Thursday, September 5, 2013

RIDING THE BUSES

The buses are not buses.  They are vans with 14 seats, at peak times squeezing in 16 people, and a big sliding side door operated by the passenger sitting nearest to the door. Some of the buses are newer and cleaner than others.  All are Japanese made Honda or Nissan.  All are fitted with powerful speakers that blare the local radio and current, local, pop hits.  The 35 Km run from Portsmouth to Roseau takes about an hour plus, and costs 9 EC ($4.50 Canadian).  You pay the driver when you get off according to the distance you have travelled.  Buses traveling to and fro stop at unscheduled intervals along the way, often to pick up or deliver packages, children, messages, or for unidentifiable reasons.  Sometimes the driver will pull over and the passengers will buy a hot plantain or roasted corn on the cob from a lady at the side of the road through the window.

When you want to get off you shout “STOPPING” and hope the driver hears you above the din.  If you happen to be sitting at the back of the bus, getting off is an athletic event.  The ceiling is low, there is no aisle, there are lots of legs, parcels, and other impedimenta to negotiate.  Then you get to the door and pull it open, toss your baggage, parcels and children out, slide down, go to the window on the passenger side (they drive on the left) and pay the driver.  Often you are let off inches from a drain or a deep tuft of grass with who knows what waiting inside there.  Going to Roseau I ask the driver to take me to the hospital and he makes a little detour up the hill.  Going from the hospital to catch the bus to Portsmouth I take the intercity bus (85 Canadian cents).

Getting on is another adventure.  I have only gotten on at the ‘terminals’.  Burrows Square in Portsmouth is the gathering place for the buses to Roseau.  It is crowded with vehicles: all parked in what appears to be a confusion, all with motors on, all honking their horns, all drivers shouting.  Buses from the villages arrive and the drivers hi-jack the passengers to fill their bus. They will not leave until their bus is full although they all promise to leave immediately.  I have often waited for 20 minutes on the bus that is leaving right away.  This is the reason I walk the extra distance to catch the bus at Burrows Square although I could get it much closer to where I live.  The bus gets to my stop FULL and does not stop. 

The process in Roseau to return to Portsmouth is much the same only more crowded, confusing, noisy and hectic. 

I know that there is a protocol amongst the drivers, competition is fierce, politics of bus operation are complex, and there is no way I could ever figure it out – or even want to.  I have my favourite drivers, they know me by now, and they compete for my little fare.  They call out to me as they see me coming to attract my attention.  I look to see which bus has the most passengers as that will be the bus leaving soonest, smile and get on.  If I know it will be a wait I drop a dollar in the hand of “Cucumber”, a street person, who looks after me: he gets me a seat up front with the driver and makes sure the bus waits for me while I go across the street to get an ice cream cone.


On the bus: if the news is on and if there is some political discussion on the radio the denizens will erupt into a passionate debate on the topic.  Most people play or text on their phones, some sing and bounce around to music on their phone, some sleep, some eat, or visit and chat.  I just go into the ‘zone’.  I rather like the bus ride, the scenery is spectacular, the near misses are heart throbbing; I can actually think on the bus.  I take the late bus home from Roseau at the end of the work day so it tends to be quiet.

I wanted to include photos, but I am a little intimidated.  Maybe later.........

Thursday, August 29, 2013

MY DAY

Benjie is down the hall singing passionate gospel songs.  The thing is the hall is long and narrow and tiled so the echo makes, even me, sound like a Met star!  I sing in the hall, too, from time to time trying to sound like Roberta Flack!

I like apartment life.  Alone, but not alone.  Close the door, lock it, be safe, have other humans around but a nod or a ‘good day’ is all that is required. It is worth it to put up with their cooking smells and noise.  This building is one storey, 8 apartments, only 4 are occupied.  My apartment is very small.  I counted 17 twelve inch tiles across and 17 twelve inch tiles long. You do the math.  But it is laid out nicely, the bathroom and the bedroom are big enough and the kitchen/sitting room is small.  There are no shelves or cupboards (except in   the kitchen) and this presents a challenge, but if you don’t have anything the challenge is easy to meet.  It is furnished (stove, fridge, table, 2 chairs, bench, TV, internet, water) I pay for the electricity and cooking gas.  This all amounts to under $1000 Canadian dollars a month. Then there is food, which I find expensive, lunch, phone, bus, laundry and whatever (I love the local sweet, mild, refreshing, beer - Kubuli).

