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. 


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.  

Maria! Maria! Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane

NOVEMBER 2017: The New Normal

Since there’s not much more I can do without money or materials, I am working on transferring this handwritten journal to the computer in the mornings. In the afternoons, I pick up glass from the solar water heater in the backyard. That’s about it. Giselle gets the corrections to Island Time from the proofreader and together we venture to Roseau to send the manuscript to the Burt Award. (I so need to WIN something, especially at this unstable junction of my literary career, but the book wasn’t even mentioned.) On the way to the Fort Young Hotel, we pass the ruined public free library, built a century ago by the Carnegie Foundation.

Élas. There is a big truck parked in front of it hauling the sodden books away to the dump, including my own well-worn titles. We beg our way into the mashed-up Fort Young and order an extra expensive lunch so we can have permission to use their Wi-Fi. After I check 267 unattended emails, some of which are from long lost friends who have heard of the hurricane and are concerned about me, we get the job done. I see Dr. Rick, the vet, in the meantime, and we make a date to have my 17-year-old mongrel Karma euthanized because of a serious nasal infection that’s gotten worse since Maria.

Giselle and I then proceed to Flow to buy a device with mobile data, but there are no phones or tablets left for sale. When I ask about getting back my landline restored, I am told it will take at least 6 months. “Six months!” After waiting in line for an hour, I buy a tablet with a sim card at Digicel that they say might work from Pond Cassé. It does not, so I make an appointment with Giselle for the day after tomorrow to help me get the dilemma sorted out. Maybe she can also help me replace my old computer, which has many idiosyncrasies, with the new one that has never been out of the box. I reach home exhausted. It’s almost dark when Dr. Rick arrives to put Karma down. She has had a long life for a little castaway dog I found her by the roadside, but it is past time for her to go. The good news is that I truly believe my dogs eventually come back to me via doggie reincarnation. (Karma, Karma, Karma Karmelion, you come and go, oh, oh.)

Still, it’s always sad lose them for a while.

Scores of fires burn bright across the valley after nightfall. Orange flames lick into the dark sky and illuminate the horrific scars on the mountainside; thick smoke obscures the usually brilliant moon and stars. Living in so-called paradise is nothing soft, and it would be so easy to give up. As I write, they say 30,000 Dominicans have left the island. My question is do I still wish to qualify as a Caribbean writer, or would I be better off as a refugee? My hope is that scribbling in this journal will help illuminate the answer. Six weeks after the hurricane, the catch phrase “new normal” begins to sink in. I try to accomplish something on my new devices, but the computer won’t take a charge and the tablet is faulty, so its off to town yet again. We walk right into the Fort Young intending to use the Wi-Fi using good ole Frankenputer, dragging its external devices along like excess baggage.

I order two of the mandatory overpriced lunches, and we chat with the UNICEF personnel for a while. Everything is cool until I knock the sugar bowl off the cramped table. When I apologize, the waitress gives me a weary look. Someone else comes to clean up the mess while I check my email and send a short story off to the Commonwealth Prize.

After lunch, I feel dizzy and feverish. I wonder if I haven’t contracted one of those mosquito borne viruses like Zika considering the amount of open sewers a person has to negotiate in Roseau. The Fort Young, with all its well-intentioned aid workers (UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, World Food Program, etc.) also distresses me. Although they are well intentioned, the task of restoring Dominican lives to their pre-Maria existence will not happen overnight. It will be years, if ever, before things get back to the “old normal.” Just when we’re ready to leave, Giselle’s mother calls and says there’s a rockslide under the Canefield cliffs. It takes two more hours for it to clear. While we wait, I confirm my latest novel, Nobody Owns the Rainbow, is on its way from the printer in the UK to Dominica by sea. It should arrive on either November 16 or the 31st.  Dealing with the port is a pain, but at least there’s the reward of holding my very own book in my hand.

Giselle and I stop at the grocery store on our way home. It’s a zoo filled with rude, seemingly desperate people. She has taken to pushing my cart and reading my list like I’m an invalid, which is fine with me. We face a similarly long line at the gas station before I drop her at home and drive to Cochrane to pick up another bag of dogfood a friend has nabbed for me. Eight hours after I left home, I reach River Ridge in the pouring rain.  

Sorry, but I can’t possibly go out again anytime soon. I’d rather pick up glass from the solar water heater than go through the humiliation of feeling like a wart at the mighty Fort Young. John and a new helper called Bully, who is rough and tough like his name, cover the big hutch roof with a blue tarpaulin we got from Samaritan’s Purse. It’s too small for the house, and when it rains it sends great gallons of water inside like a blast from a fire hose. I try to keep the flood mopped up, but after a while I realize it’s futile and give up. So I cook a nice supper of sweet potatoes, corn, chicken and spinach and call it a dayThe next day is a holiday in Dominica—Independence Day—although I bet quite a few folks wish they still had a mother country to depend on. It’s a beautiful morning with the sun lighting up the mountains across the valley like a strobe lamp. I want to do some yoga, but John is already pounding on the roof. I answer some emails and finish a short story, but I have no idea where or when I will be near Wi-Fi to send them out. Although I swore I’d never pick up a paint brush again, I decide to refresh the dirty front door and shutters of Bati Mamzelle. It looks a lot better when I’m done. In late afternoon, I have a long conversation with my son Josh, and then I take the dogs to the river to clear my head. I think back on my first years in Dominica when everything was so new. As described in my first novel, A Face in the River, Paradise was a puzzle I couldn’t wait to solve until rum, obeah, and betrayal cast their shadow on my dream romance.

The next morning promises a lovely day, but not for the two rabbits the dogs killed during the night. Isn’t there enough destruction already? I start picking up glass before the sun gets too hot. Not knowing it’s yet another holiday, John goes to town for PVC cement, but returns saying shops are closed. On Sunday, while charging the deep cell batteries left over from the solar electrical system so we can run DC lighting to Bati Mamzelle, he tears out the plywood partitions in the big hutch. My job is to repaint them so we can use them to seal the ceiling in the guesthouse rather than just let them rotten. Of course we’re short on white paint, so I get drunk instead.

On Monday, I buy more paint and pay for the next 100-pound cylinder of gas while Bully and John clean out the cistern. When I return, Bully has cut his finger rather badly, so I break out the iodine and bandages, and send him home with a bag of plasters. I had intended to paint when I got home, but it’s raining. I proofread my short story one more time, hoping to send it in on the morrow. It’s after dark when I make a pasta dish out of tinned corned beef for supper, which only the dogs will eat.

