Dominica’s Calypso Fever: It’s Contagious!

DSCF6534

Showdown Mas Camp is one of two popular weekly ‘tents’, where enthusiastic audiences watch and hear member calypsonians in the run up to the formal competitions during the Carnival season in Dominica.

I’ll never forget the first calypso show I

calypso-monarch-dice-5x-champion

King Dice did it again!  He won the 2016 Calypso Monarch competition last night – that’s his 8th crown! (Photo taken in 2012).

attended in Dominica. It was Carnival season 1998 and I walked in to the Stardom Monarch of the Tent competition at the Sisserou Hotel with a young Dominican lady that I had only recently met.  The place was packed – with hardly a space to move, but somehow this attractive young woman was able to charm bystanders so that we could step in front of them to stand directly below the stage.  I looked up at a handsome man, known in calypso circles as ‘De Hunter’ who was dressed in traditional Kalinago attire.  He was singing a composition called  ‘Carib Bacchanal‘.  I was so caught up in the  powerful refrain, the throbbing beat and the sweet repetitive melody that I instantly fell in love with this special genre of music. And that year, ‘Hunter’ went on the win the big Carnival Calypso Monarch  competition with that enduring song.

Since then, I don’t attend as many shows as I once did:  too many late nights for me in the damp, chilly air (relatively speaking) that prevails in January and February.  But that doesn’t stop me from continuing with my deep affection for this art form.  I listen to all the songs each year, the detailed professional commentaries and  also contribute to lively discussions with friends and strangers alike.

So, what makes calypso so ‘hot’ on the Nature Island?  “Let me tell you something…” to use a Dominican expression.  It’s true, it didn’t originate on the Nature Isle.  That honour belongs to Trinidad, where Carnival, in which calypso plays a huge part, is a  VERY big deal. But that being said, Dominica’s brand is not to be underestimated. Part of the fun is the intimacy of the performances, the familiarity of the political and social issues and the overall popularity of the songs amongst a small population that gives tremendous support to its calypsonians.

The concept of calypso evolved from a fusion of West African and Latin rhythms, with the idea of a lead singer with crowd responses about social injustices during the periods of slavery and colonialism.  A more detailed description of its background can be found on the web site of local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, right here. In Dominica, calypso competitions became formalized in the 1950’s, where one singer discreetly performed/presented a certain social or political issue to a listening audience. More details are available in a previous piece on Ti Domnik Tales right here.

The Dominica Calypso Association is a formal organization that ensures that standards

DSCF6553

Daryl “De Bobb” Bobb is a gifted and  longstanding calypsonian who also writes his own lyrics.  He placed second runner up in the Calypso Monarch 2016 competition.

are met in terms of the art form and the calysonians’ performances.  If you think that writing a calypso or performing it is just a simple matter of venting one’s concerns in any old way, then think again!  Specific guidelines exist that outline the way in which this genre of song must be written, composed and performed. A detailed breakdown of the components required in a calypso song can be found  here on the avirtualdominica.com web site.  Lyricists must cleverly disguise the outstanding theme in the literary guise of double-entendres, puns, metaphors, similes, and parodies, with plenty of satire, allusions and sometimes parables.  The point is that the message is not supposed to be glaringly obvious, but it can be deciphered by the listeners as a result of the careful crafting of the composition: the obvious subject often alludes to an entirely different matter.

When I taught students  English Literature at Orion Academy, I derived tremendous pleasure from using examples of literary devices from the calypso songs of the day to illustrate their meaning and usage.  The kids really enjoyed it too.  On one occasion, we were graced with the presence of prolific veteran calypso songwriter Pat Aaron, who writes exclusively for 8-time (2016) Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice’ Joseph.  He had written lyrics for a calypso entitled ‘Animal Farm’, which was performed by ‘Dice’.  It was based on themes presented in the allegorical novel, ‘Animal Farm‘ by George Orwell, which I was teaching to second formers at that time.  He carefully explained to the class  about his methods for incorporating some of the ideas from the novel into the calypso song, making it relevant to various political, social and topical issues of the day in

dscf35313

Tasha ‘Tasha P’ Peltier was the first woman to ever win the Calypso Monarch Competition in 2011.

Dominica.

There is one caveat, however.  If one is not familiar with the issues of the day in Dominica, then it is more difficult to interpret the message that is being relayed by the calypsonian.  I found this out in my early days here. Apart from being entertained by the spectacle of the staged show, and being caught up in the excitement of the crowd, I often did not understand the disguised message in the songs.  But after almost 20 years on the Nature Isle, I can assure you that I am well versed in the issues of the day, as I follow current events very closely and frequently discuss them with my Dominican friends!

dscf1737

Janae Jackson is a very talented 17 year old girl who went all the way to the Calypso Finals this year.  While she did not place, she did win the Calypso Queen 2016 award. She is definitely one to watch!

So last night was THE big night for the Calypso Finals.  This enormously popular show is traditionally held on the Saturday before Carnival Monday. While I didn’t attend this year, I was able to listen to part of the show on the radio. But it went well into the early morning hours, and I fell asleep before it was over. When I woke up sometime later, I immediately went to my computer to find out the results.

Calypso fever finally spiked and King Dice did it again – the eighth time in fact! He’s now tied with Trinidad’s  ‘Mighty Sparrow‘, renowned all over the world – who previously captured the crown in his country that many times.  Congratulations to ‘Dice’ for a superb performance and to his songwriter, Pat Aaron, who has an uncanny gift for creating the best in calypso lyrics.  What a team!

