The Mighty Kwapo

Hi everybody,

When I first moved to Dominica 25 years ago, there were so many Kwapo in the mountains, and they made so much noise that I had to wear earplugs to bed!

Now, sadly, the Mountain Chicken, former national dish of Dominica, is virtually extinct due to a virus and perhaps overhunting. My story,  “The Mighty Kwapo,” as published by Akashic on Duppy Thursday, is an environmental fairytale that pays tribute to this unlucky frog. Click the link below to go straight to the source.

http://www.akashicbooks.com/the-mighty-kwapo-by-kristine-simelda/

All best,

Kristine

New Novel from Kristine Simelda!

NEW FROM RIVER RIDGE PRESS DOMINICA

Nobody Owns The Rainbow

A Novel by Kristine Simelda

An exciting Caribbean adventure/romance with a biotech twist that pits human arrogance against the power of Nature in a tale of love, greed, family, and ultimate redemption.

Johnny Baptiste, a big-hearted young Rasta, has grown up on an unspoiled Caribbean mountain called Morne Plaisance. Yet when the glamour associated with the “real” world tempts him, he develops a serious drug problem. His cousin Stanford promises to make him rich by buying the family’s land after his father dies. Although Johnny reluctantly agrees, he has second thoughts when Stanford leases the land to a foreign biotech company that tears up the mountain under the guise of constructing a national abattoir but is secretly committed to resurrecting a strain of genetically modified swine classified as “Enviropigs.”

Frank Stein, a Canadian genetic scientist, along with his Chinese girlfriend, Won Ling, arrive on the island to supervise the mischief. When the government calls in Irene Rahming, an environmental expert from Trinidad, to assess the feasibility of the project, the cast of multinational characters is complete.

Johnny falls in love with Irene, not only because of her beauty, but also because of her feisty, compassionate spirit. Together with Johnny’s mother, Alma, the indigenous Kalinago warriors, and local Rasta brethren, they fight to save Morne Plaisance from wanton destruction.

Will Johnny and Irene succeed in stopping New Dawn? Or will “Paradise” be lost forever?

PAPERBACK AVAILABLE LOCALLY AT:

Le Petit Paris Bakery, Bayfront, Roseau

Kai K Boutique, Bayfront, Roseau

Jays Bookstore, Independence St., Roseau

Departure lounge at the Douglas-Charles Airport, Melville Hall

AVAILABLE ONLINE AT:

Amazon.com as eBook and paperback

Check out my debut novel, A Face in the River, and its sequel, River of Fire, that are also on Amazon.com. 

 

SEASONS GREETINGS!

WISHING YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The week before Christmas found the workers on the farm entrenched in last minute holiday preparations. Samsung had already soaked the dried fruits and baked the gateau noel, a dark fruitcake soaked in lots of rum.  But the traditional red sorrel drink made from the fleshy sepals of a member of the hibiscus family remained to be brewed, and there were still several more pounds of roots to grate for the ginger beer. All the while the delicious smell of roasting pork, slathered with pepper and herbs, wafted from Daddy Dupuis’s smokehouse where he concocted his famous zandouge, Christmas sausage. Rosay was busy giving the entire house a thorough cleaning. Gregoire had coaxed the poinsettias into extraordinary bloom; red, pink, and off-white blossoms cascaded over the edges of the railing and onto the veranda. Krystal had trimmed a local pine tree with funky homemade ornaments.  Continue reading

FALL ROUNDUP

Onward!

Sorry for the long delay in getting back to my blog, but I’ve been kinda busy! The three weeks spent visiting friends and family in the States in September were enjoyable but sufficient, thank you very much. The luxury of lounging in a king-sized bed watching big screen TV and surfing channels soon wore off. Endless advertising for cars, miracle drugs to cure the ills of the nation (Why is everybody sick?), and hateful personal political attacks ruled the airwaves. The congressional inquiry into Judge Kavanagh’s misogynist teenage behavior was the icing on the cake.

I have to admit that traveling from destination to destination in a clean, smooth riding vehicle over paved, pothole free roads was a treat, as was dining out at various themed restaurants that served food that somebody else cooked. Attending football games that featured my grandsons as players, my granddaughter as cheerleader, and my son Zach as assistant coach was drawn out but fun. The drive to Serpent Mound, the world’s largest surviving example of an ancient animal effigy, was like a trip back in time. When I was younger, I often headed to the Arc of Appalacia in southern Ohio to check out the fall foliage and soak up ancient spiritual Indian vibes.

The entire family, including my younger son Josh, visited to the Ohio History Connection in Columbus where the exhibit “1950s: Building the American Dream” was on display. Definitely déjà vu, it featured a Lustron all steel prefab home like the one I grew up in, which cost $4,190 when constructed on your own lot!

On Josh’s 50th birthday, the boys and I dropped by the shady old cemetery where my mother’s side of the family, including the illustrious Grandpa Charlie, are buried. Afterwards, we spent some time going through old photographs to explain to the grandkids who was who. It’s amazing to me that the folks who played such a huge part in my reaching adulthood are all dead now, when I myself still feel so young. (Most days.)  

I popped in my old craft store in Dayton and was proud of what the subsequent owner had done with it. I spent another day on the farm of an old friend—lawyer, polo player, gourmet cook, and excellent woodworker. His health has failed dramatically in the past few years, but at least he’s still alive, unlike many of my peers.