Tuesday is D-Day. I spend the entire morning standing in line with Giselle, God bless her. It is determined that the tablet that Digicel sold me 2 weeks ago will never work outside of Wi-Fi, so what good is it? I upgrade to a more expensive version, but I still can’t get it to function properly. We proceed to the Fort Young and manage to get the files from Frankenputer transferred to Asus, my new computer. I sort out my email and send off the short story, The World According to Mother, to Salomé, a new literary magazine for women. Then I download the material for the workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar, which I plan to attend via scholarship in January, God spare. Next, I try to figure out how to resend my signature to the Burt Award entry form, which they say is improperly done. I acknowledge a rejection slip for my short story “Go-Go,” submitted before the hurricane, from Interviewing the Caribbean. Boohoo. But as usual Opal, the editor, gives me a second chance. Finally, I send my request for a loan to fix my house to the US Bank via my oldest son, Zach, the financial wizard.

I leave my signature and new computer with Giselle so she can sort out the Burt Award issue. When I finally get home, the old computer balks, as if it’s upset that I transferred all its precious info to the new one! The next day, Giselle and I head to our favorite computer repair guy to fix Frankenputer and install Outlook Express on Asus. He says he doesn’t have any time for us, so I guess we’ll just have to figure out how to send the signature in on the tablet. We do, but when I check my e-mail I realize that Zach has failed to forward the loan request to my bank.

Trust me; there’s no way I can return to town the following day. Best I stick to painting plywood. At least it’s something I know I can do, and when I’m done (if I ever am) I’ll have something to show for it. As John is putting a small porch over the front door, gas starts leaking from the lamp next to it because of all the pounding.  It’s always something. A surprise visit from my friend Karen, who cries when she sees my destroyed house for the first time, gets me out of painting plywood for the afternoon.  The dogs, Gouti, D’Jango, and Babylon, are delighted to see her, and of course so am I. 

Now that the pump is fixed, Max returns and cleans out the swimming pool.  Hurray! Do you suppose there’s any way I can take a dip before I die? Someone should do a time-lapse film of the greening of Dominica. Everywhere you look things are sprouting and even blooming. Unfortunately, island technology isn’t able to keep pace with nature as there is no cell phone service again today. When it does work, it’s extravagantly expensive. I must try to figure out a better way. Maybe I should change my Digicel sim card to Flow. . . maybe tomorrow.

Giselle and I visit the bank, post office, the phone company, and the computer repair in the morning. We stand in line for hours to no avail, and then face the Fort Young again in the afternoon, where the restaurant is buzzing with flies. After lunch, I answer dozens of emails and start feeling sick again. It could be the swarms of insects, or maybe I’m just fed up with their attitude and their food. We stop for groceries, gas, to top up cell phones, and to buy some vitamin C—you know the routine.  On my way up the feeder road, I meet a woman taking a survey to find out which citizens in Dominica most need assistance after Maria. Me! Me! Me! Yes, I’m 70 years old. Yes, my partner John had a stroke. Yes, damage was severe to my house. No, I didn’t have insurance. She says she will get back to me, which I doubt. But then again you never know.

Next day, Max alternately cleans up the backyard and helps John put up the ceiling in Bati Mamzelle. It’s nice to have him back around. I personally am useless, feeling feverish and weak. I sleep for most of the day, eat an early supper, and then fall back into bed. Thankfully, I feel better in the morning. After breakfast, I tidy up the pool yard and then paint the eves under the front porch. I guess it’s not time to hang up my paintbrush and roller yet. The dogs and I head to the river in the afternoon. One thing I know for sure: A river always follows the course of least resistance. Good advice, don’t you think? Apparently, it’s a lesson I’m still need to learn.

Max digs a bed for me to plant green beans while I attempt to paint the outside front wall of Bati Mamzelle where the plastering is rough. It turns out okay, but by the time I’m finished, I’m worn out. I manage to give Babylon the Rottweiler a bath later in the afternoon, and then decide to rest up for a day in town tomorrow. John needs new tools, and I can always use help carrying groceries. We get the tools, but the shelves of the grocery store are semi-blank. I wrangle two bags of dogfood, which I feel like dumping on the streets of Roseau to feed the poor starving dogs hanging out there. I wish I could rescue them all. When I reach home, I bathe Homer, the Rott with bad skin, and Rosie, the mongrel fleabag—but I’m still feeling guilty about the homeless strays.

I was hoping to make some international calls today, but so far there’s no cell service. I should be painting more plywood as John has almost finished putting up the ceiling in the kitchen, but I decide to go to the beach instead. On the way up the west coast, I get my first view of the parade of solar lamp poles strewn down the bayside that have fallen like dominoes.

When I reach the Hillsboro Bridge that crosses the Layou River right before it reaches the sea, it is partially collapsed and down to one lane. The river itself is unrecognizable, shallow and clogged with sand.


I meet my friend Polly from Papillote Press, and we plan a book fair, “Books on the Beach,” for December 10. Theoretically, there will be readings by Waitukubuli Writers, new and used books for sale, and musical entertainment. Sounds like a plan. But the sea is rough and the beach is muddy and stinky—totally unsuitable for bathing. Caterpillars and a gang of men with axes and shovels are working on clearing washed-up logs and debris. I hope they are able to get it sorted out before the event. When I get home, my cell phone is working, so I make two long distance calls to the tune of $60.

The Sahara dust is back, making my point of view a bit hazy. On the other hand, maybe it’s because of all the wine I drank last night. Considering the appearance of mosquito larvae, I add bleach to the water standing downstairs and sweep it out again. Then I paint the last of the plywood (I hope), and help John start to put it up in the main room, which has a difficult, high ceiling. Of course it will have to be repainted, but not by me. I’m too short. We spend the rest of the week trying to get the DC current to the guesthouse. It just keeps on getting more confusing. I finally get in touch with Richard, the electrician who helped with the solar. He promises to come the next day. Then I call Imran, an architect who has bought a couple of dogs from me, to see if he can advise what to do with the big hutch. He too promises to come after work on Monday, but neither of them shows up.    

The scenario of no one showing up is one I’m getting used to. We continue to try to tune up the guesthouse while builder after builder breaks their promise to put a roof back on the big hutch. I know that everyone is busy, and besides there are still no materials, but there’s something in my American makeup that makes me want to FIX things, pronto! After 25 years of living in the Caribbean, I still haven’t gotten over it. Toward evening, I take a walk on the feeder road and notice that the 30-foot phone pole we had to cut in order to pass (one of the 12 that I purchased 18 years ago at a cost of EC $1,000 each), has disappeared. I can’t see any drag marks on the road, so I assume some one has helped themselves to some free building material using a pick up truck. I have a suspect in mind, the same person who sprays Gramoxone in the river where I have taken my drinking water for 20 years. Yet I don’t have the strength or courage to go behind him, which is exactly what he’s counting on.


