Taxi driving the human spirit


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Category: Profiles Date: 08 Sep 02


In the kitchen of a house in the tiny town of Petawawa built around an army base in Ontario (which I was informed by a paratrooper looks like a clearing in the vast forest from the sky), we encountered Pancho from Tunapuna who was cooking up a storm of pelau, and curry goat, while chipping to last year’s calypsoes.


How Pancho came to be in Petawawa drinking beers and rum and slapping backs and knees and “kyakyaing” and ole-talking with the Canadian paratroopers (big guys with short sharp names like Ed and Dan who jumped out of planes with 150 pounds of weight on their backs) in between checking on the pepper level of his pot is another story.


As far as Pancho was concerned, he was king of the kitchen for Wolfe’s - (his best friend) son’s cooking night.


Pancho and Wolfe are friends from way back when in Tunapuna ever since Wolfe used to run wild and pick fights with old ladies, and Pancho, would toss baby Rashaad in the air, not knowing he would grow up to be a tough, dashing paratrooper who would spread calypso music throughout the Canadian forces and marry Kelly, a petite Petawawaian blonde beauty with brains and a terrifying eye for detail that would leave a General envious.


Never mind that Wolfe settled in Toronto and re-married Anita who came from Liverpool, England, 25 years ago as an au pair and never left (that’s another story) and Pancho is single now, living in Trinidad and never intends to remarry.


In their hearts they are still boys who cuss one another out and will do anything for one another and that is how Pancho came to be sharing the kitchen with Anita, supplying delicious food in the wedding celebration that went on for three days.       


Everyone came for the pelau and the barbeque seasoning made in Paramin.


A set of Rashaad’s soldier friends, talking about Bosnia, his fiance Kelly’s friends and family, the Trini posse from Montreal, Toronto, Trinidad (us) who had occupied every corner of the young, “mixed” couple’s home.


You can just imagine the din. Canadian “Aays” mingling the Trini “eh eh”, pine and pepper, rum and Canadian beer, calypso alternating with hip hop, laughter in every accent meshing together.


The wedding was as pretty as the set of a Merchant Ivory film and that day, Pancho and Wolfe looked sharp - and didn’t need a drink to feel high.


It took place in the bride’s mother’s garden, bright with dainty, summery flowers and delicate vines, the shade of apple trees and enclaves.


Rashaad, (who is known as the Canadian with Trini roots in this army base), darkly handsome in his dress uniform, supported by his bestman and a battery of cute, uniformed men, gazed adoringly as his Kelly walked up, looking like a dream in a rose petal strewn pathway after her bridesmaids.


At the reception in the army base overlooking the golf course in the middle of the wild Canada, the music came from nowhere - it was ole time chutney and calypso.


Like bees to honey the floor filled up, amazingly, with little Canadian children who couldn’t resist the beat and bobbed up and down like they couldn’t stop.


On Kelly’s side, most of her family was born and bred in Petawawa.  Many bought houses on the streets they had lived in as children.


It was interwoven with complexities as every community is, but if you saw them together - the affection, the close-knit support, the comings and goings from one another’s homes, friends, sisters, cousins, mothers, fathers and aunts who painted and washed windows and babysat for one another, it was not too different from Maingot Road in Tunapuna.


Pancho freed up about then, and told us how he came to be there.  Really.  Now Pancho is a regular Trini.


As regular as they get which means that he is a walking personification of everything Trinidadian.  At home he drives a taxi for six or nine months a year. When he goes away, he carries his seasonings, and pepper-sauce and calls his niece in Toronto in advance to tell her to buy two or three good ducks.  He hates bland food.  Never eats out and pours Angostura bitters in everything.  And you won’t catch him drinking some sissy cocktail anywhere.


But Pancho is a man who likes to feel free and gets fed-up of doing the same old rounds and sometimes the same ole talk and the crime gets him down and feeling trapped.


So he works his taxi for six or nine months a year and for the rest of the time - three or six months - he goes off traveling to see how other people run their countries, to see different landscapes.


We were raving about the Columbia Icefields, the way the amazing motor coach traveled up allowing us to touch the raw majesty of a living glacier.  He was there.  About Vancouver’s pretty bridges and mountains and beaches.  He was there. About the way the children couldn’t believe how wide the Niagara Falls were.  He did that years ago.


Pancho drives and drives every year, anywhere in the world.  When he wants he stops for the night, and then he goes again.


Traveling doesn’t mean you don’t like where you live or you want to be what you are not.


It’s about the freedom of the human spirit which has no bounds, about claiming much more than your corner of the world because who could really own an icefield just as who owns the pink orange sun going down in our sea?  It an wipe out insecurities that make us hate anything that looks different, make us fear change or believe money is greater than experience.


Landscapes are superficial, merely the backdrop to the big, human drama where people from Tunapuna to Petawawa, are essentially the same.


Music, a union between young people where race is immaterial, the complication and tenderness of being a parent, the triumphs, affection, misunderstandings in every community - that’s universal.  Pancho the taxi driver from Tunapuna, finds he needs to carry more seasoning every time he travels because he finds new friends to feed all the time.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur