Monday, December 29, 2008

Greetings from Living Dominica in Exile

I have heard from several readers, and I wanted to post a brief update. Mr. Wizard, Chester and I are all well and happy. We made the transition back to U.S. life and are busy like all folks here seem to be.

I am working as a psychiatric nurse which I am enjoying immensely. Psychiatric staff are a funny group and I seem to have found a niche. I particularly like talking with psychotic patients. One night I was chatting with a nice fellow who hears voices, and I asked him what the voices were saying. He thought for a minute, then reported that the voices told him "she's a nice lady." Well, who could need higher praise than that?

Mr. Wizard is involved in some spurious endeavour involving zero's and one's in various sequences and combinations. That is the best I can do to explain that magic.

Chester is aging and sleeps a great deal, but he managed the trip back from Dominica to the US as if it were no problem.

We had purchased a small condo when we returned to the US, and it has become cramped. I usually refer to our home as The World's Smallest Condo. We are now buying a house that is probably too big for our needs. But, I think we have always done things to the extreme, this is no different.

I have to admit that sometimes a memory of the island comes wafting like a scent and I feel an ache for the beauty and all the other gifts of my island life. But that happens less often, and all and all, we are liking our post-Dominica life. Life is so much easier here.

livingdominicainexile: Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Farewell, Dominica...

There are really no secrets on Dominica, or for that matter, amongst those of us who love Dominica where ever we live. So, I will share publicly that I am returning for now to the frozen gray wasteland of my birth.

There is no one reason for my decision, and it may not be permanent. But for right now, it is the easiest way for me to once again have my own home. You see, I have been longing to have my own home again for the two and a half years we have lived on Dominica. We have had difficulties here that few encounter, like a major landslide which rendered our land unbuildable. Anyway, we bought a tiny alternate plot and were poised to build when we did some reevaluation and decided to wait. Here is why:

  • Our finances are diminished and we are reluctant to invest more money before the government pays us for the purchase of our land which they are excavating to keep the road open to Laudat. We have been assured by all in government that they will pay us, since they must have the whole property for the stabilization of the hillside. But they have yet to make an offer of payment for the land. Meanwhile we wait and watch ourselves getting older and sadder. Mr. Wizard is going to stay on the island a while to try to nudge some resolution along. Once our palm is crossed with silver, we will be better positioned to proceed with building.
  • As you may recall, Dominica declined to give me a license to practice as a nurse here. I miss my profession of over 25 years, and I look forward to working a while longer. Already several US hospitals have written me about openings, which is gratifying.
  • I am tired. Perhaps we both are. We know that building a house here will not be easy, and my ability to fight is depleted.
  • Property is so damn cheap in the US, I can go back, buy a small house and have the immediate gratification of painting my own walls without having to go through the fight of building. Maybe eventually we will summer in the US and spend winters here. Who knows.
  • I am concerned about some of the choices currently being made here. Nuff said. Clearly, it is for Dominicans to decide the future of this island jewel.
I feel ambivalent about this decision. I love Dominica. I know I will crave the shades of green, the unique smell of this blooming island, the sight of the sea outside my door. And I love the friends we have here, who have been wonderful. But I am tired of the struggle all the way to my bones.

I do look forward to seeing forsythia, dogwood, redbud, and that peculiar shade of pale newborn green you only see in springtime. Until then, picture me wrapped in an electric blanket set to high, only wandering as far as the next outlet...

livingdominica: Thank you for your kindness and support, Gentle Readers.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Friend Francis is gone

I heard yesterday from Kendra at Island Med Student blog that Francis died on Tuesday. I know many of you have followed Mr. Rasta's plight and have contributed to his care. I am so grateful to each of you who helped to ease the difficult life of this special man.

Francis touched my heart in a way few people have done. He was so reluctant to ask for help, so at peace with himself and accepting of the terrible challenges he faced. I learned so much from him in the short time I knew him. He was able to rise above his circumstances in a way I am not. I never knew him to whine and wallow (as I am prone to do).

He was a gift in my life. A living example of grace with a touch of Caribbean/Rastafari sweetness.

The last time I spoke with him, he told me he would always hold me in his heart. I spoke the same words to him. And I believe that we do still hold a special place in our hearts for one another. I will never forget him.

His funeral is today at the Catholic Church in St. Joseph if you are on the island and wish to attend.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My life with humidity

Mold spore
I thought St. Louis, our home town, was the most humid place on earth, but I had never before lived near rain forest. Up North, however, no matter how nasty the humidity is outside, the inside is always nicely climate controlled. (Of course one reason I wanted to move here was to get out of my climate controlled box.)

Here is far different. Here I clean mold off my furniture. Did your mother teach you how to manage mold on your furniture? Mine did not. My leather shoes begin to grow fuzz. And today I took out a couple of pillows to find the cases covered in mildew. Ugh :(

We have some friends who bag up their most precious things with silica gel. Mr. Wizard is thinking about having lights burn in the closets of Lilliput to lower humidity. (But only after we are off the Domlec .47 USD per kWh electric grid.) Many hours are spent around dinner tables swapping ideas about managing humidity, mold and mildew. I have had people tell me of opening their DVD or VCR players to find them full of mold. The tropics are tough on electronics.

Who knows, maybe the next line of antibiotic is lurking within the the mold of someone's VCR on Dominica. Where, Oh, where might Jonas Salk be?

Of course we all know what mold can do to people's health, and it is so prevalent here it is worrisome. Mr. Wizard is highly mold sensitive and has to take antihistamines before entering some buildings which trigger his allergies.

Keeping house here is far more work intensive than up North. Having open doors and windows are wonderful in keeping the psyche connected to nature, but it also means the house has all manner of things blow through. (I recently found a tiny frog on my kitchen counter who had to be repatriated to the great outdoors.) And because of the humidity everything needs to be hauled into the sun frequently for airing. Having household help is not a luxury here. It is necessary if you do not want everything you own to be destroyed by the tropics, and if you need to perform any other function in the world other than house drudge.

So, today I am bleaching pillows, trying to catch up the masses of laundry, and muttering.

livingdominica: who is afraid to take out her posh red leather jacket an see what the tropics have done to it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Dominica Ebook

January has been a record month for book sales at Living Dominica. It is gratifying when lots of people find their way to our web page and choose to purchase our book. I suppose when the weather up north is cold and miserable, the book is even more appealing. Thank you to all you book buyers!

It is interesting to me the number of emails we get from people looking at a move to Dominica based on my eBook. We have even heard from people prepared to invest in property sight unseen! I always discourage this and tell them to come down, and get a feel for the island. I think that renting here for a while, allowing Dominica to seep into your pores before buying, is an excellent idea. You have to be comfortable with the differences to make a go of it here.

For instance, one time I was encouraging our daughter to join us in living on Dominica. "But what do I do when it is 3AM and I am dying for a cheeseburger?" she replied. Suggesting that she consider making her own was not appealing. Clearly, she is not ready to live here even though she finds the island dazzling.

