Wednesday, December 2, 2009

November 3

Wednesday, November 3 2009

This last week has been one of festivals and celebrations. October was Creloe month, and it ended in a gala Creole extravaganza of music, dance, food,traditional dress and patois.

We then slide right into a 3 day celebration of 31 years of independence marked by speeches, speeches, speeches, each preceeded by lengthy, formal protocal laden introductions, followed by school marching bands." (see below for a little history taken from Lennox Honeychurch's excellent book, "The Dominican Story")

The next day was "Community Service Day". This is a national holiday in which everyone is expected to get out and clean up and repair their immediate community. Some communities have organized major projects that are supposed to beautify and improve public streets, roads, alleys, vacant lots, and sidewalks. Materials have been donated by local businesses. Labour is donated by the citizens, schools, town councils and environmental groups. Great idea!

p. 257: "The Independence Constitution took effect on 3 November, 1978, the 485th anniversary of the sighting of Dominica by Christopher Columbus. The Queen of the United Kingdom was represented by her sister, Princess Margaret, at the formal ceremony marking the transfer of the Constitution and the raising of the new flag based on a design by artist Allyn Bully of seven colours upon a forest green background.
Dominica was the only former British territory in the Caribbean to move immediately to full republican status. In an attempt to remove further complications over the similarity of names with the Spanish speaking Dominican Republic, the island assumed the formal nomenclature of The Commonwealth of Dominica."

Dominica Flag Description:
The flag of Dominica consists of a forest green base with three equal sized vertical stripes and three equal horizontal stripes crossing through the middle of it. The stripes go from left to right and from top to bottom. They are yellow, black and red in color. In the middle of the Dominican flag is a red circle with a Sisserou parrot facing the left side (hoist side). Circling the parrot are 10 green five pointed stars with yellow outlines.
Dominica Flag Meaning:
The ten green stars, which are the traditional symbol of hope, represent the ten parishes of Dominica. The Sisserou Parrot is the national bird of Dominica and symbolizes flight towards greater heights and fulfillment of aspirations. The Parrot also comes from the Dominica Coat of Arms, representing the official seal of the country. The Dominican flag's stripes form a cross representing the Trinity of God. The cross itself demonstrates belief in God. An official Dominican announcement also stated: "The yellow stripe represents the sunshine of our land, our main agricultural products: citrus and bananas and also a symbol of the Carib people, the first inhabitants of the Island. The white stripe represents the clarity of our rivers and waterfalls and the purity of aspiration of our people. The black stripe represents the rich black soil of our island on which our agriculture is based and also our African heritage. The general background of dark green symbolizes our rich verdant forests and the general lushness of the island."
Dominica Flag History:
The Dominican flag was adopted on November 3, 1978 when it gained independence from Britain. The Dominican flag was then modified in 1988, when yellow outlines were added to the stars and the white and black stripes changed positions with each other. In 1988 the parrot, which was originally facing to the right, was turned to face the left of the Dominican flag

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Today, as I was having my morning cup of coffee, I experienced my first earthquake. It happened about 8:45 and lasted about 5 or 6 seconds. It took me the 5 seconds to realize what was happening! It was noisey, no damage done, but the plates and cups did rattle, and the building shook. I could definetly feel it running from east to west under my feet. At first I thought it was a huge truck rumbling by. Apparently there have been little 1 second shocks all week which I haven't felt (they tell me I haven't felt them because I never sit still!!!). They tell me there will be more. Some say it was also felt in Guadaloupe and Martinique. I immediately turned on the radio expecting to hear some news break, but there was nothing, and nothing on the internet. Could they be that common? They actually sent the children from St. John's School home!

Whatever, I guess I'll pay attention to the annoucements on what to do if an earthquke should happen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weather Report

Dominican thunder is the real thing: no cracks or sharp claps, but thick, sonourous and roiling as it travels with purpose over the hills echoing from one ancient volcano to another, through the rain forest, and finally, in a mighty boom, climaxes over the ocean. The lightening that shows the thunder the way is equally as remarkable. Floods of flashing, blue, blinding light, illuminates even the dark undergrowth around the sugar cane and lemon grass. And the rain comes splashing down in falls and finds its way under every door and louvre.

