Confessions of a Trinidad Carnival Newbie
By Sharda Sekaran
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival has been a long-time fascination for me for a number of reasons: 1) dressing up, dancing, drinking and partying on the street are things that I enjoy, 2) tropical paradises and I are solidly compatible, and 3) I grew up as a mixed Indian/Black person in Queens, NY, so people have been constantly mistaking me for Trini throughout life, so hey why not go with it?
It took me ten years to finally get around to making it happen. Why? Well, honestly the endeavor requires a decent amount of planning, time, money and effort. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Trinbago carnival comes from a uniquely rich cultural history, and represents the liberating departure from working as a slave for the greedy economic benefit of the oppressor, in favor of working relentlessly purely for the purpose of decadent pleasure. This is an absolutely brilliant thing to experience. As I told my Trini friend who was guiding me on this adventure, “I have never worked this hard to have a good time.”
She came to New York City for Labor Day weekend where we have our own very modest by comparison version of Caribbean carnival in Brooklyn, and I got my first taste of fêtes. Soon we were off, negotiating airline tickets, accommodations, cars, all-inclusive party tickets, costumes and the like. Most of these things required extensive schmoozing, cajoling, waiting, more waiting and a pretty hefty amount of money.
I’ve never planned a wedding but from the cost of my costume to the entangled logistics, it felt not too unlike I was planning a big ceremony for myself, my matrimonial union with the blissful frenzy of carnival.
I gasped at the photos of skimpy outfits I might be wearing. I started working out more and eating a lot less french fries. Over the holiday season, I stealthily ducked all the costume-busting sweets stacking up in my office break room.
And what was the experience like? It’s genuinely impossible to capture. People warned me that I would be sleepless, breathless, intoxicated and gyrating my hips to soca music to within an inch of collapse. This was all true.
The costumes and makeup felt like the best sexy magical pixie fairy dress up session that childhood me could have ever imagined. As I told my friend and her family, it felt like dressing up like a figure skater (I mean there are support stockings involved) to dance in the hot sun and get dry humped by strangers.
But what became profoundly clear to me, is that underneath the raucous bacchanalian chaos, was a nod to a culture of theatrically embodying resistance, freedom, and wild defiance. Even in the most commercial parts of carnival, where perhaps the individuality and art of the tradition are less apparent and people seem to be simply out to rage, there is a spirit of dedication to joy that feels almost dutiful.
More than being there to act as the life of the party, you are there to party as a service to life.
Do you have a story to share about your first Trinidad Carnival experience? We’re waiting to hear from you ….
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