[Blackstudies-l] Dominica After the storm

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Fri Dec 22 04:56:03 EST 2017

lisaparavisini posted: " A report by Stefan Labbé for Open Canada. On the
night of September 18, winds upwards of 300 kilometres per hour roared
through the island of Dominica doing things no Dominican dreamed a
hurricane could do: blasting rainforests into decapitated spindle"
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New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Dominica After the
storm <http://repeatingislands.com/2017/12/21/dominica-after-the-storm/> by
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: Dominica_3.2e16d0ba.fill-4096x2400-c100.jpg]

A report by Stefan *Labbé for* *Open Canada*

On the night of September 18, winds upwards of 300 kilometres per hour
roared through the island of Dominica doing things no Dominican dreamed a
hurricane could do: blasting rainforests into decapitated spindles, hurling
shipping containers into buildings, scouring churches to their foundations
and pulverizing entire communities. The resulting floods washed away homes
and cars, and swallowed people whole.

Few expected such devastation. That morning, Hurricane Maria was 160
kilometres southeast of Dominica when it tacked like a hockey stick and
bore down on the southern tip of the island. By late afternoon, the
hurricane had developed the dreaded “pinhole eye,” a phenomenon linked to
rapid intensification. As the winds spun more quickly, Maria supercharged
from a Category 3 into a Category 5 hurricane in an unprecedented 12 hours.

“We had no idea it was coming,” Glen Dafoe, a father from the northeastern
settlement of Concord Valley, tells me. I meet Dafoe a few weeks after the
storm as my reporting took me further into the countryside.

Some of the towns I visit escaped complete destruction, but in Concord, the
valley looks like it has been flattened by a nuclear weapon. Locals tell me
the winds spiked here as they got funneled between ridgelines. Almost every
house was destroyed, but instead of blowing buildings over, the winds
chewed up pieces of roof, walls and furniture, spitting them across the
valley. The local church lies in a pile of rubble and the once lush
rainforest looks as if it has been razed by a combination of explosive wind
and roaring fire.

Walking through the debris, my eye is drawn to the one house I see still
standing, what looks like a concrete bunker. Three families now live in the
gutted building. During the storm, the winds ripped the doors and windows
off their hinges, turning the living room and kitchen into a wind tunnel.
As appliances and furniture were sucked from the house, the three families
retreated into a bedroom — the parents stuffed their nine children between
two mattresses, and used a third to brace the door for five hours.

“They crying, crying…” Defoe tells me from under a flapping tarpaulin.
“Now, whenever the small one hears rain or wind she covers herself. Anytime
it’s raining hard, the grownups, we cower.”

“I’ve been through four hurricanes already. But that one there, that was a
hurricane with an earthquake, with tornadoes. It felt like the end of the

Halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore-sized
Dominica is capped by five mountains, 365 rivers and one boiling lake. It
was the last Caribbean island to be colonized, and remains home to the
region’s largest Indigenous settlement, a collection of eight hamlets —
including Concord Valley — known as the Kalinago Territory.

Traditionally, most Dominicans were farmers. And while the island still
feeds the entire Eastern Caribbean with fresh produce, more recently,
Dominica’s vast network of rainforests and walking trails have made it a
magnet for ecotourism.

But that was all before Hurricane Maria.

In one night, the storm wiped out crops, decimated protected forests and
caused an estimated US$1.3 billion in damage — double the island’s gross
domestic product (GDP) — instantly slamming the middle-income nation into
third-world conditions.

Dominica’s built environment was not spared. Ninety-five percent of the
country’s buildings were damaged or destroyed, leaving none of the 74,000
residents untouched. As of early December, 31 people had been confirmed
killed and another 34 remain missing, giving Dominica the unenviable title
of highest death toll per capita this hurricane season.

Hurricanes have always been part of the seasonal rhythm of the tropics: in
the last 50 years, they have killed <http://emdat.be/> over 780,000 people
and caused nearly US$827 trillion in damage across the planet. It’s a
staggering toll, and one that’s only expected to grow. As CO2 levels spike
to their highest concentration in 800,000 years
rising ocean temperatures ratchet up the energy and moisture available to
hurricanes. This year, new research concluded that global warming will not
only make hurricanes grow stronger, but intensify faster
<http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0134.1> — a deadly
prospect for the millions caught in the paths of these mega-storms.

Due to their sheer destructive power, hurricanes like Maria threaten the
development trajectory of entire island nations. Yet on top of a wave of
“climate refugees,” reeling ecosystems, and tens of thousands of endangered
livelihoods, Maria has also offered Dominicans a chance to rethink business
as usual.

I arrive in Dominica on a UN humanitarian flight in early October, the
small airplane touching down on an airstrip outside the capital. Down the
coast, the story of the island and its slow road to recovery plays itself
out through the hum of inbound relief ships and outbound ferries.

In the weeks following my arrival, I would find more than a portrait of
disaster. The Caribbean’s “nature island” was transforming into a testing
ground for climate resilience and, at an even more basic level, pure
Exodus — the new normal?

I find Bobby Dorset in the waiting room at the Ministry of Justice,
Immigration and National Security.

“We have rights!” he tells the secretary, frustrated his family’s passports
and birth certificates aren't ready. “They don't need a taxi man on the
island now.”

I had come to interview a government official.

“There’s a cost for living in paradise,” she told me later when I mentioned
Dorset and those trying to leave the island.

Dorset is in his early 40s, with short, cropped hair, a tapered goatee and
the athletic build you would expect to find in a retired track and field
star. The day after I meet him in the capital, I find myself in his empty
taxi van, bumping towards his house along one of the poorest and hardest
hit stretches of coastline on the island.

“I’m not a builder, I’m not a farmer, I’m not a contractor,” he says from
behind the wheel. “I’m in the service industry. And when I look at the
hotels, how much damage they suffered; the natural sites…I saw wooden
buildings deteriorate as if they were plastic.”

Today, tourism has grown to absorb at least a third of Dominica’s labour
force, slowly eroding the role of the traditional farmer and inspiring one
government official to call it “our new baby.” Maria hit a month before the
island’s Creole Festival and the start of the tourist season. Cruise lines
predictably cancelled their planned visits to Dominica, sinking this year’s
tourist season.

When people’s groceries started to run out, looting swept through the
capital, Roseau. What was left of the city’s supermarkets and warehouses
was completely ransacked; residents were desperate for food and water.
“People can’t make it to the distribution points,” one middle-aged father
told me as he camped out in a public bathroom on the city’s waterfront. “If
we didn’t loot, we’d be starving.” Almost as fast as it started, the
looting got out of control as many turned their sights on other shops in
town, stealing everything from televisions to cars, liquidating businesses
and extinguishing many employees’ chances of getting their jobs back. Only
with a strict curfew and the help of contingents of regional military
forces from neighbouring islands such as Jamaica did the local police
return security to the city.

Dorset brings the van to a stop in front of a peeling turquoise bungalow
not far from the airport. There’s no electricity, and as we enter the
kitchen my eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness.

Before Dorset moved in with his wife and three children, the house had sat
abandoned. Now, along with having been picked apart by the winds from the
outside, it is rotting from within. Termites have infested the walls
leaving brown trails crisscrossing the white plaster. Waterlogged
mattresses, molding furniture and stuffed animals are piled into a back
room, the smell adding to the thick air already swarming with mosquitos.
His youngest, nine months old, has developed a rash, which the family has
struggled to keep under control. Like service industry workers in the city,
the Dorsets nearly ran out of food in the first week. When the odd relief
truck made it to his corner of the island, Dorset found a desperation
within himself he never knew was there.

“I stole this, I stole this, I stole this,” Dorset tells me through tears
as he slaps half-empty bags of rice and cream of wheat on top of the
fridge, away from the rats. “It was to give out, but it would never be
enough to share. I can’t take any chances that my children go hungry.”

After those first desperate weeks, Dorset turned to buying the few
plantains and yams local farmers had left, and shuttling them down the
coast to sell. “I go to places where food won’t reach. That’s my hustle.
Otherwise there’s nothing for me.”

Still, it’s not enough. Between the living conditions and food shortages,
Dorset has reached his breaking point. He has pooled what little money he
has left to join the thousands of other Dominicans evacuating the island.
His destination: the nearby and equally vulnerable island of Saint Lucia.

“Whether I’m cutting grass, cleaning drains, it doesn’t matter,” he says.
“I’m not running from hurricanes. I’m running towards a livelihood.”

Estimates are still rough, but some have said up to 20,000
a quarter of the population, has left Dominica on ferries, small planes and
private boats. While some will inevitably return to the island in the
future, others will join the ranks of what many have dubbed the world’s
“climate refugees.” One recent study
<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837715301812> predicted
that under worse-case scenario conditions, rising seas alone would displace
up to two billion people by 2100.

