edge

Jamaica Farewell, Trinidad Wh'appen?

My name is Kashka Hemans and, after a real love affair with it, I have a real tabanca for Trinidad.

I lived in Trinidad in two stints, 2007-09, at Hugh Wooding Law School, and 2010-16. But my love affair with Trinidad started as a child. I read a lot and loved Trinidad because I loved it’s literature most. VS Naipaul is my favourite author. I loved Earl Lovelace’s descriptions of landscape, Manzanilla and all kinda places.

My Trinidadian wife Tonni Brodber and I have two sons Eli, three, and Noel, one-and-a-half. My eldest son, Tunde Jamil is in his 20s and lives in Tobago now because I had him, with a Trinidadian woman student at Mona, when I was 19.

Jamaican men love the Trinidad accent. On a woman. They can’t take it seriously on a man. No man should speak in such a flowery way.

Every Trinidadian is a performer. And every Trinidadian is ALWAYS on stage. They’re such storied people, they even naturally tell tragic stories well.

There was a time I would not openly admit that I do love soca. Jamaican identity is a heavy burden. You’re not allowed to like everything. In Jamaica, there was a certain seeming frivolity associated with the happiness of soca. At my wedding, I allowed myself to let free with the soca. My Jamaican family looked at me kinda side-eyed. “What the HELL is going on with Kashka?”

On Gayelle the Channel a presenter asked some guy in a rough neighbourhood, “Why you singing reggae, not soca?” And the guy said soca wasn’t able to capture his lived reality. That used to be one of the gaps in soca. I’ve been so heartened by music from The Voice and Erphaan Alves. It’s not just about partying any more.

I’ve always been totally fascinated with Minshall but, Bossman, I absolutely ABHOR Carnival. Trinidad Carnival. I came to Trinidad with preconceived, very romanticised notions based on Earl Lovelace’s novel, The Dragon Can’t Dance. In Trinidad, I felt like I was witnessing the destruction of my Carnival. And I didn’t want to be party to it. A beautiful form had become an overly commercialised, expensive, shallow, plastic licence to inconvenience other people.

Trinis are subsidising the destruction of their own culture. People are making a lot of money out of Carnival and there is a class dynamic at play. It’s not necessarily the people who created the form or truly know what it means who’re making the money. [They’re not] leading where Carnival is going.

A big part of mas is playing yourself but all of mas has now become performative. No soul-searching exercise any more. It has ossified as a thing. For getting larger and larger audiences from outside. How do you make THAT meaningful?

Because I love Trinidad, I experienced very similar heartbreak there to my heartbreak in Jamaica. The rising criminality and lawlessness. I saw what I lived through in Jamaica in the Nineties – and partly why I left – happening to Trinidad. The same attitudes to the poor, for instance. In 2008, a 15-year-old child and his nine-year-old brother, I think, were shot and killed. Someone said, “They’re children, yes, but they’re involved in all kind of thing! Some of those 12-year-old girls are ready for sex!”

I grew up in an “Uptown” area in Jamaica but my family has deep roots in Downtown. My mother constantly improved herself. And people fell over themselves to pay for her education. She finished her career at the United Nations. My father’s path was markedly different.

My father’s mother’s family was from Tivoli Gardens, the inner-city area you see in Jamaican music videos. My father was murdered and disappeared when I was three. His body was found ten years later, plastered into a wall. When the building was demolished, they found his bones. My pops was a very rational person. Gifted speaker, voracious reader. In Jamaica, in that time and area, you can’t be rational. You catch a vibe on a corner and just a-move, based on that vibe. My father’s attitude was, no, you operate on rationality. His associates set him up and killed him [over money].

I have three or four distinct memories of my dad and I have his poetry. And I started reading very early. So I do know my dad.

At Campion College, which would be called a “prestige school” in Trinidad, Father John McQuaid’s religious education class played a major part in my intellectual development. He was a kinda ornery dude from Boston. He would start class by saying something like, “Young men, when you’re making love to your wife, and you climax, and she doesn’t, you have GOT to lick the cat!” This is said IN JAMAICA and framed in terms of moral imperative. He did this with every issue. But I never forgot that particular lesson.

In his newspaper column in the 1990s, Wayne Brown wrote something that touches the heart of the difference between Trinidad and Jamaican societies. He wrote that Trinidad was evil whereas Jamaica was merely murderous. Jamaicans are no more homophobic than Trinidadians or Barbadians, when you hear the vile things Trinis and Bajans say. But in Jamaica, the stakes are higher because the first response is violence of the ultimate and most severe kind.

