Thursday, March 10, 2016

Road to Trinidad Carnival

As vibrant colors and hues of chocolate perfection come down the avenue to the sweet soca tunes for this year you will feel nothing short of a euphoria and an urge to twirl. Trinidad's Carnival is your runway, you are the showstopper. Everyone showstops with you, love and joy overflows, and enjoyment abounds. If you've ever needed a time and a place to leave your worries at home and experience pure joy and an another opportunity to love on yourself, bond with strangers, and feel like a goddess, then t and t is your place. The only issue is that after all of this you are bound to never want to leave, in fact you feel like chipping along with the soundtrack of your first carnival blasting from the trucks that roll behind you...

In late August, something came over me and I decided to ask my cousin if she would be interested in going to Trinidad Carnival in February 2016. That something was the feeling of sadness I felt seeing my entire timeline on social media at Trinidad carnival last year while I scrolled from my living room couch in Gisenyi, Rwanda. A year ago I was dreaming about attending carnival. The dreams started from as early as our young adolescence and teenage years when we used to go to DC carnivals.

Even though I had come up with the idea and got my cousin on board, she took off with the idea. She took off soooo fast that there were times when I wanted to back out and wondered why I even asked her! She began to research and found a package deal that would include our band entry, costumes, meals/drinks for carnival Monday and Tuesday, a 5-day hotel stay and lots of other things. Though I had just started my first semester of graduate school, I was fortunate enough to be offered a Graduate Assistantship that not only matched my experiences, but was really just created for me I think ;) and at a pivotal time. My cousin lucked out here because I couldn't use the "I don't have any money" card here.

After months of planning, and online shopping, and daydreaming, and soca mixes, and smoothies, and guilty feelings about forgetting to work out, and days when I wondered what I had gotten myself into, the day finally came when I met my cousin in Miami and to begin our sojourn to the land of carnival---sweet, sweet TnT.

We arrived at Piarco airport, exchanged our currencies, got a small phone for local calls and even at the airport as people grabbed their bags and waited for their rides, there was a sense of calm before the storm all in anticipation of what the next few days would bring.

Our arranged transportation to the hotel chatted us all the way to the hotel but not before we stopped on the roadside to grab some hottttt (and I mean hot!) jerk chicken and rice and peas and a cold drink.

Upon arrival to the hotel we were met with the sounds of soca blasting from the poolside. Our first fete----Scorch: Duck Work was awaiting us. So we rushed to get ready and donned our liveliest swimsuits for this poolside bash. If Scorch was any indicator of what the next few days would be like, then we were ready and excited. Just that night, through all the feteing, wining, there were conversations to be had and just in those few hours, I met interesting people. Quite cool, I thought.

This year we decided to take it easy on the fetes so we didn’t register and pay for every single fete possible and frankly, I enjoyed this strategy. It kept us refreshed and fully able to enjoy the events and fetes that we did go to. We did Scorch, Private Ryan’s Soca Brainwash, Sunnyside Up, played j'ouvert with Cocoa Devils and of course, Carnival Monday and Tuesday, with our band-YUMA! Next year, we will definitely add Caesar’s Ambush and two or three more fetes given the length of our stay.

J'ouvert was a blast, despite the fact that I actually do not prefer to have stuff like chocolate, paint and oil, on my face or really anywhere on me. In the wee hours of the morning, we awoke to put on funky gear and headed out. Whether or not you are hungry at 4am, you better eat because chippin’ down the road on an empty stomach to your favorite songs is not a good look. Eat up. Corn soup it was.

just before hittin' the road with the cocoa devils

cousin love always

sheer enjoyment

someone caught me mid-vibe

After J'ouvert morning festivities, we played smart again and got some rest instead of heading right about with our group to meet our band on the road for Carnival Monday. We got back to the hotel and were expected to have an hour or less for turnaround. Not happening. we changed out of our chocolatey J'ouvert gear, showered, got some rest and then it was time to don our Carnival Monday Wear. I Rep Sierra Leone (by way of the DMV) so you know what my outfit had to look like ;)

Carnival Monday was the warm up for us and the anticipating for the main event had been building. I had a blast at Carnival Monday, but pretty much I had been having a blast everywhere with enough roti, wings, doubles, gyros, and coconut water in between to keep me energized. Monday night is really the only night where there isn’t too much planned because it is understood that you need to get rest for the big day. I’ll be honest: I was overwhelmed with excitement and the thought of how things would go, but there is really no way I could have prepared for the level of euphoria that I felt on the road on Tuesday, especially after the sun began to cool down.

costume pick up had me feeling like wedding day!

