What if it Happened to You?

Sunday evening at about 6:33 pm (plus or minus a few seconds), the Evacuate Building Alarm in our apartment BLARED. By BLARE, I do not mean the annoying cricket sound of your household smoke alarm.

I mean foghorn blasting—BAAA-BAAA-BAAA-BAAA-BAAA—directly into our ears, Like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aNx-mAq0Hg

While our apartment building alarm does not come complete with a recorded “Please evacuate this building” message as does this Utube example, it registered loud and clear. Years of school  fire drill practices, and two personal housefire experiences, kicked in.  

I grabbed my purse, passports, Curtis (who wasn’t at all happy about being yanked away from his computer) and walked the seven flights downstairs and directly out the front door as we had been taught to do in all those school daze fire drills.

Hmmm Pirates of the Caribbean marauders might be welcome...

Hmmm Pirates of the Caribbean marauders might be welcome...

Of course, we were thinking—hoping--it was probably a false alarm. And, a part of us wondered if marauders were attaching the building again. Yes, marauders!

Our building stands at the edge of the sea, overlooking usually calm, innocuous, Gulf of Paria. A few years back, so the story goes (Curtis and I happened to be away at the time, but this is what Mimi & Brian told us): In the dead of night, marauders in boats—pirates perchance, drug runners more likely—tried to storm our building. Our keen eyed security guards spotted the approaching boats, threw on all the floodlights and set off the alarms, thus frightening the marauders away. Hooray!

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Needless to say, although my ears were plugged (Curtis’s weren’t…do not ask me why?), all senses were on high alert as we cautiously, quickly, yet calmly made our way down all those many flights. Here’s the weird thing: although ours is the central staircase in the building and each floor has about 10 apartments, we were the only people walking down.  Are we the only ones home this Sunday evening? I wondered. Could this be only a test of our Emergency Alarm System and everyone in the building but us had received the memo and thus were ignoring it? Did they know something we didn’t know?

Finally, as we rounded the 4th floor landing, we encountered a couple. “What’s happening?” They asked (I think. I did not unplug my ears to find out). “That’s the evacuation alarm,” I said, it what I know was my duh, what do you think, dummy voice, and continued onto the next flight down, hoping they’d follow our example.

The elder Chinese woman who lives on the 2nd floor and knows every single thing going on, was instead of leaving, walking back into her apartment when we rounded that curve, which made us think that it was indeed a false alarm. But there was no way we were going to back down—or, in this case, back up, especially as at the back up at this points was 6 flights.

The Emergency Alarm was still BLARING as we excited. After walking a safe distance from the building, we looked up to see what we could see.  The building wasn’t practically deserted. Far from it. Rather than evacuating, most of the occupants of the other apartments were hanging over the walkway railing, looking around and down, craning their necks to see what the heck was going on?

Think all these other apartments come equipped with rope ladders for emergency evacuation?

Think all these other apartments come equipped with rope ladders for emergency evacuation?

Watching them, watching us and each other and wondering, all I could think of was What if? Visions of Twin Tower victims jumping to escape the flames, of the balcony in Berkeley collapsing, of the earthquake damage in Kathmandu, of so many tragedies flashed through my mind.

As suddenly as it has sounded, the Emergency alarm stopped. With the residual siren still ringing in our ears, Curtis and I stood outside for a time. A few families, with children in pajamas, came strolling back into the apartment complex. They, more obedient that we, even, must have gathered at the Muster Point as per evacuation protocol. They smiled and nodded as they passed and we did too, all of us feeling as though we'd earned high marks on a pop quiz of sorts. This time, the Emergency Alarm had been only a test. But, What if

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Trinidad State of Mind

What inspires: The Trinidad State of Mind In Trinidad, "liming" is socializing; "wining" is dancing; both are national pastimes. And, I've noticed, although no longer property of the British Empire, residents still adhere to the motto "Keep Calm and Carry On."  TT whining Unlike in England, however, in a distinctly Trini way, the compound phrase has been split. Sometimes Trini's "keep calm" in the face of hardship, sometimes they "carry on".

And when the situation calls for it, as it did yesterday, Trinis do both!

Each weekend, thumping and bumping party boats set off from Port-of Spain on Trini-style versions of Gilligan's "Three Hour Tours." Packed with revelers intent on pursuing the national pastimes these "Booze Cruises" make their way "Down de Islands" (DDI for short), and back. TT booze cruise party boat Yesterday, being a usual Sunday afternoon, the air should have been alive with the sound of party boat revelry. But it wasn't. This morning, our friend and upstairs neighbor, Brian, sent news why. The usual Sunday afternoon party boat--aptly named the Harbour Master--packed with 504 passangers, ran aground. Seems whoever was at the helm failed to master his way around an artificial reef.

