Monday, 6 April 2015

Thoughts From The Other Side of the Postcard #2

Right now I am sitting in a cafe in Mero. It is a hot, sunny afternoon in the Commonwealth of Dominica, and it's the annual 'Reggae on the Beach'. Today is special though, because the event is a fundraiser for the DAPD - a really worthy cause and I applaud the owner, Frederique, of the popular eatery, Romance Cafe, on this beach for taking the much needed initiative for bringing the many disabilities that face some Dominicans out from the shadows and into the clear light.Sadly, it seems that disabilities are somewhat kept hidden within this society, so it's nice to see their visibility, if albeit for a day.
As my vision becomes further accustomed to my surroundings, my awareness is sharpened by the differences between the 'privileged' and the 'underprivileged'. The differences are in plain black and white -  excuse the pun- and this pains me so much. The remnants of colonialism lingers like an unwanted odour, and the consequences of this are very real to see.

I innerstand that other people's joys and ultimately privilege should not be a beacon to my dissatisfaction and unfairness that I constantly see played, like a broken DVD player, before my eyes, but there is  a real and nagging sense of inequalities on this paradise tropical island, and its  is glaring, just like the bright sun rays bouncing off the Caribbean Sea. It's impossible not to see the real chasms of poverty that I sometimes  see on this island.

 As more and more privileged folk move here, to make Dominica  their final place of destination- where they can afford to build palatial mansions deep within the fresh interior of the verdant and abundant rainforest, or high up, within the precipes of their privilege -  some of the poor folk of the island have to live in plywood huts, fortified by galvanised roofing , sometimes clinging on the waterfronts of abandoned beaches, dotted with derelict and functional fishing vessels. On the same token, there are Dominicans who have built wonderful, pastel coloured homes in the many luscious locations that they call home after being away from home for many years. This in no means eliminates the dignity and pride that these citizens may have in their humble abodes,  but there is clearly  disparities displayed with the 'haves' and 'have nots' in my beloved adopted country.  These same mansions, built on steady foundations of mountainous landscapes tend to  look down condescendingly on some of  these shanty roadside parishes dotted throughout the island; and the hopelessness I witness of young, unemployed youth, sitting on stoops or  older men, who maybe cannot access their farming lands or plots,  frequenting the many rums shops in the neighbourhoods is a wake up call to this intense poverty. I can validate this claim, as I pass these places on a daily basis, thus I cannot escape this dismal reality as I drive with my husband, on the way to Roseau.
About a week and a half ago, an article was posted up on a website The site is geared towards independent travellers  and was entitled "Disappointed in Dominica". It caused some controversy amongst Dominicans living here and the diaspora, because the author spoke about poverty - although this was not the purpose of the article. He really wrote about being disappointed about being a tourist on a cruise ship and not having enough time in enjoying the sights and additionally, the lack  of organisation around some of these tourist sites. From my innerstanding of the article, he just merely touched on the issue of poverty, however, unfortunately this is what the commentators seemed to zero on in. I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of the commentators points being made about his limited capacity about  being a cruise ship tourist and  that it is virtually impossible to see the natural abundance and beautiful natural sights of  of the 'nature isle' in this particular capacity. I also see the implications that can be assumed when talking from his privileged stance as the ' an island struggling with poverty and trying to accomodate tourism'.He further asserted that 
'the island's infrastructure just isn't able to handle the amount of visitors it is receiving.'In my opinion, he is correct on both accounts. What was sad, after reading a lot of the comments were the myopia that some of these commentators  chose to use when it comes to the obvious poverty on this island.

 Its real!

This is an island that used to be known for its agriculture. It was an island that had abundance of crops - bananas was their gold - before agriculture stopped being the main event and where tourism has inconsistently taken over.
Where, during tourist seasons I see loads and loads of buses parked by the port in Fond Cole, or the bayside in Roseau, with gigantic cruises, that could swallow up Roseau  - waiting to see if they can pick up tourists to take them totourist  sites, such as Trafalgar Falls, Champagne Reef and other such splendor sites.  Nonetheless, when the tourists come in on the cruise ships - either in Roseau, Fond Cole Harbour or Portsmouth - they have already booked their package trips. Consequently, the local bus drivers lose out, even when they try to sell their laminated dreams on size A4 papers. I have since found out that a lot of these bus drivers used to be farmers. Make of that what you will.

I talk with my husband, who was born on this beautiful island about the golden years of agriculture in Dominica. He has so many stories about the days, when he was growing up, about the plentiful of crops that grew on this island. Now the banana industry has been ruined by Black Sigatoga disease - further information about this destructive disease can be read here. To hear Dominicans talk about the poor plight of the state of agriculture in Dominica is very sad; in fact it is a daily conversation heard on street corners, in shops, on buses and all around the island. Because agriculture seems to be a non factor here - right from the top of the government - in my opinion, the land loses its wealth. When the land loses its wealth, it then filters down to society. So the complete denial and myopia about not seeing the poverty of the land is worrying and unrealistic.

 Yes, its integral to have a love and pride about your country, but when the inevitable becomes evitable, its important for the rose coloured spectacles to become detached and view what was used to be a certain romantic nostalgia for your country and transform it into cold reality of what is currently  happening in Dominica. In order to view the reality of what is happening in their precious homeland,  its time for some of them to perhaps, spend more than a few weeks in their homeland, before they go back to the comfy confines of the diaspora, and embrace the benefits that they have there and may not get over here for now.  I am not meaning to sound alarmist, but as a writer, I don't want to censor my words and be inauthentic with my opinions, as it is what it is. It is what I am seeing every day, and there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to agriculture.

Poverty is rife here because of the total eradication of the agriculture sector. The unemployment rate is extremely high for the youth. The economy is non-existent. There is a paucity of investors. And no, I am not including the ever growing community of Chinese who are over here, with  their shops which sell inferior goods, without any kind of consumer awareness.

 This country is beautiful in terms of nature, but it has failed agriculture. 

Agriculture used to be the backbone of Waitikubuli (the Kalinago name for Dominica), but now it has a slipped disc. I am optimistic, and I see a clear vision for Dominica, however, it needs some of its sons and daughters of the soil to start returning home to make a difference. Fortunately, I have met some, despite the challenges that they face, they are home.

 Typing furious comments about the realities of your country will not make a difference, especially if you are seeing red through the lens.

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