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London
Friday, November 27, 2020
Arlene Ross

Carnival Fever is real

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I do not need to live on campus, my character does not need building, it is definitely already formed thank you, I said to my friend. This was the night I made my grand entrance on the Sir Frank Worrell Halls of Residence at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados.

I was no spring chicken, I was over the hill, and any other played out cliché you could think of. I can vividly remember when one young man on campus found out that I was over twenty; with a mixture of pity and fascination he exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, and you don’t even have lines on your neck!”

I was on a mission, I was financing my own education therefore I could not be concerned with frivolities. Yes, I went to a few campus fetes and beer limes, but when fellow Trinidadians asked if I had already booked my flight home for Carnival, I brushed them off. After all, I had years of mas playing under my belt. Sacrifices had to be made. I am a well-disciplined and very responsible person, and there would still be Carnival after I obtained my law degree, I told myself.

Then, the exodus began. People were saying their loud goodbyes as taxis collected them to head off to the airport. From my dorm room, which was perched on the hill overlooking the driveway, I watched as they left one by one.

“I am so glad that I came to university when I am mature and not easily swayed,” I thought, as I flipped through books at the law library. Over the next few days I began to experience some very strange symptoms that I had never felt before. They’re not easy to explain, because it’s difficult to even say if they were physical or psychological, or both. My stomach started to feel like it was turning upside down, my head felt light, I was feeling very morose, irritable, lonely, and homesick, all wrapped up into one. Eventually I was able to put it into words: “I want to go home.” “I have to go home.” “I cannot miss Carnival!”

I began frantically calling up travel agencies – and just about everyone. It was just days before Carnival, and there were no flights available. I remember someone mentioning something about a boat, and I heard myself saying, “That’s great, I’ll take it!” I made a few calls, and the next day I was at the harbour.

I had packed a few pieces of clothes in a bag, and I had my fanny pack and my camera. It would be an adventure, I told myself. THE BOAT… turned out to be an inter-island cargo boat! Me, the market traders, the bananas, the yams, the mangoes and the rows of cars and vans were all on deck. I think that we stopped at every island along the archipelago, plus Venezuela, and with each stop we packed on more produce and more people.

We may have spent just one night at sea, I’m not sure, but it felt like at least one week to me. The overpowering smells of diesel, of other people’s vomit…then mine. The rain came down and people huddled on makeshift benches and covered themselves. They were prepared, because they had made this trip before, maybe many times. As for me, maybe I expected a cruise ship and a cabin. Whatever my expectations were, this was not it. My head pounded; my stomach kept trying to empty itself but there was nothing left in there. I was sleepy, hungry, and badly in need of a shower. I regretted this stupid decision with every fibre of my being. What was I thinking? This could not be the same mature, intelligent, law student in the dark night, on the high seas, out on the deck of a cargo boat fighting back her tears.

The boat meandered through the rough waters of ‘the Bocas del Dragon’, where the Gulf of Paria and the Caribbean Sea have their contentious meeting, and I felt like my entire body would just explode. I was weak, sleep deprived and, really, just angry with myself. Then, in the distance, like a mirage, I caught a fuzzy glimpse of the twin towers of the Central Bank, which were then the tallest buildings in downtown Port of Spain. I took a deep breath and inhaled a nice lung full of diesel. Yes! This is it, what could be better, I was home for Carnival!

Now, the world has been turned upside down. Certainty no longer has meaning. Everything is uncertain. The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic are far reaching, and will be long lasting. Even large economies are crashing, the spread of the virus is continuing while many countries are reopening their borders and struggling to adapt to what is being termed ‘the new normal’. Trinidad carnival 2019 was said to be the only carnival for the year; all other Caribbean and Caribbean -style carnivals were cancelled due to the pandemic. This pandemic is devastating, and we need to follow the guidelines handed down by the experts and try to stay safe. The rules appear to be changing overnight, but unless a viable vaccine is developed, tested, and administered to the world by January of 2021, Trinidad Carnival, ‘the greatest frolic on earth’, may not take place.

If you have been to Trinidad Carnival before, If you belong to the Caribbean diaspora, if you are a real-life explorer or wanderer, and you are experiencing indescribable ‘feelings’, I might be able to tell you what ails you. I am no longer an adventurous little law student, but now I’m even more familiar with the symptoms. You my friend, have Carnival Fever.

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