Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Thoughts from the Other Side of the Postcard #3

As I write this long blog post, I am trying to excavate and type out the words to my fragile emotions. It has taken me several rewrites and loads of paradoxical thoughts and angst filled editing to get this out of my subconscious state and into my conscious being.
It seems that I have been carrying my past like an overstuffed travelling suitcase. See, my seemingly enchanted  life that I had discarded in London, had been swept along with  the tidal waves of romance and marriage; these were an anchor for me before I made  life changing decisions to emigrate from my uncertain familiarity.

I had a great job as a counsellor - helping vulnerable people with their dual diagnoses, mental health, anti social behaviour orders with disenfranchised youth, domestic violence, teenage mothers,  and other supportive elements of my work. I tended to work within agencies, where for me the pay was better, and most importantly, I was not tied down.  In retrospect, sometimes I wish that I should of thought better about job security and the pie in the sky pension. But this did not hover on my horizon at the time. I knew that my duration of living in London was becoming shorter and shorter, hence my somewhat laissez attitude I had towards the stability of my future economics.

At the time, my boyfriend, who is now my husband, was living, working and  bringing up his two children in Holland as a lone parent. Their mother in Dominica had given him custody and he wanted them to have a better opportunity at life and education in Europe.

Because of my working patterns, the fluidity and flexibility of my work allowed me the freedom to catch the Eurostar on many long weekends. I was able to  just steal away, receive my warm embraces and eagerly anticipated kisses, ride our bikes , in unison,  on the flat roads and bike sanctioned  lanes in Arnhem, Holland, and just to  feel his strength and  solidarity calm and our one day imagined fantasy that we would be together for ever! By the way, his qualities have not changed. He is still my protector.

Although I was living some kind of blessed life in London, surrounded by my two delightful sons and a chosen handful of dear friends, I was at a standstill; I was stagnating. My oldest son had moved out. My youngest son was undertaking his A levels in a college that was nearer to his father's home and he decided to move there instead. So I was free. However, like Eshu-Elegbara,(A Yoruba Orisha), I was at the crossroads of my life, looking to see what direction I needed to take; I guess my destiny told me soon enough. With all of this in hand, I swapped all that I had ever known for our unplanned adventures and the idyllic notion of stirring the nascent writer in me and  settling in the comforts of the 'nature island'.

The Commonwealth of Dominica is a small, tropical island  which sits midway along the Eastern Caribbean archipelago, and is squeezed, like a slice of lime, between the two islands of Guadeloupe, which is in the North and Martinique, which is in the South. These two islands  are still under French rule. Dominica has had a fraught relationship with France; however it gained its independence from the UK in November 1978.

Dominica is truly a beautiful, lush country, where about two thirds of it is covered by tropical rainforests, and boasts, according to the locals, 365 rivers - a river for each day.
I initially saw Dominica as a place where I thought that I could loosen my tight fitting jacket -I wrote about this metaphor in a previous blog. However, unfortunately, I lost my blog to the evil clutches of cache, forgetting to renew my domain, and pure and utter carelessness on my part . My tight jacket for me was the oppressiveness I was feeling about living in London.  How my life was becoming restrictive. So, I decided to excitingly exchange my monotone for Technicolor. I was tired of living in the cold and grey climates of London. I was weary of drudging to work and keeping up the rhythm with disenchanted commuters who hated their jobs but loved their monthly pay packets. I was tired of squeezing onto  tubes, buses or trains, where my nose would be constantly assaulted  by offensive odours on varying days.  I wanted to feel some sun on my skin, feel the sand between my toes, and just truly breathe again.  I thought that I would be able to  swing and daydream  in my simple hammock on our  soon to be built veranda,  and feel the sweet  and tranquil breeze of the Caribbean Sea that was just a glance away from our property, hoping that it would  hypnotise me, energise my writings and inspire my creativity. 

When I landed in my newly adopted home, I offered my skills and expertise from my professional background. However, because I wasn't in the 'know', I wasn't able to successfully navigate my way through the maze of nepotism, political affiliation and lack of kinship within the country. Due to this, and after a while when our savings started to diminish -which was also offset by the fragile economic instabilities of the land - which ultimately led to our  own economic uncertainties, we took the initiative of plugging into our entrepreneurial aspirations. We took our love and knowledge of herbs, massage, aromatherapy and oils and started hawking them on the streets of Roseau. We built up quite a loyal customer base and met some very interesting people on our journey. People were fascinated by my precise and proper English accent and the way that I had seamlessly integrated into a small, island life - together with the pitfalls and joys that I experienced on this mountainous, undulating small island. I loved being with my husband, creating our fresh herbs (grown on our land or locally sourced by locals), together with the oils and creams that we lovingly produced. I loved receiving positive feedback and glowing testimonials about the healing benefits of our products, and how even folk, with small monetary benefits, would still come and patronise us.  How ironic it was when we had a great following from the many medical students who studied conventional medicine at Ross University located in Portsmouth. How gravitating it was to see the familiar faces of people in Roseau going about their daily business, and the hails, injected by witty, sad and delightful conversations we would get from complete strangers who brought our products. Folk who felt so comfortable in opening up to us on the kerbs and sidewalks of Roseau.  Sometimes it felt that I was conducting informal counselling sessions on the roadside! It was so edifying for both my husband and me; we took a lot of blessings with us. We also saw how the other side of the human spirit could be the and  how some particular folk would vent their silent grudges and envy towards our way. But we just laughed joyously at the bitterness and  'let it go' and just smiled inwardly  at the up and down  nature  - which reflected the topography of the land  -of our fellow human beings let we met on our journey.