I am also delighted for Webster ‘De Webb’ Marie, who was awarded the first runner up position.  I have had the pleasure of singing with this young man in the RiverSong choir many years ago.  He has a wonderful tenor voice and is a natural on stage.  He was a longstanding member of the well-known Sisserou Singers and was the first winner of Dominca’s annual Cadence-lypso competition in 2012.

dscf5682

I have to update my photo with King Dice, now 8-times a Calypso Monarch.  Wendy Walsh took this photo of me with the talented calypsonian a couple of Carnival Mondays ago.

Now that this year’s calypso fever has broken, I’ll prepare myself for tomorrow’s early morning J’ouvert and all the fun that follows in the next two days (Carnival Monday and Tuesday).  I’ll be on the lookout for the amazing Calypsonians on the Carnival route and will certainly offer my heartfelt congratulations for keeping Calypso music very ‘HOT’ in Dominica!

 

Advertisements

Under the Spell: Carnival Magic in Dominica

DSCF6421

Carnival Queen 2015, Odessa Elie and Calypso Monarch 2015, Gregory ‘Karessah’ Riviere warmly greeted spectators while their float guided the 2016  Opening Parade along the streets of Roseau Dominica.

When the Carnival Dream berthed at the Roseau Cruise Ship Pier on the same

DSCF6402

The Carnival Dream arrived in Dominica on the same day as Dominica’s dreamy Opening Parade!

day as the Opening Parade of Mas Domnik 2016, I felt that it had to be a magical coincidence.

DSCF6415

What’s going on?  This band of ‘Darkies’ wanted everyone to know that it is Carnival time on the Nature Isle!

I arrived at the start of the parade route near the Fort Young Hotel on Victoria Street just before the 3 p.m. start time.  The bands, that is, specific groups of participants were assembling and warming up for this celebratory afternoon.  It would be the first major event on Dominica since the devastation of Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015.  While the country continues to recover and rebuild, I noticed that this much-anticipated Carnival  event brought joy to the faces of the revellers and spectators that afternoon.

DSCF6426

This pretty Carnival Princess contestant  welcomed everyone as she processed in her float along the parade route.

Although the parade started a little late, it was well worth the wait.  To see the smiles of delight on the streets after several stressful months lifted my spirits and brought tears of happiness to my eyes.

Of course, there were hundreds of cruise ship passengers viewing the spectacle too.  I spoke to a few of them and they were completely in awe of the creativity and colour that surrounded them on this beautiful day in paradise.

Traditionally, the Opening Parade gives everyone a taste of what will come over the next few weeks, culminating in two days of street jump-ups on Monday February 8th and Tuesday February 9th this year.  Those particular days precede Ash Wednesday and the commencement of Lent.  You can read more about the origins of Dominica’s Carnival in an earlier post right here.

Beauty pageants, along with calypso song competitions form a big part of the Carnival activities.  All of the Queen, Teen and Princess contestants looked lovely and sported their sweetest smiles in anticipation of winning their ‘crown’.

Here is a peek at some, but not all of the lovely ladies and girls who made their presence known on that beautiful Saturday afternoon in Roseau:

 

From top left: Carnival Princess 2015 Lytleen Julien; Supporters of their  Convent High School Teen Pageant Contestant; Teen Pageant Contestant from Convent High School

From bottom left: Contestant in the Dominica State College Jambouree; Miss Dominica Contestant Nawana Shillingford; Miss Dominica Contestant Tasia Floissac

All of the young ladies sparkled and shimmered in their finery.  I succumbed to the magic of their Carnival charms as if I were walking around  in a fairyland!

But there was much more than beauty on the streets of Roseau that dreamy, steamy afternoon in the nation’s capital.  After the procession of pageant contestants, plentiful beasts emerged en masse, creating an extreme juxtaposition with the earlier serene scene. The prolific masqueraders clearly portrayed what ‘playing mas’ is all about!

Scary  bestial Sensays in horns and masks, the fiersome and feared ‘Bann Mauvé’  with their wizard-like hats from the village of Colihaut, frightening ‘darkies’ covered in black, cracking whips all added to the sinister side of Carnival magic.  Some of them did actually try to scare me as I boldly stepped on to the street to capture them with my camera.  However, I did not succumb to fear for one good reason: despite their attire, they all appeared to be having a fantastic time.  I could only smile and laugh along with them.  What better Carnival dream than that!

Here is a glimpse at what they looked like ‘pon de road‘:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then the Carnival dream changed direction again, and I found myself admiring a large band of little boys pushing their cleverly constructed home-made toy trucks, called

DSCF6478

Young boys proudly push their  creative kabouways in the Carnival 2016 Opening Parade.

kabouways. This longstanding Dominican tradition has recently regained prominence, and the craft is a tremendous source of pride – especially for fathers and sons who make them together.

And little girls demonstrated their rhythmic and athletic prowess in coordinated movements, despite the soaring temperature, as renowned ‘Flag Wavers’.DSCF6517

DSCF6451I also admired an ornately-dressed band of Kalinago people from the northeastern village of Sineku.  Their pride of traditions was clearly evident and they too, were clearly enjoying themselves.

After an hour and a half, the late afternoon sun began to cast long shadows, as well as an intense glare on the road. The magical dream switched again and this time gorgeous revellers and other vibrant characters, suggestive of the bacchanal appeared on the street, captivating onlookers with their flamboyant costumes, like this:

This Carnival fantasy just didn’t seem to end.  But I began to return to reality with the pounding beat of the traditional lapo kabwit (goat-skin drum) bands.  Sweat poured from their brows as they marched along the parade route.  But there was no stopping them: the rhythm of the magical Carnival season is in their blood!

