A Trini in Europe relocates to Africa
By Natalie Williams
It is now a year since I embarked on this literary journey with the Caribbean Intelligence team writing a monthly column about life in Europe or, more specifically, chronicling life as a Trini living in Europe.
What can I say? I am a journalist through and through – the only profession I know well and love. Becoming a columnist is different, but seems a natural fit so far.
I have enjoyed it immensely.
For reasons I consider pretty fundamental, I deeply appreciate this creative space every month at Caribbeanintelligence.com, created by veteran journalist and former BBC Caribbean Service head Debbie Ransome – the brains behind CI.
In essence, it allows me to keep my foreign, often transient and distant world (in terms of geography) connected to my beloved Caribbean Diaspora.
All over Europe, people write about food, politics and, say, literature all the time – which is great stuff, don’t get me wrong.
I, on the other hand, get to write about this thing we call “life in general”, interjecting with culinary capers, world affairs, humour, and everything else, with CI’s blessings.
Global liming spot
When Debbie first made contact a year ago about her web development idea, I could immediately see the sense of the entire operation.
As well as the need for an online presence for musings about life in all the major West Indian metropolises, I quickly appreciated the bigger strategic vision of the senior editorial team back in the region.
From London, Debbie Ransome and a handful of Caribbean journalistic stalwarts have created a portal of significance to the Diaspora around the world. A global liming spot, to use a phrase coined by Trinidadians.
And there’s more. Caribbean Intelligence is also a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about news, issues and current affairs relevant to the region and its people.
There’s the added bonus of in-depth analysis and commentary from well-known thinkers and friends of the Caribbean.
And with the click of a button, Caribbean brethren everywhere could see what fellow countrymen and women are talking about and dealing with, in real time on the ground in all the major hubs where West Indians tend to congregate, including my current patch and one of the most significant areas for Caribbean migration - Europe.
For my part, I get a chance to experience daily life as an observer of cultures, politics, social media, multinational diplomacy and so much more.
It’s a chance to report back, not only on my attempts to assimilate successfully into my foreign adopted homelands, but also on how I work at inculcating a love of all things Caribbean, spreading it like an infection (in a good way, as the Wise One often says).
This has brought me into contact with tightly-knit, sometimes backward communities (I still meet people who have never heard of the Caribbean); frozen cultures (I’m always explaining the steelpan and calypso); literary wastelands (I once met someone who had never heard of VS Naipaul); religious dogma; insignificant carnivals (OK, carnivals with too few masqueraders and not enough steelpan music); bland food (need I say more?); conflict zones (we West Indians tend to find the funny side of any conflict) and diplomatic situations.
So far so good, because if I jump ahead a bit, each eventual departure from my latest adopted home (usually after three to four years) tends to be very hard and deeply emotional, with new-found close friends finding it hard to say goodbye to their adopted British-Caribbean family (and pepper sauce supplier).
Debbie Ransome and CI came knocking while I was living in the Mediterranean, ‘pon the tiny island of Malta, located mere miles off Sicily and Libya, during the last period of Gaddafi’s ousting and the West’s conflict with Tripoli.
At that time, Malta’s proximity made it a strategic point for British foreign policy and the Wise One’s diplomatic assignment at the time.
In so many ways, Malta reminded me of my own homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, but also of many of the Caribbean territories I have been fortunate to call home. These include St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda – all stunningly beautiful islands with a lot to offer the world and with big geo-political ambitions, but struggling to overcome major societal hurdles and growth-stunting economic shortfalls.
Yet unlike my beloved TT, Malta has little or no crime to talk about. It has half the population of the twin-island republic, but none of the natural resources or financial wealth: just a never-ending supply of sunshine, even when the rest of Europe is locked in winter.
There’s even a Maltese Carnival that would make the average Trinidadian cringe, but it demonstrated to me a fun-loving population, preoccupied with food and culture (and religion – there were 3,000 churches in Malta), without the propensity for gang violence, criminality or significant drug-smuggling, despite the island’s strategic location within speedboat distance of the Sicilian underworld.
I make these comparisons constantly. To illustrate this point, in human resources terminology, I have always been classed as the “ideas person”, the team member who comes up with do-able ideas and proposals.
So in every new country I experience, considerable time is spent analysing aspects of the society that might hold a few ideological or philosophical keys and or practical ideas to help in the continuous development and evolution of our Caribbean civilisation, to borrow the phrase from comrade Ralph Gonsalves, PM of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
I am constantly asking myself (and the Wise One) what it is it about this “foreign society” that I can take back to the region and what can my people teach these foreign civilisations? The academics must have phraseology for this.
In SVG, it is the passion that burns in Prime Minister Gonsalves to ensure that all school-aged children get an education with “food in de belly” and that poverty is tackled head-on.
In Greece, I saw how thousands of ordinary people could fight politicians for their basic right to a decent standard of living without firing off a gun or pelting a beer bottle.
And in France, just as in my rainbow nation of Trinidad and Tobago, I experienced first-hand how Parisian society is at last seeming to embrace multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity (in a city where the French national dish is north Africa’s couscous) and how they are coming around to what we’ve always known in the region - that every creed and race can find an equal place.
Goodbye Trini in Europe
So I enjoy writing A Trini in Europe because the column allows me to be an observer as well as a proponent/vendor of all things Caribbean in Europe.
But the column is to be no more.
Wipe the tears – I shall be reporting instead as A Trini in Africa.
From the oldest city in Africa no less – Cairo – the capital of Egypt, and from where the Wise One will lead our family on his latest diplomatic assignment.
It is a dream coming to reality for me to see Egypt, let alone live near the mighty Nile and in the land of Moses and Cleopatra (I shall indeed test the healing properties of her milk-and-honey baths), pharaohs, great writers, some of the oldest temples and antiquities in the world and, of course, the great Pyramids.
Two years ago, Egypt and its famous Tahir Square was the birthplace of the Arab people’s revolution (or Arab Spring as it is often called) and it may well be where this tumultuous period in this region’s history culminates again.
It is still a nation in turmoil. There are protests all over Cairo and 15 million people have allegedly signed a petition calling for the President to step down.
Hello Trini in Africa
As I write this final Trini in Europe, there are plans for massive opposition-led protests against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and the post-revolution government – all planned on the day I arrive to start life in Cairo.
Add to this scenario the news that Egypt and Ethiopia are quarrelling over ownership of the Nile; the continued highly controversial detention of a popular Egyptian news satirist; the impact of Egypt’s proximity to the Syria crisis; and a national love of SpongeBob SquarePants– one of my family’s favourite cartoon characters, who in local parlance is a “big-time celebrity” there.
An exciting mix, if you ask me.
And I am also looking forward to the new Egypt – to the Cairo and Alexandria that will emerge if and when the dust settles on this current round of turmoil.
I intend to embrace the young literary voices, the new emerging artists and cultural revolutionaries and, of course, as many examples of the fusion of Egyptian and Western culinary maestros as the Wise One and I could manage.
So break out the champagne wherever you are reading this last Trini in Europe column – not for me, you see, but for Caribbean Intelligence and all it is producing on behalf of Caribbean peoples the world over.
All that’s left for me to say is keep up the good work CI, and see you next month from Africa.
Previous Trini in Europe columns