Monthly Archives: October 2008


It is never silent here. If it is not the hum of the air conditioner then it is the birds, or the frogs, or someone’s lawn mower, or the thunder or rain or car horn.  Even the beach is never silent, far from it.

When we first arrived I was always awoken by the same birds, gorgeous and yellow that makes up for their ugly cry. Now I am immune to their call until later in the day. As I shower I can hear the phone ring next door and some early cars driving to school.

At school I have the constant chatter of children, screams of joy and play from the play ground, clatter of dropped food and whoops of laughter in the cafeteria. In my class, the clicks of pens or the nervous twitch of a knee bouncing against the desk makes a beat. Sometimes the buzz of an ipod or the irritating beep of a missed call interrupts the near silence of a test.  Students who fidget and play with staples, bangles, erasers and papers think they are quiet while the chatty ones do all the talking. Then there are those who talk in class, whispering as if I cannot see or hear them. 

As I am walking home I hear the barking of dogs, the clanging of electric gates and the yells of friends calling from one car to another. Birds on wires and trees protest between themselves and often a radio playing loud soca fights to compete.  Later on as I walk my dog at sunset I will hear the thump of tennis balls beside the high pitched bleep of tiny frogs. Women walking the neighbourhood gossip and boys on bikes yell. At home, TV, music and a phone call all fight, higher and higher to be heard above the din of cooking sounds. My daughters shout over who gets the shower first and my husband and dog wrestle on the floor while I sit listening to the frogs above all else.  Even once the house begins to sleep I can still hear the dish washer, the air conditioner and the music from a car driving past.

That is when I miss the silence of the snow. Standing alone in a thick wood, the noise of the road and the houses outcast by the padded snow. Silence so true that it fills your ears with the sound of nothing.


Filed under Family Stuff, Trinidad & Tobago


Montreal is supposed to get its first snow storm tonight. At about 2 am everything will suddenly appear to stop as a thick silence falls upon the city.

In the morning if you are lucky and open the door before the monster snow clearing truck passes you’ll be greeted by a white carpet strewn street, branches tipped with the weight of snow, cars shrouded in white, a low white sky. All will be quiet and quite beautiful.   Once the monster truck passes and disturbs the peace the scene will be transformed into one of messy black and white chaos. Cars will have 5 feet of snow pressed against their sides making it near impossible to dig out, the once pristine road will now be rough and brown, all soft feathered snow pushed angrily to the side.  People will open doors and crossly stomp towards their cars, shovels brandished at their sides. Children will stiffly walk down stairs so tightly squeezed into boots, gloves and hats that they look like petrified mummies.

I hate the cold. I hate winter. I love snow. 

I spent 13 years scraping, digging and shoveling my self out of the snow. There is nothing quite as long or disheartening as a cold winter city.  A Montreal winter lasts 5 months.  Once a year, maybe twice if we were lucky we got a chance to go away for a few days to the country where the snow was white and soft and very very clean. Best of all the place was absolutely silent. There is no silence in the world like a place blanketed in thick snow. Trees dip mournfully to the ground bearing the weight of weeks of snow and since no monster trucks ever pass by, the snow piles up window ledge high. 

On those weekends we fall in love with winter all over again. We lie on our backs laughing and tossing snow into the air and we ski or toboggan or skate. Normally the children don’t come inside unless they are very hungry. They even play in the dark.  We warm up by the fire place and sip tea until the tea turns to wine. We eat huge meals and play toasty scrabble. We stuff hot water bottles into the foot of our beds and listen to the silence as we fall asleep.

These are the winter memories I pull together but I know that unless we move to the Canadian country side that bucolic version of winter will ring false. It is waking up an hour early to shovel and braving the steep city hills slippery with snow that would prove my reality. I would rarely go outside and sit in my house grumpy and anxious for the hell of winter to pass.

Time to go to the beach.


Filed under Family Stuff, La belle ville

From Macbeth to Facebook

Maybe it is writer’s block, but the blog posts haven’t been skipping out of me this week. 

We have finished reading Macbeth! On one day I read Act 5 three times. It gave me a headache but got me thinking about personal responsibility and blame. Macbeth turns into quite an existentialist towards the end. He can’t really see the connection between his actions and the mess Scotland is in. Seems a bit like George Bush. I have no sympathy for W,  yet for Macbeth, the jury is still out. I am amazed how many of my students actually feel sorry for him, despite him being a murderous tyrant. Yet when I mentioned we are going to see the Polanski film version and I told them a bit about Roman’s life they all immediately judged him.  Statutory rape vs Murder. Easy.

