Thursday, March 6, 2014

on this island

The day before yesterday, I was awakened by the sound of my phone. I'd foolishly set my alarm for the wrong day. I'd barely slept. My good friend, George was texting, "eta 5 mins." Uh oh!

Luckily, I had packed everything the night before. I double checked around the house and ran downstairs to find George waiting in front of my building. It was 12 degrees that morning. I climbed into the passenger seat, and George whisked me off to Newark airport, a completely unnecessary yet greatly appreciated kindness. I got through security and arrived at my gate where I boarded a flight.

I'm now in a small hillside village called, Eggleston. It is nestled in the hills above Roseau (pronounced Rose-oh), the capital of Dominica (pronounced Domin-eekah, yes, like the Singing Nun). Eggleston is hardly what you'd call a village, there are no shops, or gas stations (though there is a rum shack on the side of the road), it's more an extended cluster of houses built alongside a steeply raked hillside. What Eggleston lacks in businesses it more than makes up for in chickens, roosters, dogs, goats, cats, children, and some of the most dense and lush flora I've seen anywhere. Overgrown bamboo bends down alongside the road and falls against huge avocado trees with thick, gnarled bases and twisting branches. Ginger, Anthurium, Caladium, African Tulip Trees, and Heliconia add shocking specks of color to the deep variegated green backdrop, while the sound of Calypso and neighbors' patois add a constant rhythmic soundtrack.

I'm visiting my cousin, who has been here for the last year working with the Dominican National Council of Women through the Peace Corps. Dominica is a poor country, not the Caribbean of the yacht-owning one-percenters like many of the other Caribbean islands. It is called The Nature Island of the Caribbean, as it is the least built on; covered with rain forests and rivers, falls and volcanic hot springs. The local people take great pride in the natural beauty of their Island. I've only been here two days, but the Dominicans are colorful, loud, and friendly people.

A former British colony (clearly evidenced by names like Salisbury, Great King George Street, and Princess Margaret Hospital), Dominica was only granted independence from UK rule in 1978. In terms of architecture and businesses, downtown Roseau is crowded with small brightly colored cement houses, rusted corrugated tin roofs, clothing stores, and vegetable stands lining narrow streets. The people are relaxed, friendly, colorful, and it seems everyone knows everyone else. And why shouldn't they? With a population of 17,000 for Roseau and its surrounding towns, it is comparatively small. 

Yesterday a HUGE cruise ship was docked in the port, literally towering over the harbor and the town, taller than any building in Roseau, and in the time it took them to disembark, the town more than doubled in size. Because I've been walking around with a camera (and because I'm white), everyone assumed I was off the boat for a day trip. I watched the boat pull out to sea last night, from atop the hill, at dusk. Today, not only was the town much less crowded, about half of the businesses were closed as well. And even though I was one of few white people in town, I wasn't treated the same way I had been yesterday. 

The Old Market, just one block from the waterfront in town, is where slave auctions used to take place. Of course, the Caribbean is rich with this kind of disturbing history. It was disquieting walking through it this morning before the businesses were set up. Then, about a half hour later, stalls were up selling the usual tourist crap: Rasta hats, T-shirts, coconut monkeys, etc..  While there is an historical commemorative marker, one would think The Old Market might be treated as a more somber, hallowed spot, but with a deficit of tourists, save the intermittent cruise ships, and few local industries, the Dominicans want whatever revenue they can get. Hard to blame them. 

No comments: