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Trinidad Tourism?

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

My daughter’s brother the Boychick is visiting us from Tennessee and we are doing the tourist thing. Over the past week we’ve been to Maracas Bay, the Military Museum, the National Museum, the Pitch Lake and the Temple in the Sea–all great outings, in theory. But in Trinidad, tourism is so poorly developed it’s a shame. I was horrified and embarrassed half the time at the paltry quality of our tourism product.

Maracas Bay was great. The bathrooms are clean, the beach has lifeguards from morning to evening, and there was room in the parking lot.

Maracas Bay picture I found on Wikipedia

Things went downhill from there.

The Military Museum (officially the Chaguaramas Military History and Aviation Museum… you can see photos here) is a bit of a wreck. It is supposed to show our military history from pre-Columbian times to the present, and the exhibits actually are clearly thought out. We found parts of it engaging: the WWI trenches (a walk-through exhibit), the sack of a Trinidad village by pirates in the 17th century (another walk-through) and the amphibious transport vessel (which we got to board) were some of the highlights in our visit. However, the majority of the exhibits are so poorly kept that they are literally crumbling. Photos are fading and peeling, uniforms are dusty and tarnished (even the newer ones) and swords are rusting. There was a dead bird in the grounded BWIA jumbo jet on display–and the jet was gutted, which puzzled us greatly. The whole place needs to be overhauled and some sort of climate controlled environment be built to preserve these unique pieces of our history. The single attendant couldn’t leave the door to guide us through the museum, and there are no guidebooks or narration to help; one entered, walked through, left. That was all. It’s sad, because the idea of it is so cool, and there are things in there that were really intriguing. *sigh*

The National Museum and Art Gallery was also disappointing. The building is under renovation, but instead of closing the museum for a while, the museum’s administrators have left it open so visitors can go in and see part of the display of natural and cultural artifacts, but not the art gallery, which is closed. Only the Cazabon gallery is open. We loved what we saw but it was very annoying to set aside an afternoon to tour a museum only to find that it would take no more than half an hour, at best. The dioramas of early 20th century Trinidad culture are excellent (even if I’ve seen them a million times); and the Cazabon gallery, as previously noted, truly rocks. However, the natural history section features decaying taxidermy and faded specimens. Surely, if we can build a half-billion-dollar performing arts academy we can invest some money in the preservation of our history? And why not just close the museum while it is being renovated?

The Pitch Lake, one of our natural wonders, is pretty awesome. I’ve never been there before and was quite interested in the tour. BUT. BUT. BUT. I couldn’t find an official website for the tour and we went down there with the impression it is TT$30/person for a tour led by an official guide, info given on a tourism review website. Not so. Not only was the visitor’s centre CLOSED, the official guides were nowhere in sight. We ended up paying a guide US $30 per person. It was a decent tour but I hadn’t expected that hugely inflated price. We should have been told (on the invisible official web site) to wear flip flops and shorts. DO NOT TOUR THE PITCH LAKE IN SNEAKERS AND JEANS. You’ll have to take off your shoes and roll up your jeans and you’ll STILL get wet.

Finally, the Temple in the Sea. It was open.

 

The Temple in the Sea

 

But guess what? There were prayers going on and we couldn’t go inside. We settled for a quick walk around it (still pretty impressive, by the way). And the bathrooms, in the adjoining cremation site, are frightening. To the Trinidadian or Tobagonian reader who went to government school: remember the worst toilet in your primary school? Yeah. Like that. Only worse. There were also about a dozen stray dogs wandering the site (I shudder to think what they eat, since there is no meat allowed on the compound).

We wanted to go to the Point-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, a gorgeous nature reserve on the Petrotrin compound, but it was open only by appointment. I wrote on the wall of the Asa Wright Nature Centre’s Facebook page on June 21, asking about a tour. I haven’t yet got a response.

We’re off to Tobago for a day on Friday. Let’s see what they have to offer.