If you are not ready to leave behind easy access to cheeseburgers, you are not ready for Dominica.

Dominica is a land of such promise. The natural beauty is amazing, and the people are warm and welcoming. It is an easy place with which to fall in love. But it also will serve up its share of frustrations and difficulty. I recently heard the following from a person who owns a home here:

"I've experienced some of the most beautiful as well as most horrifying times on this unique island which seems to be constantly calling for drama. I still love Dominica and consider her my home, although I am presently living on another Caribbean island. Whenever I visit, which is at least 3 - 4 times a year, and watch from the plane as Dominica's tall green body appears mystically through the clouds, I know I am coming home.

Dominica can give you everything, but also take everything."
I guess that says it all, doesn't it?

livingdominica: you probably know that Dominica's indigenous name is Waitikubuli, meaning Tall is Her Body. Isn't that lovely...

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees." Revelations 7:3

Mr. Wizard and the Wall Street Journal

Mr. Wizard had a chat with a writer for the Wall Street Journal. You can read the article here.

Kendra does PMH

Be sure to visit Kendra at Island Med Student as she writes about Princess Margaret Hospital
and her clinical rotations.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dominica can give you everything, but also take everything.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dear Readers

I may in the near future start another book and incorporate some of the writing from this blog into that work. I have therefore removed some of my blog posts from the public domain.

Here is my current working title: "How I Moved to the West Indies and Lived to Tell the Tale"

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. --Joseph Campbell

Friday, January 18, 2008

We visit a village health center

Mr. Wizard and I visited a village health center with our friend Mr. Rasta. He goes there every day, including weekends, to have his dressing changed, since his tumor is now too massive for him to manage on his own. (Life Goes On is facilitating transportation for his dressing changes, and continue to do laundry for him each week.) I got to meet some of his nurses, see the clinic, and watch them change his dressing.

I was impressed.

The clinic was spacious with a large waiting room with educational materials on the walls and a TV. The exam room was well equipped. Everything was neat and very clean. And the nurses did an excellent job changing the dressing. (I have to admit they did a better job than I do, as they are not as messy I am)

I had the very pleasant task if delivering dressings to the clinic. Some kind readers of this blog, and nurses at the hospital where I worked, sent large boxes of dressing supplies for my friend. It was such a pleasure to get to give the nurses these supplies and Mr. R was very pleased also.

I am, of course, very concerned about the continuing growth of Mr. R's tumor and the noticeable weight loss we are seeing. His appetite is falling off and he is becoming weaker.

Mr. R. is Rastafari and has a deep love of all things of nature. We printed off the Hubble pictures of deep space for him and he marveled at discovering yet another source of nature's innate beauty, beyond the stars. These images spoke to his gentle soul the way they do to me, I think.

livingdominica: Thank you to those of you who went to the expense and trouble of sending supplies down to Mr. Rasta.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tennessee Williams and Me

"Don't look forward to the day you stop suffering, because when it comes you'll know you're dead. " --Tennessee Williams

I fell in love with the work of Tennessee Williams as a young adolescent, and this love affair never died. I love the passionate, seedy Southern life he portrays. Perhaps because my roots are in the seedy South. I love the way he crafts words and paints pictures, making magic with vowels and consonants. For years as a young woman I talked of going to New Orleans, or Key West (wherever he was living at the time) and filling his mailbox with roses. Isn't that a pretty idea?

Unfortunately, this was all the hot air and posturing of youth. I never made it to that mailbox. I never bought those roses.

Tennessee Williams was from my home town of St. Louis, Missouri. He loathed St Louis. He never said a good word about it. Just watch The Glass Menagerie and you'll see why. It was where he ran from. So of course when he died, his brother brought him there to bury him. Yep, the lawyer brother decided to plant him in exactly the last place on earth he would want to be.

"The most dangerous word in any human tongue is the word for brother. It's inflammatory." --Tennessee Williams
This travesty did allow me to finally see my hero face to face. He was dead of course. But still, maybe he was around somewhere nearby watching.

One advantage of looking like I do is that I appear sweet and harmless. I went to the funeral home before the public events started, and charmed the funeral guy with my best harmless wiles. He let me sit alone with Tennessee, marveling at the overpainted face and mahogany monstrosity they placed him in.

No, I did not buy him roses. He was dead, after all. Roses are meant for the living. And definitely not for brothers who bury you in the last place you want to be. Williams' body was interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, despite his stated desire to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as the poet Hart Crane, whom he considered one of his most significant influences.

livingdominica: if anyone on the island would like to do a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I think I would be a perfect Big Mama.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Curiouser and Curiouser

Today I changed Mr. Rasta's dressing. (By the way, it sounds like he will soon be heading down to Barbados! Hooray!) Anyway, I bagged up the dirty dressing and took it to the hospital incinerator dumpster as directed by the hospital infection control nurse. Much to my surprise, there was a naked man in the dumpster.

Not only a naked man, but a carambola eating naked man who had painted himself with mud. Sitting there, amidst the bags of hospital waste. Hmm.

Did I mention he was naked, painted in mud, and eating carambola in the hospital dumpster? Oh, I guess I did.

"Say there, friend, that is probably the worst place you could possible choose to sit and eat carambola." I remarked.

"Yes, ma'am." he replied. (Nice manners, this loon)

"You really should get out of there", I insisted, "There is all kinds of stuff in there which can hurt you!" I was a little sharper now.

Even more meekly the waste bin's occupant replied, "Yes, ma'am".

But he didn't move.

So I was forced to hunt down security and get him in trouble. I suspect he will be indoors soon being scrubbed down by some nursing student doing her psychiatric rotation.

livingdominica: life is just full of surprises. And some of them are naked, painted with mud, and eat carambola in a dumpster.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Burning tires in paradise

We spent our weekend working downwind of a neighbor's burning. Here the common practice is to throw a tire in the mix of burning brush to support combustion. So house, laundry and our lungs were filled with burning tire smoke for two solid days. I had a two day sinus headache. And that doesn't even compare to the environmental impact of this practice. Who cares about global warming and air pollution? Throw another tire on! Never mind that 85 % of a tire is carbon--making them another source of greenhouse gas emissions. Never mind that burning tires emits serious levels of carcinogens and mutagenic material into the air. According the EPA, our neighborhood should have been evacuated or we should all have worn respirators this weekend.

Mr. Wizard has fought this battle more than once. He has argued vehemently with hired workers that they are never to burn tires on our land, and he has met consistent incredulity. "But that is what we do here..." He has to repeat the mantra frequently: no tire burning, no tire burning, no tire burning...

Here on the Nature Island, not only do we have the inevitable pollution of a refinery imminent, but we have the ongoing and time honored practices of tire burning, noise pollution, and general littering to cope with. There is a disconnect here between the goal of preserving the island and all things natural, and the reality of entitled destruction. Sometimes it seems to me that the island is honored only as long as an eco tourist with dollars is listening.

