Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Improved French ..

In a comment on yesterday's post, Kikipotamus wondered if spending eight days among French speakers improved my French.

I am eight days better off than I would have been without it. Now, whenever I think in French, I hear a French accent in my head ... and in since the past eight days I've noticed my r's naturally sound different (when speaking French). This is what happens when one becomes immersed in another language, even if just for a few days. It seeps in like water into a sponge and before you know it, you are picking it up - either vocabulary, slang, intonation, pronunciation or all of the above. That's how we learned to speak as babies.

Yesterday driving down the highway I was speaking aloud to myself in French, practising natural, smooth speed of delivery, rather than the sometimes slow, deliberate effort of one learning a language. Suddenly it occurred to me that although I was speaking French, I was doing so with my usual English-speaking intonations.


If a French person says: "Merci!" ... they seem to stress the 'e' and say it all very quickly.

I tend to say: "Merci" with the stress on the 'i' and the 'i' going up in pitch. And I say it slower and more laid back.

This evening we will get the results of our French mid-term exams. I'm looking forward to what I think will be a hilarious class ... as we once again hear about skiing with food, chefs crashing into trees, big north winds and lost sheep.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Back to work

Pans on stage at Queens Hall.
The French crew was working on a documentary about Andy N.

Not that being with the French crew wasn't work of another kind ... but as of this morning they are gone and I will return to my own work, which I had put aside for the past few days.

Now I will return to:
(i) The HIV documentary
(ii) Creating some music for a series

It was worth it to step away from my 'routine' and be immersed in something else for a while. Without leaving Trinidad, I visited another country, met new people and refreshed my perspective.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

T & T at your service

It's always interesting to hear what stands out most for people who are visiting Trinidad and Tobago for the first time. In my experience, most people say what stands out first/most is the green (the trees, the mountains, etc). However, lately, within the space of a fortnight, two first-timers have mentioned something to me about TT which all of us experience on a daily basis. It is everywhere and it is obviously glaring, even to visitors.

This unfortunate thread in the fabric of our nation is not garbage, it's not crime and it's not traffic.

The other day on the way down south, Katie and I were talking about Toronto and TT. I asked her what stood out as being different to her about TT as opposed to TO. Interestingly, she first mentioned the service. She said that whereas in Toronto you almost have to ask people to stop being nice to you, in TT she has been experiencing the opposite: women in shops staring at her with silent, sour faces as she requests assistance ... women in stores sticking to her and following her closely around the store even when she tells them she is just looking.

Recently one of the members of the French crew said to me: "Spec, is it normal when you go into a store that people are so unfriendly?" He proceeded to tell me that when he has been into stores, the attendants look sour and don't show much interest in his questions. In one case the woman didn't answer him at all when he spoke and after purchasing an item the cashier practically threw the money at him. (He illustrated with a sharp flick of the wrist as he spoke).

Perhaps those who live here are 'used' to this kind of 'service'. Most people brush it off and accept it as 'the norm' or explain it away with that cliché line that excuses anything unacceptable in this country: "Buh dis is Trinidad!"

1. Stick closely to customers and follow them around the store even when repeatedly asked not to
2. Have long, loud personal conversations, arguments or intimate love trysts on the phone while the customer waits indefinitely for you to attend to him/her
3. Stare at the customer with a sour or, at best, expressionless face when approached
4. Mumble incoherently when answering the customer's questions
5. Move slowly and reluctantly, emitting a long, loud, tired sigh when getting something for the customer
6. Remember that "I eh known nah" is a useful answer that can be applied to any question

These reasons and more are why when I do encounter good customer service I make sure and let the person know it.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mon amie Zoe

Hier soir pendant le shoot j'ai encontré une nouvelle amie, Zoe:
Yesterday evening during the shoot I met a new friend, Zoe:Elle est plein d'amour.
She is full of love.
Je me couches.
Zzzzzzzzzzzz ...


Friday, October 26, 2007

Mon ami le chien

I made a new friend on the shoot today.Regardez-moi! Je suis belle.
Look at me! I am beautiful.
(Although I don't think French people say: "Fromage" when taking pics. I wonder what they say ...)
Gros bisous, s'il vous plait!
Lots of kisses, please!
Je suis fatiguée maintenant.
I am tired now.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A big north wind, Elspeth

(l to r) Cédric, Laurent, Witold shooting an interview today
I have spent the past two days and nights immersed in French (being with the French crew et des autres qui parlent le français). However, after tonight's French midterm exam I wonder how far this two-day immersion has advanced me upon the road to mastering the language!

