Saturday, January 6, 2018


One of the good things about Gardening in the tropics is that you can garden all year 'round.  When the post office opened after the passage of Hurricane Maria the first thing I received were some seeds from Spring and Doug Norman.  All the tomato seeds germinated (planted October 21) and   I was able to give some seedlings away.  They are bearing now. 

Before the Hurricane I had planted, in pots, 2 large avocado seeds.  They were sprouting nicely on my veranda.  Then Maria hit.  She brought down a piece of twisted galvanized roof on them, but the piece got caught on the wall and so sheltered them. The day after the storm  I climbed over someone's old wet mattress and broken furniture that had been deposited on the veranda  to rescue them .  The leaves were torn, I nursed them, and they survived. One of them was a big, creamy, purple avocado. By December I saw that the roots were coming out of the bottoms of the pots. They had to go into the ground.  Usually we would take them up to McDowell's farm and plant them but the road is still clogged and not easily passable so I thought I would plant them in the back yard behind the old house.

Well, I didn't plant them myself.  I couldn't lift the pots, and I wasn't sure how close to the Bay I could put them, so I went into the Bar to find someone who could carry them for me.   There was a little old gnarled farmer from Pennville, (a garden gnome actually, big ready smile and one tooth, lower right) who was happy to follow me into the yard.  He found a huge dasheen plant behind the house that Maria had planted, fix it up, took its sprouts and put them in the ground, saying, "Oh, look, she has babies, I will plant them for you".  Now I have 3 dasheen.  Anyhow he quickly dug holes for the avocado trees (avocado are called pear), explaining why he choose to put them where he did. "Don't do anything (duh do nuffin')" was his advice, "She knows best".   Then he stood back, looked at them and said to me in a very serious voice, "She will be sad for 2 days because she doesn't know where she is now.  We moved her, but then she will find herself and stand up straight."


Avocado - 1 meter high. Will bear in 7 years

Tomato - I have a dozen plants
We have almond trees growing like weeds in the back.  His pronouncement on them was, "Dey doh give no profit, dey belongs on de beach".  True , but they do provide wonderful shade.  When the beach gets cleared up we will put some there.

This almond tree was 5 feet tall before Maria.  The hurricane cut it down, It is now 2 feet and will soon be tall and wide spread.  The bare tree behind is a St Peter's Tree (Flamboyant) and will be flaming red at the end of June. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Aftermath - 3 months later

The Aftermath

Now comes the hard part. The next months will be difficult.  They will be difficult because the shops are empty and savings have been used up and we are tired.  Jobs are scarce, few tourists are expected.  Most people are still living under leaky tarps and there will be no mangoes, bananas, or citrus this season.  Also the building materials, and the builders needed to withstand another force 7 hurricane, are way too expensive or simply not available.  

For the weeks following Maria there was so much to do.  We were overwhelmed. Just drying out was a big deal.  Although the days were warm and sunny, every last thing was wet and getting moldy.  Whatever Maria left for us was sodden, grimy, muddy, tattered and ugly.  But that is what we had and it became treasured. Keeping clean was a challenge. I was constantly amazed at how well turned out, pretty and well presented the women were.  How did they do it? I was always frumpy and dishevelled! Then there was the frantic scramble to communicate with family and friends, around the Island, in the other Islands, in the UK, USA, Europe and Canada. We managed that as best we could.  Messages were sent with people leaving the Island.

I have no home, but I am here
15% of the population left quickly. Ross University evacuated 2000 people within 3 days. Hundreds of children have been sent to Antigua and Barbados to go to school .The Sister Islands were quick to respond.  We had drinking water right away.  Relief food packages began to arrive soon (distribution was so badly organized it was almost not worth the effort, here in the North).   The international aide people were here, mostly medical personnel, I think.  The Jamaican army and the Antiguan police were here as looting and malicious vandalism were rampant.  Keep in mind that the local police also lost everything in the hurricane and were in no shape to do their jobs as they would have liked. They too had families, homes, aged parents to look after.