Please, Dominica, don't just pour your energy into developing a tourist "product". Pour your energy into education and environmental protection. Into changing the prevalent destructive practices. Into saving this green jewel before it is too late.

And stop the refinery. There is no such thing as a non-polluting refinery, Friends. A frequent argument for the refinery is that it will bring jobs. But it will also cause jobs to be lost! When the resident whale pod moves on because of polluted waters, whale watching will die here. When the reefs are destroyed, the dive industry will die. When the air is full of refinery belched emissions, the entire tourist industry may die. When the first environmental "accident" occurs and there is a spill, the fishing industry will be seriously impacted.

livingdominica: who is so hoping that the neighbor is done burning. cough, cough, wheeze...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Mustard Seed

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." --Jesus

When I was 2 my Dad died in a car wreck, leaving my Mother lost as to how to cope with 3 kids. During the trials, (literal and figurative) which followed his death my Mother wore a necklace like the one pictured here. It contains a tiny mustard seed. She used to tell me it reminded her that she only needed to have a little bit of belief for things to work out. I still have that necklace and I have been wearing it recently, hoping it will provide the same reminder to me.

As an adult I discovered this Buddhist story about the mustard seed. Isn't it interesting that both teachers used a mustard seed in their parable?

A woman was grief stricken with the death of her beloved child. Distraught, she came to the Buddha begging him to restore life to her precious baby. The Buddha agreed to help her only if she could bring him a mustard seed from a home that had never suffered death and grief. The woman searched franticly, asking everyone, but was never able to find a home untouched by the sadness of loss. Slowly, she came to see that her loss was not special or unique. All souls suffer. All are touched by death and loss. Her grief was healed when she found compassion for others through her own grief.

That story kind of kills off the "poor Me", doesn't it? And why is it that the best and most powerful lessons in life are also the most painful? Probably to open our hearts to the pain of others. When I was a hospice nurse, I noticed the very best hospice nurses had cared for their own dying relatives.

livingdominica: I am a very lucky woman. May I never forget that.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thoughts on Money

Someone sent me a link to a site called Get Rich Slowly. It is an interesting site about frugality and voluntary simplicity. I believe these to be valuable goals as long as my frugality and simplicity is not supported by borrowing from others. "Never a borrower or a lender be" is the wise Yankee motto. Perhaps it is the fiercely independent American in me, but I am not comfortable borrowing from others. And lending can also be very uncomfortable when I have to ask for items to be returned. This has been a cultural adjustment for me, since sometimes it seems here that everyone wants something from me. So, I support the goal of frugality and simplicity as long as it is not paid for by others. Only saints should have their simple lifestyles supported by others.
Here is a quote by Ann Rynd:

"Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others, misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement, failure is not a mortgage on success, suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence. Man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone's altar nor for anyone's cause. Life is not one huge hospital."

- Ayn Rand, "The Voice of Reason"

Of course, compassion has to figure into the equation somewhere. I get a weekly thought from the Dalai Lama, and this week his words were also about money:

"In the frenzy of modern life we lose sight of the real value of humanity. People become the sum total of what they produce. Human beings act like machines whose function is to make money. This is absolutely wrong. The purpose of making money is the happiness of humankind, not the other way around. Humans are not for money, money is for humans. We need enough to live, so money is necessary, but we also need to realize that if there is too much attachment to wealth, it does not help at all. As the saints of India and Tibet tell us, the wealthier one becomes, the more suffering one endures.

...Eating, working, and making money are meaningless in themselves. However, even a small act of compassion grants meaning and purpose to our lives."

--from How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins

You can subscribe to the Dalai Lama's email list here.

I am not sure how to reconcile Ann Rynd with the Dalai Lama, yet both speak truth to me. Perhaps balance is the key.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Morning Meditation

Mr. Wizard and I have a very inconsistent meditation practice. But we do continue to try to incorporate meditation and prayer into our daily lives. One of the things we had hoped to find on Dominica was the time and space to expand these practices of spiritual unfolding. Unfortunately, our ability to be "too busy" and our procrastination followed us to the island like all the other character flaws we developed into full flower while living up North.

But this morning we did sit in meditation on the back veranda. I had a lot of difficult getting quiet, but I was able be present in the moment as we sat. Each breath was moist as soft rain fell making a dull pitapat on the leaves in the garden next to me. Birds sang their morning celebration song. The pug snored softly in his meditation.When I opened my eyes, a mist was rising from the verdant green hills before me and the living presence of this island was immanent. Of course humanity is immanent also, and a car screeched down the road, its driver probably late for work.

These are the moments which make me glad I am exactly where I am. The idea of listening to the furnace or A/C hum instead of hearing the birds and rainfall seems unfathomable. The image of hiding from the elements in a box, rather than being connected daily, seems an impossibility. All of the easy comforts of the Big World cannot make up for the prison life of house and job we once knew.

livingdominica: and glad she is here, today anyway.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Spiritual Tourism

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

If you have looked at my blogger profile, you will see I list my profession as Spiritual Tourist. I have always found worthwhile bits and pieces from a myriad of spiritual traditions. Even things I might find a bit silly have a place in my sacred toolbox. At one time I had a positively glorious collection of trashy religious art. I loved it. I think I still have a flocked picture of Our Lady of Guadeloupe somewhere. I admire the kind of devotion which puts a statue of Mary in an upright bathtub in Saint Louis, or in more exotic locations, builds roadside shrines. And I love prayer flags!

I also believe spiritual things, and life in general, must be approached with humor. Nothing is sacreligious to me. If God made pugs, He/She must have a sense of humor. So, I have to laugh at Mr. Deity.

In Saint Louis there is a custom that when selling your house, you bury a statue of Saint Joseph upside down in the front yard. I can' t remember if he is supposed to face the house or the curb. All of the Catholic supply stores sell small statues for this purpose, with instructions on how to do it properly. You think I am kidding? Our house sold in less than a week at higher than the listing price. I dunno why these things work, but they seem to. And I am not Catholic. At least not recently.

There is an order of nuns in Saint Louis, commonly known as the Pink Sisters, who have remarkable success with the power of their prayer. They are a contemplative order who wear hot pink habits, and live smack in the middle of a very tough gang neighborhood where I once did hospice nursing. I used to go sit in their chapel during my lunch break. Maybe that is why I never had any harm come to me.

Anyway, a number of years ago, Pope John Paul II was coming to Saint Louis in January. That month is notorious for awful weather and people were worried, so they set the Pink Sisters to work on it. We had the best weather ever for that visit. (Hmmm. Maybe those Pink Sisters need to be praying for us as we build a house in Dominica.)

So of course I love Saint Expedite. Saint Expedite is the patron of those who hope for rapid solutions to problems, who wish to avoid or put an end to delays. And I certainly need his help right now.

