AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Sophia Stone, and my family and I moved back to TT after spending a year in Canada.
I might be the only Afghan Trini. I’m married to Christian Stone and we have two children, Amelia and Zara.
I come from Port of Spain. Diego Martin is where I feel most at home.
My parents were both born in Kabul, Afghanistan. My father’s father was a very high-ranking diplomat and, when the Soviets invaded in 1979, my father was orphaned. He doesn’t talk about it much, but I believe his parents were murdered. At age 15, he had to fend for himself and his (eight younger siblings). He went from living in a palace with many support staff to being all on his own. They took all the wealth. He had nothing.
My father had an internship at the UN, where he met the Canadian ambassador, an avid tennis player. My dad learned how to play tennis quickly and played with the ambassador. The ambassador said, “Get to the Canadian embassy in Karachi in Pakistan (to get a visa) and I will help you.” At that time, you couldn’t just cross the border. My dad crossed the border pretending to be a Soviet soldier.
My father went to Canada first. He was about 25, 26. He had nothing. He was working in a gas station. Every dollar he saved, to bring his family over. So it was seven of them plus my mother all living in my father’s one-bedroom apartment. I was born in Canada.
My father, a trained architect, was working at 7-Eleven. He begged an architectural firm to let him work for free, drafting. He worked his way up, built his own firm. All the uncles have done well.
Growing up in Canada, I didn’t know anything about Trinidad. At age 18, my university’s international centre asked if I wanted to help on a project. I came to Trinidad to help manage the recruitment of Trini students. I had to do an event at More Vino restaurant, (which) my husband Christian was running. My face was on a poster for the same recruitment. He asked for one of the posters and kinda gave me some sweetman lyrics and I fell for it! He came to Toronto and said he wanted to marry me. I said, “But you’ve only known me two days!” So he says, “You’ve stood me up all this time, come to Trinidad!”
I come to Trinidad. He’s living with his brother in this crazy apartment in Glencoe. I lied to my Afghan parents. If they ever knew I had come to Trinidad to see a boy! Christian adopted a kitten from TSPCA to show me he was nurturing, and took me to Tobago, paradise on earth. By the end of that trip, we had spent less than ten days together in total but he was planning what our children’s names would be!
A month later, he flew to Toronto, met my parents, asked for my hand. They said, “We fought to give you opportunities in Canada and you’re running away to another developing nation with dangerous crime?”
I’m an adopted Trini. But I certainly have a Trini soul.
I identify far more with Trinidadian culture than Canadian culture now. Going back to Canada over the last year really confirmed that for me.
It was always the plan that, when our children got close to teen years, we would move them to Canada. It was a fantastic year. We lived right downtown Toronto, fantastic restaurants, walking by the lakeshore. But it just was not Trinidad!
Trini children have respect for adults. In Canada, children will jump in your car and wouldn’t greet you! But, in Trinidad, they still call you Uncle and Auntie. In Trinidad classrooms, there’s still a level of respect when the teacher enters. In Canada, it was chaos.
In Canada, we missed the sweetness of everyday life you take for granted in Trinidad: the sunshine; the mountains; having traffic jams along the sea! The beautiful flowers! There’s so much in the physical environment we don’t realise is so beautiful in TT. And in North America, a lot of the time, it’s grey and dreary and cold, figuratively and literally. People don’t greet you. Nobody gets out of the way for you. Nobody will stop you in a coffee shop to say hello. It’s a completely disconnected life!
There’s a connection, something that binds everybody here in Trinidad that is very special and unique that I don’t think you see in other countries.
In First World countries, you have a better selection in the grocery. But the community of people around you is not there.
In North America, there are a lot of opportunities. But is a fast-paced life. You work nonstop to be able to afford the basics.
Everybody in North America is so tied to their schedules, you have to make a plan to meet up two weeks from now. When I’m in Trinidad, I will say, “All right, it’s 5 o’clock, we going to the park, bring a little Stag.” It’s so much more relaxed and focused on being together in Trinidad. You can’t drink anywhere in Canada, only in bars and restaurants. Already it changes the whole dynamic of socialising. You’re in an institutionalised place where you’re deemed to be socialising. There’s no social life in the streets.
In big societies, you’re just a cog in the wheel.
When we were in Toronto, we spent triple the money we would have spent in a year in Trinidad. And we felt so empty. In Trinidad, you don’t need to spend money to enjoy life. You could go by the beach. In Canada, you have to enjoy things and experiences. Here, you just enjoy people.
When we came back, all our friends were confused. Everybody was dealing with the surge in crime and trying desperately to get out. It’s easy to focus on the bad in Trinidad, it’s very glaring. But it’s also very easy to take for granted all the beauty of this life in Trinidad.
When you wake up and you don’t have the mountains, the sun or the sea, and the doubles vendor who knows your order and will give you a little joke while you’re eating it, those things affect your every day. Loneliness, depression, illness, all of these things become part of your every day. You look back on your life in Trinidad and ask yourself, how many days did crime affect my life in a direct way? In Canada, loneliness, all the things that make life miserable, are there every day! With the hullabaloo of crime, flooding, corruption, etc, it’s easy to forget how truly beautiful and sweet life can be in Trinidad.
A Trini is somebody who has a deep love for this nation and honours it by living life vibrantly, fully and with passion. Trinis are the happiest people alive, as Machel would say.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago is a special little secret: if you know, you know. But most people don’t know. If you take the time to find out, TT is a gift that very few are blessed with. I consider myself to be one of the lucky few.
Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com