The memories I have of those days are of lines of drying clothes everywhere, helicopter noise  over head, the Bar over loaded with drunken men, hard physical unending work, no music, what's for supper, worrying about those with no roof, staying safe and long lines everywhere.  And it was ugly. My life became very small and preoccupied with work, cleaning and standing in line.  However, not once did I lose heart because I knew Anthony was on it, organizing, trying to make contact, doing what needed doing, and I knew my friends were behind him, and out there behind me too.

Portsmouth found itself quite quickly. Clean up started right away.  We had running water (not potable) and central Portsmouth had electricity by mid October.  By early December we had internet!  Portsmouth is busy and a happening place.  It is not what it used to be, but it is in amazingly good shape all things considered. The small 'mom and pop' shops were (are) the sustaining force. 

I rarely go into the old house that was once our pride and joy.  The art gallery and gift shop were devastated, the house is gloomy, damp, dilapidated, smelly, leaking and now serves as storage for cases of empty beer bottles.  It's just way too distressing.  The patio has been cleared and I have managed a small garden.  Spring and Doug sent some seeds and the tomatoes are growing in an old chest freezer!  I see baby animals all around; the post-hurricane generation - baby iguanas, chicks, lizards of all varieties.  The parrots, hummingbirds, banana quit (sikiye), bullfinch, and the ubiquitous brown pelican  and the magnificent frigate birds are fishing.  I saw a flock of egrets the other day.  I haven't seen any moorhens.  They tell me that the corals suffered but not as bad as it could have been.  The ocean is still dirty, but certainly clearing up.  I am continually surprised at what was left standing, what small thing was spared and what succumbed and was lost.  The bouganvillaea, oleander and hibiscus are blooming!  I can't find any poinsettia, but I am sure they are there.  Among other things, we lost our sour sop tree, but the sour orange, right beside it, stood the battering, and even hung on to some fruit.  Amazing.

Maria's Patio

The Patio
Dominicans like to use the word 'resilient' to describe themselves.  Absolutely no question: they are that in spades. But there is another dimension to this resilience and it is a bred- in -the -bone, quiet determination to survive.  Dominicans will not succumb to hardship, devastation or evil forces. 
By Christmas it will be 3 full months.  Those who went through Hurricane David in 1979 say that Maria was worse, but recovery is faster.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

HURRICANE MARIA September 18, 2017

HURRICANE MARIA September 18, 2017

I can barely remember it. The photos don't even evoke an emotion.  I can tell the story though and relate the events as they happened.

So, the day of September 18, 2017 was quite normal. People were talking about the approaching hurricane, but we were expecting a category 2...heavy rain, high wind.  Some preparations were being made: the fishermen were bringing their boats way up, vulnerable windows were being boarded up. We were filling buckets and containers with water and getting our candles and torches ready...and feeling snug and smug.  McDowell and I thought we were in a hurricane proof house.

The wind started to rise at dusk, 5PM. McDowell called me and asked if he should come home now, or stay until the usual 9PM.  His friend, Charles, told him to close and go immediately, and it is a good thing he took his friend's advice.  By the time he got home, an hour later, the wind had become mean and the rain fierce.  He was worried; I was nonchalant because I didn't know any better.

We lost power, almost right away.  The noise was amazing. The windows and door began to gush water, not leak - gush.  We could hear people calling and crying out. There was a strange smell to the air.  My ears were popping  from the pressure.  Then the window in the apartment next door broke and the wind threw all the furniture in there against the adjoining wall.  Everything: TV, kitchen table, chairs, over turned the 'fridge, broke the bed.  Meanwhile the water was rising in our flat and we were scurrying around trying to hide things from the water, rescue our documents, and cover books, save our digital equipment.  By 10PM it was clear that we were not going to rescue anything, and better think about ourselves. We looked up and there was a gaping hole in the bathroom. The galvanized roof had gone elsewhere and the rain was pouring in. So we sat in our sodden chairs, in wringing wet clothes and opened out our umbrellas and laughed. I don't know when the big tree at our gate came down, but I expect it was early on. Even if we wanted to get out we could not have.