The babies and the (electronic) bathwater

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Image from the Commonwealth Secretariat web site

 

Of all the annoying things I read in today’s Trinidad Express (and there were several stories and ads that caused me ire, can I just say?), the most irritating was a call for the dismantling of the Government initiative to give laptop computers to all incoming secondary school students. Today’s story followed up on one written earlier this month detailing problems faced in implementing the initiative. In the first story, students said the computers were not being used in classrooms and were, in fact, being used to play games and record fights–and surf Facebook, a site that had supposedly been blocked on all the Government-issued laptops. Teachers said they hadn’t been properly trained and there was a big gap between the plan and its implementation.

The follow-up in today’s Express, the story that got me so mad, extensively quoted a parent identified as “Mrs Leacock”, whose views, presumably, represented the voice of parents. “The reality is that 12- and 13-year-olds are not responsible, nor prudent enough in their thinking to take care of, far less, use the laptop and harness its power to influence and access both good and bad at this tender age. We are being unfair in our expectations, and at the same time curtailing their opportunity to learn, by giving them another technological toy to entertain themselves with, and expecting better results in the long run,” she’s quoted as saying.

“A peep into any household whose child has their laptop at home would reveal the parent’s mantra of ‘turn that thing off’ with increased frequency, because now, in addition the Xbox, iPod, cellphone and TV to compete for our time and attention, our Form One children can now be mobile and walk into his bedroom/ bathroom and spend hours on the Internet or playing games, simply because they can, as it is their laptop.

“So in addition to more unsupervised use of this communication technology, we are fostering an increase in obesity. If before we had a hard time getting our children outside to play, this makes it all the more difficult, and the reality is that they have these laptops for a few years, so these bad habits are not going to change anytime soon.”

Well, Mrs Leacock, I beg to differ.

There might be great reasons to take those laptops away from the kids, but there are even better reasons to let them keep them. Here are some:

• Children don’t learn responsibility unless they’re given it. In other words, if they have nothing of value, how do they learn that they must take care of the things they have? I struggle with this on a daily basis with my 11-year-old (soon to be getting a laptop herself, once she passes her SEA. We’ll know by next week, God willing). Do I worry that she’ll mash up the laptop she gets, or lose it? Sorta. But I also recognise that the only way for her to learn to take care of things that are important is for her to TAKE CARE OF THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT. Parents ought to be teaching their children responsibility from small–doing chores, taking care of pets, taking responsibility for their books and toys and so on. Getting a $5,000 piece of fragile technology shouldn’t be the first time they have responsibility. But it is an excellent opportunity to teach them consequences. Hold them personally responsible for the condition of the laptops and enforce consequences for damage or misuse. Let’s see how many keys go missing then.

• Internet access isn’t a privilege anymore. It’s a necessity. I lived in the library when I was a student. Now, as a writer, I live online. Every time I write one of these useless blog posts, I spend time researching what I write, or finding pictures to illustrate the posts or videos to emphasise my points. Young people in schools have to do much the same thing. Education is increasingly project-centred, an approach that puts the onus on the child to find and present information. They could do this in libraries like I did thirty years ago, but why should they? Any teacher would tell you that they expect projects to be typed and neatly laid out–usually on a computer. (Can I get an “amen” from all the parents who ordinarily have to go to their offices to type and print projects for their kids?) To force children to depend on Internet access at schools or public libraries would be putting them at a disadvantage. Who would suffer most? The kids whose families already have computers and Internet access at home? Doubt it.

• Technology is part and parcel of the modern world. Giving students computers at an early stage in their development makes them more comfortable and familiar with the tools they will have to use anyway. It’s true not everybody’s going to be a writer or a scientist. But have you been to a mechanic lately? Even they use computers for their office management and diagnostics. Face it: computers are not going away and we need them more each day. Give a head start to children who otherwise would not be able to afford them.

• Computer-assisted learning can help certain kinds of learners. Chalk and talk doesn’t reach everybody. By nature computers are multi-media and therefore could be a great tool in teaching those who are more kinetic or visual learners. For more on the benefits of computers in classrooms, read this.