 

There were reality checks too:  The Police Band posted this sobering suggestion on the front of their Carnival truck:DSCF6489

As I awakened from my personal revelry, I realized that I did not see the ever-popular stilt-walkers (Bwa Bwa), as they must have entered the parade further along the route.  I’ll be sure to include them in my next Carnival dream!

Once again, I had fallen under the spell of Carnival magic in Dominica.  I suspect the potion should last until Ash Wednesday.  Be assured that I’ll let you know about other reveleries I experience during Mas Domnik 2016!

 

A Sensational Start to 2016 on Dominica, the Nature Island

DSCF6350

The 4 acre garden at Papillote Wilderness Retreat near Trafalgar Dominica is a place to really appreciate the splendour of the Nature Island.

DSCF6352

You know it’s the Christmas season when beautiful Poinsettias are in bloom in Dominica.

There are hundreds of tropical plants to admire and appreciate at Papilotte Wilderness Retreat.

There are hundreds of tropical plants to admire and appreciate at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

What better way to start the New Year in Dominica than to take day trip up the Roseau Valley to spend some time with friends at Papillote Wilderness Retreat. It seemed incredible that I had not been back to one of my

A therpaeutic soak in natural hot mineral waters is always a treat at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

A therapeutic soak in natural hot mineral waters is always a treat at Papillote Wilderness Retreat.

favourite places on Dominica since April 2015!  Of course, Tropical Storm Erika had something to do with my delay, as I was  reluctant to venture into areas where her heavy rains had altered infrastructure and terrain.  Thankfully, four months after this significant weather event, the road was passable, with only a couple of tricky spots, and the countryside looked as lovely as ever.

January 1, 2016 was a fine day for this outing, and I started out well ahead of my lunchtime rendez-vous to check out the changes to the twin Trafalgar Falls.  These cascades are only a short distance from this award-winning eco-lodge, and I was more than curious to observe the ‘new’ landscape that was created by the intense and prolonged rainfall of August 27, 2015.

After I announced my presence to the friendly staff at Papillote, I headed up the steep hill to the eco-site, and sauntered along the groomed trail for about 10 minutes before catching my breath – not from being winded from slight exertion, but from the dramatic scene that greeted me at the sheltered viewing platform.

I had been told that one could only fully ‘appreciate’ the extent to which TS Erika ravaged the Nature Island after having seen it first-hand.  Now, I could completely comprehend that sentiment.  Before me, a very changed landscape helped me to understand the power and the force behind such a catastrophic weather event.

Unfortunately, I was not able to walk towards the Mother Fall as before because the walkway and track had been destroyed by the excessive torrents.  However, I did step just beyond the cautionary sign to take a few photos of the unfamiliar surroundings below the cascades.  As the flow of the water was ever strong, the two waterfalls were as always, awesome and awe-inspiring.  I recalled the most basic life lesson on this lovely New Year’s Day in Dominica, that NOTHING stays the same.  Life is always changing, and Mother Nature is definitely in control.

The twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform in April 2015.

The twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform in April 2015.

At the same time, I was reminded of how human beings have negatively affected the planet with pollution and

Th twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform on January 1 2016 (about 4 months after TS Erika).

Th twin Trafalgar Falls as seen from the viewing platform on January 1 2016 (about 4 months after TS Erika).

overall thoughtlessness about our precious environment. On Dominica, climate change is increasingly apparent, and the heavy prolonged rainfall produced by

The area below the waterfalls experienced a massive landslide during TS Erika in August 2015.

The area below the waterfalls experienced a massive landslide during TS Erika in August 2015.

Tropical Storm Erika which resulted in extensive flooding and destructive landslides is only one example in one country of the harm we have done to our dear earthly home.

The path towards the Mother Fall at Trafalgar was destroyed by these boulders during TS Erika in August 2015.

The path towards the Mother Fall at Trafalgar was destroyed by these boulders during TS Erika in August 2015.

The Father Fall at Trafalgaris even more remote following TS Erika on August 27, 2015.

The Father Fall at Trafalgar seems even more remote following TS Erika on August 27, 2015.

When I faced these natural wonders in mindful meditation for about half an hour, I resolved to be ever-conscious on a daily basis of how I can help to protect our precious environment every day in every way possible as an individual. Will you join with me in enacting this New Year’s resolution?  Please give it some serious thought!

The CHristmas tress in the dining room at Papillote gave it an especially homey ambiance on New Year's Day.

The Christmas tree in the dining room at Papillote gave it an especially homey ambiance on New Year’s Day.

Under light rainfall, typical of this rainforest setting, I returned to Papillote about 15 minutes later. There, I joined longtime friends Anne Jno Baptiste, who is the proprietor of this beautiful eco-hotel, and Nancy Osler, who is the managing director of ATREC, an international research and educational learning center based at Springfield for a delicious lunch in the airy dining room. We caught up on year-end news and toasted the New Year, with the collective hope that it would be a good one.

The staff at Papillote never have to ask me what I ould like for lunch. I am in love with their flying fish platter!

The staff at Papillote never have to ask me what I would like for lunch. I am in love with their flying fish platter (with dasheen puffs, fried plantains and salad)!

In this relaxing setting, I further unwound later that afternoon with a luxurious soak in a natural hot water pool.  As I gazed in ceaseless wonder at the sensational splendour all around me, I could only wish  for a better year than the one before and dream of playing my part to make it a reality.

A soak in a hot pool at Papillote is a heavenily experience on earth.

A soak in a hot pool at Papillote is a heavenly experience on earth.

Happy New Year to one and all!  Pray for peace and protect our precious planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas 2015 Letter from Roseau Dominica

Season's Greetings to you from my home in Dominica, West Indies!

Season’s Greetings to you from my home in Dominica, West Indies!

