The Village Awakens

(Just for you…Lady O and Lucia)

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A View of St. Joseph from the E.O. LeBlanc Highway

Dawn breaks quietly
As birds welcome the morning
With their cacophony of songs.
The trees stand quietly in respect
As the sun edges purposefully
Over the dark-green mountains,
Its resplendent rays,
Bathing the land with its majesty.

IMG_4582The dew drops drip slowly
From the petals, unto the grass
Glistening in the sunlight,
As the plants, growing freely,
Welcome the new day,
Thankful for the warmth
Of the morning sun, as they
Proudly display their beauty.

The red-crested humming birds,
With long, pointed beaks,
Hover menacingly above the flowers,
Their wings, flapping like rotors,
As they take aim
At the stamens,
Ready to siphon
The deep-seated nectar.

HIMG_3505ens, with their broods
Close in pursuit,
Cluck noisily and defiantly,
As they scurry about
Hunting for careless worms
Before the robins and wrens do,
While ignoring the advances
Of the colorful, persistent roosters.

The bees and wasps
Buzz and hum, noisily,
As they quickly dart about
Feasting on the abundant pollen.
Yet, it is calm and peaceful,
Even as the river, briskly flows,
Meandering its way to the Caribbean Sea,
As the morning quietly hearkens.

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The glistening fronds
Of the giant palm trees
Lay limp and listless,
Fearful to disturb the morning with their rustle.
And, as I watch from my window,
I smile in awe
At the beauty being unveiled around me,
As the village, too, awakens.

From the book Verses from atop the Mountain, by Giftus R. John
Copyright Giftus R. John 2016

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The Journey Continues

I was looking through my personal copy of my first published book, “The Dawn,” a collection of poems, and on the first few pages were cut-outs from one of the local newspapers (not sure which one, though I am tempted to think it was the one by Parbel  {Parry Bellot} ). On those cut-outs were pieces written by Mr. Alfred C. Leevy, and another unidentified writer. (I guess it did not seem important to me back then to make a notation of the author’s name…now I wish I had.)

TheDawnNonetheless……As I read Mr. Leevy’s review, I smiled a bit. In one instance he wrote. ”The author’s message occasionally comes out with a rare intensity. This can be easily noticed in the poem entitled LET THEM RING. One may be tangled to think that THE DAWN, as the title of the book seems to suggest, is only the beginning of a stream of poetry flowing from the pen of Mr. John. But given the nature of the Dominican reading public that has traditionally not been of much help to the local writer, a promising author like Mr. John may find himself being denied the degree of motivation needed to fulfill the promise of his imaginative gift to the fullest extent.” Italics mine.

That was thirty-seven years ago and many authors (and artists generally) in Dominica, or Dominican authors throughout the globe, still continue to have the problem of their work not being appreciated by their own. I am still baffled by that sort of attitude and it often seems that our work is regarded as “second class,” or “third class,” or maybe “no class,” at all. I am even more baffled at what is in some cases, the lack of recognition by our school and educational authorities. I was blessed, while teaching at SMA, to have worked with Br. Germain who gave me the opportunity to use “The Dawn” in the first form during my English classes. But how many other local authors have had that opportunity? The trend continues and our local authors, painters and playwrights keep plodding on dealing with the numerous obstacles hindering their growth and development.

The other contributor, to that newspaper, had this to say. “THE DAWN, many have voiced, is not junior to any previous local books of poetry on our bookshelf. Hopefully, it too will plough its way into the 1978-1979 school syllabus……Giftus has also proved to be an excellent prose writer and his short stories have gained prominence in the national Day Short Story competitions. In 1975 he won 1st prize. That year he also won 1st prize in the poetry section with FOR I AM A DOMINICAN.”

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Alwin Bully- a true role model.

Alwin Bully, one of those whom I have the highest regard for and whom I got to know during my years at SIFOCOL (Sixth Form College as it was back then) wrote the introduction to the book… a twenty-eight pager, printed by Tropical Printers. I know that I lost out on a lot of one on one opportunities and chances to poke his brains since immigrating to the US but, c’est la vie.

Alwin began with a line from the Book of Joel: “…..And your young men shall dream dreams.”  And he added: “If we are to judge men by their aspirations rather than their deeds then this book is eloquent evidence that Giftus John will soon be one of the leading writers and thinkers in our island community….

This collection of poems carries perhaps the most sensitive touch I have ever come across in a Dominican writer. Each line seems to be filled with intimate feeling and genuine concern. The poet has a keen eye for detail and from his acute observation he draws sentiment, analysis and vivid imagery from whatever situation happens to fall under his psychoscope.”

Not too much I can add to these comments except to nod my head, not boastfully, but in appreciation of the words of one of Dominica’s superstars.

And so, as I end this year and look back on what has transpired from 1978, I have mixed emotions. I am thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. I am thankful for the support that I have received from family, friends and strangers too, along this literary and artistic journey, (having added oil painting to my repertoire); thankful for the opportunity to have published five additional books since then and hopefully lived up to the expectations of Alwin and Mr. Leevy, whose wife, Mrs. Dorothy Leevy, was one of my English tutors at SIFOCOL.

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Senjo Bay Front

Mr Leevy and Mrs. Leevy were among the very few who braved the rains and floods of October 2011 to attend the launching of “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” in St. Joseph. I could not have been prouder and more thankful for their support that night and Mrs. Leevy was proud to let me know that she had a Senjo connection…my former primary school Principal, and former Minister of Government, the late Isiah Thomas, was her brother. I am blessed to have two of those great educators and Alwin Bully in my corner…Not bad at all, eh!!!!

versesliAt the beginning of this year, I launched Verses fromma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpg Atop the Mountain, maybe the book that I had more help than any of my other books, since I enlisted the assistance of some of my close artistic and literary friends. It was a wonderful experience and thankful that I had the ability to trust others to guide me along the narrow track on my journey to the top of the mountain.

I have been deluged with questions and requests for a sequel to what may be considered my most popular book so far, Ma William and Her Circle of Friends, but I will not commit to when such will happen. At this moment I am working on a long overdue project and unless I am sure where I am headed, then the sequel will remain just a dream or a thought. That project is being edited as I write.

However, with all this said, and the promise for good things as I grow older-as they say-wine gets better with age (hahaha), I am still bothered by “the fate” of our local authors and painters who continue to face the same problems raised by Mr. Leevy, thirty-seven years ago. What has happened to our people? What has happened to our educational system? I am not making the claim just for me but like I have pointed out over and over again, we have allowed the works of many of our local artistes to be a flash in the pan….Do we give any credence to the work of those who labor tirelessly to keep our cultural heritage alive in poetry, prose, art?

