Home / View Point / Write Start (16-18): Malika Coutain thinks Carnival offers great test of T&T’s ability to function in pandemic

Write Start (16-18): Malika Coutain thinks Carnival offers great test of T&T’s ability to function in pandemic

“[…] A safe Carnival also looks like one in which a potent communication and public engagement strategy for how to navigate a post-Covid world in a festival environment is rolled out, so that everyone who participates is aware of their responsibilities. 

“The next Carnival looks like one in which the current systems and processes that support the infrastructure are reimagined to fit with the times and keep everyone healthy…”

Eighteen-year-old San Fernando Government Secondary student Malika Coutain is the seventh shortlisted writer for the 16-18 category of the Wired868 Write Start competition. Their topic is to ‘describe the ways in which you think the first post-Covid-19 Carnival will be different from its predecessors’:

Photo: Massy Trinidad All Stars at the 2017 Panorama competition.
(via Island Talks)

Will we ever be able to feel that fete atmosphere we continuously felt year after year up until 2020 when it was all taken away from us? Sigh.

I’m sure we all have had speculations as to how the famous Carnival events will be like after this whole Covid-19 situation is over with. Well, here are some of my suggestions on how I feel events will be when the next Carnival comes around.

For many travellers, the Caribbean is all about powder sand beaches, delicious cuisine, and luxurious resorts. However, for the people native to those islands, the highlight of their homeland is Carnival. An annual celebration, held at various times throughout the year, Caribbean Carnival festivities honour the history, religion, and vibrant culture of each island. 

The massive, multi-day, non-stop fête draws in thousands each year—and is arguably one of the biggest economic drivers for many of the islands.

Photo: Trinidad-born US hip hop star Nicki Minaj (centre) poses with soca stars Machel Montano (left) and Kees Dieffenthaller.
(via Nicki’s Instagram)

In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, home to the most well-known Carnival event in the region, 37,861 tourists flocked to the country in February 2020, just before the pandemic lockdown began. This was a 6.5 percent increase from 2019, when visitors spent roughly $58 million dollars over a three-week period.  

Across the islands, preparations for the celebrations start at least a year in advance—as soon as each Carnival ends, the work for the next begins. So, when Covid-19’s rapid spread came as a black swan occurrence with no indicator to us all, back in March 2020, each Caribbean territory has been altered differently, as they all have varying methods of maintaining cultural and economic stability, forcing cancellations of countless Carnival events. 

Many island nations were left scrambling. Many local businesses that depend on the revenue year-round have been left at a standstill, and the impact has been felt by everyone from costume designers, DJs, and musicians, to the food suppliers, concierge services, and hotels.

Carnival may have been officially cancelled but watching the Carnival-related activities that happened over the past year, it is clear that the Carnival spirit is alive and well. From made for television productions and blended shows comprising live and virtual elements to immersions into traditional Carnival activities and art exhibitions, Carnival lived on.

Photo: Kes the Band performs during the 2021 Carnival season.
(via Kes the Band)

Can the next Carnival be a safe success and how will it alter from the previous years of events?

The next Carnival looks like one where everyone participating—patrons, staff, everyone—is fully vaccinated. Trinidad and Tobago’s vaccination uptake is promising and the State has worked hard to ensure that as many people as possible have access to vaccines. 

A safe Carnival also looks like one in which a potent communication and public engagement strategy for how to navigate a post-Covid world in a festival environment is rolled out, so that everyone who participates is aware of their responsibilities. 

The next Carnival looks like one in which the current systems and processes that support the infrastructure are reimagined to fit with the times and keep everyone healthy. 

Will we have to wear masks on the road to play mas? That is a decision for public health experts—it’s a conversation we need to have. The fundamental question is, can we be safe in a Carnival environment when we are largely vaccinated? 

Photo: Blaxx performs during the 2021 Carnival season.
(via Blaxx and the All Stars)

All participants and visitors at events may also have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken no earlier than one week prior to the event. Each event will include temperature screenings, with a whole lot more volunteers hired to clean restrooms, bar areas etc.  

Even the costumes will be affected. Creators may be required to include masks as part of the costumes, one of the most important elements of the event. Designing masks along with the costumes will be meant to make it appealing and encourage people to wear their masks. 

While masqueraders would have done their test beforehand—they may not be able to collect their costumes without proof of negative Covid status—there will also be testing stations set up outside these event locations with health care professionals on hand to administer the test. Venues may also operate at 50% capacity to enforce the social distancing protocol. 

On the other hand, our artist as well as costume designers, caterers and other personals who play a significant role to bring these events together, may also increase their booking prices due to the fact that they lost a relatively large amount of income due to events being cancelled in the past year.

Photo: Tribe unveils its ‘Ice Queen’ in the Tribe Ice Fete at the Queen’s Park Savannah on 5 January 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Will 2022 Carnival actually play off and do so safely?

Well, the Trini in me is screaming ‘yes, yes, yes!’ at the top of my lungs. But the realist in me is more cautious. The content creators and practitioners are open to compromise, dialogue and change. 

I believe that we have the capacity as an industry to make a bigger, better, more efficient Carnival a reality—intelligently and safely. 

But I think that aside from just having Trinidad Carnival next year, we have to see a new way for our festival to exist in a safer, more efficient manner for everyone involved.

Editor’s Note: Wired868 will announce the winners of the inaugural Write Start competition on 13 December 2021. The first place winner will get TT$6,000, a six-month mobile plan from bmobile, and two complimentary movie tickets to CinemaONE.

Click HERE for more information on the Wired868 Write Start prize structure and do share your favourite essays!

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