Maria! Maria! Dairy of a Category 5 Hurricane : October 2017: Slim Pickins

Three and a half weeks after Maria, I finally have a chance to reach Roseau, get some money, and call my family. At 6:30 a.m. on Monday October 2, 2017, I crawl over the landslide to meet my ride. Three other neighbors are crammed into the backseat of my friend’s little jeep. As we pick our way to the Warner Road junction, I feel a sense of wonder and exhilaration despite the cramped conditions.  But the kind of perilous roads and widespread destruction we encounter makes me wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off to stay home. I am shocked at the amount of brand new houses that are roofless; some of them never lived in. In the village of Jimmit, businesses and homes demolished by flood during TS Erika and subsequently rebuilt are mashed up yet again. Dominica Coconut Products, the site of an historic water-powered mill located at the junction of the Belfast River and the sea for well over a century, took a final, fatal blow.



Just around the corner, the village of Mahaut looks like it has been bombed, and the line of traffic we are trapped in isn’t moving. Persons wearing surgical masks and gloves due to the dust and the threat of leptospirosis are walking to town like zombies. No one is smiling, and every man and woman looks to be for themselves. There is a rumor circulating that armed police are stopping vehicles further up the road and putting people in buses. After about a 2-hour delay, we decide we should turn back. We’ll try again tomorrow, but this time we’ll depart at 5 a.m. to beat the rush. When I point out its still dark at that time and I have to cross a landslide, everyone just shrugs.

Back in Layou Park, I receive rations of three cartons of UHT milk, 2 packs of Crix crackers, and 4 packs of Ramen noodles from the shop. Jeesh! Best I stay in the bush with my coconuts and green bananas! The shop owner throws in sugar and flour on credit because I have no cash, but I forget to ask for toilet paper and matches. On the way to the head of the landslide, we visit an elderly neighbor who lives down a lane off the feeder road. Like almost everybody else, she is in a mess. The difference is that she is bawling about her lost possessions instead of praising God she is still alive. She says her children came from Guadeloupe to rescue her, but she refused to abandon her home and her stuff. When we leave her, she is still wailing about the injustice of it all, as if no one else is affected. Well, as the parable says, ‘If you make your own bed, you’re supposed to lie in it.’  

Speaking of beds, I leap from mine at 4 a.m. the next morning in the pitch dark. Then I struggle to put myself together by flashlight so as not to scare anybody in case I reach town. John gives me a ride to the bottom of the landslide. Just as we reach at 5:05, I see my friend’s headlights disappear back down the feeder road. No! No! John blows the horn, grabs the flashlight, and scrambles up and across the landslide before me. My so-called friend has gone on without me! At daybreak, I, too, clambered over the landslide to arrange with my neighbor Steve to make a foray to Roseau at 6 a.m. the next day. I hope that we’ll have a more sympathetic connection.  

When I reach Steve’s home at precisely 5:45 the following morning, he informs me that his battery is dead and the transport won’t start. We push it back and forth up and down the driveway until it finally jerk starts. We are off, jumper cables and gas cans onboard. About half way to Roseau it cuts off again and we are stranded on the West Coast highway. Cars zoom by, but no one even slows down for an old white woman and an even older black man. Finally, two guardian angels named Massley and Cuffy come to our rescue. That’s what’s so contradictory about Dominica— people can be very self-centered and tight fisted, or they can’t wait to do everything they can to help. After trying various mechanical techniques, we agree that Steve needs a new battery. Thereupon Cuffy actually GIVES him a used battery he has on board so we can get to town to purchase a new one. When I explain to Massley that I haven’t been able to talk to my family for a week, he LOANS me his Flow cell phone to make an international call. I briefly speak to my son and daughter-in-law who say they’ve contacted the US Embassy and the Red Cross, but no one has been able to find me. When they ask how they can help, I am lost for an answer.

Steve and I proceed to Canefield where we try several places to buy a new battery but fail. The devastation we observe along the way is amazing. Auto Trade is mashed up and flooded, and new and used cars have been washed across the road to Whitchurch wholesale, which is totally destroyed. Further down, Nassiff’s building supplies has caved in on itself, as has 4-D. We stop by E.H. Charles where Mr. Charles himself is greeting customers. There are no lights inside and no cash register. After waiting in line for almost an hour, Steve and I get our ration of nails, but there’s no roof putty. Then it’s on to Scotia Bank where the ATM is actually working! The city of Roseau looks and smells like a ghost town. The river has compromised two bridges and most of the homes and businesses on its banks. The remaining stores have been looted and streets are still blocked by sand and mountains of foul-smelling debris.


After we finally manage to find our way back across the river, we stop to buy groceries at S-Mart. The place has no lights or refrigeration and no dogfood or bread, but a good supply of the same deadly ration-type food. I buy a 30-pound bag of cat food for $150 and make a joke about my dogs meowing. While waiting in line to check out, my friend Vincent from Pt. Michelle informs me that a fellow who used to work with me died trying to rescue 9 families that took shelter in one house, and were subsequently buried alive—no joking matter.

We get a battery next door at Valley Engineering, and then stop to check on Giselle, my book designer in River Estate. Her mother, Esther, is there, and absolutely NOTHING has happened to their home, although many around it are severely damaged. I use Esther’s phone to call the UK to tell the company there to hold the shipment of my third novel to Dominica until further notice. Rose, the manager, extends her sympathy and says she will make sure the books stay safe. We get a bag of dogfood from Minya’s mini-mart and some bread, and then stop for gas. After waiting in line for about a half-hour, we drop a bag of dasheen for Steve’s family in Mahaut. Then we are homeward bound. Unfortunately, when I try to lift a heavy bag of groceries out of the back of the transport at the top of the landslide, the physicality of the struggle finally catches up with me. My right arm protests with a resounding crack. Shit, man! Just as John and I finally manage to get copious the supplies to the house, Max calls from the end of the driveway with another bag of dogfood courtesy of the expat neighbor who left me down the previous morning. As they say, feast or famine.   

Black Friday, October 13, 2018, is my 70th birthday. Although I can’t say there’s much to celebrate other than the fact that I’m still alive, it beats the alternative. I try to do some laundry, but my arm is killing me. The cloud of gloom lifts when the backhoe operator appears. After we negotiate a tip of $200 because he says he wasn’t instructed to work here even though the feeder road is a government road, John, my hero, assists him with his chainsaw. By the end of the day, the road is clear enough to pass. Happy Birthday to me! I was promised a celebration by my expat neighbor, but just like the phantom ride to town, it never materialized. Over the weekend, I resume working my way around the flower gardens surrounding the house. In the process, I hope to find Grandpa Charlie’s sailboat painting which somehow disappeared from its frame during the hurricane. There’s no foliage on the trees, and the sun is incredibly hot. I can feel it burning my arms and the back of my neck even though I’m wearing long sleeves. As I’ve already had a nasty lump of skin cancer removed from the back of my shoulder, I have to be extra careful.