Imagining the scene, you might picture mayhem, bedlam, chaos . . . At the very least wailing, weeping, and threats of law suit. I did... But that is not the Trini way. TTS Hummingbird Among the passengers on board was a 25-year-old celebrating her birthday. Cassandra noted how the boat suddenly stopped and whoa-is-she "spilled her drink." She went on to say "The party continued and even when I left there there were still people dancing on the boat but we never felt unsafe....she and her friends never felt that they were in any danger since the lights of the capital were clearly visible." The owner of the boat seemed similarly unconcerned. He planned to wait for the next high tide and see what happened... Cassandra said, “This is Trinidad." Keep Calm and Carry On.

Here's the link to Trinidad Express story: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/540-rescued-220137561.html

SO FAR AND YET SO CLOSE . . .

** I can’t just push on with my usual day and let my guests fend for themselves, can I? Especially not in Trinidad where they can’t drive, the only place close enough to walk to is the mall—or around in a circle, and if they leave the building without a “fob” (of which there are only 2) they’ll be locked out forever and have to sleep under a car and catch a long green lawn lizard for lunch . . . What sort of host would that brand me?

Recently . . . okay, last October, sis-in-law Marilyn came to visit. I placed the TT Travel Guide on her bedside table, handed her a pad of sticky-notes and told her we could go anywhere in the book she wanted. (Being new to Trinidad myself, I’d never been anywhere in the book, either, so it would be an adventure for both of us.)

Yes, I did warn Marilyn that I’d already suffered 2 flat tires, run out of gas and driven on the wrong side of the street more than once, as well as the wrong way down a one-way. . .  Eternally “yar,” Marilyn rose to the challenge.

Our first few outings were timid enough: jaunts around town; up up up a scenic hill; over and around the mountains to the beach…on a narrow, shoulderless pitted roads . . . during a rainstorm. . . .

On the day of our last outing, Marilyn flipped to a sticky note which directed us South on the highway to a Hindu Temple, “Waterloo Temple in the Sea.” At high tide it’s surrounded by water; at low tide by mud flats. It serves as testament to Sewdas Sadhu, who built it, “single-handedly”--spell check doesn't like this word apparently, it suggested: highhandedly, underhandedly, offhandedly, evenhandedly--over a 25 year period, by carrying stones on his bicycles and preparing and dumping bucket after bucket of concrete on the seafloor at low tide to build the foundation.

According to the book, the way to the temple seemed fairly straight forward---it was NOT!  Others might have been tempted to turn back. Not us! If Sadhu could do what he did, we could, with air-conditioned confidence, find it!

Good thing we passed a “doubles” vendor on the side of the road, and hostess mindedness—and tummy growls—compelled me to crank a U-turn so Marilyn could try one of these fist-sized gloppy curried chick peas-drizzled-with-chutney-cucumber-and-pepper sauce (if desired)-sandwiched in fry bread morsels or we might still be looking . . .

It was low tide and the scene around the temple island was mudflat and religious relics mired in muck. Not the most photogenic, but inspiring none-the-less as they reminded Marilyn of something more she’d read in the guide book—the Chaguananas Pottery makers, where red clay is fashioned into all manner of pottery and fired in open wood-fueled kilns.

Although Southeast Asia is far from Trinidad—on the other side of the world--our visit to  Benny’s Pottery Works, “the oldest and most famous” of the traditional pottery workshops transported me right back to Java or India or Nepal. . . The methods are the same. The workers possess the same wiry builds, same stance with cigarettes dangling from their mouth, same quickness and expertise.

So far and yet  close . . .

*I’ll only say this one time, never again, and only way down here at the bottom of the post. So if you’ve read this far, this is to you: Forgive me for slacking on the blogging. Truth is I've been so busy "filling my writer's well" (as my friend Richard Harnett puts it) I haven't taken time to blog. Stick with me, I'll be better about it, promise???

If the Right Side's the Wrong Side What's Left?

So what if it meant driving on the other side of the road, in a strange car…I didn’t think driving in Trinidad would be a big deal. I drive rental cars in strange cities all the time. For the past 7 years I’ve been riding behind the driver on the wrong side of the road in Indonesia. That would get a person used to that side of the road, wouldn’t it? But everyone else said it would be a big deal. And then they started making a big deal out of me not having driven yet. So…

Thursday I bit the bullet and dragged myself out of bed when the alarm buzzed—before light—so I could drive Curtis to work. You know how those “brilliant” ideas sound so good the night before… I packed my walking shoes so I could drop him, walk the Savannah and be home before my usual morning even began. The Savannah is a circular park across the street from the BPTT Office (BP Trinidad). FYI: At 3 miles-around, it’s the largest round-about in the world (Guinness Book of World Records concurs.)

Traffic circles the Savannah one way, thus eliminating concerns about which way to set off. It’s a simple matter of going with the flow—and if need be, keep going around and around— until I became accustomed enough with driving from the passenger side to attempt turning onto a 2-way.  Surely the 3 miles once around the Savannah would be enough?