I came back home in October to find a railing around the veranda of the main house. Other than that, not much had changed…still no lights, no phone, and no internet. On my 71st birthday, I went snorkelling at my old stomping grounds, the Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve. ELAS! I hardly recognized the place since Maria. Shanties that once graced the seaside were missing and many homes on higher ground were still roofless. Underwater was like a coral graveyard. Few reef fish remained thanks to the hurricane and the invasion of lionfish that savvy fishermen were cleaning by the coolers full to sell to restaurants in town

October a time of Independence in Dominica, and as usual, folks can’t wait to celebrate. A series of cultural events leads up to the World Creole Music Festival at the end of the month. For kicks, I rented a space in the botanic gardens for four days under the auspices of Waitukubuli Writers at a music, food, and craft event called Creole Rendezvous. Hurray!  I actually sold some books.  I’m still recuperating, but I enjoyed being out and about. I then rushed to complete my entry to the Commonwealth short story prize, which was due Nov. 1st, and sent it in a day early. It was a good thing I did, because the mobile data on my tablet was down for the next three days. After another long weekend, it will be back to the lonely job of staining the plywood to seal the ceiling of the main house. Meanwhile, I plan to enjoy the fact that I’m living the life I chose to lead, in the place I want to be, healthy, free, and simple. Despite all its problems, this magical island still suits me.   

Maria, Maria: Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane, Third Quarter

JULY: Stand By

I don’t know what Roseau has got, but every time I venture into town I come home exhausted. Even if I only have a few errands, the drive alone over these devastated roads if enough to wear me out. Whether it be grocery store, doctor’s office, pharmacy, or the never-ending search for Wi-Fi, town is always a struggle. The traffic is horrendous, and because there’s absolutely NO place to park, it’s necessary to walk from task to impossible task once you find a spot. Not that I mind the exercise, but I can never get what I want on the first try. I end up searching shops in the debilitating heat, tripping along the sidewalks that are broken and dangerous, and circumventing the trash that is piled up everywhere. Even if there was a nice place to quench your thirst or have lunch, I can’t imagine eating or drinking in town. The idea is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, more than once I’ve come back to find a traffic ticket attached to my windscreen after squeezing into a dubious parking slot. Then it’s off to pay the magistrate’s court before I forget and have to go to court. What a racket.

Even though I feel better than last month, I decide to get another blood test just in case the Iron tablets (400 mg twice a day) the doctor gave me last month aren’t working. The good news is that they are, and my blood hemoglobin is up to 9.5! I only wish John could be cured so easily. He has another doctor’s appointment in Martinique on July 6. I sure hope they can do something for him this time.

Unfortunately, John comes home a day early saying they cannot treat him in Martinique, which is exactly what they told me a year ago, but he wouldn’t listen.  He must be thoroughly discouraged—I know I am. The night he returns, I’m supposed to meet the ferry at 7:30. Hurricane Beryl is in the forecast, and I’m anxious about driving. I wait over an hour and then attempt to drive home in the pouring rain. My night vision is impaired under normal circumstances, but that night I am especially blind. We pass long lines at the grocery and gas station, but I’m too nervous to stop. We reach home at 10 o’clock. I have a glass of wine and go straight to bed.  

When I check the internet the next morning, it looks like Beryl, with winds of about 100 mph, is pointed toward Dominica like a loaded gun. Considering what happened with Maria, I panic, and so does everybody else. We rush to the gas station and fill up, get money from the ATM at the airport, buy 100 lbs. of dogfood at the feed store, stand in a long line at the grocery, and then buy fresh fish, batteries, and roofing nails before heading back home. Phew. Mission accomplished. After the groceries are unpacked and put away, we start securing the guesthouse. Thanks to Maria, there’s only two windows left to cover with plywood. I carefully put away the few belongings that remain intact, while John cleans out the garage so the transport can go inside. Now there’s nothing to do but wait.

By evening, the data on my tablet stops working, so there’s no way to check the storm’s position. They used to include a hurricane-tracking map with the phone book, but I guess that’s too old fashioned. These days, if you can’t Google it, it doesn’t exist. The radio is playing gospel hymns interspersed with clergymen praying, which only adds to the portent of disaster already hanging in the air. I hum along while drinking an entire bottle of wine. What else can I do?

On Sunday morning, people begin to flood into the shelters. The hotel here in Layou Park, which has been hanging on the side of a cliff since TS Erika, is where we’re instructed to go. Yikes! According to PM Skerrit, neighbors are supposed to check on the elderly (me) and disabled (John) who don’t comply, but we don’t see another soul all day. My son Josh phones to say Beryl has hit wind sheer and is slowing down. Hallelujah! At dusk, I put the dogs in the cast concrete kennel just in case, while John elects to sleep in the transport in the garage. Déjà vu all over again. In the end, we get a little thunder and lightning, some rain, and absolutely no wind. John comes to bed around midnight and we sleep peacefully until daybreak, when, like robots, we start undoing what we did to prepare, only this time in reverse.  

Life goes on, one day at a time, for the remainder of July. The ferrous sulfate pills seem to be doing the trick as far as my hemoglobin is concerned. I look and feel much better. Now that I’ve figured out how to transfer documents and pictures from my laptop to my tablet where I can send them out as via email, I’m back to submitting short stories to literary magazines. It’s always a gamble, but at least I can still call myself a writer. The problem is sometimes you have to wait so long to get a reply, and the story is tied up in the meantime. I’ve also sent my 4th novel, Rise Up Sister, to my editor. I’ve worked on it for over two years now, so I hope she’s gentle with me. I’m not sure it or I could survive another complete rewrite.

