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​Laugh? I Nearly Died!

Photographs by Mark Lyndersay. Photo credit requested.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Merle Seyjagat Olton and there’s a sad reason I love making people happy.

I’m from Arima, born and bred at Tumpuna Road, Seyjagat Trace. I am one of the Seyjagats, married to one of the Oltons but separated. My son Rishi and my daughters, Amanda and Krystal are the Holy Trinity: nothing gets between them, not even me. Amanda gave me my two grandsons, Darius, 18 and Elijah, 15.

Girl days in Arima was fantastic, easygoing. If you jump in a taxi, the taxi knew where you were going. You coulda walk the streets at any hour. Everybody knew everybody and was friendly. I don’t feel safe in Arima anymore. Three-quarters of the people, I no longer know. It has become a hot spot.

Trinidad has become so noisy! The dogs are my annoyance! Everywhere you go, you can’t walk and talk. Changes not easy.

My first school was Arima Presbyterian on Cocorite Road. By then, Mommy and Daddy had separated. So y’girl going to school when she feel like it. Or when she remember she had school. Because we had nobody there with us. After that, I never got to enter secondary until Mommy eventually took us and I attended Arima Girls Government. I left there with only distinctions in the school-leaving exams. After that I took evening classes, doing things on my own. I only stopped taking courses at the age of about 40.

When Mommy left, I never had anybody that was interested enough to look after me and send me to school. I had a very rough childhood. If I gave you my story, you would cry. But I always had that push for myself to be something.

I had nine siblings. I wasn’t always a happy child. My childhood was never a happy one. I promised myself that, what I went through, my children must never go through. NEVER!

My grandfather was one of the founders of the Presbyterian church in Arima so our surname has always been affiliated with it. Now it is different. It’s even more difficult to get into the school.

I’m not a Presbyterian. Never was. At age 13, I started attending evangelical church and am there till now. I’m a Born Again. Sometimes, I ask myself how bad things could happen to good people. It makes you question: why do babies get cancer?

My first job was at 15, babysitting in church. Then a couple of store jobs in Arima. Eventually, after I separated from my married husband, I started doing geriatric nursing. That has always been my passion, taking care of older folks. I couldn’t deal with the way they were treating the older people.

People would scorn older people: he poop himself! I not cleaning that! I never had those hangups. It was always about helping. That’s my nature, that’s me. I love doing it. And take pride in it. Patients I took care of years ago, the families still keep in contact with me.

Whenever I retire, by God’s grace, I will go back into geriatrics. It’s something I have a love for.

I try to be as kind and as funny as I can be. I LOVE to have people going, laughing, talking, smiling. I think it’s because I know what loss is, what sadness is, what it it is to not have. To get up in the morning and not know what it is you’re putting in a pot. So I always try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes. You don’t know what a person is going through. A simple smile, a joke or laugh could change a person’s day or even their whole life!

I come across a lot of people who come with an attitude, as we say. And I will have that person smiling and laughing in minutes. I break the mood they are in. I don’t think people want to be miserable. So I look for ways of bringing them out.

I try to be as kind, gentle and funny as possible, to break the ice with people. You don’t know what is on their mind. Or how they’re reacting to whatever news they got. Get their minds off of it! Even if it’s for five minutes!

To be funny and joking with people comes very natural to me. Spend ten minutes with me, you might pee your pants!

I think I became this funny person from maybe in my teen years. I started looking at people and thinking, “I sure I could make that person laugh!” And it has grown from there. Every time we see somebody and they’re grumpy and we judge them, we need to stop doing that. ‘Cause we don’t know what is going on. Sometimes all they need is a smile, laugh or maybe a hug.

As I got older, I wouldn’t say it became a mission but I just started making people laugh. I told my friends, “I don’t want to hear no gossip, give me a good joke instead.” We judge people without knowing them. So my thing is to just have you cracking up.

