edge

Catching Her Ash

Photographs by Nadia Huggins and Zainia Mahmoud

My name is Nadia Huggins and I can say people in St Vincent have been living in Hell since the volcano erupted on 9 April.

I couldn’t say I was living in Hell myself because, although I’ve had huge pileups of ash all around me in the Green Zone, things are much worse and people far more vulnerable in the Orange and Red Zones. Coconut branches, laden with ash, droop in the Green Zone [but] houses in the Red Zone were buried under ash. We had very heavy rain on 29 April and that helped clean off all the roofs.

I left Trinidad when I was three but I would say I was from Cascade. Trinidad left an indelible mark on my family, even after we moved to St Vincent. We were raised in a particular way, to remember that energy of Trinidad. In terms of language, behaviour, that type of thing, I grew up in St Vincent in [a very Trini way].

I moved back to Trinidad for a couple of years in 2014 and I’ve always been back-and-forth. But not since covid. Every time I land in Trinidad, that energy resonates.

We were a small family, mother, father, sister, but my mum comes from a very big one. I eventually want a family but, as a photographer, you need a level of hyper focus to get things to develop, career-wise. I live in puns.

My mother’s Catholic, my dad was born Anglican but I rejected religion at age 11, as soon as I went to high school. Religion just didn’t make any sense. The reality I was living was nothing like the Bible stories.

I think I believe in a greater energy that is in all of us and the Earth and our surroundings. I don’t know if I have the kind of power BC Pires asks me about, to pray to God for good weather for the cricket.

In the very beginning, I had a film camera. I felt insecure because, back then, the top photographers had that foundation. But I’ve been able to get over it and recognise the value of digital. I never had access to any darkroom equipment. I used to send my films away to get developed. [And] I ended up scanning the images anyways.

Vincentians have a certain respect for Trinis. Yes, there’s always the “Tricky-dadian” joke: that charismatic, funny character always trying to “get something” from others. But I never felt like I had that stigma placed upon me. Whenever I mentioned being born in Trinidad, people had a deep respect for me. But I was also accepted as a Vincentian and have never felt “either one or the other”. As I get older, I recognise the value of being a “Pan-Caribbean” woman.

My Trini roots never made me feel like an outsider in St Vincent but I have been judged and excommunicated from groups as a creative person. “Why is that person so quiet? Why are they swimming out in the ocean alone?” Little things like that.

We all judge people based on their appearance. I have alopecia and it took a long time to adjust when I started losing my hair when I was 14. Obviously, I got bullied a lot growing up and still encounter the odd person who’s a little unkind. But I recognise that’s not about me, but [them]. It took a while to be comfortable enough to say, “Right, screw everyone, I’m going to take off my headwrap and rock my bald head!” Just owning that, I get a lot more respect. The odd person will be unsure how to engage but, once we start to talk, they realise there’s more to me than my physical appearance.

I was a very average student. Mostly because a lot of the subjects just didn’t interest me. A lot of my education happened OUTSIDE of school [where] I was actively discouraged from doing creative work!

I listened to a lot of classic rock, grunge, metal when I was young. I love film scores now. Instrumental music is very good to listen to when I’m trying make work. I don’t have to hear lyrics in my head. It puts me in a certain state of mind, to edit an image, write, whatever.

I play guitar with my friend, Kai Best, for fun. But I’m very shy about it. It’s a hobby, not a career.

After the volcano erupted, when we saw the explosion going up, there was definitely that moment of awe. When we looked up at the [tower of smoke]. You’re seeing something so incredibly powerful in front of you. It’s difficult to describe. Even images don’t do it any justice.

o see something of that SCALE projecting SO HIGH into the air. You just stand and look. We all knew, on some level, that the ash had to come down. But it didn’t quite register. But as the daylight started to get dark as the ash started to come down… It was like snow. You heard it on the roof of your car as you were driving, on the ground under your feet. It was like walking through a blizzard. The whole place just got eerie.

When the ash came down, it was literally like someone made the world black & white. Like, in an instant. Seeing that was really difficult. I don’t know what I thought would happen but I was not expecting to see that. It took a while to adjust mentally to what I was seeing.

I have asthma. When it hit me what I was watching I was, like, you have to protect yourself. Go inside. You have to wear a mask. I had to lock all my doors and windows and put wet towels along the floor and windowsills. So ash couldn’t seep in. I had to wet my mask sometimes even when I was inside to breathe properly. Every time I finished cleaning the ash at home, I had to go make sure my elderly mother was okay.

The worst moment came about two days after the eruption and the ash fall. I had a breakdown. I felt completely overwhelmed by the ash. I had to take care of my mother. And she didn’t quite understand the scale of what was happening. Trying to take care of everything while not actually having the ability to breathe was really difficult. I felt powerless. I thought, Well, this is how I’m going to go. I didn’t have any control. I was stuck on an island with ash!

I live in a privileged zone and had access to a lot of things a lot of people didn’t. And I was REALLY catching my ass to just function on a day-to-day basis. A lot of us in the Green Zone [realised other] people needed assistance more than us. In small groups, we tried to figure out how to take care of people in a worse situation.