They finally tested and reopened the $11 million Chinese bridge, but the road is practically impassable on either side. I call it the Bridge to Nowhere, but not too loud and not in public. Why? If one has the courage to live here and the patience to wait, the government of Dominica can be quite helpful, i.e. they finally gave John the money for his operation with no strings attached—he can spend it how he wants and probably will. I got some money for food allowance a few months back, and I am also pleased to be getting a monthly sustenance allowance for the elderly through August. Then, miracles of miracles, the guys who came to assess the damage to my home in April return! Yes! They intend to supply labor and materials to fix my roof! There are three of us from Layou Park on their list:  my 80+ year-old widow neighbor, a blind man up the road, and myself. Some people might be offended to fall in such a pitiful category, but all I can say is thank you very much. The representatives say they want to inspect the structure to make sure it can take a proper roof, which fortunately it can. What a relief. I’m so glad I didn’t rush out and fight for materials myself. Sometimes courage and patience pays off, although when I ask when they intend to begin, they cannot tell me. Oh, well. I’ve waited ten months already, so I guess I can wait a little longer.

Just when I’m practically broke, July 18, 2018 dawns as a bonus payday. It’s the third Wednesday of the month, when my US Social Security payment is deposited in the bank. It’s also the day I pick up the third government sustenance check from the village council in Mahaut. Surprise! Surprise! First thing in the morning, the guy who’s the supervisor for the construction of my roof phones to say they’re coming to inspect my structure (again). I commit to waiting for him, but a tropical wave accompanied by torrential rain has arrived, so he later postpones. I go to Mahaut and collect my cash, and then I powwow with Giselle to try to sort out a problem between my tablet and my dashboard at WordPress. We succeed, and I manage to send off the second installment of “Maria! Maria!” to my WordPress blog from home.  

I make lunch using what I imagine to be seasoning peppers from the garden, but they turn out to be extra hot and my food is ruined. Shit, man. As I’m cursing the peppers, the phone rings. The representative from the World Food Program informs me that I have another installment of WFP money waiting at the St. Joseph village council office. What, boy? I thought that was finished. He says it’s a one-time payment, and I can pick it up tomorrow. Great. I only have one question — if I am so blessed, why am I so depressed? It must be all the rain, or maybe it’s the fact that my old Rottweiler, Babylon, has a grossly swollen head and seems to have gone blind in one eye. It started with a runny nose about 3 months ago, and the sneezing and coughing up blood. I had the vet for antibiotics to no avail, then he cut off a growth under the dog’s tongue which bled like a stuck pig for 3 days and then stopped. I thought he was getting better, then all of a sudden Baby went completely blind! I wonder if he doesn’t have cancer. He’s still eating and I take him out on a short leash so he won’t bump into things, but I feel so sorry for him.

AUGUST: Don’t Trust

August is a month of celebrating emancipation in Dominica. I had thought about launching Nobody Owns the Rainbow in conjunction with August Monday, at the beginning of the month, but after the cultural events that occur at the Old Mill, which includes dance, music and an art exhibition but nothing literary, folks are accustomed to taking a vacation before school starts in September. Luckily, Anne, my friend at Papillote Wilderness Retreat in Trafalgar, decides to host an art exhibition for a mutual friend of ours on the 12th, and I am able to take my books there. It’s a lovely spot with a hotel, restaurant, gardens and hot springs, most of which has been restored since Maria. The crowd turns out to be just the kind of people for me to chat up. I have a good time and sell quite a few books. At 6 p.m. I make my exit and drive like a maniac to reach home before it gets dark at 7.

On Monday a guy comes to measure the metal gates that need to be replaced after fifteen years of service at River Ridge. (Maria dealt them a final blow.) I know he is not the best welder around, but he used to be my mechanic and helped me out of some tight situations, and I know his family needs the money. I give him a deposit for materials, and he says he’ll complete the job in five days.  

On Tuesday morning, a set of roof people show up. (I now realize that my case has been juggled between a couple of different aid agencies.) These folks are from the IOM, International Organization for Migration, sponsored by the UN. Two nice young Dominicans, Nathaniel, the supervisor, and Jewel, his sidekick, spend a long time taking pictures of flowers, gathering herbs, and telling hurricane stories. On Wednesday, a long dump truck that actually manages to back down my driveway and over the bridge delivers the materials. There are about six other people involved besides Jewel and the driver, and they all have drinks in hand. After endless chatter and confusion, the lumber, galvanized, nails, screws are in my possession. Great. Jewel says she will call to let me know when the work is schedule d to begin.

The next day, a set of neighbors that have never been invited to set foot on my property for various reasons arrive with an order to take away four sheets of galvanized. What? I’ve waited eleven months to get this stuff and now they’re taking it away after 24 hours? When I find out that these are the guys assigned to put on my roof, my heart sinks. I know beggars can’t be choosers, but as far as I know none of them has much roofing experience. On one hand, just like with the gate builder, I like to give people a step up and a chance to improve their skills. On the other hand, I wonder if they can handle the job. I have plans to visit my family in the States in September, so I hope they will be done before then. Maybe it’s better if I’m not around if and when anything goes drastically off the rails. As I’ve said many times before, I never signed up to be “de white boss” so it’s a good thing John will be around to keep an eye on them.

