Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip (Part 5)

Blue Devils





          Jumbie Tree

As I lay on my cot thinking about what had just transpired, I could not help but focus my attention on all the folklore stories my grandmother had told me through the years. She spoke of devils and ghastly demons that walked the earth to cause trouble for God fearing people. Some I had seen and some I never wanted to see. These stories heightened my anxiety about the young girl who died in the latrine.

The Blue Devils were the scariest ghouls because I got to see them every Carnival season without fail. The Blue Devils from Paramin, my father’s village, were men and women who painted themselves with blue dye, ran from house to house, and said to anyone who would listen that they would enter the house and steal all children if they did not receive money. It was akin to an evil Santa Clause expecting money instead of cookies.

The Blue Devils usually came down the hills stopping at every house as they marched down to Maraval village - dancing and jumping around and making a lot of noise. You would hear them coming from a distance. Drums beating, bells ringing and lots of whooping. The sound often started oh so faint but grew in tone and volume as their steps got closer.

The Blue Devils often were trailed by a band of music men. The band dressed in regular clothes. They were not devils but the devil’s imps. They were considered lesser beings - there to do the bidding of the devil. And in this case, their duty was to play music, blow horns, and make noise.

My sister and I would stand by the road to the entrance of our property waiting to hear the initial sound of the drums. It was usually early morning on Carnival Monday - always the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

Upon hearing the drums, we would call out to our grandmother warning her of the approaching Blue Devils. When they would come around the bend on the top of the hill, we would usually see large men in front tied up in chains with smaller Blue Devils tugging on the chains to hold the big Blue Devils back. Other Blue Devils would be jumping and walking around with mean looking faces and twirling their tongues in an unnatural manner. Most of the Blue Devils carried pitch folks that they would thrust in the air with every roar that was yelled from their mouths.

We would run back to the house when the Blue Devils got closer – always heading straight to the bedroom to kneel on the bed and peer out the window. We always hid our faces behind the window curtain making certain not to let the Blue Devils see us. I would tell my sister to run through the backdoor if they come in the house. They would travel down the dirt path to the house dancing and kicking up dust. When they reached the front of the house they would dance wildly and poke their pitch forks at their imaginary adversary. My grandmother would watch them for awhile standing on the porch. We were enthralled by the quick tempo of the dancing and rhythmic cadence of the chants. It was amazing!

My grandmother would give the Blue Devils some money and they would bow and turn and dance back down the path and on to the next house. My sister and I would sit and chat about the experience for hours thanking God that the Blue Devils had not captured us this year. 

But there were other ghouls that caused us anxiety.

Douens were the worst of all the unseen jumbies – a term we used to call all ghosts and ghouls. Douens were young children who died without being baptized. Often the size of toddlers, they were faceless and without visible sex organs. Their feet faced backwards which was probably their most striking feature. Douens would try to entice young children by calling their names, having the children follow them into the forest, and leaving the children there – lost and afraid. We were always told before going out in the yard or across the street to fetch fresh water from the stream that we should not stray too far from the house because the Douens are out there and they will get us.

I never saw a Douen in my life and would not want too. That was the creature we most feared because we could not stomach getting lost in the bush and having to possibly face a soucouyant.

A soucouyant was an old woman who made a pact with the devil in exchange for becoming a shift changer. She lives like an old woman during the day and at night sheds her skin and becomes a ghoul. She can readily turn into animals or put a curse on individuals so they would change into animals. She does all her dirty work at night - routinely sucking the blood of her victims. But before the sun rises in the east, she must return to her skin or she will forfeit that skin forever. Soucouyants would also suck on your body like a bat. Young men and women with a hicky were often asked if a soucouyant sucked him or her.  

Another frightful devilish creature was the Lajables. A Lajables was another woman who was the devil in persona. She had a veiled-covered corpse-like face with a wide brim hat on her head. She had one regular foot and the other foot was a hoof. She often would hide the hoof in grass or under a long dress. She would ask unsuspecting men to walk her home. She would lead the men into the bush, disappear, and then they would be lost. The men would either be eaten by wild animals, bitten by snakes, or fall to their death in a ravine.

