Tuesday, January 31, 2017

NOTES FROM THE FIELD

NOTES FROM THE FIELD

I went to the local grocery store to pick up something they usually have.   It wasn't there.  I asked when they expected to get some in and was told that they are not going to get it again because it sells too fast and they can't keep enough on the shelf.

So last week my friend's purse was stolen.  She knew who the thief was and went to the police immediately to report the theft and the thief.  She was told that they couldn't go and get the man right now because they knew that he wasn't feeling well.

Yesterday I saw some nasty huge black and yellow caterpillars on a pretty tree with white flowers.  I put on my gloves and filled a bucket with water and detergent and went out to pick them off.  The cleaning lady from next door came out and told me to cut the tree down to deal with them.  No. The tree stands today, wormless and pretty.

Overheard at the Bar, "She's a hard worker and has her ear to the grindstone".


Friday, December 23, 2016

CHRISTMAS 2016

I'm trying to review the past year, but it flew by so quickly I just don't think I am going to get it all. Let's start with my trip back to Perth in June.

So I was back in my second home, in Perth, in June for 6 weeks after 10 months away.  What changes I did I see there over the past year, and what changes occurred here in Glanvillia/Portsmouth while I was away?  Basically nothing on both counts! Kind of reassuring in a way. I guess things just slog along as they are meant to.  I did enjoy my friends and family, and shopping.  I packed my usual 6 boxes of things and shipped them off to Dominica from Montreal.  Thanks Harold for taking the time to schlep me to the shipper in LaSalle. 

Anthony came back with me for a couple of weeks.  You can see his videos on YouTube.  We didn't see much of him as he was either in the jungle or under the sea.

The prominent event over the next months was a complete makeover of the Bar/Restaurant and then putting in the patio in the back.  We knocked out the back wall of the Bar, put in a door, cemented a portion of the back yard to the sea wall and planted a garden.  It is lovely to sit out there, in the sea breeze under the coconut tree with a cold Kubuli (beer) and a bowl of McDowell's fish soup. Thanks to Ron for his guidance and work.


Then there was the Art and Craft Expo sponsored by Ross University School of Medicine in late November.  A big 2 day event.  We make a lot of money  for the community.  This year the recipients were the Northern Home for the Aged and the Roving Care Givers.  I have the best job on the committee - organizing and looking after the 45+ artists and crafters.

The current project is to bring the front room in the little old house, next to the Bar, into useable condition.  We (Loni, Lene, Mait and I, known locally as "the white ladies" or sometimes "McDowell's Ladies") plan to open an art gallery/gift shop there. Renovations are moving ahead at Dominican rate of progress i.e. slow.  Here's a little story: 'Gouti, the carpenter, had to leave the job early yesterday because he is the bell ringer at the Catholic Church.  There was a funeral, so he put his tools away at noon and went to ring the bell and didn't come back.  Is he there this morning? Not sure! Probably, in his own time.The real barrier is the outrageous expense of materials and paint.  We hope for a January opening, but I don't think we will make it.  It may be ready for Carnival.

I will tell more about the house itself, a century building and the last of its kind in Portsmouth,  in another Blog.

So here we are at Christmas 2016.  Given that Christmas in Dominica is a non-event and the tropical weather, it is very difficult to raise any sort of Christmas Spirit as it is known in n the North.  On Christmas day the expats and their partners and some Ross faculty will gather at Sister's Sea Lodge on the beach for a pot luck meal and Christmas cheer! Thanks to Whitney for organizing this. 

I wish for peace and health and a reasonable 2017 for  us all.  Love, Marian

Thursday, June 9, 2016

NEWS OF THE DAY

NEWS OF THE DAY

Gossip is the single most popular activity in Dominica.  Religion and politics run a close second, but nothing tops the who does what and with/to whom.

Each morning when I stop by McDowell's Bar I get a bulletin on what has happened overnight.  Who has been arrested, who was evicted, who dropped dead, who ran away, who was lost at sea, who spent the night in the police cell, who was robbed, cheated or cut with a cutlass for some perceived insult. 

