Tiphanie Yanique: Lessons in Culture, History and Literature


A couple of weeks ago, one of my professors sent out snippets from a book called How to Escape From a Leper Colony by Caribbean author, Tiphanie Yanique.  Mrs. Yanique was coming to visit my college and my professor wanted us to be up to speed on her works before she got here.  Tiphanie Yanique has won several awards for her literature including a Fulbright Scholarship and the Boston Review Fiction Prize.  She has had her works published in both the United States and in Europe.

From the snippets I read, I saw that How to Escape From a Leper Colony, written in 2010, is a brilliant and intriguing piece of Caribbean literature.  To me, literature is writing that speaks to its readers both today and 100 years ago, and will continue to speak to its readers in 100 years from now – it’s timeless.  Literature accomplishes this feat by speaking to the human condition, which is the experiencing of emotions, thoughts and the physical world in addition to the interpreting of the implications of those experiences.  Effectively, it is what it means to be a human being.  Naturally, all people have the human condition and always have had it and always will have it.  That is why literature remains relevant to all people from all times.

Mrs. Yanique’s writings are not simply just good writings; they are literature.  Her writings also teach their readers about a new place: the Caribbean.  By reading How to Escape from a Leper Colony, my eyes were opened to the culture in the Caribbean, namely in the island of Chacachacare during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.  Chacachacare is one of the Bocas Islands which lie between Trinidad and Venezuela in the Atlantic Ocean.  I really didn’t have many of my own ideas about Chacachacare before reading this book.  In fact, frankly, I didn’t know it even existed.  That is part of why reading this was such an amazing, eye-opening experience for me.

In this story, I visited a train junction which also served as a market place in Trinidad where raw oysters, buckets and brooms were sold at stands.  We traveled there by wagon and then walked on a dirt road for hours, from there to the ocean’s edge where I continued with Deepa, the main character of the story, a girl of 14 with leprosy, the rest of the way to Chacachacare by boat.  Once in Chacachacare, we found our new home, a leper colony and hoped we could be happy there.  The colony was ran by a conglomeration of Catholic nuns, Trinidadian doctors, British journalists, criminals and Christian missionaries, all volunteers there to do good deeds, hoping to earn forgiveness from God.

Mrs. Yanique’s story immersed me in a completely different world in a completely different time.  It was a world where altars were built in the forest to Hindu gods and then burned by Catholic nuns.  A world where lepers try to escape by jumping into the ocean.  It was a time when penicillin was still new and peoples of different faiths from different nationalities all lived and worked together because they all shared a common reverence for “God”, regardless of who that god was.  Imagine, just imagine that.

Mrs. Yanique’s story reveals the human feelings of uncertainty and fear when moving to a new place, the discovery of love as seen when Deepa falls in love with Lazaro, the experience of religious condemnation, and the exploring of a new culture.  Mrs. Yanique takes a foreign place and its history and culture, and makes it real and tangible, connecting readers to her characters through shared emotions and discoveries.  Then she brings this experience to the rest of the world as her books have been published all over.  How to Escape From a Leper Colony plays a vital and impactful role in the life of Caribbean literature by being an invaluable piece of educational and thoroughly enjoyable writing that will live on for generations to come.                     
Want the book? Purchase it from Powell’s here: http://goo.gl/56O8hD
Link to learn more about Tiphanie Yanique: tiphanieyanique.com

