country, both in its outward dimension and in terms of its people. Immediately upon landing, one notices breath-taking mountain-ranges which follow you no matter where you go. These are one of my favorite features of the country, and I am very happy that they are visible from the windows of my apartment, which is located in a small residential area.

During the little time I have spent here, I am amazed by the hospitality and kindness of my neighbors. Despite not knowing me very well, they are always keen to help me and to offer me guidance. I find this propensity extending beyond my little community as well; in the country at large, there are many progressive movements that aim to improve the lives of fellow Trinidadians. I have had the privilege of witnessing a few of these firsthand, including a campaign to expand the provisions of the Equal Opportunity Act legislation.

My organization is included in these movements too. Even though it is only run by a handful of women, WINAD has undertaken projects that aim to resolve a number of issues ranging from gun violence, to radicalism and the refugee crisis. Trinidad is a diverse country with diverse problems, many of which stem from its oppressive colonial history. It is, however, one thing to simply read about the sociopolitical issues that affect the country from the safety of my home in Canada, and another thing to experience it first hand by being awoken by the sound of distant gunshots at night. This really drives home the point that the work that organizations like WINAD do have real life implications.

I am awe-inspired by the attitudes of my coworkers. Even as they tackle these deep-rooted complex issues, they have conviction that change will occur. In a time where cynicism seems to be the rule rather than the exception–especially in the sphere of politics– such attitudes are deeply inspiring. It has awakened in me a desire to enact change in my own homeland. Although I still have a little over a month left in Trinidad, I already find myself ‘missing’ the country. Time is going by too quickly! I have already taken away so much from this experience, and I am excited to see what my remaining weeks here will teach me.

The world waits for no one

14 décembre 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

I can’t remember where I first heard that quote but it’s something that I’ve kept in the back of my mind for many years. However; it wasn’t until I returned to Canada that I began to grasp the raw truth of this statement. Life happens around you, through you; so constant, fast, and unapologetic if you blink and miss your opportunity. Ottawa kept moving while I was away and Port of Spain will not stop because I am gone. What feels strange is that despite this, I have returned to a place that is very much the same yet entirely different. Or perhaps the only thing that has changed is myself.

Three months is an odd amount of time to live in another country. It’s just enough time to get comfortable and then you have to pick and up and leave your newly constructed life to dive headfirst into your old one. During the Reintegration Seminar this week I have been reflecting a great deal on what this experience has meant to me, but more importantly, how this experience has changed me as a person. I know it is incredibly cliché to say this but it doesn’t make it any less true.

My time in Port of Spain showed me the realities of development in the field and the extreme passion of those who do it well. I have learned that learning out side of the classroom is a fundamental component of preparing oneself for the job market and life. I have come to recognize the shortcomings of my program but to also appreciate its multi-disciplinary nature. Even though prior to this experience I had not taken any specific classes relating to the subject of my work, I did not feel unprepared because I had touched on many of these topics in other courses. The required “reflection” assignments and regular contact with my fellow interns made me realize the power of international cooperation and collaboration. Although my peers and I were scattered around the globe we were still able to share similar experiences and learn from the cultural, historical, social, and political contexts of each other’s host countries.

It is very difficult to even begin to “sum-up” the last three months of my life. I strongly feel that attempting to share specific details would be unacceptable because it would only reflect the smallest tile in the elaborate mosaic of my experience. It would be irresponsible to share these details because it would distract from the unique and intricate mural that must be viewed in its entirety to be fully and truly appreciated.

This internship has taught me more about myself, the world, my program of studies, my peers, and what I want from life, than any other personal/professional experience. I knew that when I was stepping onto the airplane in Trinidad I was saying goodbye to a very important part of myself that would always remain in Belmont. I felt extremely sad at first but this week I have realized that my learning has only just begun as I begin to rebuild within this newly created “void”. Armed with new knowledge and a fierce and fresh perspective I have a new opportunity to build myself stronger and more resilient than ever before in preparation for the next opportunity to leave a little piece of my heart somewhere special in the world.

The life, the taste, the colours, the smells, the sights, the emotions: what you can’t learn in a classroom

12 novembre 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

Looking back on the period leading up to my departure and the two months that have passed since I arrived, I realize that there are two very different perceptions of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of friends, family, colleagues, and peers seemed to be under the impression that I was going to the Caribbean to relax on the beach for three months. T&T is a small twin-island nation and it is somewhat understandable that there are a large number of people who know little about this place, so many people base their perceptions on the stereotypical Caribbean all-inclusive vacation experience. One the other hand Trini’s who’ve I’ve spoken to while in Canada and those that I have met here, hold a completely different perception. I have been consistently warned about the danger and corruption present in T&T and am instructed to be incredibly careful and always on guard. This is all good advice when travelling, but what I find interesting is how completely different these two views are.

Neither perception adequately represents this beautiful country. Yes, there are some beaches but there’s so much more to see, and yes, it is common to hear gunshots at night but every person on the street will say “good evening”. My experience here has been wonderful. Port of Spain is somehow chaotic but calm; the general pace of things is hectic, but the attitude relaxed. Hailing a maxi-taxi around the Queen’s Park Savannah is a rushed activity as cars weave in and out of a seemingly never-ending flow of traffic. But after work it’s time to “lime” and people are relaxing and laughing with friends and loved ones. I fear not being able to adequately capture how incredibly “cool” Trinidad is.

I have come to love this place, it’s all a matter of managing things. Learning to deal with the traffic, navigate around the island, eat “doubles” without dumping them all over yourself, and how to dodge cars on streets barely wide enough for a single car, it’s all bean a really incredible experience. I think what has been the most fulfilling experience has been learning how to get around by myself. Most everyone has to get around by taxi but they operate more like buses – traveling established routes in a cramped car with unfamiliar faces. The island isn’t very big but getting around can be very difficult if you do not have someone to instruct you on where to catch a taxi heading towards your destination.

The nuanced cultural relations in this diverse nation have a distinct effect on daily life in T&T that is best experienced first hand. Trinidad is a place where you can see beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps, and the world’s only natural asphalt lake but it is also a place where there are many underserviced or “squatter” communities such as Sea Lots, a great deal of economic disparity, and where violent crime is a daily factor in many people’s lives. Trinidad is diverse, beautiful, and also a place where caution must be exercised, but where the people are friendly and helpful.

Discussing theory in the classroom is vastly different from experiencing a new country firsthand. Nuances of culture are an integral part of the learning experience. Context is everything. Doing the work, understanding the theory, going through the motions is one thing, but actually trying to understand the why is so much more complicated than it sounds. We sit in classrooms that stress investigation but from all that I have read about Trinidad, nothing could have prepared me for the real thing.

Now that I’ve been here for two months and have had a chance reflect on these various perceptions, I have developed a better understanding of the importance of context and experience. Most of my research here has been into the specific circumstances of various communities, while the majority of my UOttawa classes have been largely theoretical. This opportunity has really taught me a great deal about the importance of culture and context. There is no way that this could be duplicated in the classroom, and I’m thankful to be lucky enough to learn these lessons all while enjoying a wonderful part of the world.