Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fostering Tobago's Soul

Cynthia Hurd Clovis at the Kariwak Village Hotel and Holistic Haven.
Photo courtesy Skene Howie
Cynthia Hurd Clovis may have arrived as a Canadian over 40 years ago. She returns to Canada this month as a Tobagonian. Like many others beguiled by the island’s natural charms, Cynthia stayed, built her family and a business here. But Cynthia leaves much more than a thriving hospitality business; her lasting legacy is shaped in the people who became her family at the Kariwak Village and most assuredly, those who visit from around the world and return here season after season.
This tribute to Cynthia's contribution to Tobago was first published in the Tobago Newsday on the weekend of April 9, 35 years after the "first night" on April 9, 1982.

Cynthia Hurd Clovis relates in her Kariwak cookbook: “at the age of 26, a life on the island of Tobago, an unspoilt tropical paradise 11 degrees north of the equator, seemed dreamily exotic.” She arrived on the island in 1976, with Trinidadian husband Allan Clovis to fulfill their dream of building and operating a small hotel. “Acquiring the land in Tobago, enticing investors, designing and building Kariwak and equipping it to be a hotel took the next six years.”

They opened the Kariwak Village on Easter weekend in 1982. “The 18 rooms were full. Just before dinner when all the guests must have been in their rooms, showering, there was a big bang and everything went pitch black. TTEC may have miscalculated the load, wires touched… Here we were on Good Friday evening going to every store around for candles and flashlights. We dispensed bottled water for drinking, dipped buckets of water from the pool for baths and toilets.

“It was a case of  ‘if anything can go wrong, it will.’ I think the problem was fixed by the end of the next day.”

Thirty-five years on, Cynthia has given Kariwak her all and is justified in looking forward to a period of “doing nothing.” Over the five months since she made the decision to retire, she has been working to transfer functions and logistics; more importantly, to define the ethos of Kariwak for those who continue to work there as well as visitors.

“I’m not sure how to do that,” but she is trusting that people do understand. “Soul, that’s the essence of what Kariwak offers,” she says, and then quotes Maya Angelou, ““I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Even as she tries to crystallize the system that will maintain and grow the Kariwak relationship with a community that comes from all over the world, she is hopeful that the team including the four persons recently hired, will continue to shape the   soul of the place. She wishes that they will be resilient and adaptable and good-humoured.

“The system is not perfect at all. Staff play the most important role. We have a new chef, an operations manager and two assistants (for two shifts every day). We have always functioned with a team. But new health regulations, new standards, different employee relations, less casual working relationships mean more formal structures in our industry. I hope that people will find their feet and feel at home.”

She is mindful that tiny Kariwak Village has maintained its standards, indeed is a beacon in the industry in Tobago. But Tobago is tiny too; and there are many opportunities based on this closeness, for the hospitality community to work together for the benefit of Tobago.

“The Golden Ring was a concept that Kariwak developed many years ago in which the small properties – hotels and restaurants – could offer guests meal exchanges among their members.”
She was also an advocate of better training for hotel staff, “There should be a team of trainers that would operate among the hotels. These could be persons from tourism agencies, members of ‘golden ring’ properties who would provide motivational sessions.

“I have offered to teach at the hotel school. The Language of Enthusiasm would be my course, but I’m not sure everyone understands how spirit and attitude motivate everything you do, in the kitchen, the restaurant, even cleaning rooms.”
The primary resource for success in hospitality is people, she believes. “The Division of Tourism needs to work directly with the hotels and restaurants. They also need to work harder to understand customers, and the changing market. We need to get into the schools; make hospitality and tourism part of the school curriculum. Engaging young people is crucial to the future success of the industry.”

Cynthia is responsible for the training of scores of persons who have worked at the Kariwak over 35 years. With gentle but firm guidance, she has helped many on their way into the wider world, encouraging them to “take responsibility for what comes out of their mouths.” The few who stayed the course with Cynthia helped her to understand how essential a sense of humour is. They have accepted Cynthia’s vision and taken responsibility for their lives; they will remain the core of the Kariwak to nurture and pass on its ethos.

What’s next for Cynthia? “My real reason for going is to know who I am. For 35 years, Kariwak has defined me and I have defined this place. I want to see who Cynthia is. If I am totally lost without the Kariwak, that will tell me something.
“Outside there, I am certain that my next career will be something to do with food: maybe a soup kitchen; maybe a school feeding or cooking programme.”

Tobago, more than Trinidad, is a microcosm of the world. So many nations fought here in the centuries after discovery; each leaving a piece of their presence somewhere, in the names of places, shipwrecks and bones. Less evident are the legacies of those who come, take nothing, but who change the very air with their presence: with kindness, compassion, discipline, willing to communicate, with humanity. Cynthia and Kariwak have shaped each other; there’s no doubt that she will be back in Tobago one day. (Pat Ganase)



6 comments:

  1. The Kariwak is truly unique, with a spirit, culture and soul built and fostered by Cynthia and the staff. For us regulars it us home from home. I hope that those who take over from Cynthia understand, and are fully committed to keeping the Kariwak spirit.

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  2. Thanks for everything, Cynthia! You will be missed. Best wishes for your time ahead in Canada.

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  3. Thank you for being you. Kariwak won't be the same without you, but I know you will be there in spirit. Enjoy your well earned 'you' time!!!

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  4. There are no words which can be used to describe her passion and commitment not only to the hotel but to the staff as well... the slogan a home away from home indicated the Kariwak experience.She worked long days and short nights but always had a bounce in her step the following day.
    As an ex-employee to put both words "rest" and "Cynthia into one sentence is a challenge but it would be well deserved one.
    Kariwak without Cynthia is pretty hard to digest but all the best to her- truly deserved.

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  5. There are no words which can be used to describe her passion and commitment not only to the hotel but to the staff as well... the slogan a home away from home indicated the Kariwak experience.She worked long days and short nights but always had a bounce in her step the following day.
    As an ex-employee to put both words "rest" and "Cynthia into one sentence is a challenge but it would be well deserved one.
    Kariwak without Cynthia is pretty hard to digest but all the best to her- truly deserved.

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  6. I've been privileged to be a guest of the Kariwak many times, many years ago, with my mother's best friend, Mr John Punkey Foard.

    I still boast today of the treatment that I received at the hands of the helpful and ever so pleasant members of staff, the quality of the food, the rooms ... EVERYTHING. Kariwak is an experience that everyone should have, particularly locals. We as locals need to see that there is something worth boasting about right under our noses.

    God go with you Mrs Clovis ... enjoy your retirement and I'm sure that you will soon find yourself something else to immerse your talents into.

    Be blessed...

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