'Island Belle' recalls good old days

Naomi Modester shows a copy of her new book, Memoirs of an Island Belle, which details life growing up in a small Tobago village.
Naomi Modester shows a copy of her new book, Memoirs of an Island Belle, which details life growing up in a small Tobago village.

TOBAGO-born retired professor Naomi Modeste returned home from California recently to launch her first book, Memoirs of an Island Belle, which recalls the "old days" growing up in a small village called Belle Garden.

She told Newsday, during a book-signing ceremony at the TLH building last Thursday that publishing this book about her childhood experience was top of her to-do list after retirement.

Modeste said she hoped to "leave a legacy" through the book which can be enjoyed by everyone, and said it has information "old people can relate to and young people would be able learn from."

She said her upbringing gave her a platform to succeed.

“The book talks about stories of my childhood days, but it gives a synopsis of my life, " she said, "One thing I mentioned was when we were growing up as children we always had books. Our parents made sure we had enough books around us so we can read, because there were no phones, we didn’t have a TV; we had a radio but we didn’t listen to it often.”

Modeste said this caused her to develop a deep passion for reading, which helped her to succeed academically.

She said looking at how Tobago’s culture and work ethic had drastically changed, she felt compelled to document the “real Tobago people and culture.”

She recalled, “We had to work hard from young. Work was honourable. We had a lot of chores to do that we had to accomplish even before you go to school; when you come back from school, you had chores to do. And we lived on 20 acres of land, (where) my father planted everything he thought could grow.

“Not only were we hard-working people, everybody had gardens – and I mentioned a lot about the gardens in the book. When we grew one thing, almost everyone in the village would grow the same thing. What we grew, if the neighbour didn’t have it, we shared. So it was a sharing community and we had a lot of food.”

She said discipline and respect were instilled in her from very early.

“We had to respect our elders; we had to say hello, morning, good afternoon –we don’t just pass people on the road without saying something."

Modeste, a past student of Caribbean Union College, moved to Nebraska to do her bachelor's degree, then to Loma Linda University in California for her master’s in public health. She returned to Trinidad and worked at the Seventh Day Adventist Conference, where she served for ten years as the health and temperance director.

Discussing her pursuit of academic qualifications, she said, “I was free and single and wanted to study more, and I always felt one should climb the highest level of education, so I applied to Loma Linda University again and went back to complete a doctorate in public health.

"I returned home to work at the Caribbean Union again as a director. Then I was promoted to the Inter American division where I worked for three years before I joined the faculty at Loma Linda in public health.”

After 25 years at Loma Linda University, Modeste retired in 2016.

She said she felt a burning desire to transfer some of the best years of her life in Tobago into something that can be shared with many. Modeste told Newsday she is considering moving back to Tobago but plans to go on a number of medical mission trips and host symposiums throughout the Caribbean before she spends her last days back home.

The book can be bought online at the Xulon Press, Amazon and at Books and Office Supplies Ltd in Scarborough TLH building.


"‘Island Belle’ recalls good old days"

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