I hire a rowboat to take me out to the schooner, with my valet bag, rations, bicycle, and cameras. There are 15 British West Indian soldiers on board, bound for Trinidad, four other passengers, the cook, eight seamen of the crew, the captain, the mate, myself, and Buller the dog. All are colored West Indians except myself and Buller, and Buller has fleas.
It is Friday morning. The anchor is raised, the sails drawn up, and a moderate breeze moves us out of the harbor. We meet other vessels coming in. Their white sails against the blue of the sky are good subjects for the camera. I am on the alert for several good shots, both with the color camera and with the black and white. I am not seasick -yet.
Now we have passed the lighthouse on Sandy Island. The sea is rougher. I feel better lying down. The captain lets me lie in his cabin, the size of a doghouse. The others have to lie on the deck, or in the hold with the hides. The cook prepares lunch and they all eat. But I only smell the food and have to get up and feed the fishes. I go back to the dog house. Just before dark I drag myself out to take a last look at Antigua to the northeast. To the southwest Montserrat is faintly visible in the twilight. I must go to bed, but I won't sleep.
I listen to the conversation on deck. An American negro from the U.S. island of St.Thomas is arguing with a British subject that the negro race could advance faster if helped and not hindered by the white race. The West Indian is insisting that the black man is better off if he tips his hat when he meets a white man, and stays out of politics. When they begin to get angry, one of the soldiers begins telling jokes. Everyone as in a good humor now, but the captain cautions the men, when the jokes are a bit on the smutty side, that the Chaplain may hear them. "And listen, damn it, I'm not going to have any bad language on this boat either."
It is Saturday morning now. From my cabin I can hear one of the passengers using the pot. He lets it over the side to rinse it in the sea. Now the cook is preparing breakfast in a pot over the charcoal burner. I am not certain whether it is the same pot. Anyhow, I am not hungry. From my own stores I drink half a can of grapefruit juice. I might as well have thrown the can into the sea to start with, but I took the hard way to do it.
With the morning light I can see Montserrat to our right. Cephas, the mate is at the steering wheel. He is an old man of much experience, and respected by all the crew and passengers. The younf soldiers are spellbound at his wisdom. I am lying on my back listening to them talk. "How many children you had, Cephas?" "Fifteen." "How many boys?" "Eight." "How many living?" "None."
The breeze is dying down. First we reach slowly on port tack, then Cephas commands the crew to swing the boom to the other side and set the sails for starboard tack. Slower and slower we tack towards the lazy breeze, until by noon are completely calmed. The Mermaid rolls in her sleep, but gets noplace. The captain is cursing. Cephas is coaxing for the wind. "Come, sweet breeze." The soldiers tell more jokes to pass the time. Buller is scratching his fleas.
It is mid-afternoon. The mate says he sees the wind coming. I don't know how he sees it, but suddenly it is upon us. And more than we want! We are rolled on our side and the boom with the mainsail dips into the sea then beings up a wave and splashes it all over the deck. We are all wet. Two men are now heaving at the tiller and the captain shouts, "Set for squall! Bring her up. Haul down de topsail. Slack de jib. Bring in dat forestaysail. Take down de second mainsail." I am not the only one that's scared. "Take it easy, men, there's nothing to worry about." He's lying. Somebody smells fire. Then we all smell it. The storm rages. The Mermaid drives her bowsprit skyhigh; she falters; then she twists in mid-air; then she falls with a squatting smack to bury her whole bow into the sea. I'm sick, but I'm standing up and holding on. I think about the salt water on my bicycle in the hold. I think about the fire again. I think about my ten thousand dollar life insurance policy, but it doesn't bring any comfort. Everyone not heaving at the ship's rigging is looking for the fire. My God, this is a terrible way for 31 men to have to die!
A black soldier has been sitting too close to a lighted cigarette on a gasoline drum. He jumps up juickly, cries out in pain, and dances wildly as he slaps with both hands at his dorsal extremity.
