Friday, July 9, 2010

Close encounters with death in Trinidad


I often ask myself what would have happened to my parents if either I or my sister died in Trinidad while they were in the U.S. How would they feel? What would they do? What would happen to the surviving sibling? Thankfully those questions did not have to be answered. But they almost were on several occasions - unbeknownst to my parents.

There was the time that I saved my sister from the piercing horns of an ornery goat. In hindsight, it probably was not a good idea to throw stones at the goat while it was eating. But we persisted in the taunting: whinnying, and make noise to distract the goat.

Allana and I stood halfway in between where the goat was grazing and the house. We were pretty much at the same spot where my sister and I tried unsuccessfully to build our playhouse, when the goat decided – enough is enough – and without any warning CHARGED!

His intentions left little to misinterpret. He wanted our behinds.  His little feet and narrow legs were moving with swift speed, dust from the dirt path kicked up behind him, and his little tail waved like a raised battalion flag being marched into battle.

My sister and I reacted with equal speed and agility. We quickly turned and started sprinting towards the house.

30 meters to go.

I looked back and realized the goat was gaining ground on us. I was faster than my sister and she was quickly losing ground to me and that goat was slowly closing the gap.

“Run Allana run!” I yelled in what played out like a scene from Forrest Gump.

I slowed my run enough to grab my sister’s hand to pull her along. At that moment, I made a conscious decision to go around to the side of the house instead of through the front door which I saw was closed. I knew the back door would have been wide open allowing us to dash right in.

20 meters to go.

We cut around the side of the house. The path was narrow with low hanging branches from trees growing off the hillside adjacent to the house. I ran with my left hand extended in front of me pushing the branches away. My right hand held a firm grip on my sister’s wrist. 

We thought the goat would end its chase as we entered the side of the house. I looked back and saw that the goat was still running at top flight speed.

10 meters to go.

My sister and I entered the clearing at the back of the house. Roosters and hens scampered about with some flying one foot of the ground in every direction to keep from getting trampled under our stampeding feet. The goat was almost right on top of us – bending it head slightly ready to gore my sister in the buttocks.

Upon seeing this, I stopped, turned, grabbed my sister and pulled her behind me, raised my leg back and waited and waited. And as it was about to gore me, I pivoted slightly counterclockwise on the ball of my left foot and planted a swift kick on the side of the charging goat’s head with my right. Its left horn closely missing the inside of my right thigh. The goat stumbled to the ground.

This gave us enough time to turn and dive inside the back door as the startled goat regained its composure.

0 meters to go – Safe inside the back door!

My sister and I laid on the floor looking at the goat as it walked off following the trail that had led it to the back of the house. We got up and brushed ourselves off thinking that we just had a close encounter with death. We never did mess with that goat again.

There was another time that my sister almost drowned. Sunday was beach day in Trinidad. My grandmother would pack up food for the day and travel to Maracas Bay beach on the Northern Coast. We would be accompanied by various relatives who would take advantage of getting the young children of the family together.

Maracas beach was a haven for families and tourists on Sundays. Most people took the North Coast road that stretched from the base of the Northern Range Mountains just north of Maraval all the way to Toco – the very northeastern tip of Trinidad. In between Maracas and Toco, there were places where the North Coast road was not paved and was impassable during the rainy season. The road was built by U.S. soldiers in the 1940s and 50s. The two-lane highway wound its way up the mountains and back down as it approached Maracas. On many occasions we would learn about cars that had plummeted down the deep precipices that bordered the road.  

One Sunday we traveled to Maracas to enjoy the sun filled day and bathe in the warm waters of the Caribbean. Every inch of white sand was covered with bodies and sheets. Calypso and Soca filled the air from small radios while children ran and played among the waves and kicked footballs around.  And many people were eating homemade pelau and drinking Carib.

My sister and I were not great swimmers and were always warned about the strong undercurrents and riptides Maracas was known for.  It seemed like every weekend someone was drowning at Maracas beach.

On this occasion my sister and I were playing in waist deep water when a big wave came upon us without warning and engulfed my sister and me. I was thrown off my feet as water rushed passed me towards the shore. Panic enveloped me as I furiously tried to gain my balance and rise to my feet. I rubbed my face with my hand as I slowly started stumbling back to the safety of the shore. I started looking around for my sister but could not see her. I spun 360 degrees looking and yet still nothing. I called out for her but there was no reply.

I then started yelling “Help! Help!” Just then a gentleman from the shore ran past me in a hurry. His legs high stepping the waves creating large sprays of water when his feet penetrated the rushing ocean. He dove straight into a cresting wave, disappeared and emerged swimming to a young girl who was struggling a few meters from the shore. It was my sister, Allana. She was slowly bobbing up and down with her arm flailing as the rip tide carried her out to sea.

He reached her just when I saw the last glimpse of her head go under the water. For what seemed like minutes, the man disappeared under the water and later surfaced holding my sister in his arms. A crowd had gathered around me including my Grandmother and Aunt. The rescuer slowly made his way back to shore where others ran into the water to relieve him of his selfless act and pull my sister onto the dry sand. They laid her in a supine position and one of the life guards started pumping her chest and almost immediately she coughed and spit out water. Dazed, she looked at the crowd and started crying. My Grandmother and I were already by her side reassuring her that everything was okay. We left for home as soon as my sister regained her strength. She was still shaken days later.

We returned to Maracas many times since then. However, we never really enjoyed swimming there since the incident. We found other calmer beaches like Las Cuevas.

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