There is a humorous tale about the arrival of Saint Expedite in New Orleans: The story goes that in outfitting the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the priests sent off for a statue of the Virgin. Many months later, they received TWO crates instead of one. They opened the first and it contained the statue of Mary, which they had commissioned. They turned to the unexpected second crate, which said EXPEDITE on the outside. There they found the statue of a Roman centurion, and mistook the shipping instructions -- EXPEDITE, meaning, "expedite this shipment" -- to be the name of a saint.

Expedite may be my favorite saint. I used to have a stack of his prayer cards, but I passed them out to friends who needed something expedited. I would love someone to send me some more.

livingdominica: I also honor the solar wheel, have participated in sweat lodges, and meditated with the Buddhists. I am totally nondiscriminatory when it comes to the spiritual life, and therefore probably offend everyone. Sorry.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My least favorite present was from DOWASCO

DOWASCO is our water company. And yet again, we have no water service.

The sound of the jackhammer is filling the air, but the workers say they have not figured out the problem yet. We are in our second? third? day without water. It seems like a lifetime, since we are also feeling unwell at Chez Miller. And additionally, we have a new, leaky puppy who requires lots of attention and mopping up.

That means lots of water hauling. And the laundry is piling high.

Oddly enough, I heard the Minister over the utilities pontificate last night on TV about how DOWASCO is poised to provide service to the entire island. How will that happen if we do not have consistent water to the areas already served? Oh well, it was a lovely speech. But they all are, these speeches extolling the grandeur yet to come.

I think I'll go back to bed. My misery index is up. I am sure the power will go out next just to complete this picture of tropical bliss.

livingdominica: I should have written Santa asking for consistent utility service.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

One of my favorite presents was from a reader

blueright wrote:

Merry Christmas Jen & Mr.Whiz,

One of the gifts I bought for my Love is a mustard seed pendant, like the one you wrote about on Tuesday, September 25, 2007. I have printed your post and wrapped it with the pendant. Thanks for the meaningful gift idea.

God Bless

Thank you, blueright, for sharing this with my family and I.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It Ain't Easy Here

Gentle Readers,
In case you missed this reoccurring theme, let me once again mention that life is tough on Dominica. Tough enough to make people flee, leaving behind everything they own.

Let me explain.

I got a call this morning shortly after 6 AM (!) from an expat woman I have never met, who was having a panic attack. She sold her house in the US, bought land in Dominica, ordered a car from Japan, and brought down a shipping container of her belongings. She has lived here just 2 months, and is ready to walk away from everything in order to return to the states. She hates it here. It is not at all like an island vacation.

I have read that 40% of people expatriating to any country will return home within the first 2 years. I believe this number is probably larger on Dominica since most everything here is a trial fraught with difficulties, delays, and shortages. (Good friends of ours have had their construction project halted due to there being no cement on the island!)

This panicy woman phoning at the crack of dawn is not the first person I have met walking away from their Dominican dream in despair. So let me state again for those of you dazzled by the dream of island living:

  • Do not invest more than you can walk away from.
  • Rent first to make sure Dominica is for you.
  • Try an experimental mini-move if you can, without dismantling your life completely.
  • Proceed with caution in all matters, using an attorney for all transactions.
  • Build a support systems of other expats, so you have people with similar experiences with whom to problem solve. Your Dominican friends just will not understand the Culture Shock you will inevitably experience.
  • Do not move here anticipating that you will easily generate income to support yourself.
  • Please call me only during regular Living Dominica office hours of 1:00 PM to 1:15 PM. (Someone else called us recently at 11:30 PM because they were experiencing their first Swarm)

Most likely I would have run back to the states already if Mr. Wizard did not have the tenacity (read stubbornness) born of his Germanic heritage. I would probably be up there shoveling snow and wishing I were down island again. Nowhere is perfect, but the grass does always appear greener where ever I am not located. So I perfectly understand the impulse to run away from island life.

livingdominica: I recently had business cards printed which gives all my various contact information and clearly states in bold:

You have to be a little crazy.

Thoughts on the Volcanoes

Dominica is home to one of the highest concentrations of volcanoes on the planet. Some experts say 8, some list 9, but all agree on one point: we are overdue for an eruption here. And of course the area of densest population around Roseau (where we live) is where some of the worst volcanic risk exists. We have heard that the merchants of the island have bought up property in Portsmouth just in case it should become again the capitol city. Even for a Queen of Denial like myself, it is enough to give pause.

Mount Pele today.
In 1902 Mount Pele erupted just next door in Martinique, killing 30,000 denial prone people like myself in the "Paris of the West Indies", Saint Pierre. The mountain had been rumbling for quite a while, spewing ash, and the streets were awash with panicked snakes, centipedes, ants and the like. Still the people stayed at the foot of Pele, until May 8, 1902 when a pyroclastic cloud with temperatures to 1000 degrees C descended, covering the town and harbor.

Blessing of the dead in Saint Pierre.

The Wiz and I visited the Mount Pele museum last year and stood slack-jawed staring at the artifacts fused and warped by the intense heat. Looking at old pictures of the streetcars and the opera house in Saint Pierre it is a bit understandable how this sophisticated European community felt it could never happen to them.

Dominica is just 30 miles from Mount Pele, so the eruption had a great impact on this island also, including this observation by our most famous daughter, Jean Rhys:

At her home at the corner of Cork Street and Granby Street, now Independence Street, the 11-year-old Gwen Rees-Williams, later in life to be known as Jean Rhys, was taken to a window by her mother and was shown the glow to the south and the falling ash:

'My mother woke me and without saying anything led me to the window. There was a huge black cloud over Martinique. I couldn’t ever describe that cloud, so huge and black it was, but I have never forgotten it. There was no moon, no stars, but the edges of the cloud were flame-coloured and in the middle what looked to me like lightening flickered, never stopping. My mother said: ‘You will never see anything like this in your life again.’ from Mount Pele and Dominica

So, here we are looking at property at the foot of Morne Anglais. Hmmm.

livingdominica: I just may change my name to Cleopatra since I am the Queen of Denial...

Friday, December 14, 2007

We live at the end of the rainbow

I took this from our veranda this morning
Here is a link to some other gorgeous pictures of Dominica. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Help Yo Brother"

Most of the taxis and minibuses here on Dominica have names at the top of the windshield. Some of the names are funny, like "Flash de Bobs", some are rather sweet like "Humble African". But I saw a new one today: "Help Yo Brother".

And that is exactly what we need to do right now.

Please, if you are on the island and are able to give blood, go to Princess Margaret and donate a pint for my friend Mr. Rasta. He has been having increased bleeding from his tumor and has already had two units, but he needs more. If you call Life Goes On (449-8593) they will give you his proper name so that you can tell the blood bank who you are donating to help. PMH accepts donations in the early am hours.

Mr. Rasta would be very grateful for your help, and I am sure he would like to meet you if you donate for him. We discussed today me asking you to come donate for him, and he was glad to have anyone know he is in the hospital who is willing to help.

I am sprung from sturdy peasant stock, so I gave my pint yesterday with no difficulty. Mr. Wizard, however, has some lurking aristocracy in his background and was flatly refused. He has a wee little thing with his heart that people fuss over. Humpf. Sounds like an excuse, doesn't it?

