Here is how I became a ‘city’ girl…..
When I moved to Dominica in November 2016, the plan was to live on my partner’s farm. It is high up in the mountains, with cool air, the best drinking water I have ever tasted, and lots of rain as a bonus. That was the plan, yet only three weeks after I arrived, I felt unwelcome and thought it was better to move out.
I turned to Airbnb for a new place to stay and found a small house on another mountain in Loubiere. Mind you, Dominica is very mountainous; our tallest mountain is Morne Diablotins, with 1,447 meters, so finding a spot on or close to a mountain is not that difficult.
The pictures on Airbnb were lovely and the price reasonable, so I booked it for a month.
When I arrived, I quickly noticed how run down it was, yet I felt I had no choice, as I did not know anyone in Dominica, and it was close to Christmas. None of the windows would close; the shower door was hanging on by a thread, and termites were eating the balcony’s furniture. The worst part came a few days later once I started cooking. Remember, none of the windows could close, and one morning I noticed droppings everywhere and a roll of biscuits torn to pieces. Yup, you guessed it, rats, giant rats came in at night, munching on my goodies, yikes. I stored all my food in the refrigerator and barricaded my bedroom door with my suitcase to ensure none of them would come in while I was sleeping.
Let me tell you, that was my loneliest and saddest Christmas and New Years’ ever, on my own in the pouring rain. I made the most of it and took that time to contemplate whether to stay or go back to the Netherlands. I felt very lonely and cried many tears as I watched every possible Hallmark movie.
New year, new home.
My first visit to Dominica was in 2011, and I had fallen in love with her beauty, her friendly people, the abundance of nature, and the lovely food. And so, I decided to stay and see what island life had to offer me, as I did not see my relationship going anywhere anymore. Early January, I managed to find a more suitable home in Goodwill, a part of the capital Roseau, and I started volunteering at a little preschool at Alliance Francaise.
The new home in Goodwill was walking distance from school, even though the hill was no joke, especially not in the middle of the day and the sun is burning. Every so often, men would cheer me on, “keep going, sister; you can do it,” which always made me smile and feel encouraged.
It was a studio apartment, and I shared the kitchen and bathroom with my landlady and her 6-year-old son. Even though that was not always easy, it was such an upgrade from my mountain-dwelling. I had a comfy bed, a couch, and a small table and chair to serve as my desk. I made it work. In April that year, I started volunteering at Lifeline Ministries, even though Tina Alexander, the director, told me she had no clue what she would make me do. And I also met Rachael, who lived right across the street from me, with whom I later became friends.
My life started to take shape, and I was happy. I started looking for possibilities to make some money since I was still living off my savings.
The year that changed everything, including my home.
In May of 2017, I was called home to the Netherlands because my dad was severely ill. He passed away when I was there, and it felt like he had waited for me to come home. After about three weeks, I returned to Dominica, and 12 weeks later, to the day my mom passed away. We were in the middle of hurricane season, and it took me five days to get off the island.
I decided to stay in the Netherlands so my brother and I could sort out all the estate paperwork. Little did I know that my stay was going to be extended for close to 4 months.
As if losing both my parents within 12 weeks was not enough, on 18 September, a category five hurricane named Maria hit Dominica and wreaked havoc. For weeks I had no idea how my friends were doing. Or whether anything was left of my house, as 95% or more of the buildings were severely damaged or destroyed.
My first text message was from Tina, Lifeline’s director, almost shouting, you cannot come back; it is horrible here. A few days later, my landlady contacted me and sent me a picture of what was left of the building once my home. For her safety, she decided to go to St. Lucia and stay with relatives. She packed and stored what little was left of my belongings, borrowed my suitcase, and left the moment that was possible.
Not even a year earlier, I had sold my house in the Netherlands and many of my belongings, and here I was again. I had no home, no job, only my laptop and the Summer clothes I brought with me. I am still grateful for my family, who told me I could stay as long as I needed to. Still mourning the loss of my parents, I felt unsure of my future, and it took a lot of talking with family and friends to wrap my head around it.
Finally, back home to Dominica.
I started working as a virtual assistant for Lifeline, and as soon as Tina posted on Facebook that her the house upstairs was livable again, I asked her can I please come back and stay with her. So, on 11 December 2017, I returned home, as Dominica already felt at home. Willing to do my part to help in whatever way possible.
I moved in upstairs, an adventure in itself, as significant parts of the roof were blown away and now covered with tarps. Several windows were missing and boarded up, no warm water in the shower, and electricity from downstairs through a long extension cord.
It was an exciting time, shared with many ‘roommates’ over time. For a more detailed recount of my adventures directly after the hurricane, please read my 2018 Blog here.
After four months and slowly seeing the place coming back together, it was time for me to find a new home and be on my own again.
I reached out to a few friends, and low and behold; I found something affordable within walking distance to town. After working with several relief aid organizations, I had not found another job and tried to live as frugal as possible. Together with 2 of my friends, I checked the place out and decided to take it.
Welcoming new visitors, or not?
The first night I moved in, with my two suitcases and some knickknacks, I met a giant spider. Like tropical size huge, at least 10 cm with big hairy legs. My entire life, I have been terrified of spiders, and I knew once I would let him out of my sight, he would disappear, keeping me wondering where he went.
My only weapon was a bottle of hairspray, I knew it would not kill him, but at least it would slow him down. So, I sprayed him and gathered all my courage to kill him with my shoe. For a moment, I was worried whether my size 37 shoe was big enough; when I looked down, I was relieved to see he was dead; I felt so proud of myself. From that moment, I always make sure I have a few bottles of bug spray at home, not great for the environment but so reassuring for my peace of mind.
The place was tiny, so small that the shower and the toilet were in two cupboards. I am not joking; the rod to hang your clothes was above my head in the toilet. Every morning it was a surprise whether the water would be warm in the shower, and most days, it was not. And the cockroaches, oh my, there were plenty. Some as big as 5cm, I turned in my sleep one night, and I felt something bite me. I jumped out of my bed, looking for bug spray. Ever since that time, I always have bug spray in every room.
The street was extremely noisy; at some point, I thought there was a bar. It turns out it was a neighbor with speakers the size of a house who thought he could sing, and his choice of music was not mine, I can assure you. Between that and my 100-year-old fridge, there were times when I could not hear myself think, especially on Friday nights when the neighbor was entertaining friends by singing.
Moving up in the world.
Even though I soon found a new, well-paid job, I still lived with my roach friends for eight months. Later my boss saw a lovely apartment with a spacious and clean shower that always has warm water unless the electricity is off. And two years down the line, I still live there. Pest control comes in every three months, so no more unwanted pets. The bottles of bug spray remain untouched.
What is next, you ask?
If it were just me, I would continue to live here in the coming years. I like where I am now. However, the Breadfruit House Dominica Foundation (hyperlink) needs a building. And my vision is a 2-story building where I can live and run the Breadfruit House at the same time. My quest for 2021 is to find a suitable, safe building with a backyard and a porch to sit in my bright red rocking chair every night.
Overall, I am grateful for every place I lived in Dominica and all the people who helped me get to where I am now. I am proud of overcoming my fears and getting through all these experiences while landing on my feet every time. And I can feel my heart bloom here.
My good friend Kim once told me, while living in the house with rats, Marieke, think of all these adventures as stories you can tell. And that is what I am doing sharing my life with you, my readers.
I hope you enjoyed reading this Blog. Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Hope to ‘see’ you on the next one, until then take care,
With love Marieke