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I am hoping that someone with some imagination in our educational system will see the benefit of sensitizing our school system about OURS…Are we still in the era of:  “Others are better than ours?” And this is not only in Dominica, I must sadly state. Many of us who have called other nations, home, are faced with this same dilemma. Therefore, I don’t think it is a problem of economics but the same ole Dominican mentality…..and that comes in many forms…

It is time for us to change the course of our journey because the present one only takes us back from whence we came. We need one that will lead us to a state of greater appreciation for things Dominican!

Happy New Year to all, especially my fellow authors and painters. I pray that 2016 will be a successful one in many regards and we can, together, continue that journey to the top of our own mountain! Peace and blessings.

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Looking towards the mountains!

 

 

 

 

Reflections from the Heart of Waitukubuli…

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Cover of “Verses from atop the Mountain”… Photo by author. (c)

When I started making plans to have my fourth book, Verses from atop the Mountain, published, I thought of a number of individuals whom I wanted to ask to write the Foreword. I wanted someone whom I could identify with as a villager from St. Joseph and one who was aware of the literary road I had travelled to this point.

Forewords to my previous books had been written by Alwin Bully, Lenox Honeychurch, and Edward “King Shakey” James, so I decided it would be a good idea to add a new voice to my work and I believed it would be great to have that new perspective on my work. I have worked with Alwin, Lennox and Shakey in various aspects of my past publications and I wanted a new voice.

After careful consideration, I finally decided upon Ted Serrant; a young man from my home village, St. Joseph, Dominica. I knew Ted growing up and I also had the opportunity to have him as a student during my short stint as a teacher at the St. Joseph Government School. However, I did not get the opportunity to have him as a student at the St. Mary’s Academy where I later taught, since he went to the Dominica Grammar School. I wonder what that would have been like!!! Ted was a very challenging student back then and as an inexperienced teacher stepping into the classroom, I had to muster all the skills I could to do a good job and, yes, to sound, “smart and educated.” I was dedicating Verses from atop the Mountain, to the children of St. Joseph and I felt Ted represented most of the children that I had in mind.

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A view of Senjo sitting on the fringes of the Caribbean Sea… Photoby author (c)

I also recognized the role Ted, who just recently attained his Ph. D from the University of Pittsburgh, had begun to play in the field of education in Dominica and also because he, of humble beginnings, had surmounted many odds and had now become a great example to the young people of St. Joseph. I saw in him one that the young people could emulate and know that with determination, their goals are attainable especially in an era when good role models are difficult to find.

I contacted Ted and I was extremely pleased when he agreed to write the Foreword. I sent him a copy of the manuscript and waited as I worked feverishly on getting my second full-length book of poetry ready. When Ted sent the write-up, I realized I had made a good choice. Not because what he wrote pleased me, (that was good) but because of the way he “painted” the collection of poems. I felt pleased that one of my own: a past student; neighbor, villager and community minded person, had worked with me and my small team that included Lionel Leslie, Kalinago Woryi and Ophelia Olivaccé-Marie, in putting together what I hope will be a well-received publication. The journey was proceeding well!

 

This is what Ted wrote:

Lotka’s law posits that most people will write one article or one book in their lifetime. This, I believe, is Giftus’ fourth anthology of poems. Giftus has defied the odds. He has been defying the odds for a long time. I know! He taught me years ago. I congratulate you on a provoking piece of work, and thank you for inviting me to present the foreword for this anthology. I am honored that the teacher can turn it over to his student.

Verses From Atop The Mountain signals a proclamation; a call; a cry. This proclamation is symbolized both by the verses and the location from which they are proclaimed. The mountains, therefore, are metaphors for heights attained and the universality of the messages embedded in these verses. They are also symbolic of Giftus’ mountainous island origin and the land that remains almost like an unsettled bargain in these verses. “The Migrant Song” captures that unsettled existence derived from residence in an adopted homeland. Much of the work in this anthology, then, comes from lived experiences and a persistent banter between what is and what used to be, what is left behind and what one now contends with. In “The Land Beckons Me,” he finds solace and the assurance that he is not a castaway confirming the temporariness of the migrant tension between the homeland and the adopted homeland.

The work is a “literary hopscotch” (and I mean it in a flattering way,) of themes that addresses love, nature, reality, expectations, dreams and ambitions lined with hope and restoration: “The Sun Rises Tomorrow;” “The Morning Awakens.” This hopscotching, to me, is the art of a multifaceted artist, and Giftus is multifaceted. He is painter, writer, and poet. This book bears this out as he weaves together pieces on the spring, fall and the snow; things that are transient and yet in “Ode to a Tree Stump,” he finds not just death, decay, and a break from the past, but endurance of that past. With its roots buried deeply, the stump remains as a lasting memory of its legacy. For him, the more things change the more they remain the same. That sentiment comes through in his serious treatises on politics and freedom, two of the things that vex us most.

This anthology traverses the human emotion as well: From an elusive love to solitude, nightmare, cowardice, and death—his mom’s. Then almost in a ‘tantalizing soliloquy,’ he asked, “For whom does the church bell toll?” Despite the hopscotching, Giftus returns again and again to the theme of his beloved land and community, a microcosm of the returning nature of West Indian migration. In the end he reckons that we all are cut form the same cloth. Simply, this anthology is all of us, reflects all of us and speaks to all of us from the mountaintop. Listen!

 

Ted D. Serrant, PhD
Senior Fellow
Rise Institute
Washington, DC

Staying the Course

I was at an event recently, when a lady came over and engaged me in discussion about my artwork and books that were on display. She was very impressed with the quality of my work, but, before she left, she asked, “Where do you sell your work?” After telling her how I went about getting my work sold, she stated I was doing myself a disservice. She felt I needed to explore more lucrative venues, and events, if I have to be as successful as she thought I could be.

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Book by one of the Caribbean’s leading historians, Dr. Lennox Honychurch

This is a common theme at a number of events where my work is displayed and after a while, it becomes more of a motivating factor, to move beyond the level, that I am presently. At times too, it makes you ask yourself whether, what you’re doing, is a waste of time. It prompts you to ask yourself what else can be done to make such questions go away, not because you are offended, but because you realize that there are people who appreciate your work and the quality of work. How can you show them that you are interested in making a change or taking your work to another level?

I began writing poetry during my early years of high school in Dominica, and it was the appreciation by those who heard and read my work, that helped me move into the literary spotlight and become a household name. Individuals like Mrs. Phyllis Shand-Allfrey, Editor of the Star Newspaper, the late Marcel “D’jamala” Fontaine, Daniel “Papa Dee” Cauderion, Royston Ellis, and Alwin Bully..