Pinning down the number of future “climate refugees” is, at best,
imprecise. Finding the right language, on the other hand, has become
controversial — not least because the term “refugee” has been traditionally
applied to a person persecuted (or with a well-founded fear of being
persecuted) and forced to flee their country because of their race,
religion, nationality, political point of view or membership in a religious
or political group.

“That idea — that there is such a thing as an easily identifiable climate
change migrant — I don’t think is going to pass muster,” says former United
Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants François
Crépeau. One of the big challenges, according to Crépeau, is that unlike a
“traditional” refugee, the spectrum of climate-induced calamities is so
broad that creating a legal category for “climate refugees” waters down the
prospect of finding a common solution.

What is going to happen to a fisherman in Kiribati, in the central Pacific
Ocean, is not the same as a lumberjack in the Mekong Basin, a farmer in the
Gulf of Bengal or a baker in New York, Crépeau pointed out, arguing that
these very different scenarios call for a need to identify people most at
risk of climate-change-triggered migration. “We have to develop ad-hoc
solutions for them.”

In late October, New Zealand’s recently elected government announced it is
considering the creation of an experimental visa category that would grant
up to 100 humanitarian visas a year for people displaced by climate change.
And while it’s a tiny gesture — in the Kiribati capital alone, tens of
thousands are at risk of displacement in the coming decades — the
just beginning.

One of the central problems is that policy makers forget they are dealing
with people. Freedom of movement for migrants has been treated like freedom
of movement for goods, capital and services.

“Up until now, we have treated migrants like boxes,” says Crépeau. “We have
never thought of migrants as individuals making decisions for
themselves…thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions
of individual decisions. Whatever we may predict may or may not happen.”

Such a wave of migration will probably start as a trickle, if it hasn’t
already — prompted by a breached dyke, contaminated ground water or a
neighbour’s flooded field. But as rising seas push the slow march of people
inland, powerful tropical cyclones and floods will etch the striking
moments of displacement into our collective psyches, and island nations
like Dominica will be the first to bear the brunt. The Bobby Dorsets of the
world’s tropical archipelagos will need support, but so will those who stay.

“People like us are on the frontiers of the climate war, so to speak,” says
Jo-anne Commodore, permanent secretary in the Dominican department of
Justice, Immigration and National Security. “How do we get the assistance
we need to build back?”

“What we might see in the Caribbean region is very great political
resolve... It could be a laboratory of sorts.”

It’s one of the many questions countries around the world are grappling
with as they look for ways to both adapt to climate change and prevent it
from getting worse. In November, 196 countries met at the UN climate
conference in Bonn, Germany to figure out how they would meet their
emissions targets under the 2015 Paris climate pact. So far, it’s not
looking good. All industrialized countries are off track
preventing the 2 degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels — the point
at which scientists say the world will face severe consequences.

This year, Fiji’s leadership combined with a devastating hurricane season
has put vulnerable islands at centre stage. “When the front line is
decimated, the whole army is lost,” said UN Secretary-General António
Guterres, speaking at the annual conference.

While progress on the implementation of the Paris agreement has been slow,
delegates pushed through several groundbreaking international declarations
in Bonn, including an ethical framework to support those disproportionately
affected by global warming, and, for the first time, countries formally
people’s vital role in fighting climate change. It’s all part of a bigger
push to institutionalize a shared moral and ethical responsibility towards
the planet. That’s the carrot.

The stick, according to Crépeau, will be migration.

“What we might see in the Caribbean region is very great political
resolve,” says Crépeau. “That might help mobilize not only the UN but a
number of governments, like the Canadian government and the American
government to help, especially if there’s a fear that migration to the US
and Canada might increase.”

“It could be a laboratory of sorts.”
Paradise lost

The residents of Roseau have taken to wearing surgical masks on the
sidewalk. On a sunny day, the silt and debris left over from the floods
goes airborne, prompting health advisories. Today is worse. The air is
heavy, thick with Saharan dust blown in on the same winds as Maria.

Seen from space, high over the Atlantic, 689,290 semi-trucks-worth
of camel-coloured sediment spew out of the semi-arid Sahel region every
year, fertilizing the Caribbean and Amazon basins. In the gutted forests of
Dominica, the dust scatters the sun’s blue rays, casting a burnt orange hue
over the skeletons of the trees.