It’s not just a matter of driving on the opposite side of the road; the driver also sits on the other side of the car. In theory, driving from the passenger side seems simple. Don’t we all mentally drive when riding shotgun? What you don’t think about is the feeling of having cars so close to your right side when you’ve always driven with the traffic close on the left. Maybe it’s knowing if you stick your head a little too far out the driver’s side window an oncoming car could easily rip it right off with its side mirror….

The entire instrument panel is flipped, so the radio are on the other side, the gear control is on the other side, and, as I discovered when I flipped the indicator to signal I was pulling out, so is the windshield wiper lever. If this is any indication, I’m  going to have a very clean windshield.

One Way to Meet the Neighbors

My first day in our new Trinidad apartment. I promised myself to take it easy, lay low, just hang out and get acclimated. It has been six weeks since I’d left Jakarta, since I’d fully unpacked and been on my own.  I had no intention of meeting anyone, or even leaving the apartment…none.

Last night, Curtis picked me and my mound of luggage up at the airport in our new rental car. It was his first long drive on the wrong side of the road, in an unfamiliar city (and only got lost once.)

I turned on the music, opened the drapes and doors so I could look out at the ocean and enjoy the non-existent breeze. it was muggy and hot. And began puttering. A few hours later, a sudden tropical storm validated my decision to stay inside. So I pressed on with the unpacking and checking email.

An advantage to living higher up is I could see out, but no one could see in and I could feel easy about leaving the doors open. A disadvantage is not being able to step outside to shake a rug or, in my case, shake out my suitcase. Undaunted, I hoisted the bag over the balcony and began shaking.

I should have checked the bag better. Along with the crumbs and grit I tossed out the lock.  I heard it clink against the ground.

I considered just leaving the lock there. No one would know it was mine, would then? It could have been from any of the many stories above me, couldn’t it? Or fallen from someone’s pocket. After all, doesn’t everyone walk around with luggage locks in their pockets?

That lock glinted up at me like a guilty secret, niggling & nudging. I finally gave in, pulled on clothes, wet down my hair, found my shoes and the ring of keys Curtis had made a point of showing me last night and set out on my first foray into La Rivera.

I made my way down the hall, down the stairs and into the lobby. There was a woman at the front desk and a worker in the front hall, which smelled strongly of vinegar.  I skittered past them with my face averted, pretending I knew exactly where I was going and was in a big hurry to get there. I stepped out the front door and marched off. But  to where?

Our balcony, as do all the others, faces the water. The entry and parking lot faced the opposite direction. I walked a bit in one direction, then the other, hoping to find an entry to the water-side of the building. But there didn’t appear to be one. So I did an about face, returned to the entry and pulled the door…

Locked.

I tried one key, then another, and the other. None fit.

Now what? Had Curtis forgotten to tell me how to get back into the building once the door clicked closed during his key lecture? Or had I forgotten to listen?

I could walk to the store and go shopping for a few hours—4 or 5 or however long it would be before Curtis came home…

However there were a few flaws in that plan: I didn’t have any money.

Or a phone.

I was dressed in scruffies (at least I’d thought twice about slipping downstairs in my nightgown)  and hadn’t even bothered to brush my teeth.

And the lock was still outside on the patio beneath ours.

So I took a deep breath and knocked. And knocked. And jiggled the door handle. And peered in through the glass like a homeless waif seeking shelter.

Finally a woman took pity on me and opened the door a crack. There was no way she was letting me in without an explanation. So I introduced myself and explained my situation. The woman gave me a tight-lipped smile and explained how the key pad worked, then pulled the door closed without letting me through.

She stood on the inside watching through the glass while I tried it myself. She as watching for that green “approved” light to come on. (I have no doubt she would have left me standing out there all day, all night, all tomorrow if that green “approved” light hadn’t come on.)

Fortunately, I passed the test and pushed open the door. Her smile widened and she introduced herself as “Marilyn” then graciously showed me through the foyer to the pool door and explained how those locks worked, too.

After that, all I had to do was make my way around to the back side of the building, counting balconies—which all looked the same—until I came to mine (I recognized it because the door was open).

The door to the apartment directly below ours was open, too. A man was hunched over pulling weeds in the yard—a few feet from the lock which was feet from the open door. I smiled, mumbled “hello” and skittered past him to scoop up the lock. Suitcase crumbs, like confetti, littered the patio around the lock.  It wouldn’t have been so noticeable if the rest of the patio hadn’t been conspicuously debris-free. Had the man been out here when I dumped the suitcase? Had he seen the crumbs rain down like Chicken Little’s sky falling?

I now know 2 people in the building: One who may forever refer to me as the loony lady in 2c with questionable breath, and the other who may never go through his door again without an umbrella to protect him from falling litter.

How's that for the 1st day.