After a rum and Kool-Aid aperitif, I make a nice big salad with watercress and beets and cashews for supper. Along with pumpkin soup, it is the first meal I’ve eaten in a month that really tastes good to me. Around midnight, the wind starts to blow mightily and heavy rain falls. I have to admit I feel spooked. I’ve never been fond of wind, and Maria made me even more frightened. The rain, however, is a blessing. Plants that were drooping under the intense sun appear instantly refreshed.

As I’m lingering over my second cup of coffee the next morning, D’Jango and Gouti, my clef palate ridgeback dogs, decide to kill and eat a chicken. BAD DOGS! What a way to start the day! John and Max work on putting up guttering while I attack the flowerbeds.  Right before lunch, I find the clapper for my Solari wind bell. Hurray! I reward myself by consuming the last of the pumpkin soup and then spend the afternoon cleaning up the pet cemetery. (Not the Stephen King novel, but the plot in my backyard.)

It takes a while to locate the cement plaques we made for my deceased dogs, and as I find them, I remember each of them and their special ways. First there is my darling Ophine, my original Dominican mongrel. Tootsie the circus dog, who climbed onto the chicken coup roof and rode in the wheelbarrow, is next to and Kali the love bug, who gave hugs. Sniper the genius Doberman, who sang happy birthday on cue, is near the center. Wanda the castaway pit bull with the bad skin and and poor lost Roadie are on the side. Terrible Lucky, a Rottweiler/ Ridgeback I picked up by the roadside laid to rest beside his wife Lucy, a pure Rott that plunged to her death over a cliff behind an agouti when she was two years old. (Those two founded the doggie dynasty here at River Ridge and were the parents of River and Valley as well as many other pups.) After Lucy came Zoe, a beautifully trained Doberman that died with a belly full of Lucky’s puppies; crazy Raina, daughter of River and mother of Homer; Zion the lion, son of Valley and father of copious offspring; and finally a mass grave for the little ones that just didn’t make it. It’s hard to believe, but over the course of ten years about 300 pups were born in the kennel. No wonder I have ruined knees.

The torrential rain and wind keep up over the next few days. There’s not much I can do except keep on mopping. The trees and plants appreciate the wetting, and there’s another waterfall forming on Morne Couronne. The rejuvenation reminds me of the final paragraph of River of Fire.


‘Krystal gazes up toward the mountains and her mind is instantly soothed. Pioneer species of plant life seem to be sprouting before her very eyes. When it starts to rain, she stares in fascination as each drop polishes the tender foliage. She inhales the fecund smell of the soil and remembers the rainforest. A double rainbow forms over the valley, which pulsates with luminous shades of living color. A Mountain Whistler carols from the heights above the escalating hum of the river.’  Five weeks after Hurricane Maria all of this is coming true except the part about the Mountain Whistler. Let’s bet it’s going to be a while before I hear the sweet song of a rufous-throated solitaire again.

I’m hoping to get some vegetable seeds to plant in the rich humus that was once the forest floor. Now that the old giant trees are no longer standing, there’s plenty of sun when it decides to shine. But when it does, watch out! Plants wilt and unprotected skin burns from the unfiltered UV light. There’s a weird sort of haze hanging in the air that makes the mountains look white. It could be smoke from fires to clear debris, or it could be Sahara dust. Whatever it is, I wonder if it doesn’t somehow contribute to the magnification of the sun’s rays.

Meanwhile, the issue of negotiating finances to put the roof back on my house is hanging over my head. (No pun intended.) Unfortunately, there are no building materials, even if I did manage to come up with the money to pay a contractor. (All of whom are presently occupied, anyway.) There was a time when John and I could have managed the construction ourselves. But as I’ve said, he is not well, and until the funds to pay for an overseas operation come through from the government, my outlay of cash is on hold. Élas. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in limbo.


We get the generator started, so I can charge my computer and the cell phones.  Never the less, I’ll still have to go out somewhere to use the Wi-Fi to contact my bank in the States. At least I can begin to transfer this handwritten journal to the computer. An editor at a beautiful magazine called Interviewing the Caribbean has asked me for a hurricane story for the spring issue. I just wonder if I have enough emotional distance to write it. My reactions are running high right about now. In my heart, I know I will never see the Dominica I fell in love with 25 years ago again, and sometimes that thought is too painful to bear. Never mind. To occupy my time, there are at least a million shards of glass from the solar water heater that blew off the top of the house and crashed into the backyard.  My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to pick them all up and dump them in a hole and cover them up with dirt so the dogs won’t cut their feet when passing. I can do that. It’s good to put my head down to a simple task. It gives me time to think about a plan.

The next day, John goes to check on the people in his native village of Gallion. The report is that the cottage we so lovingly built there is flat down along with most other structures. At least nobody was injured. When I finally get up the courage to drive to town by myself, I go the Springfield way. I want to check on my friend Nancy, the manager of a tropical research center founded by Cornell University. But when I reach, the place is demolished, and she has fled to Canada. From there down the road to Canefield the destruction is astonishing.  Most roofs are gone or worse. I stop by Giselle’s again, where I am able to call my son Josh. On my way into town, I order a 100-pound propane tank for the fridge and two 20-pound tanks of propane gas for cooking for delivery to River Ridge. I see a 15-pound bag of dogfood in a shop. I buy it.

As agreed, I meet Giselle by the ferry terminal to help her transport donated boxes of rations. We wait for hours in the stink and the dust and the heat. The post office across the street is closed, and my dentist’s office is closed. The good news is my broken tooth is bearable. After the boxes are loaded on my jeep, we stop at the grocery, where mold has begun to grow on the broken ceiling tiles, and then wait in line at the gas station. Been there, done that. When I finally drop Giselle and her boxes, she agrees to help me sort out my phone situation so I can attempt to use data to communicate with the rest of the world. I stop to check my friend Liz, who is temporarily staying at Springfield, to ask about the corrections to my young adult novel, Island Time, which I hope to send to the Burt Award in Trinidad by the end of the month. She calls Wendy, who is in the States, and she promises to send them right away. I reach home exhausted, and I swear I won’t venture out again any time soon.

On Saturday, Max informs us that this will be his last day; he is otherwise occupied, whatever that means. Like most young fellas hanging out by the roadside, Max is relatively unskilled when it comes to practicing a trade. Unlike the others, who can be loud and rude, he is polite and soft spoken. Of Kalinago decent, he knows how to hunt and fish and plant and but is poorly educated in the traditional sense. He doesn’t really worry about a roof over his head. In fact, his nickname is “Tent” because he’s perfectly capable of sleeping under a tarpaulin in the bush.

