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.


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.


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


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.


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.


‘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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Wadada Sisters


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.


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

Adventures of a Youth Blogger (3): Dr. Edward Baugh

On Saturday 29th April at 11 a.m I found myself engaged in a one on one session with Dr. Edward Baugh, Professor Emeritus of English at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies and renowned poet. He was immediately put on the spot with a question he dislikes which was ‘What made you want to be a poet?’ Nonetheless, he answered by stating that his inspiration started in his childhood and stemmed from listening to sermons in church as well as reading various books in the bible. He then spoke briefly of the responsibility of a poet and stated that each poem must ‘somehow make a difference’.

Apart from his early influences, Mr. Baugh delved further into other facets of inspiration. During the time of his schooling, the poetry that he would have been exposed to included the romantic English poets as well as Browning’s dramatic monologues. In university, he would go on to discover the works of Derek Walcott which he would often read during his free time while in the library. This all served as food for thought for upcoming writers and even amateur writers like myself to see how we can find a balance between the great inspiration we receive from the writings of others and the need to establish our own voice through our writings.

We were privy to have a sneak peak into the musings of a very talented writer as he stated, “When I’m writing a poem, I must hear it. It must have a kind of resonance.” Upon reflection, one may think that it’s only in writing the poem that it can then be read, heard and appreciated, but in this case Baugh allows us to see the writing process from a different perspective as he goes from inception to the point of putting pen to paper. It was then quite funny and not surprising that he would go on to state that while in school he loved to read when he was getting a cold as he liked the sound and depth that would then characterise his voice. The value that Baugh placed on sound, even from a young age, was quite evident.

In my secondary school, studying Literature for the CSEC examinations was compulsory but it was an obligation which I had grown to love over time. Hearing poems being read by the teacher and my classmates was quite entertaining but I have to admit that it is incomparable to hearing it from the lips of the poet himself. Baugh read his well known poem which I had studies years before in school, ‘A Carpenter’s Complaint’ which was evidently a favourite among those in the audience.

It was an opportunity not only to hear the poem read the way in which it was intended to be read but to hear the story behind the masterpiece and the intentions of the poet. All the same, Baugh is always open to interpretations and critiques as well. He stated, “Critics are useful if not necessary.” Edward Baugh’s presence at the Bocas Lit Fest left us with the warmth of the smile he maintained throughout the one on one session and it was evident why those in the audience who were past students of his had addressed him with such fondness upon asking their questions.

Adventures of a Youth Blogger (2): Dr. Keith Rowley



On the 27th April, 2017 I attended a One on One discussion with the Honourable Dr. Keith Rowley on his memoir From Mason Hall to Whitehall. He was interviewed by the Bocas Deputy Festival director Mr. Funso Aiyejina who clearly stated that it was an opportunity to see Mr. Rowley in a personal rather than a political light. Surprisingly, it was not the usual story of a beam of inspiration and burning desire to put pen to paper which led Mr. Rowley to write his book. It came about as a positive response to an unfortunate circumstance.

The publicity that came along with his involvement in the General Elections of 2015 meant that he was interviewed regularly. On one occasion, he was subsequently described as having a middle class upbringing which he stated was not true. It dawned on him that many people, including his family, did not know enough about him outside of the political arena. It was then that he decided to write From Mason Hall to Whitehall to fill those gaps

He read from the chapter entitled ‘My Common Entrance Near Miss’ where we were able to gain insight into his difficulty in reaching to a point of eventually being able to do the Common Entrance examination.  He described this great stroke of luck as ‘a matter of fate’.

One particularly comical incident which he shared was typical for young, adventurous children with some extra time on their hands. After getting into trouble, Mr. Rowley and his friends slipped cardboard into their shirts to brace the impending share of licks. Much to their misfortune, an onlooker revealed the secret which led to them having to remove the cardboard and receive their punishment in full. The audience exploded with the laughter of those who would have undoubtedly had similar experiences.

The second reading came from the chapter entitled ‘My First Visit to Trinidad’. He was 8 years old the first time he visited and although Tobago was just next door, he described the great culture shock that he experienced. He lived in Laventille with his mother and fought through difficulties such as the lack of pipe borne water. Shortly after, he responded to a question from the audience about inspiring others through his writing and he responded by saying, “You shouldn’t put a lid on how high you want to climb”. It was evident then that this could have been his mantra moving through life and partly the reason why he was able to rise above the many obstacles he encountered.

Lastly, someone asked Dr. Rowley about finding time to write given his busy schedule. He stated that his best time for writing was between midnight and daybreak and he encouraged us all to find a quiet time during which to write. ‘There’s something inspirational about the quiet of the night.” he stated.

The time proved too short to delve into as much detail as we would have liked, nonetheless, everyone in the audience was able to witness and share in the fondness with which Mr. Rowley recalled his childhood and his journey through life. We were also able to appreciate his decision to expose himself to the vulnerability that naturally accompanies one’s decision to write about the most intimate details of their life.

Go grab a copy and get to reading!

Adventures of a Bocas Youth Blogger (1)

This year I was fortunate to be part of the inaugural group of Youth Bloggers for the NGC Bocas Lit Festival. Although there were a number of events leading up to the actual festival, the first event I attended was the opening reception which took place on the 26th April at the 101 Art Gallery, Newtown.

Just before arriving at the Art Gallery, I had collected my package at the National Library and so I held my bag firmly as I walked in nervously. I looked around and noticed that everyone hurled familiar names across the room, this was then followed by an exchange of hugs and greetings. I felt like the lost child at the grocery store and so I sent out a message to the group of Youth Bloggers and Giselle informed me that she was on her way.

Meanwhile, I had perfected my ‘save me from the torture of my solitude’ face and I think that must have encouraged Nicole Dennis-Benn to engage me in light conversation. I learnt of her interest in writing as well as her highly acclaimed book, Here Comes The Sun. It was a privilege to meet this esteemed writer and walk away with a sense of encouragement fostered by one who understood the musings of a young, amateur writer.

Giselle arrived shortly after. While we spoke, I decided to put on my Youth Blogger badge and I gained greater confidence along with the realisation that I was given the opportunity to truly contribute to the event and to interact with many writers and professionals in the field.

The highlight of the evening was the announcement of the winners of the CODE’s Burt Award. A short but informative opening address was delivered by Marina Salandy-Brown , founder and Festival Director of the Bocas festival, followed by the results. In third place was Trinidadian writer Lisa Allen-Agostini for her unpublished novel Waiting for the Bus, in second place was also a Trinidadian by the name of Kevin Jared Hosein for his unpublished novel The Beast of Kukuyo and first place was awarded to a Puerto Rican, American based writer, Viviana Prado-Núñez for her self-published novel, The Art of White Roses.


Picture with Viviana Prado-Núñez, winner of the CODE’s Burt Award 2017.

A rush of excitement and heartfelt congratulations flowed through the room after the announcement of the winners.  A small group of Youth Bloggers stayed and socialised afterwards. We spoke of our interest in the festival and the events we hoped to attend.

It’s quite nice to have someone share or comment on your blog post but it’s an even greater experience to meet and interact with individuals who share your interest and passion for writing. It’s unfortunate that areas such as the arts, culture and writing are often undermined by the general public. Nonetheless, amidst the pollution of unappreciated art forms and unfair criticism, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest was already proving to be a breath of fresh air.

Stay tuned for more post festival thoughts!

Check out the Bocas Lit Fest:

Website: Bocas Lit Fest

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Twitter: @bocaslitfest




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