Remembering Mona, My First Friend on Dominica

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Mona George-Dill was a beautiful, dynamic and gracious Dominican woman.

It is with profound sadness that I write this post as a tribute to Mona George-Dill, my first friend on Dominica.  She departed this earthly life and ascended to heavenly paradise on Sunday October 30, 2016.

It is she to whom I give credit for guiding me during my early days in Dominica and helping me to understand a culture very different from my own.

Perhaps it was serendipity that brought us together in 1997.  I was looking for a place to live that would give me an improved quality of life, as I had been suffering from severe environmental health challenges in Canada for several years.  When I started to research other countries that offered clean air, food and water, I rigorously quizzed Mona, who was at that time the Manager of Springfield Plantation Guest House and a research institute called SCEPTRE, under the auspices of Clemson University in the United States.  Before I even set foot on the Nature Island, she informed me of her pro-environmental approach to the maintenance of the entire estate. She assured me that she would do her best to ensure my comfort and well-being during my initial stay.

When I finally arrived at Springfield around the end of March 1997, after having spent several hours travelling from Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines by LIAT planes that were sprayed with insecticide at every stop, I could barely hold my head up and was extremely nauseous. As I stepped out of the taxi after a  winding 20 minute drive into the mountains from the Canefield Airport, Mona warmly greeted me and showed me to my room, which overlooked the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean Sea.  It was bright and breezy, and the air smelled  clean and fresh on the edge of the rainforest.  I’ll never forget the concerned look on her face when I told her that everything seemed to be fine, but that I would appreciate the removal of an area rug due to my allergies.  It was immediately taken out.

Later,  I had the first of many memorable meals, made from organic ingredients on the property.  The paw-paw (papaya) soup was divine, and I actually asked for a second helping, even though I was still recovering  from my travels!

When I finished eating that first evening, Mona came to sit with me and we began to get acquainted. I told her that I was a free-lance journalist, with a strong interest in environmental issues as a result of my health challenges.  She in turn informed me about a pressing issue in Dominica at that time, with respect to a proposed mining initiative.  I subsequently interviewed her about her concerns in that regard. The interview was then published in Alternatives, a Canadian environmental magazine.You can get a copy of that article by clicking Mining on Nature Island magazine article 1998. Immediately, I discovered that Mona was an outspoken conservationist who cared deeply for her country and had no hesitation in speaking out to voice her concerns.

At the same time, I learned that a mysterious fire had destroyed a student residence at Mount Joy,  located above the main plantation building, a couple of weeks before my arrival.  While thankfully no one was injured or killed as the students were on an outing at the time, she suffered tremendous losses and was not able to replace it.  Despite her worries and the shock of this event, she devoted considerable time to giving  me a ‘feel’ for life in Dominica, both the highlights and the challenges.  I listened attentively to everything she said and immediately fell in love with this pristine place as I willingly succumbed to the warm hospitality of this engaging lady and her caring staff.

As time went on, my admiration for Mona grew incessantly as I learned more about her.  For many years, her energy focused on environmental, conservation  and tourism initiatives through the Dominica Conservation Association (currently inactive), the International Whaling Commission and the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association, to name a few.

As well, she constantly demonstrated love and provided various forms of support to many young people, who still refer to her as ‘mother’, which is evidenced in the tributes on her Face Book Mona George-Dill page. She was certainly protective of me, and as we were about 15 years apart, I preferred to think of her as an older ‘sister’. We connected instantly and easily.  Our private exchanges covered all manner of topics and sometimes ended  in tears or laughter.  She was someone in whom I could confide in the strictest of confidence.

I also related well to her love of all animals.  She had a particular penchant for little dogs as pets.  One time, she’loaned’  me one of her local breed ‘Pot-Hound’ dogs named Mother so that I would have company while I lived in a little house above the main plantation.From time-to-time she had cats too, and became well-acquainted with my Tia-pet, who was originally a Springfield cat.

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Mona at Springfield in October 2001. She considered this beautiful locale to be ‘a garden’.

Mona was  such a loving person that it was impossible to be in her presence and not feel how much she genuinely cared about one’s situation.  She was also a strong ally, and defended me in a couple of instances when people tried to take advantage of a naive newcomer.  I also admired her convictions and deep loyalty to her country  when I observed her at a political meeting at Springfield. During the session, she challenged (now deceased) Rosie Douglas (before he became Prime Minister) on various social issues and the position of the Dominica Labour Party on those matters. Curiously, she had only moments before introduced me to Mr. Douglas and I could tell that they had a great respect for each other.

