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Bourdain’s Field Notes

You don’t go to Trinidad for the beaches. It ain’t no tropical paradise. That would be its sister island, Tobago.

You go to Trinidad to do business. Or to “lime,” which means hang out, drink, and eat (well). Or to “wine,” which means grind or be ground upon in a dance situation by someone who certainly appears to want to have sex with you but probably doesn’t. I’m good at the former. The latter—not so much.

Trinidad prides itself on its multicultural, multiethnic makeup: its mix of African, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and European blood. If one judges solely by the food, it is a glorious stew indeed. Trinidad has arguably the best food in the Caribbean—a direct reflection of that mix of influences. But is it the harmonious wonderland I was repeatedly told it was?

I don’t know.

Some shows end for me with a lingering sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling that I didn’t understand enough, didn’t ask the right questions, just didn’t do as good a job as I perhaps could have. Near the end of filming, I had dinner with someone who’d worked on the local crew, a Trinidadian woman of mixed race with a very different point of view and a very different story than the one I’d been hearing on camera.

There is always the danger of finding oneself in a warm, friendly bubble when making a show in a place you’ve never been. Without exception, everyone I met in Trinidad and Tobago was warm, friendly, kind—and very proud of the place where they live. But the crime stats and the relatively large number of disaffected young people who’ve gone to fight alongside ISIS in the Middle East are indicators that someone is not being taken care of—that some problems are not being addressed—and that there is another Trinidad outside the view of our cameras.

So approach with care—and a healthy degree of skepticism.

Life is complicated.

Trinidad is complicated.

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“The food, if you look at it, is this incredibly harmonious stewpot. But I guess life doesn’t work as well as food.”

Local Lingo

Liming: Trinidadian slang for hanging out. One can “lime” with or without alcohol.

Wining: A kind of Trinidadian dancing that involves circular arm movements. It can be misinterpreted as sexual, but it is not necessarily so. One can “wine on someone” without meaning “I want to take you home,” explains Trinidadian modern-dance instructor La Shaun Prescott.

Pan yard: Rehearsal space for steel pan orchestras.

Know Before You Go

Slavery ended in Trinidad and Tobago in 1834. Eager for a source of cheap labor to farm sugarcane, the British looked to South Asia, bringing over some 150,000 indentured servants between the end of slavery and World War I.

“Indentured servitude is slavery by another name,” Bourdain says. “The people brought here from India were bought, sold, and treated like property but were told that if they completed five years of often back-breaking labor, they would be set free.”

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