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Island Sunset-Mero Beach

One of the highlights of my literary career, was lying in bed at my home in St. Joseph, many years ago, listening to the late Prime Minister, Hon. Mary Eugenia Charles, deliver her Independence Day message. To my greatest surprise I heard her mention my name and then she quoted lines from one of my poems “Towards A New Day,” from the collection, Words in the Quiet Moments. I was thrilled. The Prime Minister of our country had found it fit to use my poetry as she addressed the nation and the world. What an honor it was.

I dabbled with oil painting and photography before, and after, immigrating to the United States. However, I took them up seriously in 2009 while at home, and wanting to fill time, after having been laid off from my job, the year before. But, I had to deal with the disappointment expressed by my children, and my wife to some extent, who felt I had deprived them of my creativity all their lives. I thus had an added incentive to move on and dig deeper. I am pleased and proud that my daughter is now “stepping into the ring,” and beginning to display her own artistic talent on canvas.

However, being multi-talented, has been a good thing. I have been able to combine them all together when I paint or write or do photography. The knowledge of all three helps me “paint,” for lack of a better word, a clearer picture, when I put oil on canvas, write a poem or short story, or take a photograph. Not that I am an expert, far from that, but the little I know comes in handy. Many are surprised when they visit my booth at events and I tell them that all the paintings, photos and books, are my creation. “You did all this?” they would ask, sometimes, a bit bewildered, and doubtful, until they see my signature on the artwork and my name on the books.

The questions, queries, and words of fans, are rather encouraging. However, as an artist, I, like many of my fellow artists, who now reside, and create, outside of Dominica, face this challenge. I try to portray my art as close as possible to what I understand, cherish and can relate to, yet at the same time, be able to relay my message to the people whom I interact with on a daily basis, that is, besides fellow Dominicans.

Sometimes, the only opportunities we have, as artists, to showcase our work, are at cultural events which are far and few between, and even then, we get more compliments about what we do than selling what we do. Some say it is because our people have not been sensitized enough about Arts as some of us-the artists-expect. Usually, the artist has to make his own connection to attend the events rather than getting an invitation to participate. There is also the argument that it is also that we still, to this day, seem to believe that anything Dominican is inferior.

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Oil painting–The Freshwater Lake

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Oil painting by George “Georgi” Christian.

Dominica just celebrated its 36th year of Independence, and as an independent country, I have not seen a serious effort to harness and save the artistic creativity of our people. I already mentioned this on a previous blog so I won’t go into length on this. We have to devote a little more time at ensuring that the artistic creations whether in theatre, music, paintings, literature, get their rightful place in the annals of Dominica’s history. I have noted, just recently, that some individuals are asking questions as to the origins of certain folk/cultural songs. Is it because it did not matter at the time or we just pay lip service to the arts in our country and even when we go out? I am yet to understand why Dr. Lennox Honychurch, a noted Caribbean historian, has not been commissioned to write a History of the Island exclusively for use in ALL our schools. What are we waiting for?

If our own people do not show an appreciation for our talent and creative abilities (except at certain times of the year-Carnival and Independence,) then how do we expect others to exhibit that same love and appreciation for something that is foreign to them? How do we expect the artists, who spend time and effort at creating, to feel good about what they do. How do we expect them to feel appreciated for what they do, more specifically, upholding the culture of the island in many respects, when their work, is second-guessed, or they are seen as individuals trying to make money off our backs?

I am devoted to what I do. I have a love for what I do, not just to get paid for it (this is great) but because of what I gain emotionally, spiritually and mentally from engaging in the various art forms I have taken a liking to, and I am sure I am not alone. There are quite a number of us out in the “wilderness,” so to speak, honing our craft and being proud to do it: Among them; Christian George; Glenford John; Dave Wilson; Joszann St. John, Paula John, Steinberg Henry, Felix Augustine, Judge Irving Andre and Lola Louis; just to name a few.

So the struggle continues, notwithstanding. Frustrating? Yes. Rewarding? Yes. Enjoyable? Yes. But we need to ensure that our own are sensitive to what we do, not only for the complimentary word, but for accepting, not mediocrity, I should stress, but what is good. We have to debunk the saying “No prophet is wanted in his own country,” and say “All our prophets feel lost away from home.” meanwhile, I will surely stay the course!!!

The Need for a National Arts Center in Dominica

There has been the suggestion, by a few individuals, about the establishment of what in effect would be a National Arts Center in Dominica. I, too, would like to lend my voice to the establishment of such an institution in Dominica. It would be a center, where the work of national artistes, could be displayed and viewed by nationals, as well as tourists to Dominica. It would be a place where school children could visit and learn to appreciate, from an early age, the work of our local artistic “masters.”

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Old Mill Cultural Center

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Roseau Public Library

I am aware that we have the museum on the bay front (the Old Post Office building) in Roseau; the Old Mill Cultural Center in Canefield, and the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. However, what I am referring to would be a building that would encompass all the art forms in one central location and where the work of our artistes can be shown on  screens, in videos, or performed or read at certain periods.

We have seen and heard of notable artistes throughout the years, but sadly their legacies have disappeared and in some cases we are at a loss to identify or name the ones who paved the way for our dancers, painters, playwrights: people like Darius David, Mabel-Cissy Cauderion, Jean Lawrence, Lord Tokyo, Lord Solo, and Gaylords, to name a few.

Our artistic creativity, in all forms, is unique. Some may say that painters and writers do not have a unique craft, but the topics and the scenes that they paint or which inspire their craft, are quite different from what are present in many others countries. Our music and dance and speech are indeed unique.

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The Museum on Dame Eugenia Charles Boulevard

We have seen many artistes of promise blossom before our very eyes: Alex Bruno, Earl Ettiene, Steve Hyacinth, Arnold Toulon, Alick Lazare, Glenford John, Dave Wilson, Ophelia Olivacce’-Marie, Gramacks and the list goes on and on, but we need to have a facility where we can proudly present and conserve the work of those talented individuals and groups as a united body, not as individual artistes lost in the art doldrums of Dominica. Maybe that would be a way for all of our artistes to put their heads together and use all available resources that would help improve the standard of their work.

I recently read a post on Facebook by a fellow artiste; a very talented one at that too; about the fear of us losing one of our musical creations – bouyon music – and we know this is a possibility. But what steps do we take or have taken to preserve our own from being copied, modified or pirated? Is there a real national front present to help preserve all our art forms?

We have to get away from the sometimish attitude: local calypsos during carnival season and then packed away to collect dust till the next year while we give airplay to calypsos from other islands; local folk songs and poetry and dance during the period leading up to and during independence celebrations; and plays, just every now and then. It is time we create a culture of oneness.