All these jumbies lived in the jumbie tree. The jumbie tree was and still is a revered tree in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the entire Caribbean and Central and South America. On some islands, the tree is called the Kapok tree or Silk Cotton tree. It is believed that the tree’s roots stretch to the underworld and jumbies dwell inside the tree. Cutting it down would open the spirit world and cause havoc on earth.

These folklores were real to me. The characters struck fear into the hearts of young children. And year after year the tales were passed down from sibling to sibling and mother to son, slowly indoctrinating unsuspecting youth with tales that would generate nightmares for years. It certainly kept me in line, obedient, and inclined to not venture too far from the house on my own.  

So there I lay on the cot looking up at the ceiling thinking if the little girl in the latrine was still out there waiting to show her face and maybe her backward facing feet.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Part 4)

I had to use the bathroom and the only way I was going outside to the latrine was with Mr. Orosco at my side. I got up off the cot, walked over to the other side of the building, and stood right by the side of Mr. Orosco’s cot. I looked up at the clock on the wall which read 2:30am. It was early.

I bent down and shook Mr. Orosco’s shoulder with my hand.

“Mr Orosco, wake up. Mr. Orosco, I need to use the latrine.” I said in a soft raspy voice making certain not to wake the other parents that slept close by.

My Orosco turned and picked up his glasses from off the floor. I thanked God I didn’t step on them.

“Why are you up Salandy? What is the matter?” He asked sounding half asleep looking up at me.

“I need to use the latrine.” I replied curling my legs in and bouncing to accentuate my urgent need.

“Go get John, your group leader and have him go with you. You all be careful. Take the flashlight sitting by the window.” He said as he pointed to the window where we stood earlier looking out at the village boys.

I walked back to the boys’ cot area and found John. John was a pack leader. He was from Woodbrook where his parents owned a small grocery shop on Ariapita Avenue. He also was a very good athlete. He usually came in first in the 100 yard dash every time we had the Rosary Boys sports day.

I approached John’s cot and bent down and tapped him on the shoulder. He woke up instantly and asked what was wrong as he rubbed his eyes. I told him I needed to go to the bathroom and Mr. Orosco wanted him to accompany me.

John said something under his breath and got up. He also woke several other boys up. I would have a phalanx of boys escorting me to the latrine. No ghost would dare attack five boys I thought. When we got to the front door however, only John was behind me. He had the flashlight that he retrieved from the window sill in his hand.

“Come on lets go.” John said as he walked past me with the flashlight beaming straight ahead.

“Where are the other boys?” I asked

“They will be along in a moment. I think they are trying to find another flashlight.” He replied as he stepped down onto the path.

I started feeling scared. Thoughts of the dead girl crept into my mind. I stayed very close to John. Even though he was my height, he did have broad shoulders and weighed a lot more than me. I looked around left to right and back left as we walked down the front path.

We turned slightly right at the end of the path and towards the open door of the latrine. It was dark inside and had a putrid smell. The sounds of crickets could be heard from all around. John stopped when he got to the door. I stopped with him.

“Okay go. And hurry up.” He instructed as he leaned against the wall at the opening.

“Do not leave and make sure you point the light so I can see, John. Really!” I said as I groped for the opening of the closest stall.

I found the stall and walked in. The stall had a cement seat with a hole in the middle. I pulled down my pants and underwear and started to pee. I called out to John but he did not respond. The brightness from the flashlight had faded a bit.

“Hey John are you still there?” I said knowing that he was because of the still faint beam of light. There was no reply.

“Stop playing and answer me.” Still there was no response. I tried to hurry as best as I could. I started to feel my heart beat faster and louder.

I was still peeing when from the stall to my right came a slight noise. It was like a whishing sound. I turned my head to the right to get a better listen when a crashing roar pierced the silence. I instantly screamed. Just then, a white apparition appeared from over the top of the barrier that separated the stalls. I screamed louder, threw my hands in front of my body, and stumbled back. My shorts and underwear were hanging around my ankles. I continued to scream as pee ran down my legs. As I fell backward out of the stall, I began to twist trying to get my shorts and underwear up and get out of the latrine and away from whatever that was. I called for my grandmother.

“Mama! Mama!” I cried over the roar while doing everything to get up and out of the latrine. I tried to get to my feet but stumbled on the wet ground. I got back up and stumbled out of the latrine door and quickly caught sight of  John standing in the front.

