Catching her ash
AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Nadia Huggins and I can say people in St Vincent have been living in hell since the volcano erupted on April 9.
I couldn’t say I was living in hell myself because, although I’ve had huge pileups of ash all around me in the green zone, things are much worse and people far more vulnerable in the orange and red zones. Coconut branches, laden with ash, droop in the green zone (but) houses in the red zone were buried under ash. We had very heavy rain on April 29 and that helped clean off all the roofs.
I left Trinidad when I was three, but I would say I was from Cascade.
Trinidad left an indelible mark on my family, even after we moved to St Vincent. We were raised in a particular way, to remember that energy of Trinidad.
In terms of language, behaviour, that type of thing, I grew up in St Vincent in (a very Trini way).
I moved back to Trinidad for a couple of years in 2014 and I’ve always been back and forth.
But not since covid. Every time I land in Trinidad, that energy resonates.
We were a small family, mother, father, sister, but my mum comes from a very big one.
I eventually want a family but, as a photographer, you need a level of hyper-focus to get things to develop, career-wise.
I live in puns.
My mother’s Catholic, my dad was born Anglican, but I rejected religion at age 11, as soon as I went to high school.
Religion just didn’t make any sense. The reality I was living was nothing like the Bible stories.
I think I believe in a greater energy that is in all of us and the earth and our surroundings.
I don’t know if I have the kind of power BC Pires asks me about, to pray to God for good weather for the cricket.
My Trini roots never made me feel like an outsider in St Vincent, but I have been judged and excommunicated from groups as a creative person.
“Why is that person so quiet? Why are they swimming out in the ocean alone?”
Little things like that.
We all judge people based on their appearance.
I have alopecia and it took a long time to adjust when I started losing my hair when I was 14. Obviously, I got bullied a lot growing up and still encounter the odd person who’s a little unkind.
But I recognise that’s not about me, but (them).
It took a while to be comfortable enough to say, “Right, screw everyone, I’m going to take off my headwrap and rock my bald head!”
Just owning that, I get a lot more respect. The odd person will be unsure how to engage, but once we start to talk, they realise there’s more to me than my physical appearance.
I was a very average student. Mostly because a lot of the subjects just didn’t interest me.
A lot of my education happened outside of school, (where) I was actively discouraged from doing creative work!
After the volcano erupted, when we saw the explosion going up, there was definitely that moment of awe. When we looked up at the (tower of smoke). You’re seeing something so incredibly powerful in front of you.
It’s difficult to describe. Even images don’t do it any justice.
To see something of that scale projecting so high into the air – you just stand and look. We all knew, on some level, that the ash had to come down.
But it didn’t quite register. But as the daylight started to get dark as the ash started to come down… It was like snow. You heard it on the roof of your car as you were driving, on the ground under your feet. It was like walking through a blizzard.
The whole place just got eerie.
When the ash came down, it was literally like someone made the world black and white. Like, in an instant.
Seeing that was really difficult.
I don’t know what I thought would happen, but I was not expecting to see that. It took a while to adjust mentally to what I was seeing.
I have asthma. When it hit me what I was watching I was, like: you have to protect yourself. Go inside. You have to wear a mask. I had to lock all my doors and windows and put wet towels along the floor and windowsills. So ash couldn’t seep in.
I had to wet my mask sometimes even when I was inside to breathe properly.
Every time I finished cleaning the ash at home, I had to go make sure my elderly mother was okay.
The worst moment came about two days after the eruption and the ash fall. I had a breakdown. I felt completely overwhelmed by the ash.
I had to take care of my mother. Trying to (do) everything while not actually having the ability to breathe was really difficult.
I didn’t have any control. I felt powerless. I thought, Well, this is how I’m going to go. Stuck on an island with ash!
I live in a privileged zone and had access to a lot of things a lot of people didn’t. And I was really catching my a-- to just function on a day-to-day basis.
A lot of us in the green zone (realised other) people needed assistance more than us. In small groups, we tried to figure out how to take care of people in a worse situation.
The entire month of April was horrible. The ash never stopped. It felt like it would go on forever!
After the volcano was the first time I saw Vincentians get together in that tremendous totally selfless way.
I was so proud to see people just put in the work to help people in need.
Unusual really heavy rains on April 29 were a blessing and a curse. It did a lot to clean up the place, and trees and plants (immediately) started to turn green again.
But all the drains and rivers were blocked up with ash.
So we had this tremendous flooding and landslide situation. All the ash and rock at the top of the volcano came rushing down.
It’s deadly. You can’t go near a river. A lot of roads were blocked.
People who’d seen the eruption on Montserrat told us, just hang in there, it’s not going to last forever. That was actually really helpful.
I kept waiting for that lady to come on air and say, “Hey, guys, the alert is green now.”
But every day, it’s still orange. And that could switch to red at any time.
Nobody has died and it’s pretty calm now. But until a dome develops to cap off that eruption, we’re still very much in an uncertain state.
But the air is breathable now.
I’ve never been so grateful for fresh air in my life. Running water. Shelter. Things being green. It’s amazing what you become grateful for. And we have a lot to be grateful for. Really, we do.
The energy of the Trinidadian people really transcends beyond Trinidad. Trinis always find something to create. It comes from the heart of the people.
Coming from a smaller place where there’s not much going on (I appreciate that).
To me, a Trini is bent on trying to change the world through their connection to the land. Even the partying is a kind of extension of the deepness, passion, humour, charisma and creativity that lives in a Trini.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago means a place I could always return to. Where I would have family, friends and a creative community.
Read the full version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com
"Catching her ash"