“It might be poison for some countries,” forestry engineer Bradley Guye
tells me as we climb into his government pickup. “But for us, it means

No place was that life more visible than the slopes of Morne Diablotins
mountain. It’s the most pristine wooded oasis of the Lesser Antilles, a
refuge supporting giant land crabs and tree lizards; wild boar, opossum and
agoutie; 24 kinds of butterfly and 11 kinds of bat; and an incredible
diversity of birdlife — not to mention the most ambitious eco-tourism
industry in the Caribbean. Now, post-Maria, the future of the rainforest is

“It’s heartbreaking, man!” says Guye’s colleague, forestry officer Stephen
Durand, next to me in the backseat. “All I see is decapitation. Maybe 95
percent of the coconut trees are blown down. All mashed up!”

In the front seat, Claus Eckelmann, a German forestry expert, casually
nibbles on rice palau, tossing the odd bone out the window and sipping on a
large Arizona iced tea. Guye whips through traffic — which, like everything
else on the island, feels more chaotic than usual. He slams on the breaks
every 20 seconds. “God! You see dat there in the road man?” he shouts as he
dodges another car.

The plan is to drive the island’s mountain roads, looking for clues that
might hint at the forest’s survival. It’s early and we have already taken
on a passenger: a jaco parrot sits next to me in one of those travelling
kennels you see cats peering out of in airports. “I will take her home and
rehabilitate her,” Durand tells me as we pull into a series of switchbacks
heading away from the coast. “The parrots are confused. We find them on the
ground bawling and screaming.” The wildlife, like the people of this
island, are in emergency mode, disorientated and in desperate search of

Outside of crisis, the rainforests are big tourist draws, pumping needed
money into the economy of the island.

“If Category 5 is the new normal, what happens when the next Maria hits?” I
ask Guye, referring to the rainforests.

“We’d go to the point where we’d only have pioneers. They’re not the
full-bearing trees, but the secondary forests,” he says, cranking the wheel
and tapping the horn as we careen around a blind corner. “We’d have a break
down in the fauna, river ecosystems would be lost because there would be
less nutrients in the system.”

By uprooting and defoliating a huge percentage of the island’s trees,
Maria dealt a serious blow to the forest’s ability to dampen the effects of
future hurricanes. Plants like orchids and vines work in symbiosis with
trees, forming the base of a thriving ecosystem for parrots, birds, lizards
and tree frogs. These species make the rainforest a rich place to visit,
but they are also part of a complex system that feeds water downstream,
through hydroelectric generators to the island’s cities, towns and
agricultural lands.

“There are over 360 rivers on this island which won’t have shade
anymore…it’s going to be a big issue,” UN emergency coordinator Daniele
Barelli told me before we left the capital. “There’s going to be drought,
dry spells and it’s also going to have implications on the production of
any agricultural products.”

Globally, the stewardship of land has the potential to sap vast amounts of
CO2 out of the atmosphere, seriously curbing the effects of fossil fuels on
global warming. A team of scientists recently did the math
<http://www.pnas.org/content/114/44/11645>: preserving forests and wetlands
has the capacity to absorb 11.3 billion tonnes of emissions per year —
representing 37 percent of the emission reductions necessary to keep global
warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030.

The pickup lurches to a stop in front of the research station’s plundered
solar panel unit. Eckelmann pulls out his pink Sony point-and-shoot for the
trees, Durand a large pair of binoculars for the parrots. A duo of jaco
parrots fly in formation overhead, but it’s the sisserou — the parrot that
adorns the Dominican flag — that Durand hasn’t seen since the hurricane.
Both parrots are found nowhere else on Earth. But while the jaco sticks
together in groups to survive, the sisserou is solitary, and vulnerable.

“I think that species has received a devastating blow,” says Durand,
deflated, as he peers through his binoculars into the shredded canopy.

A single gunshot rings out from the citrus grove.

“Poacher,” whispers Durand as he bolts down the road in pursuit.
The Indigenous edge

Three weeks after the hurricane, the UN Secretary-General flew into
Dominica’s Kalinago Territory, landing in an elementary school field aboard
a white UN helicopter. Alongside Guterres was Prime Minister Roosevelt
Skerrit, in a public relations event that would be beamed around the world.

“Our devastation is so complete that our recovery has to be total,” said
Skerrit to a crowd of local media and public relations officers. “We have a
unique opportunity to be an example to the world, an example of how an
entire nation rebounds from disaster and how an entire nation can be
climate resilient for the future.”

