Monday, August 2, 2010
Kite fights in the savannah, Trinidad
Kite flying in the savannah, Trinidad
I loved designing, building, and flying kites. My kites were not just any ordinary kites. They were fighter kites and I was a damn good fighter kite flyer. My kites ruled the skies over the savannah – the oldest recreation grounds in the West Indies. Boys trembled with fear and their hands shook as I walked onto the field of battle. I left many a nemesis sprinting after their kites as it drifted off captured by the wind shortly after being slashed by my kite’s bladed tail. With my fingers blistered and a smile on my face, I would haul in my prized kite at the end of the day and walk to catch a taxi back home anxious to resume the battle next week on the plains of the savannah.
My first kite was a “chookie chong”. It was a diamond shape kite made from paper I ripped from my school notebook. It had a two-foot white paper tail taped to the end. A piece of string from my grandmother’s sewing kit was attached to guide the kite while in flight. I would run with that kite as a young boy mimicking my older counterparts who mastered the grand kites of the day. The “chookie chong” would bob up and down rising with the speed increases of my gait. These were glorious moments in my childhood.
I made larger kites as I grew older. However, none were fighter kites. One day my uncle asked me why I did not have a fighter kite. I told him that I did not know how to make one. My uncle quickly fixed that problem. He assisted me one day to produce the most beautiful yet wicked kite I had ever laid eyes on.
We went into the mountains and chopped and stripped some flexible wood into pieces that measured ¼ inch in diameter and 14 inches in length. When we got back home, I cut some paper we purchased from Griffith general store on the corner of Morn Coco and Seau Deau Road. I snuck some string and a piece of cloth from my Grandmother dresser-drawer and we constructed the kite. But my uncle said we were not finished. He said it was not a fighter kite yet!
He pulled a small bag from his carrying pouch and opened it. It was filled with very coarse sand that glittered in the sunlight. The sand felt like it had small pieces of glass in it as I picked up a handful and let it drain through my fingers back into the bag. He also pulled out a container filled with a white paste and placed on the ground. He grabbed a paper bag we had from Griffiths and laid it on the ground as well. He mixed the paste and sand together and rubbed the mixture all over the kite string. He suggested I let it dry for a while before rolling it up in the spool. He then pulled out a few razor blades and broke them in half and tied the blades onto the cloth tail of the kite in 12” increments. The blades on the tail totaled 6 at end count. Within an hour my fighter kite was ready for its maiden voyage. My uncle said to give it a name. So I named it Sparrow for the Mighty Sparrow – the great Calypsonian from Trinidad and Tobago.
I flew that kite in the front yard of the house in Maraval for weeks. I perfected my craft. I learned how to maneuver the kite to the left, right, up, down, and how to dip it straight down and at the last second have it climb to the heavens. In a steady breeze, I would sit my kite to ride the breeze in the sky as if it was a seagull levitating on a jet stream.
But the ultimate arena for kite fighting was the savannah. There were numerous stories of boys coming from all over Trinidad to fly their fighter kites in the savannah. I wanted some of the action.
My anxiety to engage in the savannah kite fighting sessions welled-up inside me and on a breezy Saturday afternoon the well head broke. I grabbed my bag, my kite, walked down to the taxi cab junction, and boarded a taxi en route to Port of Spain. I was dropped off by the Savannah and there before me, with my back towards Jerningham Avenue, were scores of boys flying their kites in the skies over Trinidad.
I quickly sprinted on the grass and found an adequate space in between two boys who were in the mid teens and looked like they had a good four years on me. I placed my kite on the ground and stepped back about 25 meters as I unraveled my string. I was ready. I tugged on the string and with that my red kite was up in the air rising steadily through the blustery wind.
It ascended with the boldness of a Kudu bull standing its ground to the lions on the Serengeti. I turned it left and right so my opponents could not help but notice my kite’s shimmering razor blade laced tail that forecasted doom to any string that ventured in its path. I was ready for battle.
Each boy on either side of me started moving closer. They had sensed I was ready to engage my kite with theirs. However, I had my kite to low in the sky and had to quickly climb to their height or risk being cut but the tail of their kites.
I quickly released string. I allowed the string to slide through my thumb and index finger as fast as possible. The scotch tape I had placed on both fingers definitely saved my fingers from the coarseness of the string. The wind was in my favor as a gust quickly rose off the plains of the Savannah and swept my kite higher and higher. In continued to release and pull release and pull to draw my kite higher. The kite tugged on my string to let her fly like a thoroughbred yearning to run.
I gleaned from my periphery that the boy on my left was inching closer to make a move on my kite. His green kite was now positioned slightly below my kite and at the 7 o’clock position. I had noticed that he was positioning himself to go for the string cut.
At an instance, I conducted a move that I had practiced many times before. I pulled my string straight across my body to my left, then pulled it straight down to my lower left and then back up to my right. My kite veered left and rose. Then it dropped quickly - nose driving as its lethal tail tried to catch up. The kite then jerked a hard right cutting across the blue sky its tail making a swooping trail. As it made the quick turn to go right its tail swept across the string of the kite on my left and cut it in an instant.
It was a beautiful move that provided the anticipated result. The string the boy on my right was holding went limp as the rest of it meandered slowly to the ground. His eyes followed his kite as it drifted father away dancing drunkenly in the wind. After a few seconds of realizing what had happened, he ran after his kite hoping to get there in time before another boy snatched it.
A smile rose across my face and as I looked at the other boy to my right, he had already started moving away from me. I was the alpha male in this patch of Savannah.
Other boys had witnessed the occurrence and saw me as a worthy opponent. Not that I was asking for other challengers. I was quite comfortable ruling my 50 meters of land. But others came. I was challenged a few times on that day and won until a boy with an orange kite entered the arena. His kite was twice the size of mine and it was fast. It also did moves I had never seen before. It was like looking at a prima ballerina floating in air. The kite’s tail moved like a serpent trying to hypnotize its prey before pouncing for the kill. For the first time that day, I was nervous.
The battle we would have that day would be one in a series of epic battles our two kites would have. Little did I know that our kites would become mortal enemies in the sky but on the ground the boy and I would become best friends.