Then in the afternoon, on my way home when I stop in at the Bar I get the daily news:  who has been diagnosed with diabetes, who didn't get paid, which shop has empty shelves, who lost something, who said what, told what or did what.

Along with this often comes the amazing litany of family ties and relationships going back for generations.  What is amazing is that everyone can recite the genealogy of everyone else's family, not just their own, including the land they own, sold, lost or are farming.  It is convoluted because people have multiple partners and babies with all of them.  So I will hear about the sister of a grand aunt who 'made' seven children, 3 went to America, one went to England, two went to Guadeloupe and the other went to jail.  Then there is Granny's cousin (same mother, different father) who stole land belonging to the family, or Uncle's mother (same father, different mother) etc. Quite dizzying.  I used to scoff whenever a Dominican would say, "Oh, yes, he is my cousin", but no longer.  It is true. Eventually they are all related however remotely, and if you question it you will get the whole, long story in detail.  Dominicans certainly know who they are.


Dominicans are talented story tellers and often accompany their tales with actions, so listening to the news of the day is usually quite entertaining.

Friday, April 15, 2016

MEET McDOWELL

I want to tell you about McDowell.  We have been together for a year and a half and we hope to be together for a long long time.

McDoo, as he is called by the locals, is born and bred in the heart of Portsmouth.  He speaks with a deep Portsmouth accent, knows everyone and everything and every place.  Take a walk through Portsmouth with him and he can tell you the history of every house, who lived there, their family ancestry to the most remote third cousin, what happened there, what happened to the people, where their heirs are now.  He has an amazing store of local knowledge under his cap and the memory of the proverbial elephant.

His name is interesting; He belongs to the Magloire tribe, a huge band of Dominicans. He looks like a Magloire. 'McDowell' is derived from his father's name, McDonald.  His mother called him Xavier.  He calls himself Joseph, "My tourist name," he says.  I call him McDowell, (sometimes Mackie) but there is no way, no matter how much practice, can I say it like the locals.  It's something like, Mac Doo wheel with the emphasis on the last syllable. I feel silly even trying.
  
He knows his reggae, classic and current, and plays the guitar,sings and dances.  He does not know any other music but often listens to Blues.  I'm sure he hears the origins of reggae in the Blues music.  He has never even heard of what are considered  to be the Blues and Jazz greats, much less the classical composers. Maybe because he is too young!

Here is a true Sagittarian born in 1960, December 5.  Even his Bar/Grill is called Sagittarius.  Although out spoken, straight forward and direct, he keeps his thoughts to himself.  He is generous and kind.  He is independent, optimistic, and honest, easily offended, can be a loner, loves deeply, is jovial and good humoured, philosophical and idealistic. He has no formal education to speak of, but is well informed and thoughtful. McDowell is a religious person, Catholic, but not a church goer anymore.  He has come to understand that the hierarchy, patronage and paternalism of the Church are oppressive and man made. He is a deep believer by nature and is always conscientious of other dimensions, both good and evil. He keeps it to himself.  St. Michael and Jesus keep him safe.  He is also a political person, a natural social democrat.

Now, McDowell owns and operates a Bar/Grill in the heart of Portsmouth across from the Credit Union, next to Bourgh's Square.  He has many stories of his happy boyhood and youth spent on the wharf at Bourgh's Square, now a bustling bus terminal. In his early adult years he was on the sea sailing the Caribbean, especially BVI, USVI, St. Thomas, Ste. Maarten. (His father was lost at sea when he was 14 or so).  Stories of a young man's adventures abound, as you can imagine.

In the early 90's he fell for a local beauty.  They had 2 daughters.  He opened the original Sagittarius Bar on the same site as the present one, and a hamburger stand in 'The Shacks", in Picard, by the new Ross Medical School.  Then life's confusion got in the way.  He lost the Sagittarius Bar and  closed the stand at The Shacks.  He had  another daughter (different mother).  All through this he continued to  looked after Miss Gweny, who by this time was an elderly lady. He had been her helper since he was a child.

Two years ago he opened the present Sagittarius 2 Reggae Bar and Grill. The Bar is doing well in these hard times in Dominica.  Not great, but better than simply staying afloat.  Actually it does stay afloat on a sea of rum and chicken and chips and soup.  The habitu├ęs are mostly his school mates and men and  women he has grown up with and yachters off their boats in Prince Rupert Bay at Purple Turtle.

