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12 Years In The Making: Relax. Refresh. Return. Rejuvenate

Courtesy: A.Pic

It's been twelve years since I've been in the Caribbean. Over a decade. 4,383 days since yours truly experienced the culture, lifestyle, and aura that is the West Indies.

As a first generation West Indian child that was born and raised in the United States, my connection to the Caribbean has been fortunately, a strong one. From the customs of making your bed upon leaving it in the morning to the extroverted social kindness that was instilled throughout my youth, I had the opportunity to apply much of my family's heritage and background to my life. I enjoy foods like fried bakes, codfish cakes and aki, callaloo soup, curry goat, jerk chicken, and ox tail. Foods that Americans often would turn their nose up at in description, but foods that are overly enjoyable and downright terrific.

I grew to the sounds of reggae beyond Bob Marley, with others such as Beres Hammond, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and the Mighty Sparrow. There were also the vibrant sounds of calypso and soca music, which I distinctly recall (and love) hearing on Friday afternoons blaring through our living room stereo speakers as my mom made fresh bakes and bread.

I understand that "No pressure, no problem" is more than just a catchy phrase for a resort commercial, but a lifestyle that is beyond the proverbial sunshine and bikinis. I also understand that being West Indian is about being happy, and that happiness is not about material things, self satisfaction, or a specific status, but content of one's heart.
And while I've been fortunate enough to have this culture as the foundation of what I am, the toil, the grind, and the ebb and flow of twelve years without it can not only dilute such connections, but temporarily pull the plug on that island vibe that runs within me.

A decade which included four years away in the small town of Cazenovia, NY. A place where some days I wondered how enormously different it was to St. Vincent, the nation and island that most of my family calls home.

And to be honest, looking back on the other six years,  it seemed I voluntarily neglected these traditions more so than embracing them. Even when I live in the largest West Indian populated area in the world outside of the West Indies. In a search to feel my way through this world and to expand my horizons and boundaries, I somehow lost sight of these values and customs.

Yet, recently, the tag team partner and I had the opportunity to take our timeout, as we headed to the island of St. Lucia for seven days of relaxation.

Initially, the trip was one that I looked forward to for the sheer idea of having a vacation (It's been two years). The ability to spend some time with my wife sans apartment, bills, wedding, and family drama that seems to have been hovering over us for the better part of a year, was indeed refreshing in thought as well.

It was about relaxing and refreshing.

However, once we touched down, and the aircraft door opened, that smell came back to me.

Hmmmm, that smell. 

That smell.

And just like that another R was added - return.

I can't describe it in words, nor can it be understood through a monitor/screen, but once I stepped out into that warm St. Lucian air, that smell consumed me. An instant hit. It all came flooding back to me. The many times I visited the islands, the upbringing, the food, the music, the culture, and the idea of, "no pressure, no problem".

All seven mornings, I started my day by opening our sliding doors to get a whiff...yes, I loved that smell. I love that smell. And I'm still not sure my tag team partner understands the fascination, but I think she slowly caught on as the week progressed. 

She too, now marrying into the West Indian culture, eats of the same foods, listens to the same music, and has been known, to the humor of my family, to let out a "yah mon'" every now and then. 

Nonetheless, that smell began a wave of returning to my roots along with driving on the left side, seeing banana fields, looking at the markets, the colorful houses, and pretty much all of the beauty that is the Caribbean islands.

And as much as it brought back memories, there were various changes that I encountered since my last trip. The most obvious being how similar a tiny part of the culture is to the U.S. now. Granted, much of it is credited to the internet, facebook, satellite television, and how communication has shrunken God's green earth, yet, I was taken back by the affinity of the St. Lucians for basketball and hip hop music.

In a moment of self admittance, I grossly underestimated their knowledge of NBA basketball due to my so-ten-years-ago ignorance.

They are well versed on the Miami Heat's struggles and the music of The Black Eyed Peas and Drake, which were pretty popular choices at the resort.

It's been a long time since non-stop calypso and talks of Brian Lara and Pele. And I learned that rather quickly.

But can you blame me? My last visit to St. Vincent, I was forced to play soccer and cricket with local kids. I enjoy soccer and cricket, but I am terrible (terrible!) at both. Now, I was playing basketball against local townees and Sandals' staff members.

However, not all things changed. One thing that remained constant is the fact that West Indians still want to beat the American. Needless to say, I defended the U.S. proudly.

But the St. Lucians are pretty damn good in basketball. Very good. Shockingly good.

[Blog Side Note: I can now say I've played basketball overseas. Weird, huh?]

However, despite the small changes, the overall feel is there. A feel that I longed for, and definitely needed.

Feelings that grew stronger with every calypso and soca song. With every moment of waving napkins in the air as if they were the traditional carnival flags. With every "good morning" and "good evening" greetings from complete strangers. With every moment in the clear blue Caribbean sea. And even every time I uttered the words, "another Piton please". 

It was a return that allowed me to feel at home in an environment with customs that weren't considered "weird", as sometimes is the case here in the States, but simply, one of comfort and familiarity.

As I write this one month following our trip, my return to the Caribbean was relaxing, refreshing, a return to my roots, and the final R - rejuvenating.

Somehow, someway, seven days in St. Lucia reintroduced me, to myself.

A natural born American, byway of the West Indies.

No pressure. No problem.

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