The mystery of the fire is solved, and as our fears subside the squall too has moderated. We find release in laughter. For an hour the Mermaid pushes through the waves with three sheets to the wind, and as the breeze slackens the other sails are raised.
The sun is setting on the second night of our voyage. We are just off the French island of Guadaloupe. Rowboats cut across our bow. The captain will not let them come alongside. "I don't trust dem dam French."
It is night. I drink the last of my water from Antigua and crawl into the doghouse. Cephas is watching his compass by the light of a lantern. The soldiers are singing. Half the crew are sleeping on the deck. Half will be alert through the night. The four other passengers are arguing religion. Buller is snoring near my door. I go to sleep amid the splashing of the waves and the rolling and lunging and groaning of the schooner.
It is Sunday morning now. I can tell by the murmuring of the captain and the mate that something is wrong. We are becalmed again! The air is motionless. The sea is glassy. The Mermaid is placid and impassive. Nothing is ruffled except our patience. We should be in Dominica by now, but here we are frozen in a tropical sea! I scan the horizon. I see no land. We are waiting for the wind. The soldiers tell more jokes. The passengers argue as to whether the obeahism of the island of Nevis is any more effective than the obeahism of Potter's Village in Antigua. I lay on my right side; it is sore; I lay on my left side; my back; my stomach; oh, my stomach! I try to be patient. The captain is cursing again, Cephas is coaxing the wind. Somebody sees a porpoise. I grab my largest camera and hit the poop-deck. I see a porpoise roll; another; and another; a whole school of them. They are cruising in formation. A dozen of them arch their backs out of the water in perfect alignment. I set my shutter for action and correct exposure. Before I have focused they are gone. But wait, here they come again around the schooner in the opposite direction. I have my camera on them; I get the arange; I shoot; what a thrill! A porpose twice as big as a man leaps gleefully into the air, wiggles his whole body, then plunges back to swim around the helpless schooner again. He is laughing at us because he can move and we cannot.
Somebody remembers that it is Sunday. They suggest that the Chaplain hold services, but I am too sick to think. We only sing:-
"As a mother stills her child, Thou canst calm the ocean wild,
Boisterous waves obey Thy will when Thou sayest to them be still.
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me."
The hours drag on. I try to sleep. I hear a knocking s on the doghouse. I look outside. It is Buller scratching his fleas. It is mid-afternoon. The passengers are tired of singing; tired of telling jokes; tired of arguing religion; and I am tired, period. Cephas is praying now: "Come, sweet breeze. Come, sweet Breeze." A shark comes alongside. The captain calls for the harpoon. I have my camera ready. But the shark is too smart. He just stays a safe distance and smirks at us. tie is just waiting. I crawl inside again. What's this? I'm not alone. Now it is I who am scratching the fleas. But I forget all about the fleas as Cephas' prayers are answered just as the sun in setting. The sweet breeze has returned and the lazy Mermaid is again forced to plough through the sea and the night.
I sleep until I overhear the subdued voices of the Captain and Cephas. They do not agree as to where we are. Now I am really scared. I think of the schooner which sailed a month ago with 53 passengers and had not been heard from. I am thinking of another sloop which only a short time ago struck a reef and sank. I do not go back to sleep.
At is Monday morning and Dominica is in sight! I thank God that daylight is here, for we are circling in the wrong direction. By mid-morning we are anchored in Portsmouth Harbor, Dominica. The mountains and jungles are beautiful to behold. We have been three days and three nights on the water. I have eaten nothing. We go ashore. I walk unsteadily towards the Customs Office. The earth is heaving up and down. My head is going around and around. I go to the one boarding house of Portsmouth. I will take a bath and rest in bed before I make any further plans.
T0 BE CONTINUED.
