Icacos in 2024: Nostalgia, Neglect and a Dismal Future?

Revisiting the past is hard. Especially the happy places of my youth, to see how much the familiar faces have aged, how much they’ve greyed and slowed. Growing up in the 80s, I loved Icacos. Loved it and hated it. Hated it because of the mosquitoes. Loved it because of my aunts and uncles, the villagers, and the endless miles of coconut trees. As a boy, I felt like the people of Icacos emanated love, contentment, and courage you couldn’t find anywhere else in the world.

Years passed. I am embarrassed to admit I neglected Icacos. Family. didn’t visit as much as I should have. Didn’t stay in touch. In January 2024, on a whim, I drove to Icacos. Everyone is older. A little bit slower. Body parts don’t work like they used to. It feels like Venezuelans outnumber locals. There’s little evidence wooden houses ever existed. The love is still there. What terrifies me the most, though, is that the goodly fire that raged inside villagers doesn’t burn as bright as it once did. There’s joy, content, and friendliness but underlying uncharacteristic despair tarnishes the air. I think it has something to do with the torrents of terrible news from other parts of Trinidad.

At a parlour, I met an old woman who immediately told me about the water crisis in Icacos. It isn’t a new story. It’s been going on for years. “Just last I paid my water bill I don’t even get water,” she said. “I’m paying for a service I don’t get. Water is the real issue. Since Covid, we haven’t gotten water in Icacos.”

“Since Covid,” I exclaimed.

“Since Covid,” she echoed. “December 2019 was the last time I got pipe-borne water to fill my tanks.”

I exclaimed again but she ignored me.

“We’ve protested. To no avail. WASA stands for failure.”

A Venezuelan woman walked past the parlour. Six children between the ages of two and five followed her. One was barefooted, another wore diapers. The sun shone brightly and the asphalt burned hot, but the barefooted child walked unbothered.

The old woman craned her neck and watched the Venezuelan woman and children until they disappeared. Then she went on to tell me how the prime minister scares her. She was listening to him talk on the evening news and couldn’t believe how he spoke for a diplomat. I didn’t ask for details but I gather she was referring to a press conference about the Paria Diving Tragedy.

“The prime minister scares me very much,” she said again.

For some reason, the sentence is still stuck in my head.

At the same parlour, I met three fishermen, older men more familiar with the colonial order. They wore caps and were talking about how the price of Cavalli had dropped because of an islandwide overabundance of Cavalli.

“The vendors don’t even want the Cavalli,” said the fisherman in the red cap.

The fisherman with the black hat was tall, slim and mumbled. “And the price of gas is killing fishermen.”

The fisherman in the white cap was in a hammock. The hammock swayed just slightly. He bobbed his head but said nothing.

“Don’t talk about gas,” said the fisherman in the red cap. “It costs about one thousand dollars to fill up the boat with gas.”

“A thousand dollars!” I exclaimed. “How long does that gas last?” I expected the answer to be a week.

“One day,” mumbled the fisherman in the black hat.

“It depends on where you’re fishing,” said the fisherman in the red cap. “Let’s say you’re fishing about six miles from here, and you’re fishing salmon, first we have to go to Erin for bait then we have to go to start the day work. Easy-easy you’ll use one thousand dollars in gas. “

“The government doesn’t care about fishermen,” said the fisherman in the black cap. “I remember when it cost twenty dollars to fill a pan of gas.”

The fisherman who was wearing the white cap swayed gently in the hammock. He nodded then said, “And we don’t get paid if we don’t clear the one thousand dollars.”

“What,” I exclaimed.

“That is truth,” mumbled the fisherman in the black hat. “Before we get paid, we have to catch enough fish to make the money we spend on gas.”

I tried to picture one thousand dollars in fish. “So you could work hard for an entire day and go home empty-handed?”

The fisherman in the red cap smiled contentedly and said, “We might get a fish to carry home.”

On Constance Beach, I met a writer named Michael Cozier. He was dressed like a salesman, selling his books on the beach. He wore polished black shoes and carried a laptop bag with books. When I first saw him, he was talking to a couple sitting in a car. The couple bought two books and the car drove off.

“What I’ve noticed,” Michael Cozier told me, “is that since the Point Fortin Highway opened more people from the north are coming down to Icacos.”

I wondered about the disadvantages that came with the ease of access to Icacos but said nothing.

A pickup truck pulled up to the beach. The driver got out and two tourists. They looked like Canadians. Michael Cozier excused himself.