In the Gardens

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

I remember the first time that I saw a monk and I will likely never forget it. It was June, the weather of San Francisco was warm, but the bay air kept it from becoming too hot. The sun was high, but not blinding, as it was blocked out by lush green trees and the red pagoda that stood tall just a few meters away. Many would say that he was a fake—just someone dressing up, and I shouldn’t hold onto a false memory, but there was a certain energy that he gave off, something that he just seemed to exude, and I knew that he was real. The trail where I encountered him was lined with rock lanterns and benches to rest upon, something I took quick advantage of because I just wanted to relax amidst an atmosphere rarely encountered in the chaos of my life. So, it was easy to spot the brightness of his robes as they stood out amongst the green surroundings. He walked slowly, carefully, and every time someone walked by him, he would bow—or, at least, that’s what it seemed like. I knew that watching him was rude and I shouldn’t have stared, but it was almost impossible to look away.
I stood up before he reached me, and as he passed by, he bowed to me—or toward me—his head low, his palms together. There was a feeling that surged inside me that I doubt I will ever truly understand and I wondered what he thought of me, if I even crossed his mind outside of recognizing my existence. I wondered a lot of things about him—what did he think about as he walked through the gardens? What did he think when he stepped outside and encountered the claustrophobic city after being inside garden—something almost outside of time? Did he, perhaps, stand atop the moon bridge and just breathe, taking in all the scents of the surrounding foliage—the flowers, the trees, the air—as I did? Did he enjoy the kuzumochi or did he refrain from eating such sweets?
He walked on, slowly making his way down the path and out of my life, his bright robes a contrast against the green, and yet he seemed to slowly blend into the garden, as if he were a part of it, too. I’ll never know his name, as he never uttered a word, but his presence spoke more than any language ever could. Perhaps, if I am to be honest, he wasn’t bowing to me. It could have been that he was just bowing, as he always did, and I just interpreted it as what I wanted it to be. I wanted this man—someone who seemed to exude such peace and tranquility as if he embodied the garden he walked through—to acknowledge me, but who was I to want such a thing? Me, a college student whose life was a whirlwind of crazy—of stress and exams, of anxieties—who was I?
Perhaps one day I will encounter him again and I could walk with him through the garden—climb the moon bridge and stand atop it with him, his orange robes like a beacon. Perhaps I will learn his name.

By: Greyson Gardner

Finding Similarities in Another Culture



Image Credit: Cailyn Andreasen

During the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy for ten days with the photography department at Pacific University, where we split our time between Florence and Rome. I had never traveled abroad before, and the only foreign language I knew was what I had picked up in my one year of Spanish. Stepping off the bus in Florence, I was immediately overwhelmed. It was in the largest city that I had ever been in. Buildings were everywhere I looked. Cars and people whizzed past in a blur. I was pushed and jostled about as I took a moment to take in my surroundings – surroundings that were always in motion, with not a moment of calm. I couldn’t understand a word anyone said. The blank look on my face was a dead giveaway that I was American and after rolling their eyes people would start speaking English with a hint of agitation added to their voices. Standing on the sidewalk next to the bus with my suitcase in one hand I felt small and insignificant amongst the identical tall buildings with their uniform chipped, pale yellow paint.

I don’t know why, but I expected everything about Italy to be completely different from the United States, from the culture to the food to the people. I was prepared for the eye rolling at the stupid Americans that I was told everyone hated. And, while I hoped to have the opportunity to talk to locals, I knew that it was unlikely because of the language barrier and due to the high number of tourists like me visiting the busy cities. By chance, on the last night we were in Florence, I got that opportunity.

A small group of us went to a pizzeria just down the street from our hotel. From the outside it appeared to be a small hole-in-the-wall establishment that one could easily walk by and not even notice it was there. Inside there were two large rooms connected by a large archway, crammed with tables. Nearly every chair was occupied. We were led through the maze to the back of the second room where we were seated in one of the few remaining tables.

By the time we finished our meal, the restaurant was mostly empty. As we were paying, we started talking with the waitress, a waiter, and the proprietors. During our conversation we learned that it was a family business: the proprietors were the waitress’s parents and the other waiter was her younger brother. Her parents spoke very little English and her brother’s English was broken, inserting Italian words for the ones he didn’t know in English. Through his broken English he told us that he was seventeen. We asked him if was already in college or if he was still in secondary education. He told us that he didn’t like school so he dropped out of to work in the restaurant. He was not forced to drop out of school, nor was he discouraged from continuing his education to work in the restaurant like many stereotypes portray; he made those choices because that is what he wanted to do with his life. His sister, however, was very good at school, he informed us. She then told us that she was studying at University, like we were, and hoped to study abroad in the United States the following year. Then it was our turn to tell our story. They loved hearing about our adventures as much as we enjoyed theirs. By the time we finally left the restaurant it was dark and they had sent us on our way with a small goody-bag of leftover pastries from the day.

Although our conversation was brief, I learned I was wrong about a lot of things. I was wrong when I expected that everything would be different than from home. I learned that not everyone hated Americans. In fact, some aspired to study in the United States, just as we dream of studying in the many wonderful countries throughout the world. They taught me that working hard and getting an education is just as important in their culture as it is here. I learned that their dreams and aspirations aren’t all that different than mine. I learned that the people there are a lot more like us than I originally thought. Or, maybe we are more like them.

By: Cailyn Andreasen