AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Kashka Hemans and, after a real love affair with it, I have a tabanca for Trinidad.
I lived in Trinidad in two stints, 2007-9, at Hugh Wooding Law School, and 2010-16.
But my love affair with Trinidad started as a child.
I read a lot and loved Trinidad because I loved its literature most. VS Naipaul is my favourite author. I loved Earl Lovelace’s descriptions of landscape, Manzanilla and all kinda places.
My Trinidadian wife Tonni Brodber and I have two sons Eli, three, and Noel, one and a half.
My eldest son, Tunde Jamil is in his 20s and lives in Tobago now because I had him, with a Trinidadian woman student at Mona, when I was 19.
Jamaican men love the Trinidad accent. On a woman.
They can’t take it seriously on a man. No man should speak in such a flowery way.
There was a time I would not openly admit that I do love soca.
Jamaican identity is a heavy burden. You’re not allowed to like everything. In Jamaica, there was a certain seeming frivolity associated with the happiness of soca.
At my wedding, I allowed myself to let free with the soca. My Jamaican family looked at me kinda side-eye. “What the hell is going on with Kashka?”
I’ve always been totally fascinated with Minshall, but bossman, I absolutely abhor Carnival. Trinidad Carnival.
I came to Trinidad with preconceived, very romanticised notions based on Earl Lovelace’s novel The Dragon Can’t Dance.
In Trinidad, I felt like I was witnessing the destruction of my Carnival. And I didn’t want to be party to it. A beautiful form had become an overly commercialised, expensive, shallow, plastic licence to inconvenience other people.
Trinis are subsidising the destruction of their own culture.
People are making a lot of money out of Carnival and there is a class dynamic at play.
It’s not necessarily the people who created the form or truly know what it means who’re making the money. (They’re not) leading where Carnival is going.
I grew up in an “uptown” area in Jamaica but my family has deep roots in downtown. My mother constantly improved herself. And people fell over themselves to pay for her education. She finished her career at the UN.
My father’s path was markedly different.
My father's mother's family was from Tivoli Gardens, the inner-city area you see in Jamaican music videos.
My father was murdered and disappeared when I was three. His body was found ten years later, plastered into a wall. When the building was demolished, they found his bones.
My pops was a very rational person. Gifted speaker, voracious reader.
In Jamaica, in that time and area, you catch a vibe on a corner and just a-move, based on that vibe. My father’s attitude was, no, you operate on rationality.
His associates set him up and killed him (over money).
I have three or four distinct memories of my dad and I have his poetry. And I started reading very early. So I do know my dad.
I attended Campion College, a Catholic school, which would be called a “prestige school” in Trinidad. Politicians’ kids. Diplomats. Ruling sector people. Only a few kids from more depressed areas.
Some schools (simply) housed rich kids who didn’t do their schoolwork, but Campion did well academically.
I’m not a very threatening person. I like to read. I wear glasses.
When I was on Mona campus, a mob came to beat my roommate because he was gay.
I tried to reason with them. One of the guys said, “We were worried about you, too. But we heard you had a son.”
When my first son was born, I (became) very careful. I didn’t want my son to live without a father the way I did.
I was with two friends, mother and daughter, women I knew since childhood. Two guys, one with a Glock, the other a 357 Magnum, held on to me. The women ran into the house.
One said, “Either open the door or me a-go shoot him!”
Her mother said, “No, don’t!” She opened the door.
They robbed the place and raped both of them.
I on the ground, this thing happening right over me.
And then they put us in execution positions, to kill us.
It sounds like a movie but one of them was crazy, psycho, and the other one was calmer.
I told the calmer one, “My youth just born. Do not kill me.”
He kinda think about it and him say, “Okay, me na kill yuh.” And they left.
All of this is relevant to my being in Trinidad.
I’ve been away from Jamaica since 2002. I’m like a refugee.
But I do love Jamaica.
And I love Trinidad in the way I love Jamaica. Really deeply and passionately.
With all due respect to Barbados and the other islands, I don’t have that feeling for them.
And I ate the cascadu.
Whenever I got stressed out (at work) in the Ministry of the Attorney General, I would go downstairs and take a walk around Woodford Square. Maybe two (laps). The library. The old fire station. Round to the old Greyfriars church that got demolished for some reason. That always did it for me.
And…the women! Oh my goodness. There’s something about the vivaciousness of a Trinidad woman, just walking in them work clothes and thing. You just see so many beautiful women just walking around. It cheered me up every time.
I would walk home to Cascade from Port of Spain. When you walk a city, you develop a different kind of relationship to it than driving it. I saw all the nooks and crannies of Port of Spain and would be hard-pressed to think of a better city.
In Port of Spain, the vagrants (are ridiculously) colourful. One time, I gave a lady a very specific sum of money she asked for, $9 or something, to buy something to eat.
She walks off, turns, comes back.
“Listen,” she says, “I don’t want to lie to you. I have a little bit of a gambling problem. So I’m going to buy food. But I’m going to use some of the money to buy Play Whe.”
In Trinidad, I just wanted to soak up everything.
For court visits required at law school, I made it a point to go to every single court in Trinidad and Tobago.
I’ve been to places Trinis don’t know about. There’s no wild meat I don’t taste. I went on a proper roti binge. I became something of a doubles connoisseur.
I tried everything, everything, everything.
If I go to Port of Spain and to Kingston now, far more people will be shouting me and hailing me in Port of Spain.
I grew up in Jamaica. But in a lot of ways, I grew into myself in Trinidad.
Nine times out of ten, if a question comes up relating to Trinidadian culture, music, geography or history, I am the expert.
I always tell my wife Tonni she should take it easy because I am more Trinidadian than her.
People say I am intelligent and there are ways in which I think I am intelligent. But there are ways in which I know I am a total fool.
That’s one of the reasons I read widely. Because there are insights that I just don’t get, unless I read them somewhere. So the Kashka you get is a pure matter of chance: like, okay, has he read
Abstract and then concrete, what I miss about Trinidad: the way Trinidad makes me feel. The specific energy and vibrancy I feel just being in the space.
The food. The doubles from Sutton Street, nice crispy bara.
The camaraderie. And some very good friends, Paul Moses and Corey Barnett. Both architects, both Jamaicans, both with Trinidadian (wives/child-mothers).
Expressing love for Trinidad the way I have could lead to excommunication in Jamaica. In Jamaica, you either with us or against us. Jamaica is a jealous wife!
A Trini is a performer who has happened upon the secret to living well. Whatever the mechanism, Trinidadians know how to live well.
I think of Trinidad and Tobago as home. I’ve travelled around a fair bit and Trinidad is the place where I feel most like myself.
Look, let me just go and kiss my Jamaican passport right now. To make it feel better.
Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com