At the top of Lalla Road, there’s zero evidence of the two-storey dry goods store that once stood tall. I met an old man with a great white beard. He was smoking a cigarette. We spoke about the past, and how I remembered Icacos growing up in the eighties.

“When I was a boy,” the old man said, “Icacos only had about 5 or 6 wooden houses.”

“Do you miss the Icacos of your past?”

He signalled that he didn’t quite get the question then said, “No I don’t miss it. Icacos has progressed a lot since then. I’m happy that the village has progressed. The years have brought education and progress. What troubles me is that I’m paying for water and we don’t get water. What troubles me is the killings that are happening all over Trinidad. Every evening I sit down and watch the news. Did you see what happened to that family in Mayaro? They were robbed and when the man went to the police station to report the crime he recognised a soldier as one of the bandits.” The old man chuckled then suddenly got serious. “People are living in serious fear in this country.”

“Are you living in fear?”

“No,” the old man said. “I feel safe in Icacos. Outsiders have a very different perception of Icacos. They think every fisherman is trafficking drugs and women. But the reality is very different for people who live in Icacos. I go walking on the beach and feel safe. My sons, daughters and grandchildren go walking on the beach every day. I go out and I leave my doors and windows opened.”

“Where do you see Icacos in twenty-five years?” I asked.

“Honestly?” the old man said and flicked away his cigarette. “Drugs are licking up the place. In twenty-five years I think Icacos would be one big drug den.”

Do you celebrate your wins?

I have a really hard time celebrating my wins. I’m a writer and content creator. When I hit milestones I acknowledge them, but not for too long. At the beginning of 2024, I shared my goals in a YouTube Video and episode 36 of the Caribbean Content Creators Podcast. Today I want to celebrate accomplishing one of those goals. A major goal. I have this very ambitious goal that I’ve been walking around with since 2022. The dream is to send a coworker of mine named Farmer Harry to Antigua. If you’re a new reader I’ll just put it into perspective quickly. Farmer Harry lives off the grid in Caura, Trinidad, on a lovely mountainous slope of land that he cultivates with Scotch Bonnet peppers, plantains, ginger and lime trees. It’s fantastic. Look him up on YouTube.

Farmer Harry is 61. In 2023, for the first time, he got his birth paper. Then in late 2024, he got his national identification card. We’re currently working on his passport. In 2022 or 2023 it occured to me that he had never left the island because of not having his passport. I asked him if he could go anywhere in the world where would he visit, and he said Antigua. We set the goal to raise TTD 17,500, which is maybe about 3,500 USD. I put the word out with the hope that I could do sponsored videos and raise the capital to send Farmer Harry to Antigua.

Interestingly, people started donating to Farmer Harry. Some of them anonymously. For transparency reasons, I created a Google spreadsheet that I made available to the public. You can view our progress here.

In 2023 things moved slowly. For Farmer Harry. And for me. I created content, but not content that focussed on Farmer Harry’s trip. In late 2023 when he showed me his identification card, I launched into 2024. Reestablished my goals in a YouTube video and podcast episode. On Sunday, 04 January 2024, someone reached out to me on Instagram. Suzy’s Roti Parlour in New York. Long story short they said they wanted to contribute the outstanding balance to Farmer Harry’s trip to Antigua. Within days they delivered. Amazing.

I’m sharing the story hoping that it inspires you. Sometimes, you’re quietly working in the background, with no support, no applause, thinking that you’re not accomplishing anything. No breakthrough is in sight, and you’re working long, hard hours, feeling like this is going absolutely nowhere. But. You never know who’s paying attention. Keep going. Thanks, Suzy Roti’s Parlour.

Powered by Suzy’s Roti Parlour in New York: ⁠http://www.suzysroti.com/⁠ Directions: https://maps.app.goo.gl/RZvRhTTamfSoJMkUA

Bar Miztah on how to make music reaction videos on your smartphone

Today we are chatting with Bar Miztah, a Trinidadian YouTuber who creates reaction videos. In the podcast, we dive into his process of creating reaction videos. I was honestly blown away when I learned that he uses his phone. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify. Here are the Key takeaways.

Caribbean Content Creators need to invest in themselves. To be taken seriously on the global stage be professional. Where necessary pay for programs and apps to access more features or, say, have an app’s watermark removed from your videos. Give your best. Look at the competition. Get a better microphone. Up your game.