 

When I first applied for Citizenship in Dominica,  Mona’s letter of reference stated that my health had improved here, I had never ‘bad-mouthed’ anyone in Dominica despite some negative experiences and that she felt I was worthy  of Citizenship. As I am now a naturalized Citizen of the Nature Island, I am forever indebted to her for vouching for my character and having abiding faith in me.

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Mona  is seated to the right of Gwendominica at a Baha’i meeting in December 2007.  Her daughter Connie (in pink) is  beside me on the left .My brother Edwin, who is also a Baha’i is on the far right. I was welcomed as a special guest and friend by the Baha’i community in Dominica.

My late friend was also a devout and longtime member of the Baha’i faith.  From her, I learned a great deal about this particular religion.  Although I did not formally join this church, I was always made to feel welcome and could attend their activities and services whenever I wished. I could see that she truly embraced the principles of her faith and that may be why so many people were drawn to her – because of her accepting and fair outlook towards everyone in any situation. I understand now from her daughter Connie and other Baha’i friends that she was prepared to accept God’s will.

 

This lovely Dominican lady could also be fun-loving: she took me to my first play at the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. I didn’t understand Creole at that time and I didn’t get the jokes, but Mona good-naturedly explained everything to me.  She also took me along to Ballroom Dancing classes where I met a number of Dominicans with whom I am still acquainted years later.  She did introduce me to many people and helped me to find apartments after I left Springfield in search of a bigger space for my personal possessions from Canada.  When I lived at Springfield, she even included me on the insurance for her 4WD vehicle and let me borrow it when she wasn’t using it.   One time after I had moved out and bought my own car, I persuaded her to go to the beach.  That was a big deal, as she insisted that she was not fond of the seaside.

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An afternoon at Castaways on Mero Beach, ca. 2003. Mona is in the centre, with Dr. Pat Rodney from Ross University on the right and a guest from Springfield on the left.

As time went on, I made my way in Dominica and Mona retired from Springfield around 2005. She moved to the suburb of Goodwill, and although she was closer to me in terms of location, we saw less of each other.  However, we did occasionally chat on the phone or meet in Roseau for lunch.

Before I left Dominica to return to Canada this past June, I made a point of visiting with Mona at her home for an afternoon.Although she did seem more tired and frail than earlier times, her spirit was ever strong. We reminisced about many of my experiences that were connected to her during my almost 20 years in Dominica.  I expressed my appreciation to her in our conversation,and also gave her a card in which I had noted my extreme gratitude for all that she had done for me.  When I left her that day, the last thing I said was, “I love you,” to which she replied in kind.

Then, on my recent birthday in August,  Mona wrote on my Face Book timeline:”It’s hard to accept you are no longer on island. I miss knowing you are here. Enjoy your birthday, Virgoan. Hope it is the best.”

 

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Mona and Gwendominica ‘ham it up’ at Springfield in March 1999. Photo taken by my brother Edwin, who was visiting at the time.

Ironically, it is hard to accept that Mona is ‘no longer on island’.  And I do miss knowing that she is ‘there’. However, I rest assured knowing that we shall meet again in the heavenly paradise where she now resides with her Maker.

 

Mona, I hope you get this message – and yes I am repeating myself – but I will always love you and I thank you for being an important part of my life in Dominica. I do think you will be a spectacular angel. I can almost hear you modestly chuckling about that!

 

To Mona’s children Connie, Bobby, Randy and Richie, their families and everyone else who loved her, please accept my sincere condolences.

R.I.P. Mona George-Dill, September 3, 1942 – October 30, 2016.

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This plaque was erected by Mona while she lived and worked at Springfield.  It is also currently the banner on the Facebook page for the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center at Springfield as a tribute to Mona.

 

The Ghosts of Springfield

Voices in the night.

A light mist falls

and caresses the old plantation

like a lover in the night.

Stifling hot stillness is relieved

by soothing breezes.

The spirits speak kindly

to those who stay

and seek refuge

in a tranquility

rarely found elsewhere.

The garden of Springfield

blooms eternally

with a love

that will never die.

To Mona,

Love, Gwen

October 14, 1997

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The Roseau Public Library Highlights Black History Month in Dominica

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Dominica’s Public Library in Roseau proudly promoted Black History Month with displays of their circulating and reference collections that focus on Black history, culture and literature from national, regional and international sources.

