Adventures of a Bocas Blogger 2018 (2): Barbara Lalla

The 2nd floor seminar room of the National Library was filled on the fourth day of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest as everyone anticipated the discussion between Barbara Lalla and Shivanee Ramlochan. It began with a reading from Lalla’s latest book Grounds for Tenure  which was short yet captivating. The university setting within the book led to the question of balancing working in academia and to what extent it influenced the characters in the book. Interestingly, Lalla found it amusing that people often mistook fictional characters for her colleagues. However, Lalla did confess that naturally her experience has greatly influenced and enriched her writing. She also stated that the novel was not exclusively for academics but could be enjoyed by anyone.

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Shivannee Ramlochan (left) and Barbara Lalla (right)

On the heels of this observation, Shivanee mentioned that indeed it was a reader’s novel and commented, “Reading is not just a hobby but an escape.” It seemed that this was no secret even for a then young Lalla who recalled crying because everyone else in her family borrowed a book from the library but she couldn’t as she was too young and couldn’t read. It is evident that Lalla’s literary environment growing up has helped to shape her into the beloved lecture and successful writer she has become. It’s certainly not an easy feat but one which she appears to bear with joy and great humility. I wondered for a moment what it would have been like to do one of her courses while studying at the UWI, St. Augustine campus.

Speaking of her experience in teaching at the UWI, St Augustine, Lalla mentioned that she was always interested in straddling language and literature and couldn’t see herself choosing just one. She added that coupled with the necessary research, writing is a way to better understand oneself as well as the world.  This is especially true for someone who has benefited from a mixed literary landscape having grown up in Jamaica and later settled in Trinidad.

A question and answer segment followed and initially highlighted the thought on everyone’s mind of the need to address evident problems within the university. Lalla responded with the tenderness and truthfulness of one who had been asked many times when she said, “You can love something and out of that love still find flaws.” This was not the answer I expected but being a past student myself, it surely was one that made me rethink my sometimes critical attitude towards the university. Lalla stated two main points, that the university ought to finesse the treatment of the graduate staff and that more help should be given to the powerless group of part time staff.

Mention was also made of Lalla’s wittingly satirical manner of writing which she attributed partly to her interaction with her fellow academics who, “use words wisely to be comforting, humourous and even brutal.” She added that her interactions with students are also useful saying, “There are those who are bright, those who are bright and don’t know it and those who are just crazy bright.” She joked that the latter provided the most stimulating exchanges. Having a few spare minutes, the discussion ended with another excerpt from Grounds for Tenure, much to the delight of the audience.

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Adventures of a Bocas Blogger 2018 (1): Romesh Guneskera

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Susheila Nasta leading the discussion with Romesh Gunesekera.

The One on One with Romesh Gunesekera, renowned Sri Lankan writer, took place at 10 am at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest while the minds of the audience were fresh and ready for another day in the festival of ideas. This writer, the first Sri Lankan in the history of Bocas, tied together the highlights of his writings and created unique links to the Caribbean.  He spoke of his acclaimed novel, The Reef and the idea that just as an island has many places contained in one so too is a book one collection of many ideas. Through the power relationship between the bachelor and his servant in the novel, themes such as balance and dependency were used to mirror the political situation in Sri Lanka in the late 1900s.

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Romesh Gunesekera reads an excerpt from The Reef

Gunesekera joked that he always liked writing about topics which did not require much research and admitted that at the time of writing the novel he had never seen a reef but did ample research. For me, this solidified the idea that oftentimes writers step outside themselves to be the voice that society needs to hear and the medium to articulate what may otherwise be left unspoken. It is not hypocrisy but a literary skill to be praised.

He also spoke briefly of his novel, The Prisoner of Paradise. He chuckled while saying that he intended for it to have a happy ending but instead it turned out to be a mixture of tragedy, love and comedy. As he moved on to talk about The Match , the session began to resemble the quintessential plot with this novel being the climax. Gunesekera described how the spectacle and performance of a game of cricket was metaphorically important in demonstrating the violent nature of humans during the Sri Lankan civil war. He stated that in understanding that, we will recognise why the world is the way that it is. It is a book which many can appreciate both for its denotative and connotative meaning given our love for cricket in the Caribbean.