Dear Readers of Ti Domnik Tales:

Merry Christmas from the Nature Isle!  I know it’s been a while since I have posted a note. Please accept my apologies for the delay.  I have been concentrating on preparing for an advanced level French exam here at Alliance Francaise for the past couple of months.  I only completed it just before Christmas.  You might also be curious to know that following Tropical Storm Erika and its devastating aftermath, I was not inclined to venture far from my home, for safety’s sake, as the ground was unstable and hiking trails (and roads) had to be cleared of storm debris.

However, I have recently traversed the island to spend a few wonderful

I appreciated a little 'dwon-time' in a lovely cottage opposite this one at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

I appreciated a little ‘down-time’ in a lovely cottage opposite this one at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

DSCF6311

This gorgeous angel adorned the top of the Christmas tree at the Beau Rive boutique hotel near Castle Bruce, Dominica.

days and nights at the charming Beau Rive boutique hotel near Castle Bruce on the east coast.   I am delighted to report that the roads are in good condition, and it was an easy journey through the mountains of the island’s interior. I will certainly be venturing further afield in the New Year, as bailey bridges have been erected across rivers where the previous structures had been washed away and most of the roads are motorable.

But life has not completely returned to normal here, as dozens of people who lost homes and properties as a result of the storm are being temporarily housed as they await new homes, which are presently being built by the Government of Dominica in safer areas.  Repairs to infrastructure are ongoing, and it is possible to completely enjoy the offerings of the Nature Island.  However,  it is important to remember that the destructive effects of global warming/climate change are leaving their marks, as evidenced in vulnerable countries and small island states such as Dominica.

This spectacular ocean view and teh crashing waves in Richmond provided the perfect back-drop for my year-end contemplation.

This spectacular ocean view and the crashing waves in Richmond Bay below Beau Rive provided the perfect back-drop for my year-end contemplation.

My recent break at Beau Rive was, in effect, a mini-retreat and pause for reflection over the past year, as well as an opportunity to document intentions for 2016. In this peaceful setting, I was able to look back on 2015, and recognize that my life in Dominica had changed to some degree, as I  actually spent more than four months abroad – some of it in Paris to attend the wedding of my wonderful French friends Carole and Gildas in January, followed by an extended ‘vacation’ in Canada as a result of Tropical Strom Erika.  That summer sojourn lasted from mid-June until the end of September. My delay resulted from the destruction  of the Douglas-Charles airport, which was quickly repaired within one month, thanks to the generous assistance and technical support of several caring countries.

While visiting with Mark, the Managing Director at Beau Rive and Angela, one of his repeat guests (17 times!), I paid close attention to our conversations.  In my quest for inspiration about the forthcoming year, I listened attentively to what was said that particularly resonated with me.  Suffice to say that our discussions centred on thinking of others who are less fortunate and being mindful of what we can do to make the world a better place in which to live. I also admired Angela’s personal strength and determination to have a fulfilling and rewarding life, and to not let any type of obstacle prevent her from living out her dreams.  Above all, I felt surrounded by kindness, consideration and good will.  I returned home with uplifted spirits and hope for a brighter future by  setting intentions to consciously spread good cheer (in any form)all year round.

I have much to be thankful for and I wish to express gratitude to all those who have  touched my life in very meaningful ways this past year.  In particular, I am grateful to my family in Canada for their support and encouragement, and for hosting me for an extended period when I was ‘storm-stayed’ in Canada.  I also appreciate the generous gesture of my niece Mara and my nephew Dallin, who willingly offered their usual Christmas present from me to help those in need in Dominica. I also wish to thank Canadian-Caribbean writer and friend Susan M. Toy, who included my blogs (Ti Domnik Tales and Canary Gal) on her list of notable authors for 2015.  She is the perfect example of someone who thinks of others with a giving heart while  happily pursuing her own career.

DSCF6281In the past couple of months, I was also profoundly moved by the positive results arising from the COP 21 climate action accord in Paris.  As well, I enthusiastically participated in Dominica’s week of thoughtful international documentaries about climate change, which was organized by Alliance Francaise. These sessions culminated in

During Dominica's 'Day of Action' , I was surrounded by new friends and old friends of like mind with respect to environmental responsibilities. From Left: new friends Dan and Maria and old friends Wendy and Liz.

During Dominica’s ‘Day of Action’ , I was surrounded by new friends and old friends of like mind with respect to environmental responsibilities. From left: new friends Dan and Maria and old friends Wendy and Liz.

Dominica’s Day of Action, coordinated by the Waitukubuli Ecological Foundation. While the attendees were small in number, the spirit of the movement was very big, and I congratulate all participants who are leading by example in Dominica.

During Dominca's Day of Action, children and adults created a waterfall from plastic bottles in the Botannical Gardens. The irony is not lost on me!

During Dominica’s ‘Day of Action’, children and adults created a waterfall from plastic bottles in the Botanical Gardens. The irony is not lost on me!

During this event, I made friends with two young people, Maria and Dan. Although we were just becoming acquainted, I really admired their passion, determination and dedication to eliminating and reducing environmental concerns on the Nature Island and of course, globally.

As the sun sets on 2015, I welcome the New Year with joy, hope, peace and love!

As the sun sets on 2015, I welcome the New Year with joy, hope, peace and love!

Despite the ravages of Tropical Storm Erika, Dominica’s resilience is apparent everywhere.

As 2015 draws to a close, I will send off this post to you, with warmest wishes for a peaceful, loving and caring New Year.  I hope that your adventures will be fruitful, and that you will give careful consideration to how you can make the world a better place now – and for the future!

The joy of life is the adventure! Photo taken in Montmartre, Paris in January 2015.

