Saturday, July 20, 2024
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HomeEducation / CultureThose were the days, my friends

Those were the days, my friends

By Anthony Deyal

It was one of those days. It was supposed to be Labour Day, the holiday I believe best represents the Caribbean character and culture. Put simply, in every Caribbean country Labour Day is a public holiday. It may be argued that some Caribbean people don’t work on any other day so that Labour Day is not unique in that respect.

Pope John Paul the First was once asked, “How many people work in the Vatican?” He replied, “About half.” There are some of us who believe that if applied to the Caribbean, the Pope’s answer would be very optimistic indeed. In Jamaica he would lose his well-earned Red Stripe and, to save his reputation, would have to put up a very stout, Lion-Hearted defence.

Few are the people (if any) who work on Labour Day without being paid very big bucks to do so. In Barbados and Guyana, it is both a Bank Holiday and a Bank’s Holiday- Bank’s being the national beer of both countries. Others celebrate it with high and even higher spirits, literally Eclipsing one another in search of El Dorado. If you think these are truly rum names for alcoholic beverages, consider “J’ouvert” (pronounced Jew-Vey), which is a French phrase meaning “opening of the day”. It is the name Trinis give to the start of their two-day, pre-Lenten carnival.

The use of the term “J’ouvert” as the name of a US rum produced and sold by company owned by Michael B. Jordan, the Black Panther star, did not just cause a ferment but almost instigated a puncheon match between him and a Trini group led by self-proclaimed “Jouvayist”, Atillah Springer. From “I am your king now”, the Black Panther quickly plummeted from the high ground he occupied in the minds of Trinis.

However, he has now regained his status as “A good man at heart” by deciding to give his rum a new name that Trinis can all be proud of. Unfortunately, Jamaica has already taken the extremely appropriate “Bacchanal” meaning “a wild and drunken celebration”. I think Jordan can consider the name “Pantheon” which is “a drink for the Gods” but unfortunately, it might lead to a war, with both groups shouting to each other, “Keep your Pantheon.”

Recently, just before Labour Day, the people of several Caribbean islands, including those from Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados, celebrated Whit Monday. In our first year in Antigua, having found out that in addition to being a big deal, it was a “moveable feast”, I shifted it from the interior dining room to a barbecue under a big leafy tree Neem tree in our backyard. What I did is commit myself to recognising the sacred nature of the occasion. Once I am in charge of an outdoor cooking event, the outcome is inevitably religious.

As first mentioned in Genesis, whether at Passover or Pentecost, burnt offerings are prescribed as befitting the occasion. Being of a religious bent, I do my best to oblige. My children also supported the spirit of the celebration. They passed over my burnt offerings which I had acquired from the market at plenty cost. Their feast of the Passover was chocolate ice cream with cheesecake.

But afterwards, sitting contentedly on a chair under the Neem tree, the wind blowing in from the nearby Atlantic, in a half-daze of my own I started to ruminate about the ubiquity of the word “day” and what I would call the “days” of our lives in the Caribbean. These memories have not just remained with me ever since, but have continued to grow.

While Antigua has become a far-away, almost legendary paradise to us, stranded as we are in the COVID nightmare that Trinidad has become and clings very tightly, adamantly and frighteningly to, we have our days of wine, roses and remembrance not just from Antigua, but also Belize and Barbados. In my case, I consider the 13 English-speaking Caribbean countries my home because of the time I spent in each and the friends I have in all. Those were the days but not the same as a Trinidad day.

My friend, Bridge, for instance, when asked, “How things going boy?” would reply, “Ah day!”  Someone unfamiliar with local dialect would probably respond, “I didn’t ask you how long you’ve been standing there, I asked how you were.” My neighbours in the old days of kerosene lamps and long shadows, would first enquire of any noise in the yard, “Who day?  Who dat day?” And if we are seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of someone we would ask, “Where he day?” or worse, “Way he day?” You can get two befuddling answers, “He day day” or worse, “He day day day.”

From the context, you will realise that “day” can refer to a point close to you as “Ah day right here” of “He just day”. It can indicate a distant point, “He over day” or “He day” as distinct from “He here”. “He day day” means that he is there over there, and “He day day day” means that he is a little further away. Complicating matters further, the homophone “dey” can also mean “they” or “them”. “Dey day day day” can help you (if you understand the language) know where to locate a group of people on any given day or go into a daze for days.

While a day is twenty-four hours, in Trinidad 24 hours might not necessarily be a day. When I was little, chameleons were known as “twenty-four hours” because that is how long we believed one of the little creatures would cling to you if your karma decreed that one of them would jump on you. Your karma could do worse. It could bounce your dogma and, as they say in Trinidad when hope has evaporated like carnation milk, “Youh dogs dead.” A newly arrived Englishman invited for drinks by an English couple reached their home when darkness had already set in but, being overly anxious, had arrived too early.

When he knocked the maid opened the door. The Englishman beamed at her, “Mr and Mrs Thornton please.”  “Day not day,” she replied. Her cryptic response threw him. He looked at her anxiously. “Day gone,” she said. He replied, “Yes my good woman, I can see that by the darkness outside. But please let you Master and Mistress know that I am here.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen planning a barbecue for Father’s Day.  He dared not tell his children otherwise “dey” might not be “day”. He wished his Auntie Doris was still around so if anyone asked him who was at the event, he could truthfully say, “Doris Day!”       

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