As an aspiring writer residing in a place that is not my native land, I was pleased to recently come across the catchphrase Carib Being. It means, simply, a person who inhabits the Caribbean region. Aha! That would be me—the lucky lady who has lived on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica for the past twenty-two years and gets to write about it! Island living has been an enlightening experience: The multiplicity of West Indian society and the diversity of the tropical landscape have graciously provided reams of fascinating material. And yet, three novels, three novellas, a novel and a collection of short stories for Young Adults, and many pieces of short fiction later, there are those who consider my work as outside the Caribbean loop.
It’s true: I am not an Amerindian, nor am I a recent descendant of European slave masters, or of African or East Indian heritage. I am an American—a baby boomer who grew up in the 1950s and 60s in the US. TV, Western movies, and miniature golf were my cultural icons. But just because I’m sometimes tempted to compare my upbringing to the cosmology of my adopted homeland, does that mean I’m incapable of empathizing with fellow human beings who exist beyond the end of my long, pink nose? Of course not. If part of the moral purpose of literature is to connect the reader with other minds in other cultures, then I’m giving it my best shot.
Although gender and class are still qualifying factors in Caribbean society, People of Color are definitely in the majority. Racial qualifiers like Black Minority Ethnic, BME, do not compute. But what about those of us who find ourselves classed as WME? Are we to be left standing out in the rain as the Carnival parade passes us by? While I admire the West Indian sense of independence, it takes a good deal of patience for persons of my complexion to truly get to know them. Unless, like certain expat authors of yore, I intend to write more nonsense about the glory of being so light and bright among others who are so dim and dark, I must dig deep to excavate the conflicts of the human heart from an indigenous and imported point of view. That’s the challenge, and I’m happy to accept it.
At the beginning of my tropical adventure, I operated a seaside café with a magnificent view of a marine reserve. The experience came complete with delicious food, intoxicating rum punch, playful dolphins, and glorious sunsets in the bay right in front of the restaurant. But I also survived the assault of two hurricanes, an insanely macho West Indian husband, and a massive house fire. Those were bittersweet times filled with colorful village characters and seaside wonders. Back then, paradise was a puzzle that I tried to solve by writing poetry and memoir about living in such a paradoxical place.
Now I dwell in the mountains on the edge of the rainforest where I have found the peace of mind to settle down to writing full time. Here, in a hand-built house powered by solar energy and surrounded by the things I love—books, dogs, trees, flowers, artwork, rainbows and waterfalls—my view is clearer. Beyond the natural wonders of the landscape and the challenges of protecting the fragile environment, I have my down-to-earth neighbors to inspire me. Just like the larger than life characters who populated the village by the sea, these heroes and heroines are unique, complex, feisty and wise. They believe in God and folk medicine. They worship in the conventional church and practice a Creole version of voodoo called obeah on the side populated by mystical characters that delight in terrorizing both children and adults. One thing for sure, I’ll never run out of story lines while living in the bush.
Still, searching for a niche from outside the literary mainstream is often a lonely and soul-wrenching endeavor. Maybe I have yet to find the right formula, but the logistics of putting together telecommunications, transportation, and a team of support from such a remote location continue to elude me. Just when I think I’ve cracked the code, everything changes. With food falling off the trees and crystal-clear water flowing 24/7, it would be easy to become a recluse, to relax and let the rest of the world go by unmolested. But I am a Carib Being and a writer, therefore I must write from the place that I occupy at the present moment in order to send my message out to the world.
© Kristine Simelda 2018