It is the tradition here for family to provide food and linens for hospitalized patients, as well as all of the little things a Big World hospital automatically provides. The Wiz and I are trying to fill the gap since our buddy doesn't have much help.

So I have been cooking vegetarian food of questionable quality, doing laundry for our friend, etc. Here, more than anywhere I have ever lived, the village really cares for a person. When those social supports are lost the effect is devastating. This is a much more interdependent world than where I lived in up North. Even my marginal vegetarian cuisine is appreciated.

I do hope some of you will give a very special gift this holiday, and go give blood for Mr. Rasta.

livingdominica: One Love. One People.
or "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers..."
whatever truth speaks to you.

No Car, No Water, No Joy Redux

Good Morning!

We have no water. You might recall we have been here before. Last night we had a substantial storm with enough rain for our local water utility to turn off the water. We have been told they do this to avoid sucking muddy water into the pipes. The next time someone tells you it is fine to drink the pipe water here, please recall this and the fact that Mr. Wizard and I experienced incapacitating diarrhea back when we believed everything we were told.

We have a whole house filtration system now, but of course that doesn't work to filter water hauled in buckets. So our table top Berkie comes into play at these times. These filters have been in use since the 1800s and have an interesting history. (You will note that we use a similar filtration system to the one Queen Victoria used. I do hope you are suitably impressed.) Of course the Berkie only makes about 6 liters of potable water at a time by slooow drip method.

So life just became much more labor intensive with having to carry water for everything. It also means heating water on the stove for bucket baths. For the uninitiated, a bucket bath is performed by wetting down the body, scrubbing with soap, then rinsing off. My mother called this a "spit bath", since although it will remove dirt and odors, it does not produce the lovely clean feeling of a real shower.

And as we haul water for our flushes and baths, we are also in automotive limbo. Mr. Wizard's ancient Beast of a vehicle is yet again broken. I am daily supplicating him to buy another vehicle, but I believe he will never get rid of the Beast. He firmly believes having the most disreputable looking vehicle on the island communicates immediately that we are not rich.

But I am fully prepared to own a smaller, nicer vehicle. If you are on the island and have a very reliable small 4X4 for sale, please contact me quietly and I will work on the Beast's owner.

livingdominica: just another day in paradise.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Arecibo Observatory

"The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books - a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects." - Albert Einstein

I confess. We did not shop and eat all of the time when we were in San Juan. We did go to visit the world's largest radio telescope at Arecibo. I had to reward my resident geek somehow for all of the shopping he endured.

It was awesome to see this immense dish, covering 20 acres, which was built in a sink hole in the rural Puerto Rican countryside. When we were there, we were told there was some excitement about a meteor they had spotted. I did not learn more about it than this, because the employee I spoke with was at lunch and very intent on flirting with the lovely girl at the hot dog concession. I can appreciate that he had his priorities straight.

There is a very nice visitor's center at Arecibo with a lot of interactive exhibits. But I found the noise of the competing film clips and sounds produced at the various stations maddening. I am just not used to Big World noise anymore. Why are these learning things so LOUD? Are we unable to learn quietly these days? (I do sound old and crotchety don't I? No,don't answer that.) I did have to leave the museum part fairly quickly, so I did not get to fully explore all the areas Arecibo searches,like weather conditions, and atmospheric changes. But I did have to hunt down the well hidden silent display about the SETI project.

If you saw Jodie Foster's movie Contact, based on a book by Carl Sagan, you know a little about SETI and Arecibo. For me, lucky enough to be married to Mr. Wizard, I have learned a little more. But here is the upshot as found on the SETI website:

"The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe."

"We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history — to know our beginnings and our place among the stars."

So, we sat and looked at this enormous device and contemplated. At least some of the time, Arecibo is patiently listening for the sounds of others who might live in our universe.

livingdominca: I miss Carl Sagan, don't you?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Our favorite place in San Juan

Andalusia Guest House, San Juan

Whenever we travel to San Juan we always try to stay with Esteban and Emeo at Andalusia Guest House. We also tell friends traveling to Dominica that this is the place to overnight, since most travelers cannot make the journey in one day. Located in Ocean Park just a block or two from the beach, this sweet little refuge is just the place to relax from travel, or shopping, or touring. They are currently expanding, and will eventually have 11 rooms, but it is best to reserve early. Several of our friends have found them full when trying to book, but we were lucky enough to stay with them the entire 6 nights.

Staying with Emeo and Esteban is really like being with friends. They work incredibly hard at helping guests make the most of their time in San Juan. I met a fellow guest, a Parisian who lives in Tortola, who loves this guest house as much as I do: "I never tell people about Andalusia. I try to keep it a secret for myself!" I, however, have to share the secret with my friends.

The guest house is just steps from the wonderful Kasalta Bakery and Deli. It is a dream come true with espresso, croissants, pastrami and Napoleon pastry. All of the things we cannot have when home on Dominica were throughly indulged, Si?

A bit further, but still walkable, is the local Puerto Rican restaurant called Bebo's. This is a great place to try a PR favorite dish called Mofongo (mashed green plantain) with a side of beans and rice. Oh yes. Most excellent food.

I am afraid I spent a lot of time while away wiping the crumbs from my mouth.

Another treat for us was that the TV in our room offered the History Channel. So, after shopping until our feet were bloody stubs, we would lie on the bed rubbing each other's feet, and watch a little history. I do miss having the History Channel and Sundance and Bravo. (We do not have these on Dominica, but we have 4 religious channels instead.) Esteban reads a lot of history and is a very interesting person to talk with.

So, there you have it. One of my best secrets is now yours to share the next time you travel through San Juan.

livingdominica: as always, your full service blog for travel tidbits and trivia.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Coming Home

Plaza las Americas, San Juan Puerto Rico

This morning I woke again to the sounds of birds and rain falling. With my morning coffee I enjoyed a rainbow over the Caribbean. Ah, Home.

We did have a good time in San Juan, but it is all too much. Too much noise, congestion, traffic, and consumption. Too much competitive undertow. Just like the world we ran away from, screaming.

The world I live in does not require makeup, high heels (also known as high hells by anyone who has worn them) and smart outfits. Of course there are some who dress to impress here, but more commonly we are barefaced and comfortable in sandals. I am certainly not up to San Juan standards any longer. Maybe I never was.

Imagine what it is like to our ears, grown accustomed to the background sounds of nature, to enter a store at Christmas time. First we are bombarded by the banks of huge TVs all blaring away, and behind them, the stereo systems hip-hop. Then we meet the animated Santa's shouting Ho!Ho!Ho! I want to cover my ears.

Masses of cleverly displayed goods designed to entice and create desire for more are piled everywhere, the abundance overwhelming. Too many choices, too many new and exciting things to try. The eyes are dazzled and strained. No gifts of natural materials are to be found anywhere. No handcrafts, no artistry.
Everything is a product of manufacturing and packaging. Merchandising is King.

