Friday, May 27, 2016

The trip of a lifetime

Saturday, January 16, 2016, 23:07
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[caption id="attachment_25039" align="alignleft" width="216"]DJ Richie Galvez and Kimolyn Vernon were part of the Belize delegation that attended the 2015 Carnival Calabar in Nigeria DJ Richie Galvez and Kimolyn Vernon were part of the Belize delegation that attended the 2015 Carnival Calabar in Nigeria[/caption] By Kimolyn Vernon, Member of TITANS Carnival Group Our trip to ‘Africa’ was simply a dream that became reality. We were able to travel to a place many only knew by means of our history books and the television. As many of us know, history taught us that the African continent is Homeland or our Motherland. Therefore, being able to touch its soil is considered an opportunity of a lifetime. We were selected to go on such a wonderful trip so that we could partake in of one of Africa’s biggest yearly festivals held for over the past 11 years, known as the Carnival Calabar held at Cross River State in Nigeria. The invite was extended to us to represent our beautiful Jewel in its expression of arts and music, specifically, Carnival. Aside from all the initial excitement that filled us during the preparation for the trip, we were still faced with the reality that we were going to be leaving behind our family during the Christmas Holidays; nevertheless, we all managed to prepare ourselves and families just before our departure. We were also holding faith that the trip would still be possible, since on the day before departure, we experienced challenges in terms of hotel accommodations and other travel arrangements. Our prayers were answered however and we were ready to leave for our destination to represent our country abroad. It took over 22 hours to fly from Belize to Nigeria. We departed Belize, stopped at Houston, US, and boarded an Air France flight to Paris, then to the Lagos Muhammad Airport in Lagos, Nigeria. After being cleared from the immigration, we were greeted as if we were government officials or diplomats. A group escorted the eight of us out of the airport building with heavy security to our transportation. We were immediately taken to the hotel in Lagos, Nigeria where we were greeted by our fellow Nigerian and Brazilian carnival participants who were there from the night before. The moment we got settled in we were so ecstatic and proud to have been there that we did not hesitate to quickly show case our beautiful flag by waving it every chance we had in order to expose our country to others that were there too. Later on that night we went out to have dinner and we brought in the Christmas together with our new family. Heading back to the hotel, our escorts took us on a brief sightseeing tour and we got a glimpse of how beautiful Lagos, Nigeria is. The vision we had of Nigeria before reaching there was immediately dissipated after seeing how developed the country really was. They are so many skyscrapers, modern houses, vehicles and office buildings. It was truly an amazing experience for our first day in Nigeria. On the 27th of December, we left for Lagos to the ancient city of Calabar where all the events were taking place at. During the 45 minutes flight to Calabar, the pilot faced some difficulties landing because of the humid weather. Accordingly, this happens regularly during the Christmas season for the air becomes thick with fog along with the dust from the Sahara desert. There was one instance when the plane was about to land and had to revert towards the air to reroute and try to land safely. Since we were not accustomed to such experiences we naturally panicked, but with prayers, we held on to faith and finally before we know it we landed safely. [caption id="attachment_25040" align="alignleft" width="500"]Belize delegation interviewed by local media Belize delegation interviewed by local media[/caption] As we landed we heard the beautiful music being played on steel pans and cheering from the Nigerians. We swiftly took out our Belizean flags once again and proudly waved it to the beat of the instrument. They greeted us and welcomed us as if we were royalties. At Tinapa Hotel we met up with people from many different participating countries such as: Zimbabwe, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Italy, and Rwanda. They were very diverse and unique in culture. These countries tribes and culture were closely related with each other but each of these countries had something distinctive about them that set each of them apart. They admired us because even though it was only eight of us representing our country, all were of mixed cultures. We gave them a brief history of our wonderful country, to help them understand why we had such a beautiful mixture of cultures. We shared pictures of Belize and they instantly fell in love.   The day had finally arrived for us to display our costumes. The parade was approximately 7 to 8 miles long with 60 carnival groups. All groups were assigned to a float and each group did performances at three VIP locations. The popular music for most African groups is very similar to what we refer to as Punta Rock here at home. However, the dancing is highly intense. When we came out in our costumes, they were amazed with the designs. The Belizeans danced the universe away and represented our country to fullest. The Nigerians were overjoyed about our performance. The other groups were curious to know about the Belizean group as we were one of the top performers in the competition. They applauded our dancing and costumes. After our performances, many approached to take pictures of our costumes. After the carnival, we went to the Nigerian Navy base to have dinner with the other invited countries. They have a tradition that whenever a woman enters a ballroom, she will be greeted with cheers and music. It’s a way of showing respect. It was a very joyous moment for us all for the rest of the night we just came together and all sang beautiful songs and ate together as a family. On the 28th of December, the largest competition of the entire festival was held, this was where all the countries were given the opportunity to perform for the judges. This was an amazing experience for us, as we had the opportunity of having front row seats in a huge stadium and watch all the other countries perform. After the competition, there was a live concert which was held with the local and international Nigerian celebrities who performed the night away for us. The trip was wonderful, despite the initial challenges due to lack of timely communication. Nonetheless, the Nigerian officials took extremely good care of us and ensured that we had everything that was needed during our visit. It was the first year for Belize and it was the best opportunity to expose our beautiful country what is known as Africa’s Biggest Carnival Festival.  Even though we only had a team of eight we considered ourselves to be a very strong team because with all the challenges we faced, we made the best out of every situation and excelled at promoting and representing our country. This journey has opened our eyes to appreciate the little things in life and also appreciate our diversity as a country. This adventure is one for the books as it is definitely an unforgettable one.
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