Culture Shock and Learning to Eat With My Hands
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
My first week in Port of Spain has been one of constant exploration and discovery. My first day started a little late, partially due to my terrible summer sleep schedule, and in part due to me being a little afraid to explore my new temporary home by myself. I'm a pretty independent person. After discovering my introverted tendencies in college, I learned to value alone time and to appreciate the road to knowing myself through moments of isolation. But getting out of bed to walk around and see the city for the first time in daylight felt nearly impossible. I finally sat up on the side of my bed and came to terms with what felt like a do or die scenario: either I stay in bed all day wishing that I had gone outside, or I get up, shower and venture out into a city with so many new sights to explore. Once I finally got up, slathered on a crap ton of sun screen and packed my bag with everything I thought that I'd need for the day (identification, wallet, camera, tiny journal and a pen, portable phone charger and charging cord, sun screen because you always have to reapply, chapstick, gum, and a handfull of those strawberry grandma candies), I was off!
During my first week I saw lots of new sights, met new people and tasted so many new, delicious foods. I've come to realize that a lot of eating here takes place with your hands, and as an "American" who gets uncomfortable with the thought of food on my hands, it was quite the adjustment to not wipe my hands after every bite. For the first couple of days, I mostly spent my time walking around and exploring Port of Spain. I went to the Savannah a lot–an open field in the center of the city that carries a deep seeded history as a place of gathering in Port of Spain. On any given day, you can see people walking and jogging around its exterior, playing football (soccer) in the grass, sitting on benches and chatting with one another, and vendors selling coconut water. It's also the national host site of Carnival and a number of other arts and cultural festivals throughout the year. I've walked the entirety of the 2.2 miles around the Savannah several times and have walked down a number of streets throughout the city to get a feel for my new surroundings–making sure to snap pictures of interesting sites along the way. In just under two weeks I've ventured to the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Emperor Valley Zoo, and the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago.
My Airbnb hosts, Akeel (pronounced ah-keel), and his girlfriend, Tsian (pronounced cyan), were the first friends that I met in Trinidad. They are a Bajan (hailing from Barbados) lawyer (Tsain) and mechanical engineer (Akeel) who came to Trinidad for school, and stayed to work. So far, we've been grocery shopping together, watched reality TV together, and they even made me ginger tea when I felt sick. Since my arrival they've been incredibly helpful and have welcomed me into my new temporary home with open arms. The next friend that I made was a woman named Ejae–an associate professor of process engineering at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, who offered me the opportunity to volunteer in her research lab during my stay. She also looks after me, gives me tips on things to do and see in Port of Spain, and has connected me to other people in the area. And last, but certainly not least, I met a man named Stephen who I've given the nickname of "uncle-not-uncle" because he's become my new family away from home. His company works as the sole distributor for Wolverine (the Michigan born work boot and safety-wear company) products in Trinidad. He's an adventurous fifty-something guy with a love for nature, the sea and exploration. So, the perfect uncle-not-uncle to have around when you want to learn more about Trinidad or explore it's natural landscapes.
Stephen invited me to spend the weekend with him in his home in San Fernando, and join him at what I thought was a small breakfast with old friends and a Sunday family dinner. Saturday night after he picked me up I met one of his good friends, a welder named Denzil, and we went for lunch at his cousin's restaurant deep in what Stephen called the country, For dinner they made us dumplings and baked fish, and we went back to Stephen's house and watched hours worth of action movies (which he is very fond of). Sunday morning we went to his long time friend's house for a breakfast to celebrate their family moving into their new house. It was a big house with a green and luscious backyard in Freeport. In my mind, breakfast consists of pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs and maybe even grits depending on the occasion, but I completely failed to realize that "American breakfast" is considered dessert in most places around the world, and that many places opt for a savory breakfast over a sweet one. I tried a dish called fish broth, which contained fish, plantain, green banana, carrots, and was topped off with some Chinese okra and pepper sauce.
Around 1pm on Sunday, we left for what I quickly learned was not a quaint family dinner, but a family reunion with dozens of Stephen's family members in the area. I met dozens of old and young cousins and aunts and grandparents, and they welcomed me into their family gathering without hesitation. They hired the family's parang band to play live music at the gathering and one of the younger cousins was a moko jumbie (stilt walker) who performed throughout the night. It was an invigorating and enjoyable day that lasted until 10pm! I learned quickly that people in Trinidad know how to have a good time, and are incredibly welcoming to anyone who is willing to join them.
Thus far, I've had a great time in Trinidad, and with every day it's starting to feel more and more like home. On August 26th, I meet with the principal and staff of Bishop Anstey High School to talk about my role as a junior teacher at the school. Bishops, as it's typically called, is one of the premiere all girls high schools in the area. I was connected with the principal of Bishops by a Trinidadian friend from school last fall, and reached out to her for an opportunity to become a classroom aide for a math or science class at the school. She agreed to let me work at the school, so starting in September I will be working and engaging with the students to learn more about their educational experiences, specifically in regards to math and science.
As far as these blog posts go, I've decided that I will try to give updates on my thoughts and travels on a biweekly basis (at most), and if you subscribe to my website you should receive email notifications when I make a new post! However, there is also a travel photos section and video section of the blog where I will periodically upload new images and video snippets from my adventures, and I've discovered that there isn't a way to send a notification for when I upload new pictures or videos. So you can wait to look for new pictures whenever I upload a new blog post, or you can check back in with the website occasionally to see what I've been up to. I've also decided to check out of all social media for the year to allow myself to fully experience the entirety of the year without the need to be engrossed in other people's lives and daily ongoings. I appreciate all of the support that I've received thus far, and I'm excited to see what new sites, tastes, sounds and lessons Trinidad has to offer.