Trini to the shamrock

My name is Mary Adam and I lived in Trinidad for 42 years; so maybe I’m an honorary Irish Trini.

I’m from Cork in the south of Ireland but I lived until last month in Cascade. I have a vivid memory of arriving in Trinidad at dusk and driving away from Piarco in a wide American car with clear plastic over the seats. The windows were down and as we drove past the sugarcane, the music of a million frogs wafted in on the soft evening air. It was incredibly beautiful and all was right with the world.

I’m the second in a very close family of eight. My father died in 1973. I have four children and nine grandchildren. My husband, Malcolm, is retired from medicine and UWI.

I went to a primary school where all the teachers were nuns. Once I owned up to something I hadn’t done because the nun was glaring at me. Another time I gave my whole two shillings birthday money to the collection for the “starving black children in Africa” because I was afraid not to (more glaring).

When the time came to choose between art and medicine, my parents nudged me towards medicine and that was what I did and had no regrets. I loved studying medicine, especially anatomy, the way everything fits together. There was also lots of drawing in anatomy classes and I liked that.

Harry Belafonte sang “Yellow Bird” and “Oh Island in the Sun” in the University College of Cork cafeteria during lunch once. It was strange, different to anything else I’d ever heard, exotic. I met my husband in England, in Nottingham, when I was an intern.

I started painting soon after coming to live in Trinidad – maybe the creativity here is contagious? Later on I studied art in earnest, eventually earning a degree in 2011 by distance learning.

The Savannah is my favourite place in Trinidad.

My first impression of the West Indies was the waves of hot air on stepping out of the plane in Jamaica. I had never experienced anything like it in the hottest summers in Ireland. There was a lot of violent crime, including in our neighbourhood, and we moved to Trinidad in 1973. Three of the children were born in Jamaica and the fourth in Trinidad. We were amazed when Trinidad had a revolution in 1970. It wouldn’t have been surprising in Jamaica but Trinidad seemed so peaceful and happy.

I did a series of wildflower drawings in the 80s that I couldn’t have done anywhere else. I used to dig them up from the roadside and plant them at home and draw them while they were alive and springy.

I don’t think there’s an afterlife but it’s not a long cold sleep either. I think we just cease to exist. What is life anyway? It’s a process more than a thing. It’s the heart beating, the senses sensing, the brain being aware, the blood flowing – it’s to do with a constant state of flow, even in an insect. Life stops when the flow stops.

I love colour in general, the whole spectrum, in nature and in art. Different colours together can be like chords in music, resonating deep down in some mysterious way. I like bright colours, like red and yellow, and deeper ones, like blue and green and black. And I love greys too; they’re like the minor keys in music.

I hardly ever listen to music. I love silence actually.

One reason I’ve left Trinidad is that our children are all away and we’d like to spend more time with them and the grandchildren. Another reason is the heat. Most people would move from north to south as they got older. I’m swimming against the tide. The story of my life!

I’m excited and also terrified about leaving. It’s so final and irrevocable, what if it turns out to be a mistake? "You can't go home again". It’s also wrenching to be leaving our home and realizing there are people I may never see again.

A Trini is a person who is kind and generous, creative and funny. And who drops everything to lift some stranger’s car out of a pothole.

Trinidad and Tobago means hummingbirds like jewels, poui season, burning sun, route taxis, coconut trees. Frederick Street, thieves, Dimanche Gras, ditches instead of sidewalks, and the wild Toco coast.

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