I laughed so much after the exam that I had to go 'faire pipi' (a.k.a. wee wee). Even driving home after the exam, I was literally collapsing on the steering wheel in fits of mirth, remembering the bizarre things we (the students) had discussed after the exam ... i.e. the incorrect things we had written on our papers.

The first part of the exam was a written exercise - we had to write a letter to a friend 'thanking her for letting you stay at her house during your holidays, talking about your journey', etc etc etc. Ironically, just before the exam, I was flicking through the vocab at the back of the French text and saw "Gros Bisous" (lots of love/a big kiss) - which goes at the end of a letter. So in the exam, I ended my letter with what I thought I remembered it to be. I confidently put: "Gros bises, Elspeth."

Ooops! Feeling after the exam that what I had signed off with was incorrect, I checked the meaning of 'bises' ... to find that it means 'north winds' (according to Babelfish)! But elsewhere it seems to mean 'kisses'.

The second part of the exam was a listening comprehension about a man who went skiing with his aunt and cousin. At some point in the passage the man had a skiing accident and crashed into a tree. One of the questions asked what had caused the accident. The answer was that it was very foggy. However, I heard brouyant (noisy) instead of brouillard (fog) ... so my answer was "he heard a loud noise and crashed into the tree". Some of the other students said he was eating while skiing (even writing this I am cracking up!) They had heard the word "cousine" (cousin) and thought it was cuisine (food). ... i.e. they heard that he was skiing with his 'cuisine' (food).

One other woman heard 'cuisine' and thought it meant cook. So in her version of the story he was skiing with a chef when he crashed!

The other two parts were written comprehension (that was okay) and then speaking (that part was perhaps the best). One thing I know for sure ... our teacher will certainly have a good laugh when marking those papers!

I guess we'll get our results next week.


Monday, October 22, 2007

My French adventure

Not sure how much I will be able to blog over the next eight days or so, but I will when possible. I said yes to an e-mail requesting an assistant for a French film crew coming to TT to shoot a documentary. I said yes mainly because I saw it as an opportunity to speak French every day - more than for the 'job' itself. E.g. if it was an English speaking crew I don't think I would have been drawn to the opportunity, especially as I have other things to do. In fact, because I have other things to do, I wasn't going to do this, but then I weighed my Libran scales and decided to go with the French impulse. It's like what I said the other day about attracting or being attracted by something that relates to what you are doing (e.g. now that I'm doing French).

One thing leads to another. I'm sure it will be interesting and a learning experience. They arrive tonight.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Miracles in the making

We are going down deep south today to film/interview "Mary" and her son. This will be Karishma's maiden voyage and, true to her name, I'm sure she will work miracles.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Mints on the Mount

Yesterday evening I went walking up Mt St Benedict with a friend. I used to do it practically every evening, but having not done it in a while, my muscles are hurting today.

When we got to the church we decided to go in. The place was unusually quiet, perhaps because it was nearing 6 p.m. and the monks, who would normally be preparing to chant around then, were not around.

Walking around inside the church, I noticed a KC dinner mint laid at the feet of the small statue of St. Ann and the child (Jesus?) The side of the mint facing me said "I love you." As always, curious to see what was on the other side, I turned it around: Patience.

I told my friend to go and look at it and I went outside to see if the circular rainbow we had seen on the way up was still there. She came outside and said: "You know there was another mint by the St. Joseph statue. It said: Let me be the one."

Obviously someone was offering KC dinner mint prayers.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007


Furry caterpillar above my eye,
Will you become a butterfly?


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Un rendezvous dans la pharmacie

Is it that the more we do or think something the more it appears in our lives because we are attracting it? Or is it that it's there but we just notice it because we've been doing it or thinking about it?

Now that I am doing French that is happening to me with French-speaking people.

Yesterday I went to the pharmacy to post two pieces of mail. A man before me was putting a letter addressed to Canada in the mailbox. I then heard him ask the post lady something with what sounded like a French accent.

“Français?!” I asked him, excited at the opportunity to parler avec qulequ’un.



