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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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!!!

Dominican Literature and Self-Publishing

My last posting back in February, dealt with the growth of Dominican Literature and the strides that writers of Dominica – not Dominican Republic I will be quick to point out – have been making over the past years. Soon after I posted that blog I discovered two new authors who have joined the ranks of self-published authors in Dominica, or Dominican authors based overseas.

First, is a young lady from my home village of St. Joseph, Catherine Pierre who recently published Mindy Genie, in England where she lived for a while. Mindy Genie is the story of a young genie and its teenage master. The other is Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, who published Love Across the Atlantic in the USA, while she was based in Florida. Gweneth’s book is a story of romance between the author and her husband.

I recently finished reading Mindy Genie, I Lost My Cathedral, by Henry Johnson from Roseau and Love Across the Atlantic. These are the books in my little collection that I have recently purchased including Sonnets in the Waking Moments by Joszann St. John and Behind Closed Doors, which I am presently reading, by Augustina Rolle who is from Trafalgar.

Another development that has recently taken place, is the collaboration between the Domnichen Poetic Circle—a Facebook group of poets started by Dominican artist Ronald “Baba” Deschamps—and Dominica News Online. Every Friday, DNO will publish a poem by a member of the DPC. This collaboration started after one of the DPC members submitted a copy of one of her poems to DNO and it was published, paving the way for what is a good means of exposing the work of unpublished and even published writers both within and outside of Dominica.

I believe we are rapidly creating our very own niche within the Caribbean circles and hopefully as technology opens new avenues, we will get the room to develop further and our local writers will have the opportunity of having more of their works published. There are many established writers in the Caribbean and if we hope to be counted among them, we have to step up our game, so to speak.

With that said, I am aware of the numerous hurdles that many of the local writers are faced with in getting their work published, promoted and sold: the lack of a publishing house; the size of the local market; proficient editors and proofreaders, to name a few. These are some of the aspects of the publishing industry that will limit how well our writers can compete on a local, regional and international market with already established writers, many who have agents and publishing houses at their call.

Those of us who live in the United States, Canada or Europe have an advantage in that we are in a larger market and we have more resources available to us. We are not faced with issues such as the currency exchange, cost of mailing and there is a wide range of personnel that we can choose from to do some of the ground work for us, though some of us by-pass or ignore some of these resources for one reason or another.

Nowadays, many writers are not prepared to wait as long as was done in the past for a Publishing House to give an answer on a submitted manuscript and therefore, many are having their work published even if the work may not be to the standard that makes the book stand out. As I once mentioned, I had tried to get my latest book published by a Caribbean publisher, but after the initial response and a promise to contact later, I am still waiting 3 years later, which actually is not long based on publishing conditions.

I was recently asked by a budding author for some guidelines re self-publishing since she was interested in knowing what was involved. I don’t believe that I can claim to be an authority or expert on self-publishing, but after 18 years and three self-published works I believe I can share my experiences and give some advice. After what turned out to be a 3-part series on my Facebook page, I was surprised by the amount of work that is really involved in the process, and so too was the person who had sought my advice.

Many new or inexperienced authors are unaware of the ups and downs of self-publishing and that is the reason why sometimes what is supposed to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience turns out to be a harrowing experience. It is not just a matter of climbing atop Morne Diablotin to announce the publication of your book. What matters is the quality, content, and appearance so that you will be able to compete within the literary sphere. We can make the decision to self-publish or not, but it is extremely important that if we choose to go that route, we have a plan to execute that process.

I don’t know how practical it will be someday to see a publishing house in Dominica or a company geared towards publishing books and providing all the resources needed including conversion to e-books and having books available on line. I know that we have Pont Casse Press under the direction of Dr. Irving Andre and Gabriel Christian and most of their work is published under that trademark. It would be nice to see the company evolve into one that would help in the publication of works of local writers, both in Dominica and overseas.

Self-published authors need to be aware that once a proof has been signed-off the author is culpable. One has to make certain that whatever enhances the book’s quality such as the plot, cover blurb, a foreword or introduction are error free.  No one is going to blame the publisher. All blame will fall on you. We all get excited about seeing our book in print, but we must not compromise, when it comes to producing a good book.

