Guys, guys…this is a big deal.
For years I’ve been learning about white people. I mean history, geography, social studies, integrated science, art, literature – it doesn’t matter – I’m basically an expert, in
theory on the First World. Call it what you want: “up there”, the Global North, “gone foreign”; the point is that after decades of learning, writing, reading, dreaming of it, I’m happy to say that I, Hannah Sammy, First of her Name, Teacher of Children, Mother of Fluffies, Veteran Caribbeanite and Self-Proclaimed 3rd World Writer has made it to the First World.
Please hold all applause to the end.
1. What do you mean, “My flight is 10 hours”?
Ok I’ll just say it right now, I’m an island hopper. I know about packing a carry-on with 5 of everything, sitting on a plane for an hour – max, getting off said plane, and taking a 10 minute taxi to my hotel. That’s all it takes. So imagine my doe eyes and dilating pupils when I see the time it takes to actually get to the First World. No wonder the colonists thought they discovered the Caribbean! If it took me THAT long to get anywhere I’d be sure as hell to name any land I touched-down on, “Hannahtopia”. What do you think baggage claim at Gatwick Airport is called now?
Oh and let’s not forget that even after that flight, I’m still not where I need to be. I have two trains and a car to catch. What do you mean, “I’m not there yet?” I ask a granny and grampa sitting opposite me on train 1 of 2.
The sweetest old, white people I ever met. I mean, in my defense though, they were the first people I had spoken to in 10 hours. So when they looked at me: a frazzled, greasy, potentially Pakistani child, with love…or pity in their eyes, and said “Is that your suitcase rolling away?” I couldn’t have been more grateful.
But alas a mere 20 hours later I arrived, safe and sound – and in tears. I stood on the sidewalk, staring naively into the distance – bags in hand, and my heart on my sleeve. With childish bedazzlement I looked to the sky and thanked the f@cking universe that I hadn’t been trafficked along the way. I had finally made it.
2. Everything Looks like the Storybooks
Sheep with white, fluffy coats, plains of gold, bales of hay and mother f@cking windmills – just like the storybooks.
I mean, listen. I liken myself at this point to a baby, opening its eyes for the first time. Overwhelmed, my eyelids stretched to the fullest, trying to keep focus despite my head, like a top, swiveling and swirling on bony shoulders. Honestly, I probably looked a hot mess, stopping to take photos of buildings and statues and storefronts and geese with one thought in mind,
“Jesus – whoever is supplying those red bricks must really be making a killing…”
It’s something that I didn’t expect I’d experience. The story books I’ve been reading my whole life has these picture perfect scenes. Even the ones I teach my kids with.
Skinny, houses made of red brick, topped with chimneys, wafting trails of white smoke; little, fat sheep with the whitest coats, huddled together on tidy plots, chewing endlessly on crisp, golden hay; cool, clean air blowing wind turbines in the distance, they stand like guardians: proud and stoic, products of a new era, signaling enlightenment…and privilege.
It all became a bit too much. See, here in Trinidad, we have board-houses and unplanned settlements, no chimneys and for some, no water supply. Our sheep have black bellies and brown coats and they graze on whatever yard, or savanna or patch of grass they can find, along the winding roads of Caroni. We have no windmills, no turbines producing clean energy as our horizon is home to oil rigs.
It might seem a bit dramatic, but for the first time ever I came face-to-face with things that I only saw in books. Pictures that represented a far-away land of wealth and power and influence. A land that represented a past of oppression and abuse. I chuckle now, that even with the internet, with the world shrinking at the hands of technology, I somehow found the time to sit and in true “never-see-come-see” fashion, be fascinated…with sheep.
3. I Know Them, But They Don’t Know Me
**Rant Alert: stop reading not if you can’t handle it. Here are the top three blood-boiling things that were said to me in the 20 days I was privy to be “in foreign”.
So…when is winter for you? Does it get very cold?
How long have you been speaking English? I mean, your English is very good.
You’re from…Trinidad? Ohhh, you mean Jamaica.
The restraint it took not to respond with the first thing that pop in meh head.
Allyuh…hear na. I get ah gripe worse than any green plum or green mango or green pommecythere or green anyting. I just heard my father saying, “Not everything that pops into your head, you have to say”.
So I take ah deep breath. I swallow all the cole dat lan-up in meh troat. I didn’t lehgo one “haul yuhass”; not even a partial “shut yuh stinkin, dutty mout” or “trow yuhself ina ravine”. Allyuh, I din even drop ah ounce of “why yuh doh ask yuh mudda”.
I say, you know what Hannah? You in de people dem country. Shut up for once in your life, skin teeth, and answer with propah English.
The ignorance is real ya’ll and one thing that honestly hit me like a big-rock is how much I knew about “them” and “their country”, and how little they knew about me, and my country. And the thing that really got to me, is that I didn’t even try to learn about them. I didn’t actively go out an research anything – it was all just taught to me in school. Temperate climates, big-time-foreign transport systems, the capitals of their cities, the language they speak, what they eat, how they dress. And they hear I’m from the Caribbean and ask me what time of the year WINTER is? Allyuh this is not Game of Thrones – Winter is never f@cking coming to the Caribbean – although you can’t be telling these White Walkers that eh (see what I did there). They are experts at everything, even correcting your country of origin – doh study it, I’m Jamaican ya’ll…my f@cking mistake.
As a region, we’ve come a long way educating school children about the Caribbean, our history, our culture, our practices. CXC and CAPE, as mundane as these exams are, have paved the way for curricula that encourage Caribbean people to know about the Caribbean, write about the Caribbean and critically think about the Caribbean. Not as an after-though or an appendix, but as entire chapters, entire courses, entire theses.
We’re just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. I shouldn’t expect more though, from nations that built their existence on the backs others, why should they see beyond themselves? Essentially they made us, and continue to shape us…so why should I expect them to reign back the confidence with which they spout offence?
Excerpts from Hannah’s 2017 Trip to the First World.