It was the summer of 2003 when my husband and I took a team of about 23 people on a missions trip to Trinidad in the Caribbean sea. Our group consisted on mostly college age students and a handful of older folks. I could tell this was going to be a defining trip for many in our group because of the way we prepared mentally, emotionally, spirituality and even physically. What a great experience it was!
For starters, there is nothing more welcoming that a musical group completed with dancers in their authentic island costumes greeting us as soon as we enter the airport gates on your way to retrieve your luggage. That was our first indication, Trinidadians would be friendly and welcoming to our team of mostly southern Americans. It is a known fact that hot cultures tend to be more open and friendly than cold cultures. We experienced that first hand on our very first missions trip to Jamaica, and confirmed it here in Trinidad.
The atmosphere in the Caribbean is so joyful; music is palying all the time, everywhere you go, and people are always outside chatting, playing croquet or dominoes or shopping at the marketplace. Caribbeans are also very religious-mostly catholic, but not in Trinidad. Most Trinis practice Hinduism and the rest are fervent Muslims. It’s interesting to see all the religious flags erected in every home and business while riding around the island; I suppose that is how you know if the people living there are Muslim or Hindu. There is a very small percentage of Christians in the island, and although they are the minority, they are vociferous about their faith; absolutely fearless!
Our goal was simple, help out a struggling church and befriend the locals. Neither proved to be hard, as Trinis are very open to newcomers. They are open to listen to anyone with a different message-whether they will follow or not. They are good listeners and willing to share their stories with complete strangers. Trinis are also very proud people. They take pride in their heritage, their gods, and their food.
A meal in Trinidad is never boring or bland. My friend Scarlett and I had gone 2 days before the rest of the group, to help get things ready for the team. For our first meal, they brought out curry potatoes, curry chicken, rice, hot sauce (I mean, the -hotter than hell’s flames-kind of hot sauce), and my favorite, roti. I immediately noticed there were no eating utensils…” forks? we use our hands here dear,” they explained. The idea is you use the rot to scoop the stew and that is how you eat Trinidadian food. “You mean, I can totally undo years of training by my parents and not think twice of it as being rude?” “Bring it on!” I ate with my fingers and licked every single one of them unashamed…
We washed the food down with homemade fruit juice (mangosteen and some other fruit) straight out of their garden. Everything piece of fruit or vegetable felt so organic and flavorful, I thought we would never stop eating. For the rest of our stay in Trini, we enjoyed many rice meals and pretty much anything that can be cooked with curry. Lots of good, juicy vegetables, and plenty of parata roti with every meal. I thought we would gain so much weight from all the good food, but it was so hot in the island, I think we sweat-ed off the extra pounds!
Now, if you haven’t heard or experienced the glory of having Bake-n-Shark, let me be the first one to tell you what an experience that is…as far as Trini food is concerned, Bake-n-Shark takes tops honors! Our wonderful host, Deborah Peack had planned a day off for the group to relax at beautiful Maracas Beach (which is coincidentally the best spot to get Shark-n-Bake in the island-according to the locals).
The best Bake-n-Shark can be found at Richard’s. It is really a very small kiosk, but people line up for miles just to get one of Richard’s seafood bakes. My husband and I each had a Bake-n-Shark sandwich, but it was so good, we decided to try another, and heck, why not, another…Between the two of us, we ate 4 sandwiches. I’m not ashamed to say it; we pigged out!
There we met a local man who was serenading tourists with his ukulele. He was impressive with his improvised lyrics and his easy going demeanor. At Maracas, we also enjoyed coconut water and some cool Peardrax. In fact, while in Trinidad, we lived on freshly made fruit juice. Nothing beats organic, fresh living foods!
The sweets department was very different than what I’m accustomed to. You won’t find cupcakes, doughnuts and brownies as we know them. Their pastries are usually a mix of exotic spices with sugar, usually fried, and sometimes fruity. I do remember having Tolum, Paw Paw Balls, and Bene Balls, en route to view a local temple with a gigantic statue of a Monkey.
We noticed many monuments of the gods the Trinis worship all over the island. And one of the most interesting things we witness while visiting the island was a couple of burials. Many Trinidadians practice the Hindu burial rituals, where they take their dead to a park or a designated sandy area in the island, and there they conduct a ceremony with white flowers, then the body is laid on a table or block above the ground to be burned all night.
Our wonderful host, Debbie took us on a tour of the Caroni Swamp, which is the nesting site of their national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. We took a boat trip through mangrove and marshland. But for some reason the birds were being a bit shy, we only got to see a few. However, we did see several snakes, other birds and plenty of fauna.
As far as the ministry aspect of the trip, I have to say, we enjoyed every bit of it. We had groups going to three separate locations. Each group had prepared music, bible stories, skits, and fun crafts for the children. We had such a great time interacting with the people and their children, not just praying with them, but listening to their stories and becoming one with their culture. We also made long lasting relationships with the wonderful members of our host church, the christian Praywer Center in St. Mary’s. God did amazing things for all of us during our time there and we felt honored and blessed to have been able to work with this amazing group of God fearing brothers and sisters.
We left Trinidad, sunburned and exhausted but never the less proud of the work done. We felt inspired having experienced a number of emotions and left with our pockets full of great stories we couldn’t wait to share with our families and friends upon our return to America.