Written by: KATHY “GABBY” GABRIEL
I have lived on this rock all my life (with a few departures and returns), coming back to re-settle about 7 years ago. Though some things have changed, most of the members in the community I grew up with have remained. The young ones, like myself, have now become the experienced adults. Settling back into life in the countryside of South Trinidad and getting reacquainted with the neighbors has been interesting, to say the least.
Sometimes encounters rekindle childhood friendships and sometimes they reveal the changes that have occurred over the years. These can be really funny at times and sometimes they can be a bitter pill – all part of the neighborhood mix as well-known characters pop in and out of my day to day activities.
But first, a little perspective to ground my neighborhood tour…
I experience all of this mainly from my little inherited agricultural estate – a gift with lots of work, left to me by my late father. There are the neighbors right next door, whom I have known for over twenty years. But there’s this one thing – a pattern that has withstood the test of time. It’s about a breadfruit tree that grows at one of the far ends of my backyard and it is within their direct view.
Somehow it seems as though Ms. V. always spots the mature breadfruits before the owner does so (that would be me). Of course, I’m well aware of when the fruits are ready to be picked, but she does not hesitate to send a gran with the message that the fruits are full and ready. This has come to mean that she expects to collect at least two of the fruits in exchange for this notification “service”. Because the tree is usually laden by this time, she gets her breadfruits, which the gran will gladly pick. I receive the benefit of getting several for myself. No complaints there.
The funny thing though is that the generosity is not returned. Ms. V. has a big pommecytre tree in her front yard that bears a juicy fruit with a prickly seed. Sometimes I notice that the tree is laden, but unlike her, I do not have a gran of my own, and definitely will not send a message. Not once in the years that I’m aware of has she ever offered any of her sweet fruit to her generous breadfruit neighbor. She is obviously not her neighbors keeper – go figure!
Then there’s the “yam man” who braves the estate bush to find yam patches. He digs up the white finger yams, partially cleans and bundles them up for sale, then hawks them for $25 bucks a bundle. As he walks through the community selling “his” yams, he even boldly comes to my gate (since my home is on his way), and has the audacity to try to sell me my own yams! I am well aware of the source of the produce, so I negotiate for a good discount. And since he knows that I know, we settle on a 50% reduced rate. I figure that 50% should cover his labor costs and he can usually make up for his loss with other buyers.
The “coconut and broom men” work together. Many coconut vendors get their nuts in my area. They buy the coconuts at a good price and then sell them at an even better one. They are regulars; one of the pickers even calls me, Tantie. Once the nuts are picked, the “broom men” move in to strip the coconut branches to make cocoyea brooms, which are known to be clean sweepers. For this service, I receive one free broom while they get around ten. I also get the old leaves cut from my trees, thus saving me the trouble of cleaning up the trash after the picking of the coconuts. Oh – and did I mention that I also get some free water nuts for myself? Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
The tour would not be complete without four other characters who add much color to our community life…
Robber is the most popular taxi driver on our route. He makes the turn-around trip to town in no time and his cell phone is always ringing. He has a natural smile on his face – one that makes passengers open up to him quickly. I’m still not sure how he got the nickname “Robber”, as he seems to be most accommodating. My guess is that he rarely gives a free ride even to family and friends (after all, it’s his main source of income). He is also well known as the only man who runs a lucrative sou-sou (small personailsed savings plan) in the community, which ensures that he has a pretty substantial hand coming every six months or so. He certainly has a lot to smile about!
The neighborhood small-job guy, Robbie, is a fellow in his late twenties who makes his living doing PJs (private jobs) at various homes where he will be paid immediately. These jobs tend to fall around the end of the month when residents are sure to have cash in hand. He shows up “earlyish” on the appointed date and gets to work. The thing is, Robbie must be closely supervised. A quick “yes” from him could mean the the task was forgotten. Expect murmurs about the increasing heat, the aching back, the wobbly wrist. In spite of the fact that all tools have to be supplied, I count myself lucky because he’s the only somewhat reliable PJ guy in the community. You can count on Robbie!
I’ve saved Fatima and Nick for last – a mother and son duo. Both are special, once you get to know them. Unfortunately, Nick is one of those who fell through the cracks of society when he began to smoke weed as a youngster. Up to a few years ago, he still appeared pretty normal. Then, as the drug use slid into addiction, it became clear that he could not be trusted on the premises. My last close encounter with Nick was when he spotted me on the porch and asked for exactly four oranges from the trees in the yard. Because I know his story, I gave him permission. It was then that he pulled out a big plastic bag and proceeded to quickly fill it up. When I shouted, “Enough!”, he had already picked about a dozen of ’em. There was nothing to do but sigh and shake my head as he smiled meekly and headed up the road. He might have even gotten a small sale on the way home from his loot.
His mother, Fatima, is just a few years older than I am. She has mental challenges that are not unrelated to the environment in which she lives. Sometimes she will not be seen for weeks; it’s possible during these times that she has been warded for treatment. However, on her return, she can be seen well-dressed and on her way to the nearby grocery store. Once she sees me, she will always greet and enquire if I need anything at the grocery. Interestingly, in spite of her challenges, she remains well-mannered and informed about neighborhood happenings, which she will not hesitate to share. What sets her apart is that she always offers a good word, while the sane ones look the other way, pretending not to see me. Makes you wonder about people…
Whether you’re a newbie rocker or a long-time rocker, being a part of an island community is an experience like no other. Just keep your ears and eyes open – life here brings laughter as well as lessons!
Now, I must get going. My pot-hound “guard dogs” are barking – one can only imagine which neighborhood character has stopped by today – and why.
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Do you live in a lively island community? Who’s your favorite “character” on your rock?