It is Tuesday. I am still in Portsmouth. I am waiting for my camera permit to be issued. You cant rush these British colonials. I take a walk about the town. I take mental notes of the things I will photograph when they let me get my cameras from behind the iron bars. I will snap a skeleton schooner in the making. I will snap mountains that rise above the clouds. I will photograph women washing clothes in the river; men with two bunches of bananas, one in a specially constructed basket strapped to the back, and one on the head; women with immense baskets on their heads carrying oranges and grapefruits; fishermen mending their nets; piles of thousands of coconuts; strings of bright-colored fishes; women making straw hats; men weaving baskets; sloops in the harbor; a Carib mother with long straight hair, bathing herself and her baby; a strange sawmill where two men, one at the top and one at the bottom of a vertical saw, are making a board. I'll find the pictures all right if I can ever get my cameras back.
Wednesday morning finds me on my way into the hills, The necessary arrangements have been made. Two muscular black girls have already gone ahead in the early morning with my heavier bags on their heads, one with clothes and miscellaneous equipment weighing 60 pounds, and the other with 45 pounds of food. Behind with me is Randolph, a colored boy of 13 years, carrying my cameras in a bag on his head. I have only my water canteen fastened to my service belt. Up, up, up, from the level of the sea we follow the winding path through the mountains. We stop and look down under us where we passed a few minutes ago. We look up to where we will be after awhile.
The Jungle is humid. I wonder if the damp warmth will affect my films. Rain comes intermittently; always in short showers. Dominica has 300 inches of rainfall yearly. I hear water dropping dropping on the broad leaves of the plantain and the banana and the tannya. I hear birds singing, for the mongoose has not been here to devour them as in Antigua. I hear waterfalls; the Dominicans say there are 365 rivers. I hear bamboo rattling. I hear the natives whacking in the bushes with their cutlasses, broad curving swords. I hear a horn blowing from one hill, and another picks up the sound from the next hill and passes it on. Someone is dead and the conch shell is blown where there is no bell to toll. I hear another shell blowing, but this time Randolph explains that it is announcing that fresh fish are for sale. I hear a frond break loose from a coconut palm and crash upon the rocks. I hear lizards, huge green ones, scaling their way up the tree trunks. I hear frogs. I hear all sorts of strange sounds. The jungle is alive. I can hear it growing in upon us.
We meet natives on the path, part Carib, part French, part Negro. "Bon Jour" they say to Randolph. "Como ad vous, coma ou yea?" they ask, and Randolph answers, "Moi Bein, merci" I can not talk with them because because they understand only English and patois, a broken French. They do not understand my Ohio Valley dialect, so I take a cutlass from one of them, run my finger along its sharp edge, shake my head, hand it back to him, and we all laugh and pass on our way. Most of the natives understand English, but they would rather speak patois.
We meet a huge land crab. Randolph steps over it and starts on ahead, but turns, looks at me, and decides to push it out of the path with his foot. We meet women carrying bananas. We meet women carrying breadfruits and yams and grapefruits, and avacados, and tangerines, and papayas, and oranges, and limes, and fish, and palm leaves for making hats and cocanuts, and soursops, and cocoa pods, and mangoes on their heads. We meet men carrying cutlasses. We meet a donkey with a bag of charcoal tied to his back. The owner is not riding the donkey for the hills are so steep he can not stay on his back.
Now we have cone to a rushing stream. Round, smooth stones have been placed for crossing. Randolph jumps from one stone to another. I think of my $300 worth of photographic equipment in the bag on his head, but I need not fear, for I have never seen a West Indian drop a load from his head. I lay on my stomach and drink. I fill my canteen. We push on through the jungle. Now we are scaling the side of an ancient volcano. We come upon a group of men clearing a landslide that has blocked our path. Further on another shower of rain compels us to take shelter under an overhanging rock.
