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!

A Return to My Adopted Country, Dominica, One Month After TS Erika

This Canada Goose will soon be flying south, just me like, except that it is not headed for Dominica like me!

This Canada Goose will soon be flying south, except that it is not headed for Dominica like me! Photo taken near Loughborough Lake, Battersea Ontario.

I write this post with mixed emotions, as I make preparations to return to Dominica after a lengthy and lovely stay in Eastern Canada.  The Nature Island is drastically changed by TS Erika’s wrath and I am anxious to observe it for myself.

Be assured that I will be blogging about all that I see and do once I have settled back in to my adopted country.  I’ll give you my perspectives,in a positive way, as usual. As Dominica’s Prime Minister the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit has firmly declared, the Nature Island “shall rise again!”  There is no doubt in my mind, and I will do whatever I can to assist with Dominica’s recovery.

Whether or not you live in this special place, I sincerely hope you will consider helping out too, as the rebuilding process has only just begun – and there is much to be done.  Government of Dominica-approved donation sites can be found here.

In the weeks to come, I will also be describing many of my wonderful

This Great Blue Heron is flying away, but his destination is very different from mine!

This Great Blue Heron is flying away, but his destination is very different from mine! Photo taken at Dog Lake, near Battersea Ontario.

experiences over the past three and a half months in my “home and native land.”  You will find those musings on my Canary Gal blog and they will also appear on my Facebook page, Gwendominica.

As I get ready to go back to this special island, there are a number of people to thank, both here and there, for all that they have done for me during my prolonged visit to Canada.

First and foremost, I am grateful to my brothers, Marc and Edwin who came to my aid when it became apparent that I would be here for a while longer.  Lots of good food and fun times with my siblings and their families helped to distract me from my worries about Dominica.

I don't see them too often, but when there is an occasion to spend time with my niece, Mara and my nephew Dallin, I enjoy being 'Aunite Gwen'.

I don’t see them too often, but when there is an occasion to spend time with my niece, Mara and my nephew Dallin, I enjoy being ‘Auntie Gwen’.

My long-time Canadian neighbour Sharon Freeman and her family set me up very well for my six week retreat at the Three Little Cottages and Freedom Farm on Dog Lake, near Battersea Ontario.  I had a fabulous time, completely immersed in nature in this Canadian wilderness location, also known as the Frontenac Arch, a UNESCO World

The granite cliffs on Dog Lake form part of the Canadian Shield. Photo taken just before sunset in a canoe on Dog Lake, Battersea Ontario.

The granite cliffs on Dog Lake form part of the Canadian Shield. Photo taken just before sunset in a canoe on Dog Lake, Battersea Ontario.

Biosphere Reserve.

Early morning on Dog Lake, Battersea Ontario was occasionally shared with other inhabitants of the area.

Early morning on Dog Lake, Battersea Ontario was occasionally shared with other inhabitants of the area.

I’ll be writing more about that experience very soon.  A few photos are included here, to pique your interest.

A long, lovely summer evening sunset after 9 p.m. on the shore of the New Minas Basin at Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

A long, lovely summer evening sunset after 9 p.m. on the shore of the New Minas Basin at Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I think the tide was coming in at that time.

A trip to Canada would never be complete without spending time ‘down east’, with my incredible Aunt Vivian and a few

I was thrilled to be in Nova Scotia for my Aunt Vivian's 91st birthday. It was one of several memorable occasions during my visit this year.

I was thrilled to be in Nova Scotia for my Aunt Vivian’s 91st birthday. It was one of several memorable occasions during my visit there this year.

A very long summer in eastern Canada found me on the beach at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay overthe September Labour Day Weekend!

A very long summer in eastern Canada found me on the beach at Awenda Provincial Park on Georgian Bay near Penatanguishene over the September Labour Day Weekend!

generations of amazing cousins.  Sincere thanks to Cousin Dwight and his wife Patricia for graciously rolling out the red carpet and  offering their home as my base for a two week stay in  beautiful Nova Scotia. I am grateful to all my Maritime ‘relations’ for their warm hospitality!