We met a long time ago, when I was with Sono who was trying to buy a guitar from McDowell.  I don't remember, but he does.  After Sono died I would pass McDowell, who was working at Cabral's bar, everyday on my way to CALLS to work.    He would call a cheerful 'Hello', and on my way back I would stop in a have a chat and a beer. We began to look for each other and eventually, easily and naturally..........


He says he is happy, his life is good and his prayers are being answered.  Me too.  McDowell is easy to live with and I love him.

Look on FaceBook for sagittarius 2 reggae bar and grill


Melanie, McDowell, Marian, Melona

Friday, April 8, 2016

MY FAVOURITE PAROS

Drug addicts, alcoholics,  street people, ne'er-do-wells and people with 'not good head' are called 'paro'.  They are mostly harmless, some are petty thieves, and most beg or will do small, quick menial jobs for a living.  Here, in Portsmouth they are all known and tolerated.  I would even say looked after by the community - sort of!

 For my own peace of mind I have three favourites, i.e. those to whom I give hand outs, or use for errands.  I say peace of mind because I can then easily say a firm no to the myriad others without feeling mean.

FLY is a special favourite of mine.  He has a dilapidated bicycle.  He carries full cases of coke from retailers to Bars around Portsmouth, on his head while riding his bicycle.  I call on him to fetch large bottles of drinking water or cylinders of propane for me.  Last week he came to my door, shivering and soaking wet, hoping I had an errand for him.  I didn't at the time, but I gave him a shot of rum and an old dry T-shirt of McDowell's.  Some days later McDowell he said he saw the T Shirt on Baygone (other Paro).  Fly probably sold it to him for the price of a hit.  My most recent encounter with him was yesterday.  He stopped me on the street, asked if there was anything I needed; he could do it for me NOW.  That should have been my clue, but I missed it. I asked him to buy 2 large bottles of water and leave them by my door. I gave him $20ec.  Keep the change.  When I got home hours later, no water, no $20, no Fly - of course.  I decided to cut my losses and deal with Fly next time I saw him.  I have to say I was surprised.  He always treated me straight and he is too smart to kill his reliable sort of bounty.  This afternoon he turned up with 4 large bottles of water, all smiles.  I told him I was almost mad at him.  "No, no, I don't want that.  I wouldn't do you bad".  I gave him 2 cigarettes and $5ec.  He must have done well with my original $20. to afford an extra 2 bottles.

JENNIFER hangs around outside the grocery store begging for change and talking to the air.  If I have a heavy load I get her to carry it to McDowell's Bar for the price of a shot of rum. They tell me that Jennifer used to be a classy women and owner of a high fashion clothing store.  She still dresses elegantly and holds her cigarette like Rita Hayworth, but she is now a serious crack addict and has lost her senses and looks.  Yesterday I gave her a coin and she turned and ran around the corner.  It must have been the 1ec she needed to make up the cost of a hit.


Potty
POTTY or possibly Porty, as in Portsmouth.  I can't tell, and nobody knows when I ask.  Probably Porty as he was a natty man about town in his halcyon days.  Anyway, he will answer to either.  I am told that he taught everyone in Portsmouth to play the guitar, that it was he that started everyone off in music, some of whom went on to have real musical careers  overseas.  He is a   bass guitarist.  He worked as an orderly in the Portsmouth Hospital for many years but succumbed to cocaine and lost everything.  However, although tatty (no longer 'natty') and in need of bath, he maintains some modicum of civility.  He eats real meals not scraps, always pays for his rum, never begs, is respectful (he can be difficult when he is 'under his rum' though), enjoys his reggae. He often carries my heavy bags from the Bar to home (2 cigarettes and 3ec) and does messages for MCD . You could grow potatoes in his ever present red cap.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

ERIKA 2 - Getting to Portsmouth

Having spent 3 long lonely days in lovely St. Lucia it was finally time to catch the ferry over to Dominica and then wend my way somehow up to Portsmouth.  Five AM and the ferry terminal is packed, the boat leaves at 7.  I met up with several other Dominicans whom I had encountered along the way also anxious to get home.  We settled in, the boat was comfortable, the sea calm and we promptly fell asleep.  I woke up to a strange nautical sound, looked out the window and was amazed to see the ferry terminal in St. Lucia.  Yes, we were an hour out to sea when the boat broke down and we had turned around and headed back to port.  What little information we were given was in rapid, muffled French, which no one understood.