It was not in Dominica where I first became familiar with the value and importance of the12593902_10153992852545962_6201929265960829090_o  celebration of Black History Month, which now takes place annually in many countries.  In the early 1990’s I was working as a librarian at the Nova Scotia Archives in that Canadian province’s capital city, Halifax. Within that library’s collection were numerous monographs and serials which emphasized the tremendous cultural, educational and historical contributions of African Nova Scotians  to the Maritime region in particular.

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The Roseau Public Library was built in 1906. It is a treasure trove of local, regional and international books!

Since that time, festivities surrounding Black History and Culture have expanded to many countries, including the Caribbean.  Dominica’s Roseau Public Library is no exception, and I was delighted to see their promotion of this important event during the  month of February.

As a bibliophile, I really enjoyed perusing the special collection of materials that emphasize Black authors, history and literature.  Although these books are housed in the reference section, they are available for a special loan. You can search the collection’s OPAC (online public access catalog) with the subject of Black History to see the extensive listings here.

Here is a glimpse at some of the incredible titles that are found in that section:

A carousel of books in the circulating collection also featured prominently upon entering the library.  I was delighted that one of my donations, The Book of NegroesDSCF6973

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This carousel featured books that represent Black history and related topics during the month of February.

by award-winning Canadian author Lawrence Hill has been heavily borrowed by keen readers in the past few years.

While I am always interested in books, I rarely take in a film or video, even though I can access these genres as easily as anyone else.

But during Dominica’s Black History Month, I broke that tradition, as I was very interested in seeing  one of their featured films: 12 Years a Slave.

Many people may have already viewed this renowned and acclaimed film, which was released in 2013. I was one of a small crowd that gathered at the library  one evening to see itDSCF6974 up close and personal.

From the start, I was completely taken with the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who lived in northern New York state  in the 1800’s. He was tricked into going ‘south’ in 1841 and was immediately sold into slavery, ending up in very abusive and cruel conditions on two plantations in Louisiana.  This movie was so graphic and detailed in terms of the gruesome violence that he and other slaves experienced that I could not look at the screen during those episodes.  It was enough to hear their cries of anguish. Tears were already falling down my cheeks by the time Northup meets a Canadian abolitionist who was working on the plantation as a carpenter.  This man risks his life to get letters delivered to family and authorities who in turn ensure Northup’s release from bondage by physically removing him from the property.  Of course, the southern slaves could only look on as he made his way back to freedom in the ‘north’. (Note: his experience took place a few years before the Civil War).

Certainly, there is more to the story, and I’ll leave that for you to experience on your own.  I can only conclude this brief review by remarking that human beings are capable of the most despicable acts of cruelty against each other, and on the other hand, the resilience of the human spirit is awe-inspiring.  I was so moved by this story that I dreamed about it.  I don’t think I can ever forget what I saw and heard in 12 Years A Slave. .  However,  I know that it reinforces my personal beliefs that we are all equal, regardless of culture, race or background and that when we treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect,  we will create a more harmonious, peaceful world in which to live.

Hats off the the staff at the Roseau Public Library and the organizers of Black History

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Miss Belinda is one of the friendly and helpful staff members at the Roseau Public Library.  You can find out more about events at this wonderful educational institution right here.

Month in Dominica. About 800 students, their teachers and the general public have benefitted tremendously from the presentations, displays and films that have given us further understanding and knowledge about various aspects of Black history in Dominica, and around the world.

 

 

A Nature Meditation at Springfield Dominica*

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It’s always restorative to occasionally return to Springfield, my first home in Dominica.

After having spent several days “under the weather” in the midst of planning my overseas “relocation” to Canada, I felt that a day spent in a nature meditation would put me “back on track.” What better place to go than my beloved Springfield, an old estate where I lived and became familiar with the beauty of Dominica and its people in 1997 and 1998.

Nowadays,  Springfield is actually a private international research and educational institution, called the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center (ATREC).  You can read more about it in an earlier article I wrote for Domnitjen Magazine by clicking here. I am fortunate to be well acquainted with its Managing Director, Nancy Osler, who is a longtime Canadian friend. On the day of my visit, there were no students or other researchers in-house, so I was able to freely roam the grounds for an afternoon and clear my mind of all things of immediate concern.