I’m not a very threatening person. I like to read. I wear glasses.When I was on Mona campus, a mob came to beat my roommate because he was gay. I tried to reason with them. One of the guys said, “We were worried about you, too. But we heard you had a son.” I said, “But that’s stupid. Because I have a son, that only means I had sex with a woman once!” Even something like oral sex…

On the Avenue once, I cut off a driver in a Nissan B12 going for a parking spot. He flashed a mouthful of gold teeth. Him smiling: I like that one! You get me good! I parking up and the girls in the car tell me, “We can’t stay here!” I’m like, “You’re worried about that punk over there?” It was an adjustment I had to learn to make. In Jamaica, people who are going to do you harm, they look the part. In Trinidad, people smiling. “I like that boy!”

When my first son was born, I [became] very careful. I didn’t want my son to live without a father the way I did. I was with two friends, mother & daughter, women I knew since childhood. Two guys, one with a Glock, the other a 357 Magnum, held on to me. The women ran into the house. One gunman said, “Either open the door or me a-go shot him!” Her mother said, “No, don’t!” She opened the door. They robbed the place and raped both of them. I on the ground, this thing happening right over me. And then they put us in execution positions, to kill us. It sounds like a movie but one of them was crazy, psycho, and the other one was calmer. I told the calmer one, “My youth JUST born. Do not kill me.” He kinda think about it and him say, “Okay, me na kill yuh.” And they left. All of this is relevant to my being in Trinidad.

On a whim, I decided to stay by my friend Chad on New Years Eve, 2001. My mom was like, “Kashka, come home. I have a bad feeling.” I was, like, “Cha, you always have a bad feeling!” We had an informal tradition of sharing a glass of wine together at New Years. I hung up the phone and sat for maybe seven minutes and then told Chad, “Yo, I going home.” He had this wry smile on his face. Like, run home to your mummy. I went home. The next day, his brother, Fabian said, “Yo, Kashka! Them kill Chad!” He was 19, I was 22. He got two shots to the head, one to the upper torso.

The August before, this guy standing up outside Chad’s house said, “Yow. Batty-boy.” Chad’s father had just died and he and Fabian moved into the neighbourhood, two guys living alone. People assumed they were gay. It wasn't a rough neighbourhood but you don’t mess with anybody anywhere in Jamaica. Chad had become enamoured with his capacity for violence. He told the guy, “Suck yuh mother!”

New Year’s Eve, 2001, when I went Chad & Fabian’s home, I saw these guys standing there. When I decided to go home and came out, I saw the guys still standing there. One says, “Yo! A-Tivoli Gardens we come from!” In my mind, I’m laughing. I have family up and down Tivoli Gardens. Those were the guys who killed Chad. They had a list and were going to kill six of us. But those guys were [themselves] killed not long after. That’s the cheapness of life in Jamaica. I thought, “I should try to take a little break from Jamaica.”

I’ve been away from Jamaica since 2002. I’m like a refugee. But I do love Jamaica. And I love Trinidad in the way I love Jamaica. Really deeply and passionately. With all due respect to Barbados and the other islands, I don’t have that feeling for them. And I ate the cascadu.

Whenever I got stressed out [at work] in the Ministry of the Attorney-General, I would go downstairs and take a walk around Woodford Square. Maybe two [laps]. The library. The old fire station. Round to the old Greyfriars church that got demolished for some reason. That always did it for me. And… the women! Oh my goodness. There’s something about the vivaciousness of a Trinidad woman, just walking in them work clothes and thing. You just see so many beautiful women just walking around. It cheered me up every time.

I would walk home to Cascade from Port of Spain. When you walk a city, you develop a different kind of relationship to it than driving it. You hear pan music and go round the corner and realise it’s a little panyard. I saw all the nooks and crannies of Port of Spain because I took the time to walk the city.

I would be hard-pressed to think of a better city than Port of Spain.

In Port of Spain, the vagrants [are ridiculously] colourful. One time, I gave a lady a very specific sum of money she asked for, nine dollars or something, to buy something to eat. She walks off, turns, comes back. “Listen,” she says, “I don’t want to lie to you. I have a little bit of a gambling problem. So I’m going to buy food. But I’m going to use some of the money to buy Play Whe.”