Now we have reached the summit of the volcano. We have climbed 3000 feet from the level of the sea, but this is not the highest peak in Dominica. Mt. Dioblitan is 4000 feet. One of the natives tells me it is the highest mountain on the world. He hasn't heard of Mt. Everest. I stand on the rim of the crater. I have left the ocean to the southwest; I now see it to the northeast. I see the island which Columbus named Marie Galante after his gallant ship, but the natives here call it Marigoland. Columbus landed there instead of on Dominica because he was afraid of the cannibalistic Caribs. I look beyond Marigoland to French Guadaloupe. Rowboats make their way across the channel from Dominica to Guadaloupe, illegaly and without clearance from any harbormaster, but how can the law penetrate the mountain fastness of these tropical islands? My eye follows the rim of the crater encircling a beautiful valley half a mile across. Here palms and bay-rum trees, and cinnamon, and coffee, and cashew nuts, and vanilla vines are growing where once were burning sparks and molten lava. I try to get the local inhabitants to tell me about the nolcano, but obviously they do not know it is a volcano. To them is is a fruitful valley on the top of a mountian peek. I decent into the crater. A quarter of a mile down the rough trail I stop to drink from a sulphur spring. Further in the bush is a warm spring where a convection current sends the water bubbling and steaming to the surface. The lava deposits; the hot spring; the sulphur; the crater-shaped valley on the mountiantop. Yes, even with a fragmentary knowledge of geology, I know it is a volcano. I climb out of the crater on the other side. Down, down, down we are winding now. We pass bamboo shacks perched on the rocks. People live here. Hard-working people. Good-hearted people. Neighborly people. "Good afternoon, chief." "Good afternoon, sir." They tip their hats. They bow low. "Pleasant vacation, sir." Their eyes follow the white man as he stumbles down the rocky path behind the sure-footed Randolph bearing the load, as the black man has always borne the load of the white man. They ere respectful and reverent. They are unspoiled, and warm. and cordial. They do not call me "Joe." And they are sincere.
More bare feet along the rocky trail. Thick soled feet; muscular legs; straight backs; ragged clothing, but clean; carrying loads on their heads. Some stop to exchange a few brief words in patois with Randolph. I think they are asking about me. In a few days 40,000 Dominicans will have learned by way of the grapevine that the white U S Army captain is visiting with the black and brown and red people of the hills. Children run out from behind magnolia hedges and cotton trees to look. Dozens of children; there is no birth control here. Some of the girls have dresses, but the boys do not have pants,
There is a table, a lounge, a machine for sewing palm straw hats, three chairs, a shelf with clay goblets for water, a china cupboard with a dish of eggs with expiration date penciled on each, and a picture of Lord Nelson on the wall. In the other room is a washstand, a dresser, a clothes press, another narrow benchlike lounge, and a double bed. This is the extent of the home furnishings. I think of the number of us and I thik of the two narrow lounges and the double bed, and I begin to wonder where I am going to sleep tonight.
But now supper is ready and I am hungry from the day's journey. I am seated at a table that has been prepared for me with painstaking care. My heart is warmed as the food is warm. There are huge plantains on a platter. There are shredded, white, fluffy yams. There are tannya cakes. There is coffee from berries which the hostess herself has harvested, There is a goblet of coconut milk. There is a salad of sliced avacado, and a dessert of juicy mangoes and pineapple. And just to make sure that the American guest is completely satisfied, the hostess has made from my own supplementary stores, a steaming bowl of Campbell's Vegetable Soup!
I will not admit that I am tired. Have not two girls and a 13-year old boy carried my baggage over the mountain while I have carried nothing? Anyhow, I am still still wondering where I am to sleep tonight, and I am told that the double bed is mine. I protest; I cannot take so much space when there are so many in the household. But their point to the ladder to the loft, and explain that the attic floor is one huge bed where there is room for all.
Thursday morning. The bedroom windows are open. The sun is already high over the mountain but I am still in bed. Without taking my head from the pillow I can look out and see cocanuts in the trees, breadfruits, breadnuts, bay leaves, cinnamon, a cotton tree, and huge bananalike plantains. If I raise my head I can see the red berries of coffee bushes and the yellow pods of the cocoa beans and vanilla vines entangled in the undergrowth. I hear the chickens and the pig and the goats and I am reassured that the jungle will not close in on me when I hear a man whacking away with his cutlass.
