S. Finbar Ryan
I had just graduated from Mausica Teachers College and was assigned to Paramin R.C. School along with Kent Smith. We both lived in St. James so we travelled together.
I felt very uncertain about the place. There were many ominous fears instilled about the place by friends. A few of them were to be dispelled, but many remained.
On reaching the end of the Maraval route, Kent and myself began to worry. We did not know where we were going. We saw an old woman, asked her directions to the school but she spoke no English and responded in patois. I suppose that was her way of avoiding us.
Our roving eye for chicks soon led us to make friends with two girls from “up the hill”…Margaret and Veronica…. Both were of light skinned complexion with Veronica being the most buxom of the pair. In conversation, we learned that the school was not exactly in Paramin Village but a little before it. Those two girls were like a beastly cold beer in hot stuffy weather. They were very refreshing with their friendliness and curiosity typical of the villagers. They even told us that we should get a girlfriend in the area.
Eventually a jeep came along after a long wait. It was packed with boxes. Kent and I managed to squeeze in. The boxes smelled of saltfish. The scent was unbearable with our legs stretched out in awkward positions. One gentleman, a villager, proceeded to hang on to the side of the vehicle for his ride.
The trip started off smoothly, but then the going became rougher because of the uneven surface of the road. It was indented with ruts and holes.
Peeping between the boxes and the gentleman hanging on the side, I could barely observe the landscape. What I managed to see was indeed a beautiful sight. There were hills all around. They were forested except in some parts where someone had ventured to cut down some trees and build a homestead.
I described it as a homestead because I immediately thought of the pioneers in the numerous western novels that I had read.
At the side, the road dropped away to form precipices. Later, I was to learn that people lived on the sides of those steep slopes. After what seemed an eternity, travelling around hairpin curves which I thought we could never negotiate, we arrived at a small settlement within which the school was located.
I felt lost, yet there was the feeling of freedom, virginity and serenity. I jumped out of the jeep and paid the twenty five cents fare. The driver pointed out the school which we could not have missed. I stood up and took a deep breath of fresh air. I wanted to run, to jump, to go up and down in this enclosed valley as it seemed….but we were really up among the hills on some sort of a plateau.
Looking around, it appeared as though there was no way out from this place. My eye lighted happily on a bar a few feet away but I was annoyed that such a place could exist in this virgin space. It seemed a sacrilege.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked towards the school, Paramin R.C. School. I was about to start my first teaching appointment, the start of my first job in two years.
The children stood and stared. School apparently came to a sort of standstill as everyone, even the villagers, stared at the two new teachers. I put on my best smile and approached them. The headmaster had not arrived as yet. I recognized one of the female teachers as we made our way towards them. I looked outside towards the hills. I am really here. I would never have imagined a place like this, so comparatively close to Port of Spain.
At first glance, I noticed the poverty and simplicity of the people. Some of the children were eating plums. Some were barefooted. Some wore slippers. I could see persons filling buckets of water in the school yard. I learned that water was delivered to the school earlier as it was the first day of the term. Later on, I also learned that whenever that delivery took place, the whole village emerges to fill their buckets. If not they had to go to a spring to do so, as there was little or no pipe borne water.
The principal, Mr. Jadunath, arrived not long afterwards. He greeted me warmly as he used to be one of my teachers at the primary school I had attended in St. James. He then proceeded to introduce Smith and me to the school population. As we walked through the classes, a little boy looked at me and said….”I doh like you. You too black.” Such was my introduction to the space where I would spend my first year as a teacher.
I grew accustomed to the life of Paramin. Sometimes we would walk down the hill instead of waiting forever for transportation. We interacted with the villagers and roamed all over. Agriculture was the basic economic activity and Paramin was renowned as the ‘chive capital’ of Trinidad. Donkeys could be seen carrying agricultural produce to a point from which it could transported to the market on Charlotte Street in Port of Spain.
The road to the village divides into two routes. One had long curves with precipices dropping away at the sides. The other was very steep with sharp precipitous hairpin curves. It was the route we used when walking.
Sometime during the term another new teacher joined the staff. It happened that Dawn was also from St. James, so we three would travel together. If we managed to get a jeep, she would sit in front with either one of us.
One day we were on our way down in a jeep. Dawn and Kent were in front and I was in the back on the wooden bench seat with some water barrels. I observed that when the driver was negotiating the curves he was gearing down instead on using the brakes. I made a comment… “but how yuh gearing down so …like yuh have no brakes.” He responded with a short “no” as he concentrated on the road.
Picture me bouncing from side to side with barrels rolling around as scared as one could be. When we reached the junction at the bottom of the hill, he had to make a circle to stop. The next day I went to the Catholic Education Board to demand a transfer. Mr. Cameron, the head of the Board, asked me the reason. I told him that they tried to kill me and I related the experience. He calmed me down and persuaded me to return.
I continued to teach at Paramin and made the best of it. The children were friendly and curious, but they were willing to learn. I recall once while teaching a lesson on basic hygiene, a boy eagerly interrupted me saying. “Sir, I does bathe often. I does bathe every Sunday.” I was stunned. However, it gave me an insight into life in the hills.
Another time the principal asked me to teach an agriculture lesson to my class. I responded that I could not see myself doing that as agriculture is their way of life and I know nothing about it. He considered it insubordination and said that Kent and me were trying to mash up his school. We had also refused to wear ties with our shirts which were the norm at the time. He also complained to my mother when he saw her at church the next Sunday.
I loved my experience at Paramin. The children brought fruits regularly for me and showed me some of the trails. Eventually my sojourn came to an end. I had spent a year there and can never forget the experience.