Perennial busybody Gia Gaspard-Taylor certainly outdid herself when she led the staging of a national mango festival four years ago. The July 8 edition has been described as the best yet, barring a few noteworthy shortcomings. For example, the festival could have offered a greater variety of mango products-there are supposed to be at least 50 product lines-and provided more fresh fruit for sale. "Climate change," was the reason offered by mango-products manufacturer and rural women's activist Rose Rajbansee for the shortage of the fruit itself. Though she usually taps reliable family and community sources for her supplies, Rajbansee said there was a recognisable shift in the core mango season over recent years. "You just don't know when you will get and when you will not get," she said. Gaspard-Taylor's response was the same when asked why there weren't more mangoes on sale at this year's festival. She recalled the 2009 challenge by University of the West Indies (UWI) mathematician and mangophile Dr Charles de Matas to stage the first-ever mango festival. "It rained all day," Gaspard-Taylor said, "but we pulled it off."
The sun shone all day last Sunday, though, and a festival shuttle spared guests the long, hot walk from the public carpark to the covered area of the UWI Field Station near the Mt Hope Hospital. In one corner was Dan Jaggernath of the Field Naturalists Club, with dried coconuts, disembowelled by squirrels, now used for sprouting mango plants. Jaggernath believes this use of coconuts will help reduce the use of plastics in agriculture. But he did concede that coconut growers would not readily approve of his endorsement of the work of squirrels. Across the way was Rajbansee, from Manzanilla, and her eight mango lines, including a highly-regarded kuchela and mango wine. In another corner was Colleen Malwah Aqui with her Rodco line of soaps, candles and gift baskets. In the middle was an ill-defined "centre-stage"-to use the description of the roving MC-where winners of the mango chow competition received their prizes and where the mango-sucking showdown was staged. Four contestants lined up for the mango-sucking contest, which challenged participants to leave as little mango pulp on two medium-sized mangoes in as short a space of time as possible. There was an early objection by contestants when one green mango appeared to have survived the earlier mango chow and appeared on the table in front of last year's winner, Michelle Graigg of Tobago.
In the end, it was Wendy Felix-Baksh of Mt Hope who emerged victorious, following a clinical display that left but one mango speck on her white T-shirt and little evidence of pulp on the stringy remains of the mango itself. In second place was T&T Guardian columnist Lisa Allen-Agostini, who wore black for the occasion and displayed a preference for the double-handed, chin-down posture. Graigg was unable to perform a repeat of last year's performance and placed third. A fourth contestant was unable to complete the task when her final mango fell to the ground, where farm animals presumably roam on a regular day, and was, rather sensibly, not retrieved. Sandra Greenidge of Champs Fleurs won the mango chow competition with a sinus-clearing concoction that impressed the judges, while in second place was Motilal Ramlochan, a farmer from Aranguez. In third place was Ulin Mahon of Tobago. Greenidge ran a booth with mango preserves, curry mango, her prize-winning chow and confectionery, including mango fudge. Live entertainment ranged from the harmonious choruses of the Pt Fortin Homework Centre Choir to drumming, dances and young Kes the Illusionist who moved from table to table performing remarkable magic tricks, with the help of a bleach-blonde assistant who many thought was doing a Nicki Minaj impression. The mango-flavoured stewed chicken was served with vegetable rice and the sugarcane juice touched the spot. But drinks and eats were generally in short supply-a situation made worse by the shortage of ripe julies and starch mangoes in the vendors' booths. Gaspard-Taylor and the Network of Rural Women Producers, however, had nothing to be ashamed about. Few will have left the field station not looking forward to Mango Festival V in 2013.