Oddly, it is waking up alone, to nothing and no one that disturbs me the most.  I don’t like to face the day.  Getting myself up and out of bed is hard and the questions, dilemmas, and impossible decisions hit full force.  I hate everything and everyone and the quiet. It is very difficult to motivate myself.  Coffee helps.  I can’t stand the local radio and I miss the CBC.  I was never good in the morning, but this is particularly hard.  Anyway, I do because I must, and once out on the street it is OK and some equilibrium is found.

Much to my surprise I enjoy my evenings alone and I feel mildly relieved to come home to an empty apartment, crank the AC up high, take a shower, have a beer, make a little supper, check my email – in that order!  Sometimes Guyva and Remi or Flo drop in for a beer and a chat.  Sometimes Scotty or Benji (a different one) or Carla (one of Sono’s daughters) phones me to check up on me.    I download movies and TV shows, go to bed with my computer and a movie in my air-conditioned bedroom. 

I chat with many people on the way back and forth.  I am a known quantity around town and am often stopped, or ‘hailed’ as they say here. I know all the bus drivers and I drop a dollar in the palm of “cucumber”, a street person, who will secure me a seat beside the bus driver and hold the bus while I run across the street to top up my phone or get an ice cream cone or a piece of watermelon. I spend a lot of time on the buses.  Bus life is a whole other story. On my way home, when I get off the bus, I cut through the local shop at Mountain Breeze.   There are always several neighbours there gossiping, and I give my little report on Sono’s condition and receive their best wishes. I cannot go to the hospital on Sundays because the buses don’t run.

I hope to establish the pattern that today presented.  I rolled out of bed at 8am, fooled around and was out the door by 10:30, went to CALLS (I actually did something useful) until 12:30, had a big sustaining lunch (because I won’t be able to eat again until I get home), got on the bus, and was in the hospital with Sono by 2, stayed until 5:30, caught the bus back to Portsmouth at 6 and was home by 7:30.  I made Sono as comfortable as I am able.  My plan is to replicate this day as long as he is in Roseau. 


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Diver


 I had to go into Portsmouth to get a key cut at Budget Marine (‘budget’ is an oxymoron).  Of course, in spite of a large rack of blanks, they didn’t have one.  When I left the store a man in diving gear, i.e., snorkel, harpoon, stopped me and showed me a small common terra cotta flower pot and asked me to buy it.  Pleadingly, he said, “This is all I could find today. Give me a couple of dollars for it, my lady.” I have finally learned to say no to these myriad offers.  He continued saying he was hungry.  I walked on with him shouting angry insults at my back. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Challenge

Monday August 19, 2013

Sono is in Martinique and I hope they are fixing his C6, but I don’t really know.  One of his sisters went with him.  He will be there for 10 days. His other sister, here on the Island, is supposed to stay in touch with me.  So far no news. 

So - my personal challenge now is to sit tight, not react, keep my head down and wait, wait, wait, and hope his sister will call me. I am just not comfortable calling her but I might have to.  My spirits crash about, going from being resolute, to despondent, to paranoia, to confidence and back again. I work hard at staying cheerful and learning to be alone and on my own. I hate the isolation and being dependent on others but it is preferable to the struggle to stay level with his family, and not being sure what Sono wants. I expect he doesn’t know.  At this phase, nothing is known.  I am operating entirely on intuition.  This one-day-at-a-time thing is damn hard work!  At least my internet is restored.

Thoughts of ‘why am I doing this’ and ‘I want to go home’ are beginning to creep in.  I must keep them at bay, at least until Sono comes back from Martinique with a prognosis, and his wishes can be determined. I know that his family will prevail, and that is, of course, as things should be, but only then can I think about what next for me.

Guyva (20 years old), Sono’s son, is very good to me and checks up on me every day.  I am so grateful for all my friends and family and I keep you and your love before me in my mind.  Your care and encouragement sustain me.

Later:  I got it….I’ll draw and I’ll write!!!  Solitary activities to be sure…but something to keep the agony of loneliness from making me totally crazy!  Deep thanks to whoever sent me that flash.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Neighbours


On one side lives a family of women: a mother, her two grown daughters and the female infant of one of the daughters.  Another sister and her 3 children live across from them.  The sister is deemed to be “crazy”.  I don’t know if, or what kind of “crazy”, I’ve never had a problem with her.  These women regularly have screaming fights with each other, and in particular with the “crazy” sister.

There had been minor rumbles throughout the day. Last night (Saturday, March 16), whatever it was burst into flame, and the women were out in the lane in full voice.  The neighbour upstairs and Sono and I went outside as spectators. When one of the girls went for her cutlass, Sono quietly intervened and took it.  The shouting continued until we all got tired and returned to what we had been doing.  The 3 sisters retreated. 