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Dominica’s Lady of Song-Ophelia

Some may argue; Why waste money on arts? But our artistic talents and uniqueness identify us as a people. They are what we are…from the Kalinago weaving their craft to a fisherman making fish pots, to the quadrille group from Paix Bouche gracefully performing their pieces; this is our artistic make-up or DNA, if I may say so. Many countries have gone to lengths to preserve theirs and I don’t need to spell it out; but is there anything wrong if we do this for ours?

We have made some mistakes in terms of preserving and saving some of our cultural heritage; our symbols and our language and we must not allow this to happen again. The staging of the WCMF (though not fully of Dominican participation) has placed us in the musical limelight. The establishment of the Literary Arts Festival is another superb creation that can only continue to grow and become a really national event. Some of the greatest Caribbean authors are now gracing our shores with their presence and we have shown that we are able to hold our own within the sphere of Caribbean Literature.

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Dr. Lennox Honychurch

I also believe that our radio stations and television stations should devote more programming time to sensitizing Dominicans about the work of their own, rather than the imported American programs. Spend more time letting the people of the island appreciate what is theirs rather than spending so much time and money on programs that create divisiveness, anger and poor national morale. Our cultural and artistic development, are dependent on many aspects and they all need to be highlighted to allow our people to have the greatest appreciation for what is ours, year-round.

In the event that we do see the construction of a new building to replace the existing Roseau Public Library, one which is now long overdue, this may be one aspect that can be incorporated into the layout and functions of that building. One that may well complement what the library should be all about.

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Dr. Alwin Bully

The accolades that have been bestowed on Drs. Lennox Honychurch and Alwin Bully, protectors and promoters of our creativity, speak volumes, and in their own humble way, these two talented sons of the soil, have etched the written and spoken words in our minds — I dare say, hopefully, for a long time to come. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Streak or Nite Box shown on national TV or videos highlighting the plays? These plays were performed at very special times in our history, but where are they in terms of being regarded as such? What about listening to recorded pieces by Dr. Honychurch about the island’s history and about its people? Or  maybe a tape recording of Lawrence Brumant narrating some of his contes?

Creating an institution that can keep the works of the artistes of this land alive for generations to come is, in my opinion, dearly needed. We need to give our artistes the incentive to want to continue painting, writing, performing and narrating their stories; not only in February-March or October and November, but year round. In this way we can give the young ones the belief that they too can step in and fall in line or stand side by side with our artistic and cultural heroes and we can have the belief that when we decide to “hang our boots” there will be capable artistes filling our spots.

I hope that this can be a reality some day in Dominica. There are and will be obstacles but if we are determined and focused, I believe we can achieve such a goal. Time will tell, though!

My Mom Was My Biggest Fan.

Today, in many parts of the world, we will show our love and appreciation to our mothers, in word, deed and action. We will have spent millions of dollars by the end of the day making sure that Mom has a day to remember. Some of us may not spend that much, if any at all, but just by a simple gesture and appreciation of the one who nurtured us from the day of our conception, will make Mom happy.

I will not have the opportunity to wish my mom, Vernice, (Ma Shaden) Happy Mother’s Day because almost five years ago she unexpectedly departed this world. It was a devastating loss to say the least, because just a few months before, I had told her that I would see her again-but that did not happen.

ImageBut I will still acknowledge her today; still say a prayer for the woman who untiringly cared for her brood of seven–a stay home mom all her life–who devoted her time and talent doing everything possible to make her family comfortable, well fed and well-mannered. She taught us to be prayerful and kind and to love family. She was talented in her own way too….crocheting, knitting, doily making, sewing, cooking and baking and entertaining friends and family. Yet, she was like a hawk watching over its young, making sure, to a fault maybe, that nothing happened to any of us.

I will always regard my Mom as my biggest supporter, in my role as an artist. If no one else appreciated what I did, I know she did. I remember the day when my first short story was published in the Star Newspaper, I proudly brought it to her and I know she too was proud of me when she read it. She proudly displayed my paintings on the walls of our home in St. Joseph alongside those of my uncle Ronald, who was my inspiration. She had them on the porch and inside as well and ensured that nothing happened to them.

My Mom always took great pride in my artistic endeavors although she was always concerned that my work did not have political undertones since she did not want us to have anything to do with politics. I remember her being very upset that I was staging a play with the Campeche Youth group entitled “The Hard Road’” that someone had hinted to her was written about the then Labor Party in Dominica. She sent my brother Simon to the Lower School Room to ask me to come home only to have to explain to her that it was my own version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and nothing to do with the then Prime Minister Patrick John and his Labor Party Government. From then, all was well.

After I had immigrated to the United States, she would send me any newspaper clippings or a newspaper where my work was featured. On other occasions she would let me know when she heard a recording of me reading a poem or short story on DBS Radio or of a school child reading one of the poems at an event. I know that brought her joy. I would also be sure to get my birthday, anniversary, Christmas or Easter card without fail and every now and then a letter letting me on all those who said hello and all the past students of the SMA who asked if she was “Giftus’ mother?” and every now and then a family photograph of an event that I missed. I knew her unmistakable hand-writing and I was always glad to receive her mail.

When I had completed the draft of “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” I sent a copy for her feedback, not being aware that she would not get the opportunity to read it. She had read “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and she was very intrigued by what I had written. I can still hear her asking me…”Pa Gif (that’s how she fondly called me at times) where you getting all that from? She was always amazed that I remembered certain events that took place when I was a kid.

I visited Dominica in 2008 to see her and also to participate in the Senjo Reunion. It pained me that I could not share with her much about the book that her favorite writer was working on. It pained me that I never got to share my story of Ma William and her bunch of characters with her. I can imagine what she would have asked me then. But it was not meant to be. I didn’t get the chance to bring her a copy of the completed book that I launched two years later in St. Joseph but I know she was smiling down at me and saying…”Ou pa feb non, moushay Giftus!”

I know I am not alone on a day like today; there are many of us today who will just enjoy the memories and cherish them forever, including my own wife, Theresa (Mariel) who will be honored by the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey as Mother of the Year, at a function at the Manor in Irvington, NJ. I know it is a most deserving accolade. She has worked hard to see our two children, Mandisa and Jamal, become the young adults they are today and achieve their goals and dreams. At the same time she has been quite involved in many social activities, helping out and being a true role model for the younger ones.

It is said that sometimes a man marries a woman who reflects his mother and every now and then I think I have. All I do then is shake Imagemy head and smile. I know I didn’t marry Theresa with that in mind, far from it, but I guess life’s course is already mapped out for us and all we have to do is follow it. I am a proud father and husband today because together we have traversed the valleys and potholes and though we have not yet fully arrived atop the mountain, we have the belief, like she’s fond of saying… “Things will get better!”