The IOM roofers return and start on the house on August 15. Luckily, the weather holds up and they finish what they are authorized to do in 5 days. About halfway through, the guys inform me that I need to buy 14 more sheets of galvanized, but Nathaniel comes to my rescue and has them delivered along with plenty of extra lumber and plywood the same day. The inside of the house now resembles a big barn with the bare underside of the galvanized showing and the rafters exposed. Sheets of plywood running the wrong way block the sides. Although they never intended to do the veranda, they refuse to divert from their plan so that it can attach to the wall of the house instead of an extension of the new roof, which is bad in case of the next hurricane. Oh well. Before they can come for the extra wood, John has already used it to construct the frame for the veranda. I’ll have to buy more galvanized, but other than that most of the roof was a gift.    

Meanwhile, I’ve located another growth on the edge of Baby’s gums that bleeds profusely when you press it. Just as I’m about to call the vet again, the very expensive new gates arrive—big, clunky, boxy atrocities with menacing spikes on top. Ug! After you pass down my long driveway surrounded by hedges of colorful flowers, the gates are the first thing that greets you. Stop! Beware! War in Progress! That is the message the new gates broadcasts loud and clear. The way I see it, I have two choices about the gates and the dog: try to fix the problem, or live with it. But I am not a welder or a magician, so again I’ll just have to wait and see.

September: Remember

The roof is on (more or less) and the plane is on the runway. Never mind that my dream home now more resembles a barn with a high pitched roof that exposes galvanized corrugation from the inside and that Hurricane Isaac is marching across the Atlantic toward the Lesser Antilles as a Category 1 storm. I am off to the States to check on my boys, Zach and Josh, my three grandchildren, and my friends, all of whom have their own set of paersonal problems—emotional, marital, and health wise.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since Maria. Before I leave home, I secure my few remaining belongings and leave the rest to John, poor guy. Currently, there are no windows in the big hutch and the veranda roof isn’t nailed down, so of course I’m worried. Truth be told, I’d rather stay on island and face the music rather than fret about it from abroad, but the developed world awaits.

Amazingly, the official death toll death toll in Puerto Rico has risen from 67 to almost 3,000 despite President Trump’s claim of stellar response. The threat of Category 4 Hurricane Florence to the Carolinas is yet another wake up call for a world where some folks still insist that climate change isn’t real. Luckily, Isaac is downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reaches Dominica and does little damage. Florence, however, made landfall as a Category 1 and continues to dump rain measured in feet instead of inches on the eastern seaboard and inland. It will be interesting to see if Donald takes this hurricane more seriously than Maria. His narcissistic world finally seems to be seems to be crumbling around him. Dude, where is my country?

As much as I love my family and friends, I feel like a fish out of water in the States. The time spent in front of the TV watching news, sit coms, and sports combined with the endless hours spent in the car and eating fast food on the run is debilitating. That’s not how I want to spend the last years of my life. Sure, it’s great to be mobile and have proper roads and telecommunications, but life on the Nature Island (despite the relative struggle) is still worth it in my mind.

Apart from the lack of convenience, the deep and abiding love I have for Dominica is second only to that of my family. Let’s just hope the hurricane season settles down for the rest of the year, I reach home safely, and, God spare, I can linger in “paradise” a bit longer.  

 

 

Maria! Maria! Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane: Second Quarter, 2018

APRIL, 2018: Reggae on the Beach

Reggae on the Beach comes and goes at the beginning of April. It is sparsely attended—no Nelly—plus six months after Maria, it’s still difficult to organize fun things in Dominica or get folks to spend money on anything but rum to make them forget their worries. Mashed up roads, businesses, houses, and beaches are in the majority. There is trash strewn everywhere and dogs and people are begging on the street. In the course of six hours, I sell two books: one to an old friend of mine, a Rasta tour guide/ lawyer who is flying higher than a kite, and the other to a handsome Brazilian couple who are the generous international sailors that sponsored the event. It was a lot of work for $100, but at least I was on TV.

When I get home, I discover two of my dogs have been poisoned: Rosie, the local mongrel, and Homer, the homebred Rottweiler. Although I have a fair idea of what to do, there’s no antidote for Gramoxone poisoning, which is the flavor of the month according to my ruthless, ignorant neighbors. Most of the dogs that ingest bait laced with the organophosphate don’t survive; it’s a long drawn out death—the poison burns out the lining of the esophagus before it migrates to the stomach, lungs, liver, and kidneys. The only defense is activated charcoal, which I always keep on hand, or dirt mixed with milk, assuming the dog will take it by syringe. Fortunately, both of these dogs are co-operative. After two weeks of their suffering and my crawling around on my hands and knees in the kennel, they’ve both lost a lot of weight, but are almost back to normal.

I wish I could say the same for John. He has decided to put his daughter, who lives in Martinique, in charge of his medical attention. Great. I’d like to think that I’m off the hook.  The fact that I begged doctors there to respond to my emails concerning his health problem makes no difference. He has an appointment for May 15, and I wish him luck.

At fifty-seven years of age, he has never been off the island, so this will be quite the adventure. If it was me, I’d simply buy a ferry ticket and go, but for Dominicans, everything as to be “pull strings,” meaning that there has to be some kind of inside deal negotiated to get the job done. The entire process takes weeks of back and forth up and down the road to save a couple of bucks. Never mind the wear and tear on the transport or the gas money involved. Well, at least he finally has his passport and a savings account with a debit card, so the rest is up to him.  

