Thursday, February 22, 2018

Deyas of our lives

In troubling times, it is easy to get bogged down by the dreary and the untoward. Sometimes it feels that every which way points to something unspeakable that leads to an overhanging sense of despair. It can blind one to the specks, the glimmers, and even the sparkles that bring light unexpectedly.

And in times given to wearying the spirit, it becomes ever more vital that we reach for those lights to help us find balance. So instead of getting riled by what I heard of the fatuous description of Divali rendered by the Tourism Minister defining it as a time to 'burst' fireworks and light firecrackers and deyas without mentioning the underlying concept of triumphs of good over evil and light over darkness, I thought I would revisit another kind of lighting.

It was a visit to an artisan market of sorts, Bits and Pieces, held at the conference facilities at MovieTowne a couple Saturdays ago.

It was larger than I'd expected. The booths were many; items varying from jewelery, CDs, DVDs, stationery, ornaments, food, chocolates, fruit drinks, furniture and hand-painted books, bags, and trinkets of all kinds. Some were expensive, most were not. What they had in common is that they were locally made and were being sold mainly by their makers. I asked.

There was Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, a 26-year-old artist and poet who started her business, Wildflower Studio, in May this year. She had some beautiful hand-painted cards, and I asked about them subsequently.

"I'm an artist and it's always affected me when people seem to have personal connections with my paintings, but can't afford them," she said. "Because of this, I started putting my art on little items that can be used or shared, items which are affordable, but still meaningful." She performs her poetry too and is putting a collection together.

There was Robert Tobitt with eight to 10 CDs of his steelpan solos, including one called Caribbean Christmas. I looked him up on the Internet and found that he tutors as well and will play background music for weddings and parties.

There was Mariel Brown, with books by her father, Wayne, whose passing has left such an enormous void in our time. She was also selling her well-reviewed DVD, Inward Hunger: The Story of Eric Williams.

There was copper work from Kenneth Forde—earrings, bracelets, and ornaments—and maybe it was because his email is kenscopper@hotmail and he comes from Belmont, it reminded me of Ken Morris and I bought a few pieces.

There was chocolate: beautiful, handmade truffles with rum and coconut from Gina Hardy, and lovely tins of drinking chocolate and other delectables from Cocobel, Isabel Brash's brand, which features guava, passion fruit, sorrel (with cloves) and even one with salt, pineapple and shadon beni. Both chocolatiers use local cocoa—among the best in the world. When will we get serious about rebuilding our cocoa industry? I feel this sense of foreboding that we have not done nearly enough to establish our primacy as one of the few countries (seven, really) producing 100% fine/flavour cocoa in the world and we are wasting valuable time in this —just as we did with the steelpan.

There was a young man with fruit juices of every kind: pommecythere, mango, passion fruit, plums, cherries, and he was willing to mix them up at customers' requests.

Then there were these three young men, true bright spots in an already bright place. Their flyer announces them as Habanero—the Hot Source Company, and they were there to sell their three blends of pepper sauce: Jungle, Scorching and Lava. Made from Scotch Bonnet peppers, they are green, yellow and red, respectively and they really are tasty, and only $20 a bottle.

The makers, three students from the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute, who are graduating in a week's time with their degrees in culinary management, came up with the idea for these sauces for one of their marketing projects. Nicholas Sankeralli, Ravi Ramoutar and Ellery Yhip were on fire as they wooed potential customers with samples of their sauces served on their bread with ham they stylishly sliced. They even had a brownie made by Ravi which had pepper in it that gave it a lovely and unexpected aftertaste. I called Ellery to ask how business was going and he was thrilled to say that they can't keep up with the demand now, and they are planning to expand.

Ellery said he'd always wanted to cook and doing this two and a half year degree programme was a dream come true.

"It was a lot of work, but it was fun," he said, describing the time spent doing management, costing, marketing and languages apart from the cooking.

It was gratifying to see how many people were browsing and shopping. The place was full from the beginning.

Comforting to know that within our midst so much creativity—artistic and entrepreneurial—was still managing to stay afloat in the morass we've made. It did the spirit good to move among folk who were shining their lights and earning an honest living, putting their very own shoulders to the wheel.