Max is addicted to crack cocaine but says he is trying to “fix himself.” Being the mother of an alcoholic drug addict, I know better than to intervene. The most I can do is feed him and encourage him to stay clean and sober by giving him a job if he wants it. Honestly, I understand the sense of hopelessness that pervades the lives of young Dominicans. The self-image youths have gleaned from watching videos and cable TV portrays black men in a certain stereotype that will never work around here. The result? The brain drain has been complete and inexorable. With or without a college education, there is little opportunity to succeed in the First World sense of the word in Dominica. The most islanders can do is get a mediocre job and take a big loan. The least they can do is end up living from hand to mouth on the roadside like Max and figure out a way to support their habit. Indeed, the passage of Hurricane Maria has served to highlight the shortage of skilled labor we have on the island when it comes to fixing things—roofs, utilities, roads, bridges, and even our own backyard gardens. Thank God for my partner John, who has the skills and ambition, if not the health, to get things done. Today, he rebuilds the front door of Bati Mamzelle so it opens out instead of in, which gives us a lot more space in the kitchen. In fact, there is little that he can’t do if he sets his mind to it. Yet these days he needs a helper, and, as I’ve said, good help is hard to find.


Hi loyal reader-folk. As promised, the saga of Maria continues . . .


Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane


It’s hard to believe a week has passed since disaster struck on September 18, 2017. My back is killing me, and John is unwell, but we press on. They say hindsight is 20/20, and it’s true. Yet it’s amazing how fast a practical northerner can turn into a tropical fatalist. There are certain things you should always have on hand during hurricane season—duh, mainly galvanized nails. And a practical fatalist, which is what I strive to be, would have had a larger store of batteries, nonperishable food items, roof putty, and perhaps even the extravagance of home insurance tucked away. Considering the struggle I had to go through to collect from the Babylon Insurance Company when my house burned down, however, I would never voluntarily go through that again, no matter the reward.

I used to say that landscape equaled mindscape. It was important to me to be amid beautiful surroundings so I could have beautiful thoughts. Nevertheless, here I am, a 70-year-old woman, gazing at a homestead and a landscape I don’t recognize. I have a camera, but I barely have the stomach to use it. The destruction is just too heart wrenching. Yet despite my aching back, I feel more energized than I did before the disaster. Sure, I wish things could go back to the way they were before, but it’s as if post Hurricane Maria marks the beginning of a new phase of my life, a chance to start fresh and clean. It may be the last chance, but I can honestly say that I have no remorse and no regrets.

Anyway, onward! I hope Max will show up to help me move the remaining furniture from upstairs to the guesthouse, originally called Bati Mamzelle because of all the dragonflies in the fishpond. Unfortunately, it’s raining, and he doesn’t appear. John walks to the village in the afternoon and comes home with toilet paper, a can of mixed vegetables, and 2 pounds of rice. After dinner, I try to sleep on the mattress in the guesthouse, but it’s slightly damp and saggy. Considering my aching back, I return to the daybed on the downstairs veranda, where the dogs are glad to welcome me.

Rain is still falling the next morning. John seems to have caught a cold yesterday, so he’s still in bed. I’ve had my ration of one cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal, banana, and raisins for breakfast, and I’m ready to rock and roll. If only help would arrive, maybe we could make a tiny amount of progress. Whom am I kidding? After TS Erika we were blocked inside for one month and nobody came to help. Don’t forget, Maria was a Category 5 hurricane, and River Ridge is at the end of the line. Well, at least we have water, coconuts, a few avocadoes, and some grapefruit and oranges, which is a lot more than those poor people trapped in town.

I can hear the heavy equipment working above us to clear the main road, but the feeder road that leads to my home is another story. It’s always forgotten in times of natural disaster, and unless I can somehow make my way over the debris to where they are working, there’s a good chance we will be forgotten back here in the boonies. Never mind. An afternoon thunder and lightning storm shuts down the entire operation and also floods the same areas I have spent days mopping, mopping, and mopping. Depressed, I join John in bed in the garage without eating supper. I don’t sleep well. The air in the space is dead and musty space. He coughs for most of the night, and I succumb to sneezing fits because of the mold. When dawn breaks, I am exhausted and famished.

Max arrives during a torrential downpour with the report from the roadside. Since there is little chance of getting anything done in the rain, he takes his time to fill us in on local news. Looters locked the manager of the dilapidated Chinese hotel in his room and stole everything they could manage—booze, exercise equipment, refrigerators, and tools.


While we are talking, I notice a parade of people passing over the landslide above us with big bags on their heads. Max says they have broken into the abattoir and are stealing the chicken in the freezer. They are on foot, but the road is apparently open from Pond Cassé to the Warner junction where their escape vehicles are waiting. We get a good laugh out of this one even though it means no more contraband chicken for us.  

The rain keeps up so Max heads home with a borrowed raincoat. A few helicopters pass over while I attempt to hang up some half-ruined artwork in Bati Mamzelle. At dusk, I notice a pair of optimistic parrots mating. Two broad-winged hawks perform their evening ballet, and a yellow-crowned night heron makes its way up the ravaged river just before dark. The dogs have taken over the downstairs daybed, so I sleep in the garage again. At least the mattress is dry and firm. I wake up in the middle of the night, and when I venture outside to pee, I notice lightning and far off thunder in the west. It reminds me of what Dominicans called “turtle lightning” when I lived by the sea. It’s on such nights that the female comes ashore to lay her eggs in the sand. I say a little prayer for the hatchlings. Like me, they’re going to need all the luck they can get.

When the piping of the pipirit (Grey kingbird) wakes me, I suspect the next day will be bright and beautiful. The bare mountains glow in the sunlight—every ridge and ravine clearly defined, and every shadow distinct. Undergrowth and low plants are already creeping back on Morne Couronne because of all the rain, but bare tree trunks are still the predominate feature. I see a few honeybees that used to live on the mountain sucking nectar from the star grass and the blooms of the Pacific palms in the yard, but I have yet to see another hummingbird.

I start soaking laundry in the baby pool around 9 a.m. The dogs go crazy when a team of guys with chainsaws show up wanting to clear our driveway. What? $400 to saw one tree? $2000 to open the feeder road to the landslide? Of course, we sent them away. Who has that kind of cash on hand in the bush? Besides, isn’t this a time when neighbors should be helping each other out instead of ripping each other off? Still, I wonder how long it will be until I can drive out to some place where I can contact my family.

Mid-morning, John goes out to try to get groceries and a new chain for the saw. This involves scaling a mountain littered with fallen trees and walking up the road until he is able to hitch a ride to where he can catch a bus. As I’ve said, he is not all that well, and I worry the entire time he is gone. I rinse the laundry and hang it up to dry in the interim. Many clothes are ruined, but I try to save what I can. John returns with $100 worth of groceries, which is all one person can buy, batteries for the radio, and a new chain for the saw. We try to listen to the local evening news, but it doesn’t seem like the government is telling people very much. Internationally, 67 people were shot dead by a single gunman in Las Vegas. What a world.