The joy of life is the adventure! Photo taken in Montmartre, Paris, France in January 2015.

I’ll be in touch in 2016, as I share my journey on the sensational Nature Island – and elsewhere!

Sincerely,

Gwendominica

 

 

 

Two Months after Tropical Storm Erika: An Independence Season of Reflection, Renewal and Hope

Morne Trois Pitons towers over the island's interior on a beautiful day several weeks after Tropical Storm Erika. A land slide on the right bank can be seen here.

Morne Trois Pitons towers over the island’s interior on a beautiful day several weeks after Tropical Storm Erika. A landslide on the right bank can be seen here.

As Dominica continued to recover from the devastating after-effects caused by Tropical Storm Erika, this year’s Independence

activities reflected the overall mood of the nation with quiet celebrations and ongoing efforts to rebuild the country.

I was on-island for about a month before I ventured beyond the environs of Roseau. My neighbour’s mother, with whom I was acquainted had recently passed away

The Wesley Catholic Church is a beautiful house of worship on Dominica's northeast coast.

The Wesley Catholic Church is a beautiful house of worship on Dominica’s northeast coast.

and I honoured her memory by attending her funeral in Wesley, on the northeast coast of the island. Buses had been organized to take attendees across the mountainous interior, and I was fortunate to take a front seat for the best view of the terrain.  Of course, my camera was in hand, as I was curious to capture the current state of the land one month after my return.

While major landslides had been cleared, there was still evidence of instability with occasional mounds of dirt and stones blocking one

The Layou River overflowed its banks in the area of the village of Bells, in Dominica's interior.

The Layou River overflowed its banks near the village of Bells, in Dominica’s interior, leaving severely eroded banks following T.S. Erika.

lane of the  interior highway.  As well, this main road had been undermined in several locations where it followed along the course of  powerful rivers, such as the Layou and the Laurent near Bells, deep in the Heart of Dominica. Restoration works were also well underway around the perimeter of Douglas-Charles

Morne Diablotin, Dominica's highest mountain forms a misty backdrop to the repair works underway at the Douglas-Charles Airport.

Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest mountain forms a misty backdrop to the repair works underway at the Douglas-Charles Airport.

Airport at Melville Hall, following the repair and reopening of the runway where I had  safely landed a few weeks earlier.

When I arrived at Wesley, I joined hundreds of others at the Catholic Church in that village for the funeral of Theresa Gordon.  We collectively paid tribute to a lady who was obviously very well  respected by all who knew her or her immediate family. Despite the sadness of the occasion, it was clearly evident to me that feelings of love and good will prevailed.  I think that ‘Ma Gordon”, as I called her, would have been very happy about that and I was moved by the positive atmosphere that surrounded me there.  I was reminded once again, that despite tragedy and loss, Dominicans are a very resilient people who determinedly ‘carry on’, no matter what challenges they have endured!

Cartwheel Cafe offers tasty breakfasts - not just on Creole Day, but every day! The seasoned codfish, boiled egg and breadfruit makes a very filling meal.

Cartwheel Cafe offers tasty breakfasts – not just on Creole Day, but every day! The seasoned codfish, boiled egg and breadfruit make a very filling meal.

This year, persistent inclement weather put a bit of a damper on Creole Day

Many seamstresses create beautiful variations on traditional Creole wear - for all shapes and sizes!

Skilled seamstresses create beautiful variations on traditional Creole wear – for all shapes and sizes!

festivities, but it did not prevent me from enjoying delicious traditional foods, especially the vegetarian and fish varieties. And I always enjoy the seasonal fashions, created with bright madras fabrics, although I was more subdued with my style of  dress this year. The spirit of the season was definitely ‘out there’, but in a low key and respectful

Simone at Kai-K Boutique poses beside the manequin beside Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront.

Simone at Kai-K Boutique poses beside the mannequin close to Cartwheel Cafe on the Bayfront.

way.With the cancellation of the World Creole Music Festival and Creole in the Park  due to the post-T.S. Erika situation, the streets were much quieter too.

Who is this' belle dame'? If you think you know, let me know!

Who is this’ belle dame’? If you think you know, let me know!

It is my usual annual habit to breakfast at Cartwheel Café on the Bayfront in Roseau. The staff is consistently in high spirits, and clients always seem to be in a Creole mood as they eat and chat with each other, which suits me fine!

Piano teacher Leanne looks very sweet in a lavender/rose-hued madras blouse, with matching lipstick and eye glass frames!

Piano teacher Leanne looks very sweet in a lavender/rose-hued madras blouse, with matching lipstick and eye-glass frames!

I devoured my codfish and breadfruit breakfast there, then wandered the streets searching for the Creole spirit.  I did find it here and there, and took pleasure from conversations with friends and strangers. When it began to rain more heavily,

I couldn't wait to take a bite from this avacodo/accras infused whole wheat bake from Stone Love Ital Shop on Cross St. in Roseau.

I couldn’t wait to take a bite from this avocado/accras infused whole wheat ‘bake’ from Stone Love Ital Shop on Cross St. in Roseau.

I purchased a large cup of tangy pomme-citan juice and an avocado vegan accras ‘bake’ from Stone Love Ital Shop. Then I picked up a few slices of rum cake and banana cake from the Urban Garden Café around the corner before heading home to savour these treats a little later.  (More on those two wonderful  natural foods eateries in the next post!)

I feasted on these filling avacado/farine (cassava flour) balls made by Marvo and staff at her snackette on Independence Street.

I feasted on these filling avocado/farine (cassava flour) balls made by Marvo and staff at her popular snackette on Independence Street.

I do confess to indulging in a delicious  vegetarian pizza  at Fusion Village Restaurant in the heart of Roseau  the next day.