A vagrant one day came up and said, “Gimme your food!” I was carrying a roti. I said, no. He said, “Oh! Okay then.” Another time, same guy, I’m walking, “Gimme a cigarette!” I say, I don’t have any. He say, “Oh, okay then.” That was like his whole thing.

One day, out of nowhere, a vagrant cuss me stink in Port of Spain. Cuss me rotten. And walk away. And then he turned back, came back to me and apologised. Him say he having a bad day.

In Trinidad, I just wanted to soak up everything. For court visits required at law school, I made it a point to go to every single court in Trinidad & Tobago. I’ve been to places Trinis don’t know about. There’s no wild meat I don’t taste. I went on a proper roti binge. I became something of a doubles connoisseur. I tried everything, everything, everything.

If I go to Port of Spain and to Kingston now, far more people will be shouting me and hailing me in Port of Spain. I grew up in Jamaica. But, in a lot of ways, I grew into myself in Trinidad.

Nine times out of ten, if a question comes up relating to Trinidadian culture, music, geography or history, I am the expert. I always tell my wife Tonni she should take it easy because I am more Trinidadian than her.

People say I am intelligent and there are ways in which I think I am intelligent. But there are ways in which I KNOW I am a total fool. That’s one of the reasons I read widely. Because there are insights that I just don’t get, unless I read them somewhere. So the Kashka you get is a pure matter of chance: like, okay, has he read THIS yet?

Abstract and then concrete, what I miss about Trinidad: the way Trinidad makes me feel. The specific energy and vibrancy I feel just being in the space. The food. The doubles from Sutton Street, nice crispy bara. The camaraderie. And some very good friends, Paul Moses and Corey Barnett. Both architects, both Jamaicans, both with Trinidadian [wives/child-mothers].

Expressing love for Trinidad the way I have could lead to excommunication in Jamaica. In Jamaica, you either with us or against us. Jamaica is a jealous wife!

A Trini is a performer who has happened upon the secret to living well. Whatever the mechanism, Trinidadians know how to live well.

I think of Trinidad and Tobago as home. I’ve travelled around a fair bit and Trinidad is the place where I feel most like myself. Look, let me just go and kiss my Jamaican passport right now. To make it feel better.



Jamaica Farewell, Trinidad Wh'appen?

My name is Kashka Hemans and, after a real love affair with it, I have a real tabanca for Trinidad.

I lived in Trinidad in two stints, 2007-09, at Hugh Wooding Law School, and 2010-16. But my love affair with Trinidad started as a child. I read a lot and loved Trinidad because I loved it’s literature most. VS Naipaul is my favourite author. I loved Earl Lovelace’s descriptions of landscape, Manzanilla and all kinda places.

My Trinidadian wife Tonni Brodber and I have two sons Eli, three, and Noel, one-and-a-half. My eldest son, Tunde Jamil is in his 20s and lives in Tobago now because I had him, with a Trinidadian woman student at Mona, when I was 19.

Jamaican men love the Trinidad accent. On a woman. They can’t take it seriously on a man. No man should speak in such a flowery way.

Every Trinidadian is a performer. And every Trinidadian is ALWAYS on stage. They’re such storied people, they even naturally tell tragic stories well.

There was a time I would not openly admit that I do love soca. Jamaican identity is a heavy burden. You’re not allowed to like everything. In Jamaica, there was a certain seeming frivolity associated with the happiness of soca. At my wedding, I allowed myself to let free with the soca. My Jamaican family looked at me kinda side-eyed. “What the HELL is going on with Kashka?”

On Gayelle the Channel a presenter asked some guy in a rough neighbourhood, “Why you singing reggae, not soca?” And the guy said soca wasn’t able to capture his lived reality. That used to be one of the gaps in soca. I’ve been so heartened by music from The Voice and Erphaan Alves. It’s not just about partying any more.

I’ve always been totally fascinated with Minshall but, Bossman, I absolutely ABHOR Carnival. Trinidad Carnival. I came to Trinidad with preconceived, very romanticised notions based on Earl Lovelace’s novel, The Dragon Can’t Dance. In Trinidad, I felt like I was witnessing the destruction of my Carnival. And I didn’t want to be party to it. A beautiful form had become an overly commercialised, expensive, shallow, plastic licence to inconvenience other people.

Trinis are subsidising the destruction of their own culture. People are making a lot of money out of Carnival and there is a class dynamic at play. It’s not necessarily the people who created the form or truly know what it means who’re making the money. [They’re not] leading where Carnival is going.