I salute all mothers today—and Mom, you too, though you’re watching from above and asking why I am writing this—and especially my dear wife, for all that you have done and continue to do, despite all the challenges, the difficulties, missteps and disappointments, but in the end you are the glue that keeps all your families together.

I think I mentioned this before but I believe it is worth repeating today. Some years ago, I was in the village of Calibishie as a member of the Somerset Sports Club playing a game of cricket against a team from that village. Some time in the afternoon, there was a Mothers’ Day function at the Calibishie Primary school. At some point during the function someone started to read a poem. I soon realized she was reading my poem, She which was originally published in “The Dawn” my first book of poems and later in “The Island Man Sings His Song.” I shivered—she was really reading my poem. I did not say anything nor identify myself to anyone from the village, though my teammates knew…I just listened and enjoyed the moment…a special moment for me and for all those who cheered when the young lady was finished reading the poem.

Before I end I want once again say to all Moms out there…and especially my Mom, my wife and my sisters, sisters-in-law, my aunt, and all my relatives all over…Happy Mothers’ Day. God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Let me end by sharing the poem that that young lady read some years ago in the school building in Calibishie…just for you Moms today!.

 

She

 

She is the Queen of my life,
The upholder of my life
The breath of my life
The water of my thirst
The food of my hunger.

Yes,
She who toiled and labored
She who washed and clothed
She who caressed and kissed
She’s my Queen
The Queen of My Life.

 She who stands behind me
She who gives me strength
She who gives me love and wisdom
She’s my Sun
The Sun that brightens my life,
The Sun that guides my life.

She who fed my hungry lips with milk
From her breasts,
She who soothed my pain
With her tender touch,
She who held me
With her safest hands.

She’s my Moon
That shows me the way
In the darkest hour
She who stays near while I am asleep.
She’s my Queen.

She who carried me
In her protected and comfortable womb
For nine careful months
She who smiled when she saw me
She who felt proud when she saw me
She who felt proud when she bore me
She’s My Queen, My Sun, My Moon, My Life.
She, whose love surpasses all others,

She’s my Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Introspective Look at Self, Emotion, Spirituality and Talent of an Artist.

(I originally wrote this post without a heading because I was not sure what title I should use. As I usually do, I gave my wife, Theresa, to review what I had written and also asked her for her suggestion as to what I should use as a title. Two days later, I went ahead without her knowledge and created my own heading-as above- and when we got back home that night I asked her if she had come up with a heading. Well. I guess we are one for a reason….Need I say more? You may not believe it, but she came up with the same heading  though not as lengthy as mine. I was amazed. I thus believed the message that I wanted to share in this blog, had indeed been sent….I hope it does the same with you.)

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting messages and mini-blogs on Facebook and wondering what may have come across Giftus because what you read sometimes does not seem to mirror the person you have known. I, too, have somewhat taken note-surprising?-but usually things happen, as many of you may know, as we go through changes in life. These changes sometimes bring out our true personalities that have been dormant or on the low side, for a while, whether good or bad.

At the beginning of 2012 I had to deal with some unfortunate situations that somewhat forced me to take a look at my own religious, emotional, spiritual and physical self. Four years before that, I was laid off from a job that I had been at for 21 years and I found myself having to join the list of unemployed looking for work.

It was a mind-boggling experience, not because of the fact that I had lost my job, but I was appalled at the manner in which those searching for jobs were being treated by employees at those job centers. Sometimes, I felt they were glad at our plight because it ensured that they had a job. To me the saying…”There is money in confusion,” did not seem more real than I experienced then. But I had to get into a program to get some benefits, so I became somewhat more of a statistic than a human being. That situation forced me to look deeper into whom I was and where I was headed. It all depended on me regardless of how those employees behaved and how frustrated and angry I had become. I was the one who had to make the decision about my life. What did it matter to them to mass us like cattle? I guess nothing at all.  Though I pray no one goes through this, and I pray I don’t go through this again, we all know it is a revolving door and nothing has changed. In fact it seems to be getting worse.

After those two life changing experiences, I decided to have a bigger view, as we say in photography, “an ultra-wide fisheye view rather than a telephoto view,” of life and what is important. I know this is relative, but it is real and unless we deal with it, with what lies at our own doorsteps, we may fall and may never get the opportunity to rise up. I know that as an artist, I have a responsibility to myself to use the God-given talents that I have been blessed with: writing, The Garden - Copyphotography and painting, because if I don’t, it will be a wasted journey. I have been given a second wind and I am setting sail on the open seas.

I realized that as an artist I have to share my talents with those whom I interact and share my joys, and my sorrows, too; my high points and low points, with them. I was somewhat embarrassed when my two children, Mandisa and Jamal, felt disappointed that I had somewhat robbed them from seeing me work on an easel and canvas. They knew I wrote books but had never seen me sitting before an easel. However, I feel good that at least, they can now share the moments with me, though I know that I can never make up the time that we lost.

I try not to be vain or boastful about my abilities, but I get a lot of satisfaction, knowing that I can do what I am capable of doing. I am in no way a “maestro,” at any of those artistic disciplines, but I feel good enough that others can admire what I do. I don’t take those gifts for-granted.

I have also become a lot more at peace, so to say, with my own spirituality and I don’t mean, religion. I am Catholic, been involved quite a bit, but I am speaking about the way I feel about my connection with the Most High. I am no evangelist or preacher and do not force my beliefs on anyone, but having come to grips with that aspect of my life and seeing it as an everyday part of my personal life, has helped me to appreciate my role as a husband and father, most of all. It has helped me focus more on what matters; what is priority. I don’t step on anyone’s toes, so I do not need anyone to do that to me in their quest to derail me.

We all have a mission to accomplish on this planet; some we chose; some were handed down to us; some were forced upon us. But it is how we carry out that mission that matters in the end. How we use the creative talents that we have to bring change; bring a sense of belonging; create a sense of pride, is what we will have to answer some time down the road. I have had time to stop and smell the paint on the canvas before I lost that ability and though what forced me to that point was a heart-wrenching event; what it forced me to do has been a life changer in many respects. I had allowed a job to take away my personal joy while trying to pursue that joy in another way. My daughter once asked me as I was about to leave for work one night. (I still can’t understand what caused her to ask that question.) “Daddy, what do you prefer? Your job, or your family?” I was surprised at the question and tried to answer it the best I could, but was this a time to stop and re-evaluate myself? Maybe it was, but we’ll never know. So I move on and thank God for the opportunity to turn things around.

I know that being an artist does not give me a license to slander or demean or degrade anyone through my art. What it does is it gives me the opportunity to share what I love and helps me create art that is enjoyable or art that evokes certain emotions and feelings in my audience, young or old, rich or poor.