Although I had hiked part of the Fifi Road above the old estate with friend Jen about a year ago, I had never gone to its top viewpoint before.  I was certainly in the mood for a moderate workout and the slightly overcast conditions allowed for a very comfortable amble on a groomed trail through the rainforest.  As I strolled along, I admired the multitudinous shades of green, interspersed with colourful wild flowers and other tropical plants.  It was fairly easy going, with only a couple of felled trees to climb over or under.  As I looked into the distance, I observed obvious landslides and  recent gullies that reminded me of Tropical Storm Erika’s wrath upon the Nature Island only six months earlier.

But in the forest, with  background accompaniment of  intermittent calls  of warblers, finches, thrushes and parrots,  I could feel my mind quieting down.  In fact, I ceased to really think about anything at all, thanks to the distraction of the natural beauty that enveloped me on all sides. In this paradise-like setting, I was content to be “in the moment” – at least for the next hour or two.

After  a gradual uphill climb of about half an hour, I reached a clearing which faced east

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Prominent mountains such as Morne Anglais are part of the southerly view from Springfield esate.

and south of the Springfield property.  I gasped – in amazement, not shortness of breath! Before me was the most mystical and magical scene: low clouds shrouded the mighty Morne Microtin, situated at the top of the Roseau Valley, as I looked in a south-central direction.  As the skies cleared slightly, I also could see beyond this massif, as I looked further south. Morne Anglais prominently featured on the skyline, along with other mountains beyond her!  And when I turned my head to look at the densely forested ridge to the

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Peek-a-boo!  I think that’s a peak of Morne Trois Pitons  as seen in an easterly direction from the heights of Springfield Estate.

east of my vantage point, I observed a small section of a very high peak, which I guessed could only be Morne Trois Pitons,  the dominant feature in the centre of the island.  Forgive the cliché, but these “million dollar views” (as my brother Edwin would say about Dominica) were naturally breathtaking.

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The mountain village of Cochrane, as seen from the top of Springfield Estate.

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Morne Micotrin as seen from the heights of Springfield Estate.

I wandered around the small clearing for several minutes taking  in the views from slightly different angles.  Then I decided to let the scene soak in to my soul as I seated myself on an exposed tree root. It was impossible to think about anything troubling as I stared into the distance.  Euphoria seemed to be overtaking me and I didn’t even want to think why.  I just let it happen, as waves of tranquility washed over me.

When I had filled my mind (and camera) with plentiful images of the Nature Island at its

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Heliconia plants thrive in the lush terrain at Springfield.

 

finest, I  slowly wended my way back down this track.  Where it ended, I eagerly clamoured up  a few dozen concrete steps to an

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Some of the inviting steps up to the Mount Joy area of Springfield Estate.

area known as Mount Joy. This was originally an  independent estate but for many years has formed part of Springfield.  That detail is also found in my earlier article about this estate, which you may refer to here.   I did not linger long in this area, except to watch hummingbirds flit to and fro and admire the prolific heliconia plants and stately

coconut palms. I delighted in all the wildflowers along the way, such as these:

By this time, I had worked up an appetite, and as I was in close proximity to a popular eatery called Miranda’s

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Good food is always found at Miranda’s Corner, on the Imperial Road just above Springfield.

Corner, I followed the trail to the main road and walked a short distance further uphill.  Miranda is a woman who has a reputation for consistently good home-cooked Dominican-style food. And she always remembers me, even though I haven’t lived in the area for years.  Although she was not there at that time, her  welcoming daughter served me a deliciously seasoned meaty chicken leg and a huge serving of macaroni and cheese, accompanied by a small salad. Initially, I was afraid that I would waste some of the meal, as it was so large.  But that was not to be the case…I think I even surprised Miranda’s daughter when I showed her the empty plate!

It’s a good thing it was a downhill stroll back to Springfield, as my stomach was more than full.  By that time, it was mid-afternoon, and I was anxious to spend some quiet time at

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Santi is the sweet resident cat at Springfield who is always up for a few pats and a close chat.

the grave site of my dearly departed kitty, Tia-pet. He died in 2014 and you can read about his amazing life and our Springfield

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My dear Tia-pet rests in a beautiful natural setting that I adorn with flowers and rosemary whenever I visit Springfield.

connection here. I still miss him very much, as he was with me for 16 years. I like to pay tribute to my long-time companion by placing flowers on his resting place.  But before I continued to that site, I spent a little time with a lovely cat named Santi, who is the resident mouse-catcher and attention-seeker at Springfield.  She is very affectionate and I enjoyed a little down-time by benefiting from some  pet therapy too.

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“When angels are near, feathers appear.” I found this one not far from Tia-pet’s grave.  For what it is worth, I was comforted by that notion!

