Soca-family and friends!
Remember my last episode on my very first trip to sweet T&T, and how it made me want to come back and stay much longer on the island? On my first day, when I had that first shot of Puncheon rum, I already had a feeling that I may get myself into trouble in this country, but I was so intrigued by the welcoming, friendly and fun-loving way of the Trinis around me that I didn't mind the risk of diving much deeper into the maze of Trini culture to experience all of it.
My new Rasta-friend Colin made me "block" the famous Avenue and he taught me the rules of wining on cars, two things everyone needs to do to successfully graduate from a full Carnival-rookie to a half one, according to Colin (check out my last blog in case you hear this for the first time).
That same night on the Avenue I wasn't able to fully graduate. However, my third Carnival lesson was close to being completed.
It was a few days later when I was escorted out of the house again without knowing where we were going and where we would end up. "We going by Gums," they told me, and they literally thought I would understand what this meant. I thought to myself, "Who or where is Gums?" At that point, I went with the flow until I would find out more. I must say that this was a new vacation experience. For the first time I didn't need to make a single decision during my vacation apart from "Carib or Stag?", and chronically indecisive Miss Rose didn't mind at all that she was tagged along the (pre-Carnival) Trini way of life, without a clue what was happening to her.
To reach "by Gums" we entered the Savannah; Port of Spain's Central Park as I like to call it. The Savannah is one of the most important spots in town during Carnival time because the main Road March stage is located here. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday you can literally find people who never leave the Savannah for these two days (except during the night of course). Every single mas band passes the Savannah to cross the stage at some point, so right at the Savannah you get to see all bands and all costumes, while being in a perfectly central liming spot with drinks and food and lots of happenings around you.
A few weeks before Carnival, the Carnival Commission (it may be some other authority to be honest, but this sounds about right) puts up booths all around the Savannah for small vendors to sell food, beverages and all kinds of other cultural items. In these booths you will find vendors and families that have been running their small businesses around Carnival time for years - some literally only come out during Carnival. I believe they are given spots based on priority as part of the Small Vendors Association (or some similar association).
We drove through the Savannah looking for a specific booth, and shortly after we pulled up behind one. Clearly we were visiting somebody who runs a booth. And there he approached us, Calvin Gums - an older man with grey hair and only a few teeth in his mouth, with a big smile on his face. His wife, Rose, was cooking up a pot of something unidentifiable to me. Colin explained to me that Gums comes out every Carnival and his whole family runs this booth with him. It is Colin & company's favourite liming spot, as you are in the middle of everything but still in a sort of private spot. Plus Gums is just a lovely person to be around.
Shortly after our first few Stags, several other people joined the lime, including a police officer in full uniform, who must have been somebody's friend. As I was introduced to everyone, Colin approached me and gave me my third Carnival lesson, "Benita, remember ah tell yuh, yuh couldn't complete numba tree on di Avenue di odda day? So... wha we does do for Carnival, is women does wine on police man." - *shocked look on my face* - "POLICE MAN?"... "Yes, police man."... I replied, "Colin, I wasn't planning on getting locked up in this country." But he shook his head "No, no, no, no, yuh doh get lock up in this country for wining on police man." I thought to myself, "What a weird country, but in their favour, I think people say 'When in Rome, you do it like the Romans'...." So right there, in the back of Gums' booth in the Savannah, I risked being legally prosecuted as I took my first wine on a police man!
For a short while after I was still worried about my lacking sense of rule of law in the country, until I realized that police-officer-wining has almost the status of a national sport in the country (I hope Brian Lara is not reading my blog).
After that day, I inaugurated the country's first National League of Officer Wining, and until today, I am the only official member. But I believe that given the popularity of its unofficial practice, it could soon become big. On a serious note, police-officer-wining has brought me into several interesting situations after this day, one of them you can find on my YouTube Channel "Miss Rose's Travel Diaries" (watch here if you're up for more cool stuff).
Apart from my first three very essential and culturally valuable Carnival lessons, I learned about a few other "Trini tings" during my time "by Gums" around the Savannah. Remember Rose was cooking up a pot? After I tried her famous dish, I was so amazed by the taste that I had to pass by Gums booth every single night I attended a fete in or anywhere near the Savannah. Like Army Fete, one of the most famous fetes for Carnival that traditionally happens every year. Curious to hear more about it?
Stay tuned for my next episode!
Much love, Miss Rose