It was wonderful to meet with my 'sister' Liz and friend Nancy (photographer) for pizza adn treats at the Fusion Village Restaurant over the Independence weekend.

It was wonderful to meet with my ‘sister’ Liz and friend Nancy (photographer) for pizza and treats at the Fusion Village Restaurant in Roseau over the Independence weekend.

However, the

I met up with other Creole-inspired friends at the Roseau Market: Anne (l) from Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar Karen from Roots Farm Organic Produce in Cochrane.

I met up with other Creole-inspired friends at the  Saturday Roseau Market: Anne (l) from Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar and Karen from Roots Farm Organic Produce in Cochrane.

objective was to meet and spend time with good friends with whom I hadn’t really connected since my return from Canada.  Our lengthy lunch  and catch-up certainly added to my personal enjoyment of this unique Creole Season. Thanks Nancy and Liz!

The Freewinds Cruise Ship glowed at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berthon the evening of Kai & Vicki's Kids' Charity fundraiser in aid of children in need in Dominica

The Freewinds Cruise Ship glowed with anticipation at the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth on the evening of Kai & Vicki’s Kids’ Charity fundraiser in aid of needy children in Dominica.

Independence celebrations were far from over, but the highlight for me was the special fundraising concert that I had the pleasure of attending on the Freewinds Cruise Ship on Sunday November 1st.At this auspicious occasion, internationally renowned Dominican singer Michele Henderson offered her talents, along with the Freewinds band and other first class musicians from the Nature Island in aid of the Kai & Vickie Kids’ Charity, which

Vickie & Kai hold up an autographed West Indies Cricket Team shirt, which was auctioned off on the spot!

Vickie & Kai (after whom the charity is named)hold up an autographed West Indies Cricket Team shirt, which was auctioned off  for a ‘steal’ on the spot!

Michele is a phenomenal flautist, as well as a powerful singer, with a brilliant and versatile soprano voice.

Michele is a phenomenal flautist, as well as a powerful singer, with a brilliant and versatile soprano voice.

supports underprivileged children locally.

Michele opened the performance with some well known songs from Dominica. Her husband Junior is on bass guitar.

Michele opened the performance with some well-known songs from Dominica. Her husband Junior is on bass guitar.

Michele's daughter Kai jams with mum and her version of Purple Rain, which closed the show. The Free Winds bassist backs them up.

Michele’s daughter Kai jams with mum and her version of Purple Rain, which closed the show. The Free Winds bassist backs them up.

As usual, this amazing artiste delivered a world-class performance to the delight of the  enthralled audience, comprised of local politicians, foreign diplomats, citizens, expatriates and children.  Michele has the uncanny ability to easily cross musical genres, and as such everyone got a taste of different styles of local and popular music. I love it all, but I am partial to Dominica’s cadence, which is a specialty of this exceptional lyricist, composer and singer. To her credit, she also surprised us by presenting some rising stars on the Nature Isle, and everyone appreciated their obvious potential.

With a few hundred people filling the performance space, and an

Michele is one of Dominica's pride and joys. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for her country.

Michele is one of Dominica’s pride and joys. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for her country.

auction of some enticing goods and services, I am certain that this charity raised several thousand dollars.  These monies will directly aid children who were adversely affected by T.S. Erika in numerous ways.

It’s impossible to walk away from a Michele Henderson performance (and I’ve been fortunate to have heard her countless times over the years) without feeling inspired, uplifted, joyful and hopeful.  Music of that calibre has a way of bringing people together, which was most fitting for the mood of this unique Independence season on Dominica.

Because I did get chilled in the a/c on the ship and then walked a distance through a persistent drizzle in the cool night air, I did succumb to the sniffles the next day.  By Independence morning, I was ‘under the weather’, so I gave those  official festivities a miss this year.  However, if you’d like to see some photos, you can find them on Dominica News Online  for November 3, 2015.

Plastic is a huge polluter, no matter where we live on the planet. Please think before you throw. It's the least we can do to protect our earthly environment.

Plastic is a huge polluter, no matter where we live on the planet. Please think before you throw. It’s the least we can do to protect our earthly environment.

By the next morning, I was thankful to have rested the day before, as it was National Day of Community Service and I had made a pact with myself that I would do something for my neighbourhood.  I am not much good at hoisting a shovel, but I can certainly put on a back pack filled with garbage bags – and that is what I did.  It was a hot, humid morning, and I was guaranteed a healthy sweat – just what I needed.  I started at the top of the main road in my subdivision and worked my way down to the junction at the bottom of the hill, which is part of my usual walking route.  If I did this stretch at a normal pace, it would take me half an hour total to go down and back up to my home.  But with rubber gloves, hiking boots, and four and a half garbage bags filled with curb-side debris, the activity actually took  over three hours.  Although I was really fatigued by this exercise, I felt good that perhaps I had made a tiny difference on my beloved Nature Island . There were many formal projects taking place all over the country, and significant numbers came out to lend a hand.  I got the distinct impression that the tragedies and losses incurred as a result of T.S. Erika, prompted  people to pull together to restore Dominica to her former glory.

Despite plentiful rainshowers during Dominica's 37th Independence season, there were a few gorgeous sunsets, such as this one!

Despite plentiful rain showers during Dominica’s 37th Independence season, there were a few gorgeous sunsets, such as this one!

After a good rest, I ended my energetic day with a refreshing and relaxing  ‘sea bath’ as the sun set on Independence 2015. I floated on the calm and soothing waters,  and reflected on the power of hope and the realization that Dominica shall indeed renew herself, and rise again.

On the Ground in Dominica: Recovery After Tropical Storm Erika is in Full Swing!