After a little while, I descended to the area of the estate where Tia is buried.  Whenever I am there, I always feel a tremendous sense of peace and calm. And this time, a little voice   in my head  encouraged me to go ahead with my relocation plans, while reassuring me that everything would work out fine.  Wherever it came from, I don’t know, but in this heavenly location, I reaffirm my belief in angels!

From there, I continued along a track  that leads to the Springfield River. It was all I could do to watch my step as I was constantly gazing around the forest as I visually absorbed copious shades of green!

When I arrived at the river bank, I gasped again – but this time it was in shock!  Tropical Storm Erika had definitely made her presence known here, as the scene was completely different than what it had been for the past almost 20 years that I had visited this spot .  Gone were the big boulders for sitting by the riverside, and the deep pools beside the track’s end had completely disappeared.  I was able to walk across the  now very shallow river in an area where it would have previously been impossible.  I did not linger long, nor did I take a river bath, as for numerous reasons, it just didn’t feel right.  When I return next time, I will take a ‘river walk’ in order to discover a new pool in a nearby location. There is no doubt that Mother Nature is in control.  As well, climate change has left an indelible mark on the Nature Island!

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Water once flowed freely in this section of the Springfield River below Springfield estate.

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The same area AFTER T.S.Erika

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The bathing pool below Springfield on the Springfield River BEFORE T.S. Erika.

However, I continued with my meditational reverie as I walked back up to the guest house section of the property.  There, I met Managing Director and friend Nancy, who enthusiastically showed me her growing garden. As I looked at the thriving plants, I felt very thankful for Dominica’s fertile volcanic soil, and of course, Nancy’s green thumb!

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Nancy’s garden is definitely thriving, thanks to her TLC and the fertile soil.

As the afternoon wore on, I felt tired but truly refreshed after having spent some time in this precious protected place and its pristene surroundings. In my mind, there is nothing more therapeutic than  being closely connected to nature and its offerings.

Why don’t you try it, and tell me what you think, no matter where you live on the planet!

* Special thanks to Nancy for the opportunity to have some  “downtime” at my favourite place on Dominica and for helping me identify the mountains and village in the photos.

 

Fantasy Becomes Reality on the Nature Isle: The Mas Domnik 2016 Costume Parade

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My favourite costume was worn by Tatyanna Dangleben, first runner-up in the Teenage Pageant.

On Tuesday February 9th, 2016,  a beautiful morning  dawned for Mas Domnik’s Costume Parade on the streets of Roseau.  Slightly overcast

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This was the only ship anchored off the port of Roseau on Carnival Tuesday 2016. I hope the crew and passengers had a fabulous time!  The promontory of Scotts Head can be seen in the background.

 

conditions and occasional drizzle acted as the perfect backdrop for the brilliant costumes adorned by the participants as they made their first pass around the route that mid-morning.  By the time it was over a few hours later, a brilliant sun heated up the streets but didn’t prevent throngs of revelers from jumping up well into the evening as they made the most of their ‘last lap’ of Dominica’s Carnival 2016.

I always delight in the spectacle of the Costume parade and the cheery ambiance that surrounds it. Much respect and admiration is also offered to the designers of these incredible outfits, as it is their creativity and ingenuity that is being ‘shown off’ by the ‘models’. DSCF6852

Once again, I was very fortunate to have a front row seat at the Cat Café on King George V Street . I appreciated the filling crêpe and energizing Viennese coffee as I perched myself on the balcony and occasionally ran down to street level for a different vantage point to watch the activity ‘on the road’.

When the parade passed by my location just after 11 a.m., I immersed myself in the magical fantasy of the seemingly surreal participants in their spectacular wear.  As I watched the King, Queen(s), Princesses and Princes of Mas Domnik, it was easy to forget about my cares and fill my heart with the joy of this celebration of Dominican culture and tradition.

So I gave myself over to the sheer enjoyment that surrounded me on the streets of Roseau during the Costume Parade of Carnival Tuesday 2016.

Pictures are worth plenty of words.  Therefore, I present to you some snapshots of that fun-filled occasion.  It is my pleasure to share a sense of this unique festivity with you.  If you like what you see, then please let me know!