“Run John!” I cried and I ran past John. I did not get far when I realized that he was laughing when I ran past him. In fact, he was laughing so hard that the beam from the flashlight kept bobbing up and down dramatically.

I turned and looked at him. He looked at me and then doubled over in laughter.

I stood there seething mad in my urine drenched shorts and underwear.

Then to my amazement out came three boys from the latrine. The same three boys John had awoken. They were all laughing hysterically. One was holding what appeared to be a broomstick, a coat hanger, and a white sheet. One was yelling, “Roar!”

Another boy was imitating my screams for my grandmother. I turned towards the school to walk back to my cot just to catch Mr. Orosco flying out the front door with his flashlight in hand.

“What going on out here? Who was screaming?” He asked as he walked towards me.

I turned around to look at the boys who by now had stopped laughing and turned back to Mr. Orosco and said “Nothing. I was just using the latrine and thought I saw a snake.”

Mr. Orosco told us to get inside. He turned and walked back in. I followed him in and walked to my cot, took of my clothes, and wiped myself with a small towel I retrieved from my bag. I could hear the other boys giggling as they entered the building. In no time we were all laying on our cots. The pranks had begun.

And by the time we left St. Lucia, I would come to be known as the best prankster ever.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Pt. 3)

           Gros Piton and Petit Piton: The Pitons of St. Lucia

It was hot in St. Lucia. The Pitons stood tall in the distance. Gros Piton and Petit Piton we were told are St. Lucia’s treasures.  They certainly looked beautiful like two green ice-cream cones turned upside down.

Much of what we saw on the drive to the school looked like what we saw every day in Trinidad. Children were running, playing football and cricket, and walking to get water. Vendors were selling mangoes, bananas, plums, and all sought of other fruits and vegetables.

The sight of all the food vendors reminded us that we had not eaten since breakfast and some of that food was still lying on the floor of the plane or soaked into the clothes of some of the boys. It was lunch time and we were hungry.  

Just when I was going to suggest to Mr. Orosco to allow the bus to stop and get something to eat, we turned onto a road that twisted up a slightly sloping hill which emptied out into a clearing behind a row of trees. Before us was the school.

It was a brick u-shaped one story structure. A gravel-paved parking lot sat in the front of the school. There was a building off to the left side of the school that had a sign on it read “latrines and showers.” The two edifices were not connected.

We got out of the vans, grabbed our bags, and waited for Mr. Orosco to direct us on what to do. A man came out of the building along with two ladies and greeted us. The man had very dark skin. He wore black pants with a white guayabera and sandals. The two middle-aged ladies looked like they could have raised several children. They wore bright colored flowery dresses with slippers. But what Joseph and I noticed were the white aprons that they had on over the dresses. Food, we thought. They had been cooking.

After a brief greeting, we walked across the concrete path to the front doors of the school. We walked into a huge room – easily the size of a quarter of a football field. There were cots lined up in rows on the right side of the room. At the end of the room to the right was a stage with a piano. Joseph remarked about there being no desks and chairs.

To the left and at the end of the room was a cafeteria with long tables and benches that easily could have seated 40 children and adults.

We were asked to grab a cot and that would be ours for the rest of our time in St. Lucia. Joseph and I walked over to the cot area and decided on two next to each other. We were told to secure our bags, use the latrine if we wanted, and come back and have a seat at the tables for lunch.  

Both Joseph and I decided to go to the latrines along with some other boys. As we went outside, we saw that a few boys and a girl in a white dress had gathered in the parking lot - no doubt alerted by the commotion of the vans arriving with potential new playmates.

“Hey, where are you all from?” called out one of the boys who stood with his right hand on his right hip and all his weight resting on his left leg. Joseph and I stopped to answer as the other Cub Scouts went to the latrine.

“We are from Trinidad. We are Cub Scouts.” Joseph said in a friendly tone as we approached the group.

“You all are staying there?” The same boy asked with some sarcasm in his voice. Some of the other boys started snickering as the boy finished his question.

I looked at Joseph and he looked at me. We looked back at the group. The girl was the only one who had not snickered. In fact, she had no emotive expressions on her face.