A lot of what makes us so judgmental and opinionated is the Media. Once we wake up and recognize how constructed and manipulated we are we start to buy back our own views. In my Media class we are looking at advertisements and how products are targeted to us. Very good stuff. 

On the other hand, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about collecting people. It’s something I tend to do.  When we moved here I told all my friends at home that “No, I won’t make any friends, I am closed, finished, done. No room for more people!” They all laughed.  I haven’t done that badly, I have made a few wonderful friends that I will cherish long after we leave but I have safely put up some armour. Moving so much makes it hard. We spend a lot of time saying goodbye. Sometimes I wonder what  those people I spent weeks laughing with in 1998 are doing now. But why does it matter? As we pass through life we enjoy some people and then move on. We can’t possibly collect them all. And yet I do collect a lot and I work very hard at staying in touch with people. Facebook is a blessing in this regard. I am able to stay connected to past students and work colleagues, but it is minimal contact. 

There is some competitive aspect to Facebook. “How many friends do you have”? “I just hit 100!!”

I am starting to go in the other direction and this week I started to delete people. Maybe it is my aversion to clutter and chaos but if I don’t want to drink coffee with these people then why do I want to be facebook “friends” with them? I would hate to be like one of my students who has 860 friends. That is not friendship that is building a collection.


Filed under Miss Teacher

Chasing a Lemon

Our brand new used car is a lemon. We are leasing it from a man with gold teeth, it has no seat belts and the other night we couldn’t turn the alarm off.

It’s bad enough to drive a Nissan Almira, the most stolen car in Trinidad but when you are driving it at night while the car alarm is blaring, it is positively embarrassing.  The first time we drove past the police they ignored us. They just drove on by pretending that a stolen car was not screeching past.   The second time I stifled a giggle as I couldn’t believe our luck but this one flashed his lights and turned around. At this point my hero, the husband put his foot on the pedal and sped up. I had no idea the police were chasing us and couldn’t understood why he was driving like a mad man. I kept asking him to take the corners maybe at 35 instead of 60?  Luckily as the police caught up with us our alarm mysteriously stopped.  Getting stopped by the police in Trinidad would not be fun. Even if it was a case of car alarm malfunction they would relish the thought of finding something to stop us for. An expat stopped by the cops? That might make the papers.  

When you need them the police never come.  In fact I have heard on many occasions stories of the police spotted driving, beer bottle in hand. People often overtake the police on the highway and the police are notorious for confiscating drugs and keeping a bit for themselves. The irony of an expat family of four being stopped at midnight by the cops would be lost on them. But not on us. 

Phew. Newspaper fame averted.



Filed under Family Stuff, Trinidad & Tobago

A memory in the sun

October 11th was the birthday of a person who changed my life.  We are no longer in regular contact but we still know where we are, we are still aware of the outline of each other’s lives. I met her on her birthday, October 11th 1989. We were sitting at the Bloomsbury theatre café at University College London and it was the start of an amazing friendship. When we graduated we decided to travel together for 6 months and spent many long nights pouring over maps and books planning our adventures. We set off for Egypt together on the 16th of January 1992 and spent the next 6 months travelling through Egypt, Israel, India, Bangkok and the States. She was with me when I met my husband on a beach in Dahab. In fact it was her who spotted and liked him first. It is a testament to our friendship that she forgave me and even came to our wedding.

We endured India together through the glory and the filth. We read books and talked about them endlessly. We sheltered from the heat in book shops and fancy hotels, sipping iced coffees in a haven high above the streets.  We shared tiny rooms together and made the famous deal: Cockroaches we leave in the morning, Rats we leave tonight. We tried as much spicy food as possible, she won and I got sick, we explored Bangkok, met travelers, survived 19 hour bus journeys and walks through villages in the pitch dark.

Our friendship was forged long before the trip. We wrote countless essays together, studied for finals, explored all the museums of London. Once we saw a film, “The Comfort Of Strangers” that we loved so much that we immediately walked from the Cinema to a book shop, bought the book and sat in a pub all night reading the books ‘till they were finished.  We discovered Ingmar Bergman  and Truffault, Surrealist film and beautiful photography. Together we experienced London in a way I have never been able to since. We talked and drank red wine all night, tried on hundreds of pairs of jeans, and ate tons of pasta. We obsessed about men and our future.

Now she lives in Paris with her daughter, who is 6 months older than mine. When she called to tell me she was pregnant and we talked names, it turns out we had both picked the same name. Since her daughter was born first she kept the name and we found the perfect name for our little girl. She and I have not seen each other for nearly 8 years but we talk once a year and I know that we live in each other’s hearts.