Carnival 2016 Calypso Monarch, King Dice (Dennison Joseph) and Miss Dominica 2016, Queen Tasia Floissac easily demonstrated the essence of Carnival through bountiful smiles and spontaneous merry-making:

 

Then came a train of royalty that well-defined the meaning of Carnival pageantry:

 

 

Plenty of Princesses:

 

Revellers ‘playing mas’ in their own style:

 

Flag Wavers adding to the ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ of this special day:

The Old  Time Sake Band has a solid following.  Year after year, they establish their presence in the Costume parade.  I have had the pleasure of ‘jumping’ with them before.  You can read about that fun experience here:

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Then along came the prolific Thunderbirds band.  Their commanding presence and spectacular costumes earned them  a second place award with their theme: Junkanoo:

I remember the first time I ever saw the Karnival Korner band. It was at a pre-Carnival dance in 1998 at Springfield, my first home on the Nature Island.  There, the Swingin Starz band had everyone jumping to the beat.  I was in awe of the brilliant costumes that this troupe introduced to the enthusiastic party-goers. They’ve been around for a long time, and their annual creations always draw a crowd!  This year, they placed third in the Tuesday Costume parade with their Kaleidoscope theme, but they have been winners many times before.  They also captured the Adult King of the Band prize:

When you see these pictures of the exceptional, amazing, fantastical Afri-Culture Stilt Walkers (Bwa Bwa in Creole), you will easily understand why they won the Band of the Year prize, along with Adult Queen of the Band award. I confess that when I saw them on the parade route, I was  already convinced that they would receive the top honours.  I don’t have to explain further.  You can see for yourself:

I hope you won’t become hysterical when I tell you that I was not able to take photos of the sexy Hysteria band this year.  They were the last formal group to join the parade, on its third ‘lap’ around Roseau – and they won the award for the largest band on the road!  By then,I had taken so many photos that my camera’s battery ‘died’ before I saw them.  If it’s any consolation, you can see a few shots of cool ladies (and men) dressed for the Bacchanal that I took last year.  And unfortunately, ever-popular Mercury band, with its revealing costumes did not take part in Mas Domnik 2016.   But you can find some sizzling photos of their members  here.

Now if you are convinced that you really want to experience this fantasy for yourself, then this is a ‘heads-up’ for next winter’s escape plan:  Dominica’s  forthcoming Carnival Holidays are the 27th and 28th of February 2017.   Hope to see you ‘pon de road’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Magical Way to Start the Day:Dominica’s Carnival 2016 J’ouvert!

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Gwendominica ‘played mas’ on J’ouvert Morning of Carnival Monday 2016.

When I arrived  in Roseau around 5 a.m. to participate in the Dominica Carnival annual predawn celebration called J’ouvert (pronounced joo-vay) , the streets of the city were filled with revellers.  Many of them were in disguise or at least, dressed very differently than one might expect. Some had formed small bands, and  were wearing the same type of costume. They really captured the attention of admiring onlookers. Others were dressed in any old thing, including pyjamas, underwear and very short shorts.  It’s the  bacchanal, after all!  But in keeping with Carnival traditions, plentiful groups of  brightly costumed Sensays added to the magical aura of this celebration on the dimly lit streets.

This year, a number of lapo kabwit  bands, (the drums were

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Some of the people who help to make Carnival happen were on the road very early on J’ouvert morning!  From left, Mrs. Anita Bully, Film Development Officer at the Discover Dominica Authority, her husband, renowned cultural icon Dr. Alwin Bully; middle man not identified;Mr. Colin Piper, CEO, Discover Dominica Authority and Mrs. Piper.

originally made from goat skin),with modern and traditional percussive instruments and horns of all types kept everyone ‘chipping’ (a fast walk) to the beat on the pre-established parade route. I delighted in admiring the costumes and the cheerful ambiance of the participants.  I did not notice many by-standers,other than those situated on porches and balconies.  In my view, almost EVERYONE was on the street, enjoying themselves immensely – seemingly catching hold of authentic Carnival ‘vibrations’.

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Gwendominica hailed the spirits of Carnivals past as day broke at the end of the J’ouvert celebration on the streets of Roseau.

Just before 6:30 a.m., I noticed the sky lightening up over the mountains to the east: almost daybreak!  This is the time of J’ouvert when I can actually feel the spirits of

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The house in the background once belonged to the family of internationally recognized Dominican writer, the late Jean Rhys. When she was a child, she would have gazed down on a similar scene in the late 19th and early 20th centuries!

Carnivals past descending from the hills and infusing everyone who cares to ponder about this ancient ritual with a little intrigue and  appreciation for the magic and mystery that represents the true meaing of Carnival.  If this concept sounds a little far-fetched, well, you have to be here to appreciate my meaning!  I am sure friend Jen, who has ‘jumped J’ouvert’ with me before has a good idea of what I am trying to say! You can read about our  earlier fun-filled experience here.