It has been thunder and lightening and raining all night and all day. At day break I opened the door and looked toward the mountain as I usually do, and they weren't there, only blue grey mist. The giawan banana tree has fallen, heavy with a huge bunch of long, thin fruit that mark this variety.

They tell me that the sun will not 'open its eyes' until the thunder stops later in the afternoon. Meanwhile it is reminding us of its presence as it can be heard grumbling in the distance as it makes its rounds of the island. The fishermen are worrying about their boats filling with water. They are anxious to go to sea. The fish will be schooling around the debris brought to the sea by the rain filled rushing rivers.

Suddenly the sky clears, clouds lift, the sun opens its eyes. It is still raining. "Jumbie is getting married", they say when this happens. And just as suddenly the thunder rolls and it is dark again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Some Silliness

My pirate name is:

Captain Morgan Rackham

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buying a Radio

I know I have complained about customer service before: here is another one, but at least I think everyone learned something out of this one.

This time of year it is imperative to know about tropical storm warnings and to keep abreast of the storm if/when it hits, so I bought a radio. There is a chain of stores here in Dominica called COURTS. They sell electrical appliances and furniture. There is a store on my way home from school and they had what I had in mind, maybe a little more money than I wanted to spend, but so be it. I paid my money, took my radio, went home in the driving rain looking forward to my new toy.

I plugged it in and there was a loud crack with sparks and a smell of burning electricity. You can imagine my dismay…I packed it up and went back to COURTS, (about a 15 minute walk, happily it had stopped raining for a bit). The young lady who had served me was surprised to see me and looked with puzzlement at the box. “We have a problem” I said as I went over to her. She was pleasant and ready to help politely explaining that the store policy was ‘no returns’. No signs, notices, or note on the invoice to announce this policy. She offered to exchange it, but would have to talk to her manager. I insisted that I didn’t want another one. I wanted my money back. The store manager came over, and this is where it could have fallen apart.

She did not address me; she did not ask me what the problem was. Slouching over the counter, she had her back to me and gruffly questioned the young clerk. She issued rules and regulations. She refused to make eye contact with me. I tried to interrupt her, but she was in full sail and couldn’t be diverted. I pulled on her sleeve, aware that my blood was rising. “I am the customer,” I said, “You need to be talking to ME...This nice young lady is doing her best and has nothing to do with the problem. Please talk to me directly”. She wasn’t going to have any of this, and still with her back to me, she addressed me over her shoulder saying that they would not do anything and finally stomped off to call her superior. She came back to me to announce that I hadn’t reset the radio from 110V to 220V and if I had read the manual I would have known to do that, and therefore it was my fault that the radio broke and that they were not going to give me another one, or give me my money back.

“It’s your fault.” she continued. “You have to send it back to the service department for repairs.” “No,” I said as calm as can be. I can see she is getting up a head of steam. I stood my ground without saying anything. She started accusing me of not knowing enough to switch it. “It’s not our fault, it’s your fault.” There was that word again and I was, by now, more annoyed at being accused of irresponsibility and stupidity, and not being talked to directly. As she was carrying on about whose ‘fault’ it was, another person in the store came to my defense and said that it was not my fault, it was the store’s fault for not telling me. Dominicans are highly competitive and love laying blame and fault, but there was just too much fault finding and blaming going on here for me. There was not going to be any movement, and people in the store were watching and waiting for a good yelling match to develop. So, evoking my friend Brian Strom of CICR, (,I kept my voice low, spoke very slowly, kept smiling, looked her directly in the eye and explained my position again, and adding that there is no issue about fault, and that I was sure we could find a good compromise. I offered not to insist I get a full refund, if they would simply exchange it. They could send the broken one to their service department for repair, as she had mentioned that it was a simple matter of exchanging a small part. Pause. Another phone call. A flurry of activity, which I missed because I was busy breathing deeply. Suddenly a new boxed radio appeared, was handed over with a smile and a kind word. I thanked everyone, and fled with it.

When I turned in the radio the first thing I got was Radio Canada via Lucerne, Switzerland!!!

P.S. there is NO mention of switching from 110V to 220V in the manual. Should I drop in and let them know?
P.P.S. I did go by Courts this afternoon. I was warmly greeted and I informed the woman I had dealt with that the manual, in fact, did NOT say anything about switching the voltage thing. She thanked me for the info.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fishermen's Politics

These are my impressions only, and keep in mind that the Dominican fisher folk speak quickly, loudly, use words I don’t know, and in a heavy accent, so I don’t get it all, and certainly not nuances.