I recently met one of my former students, whom I taught at the St. Mary’s Academy, at an event in New York. He indicated to me that images of paintings that I posted on Facebook were therapeutic to him. I could not understand where he was coming from until he told me that he had experienced a life threatening medical condition and the artwork was helping him in his recovery. I became very emotional when he explained what he had gone through and his process of rehab. What better than hearing this from someone like him? Someone whom I know personally. If I do nothing else but having helped him that way, I feel glad that I have done this and I will never forget that moment. This came from someone who identified with what I do because it became personal to him.

Book ClubI recently met with the Phenomenal Women Book Club of New City, NY. My greatest eye-opener was the manner in which almost every member of the club loved the book because they identified with Ma William-the shopkeeper. They were able to re-live their younger days through the characters since a number of them had had interaction with a shopkeeper either directly, or indirectly. Some indicated that they remembered doing some of the tasks that Bamboo did in the shop in their own shops. Some also expressed their fondness for the troublemaker…well, not surprising. When I created the characters, I never imagined how he (Bamboo) would have been able to weave himself into the readers’ hearts; but he has. Another reader told me she was sad that the story came to an end because she would not get to read about Bamboo anymore. Well, with his way of being slick, sly and very witty, he was smart, though not too intelligent, yet he got to have things his way in his village.

I may not have written a bestseller, but I am very happy that I have written a book that has brought a smiles to peoples’ faces. Isn’t this priceless? I think it is. All this makes my literary journey what it has become and what it is. Extremely worthwhile. Extremely self-satisfying so far…well not financially profitable yet…The old saying…artists die poor, still resonates loudly, but I do pray that someday I will be rewarded financially and will not die poor. I have bills to pay, I should say. Artists usually have to spend before we see results of the work we create.

However, to accomplish the goals I have set for myself, and to continue being the person that I should be, I need to have my spiritual, physical, talented and emotional self, all synched together or it may be a wasted journey; a fruitless journey. That is not an acceptable or desirable option.

It is left to me to stay the course and use my talent, not as show, but to show my audience the beauty of what I capture on canvas, on paper and on “film” well now replaced by disks. If I can do that then I will feel satisfied in my quest to achieve the best for this guy from St. Joseph.

Looking Back-Yet Moving Forward

 

ma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpgThe last leg of my artistic and literary journey for 2013 has come to an end and I am now standing in the doorway of 2014, waiting expectantly to enter the different rooms and see what is in store for me. Hopefully, it will be a year of continued growth based on the seeds that were planted and nurtured throughout the year.

I entered 2013 with some skepticism since I was trying to get back on course after a few health issues that derailed some of my plans the prior year, yet I was able to achieve a few of the set goals, but not close to what I had envisioned.

My main effort of concentration in 2013 was working on promoting my book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” and I put a lot of effort and time–long, late hours–finding creative ways to reach out to the Dominican public and share the story of Ma William-a shopkeeper in the village of St. Joseph, or, of any village in the island and possibly the Caribbean. I had to find innovative ways to do so on Facebook and online generally, while at the same time working a full-time job. But nonetheless, I gave it my all and throughout the year I participated in a number of events by Dominican organizations, where I displayed my work. At the same time, I have been working on two new projects and also trying to keep this blog current and trying to remain sane while all other things circled around me.

I stepped down as a member of the Dominican Poetic Circle (DPC) after unwarranted attacks of my work and my ability, made by a member of the group on the DPC Facebook site. That gave me the incentive to push on alone to achieve goals that I had set for myself. I became more focused on my own pages on Facebook; Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and Mesye Kwik! Kwak! as well as my personal page, and went on promoting my work much more than I had done previously and gained personal satisfaction from so doing. However, none of that would have been possible without the support of a number of individuals, most of whom I met on Facebook and DPC, but have never met personally, who rallied behind me and supported me through it all.  Les Li, Jenny James, Joszann St. John, Eunice Nisbett, Delia Cuffy-Weekes, Kalinago Woryi, Paula John, Gloreen Vigilant, Rhona Lawrence and Marva Paul Loblack, among others.

I also had the opportunity to assist and work with some other Dominican authors throughout the year. I was extremely pleased and gratified that I could assist in their projects and honored for the trust and confidence they placed in me by seeking my help and advice: Catherine Pierre, Joszann St. John and Gweneth Jules-Moorhouse, most notably.

As a self-published author, it has not been an easy task to get the work in the hands of the public, but it is a challenge that I have embraced and appreciated and I do not spare any available opportunity to promote my work. If I don’t then who will…Well, some will, I should say, like Jenny James, an individual I have met only on Facebook, who has wholeheartedly given me her  support by promoting all aspects of my work. I thank Jenny for her unselfish act and I cannot be more humbled by it all. The literary journey that began over 40 years ago at the St. Mary’s Academy, has given me the opportunity to reach many individuals both in Dominica and overseas, and I have gained a lot of satisfaction and personal growth along that journey.

At the beginning of 2013, I decided to devote more time than I previously had to my paintings and that, too, turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. I have been amazed by the feedback that I have received about my paintings and I have been left to wonder if my painting is beginning to overshadow my writing. It has been refreshing the manner in which many have gravitated to my paintings and this was very apparent when I was working on my latest piece which I entitled The Village. There were daily comments made on my Facebook page by those who were rather impressed with the piece. And all this after I had gone into hiding for over 25 years…well to my daughter’s angst, I must say. But all is well now.

Jenny2

2013 also saw a new perspective in terms of my photography. I devoted much more time in order to push myself and do more; create more and showcase my capabilities behind the camera. I recently joined the Newark Camera Club based in Springfield, NJ and the rewards have been instantaneous. I have the opportunity to see other photographers at work and get insights and ideas from them.

I have not been more energized than I have been these past three months and I am enjoying it all. God-given talents are not to be left stored away, I learnt, so I am more invigorated than ever before.

I organized an exhibition of all my works as part of Dominica’s Independence celebrations on the 3rd of November at the Knights of Columbus in my hometown, Union, NJ. To say the least, I was disappointed with the response from those whom I had invited, but I cannot in any way discount the appreciation I had for those who attended; some coming from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Besides, I was proud to display my work and feel a sense of accomplishment regardless of the turnout. I saw this as a foundation to build on and an opportunity to feel the response of those who attended and share a little bit of me with them.

But, besides the few hiccups that I experienced during the year, there were a few bright spots added to those of my artistic journey. There were some family accomplishments that helped lift my spirit. My son, Jamal, graduated from Temple University with a Civil Engineering degree and soon after that was able to get employment; my daughter, Mandisa, returned to the University of Pennsylvania to do a Master’s Degree in Education, and me, I worked on getting myself healthy again, while having to deal with one of the low points of the year…my wife being laid off from her job. Although this has given us the opportunity to share a lot of time together, it was not the way we had envisioned things. It however, allowed her the time to critique my work as I produced my pieces. The situation is out of our control so we will work together to make it better.