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Charismatic  Chester ‘Daddy Chess’ Letang, calypsonian and lead singer of the Swingin Starz band is surrounded by adoring fans and other members of the band.

In the full daylight of this Carnival Monday, I abandoned the streets and enjoyed a Viennese coffee along with a feta and egg crepe at the Cat Café, located upstairs at 50 King George V Street.  I appreciated this tasteful French inspired meal, and was grateful to have a front row seat on the porch.  Of course, it wasn’t over yet – in fact, Carnival street festivities had only just begun.

From 7 a.m., huge hi-fi trucks with mega-amplified sound systems and some local bands appeared as if out of nowhere, with hundreds of weary but ecstatic fans immersing themselves in the blasting, pounding sound that could only infuse the spirit of Carnival into one’s soul.

After I finished my delicious breakfast, I leaned against the railing, and moved my body to the incessant beat of the passing hi-fi trucks. I enveloped myself in the vibrant ambience of a memorable morning, unlike any other, because I had willingly succumbed to the

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Check out some scenes from magical J’ouvert below.

magic of J’ouvert in Dominica.

DSCF6852Many thanks to Mylène, proprietor Cat Café, for the early opening, delicious food and available porch for my Carnival enjoyment.  Also, big up to Melinda, who willingly took photos of me and served up the wonderful meal.

 

Here’s a glimpse of some of the faces on the road:DSCF6720

 

The musicians kept us moving to the incessant beat:

There were traditional Sensays with a colourful twist:

Some of the ‘trucks’ on the road:

 

Revellers filled the streets as dawn arrived on the Nature Island:

Dominica’s Calypso Fever: It’s Contagious!

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

Author Kristine Simelda of Dominica Launches ‘A Face in the River’

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Kristine Simelda, American-Dominican author of ‘A Face in the River’

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On Saturday January 23, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘official’ launch of A Face in the River by American-Dominican author Kristine Simelda. She has lived on the Nature Island for more than 20 years! Dozens of supporters and literary enthusiasts participated in this celebratory event, which was hosted by the fine folks at Romance Café on lovely Mero Beach. During this auspicious occasion, we had the pleasure of listening to Kris read a seasonally-appropriate and highly entertaining chapter from her book, entitled ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’.

Throughout this beautiful afternoon in Dominica, we also chatted informally with the author,  bought   copies of A Face in the River   and then lined up to have Kris put a personalized note in each one. Under bright sunny skies with a pleasant onshore breeze, we celebrated Kris’s success while we listened to mellow background music provided by superb saxophonist Jussi Paavola.  We

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Renowned local saxophonist Jussi Paavola provided the perfect background sound for author Kris’s (right)enjoyable book launch.

also munched on tasty treats and devoured delicious Caribbean-French infused home-cooked meals at this renowned seaside restaurant.

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Gwendominica was delighted to have author Kristine Simelda sign her personal copy of A Face in the River.

When I got home that evening, I began to read this new novel, set on a lush, beautiful

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Author Kristine Simelda captivated the crowd when she read from her novel, A Face in the River, at her book launch.

Caribbean island.  Over the next two days, I was hardpressed to put it down! I became completely engrossed in the adventures and misfortunes of the protagonist, Krystal Sutherland, a divorced American businesswoman who leaves her comforts behind to follow her heart into  unknown tropical territory.  She quickly discovers that her preconceived notions about ‘life in paradise’ are more than a little off the mark! As an expatriate, I could readily identify with many of the main character’s challenges.  I was also intrigued by the fast-paced twists and turns of the plot and the colourful dialog that really moved the story along.

I  have since electronically linked up with Kris, and in advance of a face-to-face  literary chat in the weeks to come, she has graciously and candidly answered some of my questions about A Face in the River, and more, right here!

Gwendominica:      What/who/where was the inspiration for A Face in the River?

Kristine Simelda: I always say you have to have felt it to write about it. When I was trying to find a publisher who was willing to take a chance on an unknown author writing from a relatively unknown part of the world, I was pitching the book as a fictionalized memoir. No one was interested, so I finally published the book as “a novel” under the ‘River Ridge Press’ imprint, which is the name of my farm. Some folks might recognize certain aspects of the setting and  storyline, and the name of the heroine, Krystal Sutherland, does sound a lot like Kristine Simelda, but beyond that I plead the 5th [amendment]!