Through the taxi window, the mountains of Dominica look as lush and stunning as ever. But benath them, it's a different matter!

Through the plane window, the mountains of Dominica look as lush and stunning as ever. But beneath them, it’s a different matter, thanks to TS Erika!

Readers may be wondering about my return to Dominica from Canada, so I will briefly report here.  Unfortunately, I do not have many photos to include  at this time, but you can always scroll through Dominica News Online or through the Facebook page of Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica for visuals

When I arrived at Douglas-Charles airport on Tuesday afternoon, September 29th, it was truly a beautiful day on the Nature Island. The flight from Barbados was smooth and uneventful.  My seat companion , who was headed home to St. Kitts, told me he had never flown in to Dominica before.  When he gazed out the window at the slopes filled with coconut palms, he gasped in amazement.  He had never seen so many of those trees before.  I told him that my wish would be to partake of their delicious jelly coconut water, if they hadn’t all fallen off of the trees during Erika!

When I disembarked from the aircraft, I turned around slowly on the tarmac. The cleared runway stood out starkly against the rocks, broken pavement and debris that lined it.  I proceeded to take a few photos, but was quickly informed by an airport security guard who ran over to me that photographs were prohibited.  While the officer did not demand that I remove the shots from my camera, I assured her that I would not publish them.  Therefore, please refer to the sites above to get a sense of the rapid recovery underway at Dominica’s main airport.

I think everyone else in the shuttle taxi must have seen the devastation before, as I seemed to be the only one who loudly exclaimed shock and dismay as we travelled through the mountainous interior en route to Roseau. The reality of this startling situation really hit home when we encountered not one, but two landslides along the roadway that traverses the Central Forest Reserve. The driver skillfully manouevered the single lane of broken rocks one moment only to be immediately delayed at another larger slide.  We waited on the road for about 20 minutes while a large caterpillar cleared the blocked area. On that dry, sunny day, I  realized that it did not have to be raining for the ground to ‘give-way’ and that the earth must still  be  unstable.  Right then and there, I decided that I would be Roseau-bound for a while, as I did not care to encounter falling rocks on any of my forays!

As we moved along, I stared in horror when we rounded the sharp turn and the seemingly-rickety bridge over the River

The taxi was moving too fast fro me to capture the work being done to restore the road and river banks located near RiverStone Bar and Grill in Bells, Dominica. Thankfully, the establishent was not damaged extensively.

The taxi was moving too fast for me to capture the work being done (background) to restore the road, bridge and river banks located near RiverStone Bar and Grill in Bells, Dominica. Thankfully, the establishent was not damaged extensively.

Laurent, which passes very near to the RiverStone Bar and Grill, one of my favourite places in Dominica.  The river bed looked as if it had expanded to four times its size, and huge boulders covered the terrain as far as I could see. Instantly, I was alarmed and wondered why I had not heard about any storm-related problems at this popular establishment, which is not visible from the roadside.  Later that evening,  I checked RiverStone’s facebook page, and was subsequently assured by propietor Maxine that all is well and  that they will reopen for business very soon, after completing some renovations.

As we headed west and approached the  Springfield area, I could see that the main road had been badly eroded, and at one point, there was a clear view of the Springfield River from the ‘highway’, which was never there before.  When we finally reached the West Coast road heading into Roseau, I gazed up into the mountains, now east of me, and was stunned at the changed landscape due to numerous  gigantic landslides in the interior.

While the appearance of Roseau was more or less the same to me, I was reminded of the flooding – and then I noticed the bridges across the Roseau River.  There is much work to be done and two of the three are closed at the moment, causing considerable congestion and a necessary re-routing of traffic during rush hours.

When I was almost home, I again gasped when I saw the rocky expansion of the banks of the once tiny river at Castle Comfort.  Mind you, the volume of water has returned to normal.  I was relieved that all was well at my home, thanks to my good neighbours who were mentioned in this post.

The weather is very hot and steamy.  Abnormally high temperatures are affecting all of the Caribbean islands. At this writing, there are no hurricanes in the forecast, but the season does continue until November 30th. Please keep Dominica and all the other islands in your prayers and send us plenty of good vibes!

In the hurricane zone, all Caribbean countries are vulnerable. I think of Michelle, proprietor of the lovely Lazy Tulip Cafe in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, whose ‘second home’ in the Bahamas was devastated by Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin this past weekend.  She wrote to me today, stating that: “[W]e are living in a parallel universe as I sit here now in the same shoes you were in a few weeks ago. Rum Cay got hit by Joaquin and is currently in a state of devastation. I set up this Facebook page in hopes of communicating!” https://www.facebook.com/rumcaycommunity Please take a look at this site.  Perhaps there is some way you could help those folks out too. These days, we just never know when or where disaster will strike!

By now, I have heard and read some sensational stories of bravery, ingenuity, compassion and resilience on the Nature Island.  I won’t repeat them all here right now, but there are a few that really stand out and prove to me that drama does not always have to be a work of fiction! In the coming weeks, I intend to share some of the incredible actions that have taken place in an effort to preserve and continue with life in as normal a manner as possible, given the extreme dire circumstances that have arisen since Erika.

Suffice to say that I now firmly believe in the resilience of the human spirit, as clearly evidenced by those who have been adversely affected by this severe storm.  I am also encouraged by the level of compassion that has been demonstrated by all of the donors worldwide, who have shown that they really care about this beautiful little Caribbean island called Dominica – my adopted home!

I understand that cash donations are still needed and are now a priority, as Dominica begins the lengthy rebuilding process.  If you have not already done so, or would like to do so again, please consult the first paragraph of this post for a list of Government of Dominica approved bank accounts and organizations. The people of Dominica are very grateful for your help!

