Dr Joanne Paul--use

Senior Paediatric Emergency Medicine Specialist at the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), Dr Joanne Paul

So, my friend Shiva is from India, grew up in Trinidad and now lives in Ireland. Essentially though he is Trini. A few years ago, he was in Tobago and took a photograph of a guy with the nickname ‘Horsey’. The photograph won second place in a travel agency competition in Dublin and for a few months, with the other top photographs, it was exhibited at the Dublin airport.

When you see the photograph, ‘Horsey’s hair is knotted, he has a grey and sun-bleached beard and moustache, and he looks like he spends most of his time traversing the beaches of Tobago.

Shiva came visiting recently and a group of us went to Grande Riviere to watch the turtles come up at night to lay their eggs. The next day some of us went walking along the Grande Riviere beach near to the hotels. In the aftermath of the flooding, the river has now massively changed course and is now meeting the sea much higher up the beach.

You can see the remnants of the houses that were partially destroyed. On that day some of the residents whose houses were affected were meeting with some government officials to review the damage. One of those residents was a mature woman, Ms Cox, known to everyone as “Queen”.

Queen had a bright red head tie and flowing loose clothing. She stood strong and bold in the midst of everything. I asked to take her photograph and she allowed for a minute or two and then went back to the more pressing matter. Sometimes in these rural areas when you feel the essence of people, you feel their immense strength and power.

Queen reminded me of my aunt Marilyn who lives in Cumana, the village before Toco on the northeast area.

Marilyn has short hair with a patch of silver in the centre. She is physically stronger than most people I know, is bossy as hell but her essence is one of deep kindness, generosity, and inner strength. Of course, like many salt of the earth women in these rural areas, she is also an excellent cook and homemaker.

There was also my Aunt Eliza. When I was in medical school, I would come to Cumana with groups of friends as I would show them the beauty of my home area. We would stop at one of the rum shops for a shandy, then roast corn at the entrance of Salybia beach, then Rough Sea, then stop by Aunt Marilyn to say hello at the first food stop, then inside Anglais village for the second food stop at Aunt Eliza.

She would make juice with limes and grafted lemons and always had a sweet hand (also the name of her food shop in Cumana village) with Creole food and baking. She also had short hair, was slim and short with breasts that were slightly sagging after having five children. But again, it was her essence. I felt strength, resilience, depths of warmth and always unrelenting generosity.

It is not like these women had carefree lives. My Aunt Eliza for sure did not. She started having children young, had an initial abusive relationship but eventually moved on to true love and companionship with another.

At the peak of her life, she was settled with her husband Wayne as she enjoyed watching her children grow up, live their lives, and become different persons who chose varied pathways. In the last few years of her life her health deteriorated. When she died at age 57, she broke a little piece of my heart, and I would always remember how she added to my life.

Today is Emancipation Day. It is the day that marks the end of slavery in the British Empire. It is a day to remind us of past events and where we came from but also to remind us to unshackle ourselves from perceived binds. For me it also represents a day to recognise and renew our essence as a people.

When I think of us as Trinbagonians I see crime, inconsistent productivity, a culture of poor customer service and nonchalant adultery, some sexism and nepotism and racism. When I look deeper to the true essence, I see such beauty and inclusivity with a range of sizes, skin colours, ethnicities and even nuances of language and accent.

I see food traditions, generosity, hospitality, kindness, flexibility, warmth, and easy love. I came back from travelling and studying abroad to be with my immediate family but also to be back with my Trinbagonian tribe.

For this Emancipation Day I want to recognise the salt of the earth people in these various small communities. I want to recognise those persons in families who are the soul and backbone of their family tribes. I also want to recognise the strong women who are the glue and pillars in their families.

I want to wake up on a morning and put on my bright red head tie and face the world of uncertainty like a true Queen. I want dance and smile and live with passionate fighting spirit like my Aunt Marilyn. And although she is no longer, I want to exude unconditional love like my Aunt Eliza. I am woman. I am Trini. My essence runs free. Today is also to remember the essence of us.

THE AUTHOR is a lecturer,

a paediatric emergency specialist, and a member of TEL institute