N Touch
Tuesday 20 August 2019
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Smells like Trini spirit


My name is Josanne Look Yee and I have the nicest-smelling store in town.

I am from Palmiste, San Fernando, a great place to grow up, serene and green. It’s safe now and, back then, it was even more safe. A Westmoorings of the South: yes, it’s posh, but, more than that, it’s very beautiful, with lots of parks and natural spaces, and you can go walking.

It was just my mom, my dad and me. I’m an only child but not a lonely child. It allowed me to develop a lot of independence. I think I found ways to occupy myself.

In a month or two, if all goes well, I’ll have my very first child, a girl, and I’m very much looking forward to her.

My boyfriend and I are having this baby as a couple.

So far, my pregnancy has been such a beautiful experience, I can easily see myself going through it again. Of course, I haven’t done the hard part yet!

I love to visit Tobago. My boyfriend is from Tobago.

I always had my eye set on working in Port of Spain so, when I finished university for the third time – clearly, I was a good student – I got a job, first in Valsayn and then Port of Spain itself.

I lived in Aranjuez, St James, Curepe before settling in Fort George.

The view is magical. Waking up and seeing the sea is good for the soul.

I won a scholarship to do math at UWI St Augustine. Thereafter, I went to McMaster University in Ontario, where I did a BA in religious studies. Which is what led me to my current vocation. When I came back from Canada, I taught math at secondary school for a few years before I moved north and started my best-smelling store in town five years ago.

My religious studies degree was more like a comparative religions course than a theological one. I learned about Eastern religions primarily but spent a lot of time studying Christianity. I myself was raised Anglican, a very tolerant faith.

I was one of a few people in the class who knew about Divali, Eid-ul-Fitr, Phagwa, everything.

Anglicanism didn’t satisfy my curiosity about what happened after death. Nor did Catholicism, or Presbyterianism, and I went to a Presbyterian high school! Nobody else but those who follow the Christian path would find themselves in “Heaven.”

Which meant we were excluding a billion Chinese, a billion Indians – and that just can’t be right!

I found myself drawn more to Eastern religions. [In] Hinduism, Buddhism and the various strains in between, I have found the answers I was looking for. I don’t need to look any more.

My study of religions has strengthened my faith in God immensely. When something makes sense to me, I can subscribe to it better.

I take a lot from Eastern religions but I have no qualms about eating meat. I won’t eat snake, horse and alligator – but nothing wrong with 'gouti and tatou!

I go to all places of worship, temple, mosque, church when I (can), but I don’t believe you have to go to a particular place on a particular day and wear particular clothes to practise your spirituality.

Through the filter of my own morality, I take a little bit of truth from each religion because it feels right to me – and THAT is my belief system.

It is because I feel so strongly about my individual way of practising spirituality that I was led to my store.

Josanne Look Yee has the nicest-smelling store in town. Photo: Mark Lyndersay

I needed that space and I know now, five years in, many people need that space.

People of every imaginable religious background visit us, including the ones that shouldn’t, according to their own religion.

And they find comfort, relief or an answer when they come.

My store sells incense, sage, crystals, essential oils, wood chimes, books, the full works. A lot of it comes across as “Eastern” to those of us in the West not very familiar with these things, but things like crystals have been around for thousands of years.

Nowadays you get more crystal use in the East but, starting with the explosion of yoga in the West, it’s becoming more popular.

My store smells as good as it does because of the combination of incense, essential oils and candles. I enjoy combining different scents. It lifts my spirits, and, anything that makes me feel good can’t be bad. Not anything illicit, though!

I love soca so much and I’ve always been the biggest Machel Montano fan – so imagine my joy when his family began visiting my store! I’m always telling his mom and his girlfriend, “Bring him!” I hope, when he reads this, he comes.

The best thing about having the best-smelling store in town is probably the same thing you’d hear from any business owner, no matter how their store smelled: you’re working for yourself.

Although you have an obligation to your customers, you can craft the experience you offer based on what you like and believe. You don’t have those terms dictated to you by a boss.

The bad thing is the buck stops with you. Responsibility.

I’m very impressed with our new Commissioner of Police. I hope he continues to do the fantastic job he is in a safe way and there is no blowback for him.

I don’t agree with every single thing he and his “administration” have done but, overall, they’ve really put a pin to stem the tide.

Josanne Look Yee Photo: Mark Lyndersay

My father tells me I should look at migrating. He is a very serious business person and understands, perhaps more than I do, the real implications of what’s happening in Trinidad.

Maybe it’s blind faith, but I feel things will get better. I love Trinidad and can’t imagine not being here on a permanent basis.

To me, a Trini is somebody who loves their belly and their music. A Trini will never pass up on a curry or a pelau. And can’t hear soca and not bust a little wine. Trinis have rhythm and passion and our love for both comes out most clearly in our food and our music.

For me, TT means “home.” It’s by no means perfect but it is unique. Nowhere else is like Trinidad.

Luckily, I’ve been to a few places and have lived in a First World country, but no matter how convenient life might be, it could never compare to Trinidad. I don’t think I could replicate my love for TT anywhere else.

Read the full version of this feature on Wednesday at www.BCPires.com

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