As long as the sun is shining, I keep on doing laundry. My hands are numb, and so are my feet. John and Max are busy putting the back porch roof on Bati Mamzelle while I carry bits and pieces down from the upstairs. The wood floor is slippery and the tiles are loose, so I have to be careful. When it rains, water pours downstairs like a waterfall, and the plywood partitions have already begun to warp and mold.

When neighbor Steve arrives wondering, “Where do we go from here?” My answer is simple. “Nowhere soon.” I still haven’t been able to call my family or check on the set of books that are supposed to be sailing to Dominica to from the UK.

Despite the fact that I’m physically and mentally exhausted, I’m having trouble sleeping. With no BBC World Service to lull me to sleep, I lay awake and listen to the barrage of night sounds. Huge crickets, bwa cabwit, shout close to the guesthouse while frogs shriek and owls hoot. Unfiltered by the rainforest, the full moon lights up the bed room like a spotlight. God forbid the wind should start to blow or heavy rainfall. Post-Maria stress is real. If I do happen to get to sleep, I wake up around 1 a.m. and stay awake until dawn listening for the next disaster.

Max says Layou Park is the only place in Dominica not receiving rations, so I offer him what I can from our meager pantry. The dogs are down to eating once a day—boiled green bananas and coconut and rice—even the clef palates that aren’t supposed to eat anything but dry kibble. I’m not sure what the remaining wildlife are living on. As we’re clearing the driveway, I see parrots feeding off grapefruit on the ground. A Lesser-Antillean flycatcher is cocking its head and calling pree, pree (please, please), but generally birdsong is scarce. A couple of thrashers zoom by and three opportunistic hawks soar in the sky, but nary a hummingbird. Bullfinches and to a lesser extent banana quits continue to beg in the kitchen. There are plenty of lizards about, especially in the guesthouse. Unfortunately, the other plentiful thing is mosquitoes, I suppose due to the drastic reduction in bats.

The prospect of running water from the debilitated ram pump via the cistern is still a long way off, so I have been sponge bathing in the pool. This afternoon, when the work finishes, the dogs and I head down the ravine to the river. Naturally, it’s a disappointment. There is a logjam of fallen trees above and below my boundary. The trees that are still standing are bare and probably dead. All the big boulders are gone, and the waterfall where I used to bathe has disappeared. Everything is flat and gray. Lush vegetation like bamboo that used to grow along the riverbank has vanished, and saplings are choking in silt. Still, the dogs have fun. They race, splash, play in the shallow water, and then roll in the stinky sand. I enjoy myself vicariously watching them run around like happy pups.

Since the idea of more beans and rice is not very exciting, I linger on the riverbank and wait for the full moon to rise over the mountain. When it crowns, bright and glorious, there’s more than enough light to climb back up the track. I go to bed almost immediately and sleep well. I wake up around 4 a.m., and the moon is still riding high in the Western sky.

In the morning, I make French toast with the last egg and slather it with Kayo syrup left over from when I was bottle-feeding puppies years ago. I pretty much have the household routine down now, so after breakfast I head outdoors to work in the flowerbeds around the house. Plenty of shredded ginger lilies need cutting down to the ground, and I want to do some replanting. While I am finishing my work in the garden, a purple-throated Carib hummingbird inspects the remains of the honey suckle. It hovers right in my face and then zooms away, disappointed.     

On Sunday, John and Max clear a path down to the landslide on the feeder road so I can walk somewhere and get a ride to access phone service. As I climb over downed trees and telephone poles to reach Steve’s, a squadron of thirteen parrots passes overhead. Apparently, Steve is at church, but neighbors who greet me on the other side of the landslide seem cheerful, considering. I, too, am happy to be out, but when I reach the village of Layou Park, everyone is occupied with their own personal trauma. Don’t they realize that we’re all in this mess together?

As I am about to head home, I meet my British neighbor with her car. We drive to the abattoir to check on available chicken (none) and then to Pond Cassé to try to use our cell phones (no service). The destruction along the Layou road is phenomenal. The huge landslide is cleared to a single lane, but walls of mud and rock loom precariously overhead as we pick our way through the rubble that used to be pavement.

Uprooted trees and broken utility poles lean at precarious angles. We have to stop frequently while I raise loose wires so the vehicle can pass. The Chinese hotel looks as if exploded, hit by a tornado rather than a hurricane, while ragamuffin shacks just across the road are virtually untouched. Newish cement houses with flat roofs decked with concrete have fared better than those with gable roofs, some of which never have been lived in.

The unevenness of the damage reminds me of a parable. Trees that can bend with the wind, such as willows or bamboo, seldom break. Yet what you resist persists, and an oak or a tropical hardwood doesn’t stand much chance against 225 mph winds.

On the way down, we pass our Parliamentary Representative, who is studying a long list of people who are supposed to get rations. After I tell him I have been blocked in by landslide for almost 3 weeks, he says he didn’t know anybody lived as far back as I do. I later find out that the gang with the chainsaws we chose not to hire told the backhoe guy the same thing, so he moved on to another job. Now it will be up to me to pay an operator to clear the remainder of the government feeder road to my home.

We flag down the bread truck and shop for overpriced groceries in the village before heading back to my friend’s house, which is virtually undamaged. She makes a pizza with imported dried tomatoes, mushrooms and grated parmesan cheese for lunch, a real treat, but I break a tooth on the crust. An omen? We chat for a while and then make a plan to rendezvous and go to town the next morning. She drops me at the top of the landslide, where I crawl back across, reach my home, and collapse. My tooth hurts like hell, and of course, there is no hope of dental care now. I make a list of what I need to do in town the next day, but I wonder how much I’ll be able to accomplish. I hope I’m able to buy layer for my hens so I can at least I can have eggs. Or maybe I’ll resort to a rooster!

Maria, Maria – Diary of a Category 5 Hurricane

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the long delay in getting back to my blog, but I have a good excuse. On Sept.18, 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Maria scored a direct hit on my adopted homeland, the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. If you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to survive a major disaster on an island that has little infrastructure and no advance plan for dealing with such a cataclysmic natural disaster, read on….

MARIA, MARIA — Diary  of a Category 5 Hurricane

On the evening of Monday September 18th, 2017, Hurricane Maria reduced one of the last island-based rainforests in the world, on the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, to rubble.  For six hours straight, she ravaged three hundred square miles of lush mountain terrain, crystal-clear rivers, and black sand beaches as if hell-bent on total destruction. “Eden is broken,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit proclaimed upon viewing the disaster. The land and seascape, however, weren’t the only aspects of the Nature Island to suffer. Homes, businesses, and scores of lives were also lost.

