A whiff of cashew nuts

Like many Caribbean expatriates, Haffezar Khan remembers the sights and sounds of home

Illustration by Marlon Griffith

Jeezanages! I must be cracking up. I’ve been on this island for too long. Cashew nuts roasting. I was sure that somebody nearby was roasting cashew nuts.

“Can you smell that?” I asked my bewildered friend.

Of course he couldn’t, mainly because we were standing on the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria and cashew nut trees have never been a part of this landscape, not even in ancient Roman times.

OK, I’ll excuse him for that, but why can’t he even try to join in my tropical reverie? Why can’t he remember pulling out a handful of cashew nuts from the pockets of his school pants, checking carefully for juice stains, before laying out the nuts like trophies on the ground? Hard-earned prizes those, won through skilful pitching of marbles behind the teachers’ backs during recess.

It’s because he’s English and has no idea what a cashew nut looks like in its natural state, that’s why. No wonder he thinks I’m slightly peculiar.

 

The English natives still don’t understand me. They smile indulgently when I make outrageous demands for ice in my drinks and pepper sauce (they call it “chilli”) on my food. Just last week I went to the city centre with some friends, looking to spread some joy, and we found nearly everywhere was closed. Imagine that! Nine o’clock in the evening, all the pubs are closed. Nightclubs only open for three or four hours, three days a week.

This is very distressing to a born Trinidadian because, over here, you just can’t have an all- night party in your house with loud music, as is the custom in the Caribbean. House parties must respect the social codes. Public parties must conform to legal requirements, including strict laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol. My observations show that at night there is no sign of civilised life. This is because the natives are at home, watching cable TV.

 

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a tremendous sacrifice to leave your car at home and pay £9 each way for a taxi to take you to and from the city, so that you can have some drinks with your friends. In any case, the pubs close at 11 o’clock, so you have to move fast and cram all your socialising into two hours. There is no hope of visiting most of your favourite venues because it’s taxi all the way, unless you’re resilient enough to swagger through winter gales as if you’re listening to Bahia Girl on invisible headphones.

There you are, in your fancy threads and big hair with your posse of babes, feeling like you’re in a Diet Coke advertisement, only to find the whole place in darkness. Nobody feting, nobody liming, nobody even wearing their “going out” clothes. How uncivilised can you get?

My Italian friends were disgusted. People don’t live like that where they come from either. In Italy, they assure me, you slave during the day and you live at night. You dress up and go out with all your friends or family, you eat like a gourmet, and you dance until dawn to free your spirit.

What?

So how come they don’t have Road March in Italy?

They do have a summer rock music festival, I am told, which is the Italian version of Panorama.

According to my friends, it is a cross between Carnival Monday and our Calypso Monarch Competition. I wonder if it’s called Soca Monarch by now? I wonder if people still sell roast corn, oysters and coconuts around the Savannah? I feel a sudden urge to stop at a gas station and buy some doubles with hot mango chutney.

A tribe of nomadic university students shuffle past, eating pale, soggy French fries with bland, watery curry sauce. I am still in England.