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A true-true Trini comes home

Published: 
Monday, February 28, 2011
DEBBIE JACOB

Dear Madame Prime Minister, my daughter is flying in for Carnival this Thursday. Oh, how I wish you could meet Ijanaya, Madame Prime Minister. She is young, only 23, but she represents her country well.
She is unique, but she embodies the heart and soul of Trinidad and Tobago. I am so proud that she is a true-true Trini. Since she was in primary school, Ijanaya has found a way to shine. Her diligence and enthusiasm earned the admiration of her teachers. She was always so well organised and committed to learning. She wouldn’t bathe or eat or play until all of her homework was finished. At the end of primary school, I told her she could come to the International School, where I taught English, but Ijanaya was determined to go to Bishop Anstey High School. She wanted to be an environmental lawyer.

In school, she was always a team leader; always the girl who rallied students in a group project and encouraged them to produce their best work. She loved the feeling of group success, and she never sought accolades for herself. When she learned she had a 50 per cent chance of getting into the secondary school of her choice to do A-Levels and about a 30 per cent chance to get into law school, she said, “This makes no sense. I’m working harder and harder to see my chances decrease.” She decided to be a flight attendant because she could create the first impression of T&T that visitors would experience.

“It is an important job,” she told me, her devastated mother, who had counted on her going to university. “It is a way to serve my country,” she said. I could not argue with her. I believed in letting her make her own decisions, and I felt my job as a mother was to support her dreams. Ijanaya made history, being one of the youngest flight attendants in the last batch of BWIA flight attendants. She truly believed that she could help save BWIA. “All it takes,” she once told me, “is everyone working hard to save our national airline.” She saw the airline through to the end of an era.

Graciously and happily, she turned her attention to Caribbean Airlines.  Never bitter or cynical, she dedicated herself to the success of the new airline. Because she always received rave reviews, she was not worried about being laid off, and so she was shocked when her contract finally came to an end. Still searching for a way to serve her country, Ijanaya then poured her heart and soul into local filmmaking where her organisational skills were put to good use as a producer working for Danielle Dieffenthaller.
With Danielle, she discovered her passion: fashion. After much deliberation, Ijanaya decided to attend the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT) in Tampa, Florida. A disheartening experience with tertiary education in Trinidad forced that decision.

Ijanaya missed T&T desperately when she began university. She longed for warmth: the beach, roti and soca.  One day I was so disheartened by her tears I said, “You can come home whenever you need to—even if it’s just for the weekend.” Financially speaking, I don’t know how I could have ever kept that promise, but the promise alone helped Ijanaya to settle in school. Ijanaya threw herself into her school work, always expressing the desire to come home some day to design masquerade bands. At the school fashion show last year, she represented Trinidad well, topping 38 designers to earn the prize for the most marketable fashion with her very Caribbean collection. It was clear that her heart and soul was—and would always be—West Indian.

Well, Madame Prime Minister, Ijanaya is packed and ready to come home to play mas. She needed to touch down, soak up her roots and revel in her Trini Carnival before proceeding with her internship which will carry her to China and Hong Kong at the end of this month. I can’t help but wonder, Madame Prime Minister, how many other young citizens like Ijanaya will be stepping off a plane this week. There are so many young people eager to return home some day to work and contribute to their country. They need to feel welcome; they need to feel like there is a place here for them some day. I hope that Ijanaya will carry away visions of Carnival mas—with its glittering beads and soft, flowing feathers—and combine them with a dream of what mas could be in the future.  I hope that she will delve into her history and always remember her roots. I hope that she can hang on to her dream of making her country a better place, and I hope that she will always frame her dreams in a Trini setting. I pray that the powers that be remember how important it is to nurture the creative spirit that has somehow magically defined our children. Our children are our future. I have always known that and believed in it with all my heart. I hope that Ijanaya will always find her way back home.

THOUGHTS

I can’t help but wonder, Madame Prime Minister, how many other young citizens like Ijanaya will be stepping off a plane this week.

There are so many young people eager to return home some day to work and contribute to their country.

They need to feel welcome; they need to feel like there is a place here for them some day.

I hope that Ijanaya will carry away visions of Carnival mas—with its glittering beads and soft, flowing feathers—and combine them with a dream of what mas could be in the future.