It was Sunday, and so I went like a good midwestern consumer, to seek fulfilment in material things. There was a bulb that needed to be replaced in a lamp that I had recently purchased, to read a book that I had just bought, in the studio apartment that I had just rented. This was an unusual quest for a former minimalist nomad, who for the past few years had been living out of a suitcase containing a total of 52 pounds of worldly belongings.
My search took me first to the local big block chain retail store, but no luck. Thankfully I emerged before being hypnotised into buying a cart full of school supplies like everyone else. Home Depot, the big chain hardware outside of town seemed to be the best place to find my bulb, and so I headed over there.
My quest for enlightenment was over. Satisfied with my replacement bulb, I cruised like a carefree enlightened person out through the chaos past a congested checkout area, choked with frenzied shoppers and carts, towards the parking lot.
Emerging into the spacious sunshine, I was immediately captivated by the presence of two people crossing the street. There was an ineffable familiarity about them that I could sense from the relaxed boldness with which they crossed the street. Whatever it was that gave them away, it was all the more recognisable contrasted against the demeanour of the agitated local shoppers with their surly expressions.
They were a middle-aged east Indian couple, which wasn't unusual in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And then I recognised it, the sweet sound of good living in our Trini accent. Now, I knew where they were from, but to them I must have seemed like just another random fair-skinned American at first glance. But naturally, like a Trinidadian who recognises a countryman in a foreign land I approached them. “How allyuh enjoyin yuh visit?” I asked politely. It’s always a surprise, but needless to say we hit it off.
They were from Mayaro, visiting their daughter who was married to a local engineer. There was just one degree of separation between us we had worked out; small world. Aside from the close-knit swimming community, I don’t know anyone else here, so it was with much delight that I accepted their invitation for dinner later in the coming week.
The curry was delicious, especially the mango. It blew my mind to be eating curried mango in Michigan, outside, under pine trees next to a fire. I had not had a taste of home since February. The conversation that evening was unforced and familiar. There is something about coming from a small country that cultivates an outwardly looking perspective which makes for worldly and interesting people.
e shared anecdotes about various novel experiences, and tried to give some insight to Americans into the unique way with which our very social culture tends to approach life with our liming, our Carnival and our incessant drive to maximise vitality at every possible opportunity, even to the extent of being labeled hedonistic.
Human beings crave novelty, it’s an essential part of what it means to be human. We are in love with the concept of new. People want novelty in any way that it can be obtained, which is usually in the form of either new experiences or new things. With the introduction of cable TV and consumerism to T&T, things are starting to change, but generally, our culture still seeks novelty in the form of new experiences, which is why we are always looking for a good time.
Unfortunately, in the midwestern United States there are not many new experiences to be had, especially without paying for them. Furthermore, it’s difficult to have novel experiences in a society that culturally doesn’t value them, but instead seeks novelty in the form of things, to create consumers and sustain an economy. Instead of going out and enjoying experiences, people here tend to work hard and then spend their money on material possessions, having basements, walk-in closets and storage containers full of old things.
I think that’s part of why I am so good at recognising other Trinis. Instead of hypnotised consumers, charging unfriendly towards the entrance of the store, the Trinis will be the relaxed ones who seem open to the possibilities of life.
One might argue that if Midwestern Americans were on holiday too, they would probably adopt the same attitude. However our cultural preference for life and experience over things keeps us living like we are on holiday all the time with regular river limes, cook-ups, beach limes, hikes, fetes and the ocean activities.
This Sunday morning, I joined my fellow Trini friends and their local connection for a dose of pure vitality that was so good it will surely keep me coming back for more. While most American consumers headed off to seek fulfilment in things, we drove out to a hidden gem of a pristine spring-fed lake in the countryside, and proceeded to enjoy a lake lime, maximising vitality in the practised way that only Trinis can.