A couple of Cub Scouts had walked up during this exchange. Kevin, a young boy from St. James, heard the question and replied, “Yes. We are staying here for about a week. Why?”

The young St. Lucian boy said, “You all better be careful. That school is haunted. A little girl died there in those latrines.” He pointed to the very latrines that we were about to use. “And she still comes around now and then but mostly at night.”

“How did she die?” I asked.

“No one knows. They just found her body there one morning. People say she is still walking around trying to figure out how she died. Some villagers hear her at night crying or laughing sometimes.” He explained with a straight face.

“Do you all go to school here?” Joseph asked.

“No! Parents stopped sending their kids here. The children were afraid.” The boy who initially started the conversation said.

I could not stand to hear any more. I turned and walked away towards the latrine. I had to pee real badly. Joseph followed. “Where are you going?” he asked - kicking up gravel as he rushed to keep up.

“In there.” I said pointing to the latrine as I walked swiftly to the door. “I am going to pee and then go inside and eat. I am hungry.” I turned towards the opening and walked in. Joseph did not follow.

The latrine was an open air building with a galvanized steel roof. As I entered, to my right were sinks and to my left were latrine stalls. In the back and at the end of the hallway were the shower stalls. I stood there for a moment trying to capture every detail inside the building.

I hopped into the stall closest to the door. The latrine was well lit from the sunlight beaming outside. I quickly peed, washed my hands and walked with a speedy gait to the exit. Joseph stood waiting outside as I exited the building.

“You don’t have to pee?” I asked.

“Yes and I did already.” said Joseph.

“When? Where?”  I asked.

“I peed on the side of the latrine when you were in there peeing. I am not going in that latrine.” Joseph said shaking his head and pointing to the open door of the latrine.

“You peed on the side of a latrine that works?” I said shaking my head. “Suit yourself. Not going to the latrine will make your bowels block up and then you will have to drink some of my grandmother’s bush tea to get diarrhea. Wait till your bottom explodes.” I explained as I walked towards the school.

Kevin and some of the other Cub Scouts were still talking to the St. Lucian youth. The girl in the white dress was gone. I panned the grounds in search of her – but did not see her.

We went in and sat at the tables. The ladies had made some sandwiches. I devoured mine in a hurry. We had some orange juice that tasted very good better than I have ever tasted in Trinidad. I asked for another sandwich and devoured that one faster than the first.

After eating we went to explore the building and the rest of the surroundings. On the opposite wing from the eating area were chairs and desks stacked high - apparently stored to make room for us. Maybe the boys were fibbing about students not attending school here. I decided to ask the man who first greeted us.

I went back to the kitchen area and asked the man who at that moment was pounding a nail into a piece of wood, “Excuse me sir? Do kids attend school here? And did a young girl die here? Is this school haunted?” The questions came out in rapid succession.

He gave me an amazed look like I had just said something that I should not have known about. After a slight pause, he said, “Yes kids go to school here. Yes unfortunately a little girl did die here. Well not here but in the latrine. And no, this school is not haunted? Who told you this?”

“Some boys outside. Oh yeh, and there was a girl with them.” I said

He stopped and paused for a moment. Looked to the window and then back at me. He got up off his knees, walked over to the two large glass pane windows, and peered outside. I followed his every step and stood next to him by the window.

The boys were still outside talking to some of the Cub Scouts.

“Those boys live in the village. They probably are just curious as to who you all are.” He said. “Where is the girl you were talking about?”

“She was gone when I came out of the latrine.” I replied.

“Hum.” The man said bringing his hand up to his chin rubbing it as if trying to figure out a puzzle. “What was she wearing?” he went on.

“A white dress.” I said not knowing what to take from his additional question about the girl.

“She is probably from the village too.” He said as he walked back to resume pounding nails into the board.

I said thanks and walked away to meet up with Joseph who was fiddling with his suitcase that lay on his cot. I explained to him my conversation with the man and highlighted that the man appeared curious about the girl we saw with the boys outside. Joseph did not think anything of the man’s curiosity.

However, I did.  And that night, as I sat on my bed contemplating whether to wake Mr. Orosco to ask if he could accompany me to the latrine, I was about to meet that girl.  

