Remembering Mona, My First Friend on Dominica

mona-1999

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.

mona-connie-edwin-et-al-at-bahais-gathering-december-2007

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.

mona-and-friends-at-castaways-mero-beach-ca-2002

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.”

 

mona-at-springfield-march-1999

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.

springfield-plaque

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

springfield-antrim-valley