We have a jingle on the radio during hurricane season: You’d better beware. You’d better prepare. Disaster can happen anytime, anywhere. But Maria was a rogue. She escalated from an unnamed storm to a Category 5 hurricane in less than 48 hours. I first heard about an approaching bad weather at a Waitukubuli Writers meeting in Roseau on Saturday afternoon. At that point Maria was nameless, and I wasn’t especially concerned. Although my heart went out to other islanders whose lives Hurricane Irma had affected a week previously, I took my usual fatalistic approach to natural disaster: let’s wait and see. In a hurry to get home before dark, I passed the grocery store straight

I haven’t had a TV in 25 years, and the Internet wasn’t working on Sunday, so I couldn’t check the storm’s coordinates. Truth be told, I was busy with the weekly blog and the report for the Lit Fest and didn’t think to shop for supplies. It was Monday morning before I realized Maria had escalated to a Category 2 hurricane and was a definite threat to Dominica. But by then it was too late to risk dashing out for provisions. Like the rest of the population, my partner John and I secured our home and belongings the best we could. While various disaster management personnel advised the public of the dire situation, the announcer repeated a long list of hurricane shelters. But for us there is no other place to go, especially with all these dogs.

By afternoon Maria was a Category 3. Prime Minister Skerrit was on the air begging people to forget about stocking up on food and take shelter immediately. John and I hurried to complete preparations—by 6 p.m. we had the outside shutters nailed shut, breakables and electronic equipment stashed away, and important documents in a safe place. Maria, now a Category 4 hurricane, was likely to make a direct hit on Dominica. As she stalked steadily forward, people and dogs congregated in the cast concrete garage under the house and waited to take our blows.

Glued to the radio, we listened as Maria escalated to a Category 5. She was predicted to arrive around 8 p.m. with sustained winds of 175 mph. (I later learned that there were gusts up to 255.) When the antenna blew off the DBS radio station, it went off the air. But we probably couldn’t have heard anything anyway. For the next three hours, wind shrieked like a banshee, growled like an enraged bear, and howled like a dying dog. Sequestered in the transport in the dark, we could only imagine what went on outside. At one point the garage door blew off, and stinging rain drove inside in horizontal sheets. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed while I held onto the steering wheel for dear life. I may have even uttered a prayer as Maria attempted to suck the jeep backwards into her churning belly.

When the eye of the storm arrived about 10:30, I ventured outside with my flash light. Hopefulness morphed into a sense of utter helplessness at first glance. Most of the upstairs hurricane shutters had been ripped off, and the veranda roof and railing were gone. Crawling up the steps, I realized that the main roof of the house was also partially missing; stars shone through the rafters, and the place was flooded. A couple of solar panels had fallen inside, and artwork and books lay scattered everywhere. I could see a light blinking far across the valley. John said it was probably a soukouyan looking for somebody’s blood to suck, but I figured it was just another bewildered soul trying to make sense of what had just passed.

The roaring started up again around midnight. Since there was obviously nothing we could do, we scurried back to what we trusted was safety. But to my mind the second half of the hurricane was worse than the first. What phase 1 damaged would surely be demolished by phase 2. After Maria finished with Dominica around 2 a.m. the agonizing four hours remaining before daylight felt like four years.


Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, I waited for the dawn. In the interim, my mind spiraled back to other disasters I’d suffered through since moving to the Caribbean. Besides my brief, ruinous marriage to my Dominican husband, Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn hit in 1995. Hurricane Lenny arrived from the west by sea in 1999 after I had moved to the mountains, so I wasn’t affected. But élas. Fate wasn’t finished with me yet. My dream house burned down to the ground in 2000. We rebuilt soundly, and when Hurricane Dean passed in 2007, mashing up crops and roads, there was no structural harm to my residence. Then, in 2015, Tropical Storm Erika did massive damage to the infrastructure of the island, killing some 20 people by flood and mudslide. Although a landslide blocked the road to my home at River Ridge for over a month, the house stood strong. But this monster called Maria, this bitch, was something else altogether.


Dawn finally arrives, eerily silent after the cacophony that raged overnight. I emerge into the unknown like a blind butterfly from a cocoon. You think you are prepared for anything, and then your entire world falls apart. There is an expression for daybreak in certain parts of the Caribbean—dayclean—and that’s exactly how the world strikes me in the early hours after Maria. It looks as if the abundance of the tropics has been power washed away and a forsaken, mist-covered moonscape has taken its place. The paradise supposedly created by the Lord God in six days has been totally destroyed in six hours, and my previous sense of helplessness sinks into a sense of gut-wrenching hopelessness tinged with guilt. Why wasn’t I better prepared?

The dogs are similarly disoriented, sniffing for familiar scents and attempting to mark this alien territory as their own. A disorganized colony of bats flits back and forth, looking for shelter even though the sun has risen. The limited birds that greet the dawn are also confused. A lone hawk floats overhead while flocks of unsettled parrots survey the drastically altered scene. A couple of bullfinches, banana quits, and one kingbird chirp uncertainly, while a desperate hummingbird tries to suck juice from carambola fruit that lies rotting on the ground.

When I lift my eyes unto the hills, I can see for miles across the ravaged countryside. I feel I could reach out and touch houses and landmarks that used to be invisible.

My magnificent mountain view has virtually disappeared. Lofty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s tallest mountain, once cloaked in luxurious green, now stands stark and naked in the distance, stripped clean of vegetation. Morne Couronne, the double mountain across the Neiba River from my home, more resembles an eroded ski slope than a pristine tropical forest. A landslide accompanied by a brand new waterfall has occurred at the top, and the angry and log-jammed river at its base is running murky brown instead of crystal clear. A few battered tree trunks, completely defoliated and uniformly broken off at a height of about 50 feet, remain standing. Their fallen companions lie strewn across the ridges and ravines like insignificant matchsticks. But where are the old giants, the ancient hardwoods of the true rainforest?

My heart sinks when I realized that none of them has survived. Trunks, limbs, and branches lay horizontal to the ground while perpendicular clumps of matted earth, broken stone, and severed roots mark their final resting place.

A more personal aspect of the disaster dawns on me when I shift my attention to the ruins of my former home. With no roof in place, rainwater cascades through the wooden floor from upstairs to downstairs; unless I act fast, there won’t be any chance of saving what is below. To make matters worse, bat guano pours down the walls like stinking manna from heaven. And so I start shifting and mopping. I realize it’s useless—water flows in much faster than I can soak it up—but at least it’s something to do. At dusk, dogs and people line up for supper. Because I neglected to pack in extra supplies, including dogfood, we dine on fallen avocados and Crix crackers. And because the mattresses are wet, we sleep uneasily in the transport again tonight.