Out of the blue, my oldest son Zach and my 13-year-old grandson Jake offer to come down and help in July. Help what? Neither of them has any manual labor skills nor is Dominica a place to take a Caribbean vacation during hurricane season. Still, I hate to say no. I have so little contact with my children and grandchildren as it is. Yet where would they sleep? Certainly not in the garage, which is the only space available. Without a freezer full of junk food and a grocery store around the corner, what would they eat? Can they drink river water? Can they stand a cold shower? With no TV or Net Flex or lights, what would they do for entertainment at night? (John and I usually go to bed by 8 o’clock.) What if the weather turns vile and they cannot leave? I worry about it constantly until Zach wisely decides that they’d just as soon go fishing at a “rustic” lake in Tennessee.  

In the meantime, my neighbor Mercy visits me accompanied by people from an organization called CREED, whatever that means. I fill out a form and they take pictures of my ruined house. After I estimate the number of 2x4s, 2x6s, sheets of ceiling plywood, and galvanized it will take to fix my roof and have it signed by a local contractor, they assure me they will provide the materials and labor necessary since I’m old, John is disabled, and I have no insurance. (Why would anyone have insurance when the value of the roof is always the amount of the depreciation and the victim is always over or underinsured according to the agency?) When I ask them when they intend to perform this act of charity, they cannot tell me. Let’s just hope its sooner rather than later. As it turns out, everybody in Layou Park gets materials but me. Mercy says it’s because she requested materials AND labor for me. We’ll see.

MAY, 2018 : Stress

John goes to Martinique a couple of days ahead of time and comes back the same afternoon as his doctor’s appointment loaded with new clothes and jewelry. He can’t tell me the name of the doctor who ordered a new round of tests, nor can any lab or clinic here in Dominica figure out what the doctor wants because it is scribbled in French. After hours of running around town, I finally am able to get the secretary of his Cuban gastroenterologist to translate and order the tests. The effort takes its toll. By the time I reach home, I am practically comatose.

Should I blame the lousy way I feel on stress? I figure my blood pressure must be sky high considering John’s on going situation and the lack of progress at home after the hurricane. Yet my pressure and my heart checks out okay, so it must be something else. Actually, I feel the same way I did a year ago before a transfusion due to low blood hemoglobin, so I go to a lab and have my blood tested. OMG. A lot of very low numbers cause the technician to call me off the street and send me straight to a doctor that very same day. We do have an internal medicine guy in Dominica, but he wouldn’t be in his office until Tuesday and this was Friday. I make an appointment, get a set of iron and B-12 supplements at the drug store, and drag myself back home.

This all started with a dog bite in December 2016. No ordinary dog bite, mind you. I was attacked by one of my own Rotweilers in a fit of misdirected rage. A branch of the femoral artery was punctured, and by the time I reached a medical clinic 45 minutes later, I was in danger of bleeding to death. Bloob sprayed on the walls and the ceiling of the operating room in a steady stream. I was wide awake as the doctor stitched me upwith no anesthesia. At one point, I went into shock, vomited and soiled my underpants. Yet they sent me home the same day with no pain pills and no mention of blood suplementation. “Blood builds back fast,” the Nigerian doctor said.

Of course the wound didn’t heal properly. Four months later, I was back in surgery, and still no one bothered to monitor my blood. I went to the States in a wheelchair to try to recuperate, but didn’t get much TLC there either. Back in Dominica, tests revealed my blood hemoglobin was 4.9. (Normal is 12.0 -15.) No wonder I felt like shit. The doctor ordered me straight to the hospital for a transfusion, but I waited for three miserable days in a ward with twenty-two other sick and dying women before I got it because it was apparently up to me to track down my own donors! (From my hospital bed?) Meanwhile, the overhead florescent lights were on all night long, there was barely any food, and three women died and got carted away. At one point, I had to pound on the door after nurses locked me out on the veranda to get back into the ward! I felt better immediately after the transfusion and couldn’t wait to go home. But wait a minute. Now they had discovered occult blood in my stool (which I later found out was a false test result) and wanted to do a colonoscopy! No, man. Enough was enough. I practically got down on my knees and begged to be released.

I went home and ate steak and lamb chops and liver and red beans and beets. I took supplements for another couple of months and then I had a follow up blood test. Everything was okay. I felt fine and went about my business as usual—that is until Maria rocked my world. Now I’m back in the same situation. The internal medicine doctor orders a set of expensive tests and I wait a week for the results. The good news is that there’s no sign of internal bleeding, cancer or leukemia. He suspects it’s a chronic iron deficiency and says I should have another transfusion. The bad news is the only place to do that is at the hospital, and I’m NEVER going back there; Post Hurricane Maria, the situation is even more desperate than before. Nor, he agrees, would he ever send a patient there unless it was a dire emergency. The other bad news is he going back to Cuba for three months. He prescribes super-duper iron pills and orders another blood test for a week before he returns. Meanwhile, it’s back to toxic liver and onions while I wait. I should be used to waiting by now, but as we say in Dominica, ‘Weight (wait) is a heavy load.’ Ha. Ha.