It’s a new vision of the Dominican dream. For years, the national ethos had
been one of making your mark on the world, achieving enough success to one
day come back and stay. That dream is especially acute in the Kalinago
Territory, a collection of eight hamlets strung out along 20 kilometres of
rocky Atlantic coast. And while the current administration has done more to
help the Indigenous residents than previous governments, many Kalinago
remain unconvinced.

Before contact with the Europeans, the Kalinago travelled vast distances in
long canoes, trading and raiding across the Caribbean. They farmed, fished
and paid tribute to the *maboyas* or “evil spirits” that brought the
hurricanes. The Europeans called them the “Caribs” — we owe “Caribbean” to
that — and falsely attributed the bones the Kalinago kept of their
ancestors to cannibalism. They were a warrior people who fought back —
often successfully — against multiple European invasions. But like so many
Indigenous peoples across the Americas, they were eventually pushed onto
the reserve now known as the Kalinago Territory. Today, it is one of the
poorest and most excluded areas of the island.

“Once you’re Kalinago, you're not supposed to make a move. You’re supposed
to keep your mouth shut up and thank God your life,” says community
organizer Loren Challenger. “What has happened is that the government did
something that was smart but dumb on their part: they educated all of us.”

Many young Kalinagos have given up a future in subsistence farming to
pursue a better-paid career in mainstream society — from part-time
agricultural labourers working across Canada’s Niagara wine belt to IT
professionals on neighbouring islands to doctors in the capital.

Challenger started earlier than most, going to high school in North
Carolina and working his way up the corporate ladder in the airline
industry. But a few years ago, he gave it all up to come back to Kalinago
Territory and settle down. So when the government offered to subsidize the
construction of hurricane-proof homes, Challenger bought one.

“The fastest way to get back is to pick up the pieces and try to build back
a shelter over your head... but it is not guaranteed for the next hurricane

The foundation of the vaulted bungalow still clings to a ridge overlooking
the hamlet of Bataka, but the roof, walls and nearly all the family’s
possessions are scattered across neighbouring Concord Valley.

“These waterproof barrels, shipping barrels, [were] sent all the way down
the valley. My wife had all her undies all over the treetops. A guy saw one
of my shoes in the river,” he tells me as we look out over the scarred
village. “We lost so much.”

Before the storm, guidelines used Category 3 hurricanes as a benchmark.
Even then, few government inspectors had the resources to properly enforce
building codes. In one 2007 building program, the Caribbean Development
Bank funded a government project that trained contractors to retrofit
existing houses in the Kalinago Territory. According to Kalinago Chief
Charles Williams, all the houses that were retrofitted fell down flat.

Now, with so much damaged or destroyed, those not in tents have put up
shanties to stay dry. “The fastest way to get back is to pick up the pieces
and try to build back a shelter over your head,” says Williams. “It gives
you a symbol of relief, freedom and independence, but it is
not guaranteed for the next hurricane season.”

Like many Indigenous peoples around the world, the Kalinago hold land
communally. The system ensures ownership stays in the hands of the
Kalinago, but without a land title to use as collateral at the bank, nobody
can insure their homes.

“We’ve tried everything,” says Challenger. “It comes down to the land can
never be passed down to any other organization. I even tried to get my
brother, who’s in banking in Tennessee, to see if we can create a Kalinago
bank. We’re trying to work on that now.”

For the last several years, international organizations like UNESCO have
been trying to foster connections between outside experts and Indigenous
communities. It’s an approach that’s meant to braid institutional support
and hard science with Indigenous knowledge systems developed over millennia.

“It’s a new way of thinking for national governments,” says Nigel Crawhall,
chief of the UNESCO Small Islands and Indigenous Knowledge section.
“Governments are increasingly asked to be a facilitator of local
efficiency.” Yet even with the growing support of the international and
scientific community, convincing governments to move away from national
targets like GDP and job growth can be extremely difficult.

While the scientific community continues to bolster its understanding of
the planet’s shifting climate, hundreds of years of war and cultural
assimilation have cut off much of the Kalinago’s accumulated wisdom, passed
down from one generation to the next. Still, Maria threw what local
knowledge survives into stark relief.

The winds were strong, but it was the flooding and landslides that killed
in many communities across the island. In Kalinago Territory, not a single
person was died. Their houses, built on steep but stable terrain, kept
communities from getting washed away.