I pray that our budding writers will get some inspiration from those among us who have stepped up to the crease (if I may use a cricket term here) and that they too can one day fall in line behind Gweneth Jules Moorehouse, Joszann St. John, Catherine Pierre, Henry Johnson and Elsa Rolle who have had the belief and confidence that they can lend their voices or hands in the continued growth of Dominica’s Literature; watering it with their thoughts, emotions and long-lasting devotion to the art form.

Continuing the Journey

During the past twelve months I have been promoting my latest book, “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends”—a story of a shopkeeper and her gang of “trusted” friends set in my home village of St. Joseph on the island of Dominica.

As a “Jack of all”— writer, publisher, promoter, artist, editor, salesman—whatever role was needed, I found myself playing it. I had to find ways to bring the story of this woman and her friends to the bookshelves, Nooks, Kindles and libraries of readers wherever Ma William was available.

It has been a challenge doing all this, while at the same time working a full-time job and taking care of some health issues. However, I’d be telling a lie if I said that the journey has not been worth it. Yes, there were many rough times, but also some very rewarding ones. The support and approval of my work outweighed or outnumbered the objections.

I have had the opportunity to work with a wonderful person, Eunice Nisbett of Savvy BestSellers, who offered tremendous support and with whose assistance I was able to embark on my first Virtual Book Tour from May 13th – 18th. We were also able to create and launch this blog site. Eunice has been instrumental in getting my work promoted on caribdirect.com affording me the exposure needed to promote my book regionally. We have been continually working on finding new avenues and better ways to promote my work; and lay the groundwork for new projects.

I have also had the opportunity to participate in a few events and meet with other writers/authors: the Yonkers Book Festival, the Yonkers Riverfest, and the Collingswood Book Festival; as well as at the DARDA Independence Day Celebrations and the Know Your Culture Independence Gala. The experience has been well worth it. I joined the Dominica Poetic Circle – a Facebook group, and have used the opportunity to network and continue the promotion, not only of ‘Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” but also of my other books, my photography and paintings, and to share my work with other members of the group. I also created and designed my own book-trailer which has been posted to YouTube.

There have been a few disappointments along the way—a sense of what I think is the lack of support for local authors and maybe I can generalize here—for local artists. My belief is that too often our work is treated as second class. I don’t know if it is the fault of the artists or our general attitude that something by someone else is always better. However, the support that is forthcoming from those who appreciate what we do, blunts the effects of the rejection and negativity. In essence, the passion for your craft is the driving force behind it all.

A friend recently forwarded me a link. The article that was attached to that link dealt with Playin’ Mas by blogger “Akers” and one of the chapters in “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends” was a source of what was referenced for her article. Behind The Mask: Playin’ Mas. I felt good that my work was used by someone to talk about something that all of us in Dominica, and some other countries in the Caribbean, are familiar with—Playin’ Mas. Ma William has been about life, as I saw it then and as the people of St. Joseph lived it then.

Christmas is a few days away and I can see the activity going on in Ma William’s shop. I can hear Ma William and Ma Simbert discussing what they would be doing for Christmas. Paul, bringing some yams for Ma William to sell for him in the shop; Bamboo, trying to get a few little odd jobs to have some money in his pocket; Pappy, doing his best to stay as the “big boy” in the group and, not the least among them, Mr. Jones having to tell everyone if he had received “greenbacks” from his children in the US. They would all be talking of what they would do after midnight mass. As “nennen,” Ma William would be getting her little packages ready to give to the many god-children who would be stopping by during the season. Yes, that was it back then!

So as I wind down 2012, it’s time to look ahead to new projects. Yes, I’ll continue promoting “Ma William and her Circle of Friends,” “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and “The Island Man Sings His Song,” but there is more that I’d like to share. What is it? We’ll see, if the Almighty grants me the opportunity. Some readers have asked about a sequel to Ma William…very interesting I find and an unexpected request, I may add. Others have asked me when I plan to publish the next book. I won’t commit to anything yet, but hopefully that won’t be too long from now.

In the interim let me say thanks for the support and encouragement of so many of you out there. I sincerely appreciate it. Special thanks to caribdirect.com and thedominican.net for continuing to feature my writing. To those of you who have not yet bought your copy, here’s your opportunity to get one as a gift for someone or for yourself, this Christmas. I assure you it will be a wonderful gift that you, or that special someone, will cherish for a very long time.

