Update 07/16/2014: I’m having some technical difficulties with the project described below. The player supposedly embedded into the post doesn’t work, my audio files are unusable, or they’re too big. I may need to wait until I return to the states to change the format of these files and/or edit them down. Very unfortunate and disappointing and would make this new experiment a total flop, but I’m working on it.
I’m posting this from St. Augustine, Trinidad, where I’m staying for three weeks to participate in a cultural workshop/short-term study abroad program through UofL. I’m testing out something different from my normal blogging routine. I’ve been recording my thoughts almost daily since the week before I departed the U.S. My idea is to do a photo voice project. Not easy without the laptop that I, for some odd reason that probably had more to do with clothing than fear of theft or damage, decided not to bring—but not impossible.
The above photo pictures our social coordinator, Laverne, and her sister, Constance singing together as Constance plays an instrument called the “quatro” and Laverne holds one of her young sons. A student from our group is sitting on the floor playing with Laverne’s other child.
I think this moment captures best what I’ve been observing as “an outsider who blends in.” I’m watching women of Indian and Venezuelan decent sing a lullaby in Spanish as several African Americans–one seen, the rest off holding their cameras–look on, totally comfortable, but not part of the family. Listen: How Trinidad is like Mexico for me, but different
(listen to from 5:30 to the end of the audio). Other things you’ll hear on this recording until I post the edited version of the audio: Having to eat like a poor person (first 4 min) Comparison to Mexico (4-5:30)
An outsider who fits in (5:30-end) One more note: I’m posting these as my access to the internet allows, but I’m dating them as they happen. If you subscribe and get a whole bunch of posts in your mailbox suddenly, that’s why.
Since I’ve given up on trying to upload the audio, I’ve decided to transcribe the recording to try to give you the full story. These were my observations after about 36 hours in Trinidad:
I’ve been comparing this to my last study abroad trip (summer 2000 in Mexico) and to Mexico in general. Trinidad reminds me a lot of Mexico, in terms of the flora and fauna, the color and architecture of the buildings, the tropical climate. The experience, however, feels very, very different. I’m staying in a dorm with a bunch of other people from the US instead of staying with a host family. We got to eat with a family last night, which was wonderful, and I would love to do that every day. I’m spending a boat load of money on food instead of having a host family make it for us. That’s really different, and I think it puts us at a slight disadvantage in terms of getting a full experience of the people and culture of Trinidad. But I’m enjoying it—sort of—nonetheless.
One more observation from my first 36 hours in Trinidad: I haven’t seen any white people Â yet. On the other hand, I also haven’t seen many people who I would call “Black,” and who, if I were to run into them in the U.S. without hearing them talk, I would think were African American and nothing else. Our host last night, her father was Indian from India and her mother is Venezuelan. She is married to a man who was born and raised in Trinidad but whose great-great grandparents migrated from India to Trinidad. So there’s a lot of different mixes going on, and everyone looks different. Not everyone looks Black—in fact, most people don’t—but it’s kind of weird not seeing white people.
And yet, I don’t feel that instant bond I thought I would feel. When I was deciding whether or not to go on the trip, someone who had been before asked me, “Have you ever been to an all-black country before?” I said no, and she said, “Girl you have got to go.” UofL faculty said being in Trinidad would empower me because everyone would look like me.
Um … nope. I don’t feel that way yet. I feel like an outsider who blends in, and that’s very different from Mexico as well. But that actually is kind of cool.