I am surprised when I’m informed that I’ve been selected as one of seventy-nine people to receive EC $400 per month for four months as part of the “Rapid Response” aid to elderly victims of Hurricane Maria. (Rapid response? It’s been eight months since the hurricane, and I’m still roofless.) Not that I think the government owes me anything, but $1600 should be enough to buy me a plane ticket out of this confusion if necessary.

Truth be told, the whole idea of climate resilience, as touted by PM Skerrit and his housing revolution makes me shiver. One of the reasons I moved to Dominica was to be closer to the natural world, the really real world, as I like to call it in my books. Now the government wants to move people from traditional village cottages into prefabricated concrete houses manufactured by Petro Casa of Venezuela—or, better yet, into multifamily apartment buildings designed by architects who have never set foot on Dominica. Single mothers are especially worthy in the eyes of the government, as are the elderly like me, but let me tell them something. Even though I currently reside in a one-room shack with a corrugated metal roof and two chickens and five dogs in the yard, I’d rather be dead than to move into something designed by robots that deserves to be plunked down in the suburbs of Miami complete with drug dealers and prostitutes.

I mean come on. What happened to the ethic of maintaining the health of a traditional community from the inside out?  When local culture expects foreigners to fix things instead of addressing their problems communally, ordinary people become dependent. This so-called generosity of inappropriate gifts, which often translates into a ploy to win votes and other special favors, results in internal violence that paralyses the citizenry. And trust me; paybacks are hell. So watch it Dominicans, or you just might end up with even more trouble on your hands.

JUNE, 2018 : Too Soon

So here we are in the next hurricane season. Nine months after Maria, I still have no lights, phone, or internet at home. Nothing has been done to the big hutch or the ruined road, and John hasn’t had his operation. Wait is indeed a heavy load, especially when it comes to technology, infrastructure, and medical attention.

As far as the restoring of Eden according to Nature, progress has been mixed. The river is still an embarrassment, devoid of fish, crabs or crayfish. Otherwise, the landscape has returned to mostly green—vegetation appears to be almost normal—that is if you don’t look up to the heights. Hummingbirds and bees attend the flowers in the yard, and the vegetable garden is thriving. Along with stands of intrepid bamboo, African tulip trees overrun the middle part of the Morne Couronne. They are so hardy that every fallen branch has taken root, sprouted, and is happily blooming its invasive head off. The effect is lovely—fresh greenery accented by scarlet blossoms. In the absence of more endemic hardwood species, these beautiful but rather useless trees appear to run things.

Five hundred feet above the African tulips, the endemic trees on the top of the ridge remain barren and disfigured. Hurricane force winds were even stronger up there and the scant topsoil, never exactly stable, combined with excessive rainfall has taken its toll. Still (like me) they struggle on, but the effect is more reminiscent of scrubland than the former home of the giants of the tropical rainforest.

While waiting for something positive to happen, like a set of angels to show up with free materials and labor to fix my roof, or the surgeon in Martinique to miraculously fix John, I decide to take the bull by the horns. I have a bit of extra bit of mad money to spend since I got my second payment from the government sustenance allowance for old folks, and my friend’s dog is in the kennel for six weeks. So, let’s see. What do I really, really need? I order new reading glasses and attend to my teeth. I pay to have the thousands of e-mails that have been clogging up my computer since December deleted and a new version of Microsoft Word installed. Beyond that, there’s nothing else I can fix for the time.

While wave after tropical wave pummels the island with torrential rain like a power washer gone mad, I am stuck inside watching the weather. The already treacherous roads become ever more dangerous as rivers flood, and temporary bridges wash away. Duh. Maybe government should have started repairing Maria’s mischief BEFORE the advent of another hurricane season. (Actually, some of the damage remains from Tropical Storm Erika two and a half years ago.) Meanwhile, my bones are aching, there’s no hot water in the shower, it’s too cold to bathe in the pool, and the sea is exceptionally rough. Since I slipped and hurt my knee while working in the garden, hiking, even in the rain, is out of the question. Élas. By the end of June, I feel paralyzed and impotent, at odds with the cosmos and myself.

Maria! Maria! Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane: First Quarter, 2018

JANUARY, 2018 :  Key West

Ho, hum. Christmas 2017 has come and gone, and Santa had no place to land his team of reindeer because I’m still roofless. Most Dominicans are already looking forward to an early Carnival, while I am looking forward to getting off this god-forsaken island and freeing up my head. For one thing, I have run out of books to read. There’s no library, and even if we did have a post office, the price of ordering books from overseas is completely cost prohibitive. I suppose I should think about a Kindle, but to me that feels like being a traitor to the tradition of paper-based books. Besides; how would I charge the contraption?  

Thank God for the Key West Literary Seminar, a wonderful event I previously attended in 2015. This year’s theme is “Writers of the Caribbean” (Perfect!) and the lineup is spectacular—Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Robert Antoni, Marlon James, Kei Miller—all my contemporary Caribbean literary heroes. Since I was lucky to get a scholarship to both the seminar and the workshop, I shall go with an empty suitcase and return refreshed with a treasure trove of Caribbean books to read.

Unfortunately, there is no way to reach Key West from Dominica in one day. I overnight in Barbados and then on to Miami and KW. I reach my bed and breakfast, Author’s House, after dark on the second day. The 73-year-old concierge, Barby, greets me. She shows me to my room (nice, with a microwave and a fridge) and asks if I’ve had dinner. Without a second thought, she drives me around to nearby grocers and delis so I can pick up something to eat and drink.  Although I have missed Jamaica Kincaid’s opening address, I fall into bed satiated and wake up the next day ready to rock and roll.