A big part of mas is playing yourself but all of mas has now become performative. No soul-searching exercise any more. It has ossified as a thing. For getting larger and larger audiences from outside. How do you make THAT meaningful?

Because I love Trinidad, I experienced very similar heartbreak there to my heartbreak in Jamaica. The rising criminality and lawlessness. I saw what I lived through in Jamaica in the Nineties – and partly why I left – happening to Trinidad. The same attitudes to the poor, for instance. In 2008, a 15-year-old child and his nine-year-old brother, I think, were shot and killed. Someone said, “They’re children, yes, but they’re involved in all kind of thing! Some of those 12-year-old girls are ready for sex!”

I grew up in an “Uptown” area in Jamaica but my family has deep roots in Downtown. My mother constantly improved herself. And people fell over themselves to pay for her education. She finished her career at the United Nations. My father’s path was markedly different.

My father’s mother’s family was from Tivoli Gardens, the inner-city area you see in Jamaican music videos. My father was murdered and disappeared when I was three. His body was found ten years later, plastered into a wall. When the building was demolished, they found his bones. My pops was a very rational person. Gifted speaker, voracious reader. In Jamaica, in that time and area, you can’t be rational. You catch a vibe on a corner and just a-move, based on that vibe. My father’s attitude was, no, you operate on rationality. His associates set him up and killed him [over money].

I have three or four distinct memories of my dad and I have his poetry. And I started reading very early. So I do know my dad.

At Campion College, which would be called a “prestige school” in Trinidad, Father John McQuaid’s religious education class played a major part in my intellectual development. He was a kinda ornery dude from Boston. He would start class by saying something like, “Young men, when you’re making love to your wife, and you climax, and she doesn’t, you have GOT to lick the cat!” This is said IN JAMAICA and framed in terms of moral imperative. He did this with every issue. But I never forgot that particular lesson.

In his newspaper column in the 1990s, Wayne Brown wrote something that touches the heart of the difference between Trinidad and Jamaican societies. He wrote that Trinidad was evil whereas Jamaica was merely murderous. Jamaicans are no more homophobic than Trinidadians or Barbadians, when you hear the vile things Trinis and Bajans say. But in Jamaica, the stakes are higher because the first response is violence of the ultimate and most severe kind.

I’m not a very threatening person. I like to read. I wear glasses.When I was on Mona campus, a mob came to beat my roommate because he was gay. I tried to reason with them. One of the guys said, “We were worried about you, too. But we heard you had a son.” I said, “But that’s stupid. Because I have a son, that only means I had sex with a woman once!” Even something like oral sex…

On the Avenue once, I cut off a driver in a Nissan B12 going for a parking spot. He flashed a mouthful of gold teeth. Him smiling: I like that one! You get me good! I parking up and the girls in the car tell me, “We can’t stay here!” I’m like, “You’re worried about that punk over there?” It was an adjustment I had to learn to make. In Jamaica, people who are going to do you harm, they look the part. In Trinidad, people smiling. “I like that boy!”

When my first son was born, I [became] very careful. I didn’t want my son to live without a father the way I did. I was with two friends, mother & daughter, women I knew since childhood. Two guys, one with a Glock, the other a 357 Magnum, held on to me. The women ran into the house. One gunman said, “Either open the door or me a-go shot him!” Her mother said, “No, don’t!” She opened the door. They robbed the place and raped both of them. I on the ground, this thing happening right over me. And then they put us in execution positions, to kill us. It sounds like a movie but one of them was crazy, psycho, and the other one was calmer. I told the calmer one, “My youth JUST born. Do not kill me.” He kinda think about it and him say, “Okay, me na kill yuh.” And they left. All of this is relevant to my being in Trinidad.

On a whim, I decided to stay by my friend Chad on New Years Eve, 2001. My mom was like, “Kashka, come home. I have a bad feeling.” I was, like, “Cha, you always have a bad feeling!” We had an informal tradition of sharing a glass of wine together at New Years. I hung up the phone and sat for maybe seven minutes and then told Chad, “Yo, I going home.” He had this wry smile on his face. Like, run home to your mummy. I went home. The next day, his brother, Fabian said, “Yo, Kashka! Them kill Chad!” He was 19, I was 22. He got two shots to the head, one to the upper torso.

