The sun was blazing when I boarded at Gatwick. I was to make a ten-hour flight across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. As I sat down and prepared my mind for that journey of more than four thousand miles, it occurred to me what huge blessing technology had brought to humanity. Christopher Columbus, Walter Raleigh, and other explorers of ages past who were credited with bringing Europeans to the Americas spent long, tempestuous months on the Atlantic to arrive at my destination. Oh, what a blessing these metallic birds are!
But my journey did not begin at Gatwick. I did set forth, at dawn, from home – Lagos. The Arik flight to London that morning had so many people on its check-in queue that I felt we might have to lap ourselves – molue-style. In retrospect, I discovered that I had more problems at the Lagos Airport than elsewhere. A rude remark by a garrulous immigration officer here, an indecent push by a customs official there; yet for all their hyperactivity, one could still see currency notes exchange hands between travelers and some officials. I still wonder what the trade was all about.
Have you noticed that when you are at the mercy of time – say you have some long hours for which you must wait – time can be decidedly slow? It just assumes a snail-pace tick, tack, tick, that tortures the eager mind so badly. Time is such a tyrant. You can imagine the plight of one trapped in the belly of a bird for ten hours. So, as an effective shield from time’s tyranny, I reclined my seat and ‘freed my mind’.
Many hours on we were informed about an impending stop at St.Lucia, at the hearing of which I knew I had to stay awake. St.Lucia? Derek Walcot’s home? But a peep at the great bard’s country left me a little disappointed. The Airport was one I am sure Murtala Mohammed, for all its deficiencies, would beat any day. Just a rusty stretch of blocks facing a wide expanse of land with patches of grass here and there, like a depleted grazing field. You would bet it’s not an airport until you sight, ‘Hewanorra International Airport’, at the entrance to the stretch of blocks. I consoled myself however in the fact that great things, should sometimes have ordinary origins. A peep further down and I saw a tiny strip of road like we have in most Nigerian suburbs, with vehicles – mostly Urvan buses – plying in both directions. St.Lucia, judging from what I saw at the Airport alone can easily pass for a Nigerian suburb.
Another three-quarter of an hour journey on air and the great bird was set to make a final perch on the queen of the Caribbean islands. The sights and sounds that welcomed me there were in every way tropical. I almost thought I had been scammed. A total of Sixteen hours air travel from Lagos, and all I could see around was a hilly landscape that vividly reminded me of Lokoja or Abuja, on one side; and a fiery sun that bites hard into the skin, just like at home, on the other. Alas, my doubts were cleared later by the pulchritudinous ladies I began to come across. I was to later learn that they were the island’s most ubiquitous species. If you have not been to the Caribbean, never you lay claims to having seen women, at their most comely and alluring!
The immigration officers spoke with such a strange accent that it took a while for me to realize they were speaking English. Contrary to widespread belief that the Nigerian passport attracts derision to its carrier any day, it did the exact opposite for me in that afternoon. “You Nigerian? You know Jay jay?” “sure I do.” “And Coonu?” “sorry?” “the tall, lanky footballer.” “Oh, Kanu?” “Yes! Good footballers”, she declared rather elatedly before going ahead to joyfully tell me, “welcome to Trinidad”. I think we need to do more to honour the truly super eagles who brought us global footballing prestige.
I was to later find out that the average Trinidadian or Tobagonian hold Nigerians in high esteem because most Nigerians here are doctors.
The proximity to the United States obviously has an overwhelming influence on Trinidadian culture (the blacks at least). The currency, TT dollars takes the same rectangular shape as the US dollar. And just stepping outside the waiting lounge of the Port-of-Spain Airport to await my hosts, I saw so many blacks with similar demeanour to an African Yankee.
My hosts did not show up on time so that gave my eyes a great opportunity to gorge on the beautiful people. Nature surely loves hybrids. It is usually hard to place them into one specific race. Traces of African, Caucasian, or Indian origins strove to reflect in their phenotypes. What took me aback the most was that I a found people who were as comely angels, doing menial jobs say a gas station attendant, cleaner etc. Pardon me if I appear too garrulous about the beauty of these people, it’s just that I had never seen anything like it before.
My hosts did finally come. We embraced and chatted animatedly in the manner you would expect of kinsmen who had not seen each other in ages. Then the drive to my new abode (at least for the mean time) began. I braced up myself to start learning the names of places etc.
I enquired, “where are we headed?”
“We are in Port-of-Spain, right?”
“Nope. Never mind that they call the Airport Port-of-Spain. POS is still a forty minutes or so drive southwards from here. It is a misnomer I can’t explain.”
The volume of traffic was amazing for a nation of just over a million people, and what I found even more shocking was that virtually all the vehicles appeared to be in good condition and I hardly heard anyone blare his horn. My host glanced at me and caught my eyes fixed on three stunningly beautiful ladies walking by.
He laughed and said, “I see. Your eyes would surely pop out in this country. But, hey, I must warn you, flee from any lady who says she is from Laventille or Beetham. Those are the ghetthos of Trinidad. The men here are violent and they would not hesitate to pop your head. Right?
Then, as is characteristic of my person, I began to get overwhelmed by astonishing scenery that the island’s landscape provided. To a side were undulating hills that sprawled across smoothly like Mexican waves. Modest houses were sprinkled here and there on the hills. Nature sometimes takes its artistic genius to extreme lengths, or how do I explain the beautiful colour separation on the vegetation that covered these hills. From a long distance, I could decipher well-patterned shades of deep green in between areas of brilliant green. Perhaps, that was nature suggesting a flag to the people of this lovely place, but be that as it may, their choice was a black, red and white flag, with a most communal and inspiring motto: “together we aspire; together we achieve.”
My mind withdrew further into its shell. It took me to the pages of a book I had read a couple years back – The Loss of El Dorado, a colonial history of the country by their Nobel-Prize winning son, V.S Naipaul. I remember reading in it that Europeans once believed that Trinidad was close to the gates of the biblical Garden of Eden and that El Dorado, a city made entirely of gold was located somewhere along the Orinoco River (most people believe today’s Guyana was the elusive El Dorado). Though time has proven El Dorado to be mere folktale, I am sometimes tempted to believe that I am right in front of the Garden of Eden.
We had departed London with the sun blazing over our heads, spent eleven hours on air, yet arrived Trinidad with the sun still pouring down its hottest rays. It struck me that the sun perhaps never really sets. Our world is indeed a huge sphere.