And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge, with profound gratitude, the assistance of some neighbours and friends in Dominica over my extended summer ‘holiday’.  Police Officer Vernon Gordon regularly checked my home and surroundings to ensure that all was secure.  He even mopped up a small flood in my dining room the morning after TS Erika and contacted my landlord to make arrangements to fix the little hole in my roof.

Then there is Ursula Joseph, my long-time helper and friend who faithfully tended the apartment and kept everything ‘ship-shape’ in my absence.

My closest neighbours, Peter and Elizabeth Registe willingly harboured my little car in their garage.  Its safe shelter saved

me the worry of its exposure to the copious rainfall of the last couple of months, including the deluge of TS Erika. Now I just hope it will start after its prolonged ‘rest’. (Battery was disconnected and Julius, the neighbourhood mechanic is certain to set things right for me!)

It’s been a long, lovely summer, and without further ado, I will set my sights on whatever lies ahead. I will share some of my northern memories in due course, but first, I will go back ‘home’ to Dominica.  Don’t worry – the airport is open and the interior Imperial Road is cleared so that travellers can traverse the breadth of the island.

So here I go – God-willing and weather-permitting!

The Government of Canada Responds to the Humanitarian Crisis in Dominica, Following TS Erika

The Government of Canada is assisting the Relief Effort on Dominica in several ways.

The Government of Canada is assisting the Humanitarian Relief Effort on Dominica in several ways.

I was delighted to receive this reply from an official in Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada in response to a query I submitted last week. In the form email, I respectfully  requested aid for Dominica, following the total devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika on August 27th, 2015:

“The Government of Canada, through [the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development](DFATD), quickly responded to the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika in Dominica and has been supporting the emergency response efforts.

Following the disaster, Canada committed $135,000 to the Pan American Health Organization in order to help restore health services and emergency medical in affected areas, improve access to clean water and sanitation and ensure the provision of hygiene supplies.

Canada is also supporting the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Emergency Appeal for Dominica.

With Canada’s support, the IFRC and the Dominica Red Cross will respond to the immediate needs of over 10,000 people through cash transfers, basic household non-food items, shelter, health and psychosocial support, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities.

The Government of Canada committed an additional $50,000 through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to provide relief and assistance affected households, as identified by the Government of Dominica.”

While the Canadian government’s contribution to the Relief Effort is greatly appreciated, kindly be reminded that millions of dollars are needed to restore the country to its pre- TS Erika state.  The Prime Minister of Dominica, Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit has said that the Nature Island has been set back by at least two decades.

Numerous other countries continue to assist Dominica in its overall recovery, which will be a lengthy and challenging process.

If you are in Toronto, Canada on Friday September 25th, be sure to attend this incredible concert in aid of Dominica!

If you are in Toronto, Canada on Friday September 25th, be sure to attend this incredible concert in aid of Dominica!

Canadians  and other citizens of the world: MUCH MORE HELP IS NEEDED. Your donations of any amount would be most welcome and you can refer to various government-approved charities and accounts by clicking here.

The critical humanitarian situation on Dominica is not going to resolve anytime soon.  You can follow developments on the Nature Island through coverage on Dominica News Online.

If we all assist in our own way – be it large or small- then we will be helping to restore the beautiful Nature Island of 70,000 inhabitants to its former renowned natural glory.  Thank you!

 

Fellow Canadians, Please Help Dominica to Recover from TS Erika’s Devastating ‘Blows’

Help Rebuild Dominica

Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area and further afield, please find it in your hearts to help the Nature Island and her hopeful citizens, who have suffered tremendously at the hands of TS Erika.

This post is directed specifically at fellow countrymen and women in Canada. However, I urge readers all over the world to consider contributing to the Relief Effort  in Dominica with donations or contributions through aid organizations such as the International Red Cross  (specify Dominica) or the Government of Dominica’s special accounts in various currencies . Further information can be found by clicking Office of the Prime Minister of Dominica – TS Erika Recovery and Reconstruction Fund.

