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HBSers "Mash It Up" at Trinidad & Tobago "Carnival"

Boston in February.life on the banks of the Charles River gets a bit cold at times and only the warm embrace of the Caribbean Sea seems to soothe wind-cracked skin and relax tense muscles.

Logically this calls for another sojourn to the Caribbean. This time, a spirited dozen HBSers ventured to the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), not just to unwind but to have the culturally enriching experience of participating in T&T’s world-renowned “Carnival.”

The rationale for the trip varied. Some noted the birthdays of Omar (Kevin? – I confused myself), Bame and Damian, and after one too many birthday parties at 33, this was a welcome change of venue. Others felt T&T provided excellent business opportunities, particularly in the area of process management, so experiencing it first-hand could enhance their studies. Jan, who prior to HBS had consulted the T&T government and local corporations, noted enthusiastically that he wanted to “re-connect” with his most important clients.

T&T, located in the southeast corner of the Caribbean Sea, is roughly seven miles above Venezuela, and a 6-hour flight from New York City. More importantly, it is home to one the world’s most popular “Carnival.” “Carnival” traces its roots to the early 19th Century where the festival ushered in the period of Lent on the Christian Calendar and offered a celebration from the rigid social hierarchy of the time. Today the event takes place in two days, but parties (fetes) leading up to the bacchanal stretch the festive period to two weeks or more.

In the early 1960s steel pans were introduced and calypso and soca music have entranced revelers since. “Carnival” is a kaleidoscope of color and culture, reflecting the beauty and variety of the people who are primarily of Indian, African and European ancestry. As visitors attending T&T Carnival quickly realize there are very few spectators-they are, in fact, the show!

The itinerary below provides a snapshot of what HBS’ own Soca Warriors had to tackle.

Day One:
Arrive Friday night at 9:00 p.m.
Girl Power Fete at 10:00 p.m.
Return to the hotel at 5:00 a.m. the next morning

One curious aspect is the names of the fetes at “Carnival” which are empowering and terribly descriptive. The Girl Power fete was an outdoor concert attended by such luminaries as Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, and Brian Lara, world-famous cricketer. The event was teeming with “girl power.” Rich, poor, famous and irrelevant all are on equal footing at “Carnival.” Soca superstars such as Destra wowed the crowd all night with lively performances. Seeing a crowd of hundreds of people jump in unison, waving flags and simultaneously dance, is a thing of wonder.

Perhaps one comment of the HBS crew put it best: “Bloody hell.I have never seen this many beautiful women per square foot in my life!” (He would repeat this phrase many times throughout the trip.)

Day Two:
 Pick up costumes at 1:00 p.m. (wait in line for 3 hours)
 Insomnia Fete at 10:00 p.m. (as the name suggests, event ends the next morning at 10:00 a.m.)
 Return to Hotel at 11:00 a.m. the next morning

After searching tirelessly for an egg and ham croissant sandwich, one Francophone participant discovered that a KFC franchise could be a profitable investment while standing in line at 6:00 a.m. at a 24-hour establishment. This wait was eclipsed by the much longer wait at the country club for costumes later that afternoon.

This fete had even more energy than the last one and featured one of T&T’s top soca performers, Machel. At 7:00 a.m. the crowd was still partying strong under the morning sun while being hosed down.

Day Three:
 Maracas Beach at 1:00 p.m.
 Visit to the “Plantation” at 5:00 p.m.
 “J’Ouvert” (a Mud Masquerade Party) at 3:00 a.m.

The beach brought a welcome change of pace. Some of our first-year participants, Mac and Clint, commented on the slow cycle time of the Shark & Bake (fried shark sandwich) shop and thought of franchising opportunities. Thank you, TEM and TOM.

A late lunch with a family living on a picturesque property that was once a plantation was a bitter-sweet reminder of the beauty of the Caribbean and remnants of an elitist legacy. Nestled in a valley overlooking the trees, the view of the sea and a glimpse of the city were spectacular. Our hosts were gracious and insisted that we have tea and “hops” with them.

J’Ouvert is literally a very open bacchanal where anonymity is cherished by having participants covered in mud and/or paint. It is typically held at in the pre-dawn hours before Carnival Monday. The J’ouvert’ spirit is one of unbridled passion and freedom, sometimes featuring costumed,gruesome devils. This mood is accompanied by a procession of trucks with huge speakers blasting well into the morning. Of course, our HBS Soca Warriors could not be left out. Clad in mud and silver paint, they left their inhibitions in Boston and had a fantastic, liberating experience. NOTE: the author of this article opted out of this activity.

Days Four and Five:
 Mas (Carnival Parade)

Our trip reached a crescendo. Monday was a fun practice day, where we met our new “sectionmates” – Section Golden Streams and Section Divine. We were the carnival! We were brimming with energy, maybe with a bit of liquor, too. We danced through the streets of Port of Spain for hours, with thousands of onlookers cheering us on. We approached Tuesday with great anticipation that we would be on national TV and marching for well over 10 hours. With the help of our new “sectionmates,” an abundance of food and liquor and pulsating rhythms, we represented HBS well. In fact, one of our Soca Warriors, another T&T transplant, injured his knee while performing an acrobatic dance move but still persevered. We mashed it up!

For those who are still curious what it means to “mash it up” just ask any of the HBS Soca Warriors and I am sure that they will oblige.

March 27, 2006
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