When I look at clothing I wonder where all the natural fabrics have gone. No cotton, no linen is in the stores I visited. Have these become specialty items? Everything is synthetic, either in black or a retro print from the 60's. Everything I touch has the slick feel of petrochemicals. I spent a whole morning searching for a simple cotton shirt.

Each item we purchased was encased in masses of packaging, often several times larger than the item itself. Masses of waste pile high as we remove packaging in order to pack our purchases for the trip home. How much additional cost, both economic and ecologic, does all of this packaging embody?

I have become a 3rd world girl. I want less. Less is more. These days, the mercantile emporiums induce abhorrence in my unaccustomed mind. It is all too much. It is all a great reminder of why we love Dominica.

As I packed to return home to Dominica, I listened to a BBC program about happiness. According to the experts, money and possessions do not make us happier. (Imagine. Mr. Wizard and I were able to figure that out without experts.) Here is a link to the BBC Program, where you might enjoy the clip about the recipe for happiness. I was impressed with the graph showing that more money does not make us more happy. Of course, any farmer on Dominica could have told us that.

livingdominica: give me the simple life.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Deeply Strange, Impossibly Beautiful"

Astronomers Select Top Ten Most Amazing Pictures Taken by Hubble Space Telescope in Last 16 Years .

After correcting an initial problem with the lens, when the Hubble Space
Telescope was first launched in 1990, the floating astro-observatory began
to relay back to Earth, incredible snapshots of the "final frontier" it was perusing.

Recently, astronauts voted on the top photographs taken by Hubble, in its 16-year journey so far. Remarking in the article from the Daily Mail,
reporter Michael Hanlon says the photos "illustrate that our universe is not only deeply strange, but also almost impossibly beautiful."

Hubble telescope's top ten greatest space photographs:

(From #1 to #10)

The Sombrero Galaxy - 28 million light years from Earth - was voted
best picture taken by the Hubble telescope. The dimensions of the galaxy, officially called M104, are as spectacular as its appearance. It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years across.

The Ant Nebula, a cloud of dust and gas whose technical name is Mz3, resembles
an ant when observed using ground-based telescopes. The nebula lies within our galaxy between 3,000 and 6,000 light years from Earth.

In third place is Nebula NGC 2392, called Eskimo because it looks like a face

surrounded by a furry hood. The hood is, in fact, a ring of comet -shaped

flying away from a dying star. Eskimo is 5,000 light years from Earth.

At four is the Cat's Eye Nebula

The Hourglass Nebula, 8,000 light years away, has a pinched-in-the-middle
look because the winds that shape it are weaker at the centre.

In sixth place is the Cone Nebula. The part pictured here is 2.5 light years in

length (the equivalent of 23 million return trips to the Moon).

The Perfect Storm, a small region in the Swan Nebula, 5,500 light years away,

described as 'a bubbly ocean of hydrogen and small amounts of oxygen, sulphur

and other elements'.

Starry Night, so named because it reminded astronomers of the Van Gogh painting.
It is a halo of light around a star in the Milky Way.

The glowering eyes from 114 million light years away are the swirling cores of two
merging galaxies called NGC 2207 and IC 2163 in the distant Canis Major constellation.

The Trifid Nebula. A 'stellar nursery', 9,000 light years from here, it is
where new stars are being born.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mr. Rasta

I am heartsick today because I am seeing a dramatic increase in the size of Mr. Rasta's tumor in the last 10 days. I have been haunted by how much it grew from Thursday to Monday.

The good news is that a North American organization is planning to underwrite hospital care for him in Barbados. But another possibility appeared yesterday with a Parisian ENT visiting the island saying he might be able to provide the necessary intervention here. This would allow us to care for Mr. R here during his convalescence, rather than have him go through this on his own off island. I am hoping this works out. But either way, help is on the horizon.

Mr. R is gentle person who rarely asks for anything, but he does more than anything want and need his tumor removed. The enormity of this tumor is mind boggling. It reaches from his chin to the nape of his neck, and extends from his ear to his shoulder. The smell of it keeps him isolated in his little shack. And I see that it is bigger each time I change the dressing. (By the way, someone donated dressings, so yesterday we had proper supplies for the dressing change. Thank you!)

livingdominica: Yesterday Mr. R touched his heart and said, "Thank you for everything you do for me." He meant that for you, too.

Cold is a relative term

This morning, the thermometer read 73, but there must be a wind chill down to at least 70, because I had to get out a thick robe and wool socks. Yes, it is true. I have now become so adjusted to life in the tropics that low 70's are chilly for me.

Lisette blogged about being cold in Dominica on Storm Carib. It makes me feel better that I am not the only one bundling up at temperatures which used to feel warm to me. Isn't it interesting how our bodies adjust to living in a different climate?

I remember our first visit to Dominica some years ago, during January. We blissfully shed our coats and sweaters and donned shorts, even though the proprietors of Crescent Moon, our lodging, were dressed in jeans and jackets. It is all what our bodies are accustomed to, I guess.

I was horrified the other day when the Wiz told me our hometown in the US had a current temp of 28F. I cannot imagine how that would feel to me these days!

Of course this climate effect on personal comfort works the other way also. In fact, we have had to establish a strict "No Whining" rule for Northern dwellers who choose to come for a visit during the hottest part of the year. We issue a sweat towel and a water bottle upon arrival and curtly inform guests we do not want to hear about their misery. After all, we warn people not to come for the hottest weather since all of our friends are A/C wimps. We do not have A/C and cope with upper 90s and humidity with aplomb.

livingdominica: NOT dreaming of a white Christmas...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dominica's Stockfarm Prison

We learned recently that not only is there overcrowding up at the prison here on Dominica, but they also have no books. Now, I cannot imagine anything worse than being in prison without a distraction like reading. The days must be endless. The boredom must be killing. Not at all like the prisons in the US with Cable TV and classes to take.

Anyway, as you might remember, Mr. Wizard and I moved to Dominica with 29 boxes of books. So, we have decided to donate about half of our library to Dominica's prison. We have been going through the books and quibbling. While the Wiz likes to hang on to positively everything, I am the opposite, so the scene goes something like this:

Wiz: "Aw, I can't let that go, that is the Illustrated Bob Dylan, and I've had it longer than I've had you!"

Me: "You are going to deprive some poor prisoner of the Illustrated Bob Dylan? You need it more than some guy in Stockfarm?"

Of course, the prisoners in Dominica may not even know Bob Dylan, which leads to another thought. Our library reflects our tastes, so up to Stockfarm goes not only novels, but also books on Zen, Organic Farming, and Metaphysics. These will probably be of no interest to the prisoners, but oh well. Anything to read has got to be better than nothing. At least that is what we have been told.

One might ask why someone who paid to haul all those books to Dominica would be willing to part so easily with half of them, even if the cause is good. Well, here is the secret. I have an aging brain. I read a book, and very quickly all the details are lost. It may seems vaguely familiar when I pick it up again, but I can still enjoy it completely and not have the surprise ending spoiled. I figure at this stage in my life, I really only need 5-10 books in order to be endlessly entertained in perpetuity.