He laughed and told me in French that he is not ‘a false French’ … implying that French-Canadians are not ‘real’ French people. I brushed that off as the France-French being haughty and thinking their version of French is superior.

We stood up talking for about five minutes in French. I did quite well for myself, ‘parler-ing’ avec lui. Originally he had been in Trinidad as the project manager for construction of a hospital here (MH). Then he had returned to France … and then back to Trinidad, where he now lives. I asked him how come and he said: “Je suivais une femme.” (I was following a woman).

“Bien sur!” I replied.

He gripped my arm and told me (in French) that Trinidad women “can pull the world”. Les femmes Trinidadienne tienent le monde, I think it was. Then (also in French) he added: “But they are impossible to export!”

“You mean you can't get them to leave Trinidad?” I asked.


“Je suis differente,” I told him.

He squeezed my arm, laughed and said something that I didn’t understand but didn’t bother to ask him to repeat. Instead I said “Enchanté” and "merci" and we exchanged our goodbyes.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Indigenous people unite

One of the indigenous delegates from Guyana
This morning I went to Arima after seeing in the papers that there was to be a celebration of indigenous people at Arima Town Hall (part of the indigenous celebrations taking place all week). There are indigenous delegates from Latin America, The Caribbean and Canada here to take part in these celebrations. The Canadian delegates opened this morning's ceremony with a sacred performance to invoke our ancestors. The man played a beautiful flute (one like I’d never seen before) while two little girls (his daughters?) shook small rattles and the woman (his partner/their mother?) read a prayer: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
One of the indigenous Canadian delegates
The ceremony started an hour later than advertised and, having other things to do, I unfortunately had to leave early. But I was there long enough to experience the opening prayer, stand for the national anthems of each country present (TT, Belize, Guyana, Canada, Dominica, Puerto Rico), listen to a few short talks and witness the giving of gifts (from Dominica and Canada). Being there reminded me of a striking dream I had had last year about my experience with an Amerindian girl.

On behalf of indigenous people everywhere, the leader from Dominca said something very true ... about land having been ‘granted to the Caribs in Dominica’. As he said, how can land be ‘granted’ to you when it belonged to you in the first place?!

On Friday morning I will go to their healing workshop. Being part indigenous myself (Carib) I may pick up an ancestral thing or two.


My new face

Jason would be proud.
(I got to bring my mask home)
The other day my friend Nisha, an esthetician, asked me if I would be one of her models (yesterday) for day two of a beauty demonstration at the Marriott. A new line of natural herbal facial products from France (if I am correct) was being launched/tested by estheticians here. I was put to lie on a massage bed and covered in saffron-coloured blankets. There were several other beds in the room with other female models on them - each with her own esthetician standing at her head (to work on the face using the products).

I'm probably getting the names of the products wrong, but basically this was it: First I experienced a herbal alpha hydroxy (?) deep peel. Various cool, creamy, great-smelling substances were lathered and pasted onto my face, either with Nisha's fingers/hands or with paintbrushes. Nish also gives a great head and face massage while doing it, so I was getting a double treat. Or rather ... a triple treat, since during the break between treatments she brought me freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (hot out of the oven).

After all of that I experienced the deep hydration of the hemp products. My face was coated with this hot paste which, when dry and cool, hardened into the mask you see above. Some women (estheticians) at a table next to my bed made me laugh and the mask cracked ... (I guess this is where the phrase 'to crack up' comes from). Anyway, if you know how cooling it feels to put cucumbers on your eyes ... that mask treatment felt like having cucumbers on my whole face, soaking in deeply and filling the cells with moisture. It was really refreshing and hydrating!

While lying on the bed I got the chance to parler un peu avec one of the representatives who is from France. Quite timely, as I was on my way to French class after the facial.

To cut the story short ... afterwards my face was glowing and radiant and I definitely felt as though the products had seeped deeply into my cells, hydrating them. Perhaps it was Nisha's healing fingers and the massage of my third eye and crown, but my whole spirit also felt hydrated as I drove home.

If you want a facial that gives you not only a new face but a radiant spirit, Nish is the woman to go to ... and those new herbal products are worth a try!


Monday, October 15, 2007

Do not ignore

Lately I have been ignoring my inner voice. This throws me off balance and can make me feel horrible and confused ... to know that something I felt/sensed was true and I did not pay attention to it.

