The old-fashioned front porch, gallery or verandah, brings home to me all the nostalgia of a Caribbean childhood.
Anything or everything worth remembering seems to have taken place on the front porch. From pulling snakes to scare passers-by, to watching the Mother Sally masquerade band go by, there was no better place than the front porch.
If you didn’t have a front porch, you didn’t have a life.
What is fascinating about the front porch or verandah, is that it is imbued with the ambiguous relationship of being not quite house nor street! It gives rise to the concept of inner or spiritual space, a concept which is more eastern than western.
Thus, it has its own aura, qualities of intimacy and spontaneity, the atmosphere of living in an open street in the sun drenched splendour of the Caribbean, both a haven and a retreat.
It was on the front porch that romances bloomed and lovers wooed each other, right under the noses of parents, peeping through the jalousie!
It was on the front porch that one snoozed in a hammock, fanned by the cooling tradewinds, enjoying a ‘cat nap’ after a hard day’s toil.
It was on the front porch that old-timers rocked away in their rocking chairs, watching the world go by, remembering one-time days when they were young, chasing butterflies and frock tails, pulling a donkey’s tail, playing paper chase, trying to make it back to the front porch before the curfew of darkness.
It was on the front porch that families listened to old-time radio dramas like Aunt Mary – a good neighbour, birthday request programmes, or BBC news from around the world.
The lounge chair, the reclining Berbice chair, or old soft drinks crate, all provided ample support on the porch.
Smokers were banished to the front porch, toddlers were gated to it, children who misbehaved and got a "cut ass" were sent to it, board games were played on it, kids played childhood games like hop scotch underneath it, caged whistling birds like the "twa twa" sang shrilly on it, parrots made rude comments to passers-by from it, umbrellas and raincoats were left to dry on it, newspapers were read on it, flowers and plants were hung in it, family feuds were hatched and settled in it, postmen took shelter from the rain in it, home-grown string bands practised on it, wandering troubadours and calypsonians sang to it, and eavesdroppers relished it as a platform for listening to neighourhood gossip and domestic fights.
But for me, in all the confusion, it was the most private place in the world. When I wanted to run away from home (which became almost weekly as I got older), I went to the porch to reconsider.
It was on the front porch I hatched the plot to put fowl dung on the visiting barber’s bicycle seat as the Revenge of Bernard, for my obligatory monthly haircut! Everything seemed to make a lot more sense on the front porch.
It was on the front porch that I discovered family, friendships, and favourite things.
It was on the front porch, with mosquitoes buzzing and candle flies dancing, with a Guyana crescent moon lying lazily on its side that I came close to understanding the presence of God in this beautiful, mixed-up world of ours.
The porch was my church and sanctuary, providing a passing hour, a pleasant time – here a cry, there a smile, a glimpse and gone forever. I miss it so much, it hurts.
Architecture reflects its country and people. The Amerindians and their Ajoupa are telling us to build like they do – to walk with nature.
The front porch did that for me and many others.
Everyone should have a front porch, to take the time to reflect, to look out on life and into the soul.
"Courtesy of Indo Caribbean World, November 21st. 1998"