Juan Anibal Barria
After almost five years, we say goodbye to Port of Spain. My wife Maria Angelica and I have been tremendously happy in TT and, though we return soon to Chile, we do so with sadness. We have discovered a fascinating country blessed with its geography, its traditions, and its cultural diversity. Every day I learn something new about families, about people who, from different positions, build the present and the future of TT with their unique talents.
My admiration for the creativity and ingenuity of its artists and professionals never ends. There are young writers and poets who masterfully describe to us how this nation was born and has matured over time, and how they face their new challenges.
One in particular explained how the Spanish language, with its different accents, is gradually being incorporated into the ways of speaking, saying and doing things in this country. TT, with its solidarity, gradually and as its resources allow, is welcoming Venezuelans who are arriving in different towns and cities, just as happened before with the arrival and ensuing contributions of so many men and women from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. I am sure that before long those aromas and flavours of the emblematic arepas will gain the popularity of the ubiquitous doubles, roti, pelau and bake and shark.
I arrived in 2018 knowing about Naipaul and Walcott and I will depart reading Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, for example. I have learned more about TT from recent books published by Ira Mathur, Judy Raymond and Barbara Jenkins. Thanks to Marina Salandy-Brown, I have met these new talents who are annually promoted by NGC Bocas Lit Festival, thanks to a sponsor, NGC, which is led by a president who has a real and personal commitment to local art and culture, Mark Loquan.
It is your musicians and singers like Machel Montano who make us laugh and dance to the rhythm of soca, but it is also the calypso lyrics that make us think and comment ironically and critically on everyday life.
My memories go to two extraordinary voices like those of Calypso Rose and Black Stalin…a part of his song is unforgettable: “We could make it if we try just a little harder, if we just give one more try, life will be much better.”
And, of course, I cannot fail to mention a world-renowned soprano like Jeanine de Bique who, like my friend Fernando Nogales, only wants her fellow citizens to appreciate the power and beauty of her exceptional voice, in the capital and in San Fernando, her native town. Of course, I would love for her also to come to Chile, to receive a standing ovation.
Another trait of the country’s personality is the pride of having been born in these Caribbean islands, which have their own identity. My favourite song is Trini to the Bone by David Rudder, because it precisely describes that deep-rooted feeling of patriotism.
It is also this spirit that brings the diaspora to Carnival in greater numbers every year. I am sure that this new iteration, which has been prepared with so much passion and care, will be a success and will truly be the “Mother of all Carnivals.”
From my land, far in the south, between the sea and the mountains, I will view the photos and videos that my friends will surely send to me via WhatsApp, and in my memory will appear the images of so many cups of espresso with banana bread shared at Full Bloom Coffee and Adam’s Bagels and cookies. The risotto and pizzas at Buzo’s…and I won’t continue, because I get emotional.
One of the greatest virtues of TT is its human capital, and the excellent professional quality of its university students. It strikes me that many young people – for plausible reasons – decide to study abroad, although the local universities are of a high level of excellence: I have had contact with the University of TT (UTT) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), and my special admiration goes to its principal, an extraordinary jurist, Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine. The competence of the academics and researchers has always impressed me, because doing research and teaching in our countries, with limited resources, requires singular dedication.
I must confess that I still get emotional during the opening of official events when prayers are offered up, asking for blessings for the well-being and peace of all. It is admirable to see the way in which different religious groups co-exist and worship freely, respectfully expressing their views on national issues.
And I now understand when your national anthem says, “Here every creed and race finds an equal place and may God bless our nation.”
Your painters – from the masterful hand of Cazabon to Boscoe Holder, Jackie Hinkson, Isaiah James Boodhoo, Knolly Greenidge – show us the local reality through their artistic abilities. Younger artists show us the full spectrum of the rainbow with their daring colours and styles, such as Che Lovelace, Shalini Seereeram, Dean Arlen and Adeline Gregoire. Indeed, the diversity that really matters is the one that is practised in all aspects and activities of life.
Here we have felt at home, like family: Trinbagonians are happy, optimistic people who do not forget the past, but look to the future. As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, Trinbagonians know that after the storms comes the sun and calm.
I would like to have done more to deepen and expand the excellent relation already existing between Chile and TT, but in any case, I think I have accomplished my mission, although, in truth, it is not up to me to evaluate my mission in TT, it is you, the Trinbagonians, who will be able to say the last word.
In a young yet mature democracy such as exists in TT, with robust institutions, with a valid and active rule of law, with freedom of the press that is enjoyed every morning when reading newspapers and watching television – an experience that some nations lack – it seems to me – and without it being taken as an intervention on my part – political leaders, social and religious stakeholders, worker and business groups must more than ever build and enhance a vision of harmony, a language of unity, consensus and agreement. Designing a common home, a table of fellowship, involves all of us. The complex times we live in, with more uncertainties and questions, demand it. It is advice stemming from good faith from a Chilean who will always carry TT in his heart.
Goodbye, Port of Spain!