The first thing I felt was the heat. The very moment I stepped out of the air conditioned airport and into the sweltering heat of Trinidad and Tobago, I yanked off my backpack and freed myself of the thick, black sweatshirt. The breeze and the sunlight felt amazing on my skin after four months of chilly weather in the United States.
The second thing I felt was the hunger. After a 6:00 AM flight (for which I awoke before the first tendrils of sunrise), a flight delay, a dash from one terminal to another, and another flight with no sustenance save for the sugary sweet beverages on board, I felt famished. By the time I put sheets on my new dorm bed and changed into more weather appropriate clothing, my stomach felt like a bottomless pit.
Cue my lucky interaction with another student in Milner Hall. As I have mentioned before, Milner Hall is a huge dorm on the north side of campus with an amazing feeling of community. There are four blocks within Milner Hall, each with their own block pride. I live on I-block, a co-ed building with the liveliest bunch of people! Shortly after my arrival at the UWI campus, I found myself wandering through the Cafe (an open game room and study area in the center of the Milner courtyard) and exploring the area.
I paused to watch a large group of barefoot boys play soccer (more commonly called football) in the courtyard. They were all light on their feet, doing tricks I had only seen on television. One boy was sitting on the sidelines, waiting to jump in. He immediately engaged me in conversation, without any hesitation or the uncomfortable conversational boundaries we often encounter in the USA. When I mentioned my incredible hunger and my lack of local cuisine knowledge (i.e. where to find food), again without pause he said, “After I play in the game, I’ll check you.”
Not too long after, Glen (as this friend has come to be known), found me in my room and we wandered off into the night. Trinidad and Tobago are beautiful islands with a diverse population of locals. Despite the general kindness and calm of the place, it is certainly not a safe area for anyone to walk alone (whether male or female). In the descending darkness of the campus, Glen took me into the central area where the food courts are located. Unfortunately, it was late on a Saturday evening before the semester began, so the campus dining locations were closed.
Instead of giving up, Glen offered to take me to Curepe. Curepe is one town over from St. Augustine, the main campus, and offers a more populated area with a variety of food options. We scurried over to the bus route, which began my introduction to the public transportation system in Trinidad and Tobago. The bus route is a two-lane highway on which maxi-taxis zoom back and forth. Glen held up two fingers to indicate we were looking for a maxi with two available seats. After a few minutes of being driven past, a maxi screeched to a halt before us and we climbed inside. For a few Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD, called ‘tee-tee’), the maxi-taxi zipped through traffic and into the heart of Curepe.
It was not until we entered a fast food restaurant that I realized Glen had already eaten his dinner. He had come all the way to Curepe simply because of my hunger!
Although I only see Glen a few times a week now, each time with casual conversation in passing, he made a big impact on me within the first few hours of my Trinidad and Tobago arrival. I suppose what I had expected was a community of students similar to the ones at my university, who are undoubtedly kind-hearted but without the unexpected altruism I have seen here. Here, I find that there is no fear of strangers or acquaintances, and the usual boundaries are torn down. The openness and generosity I have witnessed in Trinidad and Tobago is certainly something I hope to bring back to the United States of America.
This week, I will be initiated as a Milnerite: an officially recognized member of the Milner Hall community. In our pledge, we promise to do all in our power to make the hall a beautiful, welcoming place for ourselves and each other. “For Milner, Together, We Are One!” Although I do not stay with a host family in Trinidad and Tobago, I have found a makeshift family who will help me smack mangoes off the trees in our backyard, teach me to make chow, and challenge and support me all at once.