The force of a hurricane is unimaginable. The wind makes the sound of a band of howling banshees.  The wind is without mercy and will find every little hole.  It sucks out windows, overturns huge cargo containers, tosses cars around like nerf balls.  The wind strips bare every stately mango, tears bananas from the ground, snaps  tops off of tall coconut trees, flattens the citrus and avocado changing the landscape from lush green to that only seen in movies about the apocalypse. People are utterly helpless in the onslaught.  Their homes come crashing down around them as they try to find shelter from the rising water and the raging wind. They huddle in terror for hours under beds, and in closets.  Children are swept away by the violent river waters.  Lives are lost.

The morning after was still, eerie really.  No birds chirping, no lizards singing, no roosters crowning, no dogs barking, no goats bleating, no people talking.

McDowell slashed our way down what was left of the stairs with my little cutlass and we started our walk into Portsmouth not knowing what we would find climbing over broken posts, wire everywhere, twisted and torn galvanized roves. Half way there a friend of McDowell's called out to him and told him his Bar was standing and had most of its roof.  He didn't mention the old house.  Somewhat relieved, we slogged on.  The Indian River complex was a mess, Jo-Jo's was flat, Simple's house had vanished, Malvin's house as bare, Maford's house only had 4 walls, sort of.  The Pik-Nik was up, but roofless, Miss Olive was standing and the Douglas building was in ruins.  We could see that the back of the Peter house was gone, but the old thing still stood.  McDowell checked his Bar and only a little flooding and wind damage was evident. But it was the back, the Patio that was shocking.  What was our pride and enjoy had been swept bare and detritus, debris, broken pipes, horrible smelly things heaved up by the sea, pieces of galvanized sheeting, rocks, wood, and who knows what else deposited in its place and hip deep. 

Then we looked in the house.  Our pretty art gallery and gift shop and its precious contents were lying sopping on the floor.  The wind had striped the paint off the wall.  But the building itself, over 100 years old stood, shaky and crooked to be sure, but together. Since we now had no place to stay, we moved in there and camped among the cockroaches and the mold for a week. 

Because McDowell had a stock of beer, rum, cigarettes he was one of the first people to open up in Portsmouth.  We cleaned up inside as best we could and opened the Bar. Business was brisk.

I found a small furnished apartment just steps away from the Bar. Clean and dry.  We moved in and that is where we are now. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017


For those of you who like to follow this kind of thing, Dominica is 15.41 degrees north (of the equator) and 61.37 degrees west (of Greenwich). The Commonwealth of Dominica is one of the Windward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, lying between Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. It is the Leeward Islands, to the north of us, that Irma battered.
At 5 PM today, Thursday, Jose was at 15.5 N and 52.4 W. It is predicted that Jose will veer north and west of us and head for the already ruined islands of Nevis, Barbuda, St. Martin.  Saturday probably
It is remarkably quiet here in Portsmouth. The sea is surging, but not roiling. It is hot and humid and rainy with occasional gusts of wind. People are going about their daily business. School has started, everything is open, and we ready for whatever.
Nothing much happened to my tropical garden as Irma passed except that the sour sop tree got a sea blast, lost all its leaves on one side. But the fruit hung on! amazing
The good news is after losing all their wickets on the first day of a five day cricket match, the West Indies are still in a strong position by taking 4 English wickets by the end of the day.
By the way, Dominica is pronounced Dom-NEEK-a
The Ocean gives back all the sh*t we gave it
All boats are on shore

The Sour Sop Tree got a sea blast, but the fruit hung on

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Irma's Apartment and Irma the Hurricane

Today started HOT, sunny and steamy.  McD and I had our usual Saturday planned, plus a hurricane watch.  'Irma' is headed this way and picking up speed.  I really don't think we will get a direct hit, but we will get buckets of unending rain and high, angry seas for a good 36 hours.  But you never know with these things. 