Love what you do. Be yourself. Before creating a YouTube channel, Bar Miztah stumbled on reaction videos looking for songs. The content creators he looked at would break down bars in the song but he noticed that they would miss things. He pointed this out and his wife suggested that he do it himself. So he did. Everyone has different motivations to create, and that’s fine but you must love what you do.

Experiment. Not knowing anything about creating reaction videos, Bar Miztah experimented a lot and downloaded over 40 apps until he found something he liked. As strange as it sounds to me, Bar Miztah doesn’t like editing his reaction videos on a computer. He discovered that he prefers to use his phone. He discovered LogoPit for making thumbnails. For editing, he uses Kinemaster, the paid version. When it comes to videos, he suggests it’s not only “how the video looks” but “how it’s presented”.

Copyright Claims. Reacting to music videos, he’s gotten his fair share of copyright claims. You can request a review for a revision. In some cases, the claim might be removed. As a content creator be mindful that you don’t create content that gets you blocked from different regions.

Be consistent. A lot of Bar Miztah’s growth came in 2022 by consistently posting videos.

Listen to your community. Commenters guide you and tell you what they want to see. Give them what they want.

A serious joke about marijuana smokers in Trinidad

As a content creator, there’s a lot to consider especially when you’re “pushing boundaries”. Maybe you like dark humour, political satire or touchy subjects, and you’re reluctant to share your content. Trust me. I understand. I’m sitting on jokes that I’m not sure about. Along the way I’ve learned a thing or two from publishing articles and videos on political satire and the state of things in Trinidad and Tobago. I’ll share what I learned. But first: context. Context is key.

In November 2023, I wrote and published a joke about some marijuana users in Trinidad. I didn’t say it was a joke and I didn’t say “some” marijuana users. In the interest of a fast-paced video I cut lines that would have provided context. A mistake? Perhaps. I was willing to take the risk. On Tik Tok and Facebook, some “users”… I don’t know what’s the right word, but some “users” blazed up the comment section.

Marijuana in Trinidad

It’s January 2023. Attacks continue to trickle in. In Trinidad, it’s illegal to smoke marijuana in public places. Despite what you may witness at rivers, beaches and on pavements, it remains illegal. Authorities seem unbothered. Civilians too. At Caura River, I’ve sat next to men and women who’ve casually fired up arthritic-looking joints. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me. And it doesn’t look like it bothers nearby children and drinkers. Which is weird given the dangers of secondhand marijuana smoke to children. I’m not here to expand on those dangers. I’m here to talk about how, as a content creator, I saw an opportunity to write a joke, and create a video, and the lessons I learned from the experience. Here’s the joke.

It feels like everywhere you go in Trinidad you're surrounded by people who have no regard for other people. They're cussing, littering, smoking weed in public. Weed smokers are the worst. They have no regard for secondhand smoke and children. You'd almost think it was legal to smoke weed in public. Recently I went to Caura River with my family. As soon as you come out of the car all you could smell is weed, and curry. There's a part of you that isn't sure if to stay or leave, but you tell yourself you're a law-abiding citizen and you deserve to be there, so you stay. You tell your children to "man up" and you tell your wife to "man up and focus on how the curry smelling."

The following week we went to Clifton Hill Beach in Point Fortin. As soon as you come out the car all you could smell is weed... and KFC. There were teenagers smoking weed; I saw a pregnant woman smoking weed; a man was on the beach flying his kite and smoking weed. Should I leave or should I go? Nah, man, I have a right to be here. So, I sat in the midst of all the cussing and marijuana smoke, and contemplated the future of Trinidad. Then we got up, and I started staggering towards the water with my daughters. Pointed at the sky and said, "Hear this nah, man, I high, you know, like that f'in kite." And the four-year-old looked at me in disbelief and said, "Me too, Daddy."

If you read the joke and watched the video you’ll realise that key parts are missing from the video. And because of subsequent edits parts of the original joke are missing.

Buckle up. I’m going to attempt to take you to a place where a lot of things don’t make sense. Inside my head. The joke is really about how people show little regard for others. Whether they’re a drinker, smoker, marijuana user, or swear willy-nilly in public. In the end, the father curses in front of the child. This is key. The father isn’t smoking marijuana in public but when he curses, he shows no regard to others and his children.

In the interest of keeping the video under one minute, I omitted important lines. Therefore the joke lacked context. In the video, I didn’t say some marijuana smokers. I said marijuana smokers are the worst. It was a blanket attack on “all” marijuana smokers instead of smokers who disregard the law.