You may already know that Dominica, like Canada, is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.  But did you know that thousands of Dominicans live in Canada?  Despite their relocation, they maintain very close ties with their homeland, the Nature Island, as evidenced by the proactive Commonwealth of Dominica Ontario Association.  I have met many Dominican-Canadians over the past 18 years, and they are very appreciative of the diverse opportunities they have had in this large northern land.  The only complaint is a unanimous one: the cold!  I can certainly empathize with that.

I am not sure how many Canadians reside on the Nature Isle.  The few with whom I am acquainted have lived there for more than a decade.  Other friends have returned to Canada, but keep up ties and interest in this beautiful rainforested land that was their  home for a while.

While media coverage has been sadly lacking since the passage of TS Erika completely destroyed Dominica on August 27th, international aid has arrived from many countries – both large and small.  The country’s nearest neighbours, comprised of members of CARICOM and French Overseas Departments were quick to assist in myriad ways. British and Dutch relief ships have brought in some badly needed supplies and medical personnel.  Unfortunately,  response to this crisis has been slow from developed countries such as Canada.  Much more humanitarian aid and  support is required to help this tiny country of 70,000 people to get back on its feet.

 You may be aware that about 30  people died  and others are still missing.  People have lost loved ones, homes and sources of employment.  The demolished infrastructure is estimated at over one billion dollars to reconstruct.  The island’s Douglas-Charles airport requires $ 40 million to rebuild to become fully operational again. Agriculture, the country’s economic mainstay is no more. Hundreds of millions of dollars are desperately needed to recover from all aspects of this disaster.
People are suffering.  Two entire villages have to be relocated, as they were reduced to rubble. The need for clean water  is urgent, as gastroenteritis is becoming a prevalent health condition. Other essentials for daily living are now a critical concern.  One need only read up-to-date news reports from Dominica to gain appreciation for the shocking aftermath of this natural disaster at Dominica News Online.

General awareness of this dire situation in Canada is almost non-existent.  It would be most appreciated if the Government of Canada would consider the crisis in Dominica as a worthy area for humanitarian assistance to aid in this massive recovery effort. I attempted to call the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday and was not successful in relaying my message by phone.  However, I did fill out a form email letter, requesting humanitarian aid for Dominica. If you would like to do the same, it could only help increase awareness about the crisis on the Nature Island.  Click here to write to  Canada. Department of Foreign Affairs .

Thankfully, there are some organizations such as the Toronto-based Commonwealth of Dominica Ontario Association (CDOA)who are spearheading a massive fundraisingGetAttachment campaign, organizing benefit concerts and collecting requested items to be sent to Dominica.  In fact, two containers are be shipped to Dominica this weekend, and it is likely another one will be sent to the Nature Island in the near future.  They have raised over $50,000 of their $100,000 CAD goal, thanks to donations both large and small to their charitable initiative.  This drive is recognized by the Government of Dominica.  Please clink on the link above to the CDOA to find out more and/or make a donation to the Relief and Recovery Effort.

As well, the Rotary Club of Ottawa South has close ties with the Nature Isle, and is organizing events and raising funds in aid of Dominica’s plight.  If you live in the Nation’s Capital, you might like to check them out.

As a Canadian who has resided on Dominica for more than 18 years, I will do all that I can to help those in my adopted home.  Fellow countrymen and women, you

Gwedominica sends plenty of good vibes to her adopted country, Dominica from her native land, Canada on a late summer afternoon.

Gwendominica sends plenty of good vibes to her adopted country, Dominica, from her native land, Canada on a sunshine-filled summer afternoon.

may not live there, you may not know much about the Nature Island, but I assure you that it is one of the most pristine places in the world, and that is why I live there. It has given me an improved quality of life and numerous opportunities for adventure in its sensational surroundings. You can find out more by reading Ti Domnik Tales, which has over 150 posts about this lovely land!  Its warm friendly people may be small in number compared to other countries, but they definitely deserve a helping hand to recover from this catastrophic natural disaster.

Please find it in your hearts to help  Dominica in its time of need.  Thank you!!!

Dominica’s ONLY Storm of the 2013 Season: Chantal makes a serious pass!

Foreboding skies signaled the start of Tropical Chantal's pass through Dominica.