Fishing is a major source of personal income, but there are very few full time fishermen. They each have their own boat and gear. The gear includes the expected reels, nets, traps, scales, lines, various baits, etc. and now also includes a GPS system. The GPS is so the fishermen can locate their Fish Aggregating Devices known as FAD. FADs are moored or free-floating structures placed in the open ocean. Its primary function is to attract pelagic fish (i.e. fish that are normally caught at or near the sea surface or in the water column), which in turn attract large fish (tuna , dolphin, marlin etc.). The FAD is tied to a buoy, and the GPS is set to the location of the buoy. This allows the fishermen to fish way out in the channel between Guadeloupe and Dominica, in the open ocean. Little fish are attracted to it, and the bigger fish are attracted to the little fish. The fisherman trawls the waters at various distances from the fad. At the moment it is the individual fisher man who sets a FA D (or as many as he can afford). FADS are expensive to set up and maintain. It is not every fisherman who has one. They will fish off another man’s FAD whether invited to or not.

This picture is from:

So, the fisherman goes out in the early morning, goes to his FAD (or FADS), and trawls the area around it. The catch is held in an ice filled cooler, and he heads home late in the afternoon (or earlier if the fish aren’t biting). He pulls his boat up to the beach and empties his cooler of fish on a big table, pulls out his scales and knife, blows on his conch shell and people turn up with pails and plastic bags to buy their dinner! Five Canadian dollars will get you about 3 pounds of terrific tuna. What he doesn’t sell on the spot he puts on ice, or if he has a pick up truck, takes the rest of the catch into the city, or to the villages inland and sells it.

This method has worked for a very long time – but it is an ‘every man for himself’ operation. There are a few co-operatives around the island that seem to be working well. However, fish stocks are depleting as they are being over fished, foreign boats are fishing in Dominican waters, and the individual fisherman isn’t making a good living anymore. Change and adjustment is imperative.

So…the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is in the process of bringing in regulations to support the Fisheries Act (1987). A series of consultative meetings between the Fisheries Division and the local fisher folk are being held all around the Island. There are several stated goals for these consultations. Of course, one is to encourage conservation of fish stocks and prevent species depletion. The State sees that it has the overall responsibility to ensure that fish stocks are maintained and that there will always be a supply of fish to catch. Most interesting, to me, is the Ministry’s push to make the fisherman see his operation as an enterprise and to run it as a business and especially to plan for lean times, and not to rely on the government for handouts and relief, but to rely on themselves and their co-operatives. Every fishing community will have a functioning co-operative, which is run locally. It is the co-operative’s job to determine the size of boat, how many boats, how many FADS, spacing of the FADS, data collecting, reporting.

The Ministry is proposing to set up and maintain all FADS – that is, there will be no more individually held or owned FADS. The Ministry will set the FADS on the advice of the local co-operative. Monies have already been allocated for the deployment of FADS. The fisherman must obtain a license or permit to fish off a government FAD. Sports fishing will not be permitted off a government FAD. What fish can be taken, license fees and structure, enforcement of regulations, are the issues at hand. There appears to be some resistance to giving up individually owned FADS. This is a contentious issue.

I have attended only 2 of these consultations, but I have listened to discussions and arguments among the fishermen. Skeptic that I am about these things, and especially about Government promises, intentions and statements, I was impressed with the vision, the presentation, the patience coupled with urgency, shown by the Ministry representatives and especially by their belief in consultative management . They are going to bring Dominica into the 21st century as quickly and as gently as possible. For sure, the times they are achangin’.

It also became quickly apparent to me that the characters, the attitudes, the worries, the questions, the misunderstandings, the new ideas that are troublesome are universal!