• Social networking is not the devil. Well, maybe this is a shaky point. I know they can be addictive, but sites such as Tumblr and Facebook are one of the ways the adult world now communicates. I once read a comment from someone who said that Facebook is today what a cell phone was ten years ago. Hands up if you have a cell phone now. I’m sure even Mrs Leacock has one. The idea is that they are a weapon in our communications arsenal and they can be useful. Teachers can and do use Facebook to post assignments and communicate with students. It doesn’t have to be a terrible thing.

• Who’s in charge of our children’s habits and lifestyle? Parents, or the computers? Mrs Leacock’s argument is a cop out. Until that child turns 18 he or she is your responsibility. Go back to my very first point. What did we say about taking care of the things that are important to you? Get the child off the computer. It’s your right and your job.

• As for the finding in the first story that teachers hadn’t been properly trained, this is eminently fixable. Train the teachers. When I teach I use my computers to teach (sometimes I use PowerPoint presentations, I find resources online for students, I show videos, I give quizzes, I make them do blogs). I also use my computer to communicate with students and do things like lesson plans. You don’t need a computer to teach. But it is a very useful tool. Show the teachers that and they might find it less onerous to be trained in using computers.

 

I’m not trying to oversimplify the problems inherent in giving students computers for use in schools. They are many and large. But we can and should solve them. Our children, no less than any others, deserve to reap the benefits of progress.

*Image from: http://www.thecommonwealth.org/news/190663/163077/235429/280311colcsmicro.htm


Revisioning romance

Posted: June 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Column, The Allen Prize | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The cover of Intimate Exposure by Simona Taylor

 

Possibly because my mom was an avid Mills and Boon reader, I was weaned on romance novels. I loved these books for their ability to translate dreams and fantasies about love and happiness into 200-page packages in which the girl always got her man AND the amazing career she wanted, a perfect house and babies, to boot. A bonus was the settings–I learned about Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Kenya, Fiji, the Seychelles, all through the writings of such romance stars as Barbara Cartland, Penny Jordan and Margaret Way. Later, I learned about the US through the Desire brand and Harlequin Romances. All the characters were white and the men were rich and the women mostly middle class. Somewhere along the line I discovered that the characters didn’t have to be white; there were black–even Caribbean–romances, too. Trinidadian author Valerie Belgrave has written some, including one called Tigress, which I planned, once, to write a thesis on.

Another Trinidadian author, Roslyn Carrington, has made a career writing black romances under the pen name Simona Taylor. (Full disclosure: Roslyn has been a speaker and a judge for various aspects of my NGO, The Allen Prize for Young Writers.) She gave me a copy of her latest, Intimate Exposure (Kimani Press, 2011), a couple of weeks ago and I read it hungrily. I found to my delighted surprise that not only was her story intriguing and captivating like a good romance novel ought to be, I liked her characters as well.

Romance novels rely on a formula that is seldom, if ever, deviated from: the male lead is very rich, charming and a chick magnet, while the female lead is unspeakably beautiful but for some reason in an awkward spot. They meet and he immediately falls in love with her but tries to deny it (and she does the same for him). After triumphing over some betrayal, they live happily ever after. (Think Pretty Woman, except that Julia Roberts’ character is a secretary, not a whore.) That holds true for Intimate Exposure, but with some surprising twists–which I won’t give away because I don’t want to spoil them for you.

What most impressed me was the writing of the characters as feminist. The woman enjoys sex thoroughly (all the time, not just with this magical man in the book) and has an actual career in which her intelligence and education–not her great fashion sense–are paramount. She rescues herself from the betrayal, albeit with a push from the male lead–hey, it’s still a romance novel, and some things are inviolate here, including the man’s role as leader. She is, in short, a three-dimensional, smart, self-motivated woman. The male lead is allowed to cry and show weakness, and while he abets her in her struggle, he’s not the one who “saves” her. She saves herself.

The writing is tight and carries the reader along nicely, and there is the requisite stop in an exotic, pastoral destination–in this case the Caribbean island of Martinique; and the sex scenes are spicy and credibly written. In short, it provides all that a romance novel needs to be an entertaining escapist read, and more.