A family called Trinidad & Tobago
AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Ryan Gomez-Burke and I’m a whole pig barbecuist.
My family moved into Diamond Vale when I was one. We were one of the first families there. It was the party capital of Trinidad. I was young, but I was in the parties, too. But the only way I used to get into party was by storming. I was always brokes.
The only ‘bush’ in Diamond Vale might have been the one or two empty house lots. We had good fun playing in the houses that were now finishing when the workmen left in the afternoon. Throw nails and make mischief.
I used to catch guabine in the Diego Martini Dry River.
My mother raise my family very close. Anything we do, we do together. If is a birthday, don’t matter if is just cake and ice cream, we invite everybody.
The story of the name, ‘Gomez-Burke,’ that I understand is, my grandfather was Irish, so he was the one with ‘Burke.’ Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe ‘Gomez’ was the original name and he added the ‘Burke.’ We supposed to be family to Gerry Gomez. But he was a bastard child or something, so, due to that, he added the ‘Burke,’ his mother’s name. But I’ve heard another version that he was in Venezuela with ‘Gomez’ and was having problems getting mail so he added ‘Burke.’ He dead and gone now, so I can’t ask him.
My grandfather fight in World War I. He was an old man in II. He talked about being in Africa, walking in the desert, fellas falling down and the troops have to keep marching, they leave you right there. And he fall down. And, he say, a big, strong Grenadian man pick him up, put him on his shoulders and carry him out. If it wasn’t for that Grenadian, ‘Gomez’ and ‘Burke’ woulda dead in the desert.
I am the last of my mother’s six children but there’s an adopted brother after me.
I went to Rosary Boys’ RC until they completed Diamond Vale Primary. Then it was much easier to walk to and from school.
I never really liked school. I wasn’t very good at it. I knew it was an important part of life. So I fight and pull myself through. I went to Diego Martin Junior Sec and then Diego Martin Sec.
Secondary school was more fun than primary, one of the first schools putting subjects in groups. Like how all schools do now. That helped me, the pooling the subjects.
My favourite subjects in school were: lunchtime; break time; and then home time.
I played a little football growing up but then I broke a bone, above the knee. I had to wear a whole leg cast, up to my hip. Back then, roller-skating was the go, so I cut the bottom of my cast, put on my skates and went skating in the cast.
After my leg, I broke my wrist playing football. So I tell myself it had to be some bone density problem and park up the football and sports.
That broken leg meant I had to stay home for the first few weeks of form one. So when I reach to school, I was a stranger. And everybody else knew everybody else. But everybody sign the cast and I get to know them.
I remember fighting in the cast, too, standing on one leg, swinging crutch and thing. I win fight and all. Everybody feel sorry for a boy in a cast and pull the other fella off and, by that time, he done get two crutch already.
Diamond Vale was good because a lot of families moved in at the same time and every age group had peers.
My parents never worried about us. We would be outside in the park all day having fun. I’d like to see my daughter have that opportunity, too, but things different now.
We used to raid neighbours’ fruit trees. Mango was easy. But to raid a coconut tree, six of us had to climb on top one another. And the one on top screw down the coconut. Nobody would say we were doing anything wrong, just growing up.
I like to go to the beach or down the islands.
I like all kinds of music, soca, rock ‘n’ roll, dance. I could take care of myself on a dance floor. I don’t know if I have ‘moves,’ but I could handle a three-step. I don’t embarrass the girl.
My younger brother is the only one of us living in Miami. The rest of the family all still in Trinidad.
I love J'Ouvert. Some mud or something. But Carnival is usually a time for work for me.
When they playing good, I support West Indies. Sometimes they just come out the blue and play a good game. When they playing bad, I bad-talk the team. You know Trinis.
Early to bed, early to rise, work real hard – and advertise. I get that from a company director in the USA.
Blanchisuesse is my favourite part of Trinidad. You could bathe in the river or the sea.
My daughter went under the water in a baby harness when her mother slipped with her in one of those harnesses on her chest. It was frightening but she came up all right.
Once the rest of the family is happy, I smiling.
I keep my life simple, stress free. I might feel down if I’m having a real hard day, working 16 or 18 hours in a day, that pisses me off. But not barbecuing pigs. That don’t take me long, because I have a simple way of doing it.
I could cook a suckling pig for you in three hours flat, from start to finish. I watch people fight up, fight up, fight up whole day to cook half-a-pig.
I de-bone him first. Season him. Put him on the drum. Give him a nice smoky, charcoal flavour. Then put him in a Chinese coffin and cook him.
A Chinese coffin is bought in Florida, really. It’s a box with a lid. You put the coals – very little coals – on the lid. So the cover of the box is where the heat starts and the inside is like a pressure cooker.
Some Carnival fetes, I do two pigs within five hours. The promoters saying, “Two pigs? The fete will be over before the pigs cook.”
Norris Gomez, the ex-BWee pilot – no relation – had a jerk place in St James and I worked with him. I learned about seasoning the meat and so on there.
I found a way to make jerk seasoning even better. So I make a jerk suckling pig barbecue.
I first barbecued a pig about 2002. The price of a suckling pig means you tend to have it for a family celebration, a Christmas party, Carnival fete.
I used to watch people taking six hours to barbecue a pig. And I tell myself it must be the bones. You have to get the bones real hot to cook the meat next to it, some of the bones so big. So I de-bone the pig.
To de-bone a suckling pig and leave the whole skin and body intact is a skill. And it makes it cook much, much faster. Guaranteed.
The best part of the job is watching everybody enjoy the meal. “This tasting so nice!” “How you get it to be so soft?” And thing.
The bad thing about the job is, you have to be so careful. If you put too much charcoal on that box, you could burn the pig inside it.
A good Trini, if he see somebody stall at the side of the road, he would lend a hand. The way Trinidad used to be. Your neighbour didn’t even have to ask when your breadfruit tree full. You already bring three for him and tell him carry some for his family. If we could bring back those values, Trinidad would be a much nicer place.
Trinidad & Tobago means ‘family’ to me. All of us live here. This is our home. And ‘family’ means everything to me.
Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com
This feature originally appeared in 2010
"A family called Trinidad & Tobago"