The Haitians Hang Up Their Laundry and Chase Chickens

Close to my window at the back is a clothes line. Close to my road is a house occupied by 2 large Haitian men. They mostly keep to themselves, but they are a presence, and they do walk back and forth by my door and window, sometimes silently, startling me, and sometimes chattering loudly. They usually do their laundry at the pipe by my door, and hang it up on the line at my back window (2 feet away). It is a minor disturbance. This Sunday morning the Haitian men were doing their laundry, at the pipe, and using the bench I had built outside my door, and hanging up their socks and underwear right at the window (which, by the way, also blocks the light). Sono fussed and muttered about it, as he usually does whenever they are about. I agreed it was strange, but not worth doing anything about. He was watching them from the window. Finally when the last pair of boxer shorts went up he leapt into voluble action. French and patois are his first language, so he let them have it…I gather he told them to go hang their underwear elsewhere, not right in the Lady’s (that would be me) direct line of vision. “ C’est pas bien! It is disrespectful.” I think I caught, “Put up a line by your house. Why do you come here and bother the Lady?” The laundry came down quickly and disappeared around the corner.

To complicate things further with my Haitian neighbours…

I am taming a wild rooster and his two hens. They come every evening at the same time for food, just before they roost for the night in a tree. One of the hens has been sitting on a nest of eggs in the shrubbery outside my door. It takes three weeks for the eggs to incubate, and I figured that we were at about week two and a half. So yesterday, the day after the laundry incident, I caught the Haitian man stalking the setting hen. I flew at him, squawking, arms flapping and French flying just like a mother hen. Again Sono let him have it in patois. Today we were rewarded by the black hen bringing her two little chicks, one black, one blond, for a feed!

By the way, you don't hear the term chicken used very often. They are reffered to as 'fowl' pronounced 'foal'.

Also, by the way, I have spoken more French in the past week than I have in the past 5 years. I had no idea how much I knew.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hair Cut

Today I had my hair cut. This is not just your prosaic visit to the neighbourhood beauty salon. No, I had it cut at Bloater’s!
I haven’t had a hair cut for 2 months, and after 8 weeks of relentless sun and sea salt it had grown into a thick, curly, wild horror show of many colours and lengths. What to do? I didn’t want to cut it myself. By this time I could only make it worse. I didn’t trust any of the many so-called beauty shops around. A barber called Bloater was recommended. Did I want to have my hair cut by a Dominican barber called Bloater? Scary.
Last week I went by his barber shop just to check it out. I actually got the nerve up to go in. There were five chairs; each had a child in it getting his head shaved. On the long bench along the wall were some 6 or 7 men and boys waiting their turn. This was not encouraging. I found Mr. Bloater, a gentle giant of a man, and asked him if he had experience with this kind of hair, and did he think he could trim it. “Have no fear”, was his reply. I left.
But today, when I got up, I just couldn’t stand it any longer. It was hot, heavy and, sweaty. I was ready to face a barber shop full of black barbers and black men!!! I went to Bloater’s and sat on the bench, to wait my turn.
Mr. Bloater wrapped me in his big stripped cape, wound toilet paper around my throat and hefted his electric razor in my direction. He buzzed around my ears and at the back of my neck, then skillfully mowed over the top layer of the hair on top of my head, thankfully, not next to the scalp. My sun bleached hair began to fall and mingle with the jet black hair on the floor. He sculpted the hair rather than ‘cut’ it. No scissors were used until the end for the finishing touches. It took half an hour. He dusted me off, got out a mirror to show me the back and I was thrilled with the result. I felt clean, airy, and greatly relieved. All this for only 12EC (eastern Caribbean dollars: $6.00 Canadian).
So the next question is should I colour it or not? It is quite white. Mr. Bloater says yes. Tomorrow.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tid Bits

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When the birds are high above the ocean, the fish are deep, when they are flying low to the water, the fish are at the surface.

Some nice phrases commonly heard:

"Hey boy, it's a long time I doesn't cast eyes on you."
"Hey man, why you doesn't hail me?"
"I doesn't study that" = I forgot

In common everyday speech, the verb is often at the end of the sentence, as in: "Where he is?" "Home, I'm going." "Weed I smoked last night."

When something is said that the listener doesn't like or believe, for example if a child is rude, the listener reacts, saying, "What is dat I am hearing in my ear?" The first time someone said this to me I fell on the floor laughing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing in my ear!!!

A folk saying: Don't hang your hat where you can't reach it.

Walking back to Glanvillia from Portsmouth I cross the Indian River bridge and immediately feel I have walked into another time zone.

I have learned today that some fishermen steal other fishermen's fishpots. I am saddened and dismayed to hear that there is no honour among the fisherfolk.