We woke up early on Tuesday Morning to put on the main elements of our costumes and then headed downstairs to get extra pretty with make up, eyelashes, colorful eye shadow, bright bold lips, and gems. If you know me well then you know that I use minimal makeup. On this day, however, and in this year, I have decided to push myself to do things outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself in different ways. So I went all out for carnival, but in general that’s my new theme. Besides, the make up brings it all together with the beauty of the costume. Ready for the road…

We snapped a few pictures in front of our hotel, made videos, took as many selfies as possible and then headed out to meet up with our band. Once the parade began, the feeling of seeing so many women beautifully adorned in their costumes, with the Caribbean sun shining down on all shades was a sight to see. So many different body types, shapes, figures, shades, and all positive affirmation that we ALL look good.

There were times when I simply felt the freedom to twirl with my arms wide open as my feathers kissed my hair ringlets, and the sequins and gems from my costumes reflected light onto my chocolate skin. Perhaps, it’s the costume, the extra beauty you feel, the crowd that surrounds the route to watch you joined with the sweet melodies of the soca season that moved me to feel this indescribable joy and gratefulness that I felt. Or perhaps it’s the fact that deep down inside, I have always wanted to dance in the streets. So I’ve done it and that feeling is an experience I wish for all to have. Who is ready for the road next year?  I hope the pictures convince you.

until next time carnival

Bee’s Backseat…Next up---somewhere in Africa!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Life on a Rwandan University Campus: Lecturer Style

I must confess to you that when I found out that my placement was 2.5 hours outside of the capital city, Kigali, I was devastated. But when I arrived in Rwanda and told different people I would be living in Gisenyi, everyone told me how lucky I was. Seven months into my grant period here, I truly have come to know and love my small town on the border of Congo. The energy, the vibrant colors, the imam’s sounds from the town mosque, the stunning view of Lake Kivu just outside my door, the sounds of the students from my window passing by, the avocado-bearing tree that drops its fruits in the dead of the night on the roof of my house. I truly lucked out.
The last time I lived on a college campus was in 2010, the year I graduated. When I arrived to Rwanda Tourism University College, my host institution for my nine months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I had low expectations (a skill you have to develop when travelling).  I knew that I would be provided a house on the campus, furnished with the few amenities, I needed. So I was really just showing up as Bintu, and with all of my many clothes and shoes and bintunecessities in three suitcases, a hand luggage, and an oversized personal item.

I was ushered to a cute little house on the campus just behind the main lecture hall and administrative offices and attached to the boys hostel behind me. They couldn’t have created a more comfortable home for me. As it is my first time living alone, I needed something cozy, and I was given just that. The home has almost a grandmother’s feel and everyone who visits catches that vibe.  It’s like a studio house, made for one single lady like me or a couple who doesn’t need to be separated my much space ;) It’s a one bedroom, decently sized room with a bathroom attached.

I have a big sink, which believe me is a big deal when you are washing fufu pots. A refrigerator that didn’t work for the first months, although the top freezer part functions readily. And the same refrigerator doesn’t work again. No microwave, which I don’t find myself missing either; I have found creative ways to reheat food. But also going to the market and thinking of what I can finesse on the stove with limited ingredients is fun too.

The fact that I live on campus means I need less than five minutes to get to class. This also means that students are always knocking on my door. Most times they are just stopping by to say hi. Other times, they are coming to ask questions. During exam time they are coming to file their complaints about discrepancies and beg for pardons on zeros assigned when caught cheating. Overall, living on campus as their lecturer allows for integration into the school community. I really have made a home here and always feel that sense of comfort when I walk back on the campus.  I usually leave my windows and front door open to catch the nice breeze, but mostly to invite positive energy into my home and make my students feel welcome. This is not a requirement, but as I am here on a cultural exchange, one thing I want to share is my openness.   

my awesome first year students came to say Hi after their evening class
ran into my Hotel and Restaurant Management students on my back home from town

Lights are out by 10, not sure if that’s a rule or if every student on this campus closes their eyes at 10 pm. That’s when the gate closes and students are not allowed to leave or enter after that time. I am an exception.

Campus life is still fun, even from a Lecturer’s perspective. Stay tuned.