“It’s something that was passed on to us,” says Kamaly Dorsette, a recent
returnee. “We don’t know we know it, but it’s there.”

In the days after the hurricane, while most Dominicans desperately awaited
water purification systems, the Kalinago turned to the land: their trails
became roadmaps of scattered knowledge, teaching them how to cross a river,
climb a ridge and find a freshwater spring.

Meanwhile, Dorsette and Challenger — part of the younger, tech-savvy
generation well versed with the logistics of doing business — reached out
to their connections overseas to bring in shipments of food for the

Others banded into work crews to clear the territory’s roads. “We told them
to tie the power lines,” one Kalinago community leader tells me. “In many
[other] communities, weeks after, you couldn’t drive through.”

With communications and transportation cut across the island, isolation
from the central government brought home the realization that the Kalinago
can fend for themselves.

“Nobody knew we were on the map and we didn’t know they existed — yet we
survived,” says Challenger.

At night, the steep hamlet of Bataka sits in near darkness, the glow of the
police station casting a faint light across the valley. Dorsette and I are
walking the winding roads towards the only emergency Wi-Fi hotspot on the
east coast. When we get to the station we will find a jumble of farmers,
government workers and teenagers, but along the road it’s mostly quiet. A
family plays dominos, a dog barks and a warm breeze drifts in off the

“They say we used to have magic,” Dorsette says, looking ahead. “That we
could tame the sea snake that followed us from Asia.”

It’s his favourite old story, he tells me, but he doesn’t remember it well.

He used to run a dance school on roller-skates and dabble as a mixologist
for a celebrity chef. That was in London, where 20 years ago his parents
sent him when they were struggling to get by. He was eight then, and ended
up in English foster care before going on to get a degree in international
business. A month before the hurricane, Dorsette finally returned to take
care of his parents and open a guesthouse catering to hikers along the
Wai’tukubuli Trail.

“If the younger generation, especially the ones that are educated, don’t
come back to help build their country, who’s going to do it?” he says. “I
can’t wait until I retire and come back down and expect something to be

Like everyone else on this island, Dorsette’s dreams have been put on hold.
Now he is focused on distributing relief supplies and slowly finding his
place in the world he left behind.

We step through the dark. He tries to remember the old story, saying the
snake protected the Kalinago and gave them their land. But when the
strangers came, war followed and the snake fell asleep.

“We’ve lost our magic,” he says as the drone of the police station’s
generator grows louder. “We’ve lost the ability to heal ourselves.”
Rebuilding 'Zion'

It’s late morning when the rain tapers off. Dorsette’s father, Earl, loads
his pack with a container of leftover rice and large rodent bones, grabs
his cutlass and picks his way up the road flanked with downed powerlines.

“On the road to ‘Zion,’” laughs Earl, using the family’s nickname for the
farm. “And this?” he gestures to the leftovers. “For Snowball and
Princess,” he says, referring to the family dogs.

Earl is in his late 50s, with a sinewy frame, long dreads and a delightful
smoker’s chuckle. His pointed beard frames a complexion suggesting a life
spent outdoors. Earl usually speaks slowly and deliberately, but when he
talks about the hurricane or hunting, his voice rises and falls in the rich
lilt of the local Creole.

“If the younger generation, especially the ones that are educated, don’t
come back to help build their country, who’s going to do it?”

Today, the younger Dorsette has come along to pick up what he can from his
father. “Before the storm, I used to come down here to learn, because I
don’t know much about farming,” Kamaly tells me as Earl shows him how to
split downed coconuts for the pigs. “I’m trying to learn to maintain the
crops for when he decides he’s too old to do it.”

Dominicans have always depended on farmland*. *Before Hurricane Maria, the
average farmer would eat much of what he grew and then sell the rest to
local markets or exporters. Through the export of bananas, citrus fruits
and a variety of tubers, the island gained a reputation as the “food bowl”
of the Eastern Caribbean.

Where once thick vines of passionfruit curled down the shaded slopes of
Earl’s farm, coils of wire lie twisted under uprooted fig, mango and nutmeg
trees. The seven to 10 bags of passionfruit he would pull out of the farm
every week was one of the family’s main sources of income. Their cash crops
ruined, small-scale farmers like Earl have fallen back on dasheen, a local
variety of taro root and one of the most climate-change-resilient crops in
the world.

“Forever a hurricane can blow. It just break off all the leaves and then
the dasheen spring back up and you have all your dasheen underground,” says
Earl as he points down to a soggy ravine at the bottom end of his farm.