The denouement involved a discussion of his most recent work in the post war context. Writing had become extremely difficult for various reasons which Gunesekera summed up by stating, “There was a sense of required silence.” He mentioned that people didn’t want to or didn’t know how to speak of the war. The room was still as everyone seemed to recall an instance during which that phrase was undeniably true. Nonetheless, we do anticipate that this silence may be the calm before the storm of even greater works from this talented writer.

 

Involuntary heart donor

Like a body entering cold and unfamiliar waters
I’ll adapt to you
I’ll adjust because that’s what lovers do
I’ll come down to your level to love you there
I’ll be vulnerable and lay my soul bare
With the loyalty of which you can only dream
I will personify it and make it real

As you examine the crazy world of our chemistry
You’ll find meaning in all it’s complexities
I will be the hypothesis which will allow you to prove that love is real
Dive in, experiment and take the lead
It was all I ever wanted
but how unfortunate that things didn’t go as we expected.

Being an involuntary heart donor inevitably leaves you lifeless
The funny thing is
I was willing to share my heart with you
But in the end you left and took it entirely
Boldly and without remorse as if it had always belonged to you
Now I’m left dead because a body without a heart is a corpse that has lost it’s reason for being
It’s a soul that is no longer propelled by the comfort of the heart’s constant beating

Famous lyrics broadcast what we suffer but can’t seem to articulate
And feeds a growing pain which we long to forget
Unbreak my heart, say you’ll love me again
Don’t ever question if my heart beats only for you, it beats only for you
There’s nothing I can do, total eclipse of the heart
My heart’s crippled by the vein that I keep on closing,
you cut me open and I…

I’ve realized that I can’t go on
Because you left and took my heart entirely
and all that’s left is my lifeless body.

The Non-dairy Conundrum

They should invent a word to describe the sensation you get when the pharmacist tells you that the problem you seem to be having is related to your sinus and so you should lay off the dairy products. As he counted the prescribed tablets, I replied, “Ok for how long?” to which he responded nonchalantly,  “Well I mean you should try to just lay off the dairy as much as possible.”.

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When the pharmacist says to lay off the dairy products

I then began to feel quite *insert invented word for sensation here*. Was I hearing correctly or was this a case of mistaken identity? The temptation to run to a doctor for a second opinion was pressing or should I say first opinion since this was not a doctor after all (no offence). Either way, by second opinion I really mean a different opinion that would allow me to continue to consume the dairy products which I’ve grown to love. Is that too much to ask?

Well I guess it was. I began to think of alternatives but I was haunted by images of bread sticks (preferably Pizza Hut) and Creamy Alfredo pasta. I was in my own real life version of ‘Cloudy with a Chance of … every dairy food imaginable’. That night when it was time for my eat-before-taking-the-tablet dinner, I thought to myself hmm no cheese, ok cornflakes and mil…. no not that, crix and…hmmm …ok crix and jam it is! If this were to become a lifestyle change and a drive to be healthier then of course to Google we go. So there it was, now someone explain to me the sorcery of the following picture.

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This picture is a screenshot I took while browsing a site that usually has good tips for these types of health/exercise/food related questions. You know things like, “What did I do to deserve this?”,”How to give up dairy and not die?”, “At home remedy to reverse a sinus diagnosis.” I was in the ‘Healthy Eating’ tab as you can see. How you gone advertise KFC on a site like this?? The juxtaposition made the temptation too real and the Zingers are too tasty, not to mention the popcorn chicken, coleslaw and biscuits. If ever there was a time to feel like Pepe the frog ’tis now.