All the best and a Blessed and Merry Christmas to You and Your Families.

Giftus

Celebrating a Culture and a Heritage – Happy Independence to Dominica

Approximately one year ago I travelled to Dominica to launch my then newly released book “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends.” My original plan was to participate in the Literary Festival and do the launch around that time, but the timing of the book publication and the Lit Fest was not right. I thus decided to do the launch during the Independence Celebrations and do it in my home village, St. Joseph.

It was an exciting time for me. I had seen the result of almost three years of work come alive in ink and paper. My last book launching in Dominica was in 1981 at the St. Mary’s Academy where I was a teacher for five years. Since then I have published “The Island Man Sings His Song,” and “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” both in the United States, without any fanfare or drum roll. I was excited to go back to where it all started and make my village the centre of the action. I was not going to follow the same route with Ma William as I had with the two other publications because, based on the storyline, the previews and the buzz I was feeling about that book, I believed it was going to be my best work yet and I wanted to do it justice.

First, I saw this as a challenge for me as an author and a returning Dominican and also as the one who had “inside scoop” on the activities of Ma William and her trusted gang…Bamboo, Mr. Jones, Ma Simbert, Pappy and Paul. These characters portrayed the life in that community. They portrayed the lives of real people in a struggling community and displayed the everyday happenings in a community hemmed in on the North, South and East by hills and on the West by the Caribbean Sea.

As I walked around the village one late afternoon and relived the story, I saw the “fictional” areas that I had described in the book come alive.…Ma William’s shop, Front Street with its large potholes, and Main Street, where a number of stragglers were sitting idly by waiting for a drink or a handout. I saw Ma William and her gang doing what they did best every day and night. I got the feeling that even though I had not been part of the everyday life of the village for more than 25 years I was at home within a surrounding that I was extremely familiar with…people that I knew and streets that I had walked. The characters were the same. The characters in the book were no longer fictional…I saw them in the people walking the streets of the village. The story of Ma William became real at least for a while.

One aspect that amazed me was having people ask me which Ma William I was referring to in the book. Although there was no Ma William who owned a shop in the village, there were, to my honest surprise, many more Ma Williams in St. Joseph than I had known. Everyone, then, had a Ma William that they knew, although some were sure that the story was about a particular shopkeeper but that I had disguised the story by using Ma William as the fictional name…well that I won’t answer to.

As I indicated earlier, the trip was held around the Independence celebrations and that gave me the opportunity to witness some of the cultural activities that were held in Roseau, the island’s capital. Dominica may not be a rich nation but our culture does not take a back seat to any nation in the world. It is unique and precious. It is sometimes said that it is after many of us leave the island’s shores and visit other places that we realize what we have. I believe though, that it is because we do not have anything to compare it with, when we’re home. When we go to other places we see what they have and we become much more appreciative of what we have…our dances, our songs, our music, our poetry, our conte, our short stories, our rivers, the sea, our forests, our birds…and on and on.

This is why we need to applaud the groups throughout the United States, Canada, England and other parts of the world who organize the cultural events during that time of the year. We should also applaud people like Sabina George-Mingo, Roslyn Mc Lean and Justina Henderson for keeping our dances alive and teaching the young ones (many who were born in the US or came here very young) the culture and heritage of Dominica, that their parents knew.

Ma William did not dance though her mother—Ma Olive did, but what she (Ma William) did was relate a story of life in a community where the people, mindless of what happened throughout the year, saw themselves as patriots, as jean Senjo and as Dominicans: Paul—staying home even though his wife was in the Virgin islands, Shirley—hoping to return after her studies in Cuba and take care of the children in her community and her island and Mr. Jones—not wanting to leave the only place that he had known all his life.

As we celebrate another year of political and cultural independence from our colonial masters, may we pause and remember the many cultural icons who have gone before us and those who are still with us. Let us thank them for keeping alive a Culture and a Heritage that is second to none, and one that no matter where we are, no matter what part of the world we decide to call home, we as Dominicans, will be proud to be part of and cherish always.

Happy Independence Dominica and my fellow Dominicans!!