Sunday, March 22, 2009


Double click on the images to enlargen

The Aftermath

Well Readers, I'm not settling in as I should. They tell me I am having 'culture shock'. Probably true, but I don't think it's the brand they mean! I feel a major funk coming on.

I am aiming to go back to Dominica for 3 weeks in September. I'm hoping to develop a little business venture with no capital.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sister Clare

The Cluny Convent, right across the street from the school, Portsmouth, Dominica

The Convent garden

Jav, the Convent dog

Sister Clare dispensing candy

Sister Clare and grade one in her office

Sister Clare is a St. Joseph of Cluny Sister. She has been at St. John's Catholic School for 7 years, and has taught and administrated mission schools all over the world. She is loved by all the children, by the staff and by the many volunteers who have come to St. John's.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Peter update

Peter spent every minute with me that he could. Just before I left I took him down to Indian River to meet Phillip. I wanted Peter to have someone he could go to if he needed to. If for nothing else but for a break. I hope Phillip can employ him from time to time picking up sea glass from the Indian River beach.

I'm Freezing

Well, I'm back. I am trying not to obess on D'ca. I can see it all so clearly; I can see my friends, I can see the Indian River men, Purple Turtle Beach, the houses along the way, I can hear the roosters crowing, and the music. I have to think of a way to stay there for longer and twice a year. It's this end that is the problem, not the Dominican end. And of course , money. But there must be a way.

The trip home was long, but no problems. I met a man on the plane who is some how involved in a resort project in Rosalie Bay, which is on the Atlantic side. He said he'd keep in touch and put me in touch with the woman who is financing the project. See I'm not counting on anything, but I'll take all the contacts I can. Plus there is Phillip's unique souvenir booth at Indian River.

The snow is mostly gone, the sun is shinning and it is above freezing. It is all too perfect here, clean, functioning, healthy, quiet, straight, stable, and predictable. No people calling out to each other, no people honking their car horns at each other in greeting, no people standing around chatting...NO one to talk to, to dance with, sit on the beach with, share with - it's painful.

Friday, March 13, 2009

School Supplies

If you are ever called to donate school supplies for developing countries, Dominica especially, here are some suggestions:

St. John's Catholic School has about 300 students and 12 to 15 teachers grades K to 6. They have a decent library and their computers are good and well used. What isn't there are very basic classroom items. There is only one rusty pencil sharpener in the school. There are no garbage pails in any of the classrooms, and only one bin for all the candy wrappers, juice boxes etc. There are no paints or art supplies. Chalk is hard come by.

My suggestion is to make up teacher kits rather than student kits. These could include:
sharpies, glue sticks, index cards, elastic bands, erasers, motivational stickers, scissors, coated paper clips, page covers, scotch tape, construction paper, balls of string, file folders, labels, Dominica uses imperial measurements, the teachers are using home made card board yard sticks to teach measurement. I think a subscription to a professional magazine might be useful. Some of the teachers are studying and taking their degree on line.

Never send anything that needs batteries. Batteries are in short supply and when available are ridiculously expensive. Never send anything that needs replacement parts, like staplers. The staples are non existant.

The school has nice recorders, but no music. They have been well used in the past, but only when there is a teacher who can teach the recorder.
The school needs atlases and globes.
The children play basket ball without a basket

Student kits

The girls love Dora! Supplies of the usual things young students like would always be welcome: Coloured pencils, copy books, erasers, rulers, etc.

Remember that these are Caribbean children, so "Dick and Jane" is irrelevant. In fact the Caribbean has developed some really good readers and social studies materials.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Emotional Day

When I was here in 2007 I spent a lot of time with a boy named Peter. I had understood that he had returned to Guyana with his family so I didn't look for him this time. Today he came into the classroom going to see the other teacher when we looked at each other and recognition dawned. He yelled, "Mees, Mees, it's you, it's you" and rushed into my arms. We just stood there in a major hug for a long time. You can imagine how I felt.

Then this afternoon another former student came by my apartment. He is now in high school. He said he was passing St. John and saw me painting the wall and wanted to know if I remembered him. He was one of the kids who helped paint last time.

