The Mango Tree

Mangos almost readyNear where I am planting roots, there is a bar with a mango tree across from it. Under the mango tree sits a bench, next to the bench sits a wooden wire spool.

This is the information superhighway of the village. This is where men who drink talk – no women come here, possibly because of the reputations of those that take the shade of the tree.

This is an intersection. Strange conversations happen here. Wisdom and foolishness are imparted with the fervor of alcohol. It is not a safe place, tempers can flare just as in any other place. It is not a place where the ‘successful’ lounge. But it is a place where the mangoes do not have far to fall – barely bruised sometimes, with the same value as the words that flow under the tree. Sometimes sweet, sometimes too ripe, sometimes not yet ready to be absorbed.

I stood under the tree recently, drinking water after having baked in the sun, and a younger head in the village and I discussed the problems with people who were developing land. It was not an accidental conversation, it was a conversation began because of who I am, so I listened. Behind the mango tree, maybe 300 meters away, the faint sound of a bulldozer was in play, but I was attuned to what the young rastafarian was saying.

He was saying things I agreed with. About how easy it is for people with machines at their command to set the time bombs under houses by grading below them. About how people liked to cast concrete around their homes, bag their leaves and cuttings, paying to have the bags taken – and all the while buying manure. It’s stupid, really, what people do. I’ve seen it a lot in developing nations, where concrete is poured like the alcohol in an alcoholics drink. Unsparingly.

It’s ugly. You can fool yourself into thinking otherwise, but it’s ugly.

I have seen pieces of my own land so developed by tenants, but I turn a blind eye to it, favoring instead where I am doing my planning. As I pass through, though, I see the large concrete houses and the span of concrete yards. Who am I to judge how others wish to live? No one. But I can certainly mock their choices, maybe bring some fertilizer down their way and sell it to them so that the plants they pay lip service to do not starve in their containers.

The younger man is surprised at how much I agree with, and when I chime in with thoughts of my own. We are not friends, we may never be friends, but we have learned something about each other and how we see the world. It is more alike than he had thought.

We talked about planting seeds in our land to grow trees – and how people would buy the very mangoes we were sitting under, spending $20TT on 4 or maybe 5 of them while we sat under it’s shade and ate on a whim.

I didn’t tell him about a conversation I’d had with another software engineer in the late 90s, where he had found out that I had land in Trinidad.

He had told me, “You’re crazy.”
“What?”
“Everyone here dreams of buying a piece of land in the Caribbean and you already have yours. What are you doing here?”

A fair question back then, a pivotal question that ate at me over the years. And here I was.

I picked up a freshly fallen mango, bit it’s meat off of it and sucked the seed clean, some of the strings sticking between my teeth. It was sweet.

I put the seed in the pickup, and my new acquaintance laughed.
“You’re going to plant that!”

A smile.

Too often we don’t plant the seeds of trees when we don’t expect to stand under their shade.

The Feline Meeting

business_meet_121125“I’ve come up with a way to skin the cat.”, said the junior software engineer at the end of his presentation. “It won’t take much in the way of resources, and we can have it done within a week.”

The senior software engineer studied the blueprint of the cat, glancing up and around, then back to the blueprint. He looked up again, around, then fixing his gaze on the junior software engineer said, “Using your method, we can only skin the cat once since the cat will then be dead. Are there any other ways to skin the cat? There’s usually more than one way.”

Another software engineer chimed in, “Well, we could re-skin the cat as we de-skin it.”

Everyone looked at him, puzzled, and the junior software engineer said, “So we won’t be actually skinning the cat?”

“No, no, we can get the skin of the cat while encapsulating it in another ‘skin'”, she said, using her fingers to make fingerquotes.

“That’s interesting.”, said the manager.

“So we use this process, but we use another process to re-skin the cat, and we can customize the skin to be what the owner of the cat wants?”, asked the saleswoman, immediately seeing a new market.

“But then we’ll be stuck with a skin of lesser market value, wouldn’t we?”, asks the business analyst.