John cleans out the garage for a place to cook, eat, and sleep. He installs the semi-dry mattress from the guesthouse while I literally wade through the upstairs to try to save books, artwork, and electronic equipment. The report from the road, when it finally arrives, is as expected: We are blocked inside by landslide on both the main and the feeder road. I let the chickens go maroon before we settle down, exhausted, to a supper of rice, canned baked beans, and grapefruit juice spiked with the last of the rum. We have no means of communication or transportation, no lights, no help, and no hope of obtaining emergency rations. Other than that, things are normal. Ha. Ha.

Parrots search for food while helicopters hover overhead, presumably to take pictures of Maria’s destruction. And believe me; there are plenty of photo opportunities. Adjacent to the skeleton of my house, a huge African tulip tree has compromised the bridge. Beyond that, other fallen trees, broken phone poles, and scraps of disfigured galvanized roofing litter the driveway up to the feeder road. From there it’s anybody’s guess. Even if the road is clear past the landslide to the village of Layou Park, then what?

The $11 million Chinese bridge to the west coast has never been opened, and the other direction is blocked by a fresh landslide covering the one that was never properly addressed since Tropical Storm Erika. And even if we could get out, I’m sure there’s no possibility of sourcing groceries or building supplies anywhere on the island.

Around 10 a.m. Max, a part-time helper from the village, arrives on foot to help John repair the roof on the guesthouse so there will be somewhere decent to put ourselves and our things. But progress is minimal. Many of the galvanized sheets that have blown off the roof are in the river or irreparably damaged, nails are in short supply, and there’s no roof putty. In the meantime, I continue to mop and sweep and sort. It’s a bright, clear day, good for getting clothes and books dried out but bad for sunburn and dehydration. Gazing out from the upstairs veranda, I assess Maria’s work. Most of the citrus and coconut trees on my 5-acre property have been snapped off clean, breadfruit and breadnut trees are uprooted, and the vegetable garden is nonexistent. Eden is indeed broken. More disturbingly, human trash formerly camouflaged by lush vegetation litters the pathetic landscape like a chaotic manmade blight.


Helicopters pass over on a regular basis, but we have no idea why. (I find out later they are looking for me!) Max says the homeless villagers in Layou Park have moved to the hotel on the corner, but there is no electricity, no water, and the shops are completely empty of food. Fortunately, here at River Ridge, the propane fridge is functional and so are a couple of gas lamps. The pump has stopped working, but the swimming pool is fine for sponge bathing, laundry, washing dishes, and flushing the toilet, and so far the river water is okay to drink. I have picked up baskets full of grapefruits and avocados, and we have provisions such as dasheen and tania in the ground. The dogs are learning to eat green bananas and dry coconut mixed with some rice and a bit of their regular kibble. A parcel of chicken breasts stolen from the abattoir is a welcome gift from a Rasta neighbor, but I’m dying for a fresh green salad.


The river keeps changing its course as if it too is looking for a way to escape. As rain starts to fall, I realize that most of my hard work has been in vain. Books I thought were safely stored in the office are soaked through as water drips relentlessly through the cracks in the ceiling. Clothes in the closet, mattresses and bedding, all of which I thought were dry, get wet again. The garage is jam-packed, and the roof on the guest house roof isn’t totally repaired, so there isn’t any place else to put things. When I have no more strength to carry belongings, I break down and cry.


We christen today as one of well-deserved rest. John makes a nice soup with chicken and some packaged egg noodles for lunch. Afterwards, I figure out how to plug the radio into the cigarette lighter of the jeep only to hear evangelists on the air calling Hurricane Maria the devil’s work. There is no portable water in town, 45 people are missing or confirmed dead, there is looting in and around Roseau, and there have been 40 arrests for violating the curfew. It seems the majority of Dominican people are even more desperate and hungry than us.

My sense of isolation suddenly turns into a sense of freedom. I have water in the river and food in the ground and no one is trying to rob me. Furthermore, given a chance, I believe the earth knows how to heal itself. Imagine: I’m already beginning to see signs of natural rejuvenation, and I, too, am still alive. For me Hurricane Maria represents a wakeup call—a chance to stand back, get my priorities straight, and make adjustments where necessary—one day, week, month, or, God spare, one year at a time.

To be continued ….



Forty years ago Peter Tosh asked, ‘Downpresser man, where you gonna run to?’ Good question in light of what Hurricane Harvey did to Texans and Katrina did to the citizens of New Orleans. The national response was heartfelt but inadequate in both cases, which only goes to show how vulnerable humankind, no matter how developed, is to the supreme forces of nature. Although Dominica was spared from Hurricane Irma’s wrath, small island states are especially at risk.

At first, the sensation over the magnitude of Irma was focused on the Caribbean islands, mainly in terms of expats and tourists. But once she hit the US mainland, the islands were forgotten in favor of ‘people who matter.’ The general consensus is that we live in paradise, and most days I agree. Therefore we should expect a little punishment from time to time. Never mind that colonial masters built their fortunes on the backs of these former colonies leaving them ill-equipped to face catastrophe. But since the idea of remuneration is generally considered ridiculous by the privileged “powers-that-were,” why should the Caribbean not expect foreign aid?

These are the same mighty nations that consider migration a scourge. Yet what else are marginalized people supposed to do? Whether it’s war, poverty, starvation, or the result of climate change, it’s all about survival. When I listen to the BBC World Service on the radio, the amount of human suffering that is reported makes me shiver. I haven’t had a TV for 25 years, but the coverage of the earthquake in Mexico, the floods in India, and the mud slides in Sierra Leone on the Internet (accompanied by popup ads for expensive cell phones, impractical shoes on sale from, and hotel deals in Key West) makes me want to scream.

My native-born president doesn’t believe in global warming. As far as he’s concerned, it’s probably ‘fake news.’ His press secretary says this is not the time to talk about climate change.  Don’t these people have children and grandchildren? If not now, when? Time is running out, folks. The world as we know and love it seems to be disappearing before our very eyes. As intelligent human beings, we have to figure out a way to get ourselves out of this mess. For me that means practicing land and sea stewardship, living a sustainable lifestyle, and writing about things that matter.

My heart goes out to those who suffered loss via Hurricane Irma. In 2105, I had a short story on climate change published in the Caribbean American Heritage Literary Magazine. The title is “Everything for a Time,” which is a proverbial phrase typical to the islands. It is republished on this website under the tab “Kristine’s Work–Shorts,” and I hope you will take time to read it. I have in my  possession a letter written by Barrack Obama that addresses the blessings of multiculturalism. Now we have Donald Trump. Dude, what happened to my country? More succinctly, what is happening to our world?