Today after I woke up and meditated, I said a little prayer that I would increasingly be able to hear the guidance and that I will trust it again. I asked for a sign to let me know.

I was going walking for papers and decided to go for the longer walk around the University, which I have not done in a while. As I walked, a strident thought came out of nowhere: "I will find a puppy now."

As I neared the exact spot where I had found Rainbow earlier this year, a cute brown puppy wearing a blue collar appeared. It gamboled around the legs of a man who was strolling by, but he was ignoring it. I asked him if it was his and he said no. I asked two other people (a guard and a cleaner) nearby and they had no idea who it belonged to or where it had come from. I deduced that it must have been terrified by the recent spate of thunder and had fled from its home, as many dogs do.

The pup was frisking around so close to the cars on the mainroad ... and I didn't want to return from my walk and see it crushed. I told the cleaner I would take the pup home, take some photos of it, make flyers and stick them around ... and hopefully the owner would be see them and contact me.

The cleaner said: "Yes, do dat. Dat ent no pothong, yuh know! Dat is ah good breed!"

I told her that doesn't make a difference. Trinis feel that you should only put effort into saving or owning a dog if it is 'a breed'. Just like how people referred to Rainbow as 'only a street pigeon'. That doesn't make her less than a pigeon sold in pet shops. To make the point: can pigeons in petshops play the thumb piano and sing the way Rainbow did?

Anyway, I left the pup playing with the cleaner and the guard and continued on my walk, intending to pick it up on my way back. Upon my return, the pup was not there.

"Where is it?" I asked the cleaner.

"Me eh know. It was playing an' I turn my back an' it gone."

Another guard standing nearby said: "Dat was your dog?"

I told him it wasn't, but that I was going to take it home so it would be safe, make flyers, try and find the owner, etc.

He said: "Well a man came jes now and take it. It mus' be he own."

I walked off, thinking about how the puppy had 'appeared' and 'disappeared' ... and it suddenly occurred to me that the puppy was a sign. It was as if it had been put there ... not for me to rescue and take home ... but simply to remind me that when my inner voice speaks loudly, I can trust it.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gathering space

Today is one of those days when I feel I'll be cleaning, clearing and throwing physical things away. (Maybe it's time for another Wonderful One Dollar Sale) It's uncanny ... no matter how often I clear out, there always seems to be more!

I specifically asked my friends to not give me physical gifts for my b'day. Only to celebrate with me at home and abroad and grant wishes for immaterial gifts - the ones that cannot be bought and which tremendously enhance life without taking up space and gathering dust.

Of course one or two of my friends still did give me physical gifts (in addition to the wishes). One friend gave me a book and said: "Even though I know that after you read it you'll give it away ..."


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sensitivity and stigma

Yesterday I went down deep South to have an initial conversation with an HIV positive woman (I'll give her the fictitious name Mary, even though she is 'open'). I had been put onto her through an HIV/AIDs support group, for the purposes of the documentary I've been contracted to work on. A young woman from Toronto (Katie) who is here for a few months doing work with HIV/AIDs is interested in working with me on the project, so she came as well. I'm glad for the help.

Having any more than two people working on this would feel too invasive, I think. Speaking with people in the intimacy of their homes. People who would ordinarily be 'invisible', 'hidden' or 'hiding' will open up and trust us in a short space of time. The issue is already so sensitive, especially in a place like TT where stigma and discrimination are high. The challenges that have arisen as a result of the extreme sensitivity have caused the angle of the project to shift from what it was originally 'mandated' to be.

We reached to Mary's little house at about 2 p.m. and didn't leave until 5 p.m., as she talked candidly about her life experiences and feelings. Meanwhile, rain, thunder and lightning abounded outside. I didn't take Karishma, so nothing was recorded. We will return next week with the camera.

Mary is a strong woman, honest and open, hiding nothing. Her spirit and personality are visible in her eyes which stand out from her skinny frame with pride and determination. She was extremely helpful, making many phone calls while we were there, rounding up people with whom we could speak upon our return.

I noticed that at the end of every call she would say a warm: "I love you".

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Just popping in to mention that all is well, but I have not been feeling particularly bloggy over the past few days.

Just like my birthday (7 Oct) was wonderful in many ways ... but it is beyond words and pictures ... so I did not take any photos and won't try to recount it in words.