This morning on the way to school, I passed a little girl filling her water buckets at the tap at the end of the street. A great big black man with a huge stalking tiger on his tee shirt yelled at her, "Hurry up, girl, you only have 5 sedconds left." A mature lady was also passing by, and she stopped and berated him, "Help the child, you can't expect a little child to carry that load - you take two." The two of us grandmothers stood there looking up at him. He stood there looking down at us. He blinked first, but just turn his back on us and walked away to the other corner where his buddies were standing. The little girl tottered off up the street with her buckets of water.

Quite an emotional day. So I went and had a huge coconut ice cream cone!

Exactly a week left. It really is nuts that just when I get settled, organized, and get to know the shop keepers, street vendors, neighbours, children, et al that I have to leave.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Roosters crowing non stop 24/7

Hefty ladies carrying loads on their heads

Loud music everywhere

Adorable children

Tiny spiders that can only be seen when they move

The occaisional 4cm long 'roach

Piles of garbage and litter and scrap metal

Braids, twists, extensions, bobbles

Short dreads, long dreads

Fantastic sunsets

Mitsubishi's honking

"Yeah Man" (Ya Mon)

"And the same to you Sister Clare"

Oranges, grapefruit, bananas, tomatoes, bread sticks, coconut ice cream, Magnum, coffee

Danny, Ian, Jayce, Sheldon, Gregory and Phillip especially

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Humbling Experience

Yesterday I had the most humbling experience of my life. The grade one teacher was absent and I was asked to stand in for her. Sure, says I with arrogant confidence.

There are 36 boys and girls, ages 6-7 with skills levels from non readers to grade 3 level. When I arrived in the classroom they had been without a teacher for half an hour and were pumped. I walked into one of Dante's rings of hell. They were yelling, leaping from desk to desk, punching, throwing, hitting and bullying each other. I actually expected that they would return to their sets and quieten down when I appeared, but that didn't happen. There was no way I could be heard above the din. I stood there gob-smacked. What to do? I randomly chose several children and asked them to come to the board to read a paragraph the teacher had written. They came, but they immediately attacked each other with the pointer and their rulers and other lethal objects. These I quickly confiscated amid howls of protest.

While this was happening, little fingers had been poking at me to get my attention. The poking fingers were accompanied by whining voices saying, "Mees, Mees, she take my penceel," "Mees, Mees, he poonch me" "Mees, Mees, she break de chalk," "Mees, Mees, I tursty". Not only was I literally backed into a corner by their pushing and shoving, but I found that I was with master tattlers. These champions of - it's not my fault - are constantly vigilant of their commrades in arms and ready at any moment to inform on each other.

I decided I had to give up reasoning with them and assert myself. I tried, I did try, but the children didn't give a rat's ass what I did, or that I was even there. I could not believe what I was seeing. The violence was astounding.

Suddenly brooms, mops, buckets of water and cleaning clothes appeared to add to the circus. It was Friday, clean up day. It gave 6 little girls something to do, and they did it with a vengence.

To be sure there were several quiet children disbursed among the wild animals who were working away on whatever. How could I use them to my advantage? I took some of them out on to the porch and closed the door on the rest of them hoping no one would get seriously hurt. These children did not know how to sit in a circle or how to cross their legs. These are basic Kindergarten skills. All of them had been to Kindergarten. They also did not know how to line up and taking turns was a totally foreign concept. They could not sit and listen to a story.

Finally it was break time and several teachers came and took some of the children away and absorbed them into their own overcrowded classrooms. This was a great relief, but really only helped the decible level, but it became manageable. I discovered 2 children who were way above the rest in reading and math level, the rest were virtual non readers! When I asked them how many children were in their family they all answered, "Just me," although I knew that many of them had brothers and sisters at the school. The idea of 'backwards' stumped them. They couldn't count backwards from 10, repeat a simple list of 2 items in reverse order, or walk backward. I tried the words, beside, next, over, under. This was better. They learned these concepts very quickly.

In my defence I would like to say that I am sure the accent (theirs and mine) were a major barrier, as well as not being able to raise my voice like the other teachers.