Gwendominica: Where did you write it, did you have a particular process, and how long did it take you?

Kristine Simelda: I wrote A Face in the River right here in Dominica, although I had to teach myself to type before I began! I had only written a few snippets of poetry previously, and was so ignorant of the process of writing a novel that I decided to tell Krystal’s story first.  I had so much to say that the original manuscript was 150,000 words long!

When my house burned down in 2000, the original copy went up in flames with it, so I had to start all over again. It took a couple of more years to resurrect the story, during which I managed to get rid of about 50,000 words. Then, while I learned about the craft of writing through workshops and constructive criticism, I edited the manuscript ruthlessly. Finally I was ready to take the next step and publish it as an eBook in 2014.

Gwendominica: How have readers responded to the book?  What kind of reactions are you getting?

Kristine Simelda: Everyone has been very supportive. The general consensus is that it’s a fast read and a great story. I’ve learned a lot [about the writing process] at seminars, by reading other authors’ works (good and bad) and especially from my invaluable editor, Elizabeth Brown.

Gwendominica: Do you think there is a market for ‘tropical fiction’ outside of the tropics?

Kristine Simelda: Most definitely! The First World has become so homogeneous that readers are dying for a taste of the really real world, stories about people and places just like wild, beautiful Dominica. Maybe it’s because I write from the Caribbean, but I feel a there’s a positive  shift  in literature  toward ethnically diverse characters living in far-flung places.

Gwendominica: What was the  biggest challenge in terms of creating this novel?

Kristine Simelda: Technology. I am basically a Stone Age woman. I haven’t had a TV for 25 years, don’t have an IPhone or a Kindle. Believe it or not. I lived without electricity for ten years before I installed solar power five years ago. Before that I ran my laptop from a generator. If it hadn’t been for the cyber gals (Wendy Walsh and Petrea Seaman) at Delphis Ltd, the manuscript for A Face in the River would still be molding in a bottom drawer.

Gwendominica:  What’s next, in terms of your writing plans?

Kristine Simelda: One thing is for sure: I’ll never run out of things to write about while living in Dominica!

I have lots of completed work in the queue, all of which is set in the Caribbean and deals with issues that are close to my heart. In River of Fire, a sequel to A Face in the River, an older and wiser Krystal copes with the fact that the island blows up on the first page due to a volcanic eruption caused by environmental terrorism.  Then she resurfaces as a sage old woman in the novella, Back to the River.

My most recent novel, Nobody Owns the Rainbow focuses on issues of class, love, family, and genetically modified horrors as perpetrated by foreign exploiters. I have also written a young adult novel, Rainforest Rescue, and have enough published short stories for a collection.

Meanwhile, I continue to submit short fiction to publications, revise older work, and wait to win the lottery. I have already begun to formulate novel number four, a romance/ horror narrative where the little gal stands up to the big bad wolf and all his kin.

Gwendominica: What are your other interests, hobbies, occupations?

Kristine Simelda: As a child, I was never much of a reader. My school mates recall a me as a wild and crazy misfit, a bohemian artist. In my middle years, I morphed into a go-girl who rode horses, bicycled around the world, and played a hard game of racquetball.

When I moved to Dominica, I discovered snorkeling and hiking. Then I settled down to farming and breeding large dogs when I landed here in the rainforest. These days, I still have my kayak, and my dogs, but I can’t think of anything more rewarding than settling down with a good book and a glass of wine in the evenings. (Well, maybe I can…)

Gwendominica: As an expatriate, do you have any words of advice for people who are thinking of making a big move to a little  tropical island?

Kristine Simelda: According to the epigraph to A Face in the River: “Consider, my friends, the high price of enchantment.”

Now that readers of Ti Domnik Tales know a little more about this engaging American-

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Now and then, Kris (in pink) enjoys taking a break with her friends at Romance Cafe, on Mero Beach.

Dominican author, you can follow the tropical adventures of her ‘heroine’ Krystal in A Face in the River by getting a paperback or Kindle copy through www.amazon.com  or the visit-dominica website.  The book can be purchased locally in Roseau at Jay’s Bookstore, Kai-K Boutique and Buy Dominica, as well as at Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar. Follow her blog at www.kristinesimelda.com

Many thanks to Kris, for candidly sharing some background and personal anecdotes.  I wish you every success with your creations and eagerly await the release of  River of Fire, the sequel to a A Face in the River – and all of your other  forthcoming literary works!