She was 40 last Saturday and I can’t believe 19 years have passed since that day we met. I can’t believe I can even say that I met someone 19 years ago when I still feel like I am the young girl in that café a life time ago. Since that day I have got married, had two children, returned to school, become a photographer and teacher, and lived in France, Winnipeg, Montreal and Trinidad. Our lives that intersected at such a crucial moment have taken different tangents. When I think of her I see a glow of sunshine shining through a maze of blond hair, perfect legs walking up the steps ahead of me, the cigarette in her hand, the strawberries on the beach.

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Filed under Travel

Where is my crystal ball?

Some people might think it is terribly exciting, not know where they will be in 9 months. Frankly I find it quite terrifying. It is like swimming in a giant abyss, knowing that the shore exists but not having any idea where it is.

4 months ago my husband lost his job.  A brave or particularly adventurous person might leap at the chance to remake a life, change the plan, and shake up the plot.  This might be considered a chance to find out what one really wants to do. In the beginning when the initial shock has worn thin, some of this is true. Exciting visions appear of starting a business or moving somewhere exotic. Perhaps working for a new start up or maybe even changing careers all together. Then once the dust settles and no one calls or emails begging for an interview the realization seeps in that this might not be so easy. In fact, as time moves on it becomes apparent that being picky is not even an option and the idea of choice is an idea that starts to dim. At this point we are thinking we might just be taking the first thing that comes up. This might be the worst time to be looking for work.  We are starting to get nervous.

Being at home plugging away and looking for a job is not pleasant. Lots of people say “wow, I wish I had that sort of time!” But that is the ironic part of the situation. If we knew that we had a finite amount of free time and the money in which to enjoy it we would have a ball! When you know that it is free but expensive and uncertain, it is not so much fun.

It does force you to live in the moment. It’s much too stressful to continually contemplate an uncertain future so we are forced to just continue in the minutia of our day to day lives. It is hard to talk about it all the time so we just refer to it obliquely now and again and know that like a giant elephant it is in the room all the time. We have to walk around it and occasionally pretend that we don’t know its there.

It might end up being me that gets the job but that is a tricky one. It is hard for one person to live on a teacher’s salary let alone four! If I do take an international position we are making a very risky decision because should he find a job in that place we might be forced to stay there for far longer than we wanted. Many ask why we don’t just return to Canada and be safe and secure and enjoy the easy route. It is not as simple or as easy as that. Not to delve into specifics, but this is one of those times when we get to choose what kind of life we want.  We all struggle with the balance between what we want in life and what we get. However hard, the temptation to grow and explore and be different and prevent stagnation is stronger than anything else. Maybe we will have to play the price for that type of personal growth.

How I long for a crystal ball to tell us what to do!


Filed under Family Stuff

Home is where…


Funny thing about having a blog is the assumption that someone will read what I am writing when maybe they won’t.  To write into an empty vacuum, or diary is strangely less satisfying. There needs to be a chance, however slim that these words will be read in order to give them a voice.


When we first decided to move here I was strongly against it. A huge magnet was pulling me away from this place and keeping me safe in Montreal. I was at home for the first time in my life. Having never lived anywhere for more than 4 years, Montreal was the first place that had broken the spell. I couldn’t imagine the pain it would cause to peel myself away.  Now I am no longer hungering to go back. I miss it terribly and sometimes have days that I am so homesick it hurts, but I don’t want to go back. Not yet. This wander lust has crept inside of me and it feels terribly familiar. I grew up like the kids that I teach, tectonic plates of their lives constantly shifting, not knowing where is home. I am defined by moving and yet I long for a home.  Right now I am day dreaming about my dream house. It is a place I will return to each summer to put my head down and call home. It is where I will grow roots and my children will play outside on their land. It is a little patch on the planet that is all mine. It cannot be in city, it must be in the country and it must be by water.  


I want to be in Quebec, by a lake, close to people I love. 

Problem is this is an emotional choice. It doesn’t take into account the weather, the freezing lake, the other warmer choices that would be fabulous destination choices for all our loved ones. It also doesn’t take into account crippling taxes, expensive lives, job opportunities and beurocracy. How does one choose where is home?


When I was growing up I had no idea where home was.  I always longed for something that I didn’t know but could sense rather than feel.



When I lived in Winnipeg I felt very strange for a long time. I couldn’t explain it and just sensed that something with my soul was off kilter. It wasn’t something related to Happiness. One day it came to me in a flash that I felt land locked. I was just too far from the sea. I never felt this in Montreal because living there you are constantly aware of the water surrounding you. We were always crossing bridges over the st. Lawrence that I knew led directly to Europe.  Now here I live on a small island and I don’t really sense the sea. I know it is there but I sensed the lack of ocean far more than I feel it.