The August before, this guy standing up outside Chad’s house said, “Yow. Batty-boy.” Chad’s father had just died and he and Fabian moved into the neighbourhood, two guys living alone. People assumed they were gay. It wasn't a rough neighbourhood but you don’t mess with anybody anywhere in Jamaica. Chad had become enamoured with his capacity for violence. He told the guy, “Suck yuh mother!”

New Year’s Eve, 2001, when I went Chad & Fabian’s home, I saw these guys standing there. When I decided to go home and came out, I saw the guys still standing there. One says, “Yo! A-Tivoli Gardens we come from!” In my mind, I’m laughing. I have family up and down Tivoli Gardens. Those were the guys who killed Chad. They had a list and were going to kill six of us. But those guys were [themselves] killed not long after. That’s the cheapness of life in Jamaica. I thought, “I should try to take a little break from Jamaica.”

I’ve been away from Jamaica since 2002. I’m like a refugee. But I do love Jamaica. And I love Trinidad in the way I love Jamaica. Really deeply and passionately. With all due respect to Barbados and the other islands, I don’t have that feeling for them. And I ate the cascadu.

Whenever I got stressed out [at work] in the Ministry of the Attorney-General, I would go downstairs and take a walk around Woodford Square. Maybe two [laps]. The library. The old fire station. Round to the old Greyfriars church that got demolished for some reason. That always did it for me. And… the women! Oh my goodness. There’s something about the vivaciousness of a Trinidad woman, just walking in them work clothes and thing. You just see so many beautiful women just walking around. It cheered me up every time.

I would walk home to Cascade from Port of Spain. When you walk a city, you develop a different kind of relationship to it than driving it. You hear pan music and go round the corner and realise it’s a little panyard. I saw all the nooks and crannies of Port of Spain because I took the time to walk the city.

I would be hard-pressed to think of a better city than Port of Spain.

In Port of Spain, the vagrants [are ridiculously] colourful. One time, I gave a lady a very specific sum of money she asked for, nine dollars or something, to buy something to eat. She walks off, turns, comes back. “Listen,” she says, “I don’t want to lie to you. I have a little bit of a gambling problem. So I’m going to buy food. But I’m going to use some of the money to buy Play Whe.”

A vagrant one day came up and said, “Gimme your food!” I was carrying a roti. I said, no. He said, “Oh! Okay then.” Another time, same guy, I’m walking, “Gimme a cigarette!” I say, I don’t have any. He say, “Oh, okay then.” That was like his whole thing.

One day, out of nowhere, a vagrant cuss me stink in Port of Spain. Cuss me rotten. And walk away. And then he turned back, came back to me and apologised. Him say he having a bad day.

In Trinidad, I just wanted to soak up everything. For court visits required at law school, I made it a point to go to every single court in Trinidad & Tobago. I’ve been to places Trinis don’t know about. There’s no wild meat I don’t taste. I went on a proper roti binge. I became something of a doubles connoisseur. I tried everything, everything, everything.

If I go to Port of Spain and to Kingston now, far more people will be shouting me and hailing me in Port of Spain. I grew up in Jamaica. But, in a lot of ways, I grew into myself in Trinidad.

Nine times out of ten, if a question comes up relating to Trinidadian culture, music, geography or history, I am the expert. I always tell my wife Tonni she should take it easy because I am more Trinidadian than her.

People say I am intelligent and there are ways in which I think I am intelligent. But there are ways in which I KNOW I am a total fool. That’s one of the reasons I read widely. Because there are insights that I just don’t get, unless I read them somewhere. So the Kashka you get is a pure matter of chance: like, okay, has he read THIS yet?

Abstract and then concrete, what I miss about Trinidad: the way Trinidad makes me feel. The specific energy and vibrancy I feel just being in the space. The food. The doubles from Sutton Street, nice crispy bara. The camaraderie. And some very good friends, Paul Moses and Corey Barnett. Both architects, both Jamaicans, both with Trinidadian [wives/child-mothers].

Expressing love for Trinidad the way I have could lead to excommunication in Jamaica. In Jamaica, you either with us or against us. Jamaica is a jealous wife!

A Trini is a performer who has happened upon the secret to living well. Whatever the mechanism, Trinidadians know how to live well.

I think of Trinidad and Tobago as home. I’ve travelled around a fair bit and Trinidad is the place where I feel most like myself. Look, let me just go and kiss my Jamaican passport right now. To make it feel better.