Foreboding skies signaled the start of Tropical Chantal’s pass through Dominica.

After Tropical Storm Chantal quickly blew through Dominica and other  Eastern Caribbean islands on Tuesday July 9th, everyone breathed a collective sigh of  relief that no lives were lost and that the damage was generally minor.  On the Nature Island, the southern areas were most adversely affected by high winds, with downed trees, branches, utility wires and a few missing roofs.

While I was safe in my apartment, I did experience a few heart-stopping moments. But at the end of the day, God is good and all is well.  It seems that the storm passed without incident on islands further south, including tiny Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  You can read friend and Canadian author Susan Toy’s report and view her videos of Chantal here. 

Interestingly, the south side of Chantal dished out lots of rain, where on my northerly end of her, fierce winds that gusted up to 100 kilometers per hour kept me glancing out the windows when I heard a branch crack or an unknown entity crash to the ground.

The day started calmly enough: I drank my tea and read my morning meditations  on the porch while gazing down at Roseau, the

View of Roseau before the storm.  The brown water (centre) is cominig from the muoth of the Roseau River.  It must have been raining already in the mountains!

View of Roseau before the storm. The brown water (centre) is coming from the mouth of the Roseau River. It must have rained already in the mountains!

From myvantage point, Roseau was shrouded in rain during the passage of Chantal.

From my vantage point, Roseau was shrouded in rain during the passage of Chantal.

pretty capital, as usual. I had cleared almost everything off of the outside living areas the previous evening.  What remained to be removed was a barricade that  I had erected to  prevent my 15 & 1/2 year old  senior indoor cat from escaping into the bushes and unknown dangers. I went inside to check the weather report online, when all-of-a-sudden I heard a sound as the first blast of wind hit the house.  Something fell down on the porch.  I ran to look and was horrified to discover that the force had knocked down my

Tia is a playful, adventurous pussycat at the best of times.  Painting by American artist and friend Susan Weeks.

Tia is a playful, adventurous pussy cat at the best of times. Painting by American artist and friend Susan Weeks.

barricade – and Tia the cat was GONE!

In a near panicked state, I called the vet, explained what happened and asked her what to do!  She first told me to calm down (but I didn’t).  She asked if he had eaten – I said “no’!  She tried to reassure me that he would return and was just exploring . If he didn’t come back soon, she would send her husband, who is also a vet and animal whisperer (if you ask me) to help me look for him.  I quickly dressed in long pants and boots to go into the bushes, while I called his name over and over. But that did last long.  Between one moment and the next, the heavens opened up wide.  It felt as if a huge never-emptying bucket of water was being dumped on my head.  In one minute, I was soaked to the skin.  The winds began to howl in a serious way and I had to abandon my search!  I headed up the front stairs to see that the door had slammed shut.  When I opened it, I noticed that the back door was still open. I was ready to howl louder than the wind, when  Tia appeared in front of me – a little damp, but none the worse for wear!  At first I thought I was a hallucinating!  He must have been near the back stairs and then bolted up them when the deluge began.  I was thanking the Almighty profusely when I called the vet to extend gratitude for her support during those few moments of dire stress!  From the point on, Tia hid under the bed for the entire day!

It`s hard to dstinguish between the coconut tree and the utility pole! The tree is leaning in to the wires - and with one more gust of wind...

It`s hard to distinguish between the coconut tree and the utility pole! The tree is leaning in to the wires – and with one more gust of wind…

But that wasn’t the end of my worries :when I had started to search for the cat, the downstairs tenants poked their heads out for a moment and drew my attention to a tall coconut palm tree that was leaning heavily on the utility wires nearby!  If they came down, we would have a very serious problem.  I immediately called the electricity company, but of course my complaint was probably one of hundreds that they received that morning.  The power was already out in my area and I shut off the main switch to be extra safe.

The rain hammered the earth a while before the pounding wind took over!

The rain hammered the earth a while before the pounding wind took over!