We were herded back into the terminal and were instructed not to leave.  An hour later we re-boarded the same boat and away we went.  Two hours out with one stop at Martinique, then 2.5 hours to Dominica.  We disembarked into typical Dominican chaos and heat.  The terminal is tiny, the crowd tired, hungry, worried and frazzled.  Immigration was easy, but customs a disaster.  Everyone had multiple bags and boxes; all loaded with goods they were bringing to the ravaged Island.  Only 2 customs officers and 300 people.  I figured NO, and left the building by the side door with my one way too heavy bag and went right into the street.   I had planned to take a fishing boat and get to Portsmouth by sea, but it was already 4:30 PM and all the Portsmouth vessels had gone for the day.  I stood there, looked around and flagged the first 4 wheel vehicle I saw. There were a couple of them waiting to see if there were any people going north. I knew that the road was all but impassable, but I also knew that a 4x could get through.  I negotiated a price threw my luggage in and set off.  By now I had spoken to McDowell who was more worried than I.

 What I saw on my way up brought me to tears and is beyond words.  Cars and trucks piled on top of each other, huge chunks of mountain now on the road, a house that was on a hillside now in the sea, a jumble of broken trees, rocks, cars.  The bridge at Salisbury had been ripped from its foundation and tossed aside leaving a gaping hole, in several places you could see where the road was undermined by the rushing water.  The little sweet Macoucherie River had become a raging torrent and completely flooded the rum factory, the cricket field, the cane fields and had moved sheds and buildings.  There are many photos on the internet, but it has to be seen to be believed. Sister Caribbean Islands have been quick to respond with their limited resources.  Where are the Canadians?  the Americans? The UK is evident, but barely.

 Anyhow we bounced over rocks, plunged through makeshift by-passes, splashed across muddy divides and made it home before dark. The driver took me right to my door.  McDowell was waiting.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

ERIKA

ERIKA
On Wednesday, August 26, 2015, I happily set out to return to Dominica.   I arrived in Barbados to get the connecting flight to be told that the connecting flight is cancelled and the airport in Dominica was closed. Tropical storm Erika was battering Dominica.  I was stranded with several other Dominicans trying to get home.  OK...now I need a bed for the night.  I looked around for a Help Desk, Tourist Booth, something to assist transient visitors.  I saw nothing.  Later I was told that there is such a thing hidden away in the vastness of the airport.  What to do? So I went to the taxi stand and looked for the most grandfatherly driver (no Rasta, no hot shot) I could find and threw myself on his mercy.   
                Me: What do you do with stranded visitors?  I would like a bed in a guest house and a meal.
                Grandfather: I will look after you Darlin'. Get in, make yourself comfortable
And he opened the door to his dilapidated van and I climbed in.  Off we went through the Bajan heat and haze ending up at the Croton Inn.  Cheap, clean, tiny, cool and friendly.  Perfect.  He said he would come and get me in the morning to go back to the airport. I dumped my heavy bags and went out to find a bar.  Came back and had curried chicken for dinner.

So Thursday morning, after a nice breakfast at "Butterfly", I lugged the bags back onto Joseph's (grandfather) van.  At the Liat counter the Dominican refugees found each other and formed a support group on a bench.  We waited quietly sensing the worst.  Eventually a woman came and told us that the airport in Dominica was awash, nothing going in, nothing coming out.  Call them in the morning.  Back to Croton Inn with Joseph.   They had been watching the local TV and knew what was happening and were careful not to be discouraging but suggested I be prepared to stay for the weekend.  I took a local city bus and went to the end of the line, the Market area, turned around and came back on another route.   Had a couple more Heinekens, dinner, got caught up on Face Book, tried again to call Dominica. 

The frangipangi is in full bloom and the air is fragrant.