Monday, June 7, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Pt. 2)

               LIAT Plane

All the Cub Scouts were gathered together walking inside of the cavernous Piarco airport. Some parents walked with their children and seemed to have a nervous look on their faces - maybe anxious about letting their children go off to another country without them. Others seemed to be just as giddy as their children – maybe happy about getting some free time away from their children. We were told that some parents were coming along with us as chaperones but we did not know which parents.

All I had with me was a very small light blue hard plastic suitcase. It was strewn among the other luggage piled a mile high next to the LIAT ticket counter. There was a woman in a LIAT uniform behind the ticket counter talking to Mr. Orosco and reviewing documents that seemed like birth certificates and airline tickets.

After a few minutes, Mr. Orosco turned to the group and said, “listen up boys. When I call your name raise your hand or say present.”

Mr. Orosco in a deep voice that could penetrate the thickest air drum called, “Khan!”

Curtis Khan, an Indo-Trinidadian lad that was smart as a whip and never seemed to leave the first row in class due to his excellent test scores said, “here!”

“Salandy!” Mr. Orosco called.

“Present sir.” I replied, making certain to have an air of respect in my voice.

And so it went, until all 26 boys were present and accounted for.  We were the Rosary Boys RC Cub Scout pack. Some boys were from Mr. Orosco’s class and others from various other classes at Rosary Boys RC.

Eight parents came along as chaperones as well as Evelyn, a 10 year old girl that was the sister of a Cub Scout from another class. She was beautiful, and dreamy, and nice, and with her mother who looked as no nonsense as Mr. Orosco. I had never seen Evelyn before, but on that day she was going to St. Lucia with me, on my plane, and I was overjoyed.

I was not the only one that noticed her. One of my friends made mention of her as he and I walked away from the check-in counter to the gate.

“Hey, did you see Erik’s sister?” said Joseph, a bespectacled slender boy like myself. Joseph was from Belmont and we often hung out together at recess.

“Yes.” I said, as I looked at him quizzically.

Why had he chosen me to point her out to? Had he seen me gawking at her with my mouth wide open?

“She is really pretty,” said Joseph, still looking at Evelyn, his head swiveling and eyes trained on her as he walked next to me.

“She is.” I replied. Trying to change the subject, I asked, “What seat are you in?”

“11a,” said Joseph as he finally took his eyes off Evelyn and looked down at his boarding pass.

“Great! I'm in 11b,” I said smiling, “Mr. Orosco probably put us together knowing that we are friends.”

We moved past the screening area where they checked our bags and scanned our bodies with a black magic wand that beeped when it passed over our belt buckle. We then made our way to the seating area for the departing flight. Mr. Orosco pointed through the big glass windows at the plane we were to fly in. It was a small twin propeller plane. It was LIAT’s plane of choice to ferry passengers from island to island in the Caribbean. It still is their plane of choice to this day.

Needless to say, I was expecting a big plane not a small rinky dink plane like this. How are we all going to fit in that small plane, I thought.

We sat playing for some time before an announcement came over the speaker that our flight to St. Lucia is boarding. We were asked to line up and were quickly shuttled to the entrance of the boarding gate. With my boarding pass in hand, I moved quickly to gate agent who ripped the pass in half, kept one half, and returned the other to me.

Joseph asked as we descended the stairs to the tarmac for our walk to the plane, “Are you scared?”

“No,” I said. “I have been looking forward to flying on an airplane for some time.”

“I have been too,” said Joseph as he looked to the ground.

There was a sense of unease in Joseph’s voice. Maybe he was scared. The doors at the bottom of the stairs opened up to the tarmac and sunlight filled our vision. My hands quickly went up to my brow as I turned my head slightly away from the sun. We saw an attendant pointing to the stairs connected to the plane and motioned to us to move in that direction. As we approached the stairs, we noticed our luggage being placed in the belly of the plane. I tried to find mine in the kaleidoscope of suitcases and bags that were being tossed into the cargo hold by two young men. No luck. What a great job they have, I said to myself.

We climbed the stairs being careful to hold onto the railing. I certainly did not want to have the misfortune of tumbling down the stairs and breaking my leg moments before my adventure. The thought of my grandmother’s friend tripping over our playhouse construction, breaking her leg, and having to cancel her flight popped into my head.