From then on, I entertained myself by listening to an extended talk show on a popular local station with my little battery-operated radio.  I was able to hear updates about Chantal and reports  of damages and experiences from people who called in  from around the island .  I was keen to take a few pictures.  I tried to open my doors a few times,  but the wind created tremendous resistance and I decided not to tempt fate. Instead, I opened a window on the calm side and stuck my arms out around the burglar bars with camera in hand.  You can see that I got a few shots!

In the early afternoon, soft music played on the radio and sky turned dark as night.  I periodically checked the precarious angle of the coconut tree as it pulsed against the wires.  I read for a while on the couch and dozed off for an hour or so.  I awoke to stillness about 4 p.m., peeked outside and assumed that the worst was over.

There were  a few moments when the sun did try to overpower the storm!

There were a few moments when the sun did try to overpower the storm!

The waves were rought - but thankfully only for a little while!

The waves were rough – but thankfully only for a little while!

About an hour later, the power came back on so I was up and running electronically again!  Just to be on the safe side, I decided to wait until the morning before putting anything back on my outside porches.  Around 8 p.m., I had just climbed out of a warm shower when the phone rang.  It was a worker from the electricity company.  He asked for directions to the problematic tree, as he was in the area and wanted to make a survey  for removal of it the following day.  He and his crew did arrive minutes later, and did declare this situation to be urgent.  As I write this, no-one has appeared to cut down the offending tree, which he did consider an emergency.  I realize there are problems of this nature all over the island.  No doubt, it will be removed in “a while”, as they say on Dominica.  I just hope it is before the next storm!

The cat barricade is back up and Tia has been studying it with longing.  I don’t think he can get over it.  But he has weathered a few other storms outdoors.  I’ll save those stories for another day!  But if you want a refresher on one of my previous weather challenges, you can read this!

In the mean time, this  tropical storm seems to be fading away further north, so perhaps will not cause damage elsewhere.  I only hope that if (or when) the next cyclone makes its way across the Atlantic, it will be no more troublesome than Chantal!

How I Waited for a Hurricane

Eerie skies suggest bad weather approaching.

The steely calm before a storm over the Caribbean Sea.

Too soon, it’s June!  ‘Tis the start of the hurricane season and we must now be ready – just in case one blows our way.  We pray that the Nature Island will be spared this year – but there are no guarantees.  We’ll hope for the best!

The following article describes my first experience with hurricane preparation in Dominica. That was  in September 1998. I’ll never forget it!  This piece was originally published in Caribbean Compass in November 1998 and has since been modified slightly:

A brilliant day at Springfield Plantation. Photo taken in 2004.

The sky was a surreal blue, not one rain cloud in sight. It was hot and dry  – uncommon during the rainy season. Intense sunshine glared. The peak of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest mountain could be seen from miles away throughout this extraordinarily clear day. On the self-proclaimed Nature Island, the rainforest seemed greener than usual, the flowers especially brilliant. The calm Caribbean Sea looked inviting.

Hustle and bustle on King George V St., Roseau. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

But despite the outward appearance of a perfect tropical day, there were signs that trouble was brewing. In the capital city of Roseau, normally a laid-back place, tension was thick in the air. The local radio stations had recently broadcast warnings that Hurricane Georges was headed straight for Dominica! Citizens scurried to purchase essentials needed to wait out the storm. Supplies of flashlight batteries sold out quickly in some stores. Kerosene oil for lamps seemed to vaporize. The candle factory did a tremendous business that day. The frenetic atmosphere in the local grocery stores was overwhelming. I watched many hands grab packages of powdered milk, cocoa, Ovaltine, canned fish and meats, biscuits and other non-perishable goods. Although the friendly Dominicans spoke courteously to one another while discussing the weather, their faces were strained and their voices quavered upon mention of the name Georges. At a busy intersection, a handsome traffic control officer paused for a moment to raise his white-gloved hands towards the heavens in prayer. Rush hour occurred a little earlier that Friday afternoon as people hurried home to prepare for whatever lay ahead. It would take them some time to board up their homes and fill containers with water to last for a few days.

