My mother got an A in picking cotton and a B in digging yam instead of the Common Entrance Exam. Her grandmother (and primary caregiver) must have thought that that was the better use of her time.
Can’t blame her though; she herself couldn’t write and had a thumbprint on her ID card instead of a signature.
A few years after, at age 15, Mom was pregnant with her first child. She was handed over to a man in the area who ‘see she and like she’. Kind of like how people these days go in the store and come home with a piece of cake.
She was pregnant again each year after for the next five years. According to Mom, she didn’t know what sex was until it happened to her. She didn’t know what birth control was until she hit her twenties and she had to sneak and hide to get it.
Me? I didn’t show up until she left her raper-man/common-law husband with all the children in search of better. But better didn’t come. More children did. I’m the eighth of her nine children.
My dad? I don’t know anything about his education level except that he did secondary school. I think. He’s a retired police officer but his stepfather was the commissioner of police at that time. He might have been qualified but chances are, it was nepotism.
He was absent for most of my life. One time he showed up, burned our house down and left again. That was the year before I did the SEA. Mom didn’t even try to report him for arson. “Police doh do police nothing,” he said to us once.
My dad came from a middle-class family and so he projected his middle-class expectations onto me. I was supposed to be a doctor, he said. Not the artist I wanted to be.
If you asked him where the money for me to go to university to become a doctor, he would probably say how ‘God go provide’. It was unrealistic (and outright bold of us) to expect him to provide from his salary—not when he denied that my sister and I were his in the first place.
Mom and I sold fruits and veggies at the side of the road by Arima Market for years so that my sister and I could go to school. I passed for SAGHS, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and was one of maybe five children in my year using the school feeding programme meant for the impoverished.
I took extras home just in case we had nothing to eat that night. Or even the morning after. The books I used each term had to be kept immaculate so we could sell them at the end of the semester to buy more books for the new school term.
Sometimes I sneakily photocopied entire books in the library so that I could keep up with the work. I wore two school uniforms for the entire five years that I spent at SAGHS. Mom said that I was always motivated. No, I was just anxiously searching. For the better she never found.
I worked throughout my undergrad years, even taking a year off to save enough money to go back and finish up. I applied for a UWI scholarship for financial need. Didn’t get it. My financial need grew and my GPA dropped. But no one told me why that was important, so I didn’t take it on.
I struggled to buy books, food and to afford transport to classes in the midst of the ‘free education’ rhetoric. Finished with a BA in Linguistics with lower second-class honours.
Came back five years later to finally do something in art. This time, I had developed a passion for entrepreneurship, so I decided to go with the Postgrad Diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management.
I couldn’t afford the MA in Creative Entrepreneurship whose course description sang to my soul. Is a good thing too because the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) showed up halfway through the diploma to say that the Government didn’t cover my final year of the BA. Suddenly I was owing them money and couldn’t finish registering for the new semester without paying them off.
I scraped together some funds and paid it using the student payment plan. ‘Badmind’ has been my motivator for most of my life.
I got all ‘dolls-ed up’ for the graduation photo and everyone at home wanted to know what the special occasion was. I was graduating I said. ‘Oh okay’ was the response.
I sat alone in front of my laptop and watched the virtual ceremony, waiting for my name to call and feeling proud of the classmates I had never met after a year of classes together. I graduated with a distinction they said. ‘Oh okay’ was my response.