But, as I stand in the doorway of 2014, I am very optimistic of what lies ahead. I don’t know what to expect, but I am determined to build on what I laid down in 2013. Getting the time to build on it will be at times difficult, I know, but the results will be what I focus on. I have not been fortunate to attend The Dominica Literary Festival…will this be the year? I am still not sure. I also want to take all aspects of my work to another level and with the support of my family, both here and in Dominica, and all the Jennys out there, I will be able, I pray, to do so. I will continue to participate in activities where I can meet fellow Dominicans, and God willing, financing available, I look forThe Garden - Copyward to being able to get another project completed and published this year. It will be a tough mountain to climb, but each journey begins with a single step…I have made that step.

I am very excited about what I will find in the various rooms as I walk through, but whatever, I am ready. I also look forward to continuing to work with other authors and writers with whom I have partnered during the past year and I hope that together we can turn the tide about the literary development in Dominica and by Dominicans. I will continue to use the social networks to my fullest advantage and expose to, not only my Facebook friends, but anyone who cares, my work as an artist and the creations produced from such abilities. Hopefully, that can translate into some financial rewards, also. Don’t want to be a starving artist, you know.

So, let me say a sincere Thank You to all who have been on that journey with me during 2013. It was indeed a pleasure and a wonderful journey. I invite you to come along with me again this year as I journey through the various rooms, chapters,the hills, mountains, plains, on the seas and rivers, as 2014 rolls along.

God’s richest blessings to all.

Women’s Perspective During the Twentieth Century

Joszann St. John, a Dominican author, has embarked on a virtual book tour and is making a stop at my site today. Joszann is the author of Wounded No More and her latest publication  Sonnets in Waking Moments is the story of life during the Great Depression. I have the pleasure of having Joszann as a host-blogger on my site. Welcome Joszann.

Thank you Giftus for hosting me on this virtual book tour celebration for Sonnets in Waking Moments. I look forward to interacting with your audience and welcome their comments or questions. 

In this post I look at women’s perspective during the twentieth century.

The domestic arena consisting of family and household systems has long been associated with woman’s work. As society progresses, women are constantly redefining many aspects of womanhood, however we are shaped by previous experiences. Women’s lives were impacted in major ways during the twentieth century, and it is through the eyes of ‘Anna Agnelli’ and ‘Ma William’, that we look back at two defining periods, in two different parts of the world. “Ma William” is a novel written by Giftus John, a Dominican author living in the United States. The novel depicts life in the Dominican village of St. Joseph. Its many themes include family, women’s work, and the transition away from traditional society into the modern era of Westernized Culture. Anna Agnelli on the other hand, is an Italian immigrant and a woman who lives through the Great Depression. Joszann St. John captures Anna’s story in “Sonnets in Waking Moments”, a novel largely set in Toronto and New York City. For every woman who has accomplished a dream, she has had to rely on the efforts of others. Let’s examine women’s work, family and culture, in relation to these two characters.

Ma William Ma William owns and operates a small shop in the village; but she provides more than customer service. As some village men congregate in her shop almost every evening, it is a place where the men hangout, a place to socialize and share drinks. Ma William enjoys the interaction immensely. John does a great job of exploring the dynamics of the many personalities as they interact with each other, and the vivacious shop-keeper. To Ma William, family is important, and the men become extensions of an expanded network of familiar connections. William is a married woman and the mother of two children, Shirley and Jason.  Her husband has his own business, he is a tailor. Mr. William does not interfere with his wife’s endeavor, allowing her free rein to make her own decisions concerning the operation of her business. For Ma William, work and family are intertwined. They validate who she is. In the novel we are told, “She had been in the shop since at 6 o’clock this morning … took a two-hour break to return home to prepare lunch for her family” (Ma William). For Ma William and many other women who work outside the home, they take pride in serving family and community at the same time. Ma William is a figure of confidence, she knows who she is and is comfortable in her many roles.

Anna Agnelli migrates to Canada at the turn of the century. Tough economic times had necessitated her leaving the old country, and Anna leaves a piece of her soul behind, in Italy.  She comes on the scene, when American and Canadian industries were expanding and needed workers to drive growth. Many people came from impoverished nations, and then invited other family members to join them. Anna met and married Ralph, a fellow Italian, on Canadian shores. When the Great Depression hits, their marriage also suffers turbulence. The worsening economic crisis, impacts Ralph in unique ways. Anna is a tower of strength for her family though, and like Ma William, she also works outside the home. During the onset of the Depression, Ralph is often out of work. Anna juggles Virtual Book Tour Poster - Joszannmotherhood, (she has a young daughter Viola) and a demanding job as a domestic, to a wealthy family.  Impoverished women have often held traditional roles as nannies to wealthier families.  An interesting dichotomy is highlighted, when Anna must leave her sick daughter to go to work, her job in essence, to see to the welfare of the Ackerlys children. Anna acknowledges the difference between her world, and the world of the Ackerlys when she concludes: ”It was nice not to have to worry about where your next meal or money for necessities was coming from.  She had come to the realization sometime ago that the world was not a fair place.” (Sonnets in Waking Moments).

From the lenses of Ma William and her friends we see transition at work in the Caribbean and on Dominica’s shores. Culture clashes, between the men whose lives have been moored on the island, compared to those who’ve had a chance to migrate. Blackouts, or interruption in the island electric system, angered the man who had spent years in Britain, as he was used to a different standard of living. Two other characters, Bamboo and Paul, also have an exchange, where we see American influence impacting the lives of the islanders.  Bamboo gets jealous of Paul’s yellow raincoat, questioning whether or not, he had received a barrel from someone in America. Dominicans are largely descended from the culture and heritage of slavery. When Ma William says, “I have to struggle to make a little livin” (John).  Her sentiment has double meaning, for it has been extremely challenging for islanders, largely descendants of slavery. Struggle and lack has often been the experience of many Dominicans. As the modern world is expanding its borders, the islands are also coming into their own. Ma William’s story is one about change, as the old ways erode. Case in point, her daughter Shirley has been given an opportunity to study abroad solidifying the new paths  being forged.