Not even half an hour later we heard police/ambulance sirens.  The phone upstairs rang and the sister who was up there was crying. The father of her child had just been shot dead.  This happened at a bar on the beach, just around the corner. The upstairs neighbours heard the shots. We put the sisters in the car and drove them to the hospital, passing the site of the shooting.  News travels with remarkable speed in Dominica.  When we got to the hospital (10 minutes) there was already a crowd there.  The dead young man’s father is from the village of Guillet, and it seemed to me that the entire village turned out and was at the hospital door. 

How did you spend your Saturday night?

Monday, March 11, 2013

On The Side of the Bourne Road

 We were out searching for a part (some kind of bolt) in cars that have been abandoned on the side of the road. There I was, standing on a hill, when a rickety pick up truck  towing another crippled pick up truck came, full speed, around the bend, and of course, in the middle of the road. As it passed me the tow rope snapped, the crippled pick up began to roll back down the hill gaining speed as it went.  The men who had gathered around our parked car on the other side of the road  raced after it, caught it and brought it to a halt…all this on the side of a mountain! After much loud discussion about the quality of the rope, they simply retied it and sped off.  No big deal…all in a day’s happenings!









Saturday, February 2, 2013


A Hospital Experience

Not as bad as I expected!

Sono was working on his boat at his house.  Suddenly he came driving furiously up the drive way yelling, “Come!  Come!”  His left forearm was wrapped in his shirt and dripping blood.  Off we flew to the hospital/health centre.  Luckily he knew what to do because the process was out of my experience.  There was simply no one there to receive in coming patients. However, we were quickly seen in a little messy room with several other injured men.  A Cuban doctor came by and gave a cursory glance at the gaping wound and pronounced, “Only muscle”. A huge, silent, clumsy nurse stitched it together.  I estimate about 15 stitches, dressed it, took his name, handed him a prescription for an antibiotic and told him to go home.  He spent a very bad night. 

We went back this morning.  The dressing needed to be changed and he was having a reaction to the antibiotic.  We arrived at 10:30 and were seen at 1PM.  Not that unusual I guess, but it was eerily quiet.  We sat on a bench by what was once a fountain and is now a pit with plastic bags, card board boxes and other unidentifiable bits and pieces in it.  Nothing was happening, no medical personnel in sight, only the ambulance driver and the orderly walking in and out.  Other clusters of patients were waiting.  It seems that when someone needs to go to the health centre, the entire family goes.   I thought we were about 10th in line, but actually we were 4th.  Later 4 or 5 policemen arrived to question the family of a man who was beaten up last night.  When we arrived, the man was passed out on the bench by the fountain in the foyer.  We got the dressing and the prescription changed.




NOTES and IMPRESSIONS:

  • The hospital itself is at the top of a long steep hill.  The halt and the lame, the sick and the injured walk up
  • The confidentiality cult has not hit Dominica.  Everything is conducted in the open corridors.  But, why not? Everyone knows everyone and/or they are related.  You know the concept of 6 degrees of separation?  Well, here it is 1 degree! 
  • Sterilization hysteria is also not a part of the ethos in the Portsmouth Hospital!  It is dirty, run down, chipped paint and lifted floor tiles, bucket and mop propped up in the corner of the treatment room, cardboard boxes on broken chairs.
  • The ‘reading’ material is a WHO booklet on Control and Surveillance of African Trypanosomiasis, the Dominica Chief Medical Officer’s report of 1996, and several pamphlets advertising the North Eastern Funeral Association.
  • People will not help each other.  An old lady, in a red sequined cap, couldn’t push her even older husband in his wheelchair up over a bump in the floor.  No one helped her.  However, when they loaded the beaten up man into the ambulance, everyone was up and out the door to watch.  Whenever a door opened or someone came by, all heads would swing around and gawp.
  • Prescribed drugs are cheap. 28 erythromycin cost about $5.00 Canadian. 
  • The health system is 2 tiered.  You pay to go to a doctor in his/her office, and you pay for the medicine OR you go to the local Health Centre and see a non-local doctor (usually Cuban),  and free drugs, if the hospital pharmacy is open. 
  • The institution does not keep records.  Each individual has “a book” which is an ordinary school exercise book and keeps it for themselves and their children.  When you seek medical help, either at the doctor’s office or the health centre, you are expected to produce ‘the book’.  “Where’s your book?” is the first question asked. The doctor or nurse transcribes what the complaint and treatment was and what drugs were given.