We entered the cabin of the plane. The flight attendant was a beautiful lady with a broad white smile. “Welcome Cub Scouts!” She said with a voice that seemed to envelop me with warmth. As I passed her, I looked back at Joseph and raised my eyebrows. He responded by giggling and giving me a slight push in the small of my back.

The aisle was narrow with two seats on either side. Joseph and I walked on down and found our seats. I grabbed the window seat and Joseph did not complain with the aisle seat. We buckled in and sat ready for takeoff.

The flight attendant closed the cabin door and indicated that the plane was ready to depart. A few minutes later, the plane was barreling down the runway - shaking and making more noise than I had anticipated. Joseph grabbed my arm and asked, “Is this normal?”

I said, “I do not know, I have never flown before remember.”

Soon the noise had subsided and we were in the air. I could see the airport down below getting smaller and smaller from the open window.

“Wow!” I said as I looked out the window on the sprawling land that was Trinidad. “The cars are tiny and I can’t even see the people!”

Joseph stretched his neck to see out the window. “Next time I am sitting by the window,” he demanded as he viewed the earth from 1000 feet in the air for the first time.

Excitement filled the cabin since this was the first flight for most of the boys. There was much chatter on the 40-minute flight to Grenada. Boys were yelling and turning around in their seats to talk to others behind them. Mr. Orosoco was up front with some of the parents and seemed not to mind the noise.

Landing in and taking off from Grenada were uneventful. And the 30-minute trip between Grenada and St. Vincent was okay as well.

However, things changed dramatically on our ascent away from St. Vincent. The flight to St. Lucia was expected to take 30 minutes. But ten minutes into the flight the captain came over the intercom and said we were going to experience some turbulence.

Turbulence, what is that, I pondered. Just then, the term became crystal clear. The plane started to shake violently. Moments later it dropped and my stomach felt as if it was trying to escape my body through my throat and mouth.

There were lots of screams. Boys that just a few hours earlier seemed impervious to risk, played with snakes, captured bugs, climbed tall tree, and professed to be the world's greatest footballer were reduced to crying infants that pleaded for their mothers or just simply yelled for their God.

The plane stopped dropping and leveled off as if a big hand was placed on the underbelly. Sobs and whimpering clearly could be heard, some coming from Joseph next to me. I was scared but not to the point of terror. I thought it was cool actually. I never experienced free falling and that is what it felt like.

I looked over at Joseph and asked, “Are you alright? You do not look good. You are sweating really badly.”

“I feel like I am going…” Joseph said as the words coming out of his mouth were replaced by a torrent of vomit.

“Oh no! That’s nasty.” I said, as I moved far away as possible from the mess that was littering his clothes, shoes, seat, the cabin floor, and dripping down his chin.

I stood up and looked to the front for Mr. Orosco. I saw the flight attendant at another boys seat four rows up. She was bent over the boy doing something. When she stood up, I could see she had a bunch of napkins in her hand and a disgusted look on her face. Those pearly white teeth and broad smile were hidden for the moment. I motioned to her saying, “Miss, my friend vomited.”

Boys turned their heads to look at me as if I had said a bad word.

“I will be there in a minute,” she said as she walked back to the front of the plane. Moments later, she came back with a fist full of napkins and started wiping up the vomit from Joseph’s lap and clothes. 

“Are you okay sweetheart? Let us get this cleaned up for you,” she said as she started to wipe up the mess. She seemed to be wiping and keeping an eye on Joseph at the same time. I didn’t blame her. I would have done the same to prevent becoming a victim of further vomiting.

The screams, turbulence, and rising stench went on for most of the flight. By the time we landed in St. Lucia, most of the kids and adults seemed traumatized. Fortunately, I was not.

As we disembarked, it was obvious that many more boys had thrown up. I would not want to be the crew to clean that plane, I thought. That did not seem like a good job.

We descended the stairs attached to the plane and were directed inside the terminal. Mr. Orosco had gathered the boys and parents and inquired as to everyone’s well-being. We were all fine - just shaken a little.

We got processed through immigration in a timely fashion. Some boys had to go to the restroom to clean up however. I accompanied Joseph to the restroom just in case he needed my help. The other boys went to retrieve their luggage and we joined them moments later.

