There’s a rubber tree across from my balcony that’s so tall I can barely glimpse the top of it. I walked round to have a look at its trunk, it seems to have many trunks, all clamped together, a beautiful russet brown. Its leaves are thick, fresh and glossy, great clusters of them end with a long pointed red stalk and there are millions of them. I think of the ubiquitous office pot plant, the rubber plant, so easy to look after and so bland. We’re so ‘fobbed off’ in the West. That sad bland plant in a terracotta plant in your aunt’s living room is just a tiny fragment of a huge, ginormous, majestic tree that grows in the rainforest. We take bits of nature, other people’s nature, stolen bits of nature, and use them to give our homes and offices a bit of ‘life’ as they gather dust in the corner.

Let me tell you, there are so many greens here, greens and greens and greens, layers of green. So much beauty I can hardly stand it. Leaves of every shape and size – massive leaves that sweep the floor, tiny clusters of heart shaped leaves, great dangly ferns, long almond shaped leaves, leaves like fingers and toes…every tree has many other plant species sprouting from its branches and trunks, generously supporting so much other life. These trees have massive exposed roots that spread way down river banks and form an exact mirror of the branch structure above which can give you vertigo when you try and ‘frame’ the tree, try and see it in its entirety, you can’t, it’s impossible, you cannot see all of it all at once, it’s too tall, too wide, too deep in its roots. The roots and branches are like elephant skin, wrinkled and calloused in places but smooth and green with moss.

I spent the morning with an artist, Ras David they call him here. He has an impromptu gallery of paintings on the bright green outside walls of his house. He also grows flowers, exotic lillies, the ones that with a rude protrusion in glossy red, pink, white and mauve. They’re growing amidst upturned coconut husks that protect them from the heavy downpours. The coconuts come from his plantation up in the hills where he likes to spend a lot of his time. When I politely thank him for his time he said ‘Time? I always have time, time has no meaning for me!’ When I invite him to come to Tortola for the arts festival he said ‘Oh I don’t travel, I like to stay right here’. Yet his six grown-up children are living in all parts of the world. He has a large fish pond next to the lilly garden, where he likes to sit and pass the day watching the golden Japanese fish. I join him, and as I watch the fish swimming and rising to the surface it’s as if the whole world’s in slow motion.

The ‘bachelor in a bandana’ (‘I need a wife!’ I need a wife!) is swinging a machete menacingly outside on the road. He has loose thin limbs and sways every time he takes a nonchalant swipe at the undergrowth. He’s been at the same spot all day but no none seems to care, no one hassles him to get the job done. He’s infinitely distracted by any passerby or vehicle, stops and calls out, cusses the world a bit, then carries on with his ‘work’.

The ‘Snakeman’ never speaks. Ras David speaks so kindly of him. He says he’s a young guy, not long out of school, he’s known him since he was ‘this high’ and holds his flat palm just off the ground. He says he’s watched him handle the snake, that he’s cool with the snake, as he washes the snake’s bag (but never his own clothes), the Boa Constrictor slithers around his legs as if with affection. I find it a touching picture, this silent, filthy, ragged guy, who’s apparently lost his mind, finding communion with a large snake. But has he lost his mind? He certainly knows when the cruise ships are in – Wednesday he’s always there with his snake to pocket some tourist dollars.

Brenda the Venda so Tender’s shop was all closed up today, I missed her and her cheery ‘Love is all you need’ chat. So I went down to her brother’s place, ‘Screws’, I was going get a drink or something and hang out with the Roots vibe but a fierce rattling at a small corrugated iron box, the size of a small cupboard, its door padlocked and chained, made me start. Through the gap in the door, alarmingly sharp teeth and a nose desperately trying to smell the air and every now and then the creature threw itself hard against the metal with frightening force. I imagined it a hyena or something equally wild and terrifying. When I asked,  they said it’s a Pitbull Terrier, that they keep it locked up in there because ‘some people don’t like dogs’. They’re running a ‘relaxing spa’ for tourists. The poor dog is slammed up all day long in that filthy box, no room even for it to turn round, he barks and howls hoarsely all day and half the night. Something about that metal box, the cruelty, the fear of what would happen if that ‘thing’ escaped, was too much, I didn’t stay around. All the Roots Reggae vibes in the world are not going to ease my mind away from that wretched animal.

As I write dozens of pretty little yellow Banana Quits are picking off the remnants of breakfast. They’re Dominica’s ‘sparrows’ really, common little birds, cheeky, nervous birds, if you turn away from your food, even for a minute, they’re on it.

Over breakfast the local radio was going haywire with a big drama going on in town at the High School. A couple of days ago a young teacher was stabbed in the head with a plank of wood with a nail in it by a teenage student. Apparently no action was taken by the school so today the students have occupied the school and demanded that the student be excluded, that something happens. It takes a lot to rile these people, they are so incredibly laid back but this is intense.

There are all these places I know I should be seeing: The Emerald Pool, The Boiling Pool, the Valley of Desolation (the place that interests me most actually)…but I haven’t ‘done’ any of them. Because I know what will happen, they’ll be full of tourists, oh I know they’ll be spectacular, and I know I’m being obstinate, obtuse, in not going. Truth is I’m just really loving being in the village, chatting to these lovely people, getting to know a tiny bit of their lives and in that way trying to understand just a little about Dominica. I’ve done so many of the ‘sights’ around the world, yeah, they’re in the travel guides because they’re amazing…but what do you do there? Take photos as evidence you were there, alongside a load of other visitors. It’s so hard to have your own ‘experience’. But just stopping awhile, taking the time to hang out with people a little, that’s what I love to do, particularly when you’re traveling alone, a way to ‘get connected’, otherwise it can all pass you by like snapshots, you find yourself sliding off the surface of things, nothing ‘taking hold’.

When I was last here, 22 years ago, I did the same, in another village, and thought: well, I’ll come back another time and do the hikes, the sights…and I came back and still didn’t do any of it.

If I think of ‘Paradise’ I think more of ‘Paradise Lost’. Being here, you can’t help but think of what we’ve lost. Close community, living in harmony with nature, appreciating the good, simple things in life, like plucking a ripe fruit from a tree…it’s a poor place and I know it’s a well worn cliche – but they have so much, so very much, that we in the West have lost.

The village is truly alive this evening: the Baptists are in a revelry – singing loud and clear, then babbling in tongues as if possessed, raging their devotion to The Lord. There’s another kind of loud music playing from people’s yards and houses, people congregate and hang out together, young and old. Boys kick footballs, girls dance. There’s a growing carnival vibe, ‘Jump Up’ Soca music is pumping up the adrenaline, then a bit of quiet and the frogs and crickets start up…at the weekend these gentle people are going to let rip in a riotous expression of lust for life. I know, I was there last time I came – it was intense, crazy, a blur of bodies, colour, sweat and pulsing rhythm.

A one time experience that I’m relieved I don’t feel the need to repeat…

Advertisements