Just now I am leaving to go down Point Fortin to speak with a woman, for the contracted project I am about to begin now (video project on children infected/affected by HIV/AIDs). This project was supposed to have started since June (!!!), but nothing before its time I suppose ...


Monday, October 08, 2007


Thank You
Thank You
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Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
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Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
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Thank You
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Thank You
Thank You
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Thank You
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Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You
Thank You


Saturday, October 06, 2007


Je n'ai pas mots.

Bon weekend, tout le monde.


Friday, October 05, 2007

A handy Beginning

It's a photo of a large hand holding a little hand ... and my hand holding the photo of the large and little hands.

Got a lovely Beginning from M. Coffey of Frisco, TX today. See above photo.

Here's what she wrote over the photo:

The Beginnings of:
Love, respect, strength, self-esteem, loyalty, admiration, support, beauty, pride, ability, encouragement, inspiration, chivalry, adoration, understanding, LIFE.

Thank you, M. Coffey! What great sentiments... and timely, as my birthday is two days away. As I read each word, I felt: "Wow, these are my birthday gifts ..."


So be it

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"Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path ... exactly where you are meant to be right now ... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love."

Caroline Adams

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Taking the plunge

Photo by Robyn Renée

I got another Beginning from Robyn Renée in Canada yesterday afternoon. The photo is lovely, as you can see. Wouldn't mind doing that right now, especially as it's so HOT today!

On the back she says: "For three months this summer I worked at a children's camp. This is how we began our day."

Looks like a great way to begin (and end!) a day to me.



The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you;
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want;
Don't go back to sleep.

- Rumi -

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

And the 2007 winner is ...

With national elections in the air, some may read what I am about to announce and think: "But this is like Patrick Manning deciding to do away with elections, bold-facedly telling the nation that PNM is back in power and that he has chosen himself to be Prime Minister!" But no, it's not like that at all, thank God.

I am seeing my announcement purely from the basis of Love. You can only really love another/others when you can love and appreciate yourself fully. So, in complete love, honour and appreciation of myself, I hereby elect myself as the Happy Hippy Hero for 2007.

I have carefully read the criteria and believe that I am worthy of this prestigious award. There is no corruption or 'bobol' involved and my granting of this award is 100% transparent (I am openly telling you that I am giving it to myself this year).

1. Nominee must be born in T & T (or must be a citizen) and must be currently living in T & T
2. Someone whose work or continued contribution has one or all of the following: a positive, healing, empowering, uplifting, progressive impact on our society and/or environment - on a micro or macro level. (Does not have to be a member of an NGO, CBO, etc. May also be an 'everyday' person or ‘regular citizen’ who regularly goes about doing good deeds without thought of recognition or reward).
3. Someone who, in spite of financial and/or other obstacles, continues to believe in good and work tirelessly towards the realisation of dreams and goals connected to (i) a particular cause or (ii) the betterment of life

Normally the winner gets a piggy bank trophy (2006 was a wild clay quenk and 2005 was a large pink plastic pig). Having a piggy bank trophy symbolizes the winner receiving great things in miraculous amounts. I will not be giving myself a physical trophy, but I will gladly receive the great things in miraculous amounts.

The winner also receives a cheque from Happy Hippy Productions. Since I am Happy Hippy Productions, I can't give myself a cheque, but I will take that money and treat myself to something special ... especially as my birthday is coming up (7 October) and it is going to be a great one.

On this note, Thank You. I graciously accept the award being given.

Elspeth Duncan
Happy Hippy Hero 2007

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Monday, October 01, 2007

My hero ... and a special announcement

Source for Joan's image
I am not afraid ... I was born to do this.
(Joan of Arc quote)

My first conscious memory of my hero, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) was a small hardcover Ladybird book about her life, which I read as a child. I can still see one of the colourful images in particular: Joan, looking demure and innocent, is under a tree in a rural setting, wearing a dress with a small white scarf tied over her head. I think there was an animal with her - a white lamb or goat - and a humble house in the background with a thatched roof. The other image which stuck in my mind appears later in the book: she is clad in armour, charging on a large horse, her hand in the air (I think holding a flag), leading the troops into battle. Even back then, around age 6 or 7 or so, I remember being impressed. She stands for unwavering courage and single-mindedness of purpose: 'This is what I must do'.
Act, and God will act.
(Joan of Arc quote)
On this note, tomorrow I will make a special, surprise announcement. Stay tuned.