Anna Agnelli too, was forever changed by the decade of the 1930’s. Her family dynamic would no longer be the same. She was already a working woman, so the new culture that emerged from the 1930’s was one she celebrated. It meant that women were now able to occupy roles which formerly belonged to the men. Fascism and its ideology had dominated periods of the decade and subsequent war. Anna as an Italian Canadian had experienced racism. After the war, society attitudes were changing, and the future looked promising. The late 1940 and the 1950’s was a time of great change. Society was rebuilding after the economic collapse and new foundations were being laid, for all that would transpire in the following decades. Viola, Anna’s daughter, would eventually grow up to be a transformational figure, a bridge connecting the past and the future. The younger woman’s role as nun, and later wife, solidifies the woman’s place in the shifting culture of the twentieth century. Both stories capture the essence of great change at work in women’s lives. Women have arrived in the 21st century with a smorgasbord of choices. Where they go, and what they do with these choices is still being worked out.

Keeping the Dominican Culture and Heritage Alive

 

The 2013 New Jersey Madam Wob Dwiyet is behind us and after all the work and preparation involved and things to be taken care of, the anxieties and nervousness; the exhausted organizers and participants can now take a break…well a little, because the winner will travel to Dominica and the others will participate in a few Dominican functions being held as part of Dominica’s 35th Independence celebrations. Soon the motion will be set in place to have another function in 2014 and the cycle will continue…

I want, through this medium, to applaud all those who have been at the forefront of keeping Dominica’s culture alive in the Diaspora (I hate to use this word because of its negative connotation back in Dominica but that is what we are—the people of the Diaspora.)  During the staging of the events like the one just held in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, the Madam Wob Dwiyet USA -2013, it was remarkable to see so many Dominicans and non-Dominicans alike come out to witness, participate, and support their village or town girl; cheer the young ladies; cheer their Dominican friends on; and have a good time.

Mandisa

All those who believe that our cultural heritage is not important, think again. All those who think that politics and culture go hand in hand, think again—politicians come and go but our culture and heritage stay with us. For all those who think that the young people do not appreciate their culture, think again. For those who think that our culture is dead, well maybe it has been resurrected in North America.

It was indeed a spectacular display by young Dominican ladies, some who were born in the US of Dominican parentage. It was refreshing the way they performed and the pride and dedication they displayed. They all were winners, in my book, although only three of them could place, but in the end our island’s culture and heritage was the biggest winner. It was indeed appropriate that the government representative who was present at the function this year, is a villager from the cultural capital of Dominica, (Gwan Bay) Grand Bay, Mrs. Justina Charles, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports and wife of the late Prime Minister, Pierre Charles, who himself was involved in the cultural activities in Gwan Bay. I am sure she was very proud of what she saw and elated to see such talent among the young people of the Diaspora (that word again!)

The young ladies are examples to the younger ones who hope to participate in the event in the future and it was refreshing to see the Ti-Matadors perform on stage…oh weren’t they sweet? They could have had their own show if they were allowed to and they were very well received by the audience.  They carried themselves very well and didn’t want to be outdone by the older ladies….Good job by Vadshire Dupuis and Daisy Grant Timothy who got them ready for the show.Girls

A look at the bios of the Wob contestants tell us, that besides being so talented, they are all very educated and on a path to doing great things for themselves. Among them:- a school teacher/girls’ high school basketball coach and doing a Master’s degree in education; a BET Young Stars nominee and TV actress, a legal assistant; a law student; one studying to be a physical therapist;  and one who works as a quality coordinator with a major US airline. Good role models for our young girls in the US and in Dominica too, I dare say. So I wish them all the best as they journey forth. They have their future ahead and hopefully they will reap great success in all they do. They deserve it and I am sure their families are very proud of them.

One of the contestants in the show was my own daughter, Mandisa, however, she did not place. I would not be talking the truth if I say that I wasn’t rooting for her to win or at least place as a runner-up, but I was just a parent and not a judge. All I can say is I felt very proud of what she was doing on stage and the way she did it. I doubt she would have done this a few years ago and to see her do what she did, I was extremely proud. I had to restrain myself at some points since I was photographing the event and I am also a member of the DEONJ-the show organizers. Didn’t want to influence the judges, you know!

I never saw my late  grandmother, Ma Salanie, (Salanie Louis) from the village of Salisbury, dance, but I am told she was one of the persons who loved dancing and loved the culture of Dominica and I know she must have been proud of her great grand-daughter doing her thing on stage. I can hear her… “Dansay zenfan mwin! Dansay!”

SONY DSCHowever, all this would not have been possible without the dedication of some of the persons who have sacrificed a lot to keep our culture alive in a foreign country and to do it so well. I know that a lot of what they do may not be known of in Dominica, but those of us up here see it portrayed quite a lot at various events. The very uplifting thing about it, is that they are all doing it voluntarily and not looking for any payment for what they are doing.

I refer here to Angela Sylvester and the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey who stage the Wob Dwiyet Show annually; Sabeniah George-Mingo who started the Know Your Culture group in NJ; Justina Henderson-(Madam Wob Dwiyet USA-2009 and Madam Wob Dwiyet-North America-2012,) of Nous Wive Dance Troupe in New York and a former member of the Grand Bay Group “ Tradibelle;” Rosalind Severin-McClean of Rosa Dancin’ Belé in New York; the Boston Cultural Group among whose membership is the daughter of Dominica’s “Lady of Song”-Ophelia, Terri-Anne  Olivaccé-Marie, carrying on her mom’s tradition and love for the music and culture (and who says we are not our parents children?) Mrs. Lorna Phillips and DARDA who host their annual cultural gala and give all of those who attend an opportunity to display their national wear and parade gleefully for all to see, dancing and waving, proud to wear their wob and chemise. There are a few sprinklings of other groups throughout the US and Canada but I am not too well acquainted with them.

Angela, Sabeniah, Justina, Lorna, Rosalind and the groups and the individuals who support them, have forged to the forefront and created a new form of respect and love for our island’s culture and they should be applauded for all their efforts, time and energy in putting nation before self in many respects. They “have brought the mountain to Mohammed,” so to speak, so that we can reflect and participate in things Dominican during the Independence celebrations, even when we are not home.Boston

No longer are we strangers and in awe at what we can do when we visit Dominica or participate in these events or feel out of place, because we now have a new respect and appreciation for what we have; for what we cherish close to our hearts because it is ours and no one else’s. Darcor!

Before I end, I want to acknowledge the contribution to Dominica’s cultural development by Mr. Raymond Lawrence who will retire as the Chief Cultural Officer next year. I was privileged to have worked in the same building, as a Youth Officer, with stalwarts of the Cultural Division before moving to the US – Alwin, Ray and Pearle – and I saw firsthand how much they loved what they did. Raymond, like the others–and their staffs, has done quite a lot during his time as a dance leader, creator and choreographer and as cultural officer and I want through this medium to say, “Well Done Raymond! Blessings during your retirement…and I know you’ve retired as a public servant but you will surely continue to serve the public in your own unique way.  Congrats bro!!!