If you live in Trinidad, or in some other tropical country, I want you – for the next three months, every day when you wake up – to thank the deity of your choice that you do not have to put up with Winter. (The W of winter is ideally capitalized because I take his ill treatment personally.)
If, like me, you live in the diaspora, and, like me, you chose to live in extreme northern latitudes, you’ll know how much harder it is to thank deities on mornings, when you can hardly feel your toes.
Every morning, I open my front door and step onto the main road, and my face is gripped with a cold hand that bends its way from the river, turns right at the Thai restaurant on the corner, ignores oncoming traffic, and grabs me, every day. And every day, I remember the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent” – one of only two quotes that have stuck with me from CXC Literature (the other of course being Tiger’s sage reminder that “what is to is must is” from the novel A Brighter Sun).
In the discontent of my winter, it is all too easy to wonder if I, as a Trinidadian, am just not cut out for this climate.
Winter is not something that is easily comprehensible for us Trinidadians. Our responses will likely be unpredictable, and, in some cases, may be irrational, because we weren’t hard-wired with the necessary coping mechanisms.
Our prams weren’t pushed with a layer of thick clear plastic meant to block out the chilly wind, and, when the bell rang for lunch at school, we didn’t spend time donning layers just to go outside to make mischief. We threw crumbled Orchard juice boxes, not snow balls.
“Ice cold” was used only as a descriptor for coconut water. A warm drink was a snow cone that had been left to melt and snow was just that – something that you got in a Styrofoam cup ‘round the Savannah. Chills were when you were building sand castles on Maracas, and your wicked, little sister poured a pail of water over your head because she was angry you didn’t let her help.
This lack of schooling in the art of winter management meant that when I first moved to London, I would wake up to get ready for work, enter the bathroom, and stare at the toilet seat for a few minutes trying to decide whether it was worth planting my Caribbean butt on a seat that I was sure was in cahoots with the gaps in the window frame next to it. I am only marginally ashamed to say that during my first week, I exclusively used the bathroom at work. I was conquered every day by an inanimate object.
Taking a shower or washing dishes was equally distressing, until I learnt the trick to getting hot water – turn the tap, as quickly as possible, as far as it can go.
One year later, sinks are still an issue, and it still baffles me that there is a hot-water pipe, which is hot enough to make coffee with, and a separate cold water tap, which I have been told is piped directly from melting glaciers in Greenland. Warm water, therefore, is simply not possible unless you wish to fill your basin, and scoop it out to wash your face like a monkey would.
Even sleeping was a challenge at first. When uncomfortable, my instinct was to flip my pillow, as in Trinidad. Your head warms one side and you turn over to a cooler respite. Flipping the pillow I soon discovered to be an icy mistake.
Even breakfast (that first week) was reformed. Toast was favoured because I could wait for it with hands warming over the toaster. And juice or tea became a legitimate question with the hotter beverage frequently taking preference more…and…more.
Put simply, I faced culture shock. I, who pride myself in being a flexible traveller, experienced in adapting and assimilating was now made low. There was suddenly something new and terrible that I couldn’t outsmart and couldn’t escape from. There was a dark cloud that I knew for a fact would linger for months.
Heading into my second winter, in what Lord Kitchener aptly termed the mother country, I still dislike the cold weather, but I’ve come to appreciate that while winter can provide for miserable moments, it stimulates a poignant reflection on the nature of our world and our lives.
Winter is a challenge and an opportunity to see that in life you will invariably be confronted with periods of coldness and hardship. And that with patience, grit and a sense of humour, you can get make it to your springtime – your time to bloom and grow. And once you’ve grown, you’re ready for your summer, when you’re in your element and glowing.