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Jesus take the wheel

Am I exaggerating a rather simple situation which people have endured for years? Am I being insensitive to those who have to refuse dairy by force and not by choice? Aren’t there now a wider assortment of non-dairy alternatives available than 10 years ago? Well perhaps so but one must vent and what better way, besides Facebook, to freely and publicly vent than on your very own blog?

In a strange way I’m looking forward to this change as a new adventure and a different experience that I’m hoping would all work out in the end. Sometimes the things that are best for us cause us to be uncomfortable at first but are always worth it. Be mindful that everyone has their no dairy story which at times is as ‘simple’ as that or an even greater and seemingly insurmountable challenge. Do your research, ask questions, support each other and you’d find that the weight will become a little lighter. Keep reading and look forward to more.

And remember: No dairy seems scary but sinus problems suck so don’t press your luck.

Elusive raindrop lover

I’ll chase after you
As if we were two raindrops sliding down a window pane
Moving at different paces but our direction’s the same
I’ll catch you eventually somehow
We’ll join so the two shall become one

But the wind of an irresistible hopeless romantic
suddenly blew you off course
You ran in pursuit of the happiness you sought
Our paths would never intertwine
I would drift into a puddle of despair
That would end in a sea of darkness
With such a large expanse of water
There’s no way of telling one drop from the other
I thought then that I had lost you forever

A few years later I glanced over to that girl on the bench
You sat there alone staring at your feet
I sat there beside you
My presence was all I could offer
The two drops met again at the chin of this heartbroken lover
As proof that the elusive raindrops were meant for each other
In that moment a lost love gave birth to another
And I knew it was a sign that we’d be together forever

‘Breathe’: Breaking free from addiction

Breathe is a documentary short directed by Jonathan Remple which portrays the effects of free diving as a means of combatting addiction. Rebecca Illing is the sole protagonist of the film but is able to keep audiences engaged with her down to earth nature. Her story is truly inspiring and provides food for thought on our approach to recovery from addiction.

I found this documentary short to be particularly interesting because in the Caribbean diving is popular as a leisure activity. I would have never thought that diving could be a means to cope with and even overcome addiction. It is presented from a different angle and shows a unique link between nature and mankind.

The underwater cinematography provides stunning shots and a fascinating scenery. This four minute film attests to the adage that quality is often better than quantity. It is evident why this film won the award for ‘Best Documentary Super-Short’ in the Best Short Fest festival 2017. Click here to watch the documentary ‘Breathe’.

 

When Disaster Strikes

The disaster preparedness panel was hugely anticipated in light of recent hurricanes that ravaged parts of the Caribbean. The panel of specialised professionals, was able to offer a wide range of perspectives on the central focus of the panel, disaster readiness. The panellists were Akil Nancoo, experienced meteorologist working with the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service; Jerry David, Disaster Management Coordinator of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation; Professor Richard Robertson, geologist and volcanologist at the Seismic Unit; Shelly Bradshaw, Mitigation Manager at the Office of Disaster Preparedness Management (ODPM); and Crystal Fortwangler, visiting filmmaker and director of It Ain’t Easy Being Green (also screened at this year’s Green Screen festival).

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The discussion began after a series of jaw-dropping pictures showing the effects of heavy rainfall and flooding in Trinidad and Tobago. Mr David gave the historical context and insight into how development, particularly in the Diego Martin region, has led to improper land use, the negative impact of which we see and feel today.  He highlighted that while the Diego Martin Regional Corporation insists on training residents to respond in times of disaster, many in the community do not take advantage of such opportunities.

Ms Fortwangler’s background in environmental anthropology and environmental justice led her to support Mr David’s initiatives to ensure that residents are well prepared and able to assist in times of need.  She spoke briefly of the issue of social justice following a natural disaster by stating, “Who is giving the money and the resources and what are the consequences of this deal? There is a social impact due to this vulnerability.” This drove home the point that, as small islands, we must carefully consider our allies, and the terms of our alliances, since the help required after a major disaster tends to leave us bound to our financiers.