Finally someone sent a terrific young man, a grade 6 student down to rescue me. Devon Brewster will remain in my heart forever. Not only is he a born teacher, but he took command, after asking my permission, and the children responded to him immediately. He spoke with authority, and in their language. He continued to defer to me, although he was clearly in charge.

I am grateful for this experience. I am so glad that I was asked to do this job. I will never again critisize Dominican teachers for their stern voice, wagging finger, and occaisional tugged arm. I learned a lot.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

School Tales

The Best of Excuses:

Sister Clare: Why are you late to school?
Little Boy: I didn't wake up, Sister.
Sister Clare: Why didn't you wake up?
Little Boy: I had a nightmare and a headache.
Sister Clare: Did you tell your mommy about your nightmare?
Little Boy: No Sister.
Sister Clare: Why didn't you tell your mommy?
Little boy: Because I was asleep.
Late comers waiting to see Sister Clare before they go to class

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yeah Man (Ya Mon)

The Dominicans are a warm, friendly, so-be-it crowd. It is quite amazing to walk down the street and have everyone look at you and say, "Good Morning". The Americans and Brits avert their eyes as you pass them by. How can they resist the pull of a well meaning greeting? This morning I said, "Good Afternoon" to a young mother and her 4 year old. The child didn't answer me and the mother yanked her arm and said, "Say 'good afternoon' to the lady" Which the child promply did. I love it when the children from school call me from across the street or from their balcony, "Hello Miss Marian".

Coconut ice cream is really good! I bought 3 mangoes for $1. Grapefruit are as big as footballs, lemons are the size of baseballs.

Douglas Bay Beach, a very nice little beach that I used to visit often last trip has disappeared. Hurricane Omar plus a sea surge took it away and replaced it with stones. They have their own beauty to be sure, but that little private beach was nice!

Most of the Dominicans are devout R. Catholics and there is much activity around the church, especially that this is the season of Lent. The Anglicans have a strong but small community and a healthy youth group, but no priest. The Pentecostals are in full evidence.

There are 2 main cities, Roseau, the capital and Portsmouth, where I am. They are about 20 miles apart, but it takes an hour and 15 minutes to travel between the two. Roads are very narrow, convoluted and mountainous. Dominicans are very fast dare devil drivers. There are no street stop signs, and there are no traffic lights. Since there are also no sidewalks people walk in the road. Lots of honking, loud music and leaning out the window yelling "Hey Mon" at each other. Apart from this, I feel quite safe walking around.

I should mention the post office. They seem to keep it a secret. The entrance is not marked and is a heavy steel door at the back of a building. You'd never know. You could be standing in front of it asking for directions to the post office. And they are clearly not concerned about accessiblity. This morning I carried some parcels up the many steps into the post office proper for an old lady with a swollen knee who was struggling. They close for lunch. You can only post at the post office, and there is no delivery. It takes ages for a letter to arrive home. If I send a letter or postcard the first week I am here it takes a minimum of three weeks to get to Canada. I don't think we can lay this one at the feet of Canada Post!

None of this is complaining believe me. I love it here. I'm happy to be here. I'm at home here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Green Dominican Flag

Dominica, like any rainforest is lush and green, but definitely not green in environmental terms. If any reader here has even a flash of environmental awareness or concern, they had better not come to D'ca because they will freak out! There is no recycling of plastic. There is no commitment to reuse, I can't figure out the garbage collection system here in Portsmouth. On garbage pickup days they seem to strew more around than they pick up. The only thing that is recycled is scrap metal, and that they ship off to Germany. There are piles of rusting cars, wires, cans, barrels, steel sheets lying around, not to mention the 3 hulking ship carcasses washed up in the 1994 hurricane just rotting away on the shores. You get the idea...I won't go on and on.

On the other hand, Dominica might bee the only third world coountry that feeds itself. It is so lush, fertile and humid, you can truly just drop any seed anywhere and it will germinate - this includes the piles of rusting metal! Yah Mon! Mangoes everywhere, pineapple grows in here and there. Want a banana? No problem. D'ca has 365 fresh water rivers and you can drink from the tap.

More later...