Vaneisa: The intimidating, disorienting rattles of change and loss

As time goes by, I find myself increasingly preoccupied with revisiting childhood experiences. It comes from my belief that all that we are, all that we have become, is rooted in those gnarly years.

It makes me think of mangroves and their intricate intertwining of robust and reedy roots, rising above ground for all to see, though it is the base roots—submerged in water that provide stability—out of sight.

Photo: The mangrove tree.

I’ve noticed that my most vivid dreams take place in the house and the yard where I grew up. People and events of all vintages would be forced into that memorable space at the command of my dream-meister.

A few years ago, that building, down the street from where I live, was demolished. I’d vaguely known there were plans to tear it down, but I’d not gone down that part of the street for some time. So when I did drive by one day, oblivious to the deed that had already been done, I was stunned.

There was nothing, save for weeds growing out of the flattened earth; not even debris. No sign of the bustling two-storeyed building painted a dull yellow, where three families had once gone about their business. No sign of the fruit trees: the mango, pommecythere, zaboca. 

A wall had been erected to separate the property belonging to my uncle, where we used to run wild every single day. They had the fruit trees that we raided relentlessly and mercilessly: a plum tree and the one we call governor plum, two cherry trees, a guava tree, a puteegal tree. 

A patch at the side would have pigeon peas, sorrel, cassava and other seasonal treats. At the front, there were roses and flowering plants. Best of all, at the side of the house was an open, flat space where we could play endless games.

Photo: Boys playing in a guava tree.

There are a couple of wrinkled black and white photos of my two brothers and me dressed up and posed in front of the puteegal tree. In the one with my younger brother, who must have been around three, I look really sour, because I was made to hold his hand.

I was reflecting on that startled moment of loss; that instant when I knew that there was no longer any physical reminder of a large chunk of my life. Everything that existed could only live on in my memory. Photographs are few, but thankfully dreams come!

I recall this because a few days ago, my daughter and I were driving through Port of Spain to run some errands and I was pointing out some of the buildings and telling her about when they were completely different entities. 

I remembered the little eating spots we would frequent during my early days at the Express and then the Guardian, now swallowed up by fast food franchises. Sylvie’s tasty fare on the second floor at the corner of Queen and St Vincent Streets seems a whole world away from the incongruous building that looks like it would have kept adding statuary if the iron grills surrounding it did not restrain the architect.

It is a sign that the years are adding up when you have witnessed entire landscapes so completely transformed that they have left no visible footprints.

Photo: Sylvie’s in Port of Spain was a great source for tasty, economical creole food.

All of this galumphing around is really because I was thinking about change and how intimidating it can be. It occurred to me that I am generally very open to change, and I try to look for the positive elements, even if I start off sceptically. 

Something has to cross my fundamental wires very clearly for me not to give it some consideration. But I realise that change itself can be a very daunting concept. 

Simply trying to assimilate the loss of my childhood home was unusually disorienting for me.

Change can be rattling. In the first place it usually means replacing something that has become familiar, if not comforting. Then, it almost always requires having to learn about new concepts and practices (like technology). 

At best, you might accept that it will eventually improve the quality of life—but what if you have doubts? What if you absolutely don’t want it? What if you feel you have no choice, like it or not?

Photo: Columnist Vaneisa Baksh (right) poses with her late brother, Shahid, in 1971 in front of the puteegal tree in her aunt’s back yard.
(via Vaneisa Baksh)

We really are at a point in time where there is no way we can avoid the need for change to recalibrate ourselves for this new world. This is the Darwinian challenge we face.

What constitutes your home, your workplace, your recreational space, even your homeland, is being redefined. Rituals associated with eating and drinking have been pared away. 

Carnival has to play a virtual mas. You could still take a pass by Jackie Hinkson and see his grand murals on the wall, or the banners streaming jauntily overhead in Woodbrook. 

If we were more precious about our jewels, we would have been ready to roll out virtual museums and archives and stream music and masquerades. But is so we always on the backfoot.

Look, the defining characteristic of this extraordinary epoch is the way it has capsized all our sundries. If we glance back at our pasts, deep within the mangrove roots that had to come up out of the soil to breathe fresh air, we might find that the capacity to adapt and change was there all along.

Photo: Columnist Vaneisa Baksh strikes a pose in 1971 in front of the puteegal tree in her aunt’s back yard.
(via Vaneisa Baksh)
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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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