They had not forgotten about Hurricane David. In 1979 this fierce Category IV storm had practically demolished the entire island. Georges was now considered to be as strong. Back at my home base, 1,200 feet up on the edge of the rainforest, I frantically packed up boxes of books, clothes and electronic equipment, wrapped them in plastic and put everything fragile on my bed. Meanwhile, the knots in my stomach got tighter and tighter. In an almost panicked state, I phoned Canadian friends (author Susan Toy and Dennis Ference) who live in Bequia , a tiny island in the Grenadines, 150 miles south of Dominica. They reassured me and gave me web sites to check for the latest information. And they cautioned me to seek safe shelter. My cottage did appear to be structurally sound with its concrete walls and galvanized steel roof, but I did not want to take any chances.

Part of the Springfield Plantation complex (Photo taken in 2004)

After I had tightly closed the metal louvers on Saturday morning, I headed down the hill, carrying my most valued possessions (my computer and related equipment), to the nearby guest house at Springfield Plantation (which is now a research center). This stately old wooden building had endured many previous hurricanes and had escaped relatively unscathed. It also had a concrete basement where we could shelter if things got really bad. I settled into my temporary room, but I still felt uneasy. The storm was forecast to strike on Sunday morning. It was getting closer, pumping 150 mph winds. Then I realized what I had forgotten to do: turn off my electricity and water. My neighbor’s cat, accustomed to hanging around my place, still had to be found and brought to the guest house. The night seemed endless. I worried incessantly. At 3:30am, I turned on my radio. Georges was making progress, but he had veered slightly north. Now, he was predicted to strike between Dominica and Guadeloupe. High winds extended for almost a hundred miles from his center.

At daybreak on Sunday, I went outside. The air was moist and still. No rain. One of the staff was sitting on a bench with her sack of essentials close by her side. “The storm will mash up Dominica. I’m so afraid,” she cried. That didn’t help me any. To work off my anxiety, I walked back up the hill to my cottage and shut off the power. The cat came out of the forest, but proved to be an unwilling captive. Eventually, an old grain sack and two pairs of hands secured the critter, at least for a while. (Tia the cat is still around and has actually weathered a few storms since then!)

View of the Antrim Valley from Springfield down to the Caribbean Sea on a brilliant day. Photo taken in 2004.

Back at Springfield, I drank a cup of Ovaltine and speculated with staff and two guests from England about the potential wrath of Georges. I couldn’t eat much. My stomach felt queasy. By 10am a few sheets of lightening and blasts of thunder echoed throughout the Antrim Valley below Springfield. The rain fell like a solid object. I went back to bed. An hour later, I woke up to silence. One of the staff prepared me a big British breakfast: bacon, eggs, chips and beans, with fried plantains on the side. “It might be a while before you have a big meal again. You’ll need the energy,” he advised. A radio blared from the dining room. We gathered every few hours to hear the updates. People were now being urged to go to shelters around the island, if their homes were considered unsafe. Police and emergency response personnel were on standby. Now, we just had to wait.

By late Sunday afternoon, Georges’ course had moved a little more northerly. Now Antigua was its main target. But Dominica was still under a hurricane warning, because this wild animal was no small beast. On the northeast coast, there were reports of massive waves and thundering surf. Some sections of road had been washed out. People were still scared. As dusk approached, the sky’s eerie yellowish glow gave a sense of foreboding. Ghostly gray clouds shrouded the surrounding mountains. The wind began to blow in earnest. We sat around and chatted some more. Some people played cards. Others drank tea. I tried to write some letters, but couldn’t concentrate. At 8pm, Georges appeared to be well on his way to Antigua. It looked like we would escape the worst of the assault. Many weary souls headed off to bed. I did too, but later awoke to shrieking wind and hammering rain and the unnaturally black blackness of that night. Something was wrong. In a flash, I realized that the power had gone off. My heartbeat quickened. Terrified, I ventured outside. I could hear someone moving around. “Should we go down to the basement?” I yelled. “No, it’s not that bad, Gwen. Go back to bed.”

A few hours later, I arose to chirping birds and welcoming sunshine. I opened the storm shutters and peered out. With the exception of a few fallen leaves and branches, Dominica’s natural beauty and its people had been spared this time. I headed up the hill to my cottage to unpack my things and continue with life in the hurricane zone.