Living through a pandemic is no bed of roses for anyone, yet some people have discovered ways to grow personally and professionally in spite of the fear and sadness that prevails.
As life in TT slowed down and working from home became the new norm for many, people turned interests they never had the time to pursue in the past into what film producer Naima Mohammed calls “passion projects.”
Mohammed has discovered her passion for gardening.
“Yesterday I was going to do gardening for two hours, and I ended up doing it for the whole day,” she said.
Mohammed doesn’t grow roses, but she does grow purple dwarf petrea, peacock ginger and butterfly pea vines. Her gardening projects began when her parents’ landscaper fell through midway through the job in March.
“I discovered there are people who have plants in their yards, and they don’t know how to take care of them,” she said.
So Mohammed began rescuing people’s gardens.
“One person told me, ‘I have a small garden that is overgrown, and I would like you to see if you have any ideas what to do with it.’”
She teamed up with Kevin Brown, who works as a gardener in St Ann’s, and created paying jobs for him. Last October, she spotted a small garden that needed attention at the Beauty and Body Spa in Woodbrook and asked to fix it up. She developed a bartering system: her gardening services for facials or pedicures.
“We were rehabilitating the garden,” said Mohammed. “I started to take plants out and introduce new plants. We worked when the spa was not open. The garden is set now. We’re maintaining and observing it.”
She said the spa's garden has a cheerfulness about it.
“I put yellow, white and hybrid pink lantanas that would attract insects and birds. They had crown of thorns, a cactus-like flowering plant, and I planted purple dwarf petrea that looks like stars. There was a stump that looked dead, but by tending to the garden, it sent out new leaves and branches.”
Next, Mohammed spruced up the gardens around her apartment complex in Petit Valley, and now she’s into rehabilitating diseased plants.
“I put the plants in my nursery I started in St Ann’s and bring them back. It’s very meditative. I can’t even describe how energising it is to see people inspired by their gardens.”
Mohammed said during covid19 the cost of plants and garden supplies skyrocketed.
“When we had the first lockdown, plant nurseries were allowed to stay open. People became more interested in growing their food and growing more plants, and prices shot up.”
She has discovered plant groups online that offer reasonably priced plants and have curbside pickup. Before lockdown, she drove to Warrenville and Charlieville for plant sales and made new friends through plants.
“As gardens come together, you feel different. I find there’s a joy in seeing something start as a seedling. My nursery has several plants that haven’t been adopted by people, including some caladiums and snake plants in yellow and green that are air purifiers.”
Mohammed said gardening has provided a balance for the tough times and sad news.
“You need to have a balance where you can still support other people during this time. You can still find a sense of inspiration during these times.”
Architect and entrepreneur David Cogdell said he has found “clarity” about himself and people in general during the pandemic.
“I feel like I have a better sense of self. When you’re stuck at home, and you can’t do anything, you’re forced to find things to do.
“I wrote two novels. I found myself far more comfortable in my home than leaving it. I’ve become even more of a homebody – if that’s possible,” he said.
Born in London, Cogdell migrated to Trinidad in May 1994. He was 12 when his mother took a job with Amoco. He studied interior architecture at Kansas State University and returned to Trinidad. Life became a whirlwind of work.
Now, he said, “I’m generally at peace. At this time I’m working on things I can do at home so that when the borders reopen, I will hit the ground running.”
Last year, Cogdell took part in two virtual photography exhibitions. He won first and third prizes in the TT Photographic Society’s contest, in the abstract/digital category. In February he placed second in the European Union’s photographic competition.
“When this recent lockdown came, I couldn’t go out and take pictures, so one day I watched six hours of YouTube videos on photographic lighting techniques. I like to make sure I’m working towards a goal. That is what keeps me sane.”
He is mindful that he had neither the time nor the energy for photography until now. “This is no bed of roses right now, but you try to do the best you can.”
He has plunged forward in spite of his life being on hold. In October 2019, Cogdell had sold his business, the Studio Lounge on Tragarete Road, because he planned to migrate to Canada. That got postponed when covid19 hit.
“I was lucky to have had had some money saved,” he said.
He uses some of his savings to help others in need.
“This covid experience has highlighted what is important and what is not. For me, it has reinforced that I don’t need outside people or ‘extrovertness’ (sic) to keep me going. It has confirmed that I am a card-carrying introvert. My self-reflection has grown.
He’s learned other lessons from the pandemic, too.
“The pandemic has given me more patience. I can shrug off a lot more than I once could. What is in our control, I have grasped with both hands. What is most frustrating is, I can’t help people as I used to when I had a job.”
Cogdell is aware there are people who don’t have the privileges he has, and they are worrying about how to get money to eat and live. That saddens him, but he also notes happiness sprouting up around him.
“While the success stories aren’t numerous, they’re certainly not uncommon. I feel far more accomplished in my skill set in the last 14 months than I did in the last 14 years.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wish we could get over covid-19.”
Marvin Libert, who teaches Standard Four and Five at St Joseph Boys’ RC, is cultivating his creativity as a teacher.
"I think teaching from home pushes you to advance your technique and strategy. You definitely can’t use talk and chalk when you’re teaching online. You have to learn and use more technology, and you have to become a better researcher.”
Libert said home has become everything to him during the pandemic.
“Home is supposed to be your sanctuary. It’s the place where my wife Marsha and I live with our two children, but it’s our office too. Marsha and I have been married for 14 years, and this time has challenged us professionally and personally. Our interaction as a family has grown. We have more time together as a couple and as a family.
“I know there are people who are having serious problems. We are fortunate that we not only love each other and love our children, but we also like each other and like our children. That is the measure of wanting to be together.”
He said being together all the time can be trying because there is nowhere to go, but times like this make people realise what a good relationship really means.
“Before, I never had to test whether I could live with my wife day in and day out without ever leaving the house,” he said. “I discovered I can, and I find it enjoyable.”
Libert said the family now eats lunch together.
“We didn’t have the time to do that before. We had dinner together and breakfast in the car. We were at school for lunch.”
“We have had to learn to be more considerate of each other because we are together all the time,” said Marsha Libert, who teaches at St George’s College in Barataria.
“We are more tolerant of each other. We are making the best of this time.”
From gardens to photography to teaching and beyond, some people are mindful that among all the covid19 gloom, there is much to appreciate and time to grow professionally and personally.
For some, creativity is blooming like a garden.