Friday, February 26, 2010


CALLS is a training centre for youth at risk. It is a two year program giving them a lot of remedial academics, life skills, work experience and some training in agriculture and woodwork. There are about 35 students ages 15 to 20. I teach there one day a week.

Mrs. A, the teacher in charge of Crafts training, is leading the group on a field trip to the Carib model village, which is on the other side of the Island, some 40 or so miles away, and invited me to go with them. We were to leave at 8: 30AM on two buses. After much milling about on the street, much shuffling between buses, much shouting and calling we are all finally on the bus. The driver jumps of his bus out and runs across the street to get something from the store. The youngsters take this as a sign to also make a break for it. Have you seen those dog movies where someone opens the door in the pound and all the dogs come barreling out full speed?

9:15 and we are again all rounded up and on the bus; all 20 of us on a van meant to seat 14 people. It is rolling, and we are saying our prayers for a safe journey. The bus is bursting with a cacophony of Spanish, Dominican, Patois, and Mrs. A exhorting the students to behave, accompanied by the bus radio, several MP3 players, and boys hanging out the windows hailing their friends as we pass through Portsmouth. It is already 28 degrees C.

OK, off we go. I am in the seat directly behind the driver so I can't see out the window. My seat partner is a heavy young lady. The radio speaker is right beside me. Someone passes a flash drive up to the bus driver who plugges it into his system and BOOM! Throbbing rap music is passing through the speakers directly into my heart. As in this genre, the thumping bass predominates. It pounds in my heart forcing it to keep time and jars it from its comfortable seat in my chest. Meanwhile we are careening up and down mountain roads and around hairpin curves at top speed,

We rush through lush, verdant dark green valleys, past banana plantations, and through colourful hamlets. Magnificent ocean views suddenly appear around every S curve. The mountains rise around me, dramatic, powerful, and alive. By now we are on the Atlantic side so we see rolling surf and rocky shores. We stop to pick up several students along the way who are boisterously greeted. Once, we stopped to buy bread at a bakery, which Mrs. A refused to dole out in spite of the piteous pleading from the boys at the back of the bus.

I won’t even try to describe the hour spent at the Carib Village, except to say that not one of the students there was even pretending to be interested. They were way too busy taking posed photos with their cell phone cameras, running up and down the paths, listening to their MP3 players, and exchanging epithets with each other. From the Village we went to a roadside stand and everyone bought ‘jellies’ and coconuts to eat and drink. Jellies are young coconuts, the white insides are not hard, but jelly like. Mrs. A allowed the bread to be distributed. More rounding up of students…more noise…more chaos…off to another Carib site accompanied by even less interest than previously. Back on the bus, and we are on our way back to Portsmouth. But…the bus stops, the boys jump out and run up an alley and disappear. I ask the girl next to me why we have stopped. She blandly replies, “I don’t know.” Mrs. A in the front seat seems unconcerned. The boys return and jump on the bus. We pass a soccer field. The boys get the bus to stop and out they pile. Mrs. A announces that she will allow them ½ an hour. The girl beside me begins to whine, “I want to go home.” After a time the boys drift back, but we have lost the driver. He reappears, and we go again. Are we really going to go non-stop this time? No. We drive up a short mountain road and stop at a gorgeous sprawling building. I realize that this is the high school that many of the students had gone to. They get out of the bus. I am just too exhausted and hot to move off the bus.

I can see the buildings from where we are parked. The school is set high on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic and is a beautiful grouping of covered passageways, small structures, and gardens. It looks like a resort. This is North East Comprehensive Secondary School. I am impressed.

That’s the last stop. Most of us fall asleep for the rest of the trip home. We are back in Portsmouth by 3PM.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carnival 2010

Carnival started last night, Saturday, February 14, and will go until midnight Tuesday, (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, depending where you are). Here in Dominica we do not have the big, splashy Carnival shows and parades. To be sure, there is a parade in Roseau, and we do ‘jump up’. I have now experienced 3 Carnivals, and that’s plenty. Unfortunately, the Dominican Carnival of today is a big, sodden, loud , often violent, drunk. I stay home.

Carnival, sometimes called ‘Mas: An abbreviated form of Masquerade, the French and Creole term for Carnival. Used as in the phrases: "Couwi Mas", "Run Mas", "Jouway Mas", and "Play Mas".

These are common costumes and still used in parades around Dominica. Masks, however, are banned, for obvious reasons.


Sensay Costume: A costume of West African origin worn at Carnival time in Dominica. It is made of frayed rope and other fibrous material such as pounded leaves of the agave, 'langue beff' (Furcraea tuberosa) that grows mainly on the west coast. The material is tied around the body in layers so that it cascades from the head to the feet. A mask is usually worn on the face and cow horns form the headpiece. Sensay costumes are also made of strips of paper, cloth, frayed plastic sacks and dry banana leaves 'pai fig'. They are similar to costumes used in West African tribal ceremonies. The word comes from the Twi language, senseh, which is a type of fowl with curled or ruffled feathers. The costume is named after its resemblance to the fowl, which also has special spiritual properties among the Twi people.



is a derivation of the god "Moko", coming straight out of West African tradition. Moko is a “diviner” in the Congo language. The term "jumbie" or ghost was added by the freed slaves. It was believed that the height of the stilts was associated with the ability to foresee evil faster than ordinary men. The Moko Jumbie was felt to be a protector of the village.
This mas is well-known throughout the Caribbean. It is an authentic African masquerade mounted on sticks. The stilt walker plays on stilts 10 to 12 feet high. His costume consists of a brightly coloured skirt or pants, jacket and elaborate hat. He would dance through the streets all day, and collect money from people on the upper floors and balconies. His dance was similar to a jig, and he was often accompanied by a drum, flute and triangle.

Friday, February 12, 2010


From the Washington Post February 12, 2010
Montserrat volcano shoots plume of ash 9 miles into sky, forces evacuation of village


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A volcano on Montserrat shot ash some nine miles (15 kilometres) into the sky Thursday, one of its most dramatic events since a devastating 1997 eruption that drove away half the Caribbean island's population.

The partial collapse of the dome in the volcano's crater also unleashed flows of hot gas and rocks, triggering sirens for the evacuation of about 20 people from a nearby village.

Paul Cole, director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, said it appeared to be the most material ejected by the volcano in about four years. He estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the hardened lava dome had collapsed.

"When we're looking at the lava dome now, there's a large scoop out of it that's missing," Cole said.

The dome has crumbled several times since the volcano became active in 1995, and Cole said it is possible activity will settle down as the dome builds itself up again. He said there is no immediate cause for concern about more dangerous eruptions.

The 1997 eruption killed 19 people and buried much of the island, including its former capital, Plymouth, which is now abandoned. Half the British territory's 12,000 inhabitants left.

for a map go here.

Monserrat is a tiny island just east of Dominica. The prevailing winds are westerly, therefore, we, in Dominica are getting a rain of volcanic ash. It is everywhere and accumulating. The usually lush green vegetation is dusted with fine white dust. The sky is hazy. I can feel it on this keyboard as I type. By the time I got home from Portsmouth this morning my mouth and eyes were gritty. I can taste the sulphur. People with breathing problems will have trouble. The fine dust, combined with the usual dust and exhaust emissions can only make things worse.