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Given the population’s negative view of the ODPM in recent times, Ms Bradshaw started by explaining that the ODPM is a coordinating entity and is not the organisation to offer all the assistance in the event of a natural disaster. She identified the organisation’s lack of resources and, like most of the other panellists, citizens’ complacent attitude as major challenges. In my opinion, the role of the ODPM was well explained but remained unclear and conflicting when compared to what actually happens. I was hoping for a much deeper discussion in this regard.

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Robertson provided a different perspective when he stated that the phrase ‘natural disaster’ should be interchanged with ‘natural phenomenon’. He specified that they occur regardless of what we do and believes we should do all we can to sensitise the public on their human and environmental impact in order to reduce the damage when they do happen. It was worrying to be reminded that preparation for a natural disaster must take place many months in advance, for while newer buildings are made to withstand earthquakes and proper drainage is constructed in newer communities, it is clear that much of our current infrastructure requires upgrading.

The comments on inadequate infrastructure, lack of resources and a complacent population were enough to prove that we are not ready for natural disasters. Using a brochure on disaster preparedness distributed by the ODPM, Mr David asked the audience if we had enough drinking water stored and had placed important documents in secure packaging. The tone of the murmurs coming from the audience suggested that many of us were not prepared. He then summed up the discussion of the panel when he stated, “Don’t ask if Trinidad is ready. Ask if you are ready.”

‘Our Waters’:Protecting our marine resources (Panel Discussion)

The first panel discussion of the 2017 Green Screen Environmental Film Festival  was held on Saturday 4th November at the Medulla Art Gallery. Entitled ‘Our Waters’, the panel considered the challenges facing the environment and the responsibility of varying institutions to protect our marine resources. The short film series was relevant, thought provoking and engaging.

The panelists were Hamish Asmath, Geographical Information Systems Officer in the Geomatics Unit at the Institute of Marine Affairs, Dr. Sharda Mahabir, Project Manager at the Water Resources Agency of WASA,Gerard Alleng, climate change senior specialist with the Climate Change and Sustainability Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Courtney Rooks, naturalist, conservationist, explorer and ecotourism professional and Ronald Roach, CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL).

Moderator Francesca Hawkins, asked for an overview of our current situation before delving into solutions and initiatives. The statistics put forth by the panelists on the rapidly depleting coral reefs, the polluted rivers and the negative effects of climate change in the Caribbean were alarming. Mr. Asmath noted that the recent hurricanes in the region caught everyone’s attention, however, he urged the public to be equally concerned with subtle dangers such as rising sea levels.

One of the primary hindrances to protecting our water resources is minimal collaboration among the relevant institutions. Rooks stated, “The big problem is that there is no network of humans but individuals who want change and can’t do it alone.” Lack of funding is also a major setback as the environment is not prioritised. “Currently, the cost of the leaching system (which we need) is 21 million (TT) dollars and we were given 1 million dollars by the government.” lamented Mr. Roach. He then suggested that less government funding should be spent on mitigation and be reallocated to public education to change the complacent attitude of citizens towards the environment.

Dr. Mahabir spoke to initiatives geared towards improving the environment and specifically our marine resources. She spearheaded the ‘Adopt a River’ project in recent years to clean rivers across Trinidad and Tobago. The ‘Water Warriors’ programme taught residents to test their water and they were educated on recycling. This initiative started in Carapo as the first community based recycling programme in Trinidad and Tobago. It was quite successful and has since spread to other communities.

Mr. Alleng presented a model for being ‘blue and circular’. In explaining this model, he stated, “As islands, our principal asset is the sea. A sustainable ocean economy is possible: a circular model where waste is seen as valuable as the input for something else and for this we must improve efficiency.” Questions and comments from the audience led to immersive discussion. Amidst the devastating effects of climate change, it was refreshing to hear the positive efforts being made. I still feel that a lot more can be done to educate the public and perhaps more people would be willing to change their destructive behaviours and contribute positively to more initiatives if they are aware of such. Dr. Mahabir ended on a high note by encouraging those present to use trending hashtags, get everyone involved and to make it personal so they understand their reciprocal effect on the environment.

