I first started working academically on Woodbrook in 2005. Before that I knew it as a place for limin and playin Carnival. I had close fictive family there too on Roberts Street – the Saldenah family. And also, friends who I would visit on Fitt Street. My first J’ouvert when I was 18 in 1994 still stands out to me as clear moment when I felt tied to the place. I just didn’t know then how Woodbrook would come to be such a constant connection in my life.
My mum was born and grew up in St James. When I first came to study Woodbrook I was interested in the relationship between the two communities and how both had changed over time and why. In anthropology understanding how and why cultures shift is part of what we do. During my PhD I came to live in Woodbrook myself – on Roberts Street too. Marion O’Callaghan a dear friend of my late Aunty Cathy Allum became my main resource for the history and sociology of the place. I spent time sitting in Marion’s beautiful back porch on Carlos Street recording a life history interview about her life in Woodbrook. Since then, I have lived in Newtown, right next door.
When I finished my PhD I applied for a position at the UWI, I was interviewed by Dr Dennis Brown. A wonderful man who sadly passed away. And also, Dr Nasser Mustapha. I am forever grateful to them both for hiring me. At UWI I also met Professor Rhoda Reddock who has been a great support to me throughout many years. Including recently on this project. At the UWI people asked me about publishing my PhD dissertation. At the time I was shy, I was nervous, I was like who will want to read this? A few years passed by and I published a chapter from it called Woodbrook on the Path to Independence. I was immediately struck by the reaction to the chapter. I got nice emails from a few big scholars I respected. The former Central Bank Governor, Mr. Ewart Williams, even spoke about it on a podium. I started to believe maybe there was more I should be doing with my dissertation aside from teaching it in anthropology classes at the UWI.
Fast forward a few years and I returned to the UK in 2019 for family reasons. I didn’t want to leave but sometimes family trumps everything else and I am ok with that. While I was in the UK, working a new job and enjoying the sleepless nights of our new-born, first child Dante, I received in Oct 2020 an exciting email. It was from Wendy Sealy. She had found my chapter and she wanted to talk with me about potentially working together. This was the beginning of my entry into the project we are celebrating today, Growing up Woodbrook.
Wendy and Lynette Dolly came into my life like old friends. It was as though we just hadn’t seen each other in a long time. Maybe it was Woodbrook speaking through them to the Woodbrook speaking inside of me. But we immediately had a great relationship and started to develop the project through weekly online meetings across time zones. Of course, with Wendy and Lynette come the marvellous team of the Woodbrook Residents Committee (the WRC), who have all been nothing but amazing in their endeavours to get us to this point. I cannot thank everyone enough. What I didn’t know at the beginning was that this was a project they had been working on already for a long time and they needed a writer for it, as sadly Tony Martin had passed away.
Now usually when you write a book, the research is a long and time-consuming affair. Often solitary and lonely. That was not the experience of Growing up Woodbrook. This is a book made by the lives and hands of many different people beyond me and the WRC. Of course, the WRC contributed more time, energies and letters-for-funding than anyone, but they also linked to so many people and voices that the stories and childhoods of so many residents and former residents came flooding to me in emails and videos and transcripts and short notes. As a researcher I had never seen anything like it. There are many more we could have included. It was a work ethic and sensibility – totally Woodbrook. The hard work was always there, the long days and nights, but it was also about warm human relationships and social networks, and putting those to work for us.
From Oct 2020 to Sept 2021 we met online every week and developed the chapter ideas. The team had a vision. They wanted the voices of residents to be a central focus of the book. The WRC collected photos and interviews. I brought much unpublished research from my PhD to join with the data collection of the WRC and we plotted the content of the book. In between this my wife and I had our second child Matteo. So in many ways Woodbrook has been in my children’s lives too from the very beginning of my little family. And as everyone here knows, behind every happy and productive married family man is more than likely a great wife and woman who is the support that makes projects like this possible. So thank you to Elizabeth for her great support.
After all that planning the writing needed to happen. And trust me, as a writer, I have good periods and bad ones. The bad ones are where the words won’t come out for whatever reasons. I was worried about this happening. But the planning, resources and support Wendy, Lynette and the WRC team provided me meant that never happened. This new fusion of so many people’s stories and getting to think about it all anthropologically meant from the first day I sat down to write the chapters Growing up Woodbrook wanted to be typed out onto the screen. Now of course a writer would like to say the final product isn’t that different from their first draft. That would not be true. Thanks to the WRC team who read every page, and suggested corrections, edits and fact checking, the prose was already being redrafted as soon as it was written. However, without the magical editorial skills of Ken Jaikaransingh I doubt the book would read, sound or look anything like it does today. Ken did a great job too in letting Woodbrook voices come to the surface in and between every chapter. The voices are Woodbrook. So to Ken thank you for your hard work, expertise and also how easy it was to work well together. I really appreciate how you improved the whole product many times. And of course, to our wonderful designer Melanie, who took what was provided and worked with the WRC’s vision to produce this beautiful book.
Finally, the book ends by looking to the future. It suggests what heritage tourism could look like in Woodbrook. It is a model of tourism by local stakeholders that provides a vision of how the many legacies and cultural outputs of the area can be built on for the future. Building for the diaspora. The the same diaspora that fuels our carnival with great numbers and monies. Why can’t heritage tourism done right, not also drive that same diaspora and their friends to visit for a different type of holiday experience? And of course, what we have managed to do as a team, and with the wonderful support of the National Trust of T&T (thank you), is something many other districts and areas of T&T such as Belmont, St James, Moruga, Les Couteaux and many others could easily do too. It’s all about using our local resources – our people and their memories – with our local talents such as editors, or our designers or academic experts to build the future. We don’t need to make here like elsewhere. Elsewhere needs to come and learn about us here. And we need to record this heritage too before people pass away, and for those that come after them.
In 2010 when I finished my PhD I was disappointed about not turning it into a book. What I didn’t know then was life and Woodbrook had other ideas about when would be the right time. Personally, this project also kept me connected to Trinidad when I needed that connection the most – during a pandemic and being stuck abroad. So, thank you to the whole team, and thank you to Woodbrook for being so special, and for including me in its stories too.
I hope you all enjoy the book.