So, the pandemic brought lockdowns and exacerbation of mental health issues.
Our primary school children lost two years which was easily reflected in the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam results. There was an increase in domestic intimate partner violence and child abuse.
Cognitively, elderly persons lost ground with the lack of stimulation and early dementia was unmasked. Many of those grandparents seem to have gotten so frail and aged so rapidly in that short period of time. And, of course, the deaths. So many loved ones were lost and so much disenfranchised grieving. And post the lockdowns with the lifting of restrictions came increased school violence and an undeniable spike in crime and home invasions.
But on the other side (there is always another side), people learned to cook and rediscover themselves and relationships. Staycations were the way to go, and Trinidad and Tobago was discovered in new depths. Mini hikes were the thing to do with know-your-country exploration. The benefits of mindfulness were rediscovered, and people were more aware of their mortality and spirituality.
And after the restrictions were lifted, friends and family were able to travel, and you realized how desperately they were missed. Beauty was found everywhere. It was like watching an old movie you have watched multiple times. There was now a layer and perspective that you had not seen before. Re-watching movies like City of God and When Harry met Sally made you think of them in different ways.
Suddenly everyone was finding new places to walk. The top of Lady Chancellor, ‘breezy hill’, St Michaels hill, Mt St Benedict, Bamboo cathedral. Suddenly I am in the Heights of Aripo with Annette Mills at her Charamal cocoa estate eating fresh fruit chow, coconut bake and cocoa tea and watching this strong woman, over 70 years old, definitely more fit than most persons I know, gobble up life and living so effortlessly.
Suddenly I am eating delicious food at Krish’s Fried Chicken in Carapichaima in Central Trinidad and then on to the Hanuman temple, the largest Hanuman murti in the world outside of India. It is 85 feet tall. The guy at the temple is explaining why the coconuts are left on the fence by persons who must return to collect them. The practice of breaking a coconut is part of the worship. Suddenly I am in Grande Riviere, watching these prehistoric animals saunter up the beach beyond the tide line to use their fins to dig holes to deposit their eggs and then return to the deep, unknown waters.
Suddenly I am at the Caroni Swamp with Nanan’s tour and the guide Khemraj. He says he has been there for over 40 years. He talks about the poachers who have been hunting the flamingos. Where there were over 300 standing in an area of shallow water a day before, now there were five. His passion for the swamp was evident. He wore a large Om (or Aum) shaped necklace around his neck. He said he had a piece of the paper reading in the Om necklace that was given to him by the pundit when he was younger. With his sinewy arms he pushed down the wooden pole into the water so he could attach the rope to anchor the boat as we watched the Scarlet Ibis birds fly in groups to return to their nest. He told us Om is the primordial sound of all creation and represents god, man and the universe and the interwoven connection with all three.
In the middle of the swamp, next to snakes, crocodiles, and murky water, I am feeling his spirituality and recognizing his teachings.
Suddenly I am at the Temple by the Sea in Waterloo, a temple initially constructed by Sewdass Sadhu, in an effort to have Hindus have a place to worship near the sea. It seems he initially started to build it on someone’s land, and he was told to stop. Thus, I have decided to build it in the sea where there was no conflict with land ownership. For years he carried rocks with his bicycle and built the connecting piece of land and the temple at the end of the outpouching. The temple was eventually rebuilt in 1995 by Randal Rampersad, but a few elements of the old one still remains. The Om sign and the trident sign representing Lord Shiva are standing tall as you enter the rocky pathway.
Suddenly I am sitting outside the temple, facing the sea on this the central west coast of Trinidad. Now I partially understand why he chose that spot. It is almost midway on the western coast of the Trinidad island and there is an unobstructed view of the sunset. Sitting there, the land is meeting sea as the gentle waves lap against the rocks around the temple site. Then the sea meets the sky at the horizon, and you really feel the meeting of the elements, man, god, the universe. Creation, manifestation, destruction. The sun in between the clouds is hot but the heat is pushed away by the gentle breeze from the sea. The simple beauty in that moment was almost infinite. If you listen carefully, sometimes you learn everything in the middle of almost nothing.
Dr Joanne F Paul is a lecturer, a pediatric emergency specialist, and a member of the TEL institute