We also found some games to donate, and I suspect they may be a bigger hit than the books. Dominicans play Dominoes a lot. Drive through any village and you will probably see men hunched over a table feverishly slamming dem bones. Domino play can be very dramatic and for some reason women do not seem to play. I have always speculated that this is because the women are working while the men play.

I found a set of Dominoes buried in a chest and I was so glad. Maybe it will help some of the non readers to pass the time.

I also think comic books might be a good thing. So if you have a pile you don't want, send them on down and we'll get them to Stockfarm.

livingdominica: and now I won't have to dust so many books...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pay It Forward

I always read Zooms' blog called Free Spirit, and I really admire her art. So when I found out I could possibly have one of her painting simply by paying it forward, I jumped at the chance. (I guess being greedy is really not in the spirit of this, but I have to admit it was Zooms' art which motivated me to join.)

I do not claim to be an artist, but I do like to dabble with paint and fabric, and I make baskets also. So, I will create something for you. Here is the offer:

"I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog. "

How inspiring. Please visit Free Spirit to see Zooms' work and to read more about other artists who are participating in this excellent idea.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Assorted cannibals and restaurants

Nice hat, Alferd.

Today is the birth date of Alferd Packer. (He preferred that spelling based on a poorly done tattoo.) Mr. Packer, born this date in 1842, is the only American to be convicted of cannibalism. You can read the whole snowbound story at Wilson's Almanac.

In addition to this tasty morsel, you might be amused to know that the US Department of Agriculture named their cafeteria after him in 1977, and even erected a plaque dedicated to Alfred Packer, who "exemplifies the spirit and fare that this agriculture department cafeteria will provide."

Several months later the General Services Administration took down the plaque, called it "bad taste", and renamed the cafeteria. Some people have no sense of humor.

You will be pleased to note, however, that the cafeteria at the University of Colorado, Boulder campus is still called the Alfred G. Packer Grill with the slogan "Have a friend for lunch!".

Do not miss the video of the Alferd Packer Memorial String Band. (You must visit the website if you are reading via email.)

All of this cannibal talk brought to mind a fond memory from the past. For years when Mr. Wizard and I would go out to dinner we would give our name as "Donner". It always made me laugh to hear them call out, "Donner party, your table is ready". I do recall the one time that a beleaguered hostess recognized the joke and joined in laughing. Unfortunately, my prank was cut short by the advent of those obnoxious buzzing boxes they now hand you which sound an alarm when your turn to be herded in has arrived. No more did the shrill call of "Donner Party" make the endless restaurant waits worthwhile.

Throughly miffed that my fun was spoiled, I decided then and there to pack up and move out of the country in a state of pique. Humpf.

livingdominica: now you know the whole story...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cost of Living

Apparently we not only pay the highest electric rate in the world, but the commodity price here is the highest in the Caribbean. Everyone has been noting a huge increase in everyday items like flour, rice etc.

"The latest available data from the ECCB clearly reveals that the price of a sample commodity consumer basket (a basket of similar goods), range from $282.74 in St. Vincent, to a high of $482.76 in Dominica. The price of that same food basket in Grenada is $368.13. The average price for this shopping basket in the OECS is $386.92 which means that in Grenada, the consumer basket is $18.79 below the OECS average; therefore it is not correct to that Grenada has the highest prices in the region,’ he added."

No, Grenada doesn't have the highest prices in the Caribbean, Dominica does. WHY?

You can read the rest of the article here.

The Minister of Agriculture has a really good response, I think, in encouraging us to eat more locally. Read the story here.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Long ago and far away, Mr. Wizard and I used to be fairly avid blues fans. St. Louis (our hometown) has a rich blues heritage, but few venues remain to hear blues. So we would make an occasional romantic pilgrimage to Chicago, where blues is more widely played. In fact, Mr. Wizard hauled his collection of scratchy blues LPs to Dominica with us.

Anyway, today we are celebrating the birthday in 1873 of W.C. Handy, the father of the blues. Of course, one of his best known songs is St. Louis Blues, a song not about the town, but rather about a woman from St. Louis. Handy lived to a ripe old age as part of the Harlem renaissance having forever changed the musical landscape.

Bessie Smith did a nice version of Handy's song and I found a video on You Tube. (If you read the blog via email, you will have to go to the webpage to view the video.) Bessie is a favorite of mine, and the story of her tragic death is haunting, but may be untrue. The legend goes that Bessie was involved in an auto accident in Jim Crow Mississippi, had to pass the closer white hospital and died after reaching the nearest Negro hospital. Some claim this story is true, others say it was created by a promoter. It is true, however, that her grave remained unmarked until Janis Joplin placed a stone in 1970.

Saint Louis Blues by Bessie Smith:

livingdominica: "I hate to see that evening sun go down..."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Betty Fingal's Oil Refinery Discussion

Will Dominica gain more than it loses from the installation of an oil refinery?
A Discussion of the Facts

1. What is an oil refinery?

Fact: An oil refinery is typically a large scale plant that processes a hundred thousand to several hundred thousand barrels of crude oil per day. Because of the high capacity, many units are operated continuously at steady state or approximately steady state for long periods of time (months or years). (Wikipedia)
Note: The Minister has indicated that the proposed refinery will process ten thousand barrels of oil a day.

Fact: The major products of an oil refinery are: asphalt, diesel fuel, naphtha, fuel oil, gasoline, kerosene, jet aircraft fuel, liquid petroleum gas, lubricating oils, paraffin wax and tar. (Wikipedia)

Fact: The typical oil refinery includes the following process units: desalter, atmospheric distillation, vacuum distillation, naphtha hydrotreater, catalytic reformer, distillate hydrotreater, fluid catalytic cracking, hydrocracker, merox treater, coking, alkylation, dimerization, isomerization, steam reforming, storage units, amine gas treater, claus, cooling towers, waste water collector and treatment systems, boiler plants. (Wikipedia)

Fact: Oil refineries need large amounts of electricity and water to operate. Typically, they use thousands of gallons of water daily (20 gallons per barrel of oil).

Fact: Oil refinery operations require storage of huge amounts of oil and oil products. Because of its need to operate constantly, an oil refinery must have a large volume of oil on hand. The industry standard is 3 month’s supply. Once the oil is processed, the products must also be stored until they are sold.

Fact: According to the Minister of Housing, Lands, Telecommunications, Energy and Ports, the Honourable Reginald Austrie, the proposed oil refinery will occupy 25 acres of land.

2. Where will the oil refinery be located?

Assumption: Because of the need to transfer oil and the refinery products to and from ships, the refinery would have to be located on the coast. The west coast is likely the only suitable location for such transfers to occur given the roughness of the sea to the east.

3. What are the terms of investment?

Not revealed by Government to date.

