Friday, March 16, 2012

Greener Grass

Just one of many pieces of Trinidad-themed merchandise I'd been known to (proudly) wear on Labor Day.

In the last 6 years, I've found myself on the receiving end of all sorts of interesting questions from a wide range of people who are honestly curious about me, my upbringing and – most importantly – the fabled land of opportunity in which I was raised.

The curiosity is usually genuine, so I try to ignore the fact that I sometimes feel like a Martian when folks ask if I’d ever had roti before I came here (of course) or a psychic when they ask if I know some random person who also happened to live in Flatbush once upon a time (of course not). The fact that most of the questions range from the amusing to the absurd keeps me in good spirits while I explain that driving on the left is not a problem for me because I never learned to drive on the right and that I am never ever going to learn the metric system, no matter who says it’s better. (The Queen can kiss my 10-inch foot)

The question that bugs me, though, is the one I seem to get most frequently (and usually from those who don’t know me well enough to know why they shouldn’t ask): “Why would you EVER come back here?” This question is usually followed by a declaration along the lines of “If I lived abroad, I’d NEVER come back” and a list of all the reasons why America (or any other country, really) is a million times better than T&T.

Leaving aside the fact that most of these folks get their impressions of the US from episodes of the “Real Housewives” series and “Kim and Khloe Take NY”, there are several reasons why this makes me want to grind my teeth:

1. The grass is not always greener. Don’t get me wrong, NY will always be home to me and I can’t wait to go back and visit. It's awesome. Still, those picturing the high life on the Upper East Side will be pretty surprised when they find themselves renting a basement studio with leaky plumbing for the cost of a Westmoorings apartment.

2. There are 11 Federal holidays in the US. Depending on where you work, maybe three of those will be guaranteed days off. Compare this to T&T, which has 14 public holidays, all of which are pack-your-stuff-and-get-to-the-beach days.

3. The weather. If no part of your body has ever felt so cold that it burned, you cannot comprehend winter. Yes, snow is pretty … for about 5 minutes. Then cars drive on it, people walk on it and dogs pee on it. Within an hour, it’s a dirty slushy mess that you have to fight your way through to get to work. And you do have to go to work, because (short of an apocalyptic blizzard) there’s no such thing as a snow day when you’re a grown-up. Unless, of course, you’d like to find someone else doing your job tomorrow. I'd never in my life heard of staying home due to rain before I came here.

4. There is no American equivalent for the concept of a “bligh”. Try explaining it to a New Yorker and see. Better yet, try explaining it to a member of the NYPD after you get caught speeding down a highway shoulder to cut out all that rush hour traffic. Don't forget to post the video on YouTube!

5. Most importantly: In the 16 years I lived in NY, every adult I met who was born and raised in Trinidad missed home. Every one. They all had fond memories and they all dreamt of returning some day. They all had tacky T&T-shaped knickknacks around their apartments (including the obligatory brass steel pan souvenir) and, come Labor Day, they’d all be on the Parkway decked out in red, black and white from head to toe.

You can’t imagine my surprise at learning how few of these types of Trinidadians actually live in T&T. Apparently, we have to go abroad to appreciate what we have here at home. And then, when one of us actually manages to return, all we hear from the folks back home is how’d they’d never come back  if they had a choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that NY isn’t a great place to live (it is, after all, the center of the world) or that T&T is paradise (it ain’t). I’m just saying that there’s something very strange about the fact that so many here are desperate to flee the country while so many there are dreaming of returning home.

I’m also saying that the next one to ask why I would be crazy enough to come back home had better duck.

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