The new CTO, exasperated, looks around the table. “No one here has yet shown me why we should skin the cat in the first place.”

The CEO looks over, “Well, I asked them if we could do it.”

Silence.

“Why?”

“I read it in a magazine article on the plane and we could get venture capital if we found a way to do it.”

Retrospect.

San Fernando Hill Views (2016)

Depth requires perspective, and perspective requires depth.

Intelligence requires wisdom, but wisdom does not require intelligence.

Wisdom requires time and experience, but the experience does not have to be within the same sphere.

In fact, sometimes it’s better if it’s not.

‘Older Heads’

deepartIn Trinidad, you have the ‘older heads’ – those that, by virtue of living longer are attributed a wisdom that the ‘younger heads’ do not have. People go to them for advice on all manner of things about life, be it business or pleasure. ‘Older heads’ are the ones with the answers, the advice, those that have had the privilege of living through choices good and bad.

Not long ago, I sat with two younger cousins, an Uncle only 13 years my senior and his wife – our Aunt. We had gone to Annie’s Restaurant for dinner where our connections allowed us to simply let our host pick out the dinner for us. We sat there, joking with each other, telling each other stories about things past. Being the 2nd eldest at the table, I had my own stories to share – we all do – and on the way up with my younger cousins, I spoke about the land and the respect for the people on it, and the way I have learned to do things… and how it allowed me to grow in ways that I would not have.

My second youngest cousin had prompted me in a conversation a day before, so at the table I said to the youngest, “Well – we used to have the older heads to ask about things. And now, look around. These are the older heads.”

I looked around, unsettled by the fact maybe more than those younger at the table. I’d just done my Will after I was reminded of my mortality and the fact that despite trying so hard otherwise, I would likely die of old age. My mind was on those I cared about, near and far, a context that I had been completely unprepared for. I’d had the pleasure of playing with my youngest nephew, a gift that allowed me to see life through younger eyes again, that reminded me of the trust and care that every child should have and so many do not… so many did not, including myself.

I had become an ‘older head’.

I had become someone that was respected by those that meant something to me. I had become someone that people listened to, whose words where important and even in that moment I wondered how everyone had changed so much… but we all had, and the most change was my own in my context. There was no pleasure in it, just a daunting responsibility to do the right things, to say the right things…

And even as I was trying to make a point to everyone at that table – that we were it, that we were now what we used to look up to, the responsibility felt heavy on my shoulders – an unannounced burden, an unsettling weight that was easy to carry and worrisome because it had become so easy to carry.

thosemountains.jpgIt was heavy on my mind throughout my trip to Trinidad. The thought of how a very small action could become either something very good or very bad – about how a word in the right place could move mountains, and a word in the wrong place would doom you to carrying the mountains. The thought of how a life I so recklessly lived for others meant so much to people who mattered, the thought of how a life I gave so willingly from meant so little to those who I gave it for meant so much to those I did not give it to… and the rare and pleasing occasions when I gave and received in amounts I found good enough. There is no equal. There are simply returns not to be measured.

Many will say that I’m not old enough to think some of the thoughts that I do, or to feel as I do, and I can’t argue their frame of reference.

My frame of reference is understanding that I can never go home, but that I can choose to be at home wherever I am. I have learned to take sacrifices for what they are, to know that some decisions might have been better with more knowledge and wisdom without the sting of regret that wounds so many. I have learned to embrace the unrequited, to be silent when words will have no effect, to deny what I want to get what I want, and to be myself and accept the good and bad within myself.

older headAs I told a younger person over a bottle of Angostura One on my last night in Trinidad in a rare moment when I could shoot straight with someone elusive even when there… we are not limited by those who have gone before. We are not doomed to their shadows by anything but ourselves, and within we have the capacity to dare to find the amazing human beings we are, to revel in the good and accept the bad.

And most of all, I have learned that while through attrition I have become one of the ‘Older Heads’ at some tables, I still have much to learn and that everyone and everything has something to teach me.