It’s about a 20-minute walk to the San Carlos Institute where the seminar is held. Although Hurricane Irma passed here 3 months ago, everything is spick and span as usual. Old Key West has a flavor all its own—architecturally, literarily, and artistically—and I enjoy the walk. I breakfast upstairs with some of the gracious hosts who have made my visit possible before the seminar begins, and I’m introduced to Daria Sorhaindo, a teacher from Dominica who is also here on scholarship. The auditorium, which holds several hundred people, is packed, and we settle down to listen and learn from 9 a.m. At lunchtime, I dive into the array of Caribbean books for sale in the lobby like a pile of candy, knowing that this is my chance to purchase some cutting edge regional reading material. The after lunch session is just as thrilling and lasts until 5 p.m. I decline an invitation to see the film Poetry is an Island, a documentary about Derek Walcott that I’ve seen before. Instead, I head back to my room to digest what I’ve heard and eat the remains of last night’s supper. I watch TV for a while (a rare treat for me) and fall asleep during the 11:00 news.

Saturday is full of more inspiration. Daria and I sit together and talk about what we’ve learned at lunch. Following the afternoon session, she’s off to another the Derek Walcott event and a late complimentary dinner, while I head home to the Jacuzzi, which is right outside my door. I enjoy talking to Barby, who informs me she is an artist and the former Queen of the Conch Republic. Go figure. She gives me a beautiful salad left by a departing guest and a slice of Key Lime pie. Delicious.

On Sunday, I take an alternate route to the San Carlos, past the old cemetery that is reminiscent of New Orleans with its mausoleums and raised cement burial sites. (The highest place in Key West is 5 feet above sea level.) I meet Daria for a cup of coffee and we settle down for the particularly hilarious morning seminar with Robert Antoni. After a complimentary conch chowder lunch at Oldest House, we amble back for the afternoon session, which is open to the public. We enjoy Edwidge Danticat’s amazing literary observations, then we go out to dinner and say goodbye. She is heading home, and I am staying on for another 3 days of workshopping.

Monday night, the participants for all the workshops drink wine and dine on Ernest Hemmingway’s lawn! That’s right, folks. I chat with Arlo and Freya, the gracious KWLS directors who have made all this possible for me, and reconnect with Martha Payne who was in my Lee Smith workshop in 2015. Then I find our table where I meet my workshop leader, Naomi Jackson, and Adeli, another writer in my group who is staying at my B&B. We make it back home just before midnight, which is way past my bedtime, but the next morning the self-serve breakfast is on the table by 7 a.m. and the location of the workshop isn’t far. There are 12 of us with novels in progress, 3 each day from 9-12 for 4 days. (I have made a mistake on my itinerary and have to leave a day early.) One is a cool black guy, but the rest (except for Naomi) are white women, of whom I am the oldest.

The afternoons are free. Usually we head to lunch as a group to get to know one another. There is a planned activity every evening, including an open mic. I chose to read the opening passage from River of Fire, and feel proud of what I have written. The time limit is 3-5 minutes, but some people abuse the constraint, which leaves others high and dry. What is it with artistic types? Why are they often so myopic and self-centered? I head out in the wrong direction when I leave the theatre and end up eating dinner at an Italian restaurant with a very cool elderly local woman who used to work in the US State Department before I finally find my way home!  

Next day is my turn to workshop the first 20 pages of my 100,000-word novel Rise Up Sister. No one seems especially impressed, including me. Something is wrong, but nobody seems to be able to tell me what it is beyond Naomi who says, “Part of being a writer is to be willing to throw away your bad choices.” I give away a dozen of my books so I’ll have room for the new ones I’ve purchased in my luggage. Checking out of Author’s House, Barby presents me with a print of one of her paintings and fifty one-dollar bills to apply to my roof repair. When we hug goodbye, I find I have tears in my eyes. Key West is always an adventure, and I wonder if I’ll ever make it back again. I hope so.  

At home in Dominica, everything looks worse than I remember. For the first time in twenty-five years, I am painfully aware that I live in the Third World. When I try to share my enthusiasm for Key West, no one seems very interested, including my fellow Waitukubuli Writers. To go from such a literary mecca to a literary desert is quite a shock. It takes me the rest of the month to catch up…with what, I’m not quite sure.

For some reason I am feeling tired again: short of breath, rapid pulse, and weak legs. I can’t understand it. Maybe this is what it feels like to get old. Yet I managed to walk miles all around Key West, where everything was flat and pleasant. So what is the problem besides the general ongoing struggle in Dominica? Everything is so DIFFICULT! From driving on the treacherous roads, to fighting for fruit in the market, to struggling to start the generator every time I need electricity.  Yikes!  Although I’ve never really suffered from depression, I feel a renewed sense of hopelessness settle over me according to the state of disarray. I’m beginning to realize that the island will never be the same after Maria . . . Just because something is over doesn’t mean it stops happening.

FEBRUARY 2018: Don’t Stop de Carnival

Well, one thing you can say for Dominicans: They love their Carnival. The calypsos this year are actually quite good. (There’s been plenty to write about.) I spend some good times catching up with old friends who are on island for the fete. We lunch on the balcony of a restaurant that overlooks the streets of Roseau. Never mind that the food sucks, the streets are filthy, and the surrounding buildings are falling apart. It’s Carnival and Dominica sweet, boy, so none of that matters.