So I need to be near the ocean, or at least a stone’s throw from it. 


Next I worried about how spoilt I was being regarding cold weather. Can I really not put . up with it anymore?  Am  I not just being ever so slightly precious?  Living in a warm climate enables you to live outside. It is the quantity of time out side  that measures the difference with no outside dining or liming spot. In a Montreal summer we would never eat indoors.  With the right house I could do that forever!  9 months a year is spent indoors in Montreal. I do not want to live that again. I find being in a warm outdoor climate much healthier. Much happier. Much freer. 


So it must be warm, or at least very mild. Tropical is good too.

I want to be close to culture. If doesn’t have to be Western Civilization but it must have something to keep me interested and alert. How ever gorgeous a desert beach might be, I would get bored. I would especially like to go to art galleries and a museum now and again but I don’t need to live next door. A short train drive or even flight would be fine. There must be a good bookstore. I do not want to have to rely on Amazon every time I need a book.  Understanding the language helps a lot in this regard but I don’t want to exclude any beautiful Italian and Spanish places. But French or English is best, if we are talking long term. Also, some body there must be creating art and it can’t just be some 60’s throwback Hippie who never left. Not that those people can’t paint. Some can.


So a decent amount of culture within close range.


My children must be safe and well educated. This is a must and none of the above makes it if this one doesn’t. I do not want to be on edge all the time, looking over my shoulder and feeling just a little nervous and on guard. I feel that here and perhaps knowing that is knowing I could never stay here a life time. Every so often you arrive in a place and feel at peace, like you know you could stay forever, if you were asked to. I think the safely issue can stop this happening. A decent hospital and a strong rule of law helps.  If the police simply do not answer the phone we are in trouble.


So obviously safe.


I must love the people. I want them to be warm and welcoming and secure. If I can compare two nations I can always make some generalizations about the people. I have noticed this from being around so many different nationalities in my life. This does not mean they are not lovely, it just means I don’t work with them. Warm blooded Latinos or Italian Americans have always been my cup of tea. But Canadians are the kindest people in the world.


Need to like the Kind, warm people.


Now it comes down the tricky one. Food. Can I really live in a  place where I hate the food? I know I can cook for myself and I do but if I know that most of the restaurants serve sauwerkraut and sausages or Russian fish and potatoes it is hard to feel inspired. I do not need an American chain and would actually prefer not to have any but the local food should taste good, This is a bonus.


So now it should be simple to choose where is Home, right? 


Filed under I have two girls, Trinidad & Tobago

Put some fiction in that basket

The world is going to hell in a basket and I am hiding in my class room teaching Macbeth. While outside across an ocean or two the stock market is crashing, house prices are plunging and Iceland is trying to stave off bankruptcy I am immersing my students in the perils of a 12th century Scottish King. Strangely I am finding parallels.

In order to reach apodictic change the world needs to come crumbling down before it can start its steady climb back up again. It is part of the cycle of greed and respite. People need to stop buying cars and houses that they can’t afford and borrowing the hell out of banks, making other people rich. Once you jump deep into the well of consumption enough is never enough.

Macbeth who starts out tempted by the idea that being King would be grand ends up on a killing spree that no idea of hell can prevent. His greed infects him to the point that he sinks deeper into sin just to retain what he has gained, lest he think of obtaining more.  While the whole Kingdom seems to be turning against him he must safe guard his crown that was never rightfully his. And if his problems were not enough, his wife keeps telling him that he is not a “real man” and that only weak women worry about scruples and consequences.

Few 16 year old teenagers can think beyond their next algebra test or boyfriend crisis to find a link between Macbeth’s troubles and the present state of the world.  But some can. When it happens it is pure magic.

A great book or a great film can transport one out of the hell basket or drop one into a different one. Parallels can be drawn or life can be escaped but in any case hiding under my duvet with a fabulous book or sitting in a dark theatre before a celluloid screen is my absolute favorite thing to do.

I have seen two films in the last two days. Both these films made me feel like I had been dipped into a deep book. The camera took its time, pausing for long moments on a face, allowing the story to wash over us rather that pull us in and yank us back. Both these films were also desperately sad with stories of lost individuals searching for new lives to cover gently the memories that haunted them. Whether absorbed in these characters’s lives or talking about Macbeth and his choices I am reminded how important it is to turn to a fictional life to remind us that all dilemmas are really universal.

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Filed under Lying in bed with books, Miss Teacher