Maria! Maria! Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane

December 2017: Books on the Beach

Around December 1, I’m notified that Nobody Owns the Rainbow has arrived at the port after touring the Caribbean on a RAM Shipping cargo boat for several extra weeks. “Books on the Beach” is coming up, so I turn my attention to clearing seven boxes containing 250 books from customs. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to sell a few at the Books on the Beach event. But even though the books are there, permission hasn’t been granted to unload the container where they have lived for the past two months. Day after frustrating day passes, and all of sudden it’s the Friday before the Sunday event! Around noon, I get word that the books have been liberated. Trust me; there’s no place else on earth as chaotic as Woodbridge Bay on a Friday afternoon in December—people are just beginning to be able to pick up their personal barrels of relief supplies sent from friends and relatives overseas post-Maria. But you know what? One of the kids who used to live below me in the village of Gallion twenty years ago has grown up to be a customs officer, and things go as smooth as silk.

The books look great, and I’m proud to be able to present them to the small group of patrons who show up at the event. Yes, man. Maybe it’s possible to be writer as well as a refugee! Unfortunately, none of the other Waitukubuli Writers seem to feel the same way. As usual, Polly and I do all the work—two old white women representing the literary consciousness of a small island state where 95 percent of the citizens are black! Does that make any sense?  Because everybody is so desperate for something to read, I sell a dozen books but  wonder where and when I will be able to launch the rest.

Except for Jay’s bookstore, my outlets in Dominica have all been severely compromised by Maria. So under the bed they go to await a proper send off. My intention is to enter Nobody Owns the Rainbow in the 2018 Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Why not? I must send five copies plus a check plus a bio plus an entry form to Trinidad by the end of the month. (It wasn’t even long listed, but at least that’s 5 copies out from under the bed.) That’s the problem with self-publishing, especially from a small island like Dominica, especially in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane. You have a beautiful book in your hand that you’re proud of, but then what? Let’s just hope I can keep the boxes clean and dry and cockroach free until something turns up.

One thing about being old and poor and published is that I get some consideration abroad. As I’ve mentioned, I have been granted a scholarship to the Key West Literary Seminar, “Writers of the Caribbean,” in January as well as a to a Naomi Jackson workshop afterward. The material for the workshop needs to be sent in by December 15, so it’s back to the Fort Young to download the other participants’ work and send in a synopsis and bio of my fourth novel in progress, the 1st draft of Rise Up Sister.

The international aid workers have all gone home for the Christmas holidays, so the atmosphere at the Fort Young is a bit more relaxed. Giselle and I accomplish the task at hand and then kick back and have a drink on River Ridge Press. It’s been difficult, to say the least, with no electricity and no Internet, and the end is nowhere in sight. But in spite of it all, I keep on writing. What choice do I have? If you’re a writer, you write. Simple as that.

 The last time I inquired about the restoration of my landline, Flow told me 2 years. “Two Years!” Not that I feel like the Lone Ranger. On the drive home, I notice blue tarpaulins still haphazardly cover half of the houses I pass. The joke is that Dominicans must vote UWP, United Workers Party, during the next general election because everyone’s house is covered in blue, which is the party’s official color. Nowhere do you see red, the color of the incumbent Dominican Labor Party. Maybe tarps probably don’t come in that color, but if they did, you still might not see any, because everybody is looking for someone to blame.

As of the end of December, three months after the hurricane, kids are not yet back in schools because hundreds of homeless people are still living there. Roseau stinks to high heaven due to open sewers and uncollected garbage. Although the toilet facilities are closed and persons advised not to drink the water, the market is officially open. Piles of provisions presumably washed in the river are displayed on the broken pavement by vendors who are mostly Haitian. Building materials are in scarce supply. Metal trash, mainly galvanized roofing is piled up along roadsides and riverbanks waiting to be pushed into the sea. Less than 20 percent of the island’s electricity has been restored and personal landline telephone service and Internet doesn’t exist.

Politicians like to talk about the resilience of the Dominican people on the radio, but explain to me the difference between resilient and fatalistic. Prior to Maria, in lieu of agriculture, Dominica’s main source of revenue was CBI, Citizenship by Investment. Say what? Foreign investors from all around the world couldn’t wait to jump on board to the tune of US $100,000 per single applicant! Since the hurricane, PM Skerrit, poor fella, is back to begging from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and anybody else that has aid or money to loan. Unfortunately, the funds have been slow in coming. Globalization has taken a back seat to nationalism considering the magnitude of the worldwide humanitarian crisis and the problem of illegal immigration. In the aftermath of Maria, the US has contributed little to the restoration of Puerto Rico, its own territory, let alone Dominica. A little bit has dribbled in from France, Canada, and the UK, but political renegades like Cuba, Venezuela, and the Republic of China have given the most. How the relief will be distributed remains to be seen? I just hope some of it lands on my roof like a gift from Santa Claus.  


(Publication date: August 24th, 2018)