By the time we were ready to leave Portsmouth and go to Picard it had become overcast.  We decided to go to Jack's Chinese Restaurant for lunch.  Jack's is a little hole in the wall, mostly out of doors, great food and  family run.  I play with the 4 year old while mom cooks, dad (Jack) delivers orders on his scooter, Grandma feeds the baby and grandpa is around to do whatever needs doing.  It started to pour rain, people, locals, students came and went and got their fried rice and Coke and left.  We had spicy beef and broccoli and kung pao chicken and lots of rice.

 A couple came by on their rented scooter.  It was still raining hard.  They hesitated.  I called them in and they came.  Actually I had passed them on the Indian River Bridge on my way into Portsmouth in the morning and exchanged a greeting them then. They are a very friendly, youngish, couple from France visiting Dominica via Martinique and Marie Gallant (Island). They had come over with a fisherman in his boat and landed in Anse Soldat, in the dark, last night.   They gave their order, vegetable fried rice, fried Tofu and something else.  Since there is only one table they sat with us and of course we talked. 

They wanted a place to stay.  I called Irma, my landlady, as the apartment right next to me that Anthony and Imelda had stayed in, was now empty.  Irma said, sure, she would meet them in half an hour at the apartment. It was still raining hard so Jack, the young restaurant owner, offered to drive us all home and to take McDowell back to work in Portsmouth.  They will stay there for a few days and wait to see what the weather does by Monday.  Daniel, the 4 year old cried when we left so I told him to go tell his mother he was going with dad and to hop in the car.

When we got to the apartment the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out full force.  I called Martin at the Yellow Cab to pick the couple and their luggage up in Anse Soldat, (they were going on their scooter), and bring them back. OK. No problem.

About hurricane Irma - the people don't seem in the least worried in spite of the disaster in Houston, bygone hurricanes and dire warnings.  The Americans are going to evacuate the 15 Peace Corps workers on the Island.  It seems like it is headed toward Antigua.  If it gets into the Guadeloupe Channel though it will cause damage to the banana and plantain trees in Destiny (McD's farm) take the beach away and wash away my meager garden.  We expect the roof to badly leak in the Little Old House so we will do our best to secure that.  McD will fill Anthony's big blue plastic barrel with water.  We will know everything by Monday - maybe! The weather shifts radically and suddenly here in the tropics.  The sun is so hot and the Ocean is so warm and the air so still and humid.  Perfect conditions for a fierce storm - but what do I know?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Picking up The Barrel

SO, big day.  left Portsmouth at 8:30 am and everything went so well that we were home by 2.  Our agenda was to pick up 15 pink grapefruit trees at the Botanical Garden, Department of Agriculture to plant at McDowell's farm in Destiny, go to shipping agent in  Roseau, go to McD's lawyer to pick up some papers  and deliver some papers, go to 4D, the agriculture superstore (I love it there),  then to the Port to pick up the barrel which had set sail 4 weeks ago. 

We  were in a rickety pick up truck driven by a man called Stalin. I asked McD about the name and  told him that Stalin was a tyrant, McD said he guessed his mother didn't know that! But Stalin, a quiet, gentle man and was only  going to charge $150 ec for the day, and he is a friend of McD's, so why not!.  He drove slowly and well.  McD jammed himself in the back of the cab.  He slept the whole way there (and back). I, as usual, white knuckled it the whole way.

Our first Stop was at the Botanical Garden, Department of Ag. Of course we couldn't get the trees because the quarantine  officer wasn't there to release them.  That's OK, we ordered 5 tangerine and 5 lime along with the 15 pink grapefruit,  and they will call us when they are ready. 

Next stop - the shipping agent -  on a very busy one way street.  We found a good parking spot.  We were quickly in and out and it only cost $35ec.  Next stop was 4D, the Agriculture Superstore.  They had everything except a hanging scale McD wanted to weigh his bunches of plantain and  bananas. We bought fertilizer for the trees we didn't have, and ant poison for the invasion in my apartment.

Finally, the Port to pick up the barrel . No problem. All went smoothly.  But here's the story of the day. 

Anthony had packed the barrel in Ottawa, and he did a smart job.  It is a big deep barrel.  Art supplies and pots and pans were immediately visible as soon as the customs officer opened the barrel and peered inside.  What he saw next was a box that said ROLAND GUITAR AMPLIFIER and he dove for it, probably thinking he hit the jack pot. He  opened it and found more art paint, little canvasses, brushes and crocheting.  He snorted in disgust, closed the barrel without going any further and only charged me $85ec for the lot.  

Yes, indeed the lovely little Roland amplifier was in there, hidden in a doudy, brown cardboard box at the bottom of the barrel.

MCD thinks Anthony is a genius and laughed out loud when I brought the amplifier out.  He is bragging to all about how Anthony fooled the customs  and cheated them out of who knows what they would have charged! He plugged the amplifier in right away and it burst into song!  Wonderful.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Little Old House on Bay Street

During these last months I have been preoccupied with McDowell, the Bar Patio and mostly getting the old house ready to open as an art gallery, gift shop.  Loni Costello, Lene Larsen and Mait Kangasmaa and I have collaborated on this cooperative project.  Loni does beautiful, detailed bags and beach fashion, Lene has her photographs, place mats and cards, and I have my water colour paintings.  Mait is our stand by/stand in and encourager and enabler.  The shop is not quite open yet, although we have had a good deal of interest. Most of us will  be away off  and on throughout April and May, so we will have our official opening in June when we are all together.

It is the old house that moved me.  It has been empty for years and was falling apart.  The ginger bread trimmings and the wooden louvers were disintegrating. It is the oldest standing house in Portsmouth and is a well known landmark.  Here is its story.

1115 Bay Street, Portsmouth, Dominica
The origin of this house is lost in history, but what is known is that Miss Marion Peter's father (John) bequeathed the house and property to his five lawful children.  All were raised in this house. To support his gambling debts, William Harrison (the eldest son) mortgaged the house and subsequently lost it. In 1958, Miss Marion, the eldest daughter and William's sister, bought the house and property at public auction in Roseau and she continued to live here, with her sister, Miss Henrietta Kitzia, and her niece Gwendolyn.

Miss Marion, who was born in 1893, was a pillar of the Portsmouth community.  She was postmistress and town clerk and a formidable woman.

Not much is known about Miss Kitzie.  She is said to have been "a little off" and rarely went out.

In 1914, Gwendolyn Christophine Peter, Miss Marion's niece, was brought into the house hold after her mother, Sarah Peter, died. She was five years old.  Miss Marion's brother, William Harrison was Miss Gwendolyn's father (yes, the same William Harrison who lost the property). Miss Gwendolyn was fond of saying that she "was a rock Peter" since both her mother and her father were Peter! She too, like her Aunt, became a prominent Portsmouth figure, and is still remembered.  She supported herself as a seamstress, and as a crafts woman making baskets, painting postcards, and selling small souvenirs in her shop. Miss Marion came to rely on her and she became her Aunt's sole care taker.

All three ladies were spinsters and died at an advanced age and are buried in the Catholic cemetery, side by side.

McDowell Magloire is now the owner of this house and property.  He grew up just down the street, next to what is now Joe Duvergny's grocery store (that wooden house is gone and a new 5 story building has just gone up in its place). When he was very young, McDowell's first paying job was to deliver newspapers in Zikac for Miss Marion.  As he grew he became the 'man in the yard' for the Misses Peter. Eventually, he went away to sea, as many Dominican young men do, but kept in constant contact with them and always saw them in his comings and goings to Dominica. After Miss Marion and Miss Kitzie died, Miss Gwenny began to lose her eye sight.  Eventually, as she became blind, McDowell became Miss Gwenny's sole caretaker. He looked after her until her death in 2012.   Miss Gwenny bequeathed the house, the property and the building that is the shop and Sagittarius Bar to him.
          Miss Marion Nethalia Peter born September 28, 1893, died 1988
                Miss Kitzie died soon after
                Miss Gwendolyn Christophine Peter born October 8, 1909, Died March 6, 2012 at 102    

And continues as a gift shop and art gallery