EVERY MORNING at 4 am, I read the card my daughter, Ijanaya, left on my pillow on July 30, the night she left Trinidad. Her words help my broken heart to face another day.
On a good day, I convince myself that it was probably inevitable that Ijanaya and my son Zino would have migrated to other countries because I come from a family of at least three generations of immigrants. Maybe migrating is in our blood. But most days I am consumed with sadness – and sometimes even bitterness – because I blame this country for pushing my children away.
This is not a country that values its young people. I feel that every time I step into prison and teach young men who fell through the cracks of our education system.
I saw this when my daughter returned from Florida with a fashion degree six years ago and couldn’t catch a break – even though she had earned accolades for fashion portfolios deemed the most marketable in her school.
When she found no real opportunities in fashion here, she fell in love with library science and earned a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University.
Ijanaya loved this country and fought every day to make it a better place. She was environmentally conscious and into recycling. She even designed an environmentally friendly 30th birthday party that featured solar lights, discarded rum barrels for tables and pallets she had made into chairs. She constantly tried to give back to this country.
She designed the Port of Spain Prison library, with a book tree on the lemon and blue walls – colours that she chose. She supported all my prison work, and even asked the prison to host my book launch, for which she ordered handmade paper from Katmandu and handwrote most of the 100 programmes with some help from my assistants. She then burned the edges to make every programme unique. Ijanaya made everything special.
Earlier this year, perhaps in a moment of despair; perhaps in a moment of adventure, she sent a resume for a job fair in London, and got an unexpected interview and job offer from an international school almost immediately.
She hadn’t applied to the school that noticed her qualifications; she never dreamed of living in Africa, but an international school in Khartoum made her feel so special, she accepted an offer to be an elementary librarian. She lives now in Khartoum, where she now feels appreciated, and I eagerly wait to see the contributions she will make to her school and to Sudan.
And of course there is the story of my son, stabbed at dusk on Rust Street one Carnival Monday, left to die on the street if it hadn’t been for a kind, anonymous soul who put his bleeding body with its nearly severed arm in a car to take him to the Port of Spain hospital where amazing plastic surgeons sewed up his face that resembled raw meat.
A knife wound missed his lungs by about an inch. Police stationed in the hospital refused to take a report when they heard him call certain names. St Clair police said they were too busy with a murder. They did nothing. His departure from Trinidad was a matter of life and death. Zino, who once loved Trinidad more than anyone I have ever known, lives in Seattle now.
Every morning when I put Ijanaya’s card back in its envelope, I remember the message that she left, thanking me for being her mother. She asks me not to cry because “it will never be goodbye” but I do tear up when I walk out the door alone, trying to do my best for this country as I have always done. I can’t pretend that I don’t miss her. I know I could have done nothing more to instill love for this country in my children. I remember the day, not long before she left, when she said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get the feeling that I needed from this country.”
My children remember the pommerac tree in my yard where they built a tree house. They remember playing under my desk at the Express when the housekeeper didn’t show up and visits from SuperBlue and David Rudder. They remember a happier Trinidad, and I pray every day they cling to those memories as they make their way in the world. I hold my head up only because I know I did my very best in spite of this country.