Poems About Dominica Inspired by the 2015 Nature Island Literary Festival’s Writing Competition

For the first time in several years, I was in Canada when the 8th annual Nature Island Literary Festival  (NILF)took place in early August. I have always enjoyed the fascinating sessions and stimulating interactions with literary artists from Dominica and abroad. This year, a Nature Island Writing Competition formed part of the festivities. I was inspired to ‘try my hand’ in a genre in which I had little  practical experience, with the exception of enjoying the study of a variety of poems on the syllabus that I taught in senior English  literature classes at Orion Academy  a few years ago. My humble submission was a way of staying connected to this wonderful and popular annual event!

As the theme of nature and the environment particularly intrigued me, I felt compelled to draft the required entry of three poems as I waited for my flight to Canada at the Barbados International Airport in mid-June.  I applied some of the literary devices and techniques that I had explained to my eager students  when we analyzed poems once upon a time. (They should smile when they read that!). I even revised the pieces on the plane, which I discovered was a very pleasant way of passing the time on a long journey.

Before I show them to you, I would like to congratulate Ms. Jamie Alleyne, who placed first in the poetry section of the 2015 NILF Writing Competition.  I haven’t seen her poems yet, but certainly look forward to reading them in the near future.  You can keep abreast of their release on the NILF website by clicking Nature Island Literary Festival and also checking their Facebook page.

Meanwhile, my heartfelt creations are recorded below, for posterity’s sake, if nothing else.  I certainly delighted in this literary exercise and intend to pursue it again sometime.

  1. Springfield’s Splendour

Dominica is a beautiful green gem.

A mix of rich history and vibrant culture2004_1103Dominica0015

Complement its stunning emerald blend.

Nestled in the mountains near the rainforest

There sits a stately, comely, old estate

That epitomizes the essence of this place.

Springfield Plantation is her original name

And she is of an impressive old age

Her 18th century charm endures and fascinates.

I love to wander along her forest trails

While students of science search all over the grounds

Looking for large insects and rare plants.

In the nearby river, I feel completely at ease

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I spent many moments in meditation whenever I visit Springfield.

A bath in its refreshing waters does please

And washes away my cares until tomorrow.

The old estate whispers in the night

Her ghost stories could cause a terrible fright

But I have never ever been afraid.

Myriad sounds: squeaks, creaks and groans

Fill my imagination and capture my soul

As night falls all over her.

Mornings, I gaze down the verdant valley

And focus on the tallest Royal Palm.

It seems it’s been there for almost forever and a day.

The distant Caribbean Sea calls to me

Sending assurances that all is calm and bright

When I spend time in Springfield’s paradise.

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am always reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

The old wooden beams hold secrets

But rustling trees in gentle breezes reveal

That Springfield is filled with enchanting magic and mystery

Which will never cease to charm and captivate me.

2.  Cry for the Nature Isle

A hike through the rainforest:

Whistling birds, stunning orchids, tall, tall trees

The trail is challenging, steep and somewhat remote.

Down a deep ravine, partially concealed by shades of green:

A rusting fridge and a pair of bald tires,

And a little further along, a recently cleared garden patch in chemical yellow.

I sigh for the Nature Isle.

An afternoon by the river:

Cool, refreshing, reviving,

Revelling in its fast, frigid, flow.

Swimming further upstream to a more accessible spot

Provokes a shock-

Picnickers have left plenty on its banks:

Styrofoam plates, plastic cups, chicken bones and rum bottles too.

Midstream, a hummingbird flits around a blue banana bag caught on a rock.

I weep for the Nature Isle.

A brisk stroll along the windswept Atlantic coast:

Wild waves crash onshore

Pulling in ubiquitous overgrown Sargassum seaweed

Carrying with it a flotsam and jetsam of plastics

Of all descriptions:

Abundant bottle caps, motor oil containers, a bait bucket from Virginia,

To name a few.

I sob for the Nature Isle.

A critically endangered turtle, needing to lay her eggs:

Searching for a once-familiar spot on the beach.

In the distance, a lone man wanders along the shoreline

Late at night, and when asked about his presence there,

Vaguely admits to “doing something wrong.”

The 1,000 pound Leatherback never had a chance;

Soon the species will be no more.

I howl for the Nature Isle.DSCF4390

A Boa Constrictor freely inhabits the suburban grassy terrain

And in the dry season, burns to death in an intentionally-set fire.

Iguana lizards cooked for lunch are enjoyed by all generations

Who savor their exquisite taste, despite laws and declining numbers.

I wail for the Nature Isle.

Climate change, global warming, pollution, DSCF4546

Thoughtlessness and selfishness most of all

Have taken precedence in this country of rare beauty, splendour

And sometime national pride.

If we don’t come together to preserve this precious place

Then I will have no choice but to constantly

Cry for the Nature Isle.

3. Dreams of Waitukubuli*

Hot, warm, cool waters

This forceful natural hot water shower at Tia's provides a strong massage for sore muscles

Strong smelling, soothing relief

A healthful respite.

Spouts seen on the sea

Secretive, gentle and  strong

Dive into the deeps.

Cascading torrentsDSCF1160

Flow in synchronicity-

Electricity.

Three emerald peaks

Silver clouds and sapphire sky

Tall is her body.

“Whoop-whoop” breaks silence

A common sound in the nightDSCF5438

Once upon a time.

*Waitukubuli (pronounced Why-too-KOO-boo-lee) is the Kalinago name for Dominica, which means “tall is her body.”

**The above three poems were submitted to the NILF Writing Competition in July 2015, several weeks before Tropical Storm Erika devastated the Nature Island – but the sentiments remain the same! Gwendominica