Photo by Ben Dutton on Unsplash

“How can I not be happy?”

“How can I not be happy all day, I’m from the streets of Africa” – Burna Boy, Streets of Africa

Listening to this song while trimming my hair and it struck me, I have been cutting my own hair since the age of 18. But what really struck me was that though I’m not from the streets of Africa, nor can I claim to be from the streets of Trinidad and Tobago, the country of my birth and youthful experiences, I felt so connected to that lyric. And this lyric too; “Shirt off like I ain’t got no clothes” – Burna Boy

Growing up in Belmont like I did, playing in the yard or in the streets with shirts off was a normal thing. We referred to it as being bareback, I still say that to this day. The blazing sun beating the black into your pores was just a way of life. I never wore sunscreen until I lived in the US for a number of years and then flew back home and got a sunburn to remember. Like Burna Boy said, how can I not be happy? I hope I didn’t mess up my hair, because I started daydreaming, reminiscing with clippers in my hand, about life growing up in Trinidad, particularly in Boissiere Lane, the center of my world as a boy. This little lane was just wide enough for two cars to barely fit alongside each other. Narrow to say the least, but the holder of so many stories. Most centered around me and my friends doing the things boys, and girls do when you have time, the ability to go outside, creativity and plenty of Vitamin D.  Cricket and football, aka soccer, depending on the season was played in the lane all the time. Yes we had a cricket season and a football season. We honed our skills, whatever little we had, running up and down the hot asphalt lane, sometimes barefooted, playing the most competitive games of small goal 🥅 football. It was amazing how tough our feet were back then. I remember we would use our shoes, or our rubber slippers, aka flip flops, to make the goal, if nothing else was available. Measured a few foot lengths between the two slippers and that was one goal. The other goal may have been somebody’s sneakers, or two big stones, as we would say. If it was four of us, then we played a two a side game. Two players per team. Six then it was three per team. The more the merrier, no one sat down, so you can imagine the youthful excitement, the trash talking, youthful bravado, and the apparent fearlessness. Blood and skin have been many a times left there on the street. Busted toes or scraped knees, was a normal part of it all. 

Cricket on the other hand was a lot less brutal, maybe the reason I gravitated to that sport more so than football. Simple bat and ball game we played with a makeshift wicket. Bats made of anything wooden for the most part. Sometimes we would get creative and attempt to carve a handle out of the wood to make it more bat like, other times it was a simple piece of wood found anywhere and a tennis ball or as we would call it a wind ball. Wind ball cricket was my game. I remember I could pelt that ball faster than many others my age and fancied myself a decent batsman. We all emulated the great players of the West Indies. We copied batting styles and bowling actions. The West Indies cricket team then was our utmost symbol of pride and joy. These black men dominated a colonizers’ sport, so much so that the rules of the game began to change because of our fast bowlers. Check out the movie Fire In Babylon. Every one of us wanted to be a fast bowler. Those men were the inspiration for many of us. And cricket in the lane was a microcosm of that minus the blood or bruises. Maybe the occasional ball to the groin, with the uproarious laughter that followed and the poor soul performing squats to ease the pain, as cricket was supposed to be considered the gentleman’s game.

How can I not be happy as plum season came around the same time that we were off from school? Chennet season too, or as some islands call it guinep or Quenepas, or Spanish lime. I was blessed to have a tree in our yard, two to be exact but my father cut one of them down because the chennet it bore was always sour. So that tree stump became his spot to smoke. But that is for another story. The plum tree was in my friend and neighbor’s yard and he had this simple, yet enjoyable recipe that involved boiling the plums in a sugar and water. We would pick loads of plum and then come to my kitchen and boil a pot full of plums and then sit on the back step and eat plums to our hearts content. How can we not be happy all day? 

The chennet tree literally provided chennet for the entire community. No joke. This tree was always laden in its season and the “fellars” from around the neighborhood would all come to climb the tree and fill up a burlap type bag that they would take and sell. I have eaten more chennet than most people I know I am certain. It was a summer ritual in Boissiere lane. I have seen men fall from the tree, others jumping out trying to escape the sting of large wasps that built these huge nests in the tree. The risks were there but the reward was greater. I respected that tree and never climbed it, truth be told I never climbed too many trees, and when I did I never went up to high.

I remember there was a caimite tree a few houses up the lane on what appeared to be a free lot of land. In Trinidad we call Star Apple, caimite. No one seemed to have owned it until a man we only knew as Bamsie decided to build a house on it. I remember hearing my mother and father referring to him as a squatter. Nonetheless that caimite tree now sat on Bamsie’s property, and he was a scary fellow, even though he gave you a nod as he walked up and down the lane. And knowing whether he was home or not was a major part of getting to the caimites. I remember we would eye the tree to see when the caimites looked ready for the picking and then sit and look for when we see him leave. The usual plan would be for us to just use our pelting skills and knock down a few caimites from the below, then run in the yard, grab the fruits and run. But as with everything you always have one friend more daring than the others, and he insisted on climbing the tree. While up there throwing down caimites Bamsie was on his way back up the lane, we all started yelling at him, “Bamsie coming, Bamsie coming!” He panicked and tried to get down the tree hastily then we heard a crack, rustling leaves and in a split second a heavy thump. He had fallen out of the tree and broken his arm in doing so. Bamsie turned out to be cool actually, telling us to just let him know when we want caimite and we could come get it. 

How can we not be happy?

~ to be continued.

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