How Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago Fed My Soul
Words by: Stacey Murray|@missstaceyangela
After skimming Amber Rose’s Instagram last year, I just knew my experience at Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago was going to be so lit! Each year an insane amount of international tourists countdown the days until they can run rampant in the Trinidadian streets. The turn up was expected, but what wasn’t was the fact that my soul was fed at Carnival.
I landed in Port of Spain, Trinidad prepared to break my Carnival virginity and getting ready for months of recuperation. I thought I would be so beat that I wouldn’t be looking back for more anytime soon, but let’s just say I had the non-traditional experience. While millions of people traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to partake in Carnival events in the capital city Port of Spain, it was actually my experience in lesser known gem Santa Cruz that stole my heart. Unlike Port of Spain’s 24-hour “Insomnia Party” (think “Project X” on steroids), Santa Cruz’s J’ouvert experience gave me everything I needed and more.
Traditionally, J’ouvert is a parade that begins around 4 a.m. and doesn’t end until the early evening. Bands and paraders dance throughout the neighborhood, lighting the town up with tons of energy. Instead of joining J’ouvert in the more commercialized Port of Spain, I joined my friend and her family in their hometown of Santa Cruz. Prior to my visit, I knew nothing about the town because it’s usually not advertised on airline travel pamphlets, magazines, television or your favorite celebrity’s social media handle. It’s a semi-rural area with huge disparities in income; some families grow all of their food and take baths with spring water from the mountains while some homes are beautifully built with indoor plumbing and laundry. Best of all, you would never notice the difference in class because all the people are so joyous and their energy contagious. Everyone in the neighborhood is like one big family as I heard every older woman referred to lovingly as Auntie. The love that binds everyone in Santa Cruz made J’ouvert an over joyous experience.
We started out dancing to Soca in the streets. Everyone danced with each other as the band, DJ and his entourage lead the way on a truck and played everyone’s favorite Soca music. During J’ouvert there is no time to play shy. Everyone is encouraged to dance and strangers became friends as everyone rotated dancing partners while parading through the streets. Before I knew it, sunrise greeted us and the party only got better. At end of the parade route, we transitioned into the J’ouvert backyard bash where there was tons of Trinidadian food, live performances by local artists and the DJ kept the tunes going. Unlike other parties, it was all about getting dirty and living the experience. There was no time to be cute and superficial as everyone was sprayed with water hoses. This wet and wild Trinidadian tradition only made the fetes and parties that much better! This was the kind of culture high that you just can’t buy.
My experience in Santa Cruz ended with a bath in fresh spring water, a nap on the porch to let my body air dry, freshly made soup in the yard, talking to a pet monkey and laughing hysterically with my friend’s family. Everyone’s spirit made me feel so rich and alive. All they needed was each other and they took care of me as if I was family. They corrected me every time I said “Thank you,” because taking care of your people is the Santa Cruz way. I left wondering, what if this was the Carnival everyone experienced? What if they were exposed to the plights these families faced, yet saw them able to live life with some much joy? What if tourists got to see the humanity in all of those people who are willing to give when they don’t have much? But they’ll solemnly never get to experience this because they only know the Trinidad and Tobago that big businesses advertise. If only they knew, the heart of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is in the spirit of its people.