The entire month of April was horrible. The ash never stopped. It felt like it would go on FOREVER! Luckily, I had friends I could call at the end of the day after we’d all done our duties, cleaned, taken care of people and ourselves. We would spend hours checking in with one another, talking about the volcano. We didn’t realise how heavy the day was until it ended, when we sat down to take care of ourselves.

After the volcano was the first time I saw Vincentians get together in that tremendous totally selfless way. I was so proud to see people just put in the work to help people in need.

Unusual really heavy rains on 29 April were a blessing and a curse. It did a lot to clean up the place, and trees and plants [immediately] started to turn green again. But all the drains and rivers were blocked up with ash. So we had this tremendous flooding and landslide situation. All the ash and rock at the top of the volcano came rushing down. It’s deadly. You can’t go near a river. A lot of roads were blocked.

There are many layers to a natural disaster that you can’t really see right away. It’s going to take a while for people to adjust and for the agricultural economy to come back.

People have been pretty resilient. People in the shelters are cut off from the rest of us, mostly to protect them [given covid]. But from what little I’ve seen of shelter life, people are in good spirits. People showed up to take care of their needs. One NGO, World Central Kitchen, has been providing 6,000 meals a day since the eruption. Little things like crossword puzzles can keep kids’ spirits up in the shelters.

People who’d seen the eruption on Montserrat told us, just hang in there, it’s not going to last forever. That was actually really helpful. Just to [think] that there was an end. I kept waiting for that lady to come on air and say, Hey, guys, the alert is green now. But, every day, it’s still orange. And that could switch to red at any time.

Nobody has died and it’s pretty calm now. But until a dome develops to cap off that eruption, we’re still very much in an uncertain state. But the air is breathable now. I’ve never been so grateful for fresh air in my life. Running water. Shelter. Things being green. It’s amazing what you become grateful for. And we have a lot to be grateful for. Really, we do.

There was definitely a positive side in that I felt much stronger connections with my friends, who I’d already built really strong connections with before the volcano. Friendships really solidified. And seeing people mobilise that way to help each other out… I feel that’s going to have long-term [positive] effects on how we do things moving forward. I hope it does and I think it will.

The energy of the Trinidadian people really transcends beyond Trinidad. Trinis always find something to create. It comes from the heart of the people. Coming from a smaller place where there’s not much going on [I appreciate that].

To me, a Trini is bent on trying to change the world through their connection to the land. Even the partying is a kind of extension of the deepness, passion, humour, charisma and creativity that lives in a Trini.

To me, Trinidad & Tobago means a place I could always return to. Where I would have family, friends and a creative community.

Catching Her Ash

Photographs by Nadia Huggins and Zainia Mahmoud

My name is Nadia Huggins and I can say people in St Vincent have been living in Hell since the volcano erupted on 9 April.

I couldn’t say I was living in Hell myself because, although I’ve had huge pileups of ash all around me in the Green Zone, things are much worse and people far more vulnerable in the Orange and Red Zones. Coconut branches, laden with ash, droop in the Green Zone [but] houses in the Red Zone were buried under ash. We had very heavy rain on 29 April and that helped clean off all the roofs.

I left Trinidad when I was three but I would say I was from Cascade. Trinidad left an indelible mark on my family, even after we moved to St Vincent. We were raised in a particular way, to remember that energy of Trinidad. In terms of language, behaviour, that type of thing, I grew up in St Vincent in [a very Trini way].

I moved back to Trinidad for a couple of years in 2014 and I’ve always been back-and-forth. But not since covid. Every time I land in Trinidad, that energy resonates.

We were a small family, mother, father, sister, but my mum comes from a very big one. I eventually want a family but, as a photographer, you need a level of hyper focus to get things to develop, career-wise. I live in puns.

My mother’s Catholic, my dad was born Anglican but I rejected religion at age 11, as soon as I went to high school. Religion just didn’t make any sense. The reality I was living was nothing like the Bible stories.

I think I believe in a greater energy that is in all of us and the Earth and our surroundings. I don’t know if I have the kind of power BC Pires asks me about, to pray to God for good weather for the cricket.

In the very beginning, I had a film camera. I felt insecure because, back then, the top photographers had that foundation. But I’ve been able to get over it and recognise the value of digital. I never had access to any darkroom equipment. I used to send my films away to get developed. [And] I ended up scanning the images anyways.

Vincentians have a certain respect for Trinis. Yes, there’s always the “Tricky-dadian” joke: that charismatic, funny character always trying to “get something” from others. But I never felt like I had that stigma placed upon me. Whenever I mentioned being born in Trinidad, people had a deep respect for me. But I was also accepted as a Vincentian and have never felt “either one or the other”. As I get older, I recognise the value of being a “Pan-Caribbean” woman.

My Trini roots never made me feel like an outsider in St Vincent but I have been judged and excommunicated from groups as a creative person. “Why is that person so quiet? Why are they swimming out in the ocean alone?” Little things like that.

