Pavese Got it Wrong

According to poet Cesare Pavese, “Traveling is a brutality.  It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off-balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending toward the eternal or what we imagine of it.”  As an American student in a studying in Barbados, I would have to disagree with Pavese’s assessment of travel.

Of course the actual travel can be extremely brutal.  Between layovers, cramped seats, bad service, struggling with luggage, going through security, and having to deal with rude people, it is a wonder people go anywhere at all, but I don’t think that traveling makes one constantly unbalanced or that is something that make you lose sight of the familiar.  If anything travel can make you more balanced, put the familiar in perspective, and help you to appreciate what is yours.  In my time abroad, my experience on the grub line is my best counter to Pavese’s quote.

At the University of the West Indies, when you move into the hall for the first time your first week is an initiation. It is tradition for the first year/new residents ‘freshers’ of each hall to stay up all night for the whole week while the older residents on the hall ‘super seniors’ teach them the mottos, songs, and chants for their respective halls.  It all leads up to a battle at the end of week to see which hall has the most spirit. This process is called grubbing or being on the grub line.  It is seen as a way to immediately integrate new students into their new environment and jump-start friendships among new residents.

I was not looking forward to grubbing.  I figured that it would be a bunch of cheesy activities similar to my orientation during my freshman year of college back in the States.  Participation is not mandatory; however most people do participate and as the only American/foreign student in my hall I thought it would look bad if I did not. I did not want to be known as the ‘stuck up American girl’ or disrespect a tradition, so in spite of my reservations, I decided to participate.

On the first night, at about 3am, I was rudely awakened by the super seniors who were running up and down the hallways yelling and banging on pots and pans.  The freshers were summoned to the TV room where we were given names that we were to be referred to for the rest of the week.  It was more or less the same for the rest of the week. The super seniors would wake us up at odd hours with pots and pans and we would sound off with the motto, the song, and the chants.

As the American girl; however, my accent interfered with my learning the songs and the chants, though most of the verses would be in standard English, some verses would be in a dialect.  Most of the time, I would just move my mouth and imitate the sounds other people were making.  It was like singing along to a song where you know everything but that one line and you ad lib as you go.  It was funny, but I felt so foolish.  I felt even more foolish when I asked someone how to pronounce the words and what they meant and could not understand what they were saying because of their accent.

By the time we had to battle the other hall, I knew some of the words better and in other places I had perfected the ad libs.   For example, in one of our chants there was a line that said “wi nuh tek chat watch di words weh yuh fling” (we don’t take chat, watch the words where you fling) I kept saying what I was hearing which was, “we no ton chant watch the worth when yuh fling.”  Luckily, I have adjusted to the various Caribbean accents that I am exposed to on a daily basis and I now know how to properly pronounce our chants, but I still have many moments where I mouth the words.

To date, grubbing has been my most unique experience in Barbados.  Though it was something that was completely out of my comfort zone and completely different from anything I had experienced at home, I never felt as if I were off-balance.  Even in the moments when I missed home the most, I still felt as if the experience was giving me a new perspective.  The grubbing process also did not make me lose sight of what was familiar.  It made the familiar more endearing. I have a greater appreciation of home and have a better concept of what home means to me now that it is so far away.

Pavese was almost right when he said that nothing is ours when we travel except for the essential things that tend toward the eternal.  Except for what I brought with me, and the room I am paying to keep it in, nothing in Barbados is mine.  Even though ownership of these things is far from eternal or essential, being able to claim them as mine gave me a small place and space in a country where I can claim nothing.

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Filed under Caribbean, Gena in Barbados, Writing Prompts

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