“This island scares me a little.” Those words were stated as a result of a light conversation on fidelity. It was as a result of observing how common infidelity is on the islands. In my head I thought, ‘Why should it? If you are who you are no amount of other people’s activities should bother you.’ But after much thought I realised that that is simply not true. A person can get lost in their environment and not even realise that their feet changed path.
Last October I lost myself for about six weeks, it happened so quietly, like sandstone gently eroded by the wind. I did not realise that I wasn’t who I was anymore until I felt confused, cranky and a little depressed. Through a new acquaintance I slowly ‘started’ to stop doing the things that made me – me. Please note that I am not blaming the acquaintance. She’d casually say ‘Let’s go for coffee,’and I’d say ‘Erm sure’ – knowing that I had yoga, or wanted to go for a run, or I had editing to do or I had a piece of writing that I needed to finish. Initially it started as a one off, and I’d tell myself that I’ll do it later. But later came and went and I still had not done the things that kept my psyche in check. It was so easy to just go with the flow. After it went on for a few weeks, tasks started piling up, and I got cranky and lethargic from not working out. I realised that I had invested more time in socialising and less time in doing what needed to be done. I had gotten lost in a world that I didn’t really belong to.
That experience made me think back to another time – A Time In Trindad.
At first it was the little things, the gentle comments. “She is a nice girl but she smokes.” That was how I found out that women who smoked were frowned upon. I remember when Les Miserable was released (The Hugh Jackman version), and I commented that I’d be surprised if anyone went to see it as Trinidad and Tobago was not a nation of readers. I was greeted by outrage, ‘How could you say that!’ and some additional verbal abuse. I quickly realised that voicing an observation or an opinion which did not reflect favourably on the society was not okay and I was readily abused for it. Thankfully a friend of mine explained it to me, he said you have to say things in a story, like a parable or proverb, Trinis aren’t fans of directness. And it was through this same indirectness, this passiveness, this gentle wind that I changed.
Within the first few months of living in Trinidad I was appalled and intrigued by the male attention. I could not fathom that men lied about their marriages to gain sympathy. Men talked about their crazy wives, who were jealous, clingy, dependent and just pure evil. They’d fabricate whole worlds and personalities and described lives of torture:
She does nothing, the house always nasty, I only staying for de children, I get horn* so much times I loss count.
There were even men who pretended that they were separated, those who never wore their rings, those whose wives simply did not exist in their outside-lives*. The first time I got a call from a wife, I was so confused. Her exact words were; “So you eh know he is ah marrid man?” As though it was some how my fault that he failed to mention his wife when he asked me out. Thankfully I had not invested emotionally or physically – but it was very apparent that Mr RB regularly forgot that he had a wife.
The odd thing was/is that, that sort of behaviour was common place. It simply didn’t make sense to me. If you didn’t want to be with someone why didn’t you end the relationship and move on. I soon learnt that it wasn’t that these individuals didn’t want to be in the relationship that they were in – they simply wanted a taste of something new. They wanted a little adventure, a tease, a risk – something to spice up their current life, or maybe they just wanted to be wanted. My ex would always comment on it, he’d regularly say “All men cheat Afara. Not just Trini men.” I heard that so many times I started to believe it too, and forgave, anticipated and accepted his transgressions. The faithful man was such a rarity that the faithful man was the weird, the unusual the ‘pussy whipped’ and some how less of a man. At the end of my stint in Trinidad, I too believed that all men cheated and that it was an acceptable norm. I even started blaming the woman and saying things like, ‘If that’s the way she dressed’ or ‘Well he’s a man what do you expect.’
The manner in which my song changed from being absolutely aghast and outraged at infidelity, to it being an acceptable norm, is what made me reconsider my thoughts from earlier. It didn’t happen over night.It was through constant exposure of hearing comments like; ‘All men cheat,’ ‘He’s a man,’ ‘She look fuh dat.’ So I understand why this island could bring fear. And I understand why we need to ‘check’ ourselves and find ways to retain who we are when you live an expat life.
To my fellow expats – may you always be strong in who you are.
*horn – cheating/ to be cheated on
*outside life/ outside woman – A life that doesn’t include the family.
A life that is ‘outside’ of the house. Illegitimate relationships or activities.