A long time ago I had this dream of opening a café of sorts. A place where I could serve small dishes made with local ingredients; where the food and drink were simple, tasty and fresh. I wanted the quality to be outstanding, but I also imagined it to be like an appetiser, a starter for other treats.
Picture this if you can: a gingerbread house with a wide balcony wrapped around it; and potted plants, with desultory vines clambering up accommodating posts, trellises and awnings. A hammock or two somewhere out front so guests could behold the pastoral vista.
The inside walls would be covered with the work of local artists, whom I would encourage to exhibit their pieces, which would be for sale. Bit by bit, I was constructing my idyll: a farmer’s market on weekends, with musicians and outdoor picnics. Most of all, I wanted it to be a place of succour and serenity. For me, this meant a place to read, a library with comfortable chairs.
At this point, reality would step in and jolt me out of my reveries. A café was one thing, but I could never hope to have the resources to provide a reading room as well, far less stock it—though I had imagined people borrowing and lending books.
I’d wistfully put the dream to bed, until a few weeks ago, when serendipity arrived in the form of Ishmael Samad.
Mr Samad is one of two people I consider to be tender patriots—the other is Wayne Kublalsingh. I believe them to be intelligent and sensitive men with the capacity to see beyond piffle. They care about our people, this land and its sustainability, and as gentle as they may be, they are passionate enough to take up sledge hammers, or stand in front of bulldozers for their causes.
So when Mr Samad contacted me because he wanted to talk about his latest venture, I was happy to listen. Readers might connect Samad with his wonderful wayside bookshop, The Book Junkie, located along the Manzanilla/Mayaro Road—where secondhand books may be bought, sold, borrowed or browsed under his erudite watch.
He has now invested all of himself into creating an extension of The Book Junkie; the culmination of years of devotion to literature and learning. He calls this new place the Sanctuary, and although I have not seen it, as he described it, I felt he had created the perfect accompaniment to my own dismantled dream—the space for books that would make complete a day spent nestled in nature’s arms, the ideal location for rejuvenation. It was the other half of my vision.
For the last year, he has been making the hour-long trek from the junction at Kernahan Trace to the Sanctuary on weekends. There, in a two-room wooden cottage at the edge of the Nariva Swamp, he has lovingly stored his lifetime collection of books on shelves, from floor to ceiling.
Kernahan is an agricultural community, he explained.
“The residents are all farmers, full-time, part-time, cultivating mainly watermelons. Some of them harvest cascadoux and conch from the Swamp, which they sell in stalls along the road. It’s a tough life for most of the residents, all of whom are Indo-Trinis who consume quite a lot of puncheon. There are two watering holes in the village,” he wrote. “I have fallen in love with Kernahan, the people, the children, the sky, the clouds, the wildlife, the trees, the birds, the pot-holed roadway, the gravel road, the picturesque landscape that unfolds as I stroll along. And most of all I love the peace and tranquility of Kernahan.”
What inspired him to do this?
“Libraries are sacrosanct institutions. They are the storehouses of the collective wisdom of the human species and I sincerely desire to share an iota of this wisdom with my fellow Trinis. The triumphs and the tragedies of all of mankind are recorded in books. The book Is a symbol of our humanity. The book is a sacred object. I see myself not as the owner of this collection of books, but as its custodian.”
This is his legacy to the nation, he says, anyone can come to read, borrow, lend, at no cost.
But all the love in the world cannot remove a familiar obstacle: resources, especially financial ones. There are two immediate problems of access, exacerbated lately by heavy rains.
“I am in search of a benefactor who could donate just a few truckloads of gravel,” he had written.
If I could, I would have jumped in with him immediately, but lost opportunities rarely return. Yet, I think that enterprising citizens can see it as a magnificent investment to make this library at Kernahan truly become the Sanctuary Mr Samad sees.
“Howler monkeys can be heard and seen in the adjacent forest. The Blue and Yellow Macaws are regular visitors, perching on the fronds of the nearby coconut palms. At night, the stars and constellations are just magnificent. For citizens yearning to immerse themselves in nature, the Sanctuary is the place to visit and spend the day, reading and reflecting on the grandeur and majesty of the natural world. In spite of everything, Trinidad is a wonderful place,” he wrote.
It is a beautiful, sustainable vision, worth supporting, and I urge everyone to do so.