AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Juliet Solomon and I have lived and worked in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, New York, London, the Pacific Islands, Peru, Panama. I may be forgetting a few...
When I arrived in the Solomon Islands to lead an election mission, I was asked, "Do you change your name for every place you go to?"
I was brought up down de islands on Gasparee. When nobody actually lived there full time. Except us.
That is what happens when you have an antisocial and somewhat eccentric father.
I used to fake sick regularly and spend the day following Reilly the caretaker around as he brush-cut the grass and looked for snails.
I have two kids, cunningly spaced nine years apart, so my daughter, 20, is kinda co-raising my son, 11. I refer all questions about appropriate YouTube channels, TikTok videos, etc to her.
I am not particularly successful when it comes to husbands, but I do have two fantastic sets of in-laws.
Both my kids grew up (where) everyone spoke only Spanish. So they are bilingual with no particular effort on my part.
My father’s words to us when we started primary school: “People are going to ask you what religion you are. Tell them you are a practising atheist.”
I am a humanist. (In the afterlife) I plan on being stardust. Or at the least to fertilise something useful.
I was lucky enough to attend University School for primary and am a proud graduate of Bishop’s, (but) the Government Sixth Form College in St James (was) three glorious years of playing all-fours under the almond trees.
Not a lot of As were obtained.
I had no plans for university, much to my university-lecturer father’s horror. My mother signed me up to be a
jeune fille au pair looking after two little girls in Paris.
I learned enough French in Paris to get another O-Level and squeak into UWI. Where I finally started enjoying learning history and political science.
My mother’s Jamaican family had “kept itself carefully white" until her mother fell in love with a lay preacher who added some pigmentation to the bloodline.
She met my father during the failed Federation and stayed on in Trinidad and Tobago but never identified as either. She would say, "I am a West Indian waiting for my country to catch up with me."
I read voraciously. Fiction, non-fiction, history, biography, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, detective novels (especially the classics like Conan Doyle and PD James).
Basically anything except self-help and earnest advice from lifestyle gurus.
I have thousands of books stored all over the world because I am so reluctant to part with them. And that’s not counting titles on my Kindle.
My son is of the pause-the-video-and-google-fan-theories generation, so watching movies at home with him is impossibly frustrating. He speculates endlessly from the opening credits. We have to stop constantly for him to expound half-baked theories.
At least in the cinema he is yelled at by strangers.
I was in a relationship for many years where it was understood that my Christmas present had to be the latest David Rudder album. Nothing else.
I even quoted Haiti I'm Sorry as part of a speech I gave on behalf of President Robinson at an international forum when His Excellency was too infirm to object.
I always wanted to explore places I read about.
I found a directory of addresses of all the UN agencies in the world and sent my CV to all of them. I got one reply from the Institute for Research on Women’s Affairs saying, "You might consider applying to the Associate Expert Programme in New York.”
Which I promptly translated into a letter as, "The director of INSTRAW has instructed me to..."
My first job in Guyana, people asked, "Why you leaving a Third World country to go to a Fourth World country?"
Rather rude, but in “dem days” Trinis were very disdainful of Guyanese.
In 1998 I was offered the position of economic affairs officer in the DR.
I knew f--k-all about economics. The (job offer) fax was accompanied by an illegible organigram and nothing else.
And off I went. My entire career has been exactly as haphazard and unplanned as that.
My absolute favourite job was leading the destruction of small arms and ammunition in the Caribbean.
My worst professional moment was when I lost Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey. On Commonwealth Day. During a live broadcast streamed around the world. Of course I f--ked it up. Far too complicated for a simple red gyal from Gasparee.
On Commonwealth Day, the blowhard, stocking-wearing, pompous git of a Deputy Lord Privy Blah Blah of the City of London & Whatever of the Borough of I Don’t Give a F- -k was immediately in front of me in the procession. Instead of turning right (as we had in rehearsal), this mofo briskly goes straight ahead! I had to make a split-second decision.
I was already terrified of dropping the damned mace, whose jewels were poking my shoulder very uncomfortably. I guess ancestral trauma pushed me towards an old white man in a funny costume. I followed him.
I turned around. No Queen. She had calmly turned right as per every year’s script.
I tried to look like it was always the plan for me to lurk in the nave.
It was at this point I realised the side zip on my African print skirt had been down the entire time.
I will always visit but I’m never gonna live in a country ending in -land. Switzerland, Greenland, Finland etc. I f--king hate snow and extreme cold and crunching frost. Grrrrr. Send me straight to Hell when I dead.
In the early days I went anywhere, but now I am a single mother, I turned down an assignment in Afghanistan. When my son gets a bit older, maybe.
New countries are all old hat to my daughter. She travelled as an unaccompanied minor for the first time when she was three.
The best thing about working in so many places all over the world is I have so many stories to tell!
The worst is sorting out bureaucracy and paperwork in so many jurisdictions. Especially in countries where minors need both parents’ permission to travel and the red tape is Kafkaesque.
My work life has had too many highlights to count and only one lowlight: not being in Trini when my mom died.
Very important people in my life have died in Trinidad while I have been away. For a while, it felt like I was only ever boarding a plane home to attend a funeral.
In the case of my mom I got there and everyone was asking if I wanted to go see her body.
I said no. I need to remember her as she was. Extremely alive.
To this day, whenever anything, good or bad or funny or bizarre happens to me, my first thought is, "Gotta tell Sheilah about this!”
It took me about a year to break the news to my son that his grandma was dead. It
real hard to be a committed atheist in the face of death.
A Trini is someone who knows all the words to David Rudder’s Madness.
And has fruit soaking for black cake all year round.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago is the one place on the planet that I don’t have to explain or justify my identity. In TT, I am instantly and universally recognised as "ah red ‘ooman.”
Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com