We gathered our luggage and headed through customs and into the streets to a row of vans waiting to shuttle us to the school.  I had survived my first flight. Little did I know as we drove away from the airport, I would have to survive something more sinister on this trip.  

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Part 1)

I was a Cub Scout in Trinidad. My Cub Scout leader was the infamous Mr. Guy Peter Orosco. It was with Mr. Orosco and my other pack members that I had arguably the best time as a young boy. This coming of age tale happened on the island of St. Lucia when I was 10 years old.

One afternoon, as we were seated in the classroom dressed in our Cub Scout uniforms, Mr. Orosco announced to the pack that we would be traveling to St. Lucia to camp out for a week. There was suddenly a rush of noise welling up to a crescendo of fist bumps and loud jubilation. Mr. Orosco not a man that tolerates out of control boys, quickly restored order with a stern warning to be quiet.

He went on to explain that we would board a plane that would take us to Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, and then on to our final destination – St Lucia. He indicated that we would have to pay for the trip ourselves. We would stay in a school and best of all, we would live two days with a family in St. Vincent.

We received some paperwork describing the trip and were told to take it home to have our parents read it. Our parents had to sign a form giving permission for us to go and agreeing to pay the required amount of money. I wanted to go.

I dreamt about the trip on the way home from school. I must have read the paperwork six times trying to glean as much information as possible about this adventure. I would get to fly on a plane, I thought to myself. My dream would come true. It did not matter that I was not going to New York City. I was taking a plane to somewhere and my friends were coming with me.

I reached home in haste, dropped my book bag, and ran to my grandmother with the form waving in the air as my hand twisted it from left to right to make sure she noticed it. “Mama, Mama can I go to St. Vincent, please, please?” I asked in a pleading voice.

My grandmother read the form and said, “we will see.” That was good enough for me. I knew that she had to ask my parents for the money. But I was confident that I would get an opportunity to go. My parents lived in New York, they definitely had the money, I said reassuringly to myself

I had already told my sister on the way home from school. She was excited for me and not once wished it was her going instead of me. That is just the way she was – always supportive.

A couple of weeks later, my grandmother finally told me that I would be going on the trip. She handed me the form signed on the approval line. Yes I was going. She also handed me an envelope and instructed me to give this to Mr. Orosco. The envelope felt like money so I secured it in my bag. No one could have ripped that bag from me. In fact, I didn’t even let it touch another person all the way to school. I followed my grandmother’s  instructions to the letter.

First thing when I got to school, I sprinted to Mr. Orosco, gave him the form and envelope and patiently waited for his reply. He said, “okay Salandy, you will be going with us.” Fantastic, I thought. I turned and walked away to join a group of friends that had gathered in the corner of the school yard. Most were pack members talking about the trip. They looked at me intently as I walked to the group. With a broad smile on my face, I revealed that I was going and we all erupted in joy. I was one of the last to get my form and money in.

We were all giddy and with each passing day our excitement proved more difficult to contain. More than usual, boys were caught moving after the “freeze” whistle at school. There were more licks with the cane. But that did not sway our enthusiasm for the impending trip.

The trip was finally here. I completed packing the night before leaving for St. Vincent. I had a checklist of things to bring. My grandmother had taken me to the store in Port of Spain to get most of the items on the list. The other items came in a package from my parents in the U.S.

I slept well the night before the trip and hence woke up very early. With nothing to do, I steadily needled my sister so she could get up. We had to be at Piarco airport at 8am. Finally, with everyone awake, I got dressed in my Cub Scout uniform that I had laid out the night before, ate breakfast, used the latrine, washed my hands, grabbed my suitcase, and waited by the front door.

My Uncle Thomas, who drove a taxi, was taking us to the airport. I stood by the front door waiting for his car to appear around the corner, turn left off the street, and travel down the dirt path to the house. At first glimpse of the white car, I called out to the rest of the traveling band that Uncle Thomas was here.

My sister and grandmother piled into Uncle Thomas’ car and he drove us to the airport. The airport was about a 45 minute drive from where I lived in Maraval.  
As we approached the departure terminal, I could see a group of Cub Scouts and their parents in a cluster. Bags as well as brothers and sisters were grouped in a farewell ritual that I soon would experience with my sister and grandmother.

