My kind of carnival

The author with husband Chivon Marcus

The author with husband Chivon Marcus

By Lenn Almadin-Thornhill

Not THAT Carnival. This one had thousands jumping up and down the streets not jumping off a ship.

There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world — a week-long celebration which takes a year to organize. Carnival in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, on the southernmost part of the Caribbean region, is complex, vibrant and almost overwhelming.

Days leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday — the two days before Ash Wednesday — are when various bands distribute sold costumes to those who want to play ‘mas’ or be part of the street masquerade. The street masqueraders would put on their costumes and dance on the streets, well, more like ‘wining’ which involves hip movements, as they ‘jump up’ or walk along with a music band. The music band is an oversized truck with huge speakers where a DJ plays the latest Soca music.

Women with their sequined and feathery head pieces and all sorts of accessories imaginable endure the hot tropical weather trying to keep their make-up despite the stream of sweat running down their faces.

Men, who usually could not be bothered with any piece of jewelry except a watch, agree to parade in wildly decorated head pieces and body accessories.

Carnival is much more than just a two-day street parade. It has singing and band competitions and parties that run for days. I wouldn’t even attempt to describe what happens to the weeks leading up to the two days before Ash Wednesday when thousands of tourists — and what we Pinoys call ‘balikbayans’ — descend on these shores with pure excitement, all too eager to be part of what makes Trinidad Carnival pretty darn special.

Starting right after New Year’s Day, Soca or Caribbean music fills the streets, the local bars, the maxi taxis, the stores, every corner in these twin islands. Then the construction of different performance stages goes into full swing. Fabric stores get very busy. Gyms and parks all of a sudden become the most crowded places as hundreds truly believe they could lose the pounds they gained during the past 10 months. All along as each Trinbagonians bop to the beat of Soca music.

Most popular lyrics this year…’I is a feter’ or ‘I’m a partier.’ A fete or a party brings together many who usually don’t see each other any other time of the year. Politicians, athletes, professors and even the president of the country share a drink and a dance at a ‘fete.’

Many Filipinos throughout the years have enjoyed being part of these celebrations since a handful of them arrived here in the 1960s. Today, there are about 2,000 Filipinos here in Trinidad and Tobago, many of them working in the health care and hospitality industries. Some seamen and contract workers arrive for short periods of time, but there are a couple of hundred of Filipinos who call this place home.

I must reveal, I fit in none of those places. I work here as a journalist for the number one television station, a job I still giggle about. My first year here, I played ‘mas’ with my husband’s relatives, an experience almost surreal. All I remember was the pink feathers and the heat. Nothing else. Then the second year, I opted to work, to be on the field reporting on carnival festivities. That was pure fun.

This year, I planned to work again, then something happened. The music they were playing on the radio got to me. I started imagining how much fun it would be to listen to them as the sun rises or as I ‘jump up’ on the streets. Then I started to feel and imagine what my co-worker described to me as he talked about the carnival fever. There’s a certain excitement that makes you wiggle a little, makes you sing along a little louder.

So on Sunday night, as soon as I finished producing the 7 p.m. newscast, I grabbed my car keys, went home, forced myself to sleep early, to wake up at 3 a.m. It is j’ouvert morning when thousands took to the streets and welcomed Carnival Monday with paint, mud, music and yes alcohol. Then hours later, I did it. I put on the costumes, ladled on the make-up and fluffed up the feathers as I hummed to myself, ‘We ready.’

Lenn Almadin-Thornhill is a news producer at CCN TV6, the largest private television network in Trinidad and Tobago. Before her family moved to the Caribbean, Lenn – who is married to a Trinbagonian — was a reporter for Balitang America covering the New York Tri-State.

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