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During the world’s biggest party, I hit the books

Carnival (Matthew Tompsett/YJI)

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago – Lent is almost over, and for a semi-practicing Roman Catholic, that should mean something. It should symbolize growth or change; sacrifice and resolution.

But for me, it means a week of abstaining from meat and not much else.

Lent used to be a big deal, but now, at least in Trinidad, it’s just the period of time that follows Carnival.

Carnival seems to be our raison-d’etre – the rest of the year is just a reason to prepare for it.

And this year, I missed it all completely. Talk about sacrifice.

Officially, for a few days in February that make up Carnival, we are forgiven from any normally acceptable standard of behavior.

It’s a time like no other.

Vagrants and wealthy bigots embrace in the cold sweat of the season. Carnival starts with Jouvert (derived from the French jour ouvert or day open) on early Carnival Monday morning, bursting with mud, costumes oozing political criticism and alcohol.

It continues with an official parade of the bands and then on Tuesday night, suddenly ends with the onslaught of Lent.

The entire rhythm of my country is tuned to Carnival.

Preparations for the next season start almost immediately after Carnival finishes.

Doing the wheelbarrow during Carnival. (Matthew Tompsett/YJI)

Fetes start ridiculously early and obscure Christmas. There is somewhere to go every night.

The banks give $10,000-plus loans to buy costumes, tickets, clothes and whatever else you should need.

Carnival is an intrinsic part of life here – and I had to stay home because I didn’t want to fail my exams.

Have you ever told yourself, I’ll do it later? Tomorrow, next week, in five minutes, when I wake up… I say these things to myself all the time.

It feels good to be lazy, but when you realize suddenly that you have exams next week and you know basically nothing, it’s time to do something.

Admittedly, there were other people who didn’t study and enjoyed themselves fully, going to come to school hung over on Ash Wednesday.

I wish I were able to not care. You know those people who jump off buildings because they’ve failed an exam? I’m just a small step away: I’m the bawling, pleading, desperate kind of failer. And for me, a fail is anything that’s not an A.

So on Carnival Monday while everyone was playing Jouvert; flinging mud and paint and rum at each other, I was in my room drinking coffee and staring at a list of formulas.

I heard my neighbor come home in the sunrise and wake up to put on his Carnival costume at 10 and go out for the rest of the day. I’d hear the island beat of soca music in the road, in my friends’ voices – everywhere except where I was.

It bothered me – and I don’t even like soca that much!

It’s a sacrifice to not celebrate debauchery. It’s a sacrifice to make a definite decision to do something different, something that could (possibly) be good for you.

So maybe Lent came early for me this year – I just didn’t take the whole 40 days and 40 nights thing literally. Is the Bible EVER meant to be taken word for word?
The point is, my Lent came, my Lent went, and I had to give up a lot more than not eating meat for two months.

Kate Agard is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.