IN the first years of the 20th century, a man with the surname Sabazali joined a group that travelled out of the Pashtun tribal region of Afghanistan, and into India to the coast.
There, he boarded one of the ships bringing indentured Indian immigrants to the West Indies.
In Trinidad, Sabazali became a suitcase salesman and, much like the early Syrian immigrants, travelled the island selling his wares door to door.
Sabazali (later baptised and christened Isaac Sabzali) would be killed in a bus accident in Savonetta, near Couva.
By that time, he had five sons and a daughter—then 13-year-old Meriam, who, because the family had to separate, was taken in by the Presbyterian Church at its Iere Home for Girls at Tramline Street, Princes Town.
She later attended the Archibald Institute for Girls in Tunapuna, which was also founded by the Presbyterian Church, in 1931.
Meriam (name later changed to Marion), in 1939, met and married James Sukhnanan Sammy (1890-1980), a member of a prominent Presbyterian family in San Fernando.
Sammy would become a national awardee, secretary of the Susamachar Church Board for 29 years, and a man who generations of Naparima College graduates would remember as an influential teacher, vice-principal and acting principal (he taught there for a total of 54 years).
It was a life that would never have been if his brother had not drowned, 100 years ago, which led to his mother Ramdaiah calling Sammy home from Canada where he had gone in 1912 to pursue a career in medicine at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, from where the Canadian Presbyterian missionaries first came.
Meriam (1915-1972) would also have a career at Naparima Girls’ High School, where she taught needlework and cooking, and was matron of the school’s dormitory.
In a house built in 1917, the Sammy couple would raise eight sons, who all went to Naparima College (there was a year when a Sammy boy was in every form) and on to successful careers.
One of the boys you may know—Dr Allen Sammy, whose name is still prominent in cricket and politics (he is a director on the West Indies Cricket Board, former deputy mayor of San Fernando, former chairman of the Penal Debe Regional Corporation, and adviser to Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal).
The Sammy House still stands, hidden behind the palms at the corner of Sutton and Mucurapo Streets, San Fernando. It is among the oldest habitable buildings in a city that is fast losing its early architecture to real estate agents willing to pay big money for land to build steel boxes covered with glass and aluminium.
Express writer and historian Louis B Homer was researching the city’s great homes of the 19th and 20th centuries at the time of his death last August.
He noted then the demolition of Piedmont Cottage, Wharton House, the Montano House, which once existed at Harris Promenade, and the tearing down of the 90-year-old Coterie House for social workers last March.
Citizens for Conservation, the group lobbying for the protection of colonial-era architecture, would be pleased to know that the Sammy House will be preserved.
Several of the Sammy brothers have begun restoration of the building, having found a builder capable of putting a new roof on the house with a skeleton of still solid wood, walls of San Fernando gravel, and bricks moulded by the mason on site all those years ago.
The house, which was originally single-storey, was built in the style made popular in the 19th century by Scottish architect/builder George Brown, who designed many of the buildings following the Great Fire of Port of Spain in 1891--with gabled roof and intricate fretwork along the eaves.
The Sammy home was built on land that the family purchased in 1900 at a time when Sutton Street was the town limit, and residents were more likely than not to have cattle, donkeys and horses.
Anything further south was a trace, trail, or sugar estate, recalled sibling Kanva Sammy, who still lives at the residence with brother David, a noted actor and principal of Tableland High School.
A second storey was added in 1947, to create room for the growing brood, making it one of the most distinctive houses in the town, with high ceilings, bay windows and wooden louvres allowing cooling air and light into a living area of fine furniture, art, and musical instruments.
Most of the sons of Sammy (all but one is alive) are now in their 60s and 70s, but the home remains the centre point of their lives. Which is why they have stayed true to the building’s original design during the restoration, rediscovering their childhood and family memories in the process.
NOTE: The Sammy brothers are: Howard (1940-2010), who was a teacher and vice-principal in Canada; Donald, a retired cable technician in Canada; Allen, who also taught at Naparima College and lectured in Canada; Kenny, an accountant; Carl, a retired Naparima College teacher who taught at the school for 40 years; Clarence, teacher/food technologist; Kanva, a retired secondary school teacher; and David, former vice-principal at Naparima College, now principal at Tableland High School.