We all judge people based on their appearance. I have alopecia and it took a long time to adjust when I started losing my hair when I was 14. Obviously, I got bullied a lot growing up and still encounter the odd person who’s a little unkind. But I recognise that’s not about me, but [them]. It took a while to be comfortable enough to say, “Right, screw everyone, I’m going to take off my headwrap and rock my bald head!” Just owning that, I get a lot more respect. The odd person will be unsure how to engage but, once we start to talk, they realise there’s more to me than my physical appearance.

I was a very average student. Mostly because a lot of the subjects just didn’t interest me. A lot of my education happened OUTSIDE of school [where] I was actively discouraged from doing creative work!

I listened to a lot of classic rock, grunge, metal when I was young. I love film scores now. Instrumental music is very good to listen to when I’m trying make work. I don’t have to hear lyrics in my head. It puts me in a certain state of mind, to edit an image, write, whatever.

I play guitar with my friend, Kai Best, for fun. But I’m very shy about it. It’s a hobby, not a career.

After the volcano erupted, when we saw the explosion going up, there was definitely that moment of awe. When we looked up at the [tower of smoke]. You’re seeing something so incredibly powerful in front of you. It’s difficult to describe. Even images don’t do it any justice.

o see something of that SCALE projecting SO HIGH into the air. You just stand and look. We all knew, on some level, that the ash had to come down. But it didn’t quite register. But as the daylight started to get dark as the ash started to come down… It was like snow. You heard it on the roof of your car as you were driving, on the ground under your feet. It was like walking through a blizzard. The whole place just got eerie.

When the ash came down, it was literally like someone made the world black & white. Like, in an instant. Seeing that was really difficult. I don’t know what I thought would happen but I was not expecting to see that. It took a while to adjust mentally to what I was seeing.

I have asthma. When it hit me what I was watching I was, like, you have to protect yourself. Go inside. You have to wear a mask. I had to lock all my doors and windows and put wet towels along the floor and windowsills. So ash couldn’t seep in. I had to wet my mask sometimes even when I was inside to breathe properly. Every time I finished cleaning the ash at home, I had to go make sure my elderly mother was okay.

The worst moment came about two days after the eruption and the ash fall. I had a breakdown. I felt completely overwhelmed by the ash. I had to take care of my mother. And she didn’t quite understand the scale of what was happening. Trying to take care of everything while not actually having the ability to breathe was really difficult. I felt powerless. I thought, Well, this is how I’m going to go. I didn’t have any control. I was stuck on an island with ash!

I live in a privileged zone and had access to a lot of things a lot of people didn’t. And I was REALLY catching my ass to just function on a day-to-day basis. A lot of us in the Green Zone [realised other] people needed assistance more than us. In small groups, we tried to figure out how to take care of people in a worse situation.

The entire month of April was horrible. The ash never stopped. It felt like it would go on FOREVER! Luckily, I had friends I could call at the end of the day after we’d all done our duties, cleaned, taken care of people and ourselves. We would spend hours checking in with one another, talking about the volcano. We didn’t realise how heavy the day was until it ended, when we sat down to take care of ourselves.

After the volcano was the first time I saw Vincentians get together in that tremendous totally selfless way. I was so proud to see people just put in the work to help people in need.

Unusual really heavy rains on 29 April were a blessing and a curse. It did a lot to clean up the place, and trees and plants [immediately] started to turn green again. But all the drains and rivers were blocked up with ash. So we had this tremendous flooding and landslide situation. All the ash and rock at the top of the volcano came rushing down. It’s deadly. You can’t go near a river. A lot of roads were blocked.

There are many layers to a natural disaster that you can’t really see right away. It’s going to take a while for people to adjust and for the agricultural economy to come back.

People have been pretty resilient. People in the shelters are cut off from the rest of us, mostly to protect them [given covid]. But from what little I’ve seen of shelter life, people are in good spirits. People showed up to take care of their needs. One NGO, World Central Kitchen, has been providing 6,000 meals a day since the eruption. Little things like crossword puzzles can keep kids’ spirits up in the shelters.

People who’d seen the eruption on Montserrat told us, just hang in there, it’s not going to last forever. That was actually really helpful. Just to [think] that there was an end. I kept waiting for that lady to come on air and say, Hey, guys, the alert is green now. But, every day, it’s still orange. And that could switch to red at any time.

Nobody has died and it’s pretty calm now. But until a dome develops to cap off that eruption, we’re still very much in an uncertain state. But the air is breathable now. I’ve never been so grateful for fresh air in my life. Running water. Shelter. Things being green. It’s amazing what you become grateful for. And we have a lot to be grateful for. Really, we do.

There was definitely a positive side in that I felt much stronger connections with my friends, who I’d already built really strong connections with before the volcano. Friendships really solidified. And seeing people mobilise that way to help each other out… I feel that’s going to have long-term [positive] effects on how we do things moving forward. I hope it does and I think it will.

The energy of the Trinidadian people really transcends beyond Trinidad. Trinis always find something to create. It comes from the heart of the people. Coming from a smaller place where there’s not much going on [I appreciate that].

To me, a Trini is bent on trying to change the world through their connection to the land. Even the partying is a kind of extension of the deepness, passion, humour, charisma and creativity that lives in a Trini.

To me, Trinidad & Tobago means a place I could always return to. Where I would have family, friends and a creative community.