Context is key. Without providing context a segment of the audience (particularly on TikTok) misinterpreted and responded negatively. It’s important to frame your content to avoid misunderstandings. Hopefully, I’ve learned.

Understand your audience. As weird as this sounds, different platforms attract different audiences. My YouTube subscribers know and understand me. Tik Tok is the Wild West. Don’t expect your content to have the same impact everywhere.

Consider the consequences. Before you hit publish, consider the consequences. In the same breath don’t let negative comments dissuade you. Learn. Adjust, if required. Publish. Repeat.

Life in Grande

It’ sweet too bad.

I finally met the content creator behind Life in Grande. Her name is Crystal. A brilliant photographer who focuses on the people of Sangre Grande. I have been following her TikTok since 2023, admiring the quality of her work and the stories (captions) that accompany her pictures. Real stories about real people. The focus on the town and the people is rich, compelling and captivating. To quickly put things into perspective Sangre Grande is a town in northeastern Trinidad and Tobago, east of Arima and southwest of Toco, a coastal village. When we meet Crystal is wearing a branded Life in Grande jersey. As we walked through the town here are the content creator lessons I learned.

Lyndon: I admire your ability to approach strangers. I’m amazed at how easily you engage with them and how well they respond. Tell me about your process.

Life in Grande. I just find random people to talk to. If someone is chatty it’s easy. While I’m taking the pictures to get them comfortable they’ll start telling me about themselves. Normally I’d walk up to people I’d like to photograph and say, “Hi, my name is Crystal and I manage a page called Life in Grande. If they ask what the page is about I’d say, “I walk around taking interesting pictures and videos of interesting people.” And they’d either tell me yes or no. If they agree, they’d share their backstory, challenges, anything they’re comfortable sharing really. Often when you stick a camera in someone’s face, walls go up but when you start talking to them about themselves and their lives automatically you can see the walls coming down and that’s when you get interesting photos.

Lyndon: Do people ever refuse to take pictures?

Life in Grande: Definitely. And they usually politely tell me why. It might have to do with their jobs, safety reasons especially if they own a business. Some people say no. For the most part my “awkwardness” works in my favour. I have a nervous laugh. It works in my favour. I feel like my awkwardness is a blessing and a curse.

Lyndon: When does it feel like a curse?

Life in Grande: Everyday. When does it feel like a blessing? Everyday. I don’t try to suppress it anymore. I don’t try to suppress it anymore. I find when I try to suppress it, I become anxious. Oh, I’m super-confident. That is when it’s worse. When I embrace that I’m awkward and anxious but I’m also this and it works out.

A fish vendor asked Crystal from Life in Grande about her aim. “Was it to promote business in Sangre Grande or everywhere?”

Life in Grande: It’s not specifically about business. It’s about people. Everyday people. It was easier to approach street vendors. A lot of people have the idea that Life in Grande is to promote business. No. It’s to promote people. My first camera was a 1300D. I started walking and taking pictures. That’s how Life in Grande started.

Lyndon: Tell me about your gear.

Life in Grande: I started with an iPhone 6s Plus. All the videos you see are from that phone. Recently I upgraded to an iPhone XR. Life in Grande started with a Canon 1300D. It’s only a month now I’ve started using a Sony nex6 but it won’t be used much longer.

Walking along Paul Street, imposter syndrome came up.

Imposter syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area.

verywell mind

Life in Grande: I think it’s very important to say that I am not a journalist, I am not a history buff, I am not a culture vulture, none of that stuff. In 2023 I reached out to a guy called Richard Munroe from RGM Pictures. Right here in Grande. I asked him if I could be his water carrier, anything so that I could learn from him because I wanted to improve my photography. He took me to events so I could observe the ins and outs.

Lyndon: What’s your daily routine like?

Life in Grande: I do a lot of walking. When I walk I find the most interesting stuff. I like to leave the main road and walk along the side streets. You find rare gems that you wouldn’t necessarily find on the main street. As of 2024, Life in Grande is my full-time job. The idea is to come out a couple of times a week. I’m committed to visiting different villages. There’s more that needs to be seen.

Lyndon: Is it that Grande has gotten too small for you based on the volume of work you’ve produced?

Life in Grande: No. I haven’t even scratched the surface with Grande. Geographically Toco and Matura aren’t part of Grande but people from these places come to Grande daily to shop and commute. They are a huge part of life in Grande. Life in Grande doesn’t mean you reside in Grande. As long as you’re touching Grande in some shape or form you are part of Life in Grande, and I want to take your picture.