I have also learned that people really do believe that the Haitians cast black voodoo spells and curses. It seems that some Haitian children put spells on their teachers so they get good marks. How do we know this? Because there is no other way the Haitian children could get good marks. To me, this is racism in its pure form. Bravo to the teachers who give marks as they are earned.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Setting the Fishpots

Although fishing is an important part of the economy, there are few full time fishermen. Most go fishing only several days a week and farm the rest of the time. They trawl with a line, use fishpots (big wire cages),seine nets. Dolphin fish, King fish, snapper, tuna and bonito, balaou and flying fish usually make up the catch. You know when a boat returns to shore with its catch when you hear the fisherman blow on a conch shell. They tell me that some even blow a special tattoo to tell what kind of fish they have. You grab your pail or bag and run to the shore. Seven EC (eastern caribbean dollars, about $3.50 Canadian)will get you 3 pounds of wonderful, small tuna or red snapper.

Sono set his pots with crab and papaya. Barely balancing the pots on the bow, we headed out to pick up his brother, Phillip from the dock at Clifton. Then, after much discussion between Phillip and Sono, a suitable spot, not too far out to sea, was determined, and the fishpots were tossed over board. He'll go back in 24 to 36 hours to raise them. The fish haven't been biting well these days (something about the wrong phase of the moon for fish),so he doesn't expect a big catch.

Laundry Day

Guyva and Lynthia stopped by to tell me they were going to the river to do some laundry and to ask if I would like to go. Of course I would like to go, so off we went, stopping at the shop to buy some washing powder and bleach. We carried the pails and bags of laundry for about 1/2 a mile to the Picard River. What a delight to find a cool, shaded, bubbling, shallow, fast running river. It's shaded banks and rocky, verdant shore, clear, cool, and fresh, reminded me of home. It also rained off and on while the sun continued to shine.

The walk home was somewhat different! I hadn't calculated in the weight of the laundry, heavy now because it was wet. The day had advanced, so now it was also HOT. It was well worth it, and I will go back to the Picard just to sit in it's sheltered pools of refreshing sweet water.

Monday, July 27, 2009


The building, naming and launching of Sono's boat has been the centre of things for me for a while. These photos should tell part of the story. Sono named her, (he is a Capricorn), I designed the logo. She will go fishing in the very near future. I really want to get these images up in order, but they want to go alphabetically

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Art in Roseau and Customer Service

The office of EXPOSURE, a newspaper published for the visual artists of Dominica is housed in a pretty little white house on the main street in Roseau, the capital city. Volumn 1, Number 1 was issued in February 2009. It is an excellent newsletter, nicely laid out and well written, covering painting, sculpture, photography, a featured artist , Kelo Royer, various art classes and activities and a film review.

This is the only nice thing to say about it. The tiny front porch and small front room were clogged with young people lounging around, which is not so bad if they would take the trouble to move their long legs out of the way to let others pass into the building. The young woman at the counter was beyond surly. She was aggressively rude, did not have basic information and clearly was not going to take the trouble to get it. There was a wall rack with art cards and some paintings on the walls that looked interesting, but it was not worth the unpleasantness to have a look (and who knows, maybe purchase something).

Instead, I recommend going around the corner of the adjoining building, passing through a lunch stand, down a little short alley and visiting the small studio, of Ellingsworth Moses. There I found a soft spoken man (and his young son) quietly sitting at his easel, working on a mixed media landscape piece. We had a friendly chat, he directed me to some art supplies (this is another story), I returned to his studio and bought a little print of a flamboyant tree. You can see his work at

There are other artists’ galleries to visit, and I will find them without the questionable help of the people at Exposure.

Customer Service: Generally speaking, customer service is not Dominica's strong suit. Eye contact is not practiced, items are flung at the customer, clerks take their own sweet time and will keep a customer waiting while they finish their chat with a colleague, or on their cell phone. It is maddening beyond words. Only in the farmers' market or the fish market or the small convenience shops can one get a half way friendly response. I have taken on the challenge of developing a customer/vendor relationship with several locals to make things easier on me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Glanvillia Beach

I go to the beach everyday around 4 PM and I always take my sketch book and do quick drawings of the children playing in the sea, the fishermen, or whatever is going on. The children often come and ask to see what I am doing. They are quick to offer suggestions and to critique! I have several nice little drawings that they have done in my book.