Globally, a vast mosaic of small-scale farmers, fishers and
forest-dependent communities produce more than half of the planet’s
agricultural output. They represent 75 percent of the world’s poor and
hungry and are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.

But while most small-scale farmers depend solely on rain-fed agriculture,
Indigenous farmers like the Dorsettes have found opportunity along the
blurry line between farm and forest.

Nestled in a natural amphitheater, ‘Zion’ is the perfect perch to
contemplate the destruction of Concord Valley. The winds that ate the woods
reveal the once subtle contours running across the landscape. There’s
nowhere to hide, not neighbour from neighbour, nor the local fauna from the
family dogs.

“Mr. deadly you are, boy!” Earl deadpans to Snowball, scratching him behind
the ear one last time.

The edges of the farm have turned into a hunting ground. As I follow the
Dorsettes with my camera, Earl says the first thing to remember is to stay
put. The dogs work as a team, one bolting into a thicket six shades of
green; the other watching over the scene, waiting for the large rodent to
suddenly emerge.

Picture a cat-sized guinea pig that bounds like a rabbit and fires off a
desperate whistle when it’s running for its life. The Ecuadorians call it
guatusa; in Belize, it’s the royal rat. Here in Dominica, it’s agouti, at
once an agricultural pest and prized bush meat. The wild fruits, seeds and
greens, once so plentiful in the forest, lie rotting on the ground. That
has pushed agouti to plunder the island’s ravaged farms, creating what
conservationists say is a transient abundance too small to feed the whole
of Bataka, let alone the island’s urban population. Still, farmers like
Dorsette have increasingly relied on the small mammal as a source of

We tip-toe across the broad trunk of an uprooted bread fruit tree and past
ravaged cacao. High up in the valley, we reach a small landing carved out
of the hillside. I take in all that’s left of a small farmer’s shack — a
pile of twisted roofing, a busted watch and rotting clothing.

Something rustles behind me. I spin around as a flurry of bristling fur and
black beady eyes darts out of the bushes and plunges down a muddy
embankment to my left.

“Get the ’gouti!” shouts Earl, a few steps away. Kamaly bounds after it,
wildly swinging a wooden staff over his head. As he levels a blow his feet
slip out from under him and he plows into the mud. The agouti escapes.

This tiny drama is repeated, time and again — Princess and Snowball
corralling the rodent in a circular pursuit until one of the Dorsettes can
get close enough for the fatal blow, or a dog catches hold of a foot.

Today, it’s Princess’s turn. She’s so quick, I don’t even know she has
caught one until I nearly step on the agouti’s hind legs. Earl tightens his
grip on the cutlass, raising it into the air as a grin washes over his face.

Islands loom larger than life, living contradictions at once conjuring
paradise and isolation, the ultimate biological laboratory. And while they
can form a special place in our psyche, they are also easily forgotten.

In the days following Hurricane Maria back in late September, international
news outlets painted Dominica as a poster child of disaster — the
widespread destruction, hunger crisis and looting sprees making it an ideal
candidate for a quick hit news item on the frontier of climate change.
Perhaps it was too small, too out-of-sight to warrant sustained attention.
As one humanitarian worker put it to me, “It’s a big disaster, but a small

Because of their finite resources and limited land, the way islands respond
to hurricanes offers a microcosm of diverging world views, where tensions
between rebuilding or migrating, climate resilience versus avoidance, and
new and old economic solutions are confronted in an urgent, direct way.

In the months since Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, the
visceral impact of the two catastrophic hurricanes has galvanized a new
urgency amongst politicians and policy makers, although it is unclear how
long the attention will last.

At November’s UN climate conference, island nations banded together to
demand the world reduce its emissions before it’s too late. A few weeks
later, Caribbean leaders took that call a step further, announcing the
launch of a new public-private coalition that would create the world’s
first “climate-smart zone.” By immediately implementing a US$8 billion
climate investment plan, the Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition looks to
revolutionize the region’s energy system by rapidly scaling renewable
energy and bolstering infrastructure with nature-based approaches.

Such measures may help speed up changes to the way the world consumes
energy, but leadership on climate action was not necessarily a position
islanders chose — it is one that landed, one terrifying night in September,
on their doorstep.

As one Dominican official put it to me in Creole, “Sa mwen douvant sa’w

“My turn has simply come first.”
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
December 21, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: https://wp.me/psnTa-z5S

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