We exited the car. Uncle Thomas grabbed my bags from the trunk of the car and I stood there talking with a couple of my friends. My grandmother walked over to Mr. Orosco and handed him an envelope. I was assuming it was my birth certificate. There was a reminder from Mr. Orosco that we needed it to travel.

No sooner, I was kissing my grandmother and sister and hugging Uncle Thomas goodbye. My grandmother put twenty dollars in my pocket and said take this. I patted the pocket of my khaki shorts and replied, “I will keep it safe.”

My grandmother said in a caring motherly voice, “be careful and listen to Mr. Orosco.” My sister smiled and with a soft reminder said, “just have some fun.”

We hug each other a final time, and with that, they got into the car and drove off. 

I was headed to check-in on my flight to St. Lucia with my Cub Scout pack and embark on an adventure that would change my life.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My first Anatomy class

                  Chamber Pots


We lived in a rural part of Northeast Trinidad. Maraval village was small back in the 60s and 70s. Most families had latrines. Our latrine was a wooden structure about 8 feet by 8 feet and stood 10 feet tall. It was built over a large hole in the ground that served as the deposit for human waste. The hole was not connected to a sewer so what went in stayed right there. Inside the latrine was a raised wooden seat with a hole in the middle. A wooden cover usually stood atop the hole. The ceiling of the latrine was galvanized steel sheets that made it unbearable in the hot months.

The latrine was in the back of the house off to the right. The 30 feet from the back door of the house to the latrine was a well worn path. In fact, most of the backyard was dirt. It had been cleared years ago to keep the snakes out or easily visible.

My first chore in the morning would be to empty the chamber pot. Chamber pots were used for going to the bathroom at night. It was the first thing you emptied in the morning. The smell could sometimes make you gag. I would get the chamber pots and empty them in the latrine. Rinse them in the outdoor sink, shake off the excess water, and place them back under the bed for the next night.

The latrine was not a fun place to be for a long time. There were flies, the occasional rodents, snakes seeking refuge from outside elements, mosquitoes, and a smorgasbord of bugs. There wasn’t electricity. So there was no fan when it got hot and there was no light when it got dark.

The latrine was important to me because it is where I first realized something very important about my body.

It was a school morning and I was dressed and ready to go. My stomach had been hurting earlier and my grandmother got some weeds from the back of the house as usual and boiled some tea. I drank it and a few moments later I felt better. However, that good feeling did not last long. My stomach ached terribly.

My grandmother told me to go to the latrine and sit on the toilet. I got up off the chair, went to the back door and walked down the stairs. I reached the latrine door, opened it. Pulled my pants down, and climbed up on the toilet seat. I sat there my hand folded over my stomach willing the pain to go away. I rocked back and forth hoping that the pain would pass. I pressed my clasped hands against my stomach. Beads of sweat ran down my face. The latrine was heating up from the morning sun.

Just then, with a blast that shocked me, liquid stool shot out of my ass and into the blackness of the latrine never to be seen again. I panicked. What had just happened, I asked myself. Something had gone terribly wrong. Had my stomach just dropped out of my ass?

I did what I did best, I screamed. The thought of my stomach down in the putrid disgusting waste sent chills down my spine and greatly increased the volume of my scream.

The first to arrive was my sister and followed closely behind by my grandmother. “What’s wrong?” asked my grandmother. “My stomach just fell out of my bottom and into the latrine!” I yelled.

She sternly replied as if I had wasted her time, “What?”

My sister had taken to snickering at me. My grandmother turned to her and said, “ssshhh.”

She turned back to me. I was crying and truly concerned about my survival chances without my stomach.

My grandmother knew exactly what was happening. She said, “you are going to be alright. I gave you some tea so you could go to the bathroom. You just had some diarrhea. Your stomach is still in your belly.”

“Di-a-what?” I exclaimed.

“Would it kill me?” I asked.

My grandmother explained the concept of diarrhea right there.

“Well, why did it explode out of my bottom?” I asked after her explanation.

“Because it wanted to come out,” my grandmother said as she turned around and walked back to the house.

Relieved that I was not internally disemboweled while going to the bathroom, I cleaned myself, washed my hands, and headed back inside. My grandmother had taught me my first anatomy and physiology lesson.