Friday morning I called the Liat number we had been given and they said, "Nothing in, nothing out, call again later."  I will call again, but I am not at all hopeful. The news keeps getting worse and the pictures are apocalyptic.  I have to find an ATM. 
Saturday August 29 Should I stay or should I go?  Had a very down start to the day.  Only bad news from LIAT and horror stories on the internet.  What to do, stay and tough it out?  Go back to Canada?  I put the call out to my wonderful friends on Face Book and got some encouragement and advice.   I pulled myself together and went to have something to eat (gluey fish cakes -belch) and then the Barbados Museum for the afternoon.

When I got back in the late afternoon, Tyrone, the owner of the Croton Inn, was holding court on the veranda.  Five or six of his male friends were there having a beer.  Apparently this is a regular Saturday afternoon gathering.  I was invited to join.  Much commiseration for my plight, much alcohol, a few laughs.  One of them has a Dominican wife and he offered to try to get in touch with McDowell, or anyone, for me.  He also said that LIAT was offering to get those of us who wanted to return to Dom to St. Lucia where we could then take the ferry to Dominica.  I called LIAT immediately and they had one seat left for Monday night.  I booked it.  Now I do know that Portsmouth itself is OK, but there is NO access, all bridges are down.  The only way to get from Roseau to Portsmouth is by boat.  How I am going to do that is a mystery at this point.  Anyhow I am going home to Dominica and McDowell on Monday. I'll figure it out as I go.  I have a super guardian angel and I am a resourceful woman.  All odds are against this venture I know.     l will arrive in St. Lucia in the dark; I will either go directly to the ferry terminal or find a place to sleep for the night.  I don't know the ferry schedule.  How will I get from Roseau to Portsmouth?  And I will be sea sick.  I must do it anyway. 

Spent a pleasant evening with Tyrone and the 'boys'.  One of them brought his steel pan and played some mellow music.  Tyrone is a jazz buff.

Sunday:   It is 35 degrees Celsius.  Spent the day suffering from the yo-yo syndrome and making the unknown known.  Pending at this point is a place to stay  (friend of  a friend IN St.Lucia), and a ticket on the ferry (when, is still unknown).  I love the Caribbeans.   They are so not-by-the-book.  Tyrone and Wendy have invited me to dinner.

The Eastern Caribbean is clogged with horrible saragasso weed.  Not a result of Erika.  The picturesque beaches of Barbados are covered with the smelly thick stuff.  This will certainly have an impact.  

Monday: So I put in the day OK.  Met a woman, Kathy, from Peterbourgh believe she will come to Dominica on her next visit to the Caribbean.  Did a little shopping for things to bring to Dom, (rice, dry soup, Advil, etc.). Can't take too much. I already can't handle my suitcase. 
Arrived St. Lucia and the woman who was to pick me up forgot.  I only had her first name and phone number.  St. L immigration gave me considerable grief and didn't want to grant me entry because I had no place to go.  What would have happened if I didn't have at least this phone number?   After they heard my story, they finally called her, unknown to me.  She was asked some questions, they came back to me and verified the contact we had in common and stamped my passport. She came to pick me up in minutes and took me home.  Beautiful Caribbean home, right out of a magazine.  I got installed in a studio apartment in the complex.  Fine
Tuesday: Up early, Jemma drove me to the city.  I bought my ferry ticket - Thursday at 7 AM.  I have to be there by 5 AM.  Topped up my phone, bought some groceries and a bottle of wine.  Now it is just to wait for Thursday.  The house is way outside the city, no one here, tired of going for a walk, can't get anywhere...so I'll sit it out.  I did alert Cobra at the Indian River and Hypo at the fisherman's cooperative to look for me Thursday morning at 11:30, off the ferry from St. L.  They have been carrying people back and forth from Roseau to Portsmouth.  The only access to the north is by sea.
Talked to McDowell tonight.  He sounds exhausted.  His house is  fine.  My apartment is fine.
Wednesday  2PM:  This time tomorrow I will be in Dominica. I have been comfortable this week of waiting, but fraught with anxiety.  So many people have been so good to me. 

I'll continue this when I arrive