By Bob Morris
Driving along Trinidad’s northeast coast, I kept passing men carrying tiny birds in wooden cages. I pulled over and chatted up a guy named Randolph, who was proudly toting a cage with a bullfinch in it. “I’m on my way to the bird-singing contest,” Randolph said to me. “Bird-singing contest?” “Yah, mon. You train a bird to sing and then bet it can sing longer than the rest. Man can make lots of money with a bird that can really sing.” Randolph asked me to join him. He told me he’d paid $75 for his bullfinch — a male named Bussie — but if it became a champion singer, he thought he could sell it for as much as $1,000. The bird was notably silent during our drive. “Bussie don’t sing in cars,” said Randolph. When we arrived, the competition was under way. Cages hung from poles with birds pitted against each other. The owners talked to their birds, urging them to whistle and chirp, while a judge marked a scoreboard whenever a bird started a new song. There was lots of yelling, lots of friendly arguing and lots of money changing hands. It was early afternoon, and I asked Randolph how long it would last. “Oh, it can go on until it’s dark, mon,” he said. “You just hang up your cage, bet your money, drink a little rum, sit back and listen to the birds sing.”And that’s just what we did.
In Luperon in the DR, a local poet invited me to the town’s “Casa de Cultura” to meet its head honcho and present him a copy of my book. At least that’s what I thought I was invited to do. I walked in and noted the neat rows of chairs. Chairs that were filling with people. This was a book talk. And I was giving it. Did I mention I speak only basic Spanish? I cobbled together a few words and thought I was in the clear. No. Next up: the Q&A. How does one politely say, “I don’t want to answer that in public”? — Ann Vanderhoof