Fact: President Chavez has pledged at least US$47 billion in aid and agreements to a variety of countries. Economists predict that the country’s resources will not be adequate to honour all of these commitments.

4. What commitment will be expected from Dominica?

Not revealed by Government to date.

5. Who will own the refinery? If it is a company, who owns the company?

Not revealed by Government to date.

6. Who will manage the refinery?

Assumption: There are no Dominicans with the expertise to manage an oil refinery. The expertise will have to come from overseas.

7. Who will maintain the refinery?

Assumption: Expertise to perform maintenance does not exist locally and will have to come from overseas

8. Who will oversee the refinery’s operations to ensure it is controlling pollution?

Fact: Dominica’s Government does not have the capacity to regulate this operation.

9. Who will buy the oil, sell the processed products and earn whatever profits are made?

Not revealed by Government to date.

10. To what extent and how will the profits benefit the people of Dominica?

Not revealed by Government to date.

11. To what extent can Venezuela guarantee that oil will be available to the refinery over a period of time on advantageous terms?

Fact: Dominica has no oil of its own and will have to buy oil to refine, if any is available

Fact: Venezuela is bound by its OPEC membership to charge the OPEC price.

Fact: The world’s oil supply is quickly reaching peak production. Experts predict that within fifteen years, the world’s extra oil supply is likely to come from expensive and environmentally damaging unconventional sources, such as Venezuela’s Orinoco tar belt. (Financial Times, February 18, 2007)

Fact: Venezuela is making similar deals with other countries, including some large Latin American countries, countries with larger populations and more industry and who share Venezuela’s cultural and linguistic heritage. (Washington Post, February 23, 2007)

Fact: The demand for oil from fast-growing and very large economies, such as those of China and India, is going to keep the cost high for the foreseeable future.

12. How would Dominica enforce promises given by Venezuela’s present government should power there change hands?

Fact: Inflation is said to be skyrocketing in Venezuela - so much so that President Chavez has recently threatened to nationalize grocery stores if the owners did not limit their price increases. (Washington Post, February 23, 2007)

Assumption: President Chavez may not remain in office if the conditions in Venezuela deteriorate significantly. His successor may not feel bound by promises he has made.

13. What are the kinds of catastrophic accidents that can occur at oil refineries?

Fact: Fires and explosions are not uncommon incidents at oil refineries. These incidents may threaten the lives of persons living in the vicinity as well as persons working in the refinery. For example, on Saturday, February 17, 2007, the Associated Press reported that an explosion rocked a west Texas refinery the day before injuring at least nineteen and sparking a blaze that sent a huge black cloud billowing into the sky.

Fact: Refineries are also a source of large chemical releases during fires, explosions, upsets and spills. During these accidents, many thousands pounds of dangerous chemicals can be released in a short period of time. These dangerous spills often dump chemicals into the communities around refineries causing health problems. For example, on February, 23, 2007, the Associated Press reported that BP had settled several lawsuits from an explosion in their Texas plant in 2005. In that explosion, 15 people were killed and 170 were injured, a thousand claims were filed and 500 lawsuits remain outstanding. Two-thirds of the lawsuits were for personal and property damage that occurred outside the refinery.

Fact: Most refinery air pollution is from product leaks in equipment not smokestacks. (Refinery Reform Movement)

14. To what extent has the Government considered the possibility of hurricane or earthquake damage to the refinery resulting either in making the refinery inoperable of causing pollution?

Fact: Dominica is vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions.

15. To what extent has the Government looked at the need to develop the necessary emergency response services should any kind of accident, explosion, fire, oil spill or chemical leak occur at the refinery?

Fact: Dominica presently has no capacity to deal with the kind of catastrophic event that occurs from time to time at oil refineries.

16. Has the Office of Disaster Preparedness been consulted about the potential hazards that an oil refinery may pose?

Not revealed by Government to date.

17. Exactly how will the oil refinery result in the reduced cost of electricity?

Not revealed by Government or by DOMLEC to date.

18. What other options to reduce the cost of electricity that pose less threat to the environment have been considered or pursued?

Fact: Dominica is blessed with an abundance of potential alternative renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, tide, biomass and geothermal.

Fact: Wind and solar energy produce no pollution.

Fact: Wind and sunlight are free and in abundant supply in Dominica.

Fact: It only takes three to eight months for a wind energy farm to recoup the investment in building and installation (National Resources Defense Council)

Fact: Venezuela, Cuba and China are investing in wind and solar power as means to reduce oil usage.

19. What is Dominica’s energy policy?

Fact: As recently as April, 2006, the Government said at an Alternative Energy Symposium that its strategy was to develop clean energy.

Fact: Dominica has no formally adopted policy on energy. The public has not been informed about the Government’s position with respect to the OECS energy policy discussions or the status of any clean energy initiatives.

Fact: Dominica has been a participant in CARICOM’s Caribbean Renewal Energy Development project since 1998.

Fact: Dominica is part of a project being carried out by the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency partnership (REEEP) entitled Accelerated Use of Sustainable Energy in the East Caribbean, which is designed to develop 10MW of clean energy for the country.

Fact: Dominica is eligible to participate in the OAS initiative, Renewable Energy in the Americas, which provides a variety of assistance for developing geothermal as well as solar and wind energy.

Fact: The public is not informed about the status of these projects, how Dominica is taking advantage of them or what is needed to move them forward.

20. Has the Government thought through what is Venezuela’s reason for wanting to establish an oil refinery on the Nature Island?

Fact: President Chavez has made no secret of his intention to replace the influence of the United States in the Caribbean and Latin America. Building oil refineries in the region takes business away form the U. S. and the multinational companies.

Fact: No new oil refineries have been built in the United States since 1976 because of concerns related to the pollution they produce and the environmental hazards they present to neighbouring communities. (Wikipedia)

Fact: Venezuela is struggling to reduce its very significant problems with air pollution and would not want to aggravate the problem by building more refineries there.

21. Has Government considered the potentially negative impact of this arrangement on its relations with the United States?

Assumption: While there may be benefits to be gained by Dominica from participating in this effort, there are very likely to be repercussions as well, and Dominicans need to be aware of what those may be.

22. What is the technology proposed to be used in the oil refinery?

Not revealed by Government to date.

23. What kind of pollution will the oil refinery produce when operating properly?

Fact: The refining process releases numerous different chemicals into the atmosphere, consequently there are substantial air pollution emissions, and a notable odor normally accompanies the presence of a refinery. Aside from air pollution impacts, there are also waste water concerns, upset risks of fire and explosion, and both occupational noise and environmental noise health effects. (Wikipedia)

Fact: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, oil refineries produce the following air pollutants: particulate, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, aldehydes and ammonia.

Fact: Refineries also generate a lot of toxic waste in solid form that must be disposed of. The average refinery generates 10,000 gallons a day of waste that contains toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health effects. (Communities for a Better Environment)

Complied by Betty Perry-Fingal – as a work in progress, open to corrections and additions

March 14, 2007