Once the king is crowned and Val-Val buried, reality returns, and we are right back in the struggle. No lights, no phone, no supplies, and no love. Shortly afterward, I get a text message from UNICEF saying that I am to receive monetary assistance from the WFP (World Food Program). Great. All I have to do is go to the social services office in the ministry building in town and pick up my money. They don’t tell me how much. The next morning, I circle Roseau for a parking spot and then wait for over an hour in the office with about 20 other desperate people only to be told I’m supposed to go to the village council office in my constituency of St. Joseph. By then it’s almost noon, so I race down the west coast highway only to find the office is closed. I go to the next-door police station where I’m told that the council people are out to lunch. I wait until 2:30, but no one ever comes back.  

The next day, Friday, I return. I am told that I am definitely on the list to receive financial assistance, but it won’t be available until Tuesday after 2 o’clock. Understand that the round trip to St. Joseph takes over two hours across seriously compromised roads, so I am none too pleased. But hey! This is (used to be) the Nature Island of the Caribbean, so I am privileged to live here. Right? On Tuesday, I meet at least 100 people standing in line in the hot sun outside the village council office. Only one person is allowed in at a time, so the process takes hours. Neighbors reproach the cheeky people who push ahead. Some hopefuls wait all that time and come out empty handed because they’re not on the list. In the First World, there might have been a riot, but Dominicans are used to taking their blows. When I finally get inside, I am rewarded with EC $240, barely enough to pay for my gas. Welcome to Paradise, Kristine.

The ongoing situation with John’s health is another example of how frustrating it can be to live on a small island. He had a stroke about 5 years ago, but recovered nicely because of his stubbornness to give in and the fact that I paid for a private hospital room and his physical therapy. He stopped smoking and drinking alcohol, ate well, and was on the mend until an inability to swallow laid him low. We finally found the right doctor, a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed suspected achalasia. He needs to travel overseas to get it fixed, but because John can barely read or write, this is going to be difficult. He has no passport, no birth certificate, no one to travel with him, and on and on and on. Between doctor’s appointments and tramping around town trying to sort out the bureaucracy, I soon became emotionally and physically exhausted.

Still, I didn’t give up. I got an invoice for the cost of the operation from Cuba Heal. After running around from one building to the next in the blistering heat, John applied for temporary financial assistance from the government of Dominica in July of 2017. We heard nothing in August, and then of course there was Maria in September. It was the middle of October before the staff of the Red Clinic, which is the nickname given to the prime minister’s office, began to answer their phone. It was November before I even got a phone with which to call them. Naturally, there was a lot of confusion. One department blamed the delay on another, and the accusations flew back and forth like the ball in a game of ping-pong with me as the net.

Let’s face it. Being “de white lady” can be an advantage or a disadvantage when you’re trying to sort something out in the Caribbean. It took every ounce of patience I could muster to stay civil on the phone while I got the run around. All the while, John was getting worse and looking for someone to blame—me— which added to my level of post-Maria stress.

Then, just when I thought the situation was hopeless, I called the Red Clinic one more time, and I could not believe my ears. Did Ms. Davis in Accounts just tell me that John can pick up his check after lunch on Friday? I ask her to repeat what she just said to make sure. Then I do a happy dance and pass the news to John, who seems strangely unaffected. I guess that’s because I have done all the legwork while he sits back and grumbles. Anyway, he gets the check. It’s made out to him personally, so he can do anything he wants with it—buy a transport, build a pig pen, give it to his daughter, whatever. When I tell him he now has more money than I have, he is unamused. Hmm. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

MARCH 2018: Rise Up Sister

What can you do except keep on keepin’ on? The repairs on the guesthouse are proceeding slowly: the ceiling is sealed and painted, and the veranda has been extended so as to hold the oversized dining table that has been clogging up my office. There’s a privacy fence railing around the perimeter to keep the chickens out and the dogs in.  Bati Mamzelle almost feels like home, although definitely not large enough for two people.

Every time I walk out the front door, however, the ruins of the big hutch confront me. I still have some money to fix it, but none of the contractors who have come to look have come back. John and a new helper have torn all the lumber off the roof and the veranda, so all that remains is the concrete block skeleton similar to a Mayan ruin minus the thatched roof.

After we removed the tarpaulin from Samaritan’s Purse, even more water leaked into the downstairs as a result. The rain has been especially abundant this year, which is good for the greening of Dominica, but bad for my shriveled up feet. Every morning and afternoon, I have to sweep water out of the downstairs veranda before I can feed the dogs; therefore my shoes are always wet. I must try to find a new pair of lightweight boots because it doesn’t look like this situation will change anytime soon.

Since my feet are wet already, I decide to head to the beach in Mero where I meet my friend Frederique, a retired French restauranteur who has hosted two of my book launches at Romance Café. She tells me she is planning Reggae on the Beach again this year, a benefit for the Dominica Association of Disabled People. I agree to participate as a bookseller and a reader if she needs me. We reminisce about the last time we saw Nelly Stharre at the event, a deceased local reggae artist with extraordinary talent and a big heart. But I decline to hear Frederique’s version of what really happened to our friend. That’s what’s so great about writing fiction. If you don’t like what’s going on in the real world, you can crawl into your manuscript and give the story a noble ending.