However, the Tropical Storm of Erika literally cleaned away my cataract fantasies of surviving and living an almost sweet life in the  paradise I created within; the tempest rage of Erika surprised and drenched the country and its unstable infrastructure  in Dominica. The storm had accelerated our desires to leave, because frankly, things were no longer working for us over in Dominica. Faced with a non-existent economy, a paucity of people with tight, limited or no budget to splurge on our products, a slow dribble of tourists coming into Roseau  and the environs, and the hard, frigid  realisation that we are not in a financial position to conceptualise  our aims and objectives for our business  for now, we started looking at other destinations in the Caribbean. Erika manifested that for us. We came to the decision that Guadeloupe was the perfect place for us for now: it is only two hours away from Dominica on the ferry, and also, as it is an EU country, our rights living here as EU citizens are protected. Again,  the irony that this seems to afford us is not lost on me and it seems to be a continuous loop with my story of migration.

Post Tropical Storm Erika and leaving the ruins of Dominica, I never glanced back towards the tall body of Dominica, as the ferry lethargically carried my husband and me - still traumatised - to the French Overseas Territories of Guadeloupe.

We had been offered sanctuary from the storm from this delightful woman, Marilyn, who is from Dominica. We had met her and her beautiful family on previous occasions on our fact finding visits to Guadeloupe. I will never, ever forget their authentic support and their unconditional love. It truly makes me believe in the decency of people who don’t even know you, but will offer you shelter. These people are not family, but they have made my husband and me feel that we are family. I will never forget them, as it has truly made me believe in the loving kindness of strangers
Whilst in silent contemplation on the way over, I was still attempting to decipher the haunting images of Dominica that had left me feeling so sad:

 Set adrift from the many broken bridges, where cars, buses and four wheel trucks had to cross raging, dirt filled  rivers to reach their final destinations; roads, recently heralded by the people and the government, which were solely built and constructed by Chinese labour, and now were  teasing us with  large craters and seismic splits, showing us the true nature of their shoddy construction and faulty workmanship;  small villages decimated by the sand, uprooted stripped barks of trees and twisted, awkward limbs of these trees, waterlogged and bobbing in unfamiliar locations; large, foreboding boulders carried along by an unforgiving storm and dumped outside unsuspecting portals; cars, bikes and dumper trucks carried along like balsa wood toys and unceremoniously scattered within the many rivers, the heaving mud and sands of these waters and the Caribbean Sea; landslides of mud taking away part of a community in Petite Savanne,  who were peacefully slumbering in the watery embrace of Erika and having no awareness that their last inhaled and submerged breaths would be their conclusion to their diverse lives.

The solitary images of Dominica, with scant attention from the world media and the sometimes glaring mistake of geography with that OTHER Dominica, was really only pushed forward by the proud daughters and sons of the soil - who live inside and within the sizeable areas of the Diaspora -who made the world know that the Commonwealth of Dominica DOES indeed exist, and that they, as a small island will rise and reunite once again; this was their rallying cry in the aftermath of the destruction. For me, my realisation  and my status as being an ' outsider' but married to a proud son of the soil -who  by the way decided to return back to his homeland  after living in Europe for several years, where he was sick and tired of bolstering 'foreign', when his beloved country needed his support - and  after nearly three years of living in Dominica the storm helped me to eliminate my own  romantic veil that had me covering my eyes to see, that indeed, Dominica is extremely underdeveloped,  is not really prepared for natural disasters, is systematically riddled with poverty and varying levels of inequalities when it comes with access to health and employment (the statistics for unemployment is very high), with a very weak infrastructure and, in my own subjective  opinion,  a completely inept and incompetent government, lead by an indecisive and weak leader.

These have been some of the images that still pierce the innards of my soul. That has still stayed with me. A month anniversary of Tropical Storm Erika has come and gone. People on social media, out on the streets and elsewhere are still talking about it. This time it was different though. When Hurricane David literally blew the galvanized roofs, houses and other movable objects to oblivion  in 1979,  nearly thirty six years ago to the day on unexpected islanders,  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social  media networks did not exist. The internet was just a pixel of somebody's imagination. The impact of social media has been phenomenal on giving the Commonwealth of Dominica it's rightful voice. It is a voice, I hope of redemption, hopefully of salvation, truth and reality of what has to be faced in the aftermath.
It seems like only yesterday that I was receiving Lime mobile alerts warning me about "Tropical Storm Danny". The gender  of the storm had changed, but what it had engendered for Dominica was complete disaster and devastation.

Although there has been a chorus for unity and the rebuilding of the country, I will remain distant and observant and watch Dominica from the shores of Guadeloupe. Time will tell, just like the precious time it will take to build up my beloved, adopted country, Waitikubuli, 'Tall is Her Body'.

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