Don’t believe that the challenge to change something is too great.
Holly Trew, Department of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the UWI Cave Hill, Barbados
Short film series: ‘The Reef’

Be sure to check out the Green Screen website for more details on the film festival which ends on Friday 10th November, 2017.

 

Green Screen 2017: Opening Night

The Green Screen Environmental Film Festival 2017, held its opening reception at the Digicel IMAX theater on November 2nd, 2017. The evening began with remarks from the Minister of Agriculture, Senator Clarence Rambharat; Sagicor representative, Sharda Mahabir and the mastermind of the festival, Carver Bacchus of Sustain T&T.

The feature film, “Death By A Thousand Cuts” co-directed by Jake Kheel and set in Hispaniola, renders more than blood; it explores the tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the complexities of the expanding charcoal trade and the consequences of mass deforestation in those countries. The audience were left with their mouths ajar and lingering questions on their tongues.

The post-film discussion, added dimension to this already multi-layered film, which took approximately five years to complete. Kheel gave detailed supplementary information that helped to give a balanced outlook and quenched the audience’s thirst.

Film fans, filmmakers, activists, policy makers, entrepreneurs and other members of the public – the stakeholders of our environment, mingled afterward to chat and network. The room buzzed with laughter and conversation as the night progressed on an eclectic note.

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Present were young, local creatives, familiar faces such as the Wadada Sisters of the Wadada Movement, a Caribbean-based fashion label; Anya Ayoung-Chee, Fashion Designer; Maya Cozier, Director of the film ‘Short Drop’ which won the award for Best T&T Short Film at Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2017 and Shari Petti, Director of the documentary short film, ‘Sorf Hair’ the People’s Choice Best Film at TTFF. “It was clear that the film was thoroughly researched and investigated, well shot, engaging and objective; you didn’t really see too much of a bias anywhere like ‘Haitians are bad, Dominicans are angels’ or anything,” commented Shari Petti.

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The Wadada Sisters

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Bocas Lit Fest Bloggers Ashlee Burnett (left) and Apphia Barton (right)

Others described the film as “excellent”, “an eye-opener”, “interesting and informative” and some wished that the film would be screened again so they would have the opportunity to invite friends and family.

The 7th launch of the Green Screen Environmental Film Festival was filled with promise and set high expectations for the days that were to follow. Carver Bacchus stressed the importance of public education and stated that there is ‘no quick fix’ when it comes to the issues that plague our environment. There is no doubt that Green Screen is a catalyst and continues to provide a platform where all stakeholders can come together in matters concerning the environment.

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The Green Screen team

Collaborative piece written by the Bocas Lit Fest Bloggers:

Ashlee Burnett
Apphia Barton
Giselle Permell
Kimberly Inglis

Visit Green Screen’s website for more. Instagram: greenscreentt  Twitter: @GreenScreentt

Insecurities

Somehow always present
It mimics a shadow and sadly appears when the light that I need most is fading away
These shadows that plague me
These eternal insecurities

It’s a ravenous monster that feeds on every ounce of trust
And grinds every optimistic bone in my body to the finest dust
This shadow plagues me
This eternal insecurity

It’s the voice in my head telling me it just wont work
And the thought in my mind to fight against a decision I just took
My shadow plagues me
My eternal insecurity

It’s the crazy mixture of anxiety and panic that I nurture
Coupled with the same worries over and over
Many shadows plague me
Many eternal insecurities

And when love finally finds a way in
It gets kicked out the back door
Back out the door it goes
With its head bowed in defeat
Hoping to find an entrance through a vulnerable crack

I wished for your sake that I could erase this part of me
Then I saw that in reality
You are the light that shines brightly
To eliminate the shadow of my insecurities
It was then that I heard a knock at the front door
It was love hoping to enter once more

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