I love animals. I had a pet rabbit and, anywhere I sit down in the house, I just had to knock the floor and she would come to me. Because she grew up inside. One Sunday morning, I went to the market and when I came back, my ex-husband had my rabbit skinned in a basin, waiting to curry. That broke my heart. I never owned a pet after that.

I come from a very abusive background. As a child, I saw my mother being beaten and abused on countless occasions by my father. She met someone and she left when I was about eight. She took my baby sister but left the rest of us, I would say, to fend for ourselves. Because Daddy didn’t care. Daddy was a very violent alcoholic.

My big sister tried as a child herself but there was nobody to look after us, to guide us. We were surrounded by relatives but we got no help at all. When we went by my granny or by aunties, they would run us. So I went into the forest every single day looking for manitou fig to eat. Walking up the riverbank to the seminary, I used to thief their oranges and portugals to eat.

One night Daddy came home, drunk, looking for us. He used to run us down with knives and stone, anything he put his hands on. I ran up by my grandmother’ house. One of my uncles was brushing his teeth right by the outside bathroom. And he say, “Look her here!” And I had to burst out the bathroom and run for the bush.

Daddy would be away for the whole week. One night he came home and he had like a vengeance against us because Mommy leave him and he line us up against a wardrobe and took up his gun. And, when it was time to fire, the gun stick. And all of us just scatter in different directions. I slept in the bush anytime he was around. That’s why I said I would go to school when I remembered today was school.

One night Daddy send me in the shop for a bottle of pitch oil and I asked him for a penny and he cursed me and run me out the house. I went and get the pitch oil and, when I came back, the whole house was closed up. So I pulled a window and saw him hanging. I started screaming and ran next door to my uncle. I couldn’t talk at all, just screaming. One of my cousins slapped me and asked what happened. And all I could answer was, “Daddy hanging!” And they ran over and saved him. And it was the sweetest cut-arse I ever get because he find I shouldn’t have alert nobody. Five years later, when I was 13, he drank poison and killed himself.

I used to walk though a dump in Malabar and go by Mummy and Mummy would bring me back. I’s try to understand it and I guess she wasn’t in a position to take us at that time. But, when I was 11 going into 12, she finally came and took me.

At the age of 13, I wore my first pair of shoes. I never had slipper or anything like that. I stayed with Mummy after that and started going to school.

I lived with my husband and children until I built up the courage to leave. I always promised myself that, what I went through in childhood, my children would never have to do that. And I made sure they never did.

I think I use my unhappy childhood to make others laugh. Because I know what pain feels like. It has made me the woman I am today, a strong, proud, loving, funny Trini to D Bone.

I love, love, love parang. I will sing along, but not sing. I like nice soft music with meaning. Not this jugga-jugga-jugga-jugga thing they like to play. Music that means and says something.

Who don’t love Carnival? Carnival is we thing! We have to love it! And if BC Pires says I’m sounding less and less Born Again with every answer, I say, “BC hush! Don’t let the pastor hear you!”

I’m a little delinquent but they know that in church. I don’t pretend. You put on one act today, tomorrow you have to remember that act. And add on a next act to that one. No, no, no, no. I am not into that. I am me and I’m not changing to please nobody.

The best part about making people laugh is their joy. That look of expectancy on their face when they see me and they suspect I coming with something. That alone makes my day. There is no bad part of seeing people smile. What could be bad about people laughing? Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay

It hurts my heart to see the country getting worse every day. And I don’t think we can come out of it. The sense of security and togetherness that we had in the past, I think it’s gone now. People are so angry! And for what reason? I really don’t think we have any coming back. But that ent going to stop me from being who I am!

I was never a pan player. But I was a pan-pusher.

What is a Trini? I am a Trini! A Trini is a happy person. A Carnival person, a parang person. I is a Trini! Because I am a bit of everything.

Trinidad and Tobago is where I was born, bred, grew up. It means everything to me. I wish my country could come back to the way it used to be. It makes my pores raise.