The colorful sari, the sing-songy Trinidadian lilt and soft, warm mannerisms were the same. Even the savant glasses were the same but the short afro was now vaguely salt-and-pepper. If I no longer knew her name, I knew who she was.
Flashback. Summer 1989, now theater producer then history teacher Florence Jean-Louis Dupuy approached Shirley D., Leila W. and me and asked if we'd represent Haiti at a cross-Caribbean youth camp in Trinidad. I was ecstatic. The camp turned out to be a truly life-forming experience. One through which I discovered the world right around Haiti for a change. The world of VH1, MTV and all of American pop culture was already quite familiar, what with all the hipness of speaking english, listening to Prince and visiting America. There would now be life beyond Lalue, the navy uniforms and the girly mischief of sneaking lip gloss past Sister Anne-Marie.
There was the discovery that people with neither European nor African descent lived in the Caribbean, that Trinidad was 40% Indian. There was the youth of Raja Yoga with whom we prayed, there was Vincent Bain Nathaniel (or was it Bain Vincent Nathaniel?) the St Lucian, there was Tony Sempere and ___ the two Guadeloupean boys whom I later saw again in Guadeloupe, and all the others I can't remember. There was the visit to the youth detention facility where we spoke about youth rehabilitation and received the trini coat of arms--or was it the Haitian flag-- encrusted in leather squares. There was peanut juice, the sweet in the cuisine, mango chutney. There was poet Eintou Pearl Spring who housed Shirley and I the first evening and who made us listen to David Rudder's "Haiti I'm Sorry". There was the middle-eastern inspired architecture. There was the striking woman walking down the street in a fuchsia tchador--not only were there Indians but there were also Muslims in the Caribbean?-- and in a Chanel dress-- apparently certain trini women liked marrying Moslems precisely because of their Chanel acquiring power, said my guide. There was the interview with Trudy --the web says Judy--Alcantara on a local channel, my first and probably last time on a TV set. Who knows which of my flashbacks were from the actual trip and which were from later internet surfs on Trinidad? It changed my life nonetheless.
Seeing crinkly tresses in Trinidad on the beautiful dogla women made me set my own free. I now wanted to know all about Negritude --and Depestre's Bonjour et Adieu felt more like a sellout then,-- Bob Marley and Kassav'--okay I knew them before going but I had not been as obsessed with Guadeloupean and Martiniquan creole.
Yup, this was her, the woman who had made that much needed culture clash possible. She was right here in Santo-Domingo, 15 years later. I re-introduced myself amidst bites of Dominican artisanal cheeses, pasteles and cold cuts, screaming atop the rootsy live bachata combo. Many a professional deconstructor were still dissecting the opening night speech His Excellency Leonel Fernandez had just made. Why did he talk about solidarity when he'd just expelled people for looking Haitian? Was he sincere about Caribbean integration? Would the DR join CARICOM?
"Oh my goooowdddd! Come hear this, Nadine. This was one of my pupeels at the peace coomp in Chaguaraaaamass. Oh my Gooooooooowddd!" Her name was Innette Cambridge I re-learned. Except now she had become Dr. Cambridge and taught at UWI St-Augustine. Social work. And no, there was no more camp. The scarce money and all the benevolent energy had run out. But there had been several camps, some cross-Caribbean, some not. Some paying, some not. And no, contrary to what I'd told people for years, the Peace-Camp-in-Trinidad-that-changed-my-life had not been funded by UNESCO. Innette had preferred autonomy so as to program the camp freely and without constraints. Oh and she now had a son she had to raise and could no longer afford to spend her own money on the camps. She almost lost her house funding them.
Although I grew up on Hispaniola, I had never been to Santo Domingo or the Dom. Rep. before CSA 2005. Blazed by years of cold Big Apple winters, I had buried deep the cross-caribbeanist vision instilled in me by Innette's Peace Camp. Fitting I ran into her at my second cross-caribbean experience ever...
CSA 2005-- this year's Caribbean Studies Association conference-- took place in Santo Domingo, Dom. Rep. People from all over the world who study the Caribbean came together under the theme "Caribbean Integration in the Age of Information" from May 30th to June 5th.
copyright alice backer 2005