Kathryn completed her M.A. thesis on Buck Owens in 2001. She is currently living in Dominica, once a British dominion, where her son is a medical school professor. She writes to share some of the history of this little-known nation.
Columbus sailed past Dominica on his second voyage. He did not land, but named it Dominica because it was Sunday. This small island in the West Indies is situated just fifteen degrees north of the equator. It is thirty miles long and fifteen miles wide, and very young as land masses go. The dinosaurs had been long extinct when Dominica made its appearance. The island is composed of steep, rugged, heavily forested mountains that rise out of the ocean with only a few harbors with narrow beaches where ships can land. The climate is tropical, with some parts receiving as much as thee hundred inches of rain a year.
Dominica was slow being settled. The first Europeans who visited the island could not defend themselves on the narrow beaches, and were quickly driven off by the Carib Indians who inhabited it. Eventually, a few French established plantations, and the African slaves whose descendents are now the citizens of Dominica were introduced to the island, which soon became a British colony.
Few fortunes were made here. There was no level land anywhere on the island, and the steep hillsides had to be terraced to make a place to grow coffee and tropical fruits. The terrain made communication between settlements impossible. When the slaves were freed, most whites abandoned the island, leaving their former slaves to fend for themselves..
In 1970, tired of supporting a colony that gave them no profit, Britain gave Dominica its freedom, but the new nation has not prospered. There is a Palmolive soap factory, a brewery, and some export of bananas. The medical school where my son teaches is probably the most profitable industry in Dominica, as it supplies the needs of the school and its three thousand students.
Dominica has a population of about 165,000 people. Over half are under the age of fifteen. Most live on small family farms. They grow their own food and keep a cow or goat. Chickens are everywhere; it’s not clear to whom they belong. These small farmers have very little money and thus do a considerable amount of trading. Many of their homes do not have plumbing, and each village has its public showers, toilets, and garbage containers. These villages are three or four miles apart, and people walk from one to another. There are few cars or TVs, and no computers. The people are very superstitious and, believing in witchcraft, they will not allow their pictures to be taken.
There are, of course, people who are well off and maintain a high standard of living. Many of these are people who have left the island and made money elsewhere, and then returned. There are two main cities, Roseaou and Portsmouth. Yet even here there are neither traffic lights nor neon signs. There is not one new car agency in Dominica. The tariff on new cars makes the cost prohibitive, and the roads are so bad that the cars are soon shaken to pieces. There are two service stations in Portsmouth, where I live, but sometimes both are out of gas.
Wages are low, and there is inflation, yet there are a sizable number of people with steady jobs who live well by Dominican standards; there is nevertheless much unemployment and poverty. Many houses do not even have glass windows, or plumbing, and there are water faucets on corners for their use. Women walk down the street balancing full buckets on their heads.
A large part of Dominica’s economic problems may stem from cultural attitudes, where the work ethic differs from that of Americans. Absenteeism is a problem for anyone trying to run a business. The government is grossly inefficient, and poor, of course, as not many of its citizens pay taxes. The mandatory school attendance law is not enforced, and illiterate people often do not understand the advantage that education could bring to their children and their country.
The people who are affiliated with the university have, of course, formed their own separate community. They entertain each other with dinners, barbecues, cocktail parties, and beach parties. Birthdays are treated like national holidays. As in most universities, the staff there have been recruited from many parts of the world. Many have taught in several different countries, and are adventurers at heart.
The students at Ross University are mostly second-generation Americans who could not gain admission to a medical school in the United States, but Ross is an accredited school. When students attending the school for two years do so with satisfactory academic achievement, then the school guarantees their continued education in the States. Indeed, many take their final training at The Kern County Hospital [making for a little-known but interesting connection (besides Kathryn herself) between our world and Dominica!].