Grand Bay, Dominica is where I was born and raised. I went to pre-primary and Primary school there. The Grand Bay Girls’ School which I attended from age 5 to 10, occupied the space that gave way to a basketball court and green lawn adjacent to the St. Patrick’s RC Church (shown hurricane damaged in the photo below).The land wasn’t always that flat. There was a beautiful border of shrubs bearing assorted colours of hibiscus flowers. The hedge lined the front of the presbytery verandah uphill (not shown); and the land sloped gently down towards a row of cedar trees, Pink Poui (Pow-yea) at the edge of a sharp cliff that dipped into a ravine. Between the ravine and the sea-shore, there was just enough space for one family house the road which reached the Two-Pound toll point and then winded up the cliff to the church, my school, the presbytery and cemetery. Above that was the boys’ school accessible via a steep track.
If you did not turn uphill at Two-Pound, then you could continue walking alongside the sea. It’s beautiful there too. See a bit in the photo below, courtesy of my sister, Paula.
School girls were given locally produced straw hats to protect us from the sun’s rays. These headpieces were sewn from screw pine leaves that grew in abundance on the cliff between the church and the sea-shore. The screw pine was often mixed with with leaf segments from the coconut palms that seemed ubiquitous. The preparation process – turning coconut and screw pine leaves into works of art- is one that I’ll describe in another post.
What did most of us use those hats for? We’d start at the hibiscus hedge with hats in hand and run down against the wind towards the trees and see who got the most poui flowers in her hat! We did that repeatedly, a few times each day the weather permitted. It was such fun!
One priest and then the sexton (maybe) kept bees. Yes, there were beehives behind the church; but that did not stop us from having Friday afternoon picnics back there. In fact, we liked to lime back there. I shall never forget the trap that a headmistress once set for those girls who’d remain behind the church until they heard the second bell. I was caught with the lot that day. We were supposed to end all play on bell number one and head into our class lines. Bell number two was the formal signal for prayers, by which time all four hundred and more girls were already lined up. What happened next would certainly qualify as child abuse in any of today’s courts, but I’m not writing about that now.
The ravine towards the sea was at a right angle to the one alongside the school. I don’t know why nature took such a sharp turn there (and why with Hurricane Maria it made a straight course that split open the one house built on the land in the bend it had thus created!) So yes, there was the other cliffside, behind the horse stables from an era when the priests used horses to move around. In my day, the stable was mostly extra classroom space, not as airy as the open ones under pow-yea trees, but a nice space especially one that my mind loved to set up a nativity scene in, helping me connect with Jesus’ stable experience.
Behind the stable was a really steep slope devoid of the boulders that protected the hillside facing the sea. Some girls would recycle cardboard cartons to make slides on which they would swish down the exposed cliff, eroding the bare soil, even sometimes after rain! Just recalling that brings back the jitters which overtook me every time I saw them, so that I stayed clear of this adventure. Yes, I was a scaredy cat alright. Even though the fear of bees never came into focus during our fun-filled excursions behind the church, to cheecheelay, as we called it, looked high-risk, inviting unforeseen trouble. Even if I negotiated my slide successfully, which I was definitely too afraid to accomplish, there was the great likelihood that my mother would have known about it and such knowledge would usher in trouble of a more dreaded sort.
Besides the countless hours of flower fun and behind church picnics that I recall, being so often so close to the sea benefitted me. It was more than the sound of rolling waves and the wind in the trees. One of the things I recall most was the ever-present horizon. We new, I knew, that there was more beyond there. At nights we’d see lights on Martinique the closest island, which, unsurprisingly was the first place I visited outside of my homeland.
The horizon says in so may ways that there is more. Where the sea and the sky seem to meet only to reveal more and more as you go further. The actual physical horizon that was an everyday phenomenon in my growing years has helped me prepare for whatever is still there to come. To put it simply, watching the horizon fills me with hope. That’s one reason why I love to be in pictures so close to the sea.