After a breakfast of fresh eggs and the juice of oranges picked this morning, I take my cameras and roam alone in the fairy wonderland. I see perpendicular walls of stone,-red,- brown,-yellow. I see cablelike vines hanging from giant mahogany trees and I think of Tarzan in the movies. I cross streams roaring down the mountainsides. I determine my direction by the sun and I observe landmarks so I will know how to return to my base. I come upon a bronze beauty bathing in a freshwater pool by a waterfall. I obtain permission to take off my shoes and cool my feet in the water. I explain what the cameras will do and we agree upon some art poses. I trudge on through the bush alone and find my way at nightfall back to the little house beneath the volcano. My friends have washed my clothes and prepared a meal of native and American foods. I am satisfied now with the native foods alone. After supper we play checkers and X and O. I must go to bed early for tomorrow Randolph will guide me back to the boarding-house at Porrtsmouth where I shall spend the night and be ready to take the boat for Roseau, the principal village on Saturday.
It is Friday night. We have reached the boarding-house in time for the evening news broadcast. The usual large group of villagers have come to listen to Portsmouth's only radio. Its battery is charged from a small turbine run from the water pressure in the pipe at the kitchen sink.
It is Saturday morning and I am in Roseau. From the boat I have photographed Carib canoes jumping the waves, native villages along the shore, grass huts on the windswept hills, palm trees against the blue skies and white cumulus clouds. Now in Dominica's largest town, I am taking pictures in the market-place, where barefeet pick their way among the bright colored fruits and vegetables and flowers displayed on the ground. I snap straw hats and baskets and earthen goblets. I snap oxen pilling carts along the streets, I snap people walking with loads on their heads. I snap goats that get in the way of the pedestrians. I do not see any cars. I hurry past the meat stalls. I do not like the smell. I see a white man. He mentions other families which he thinks I should visit while in Roseau, but I haven't the time. I must get back to Portsmouth, then back to my secondary base beyond the volcanic mountain. I must see the sugar cane mill where a cow, wakling in a circle, furnishes the power. I must see how charcoal is made for cooking. I must see how vinilla blossoms are hand pollenized. I must feast on frog legs, whick the Dominicans call mountian chicken.
Sunday has come again. Two men show me where I can photograph oranges and limes growing. They show me red coffee berries for my color camera. They show me more thundering streams and misty waterfalls.
Monday. I have word by messenger that the sloop Zero may sail tomorrow. I pack my bags, and the black, muscular neighbor girls carry them on ahead to the village. I will follow Randolph, my willing and trusty guide. My hostess and her two sisters are accompanying me for a mile to the top of the mountain. They have done everything they could to make my trip pleasant, andnow they are reluctant to see me go. They stop at the rim of the crater. I follow Randolph for half a mile down to the bottom of the circular bowl and up to the rim on the opposite side. I stop and turn to look back across the valley. The women, still standing on the other rim, are waving as I descend out of sight to catch Randolph, already far down the mountainside towards the sea.
We are in Portsmouth now and I am wondering what I shall pay the boy for walking and carrying my equipment over difficult paths for a total of more than 36 miles. He wonders if it would be asking too much for me to get him a rubber ball! Even if I must violate the Lend-Lease Agreement between Great Britain and the United States and cause international complications, I have decided conclusively that Randolph shall have a rubber ball!
The Zero does not sail on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, and by Friday morning I am back again to the U S Army Base in Antigua. Back to electric lights, and refrigerators, and ice cream, and movies, and fans, and radios, and cars, and books, and mail, and hot dogs. But glad as I am to get back, I shall never forget Dominica and the Dominicans. These sturdy and lovable people, walking barefooted up the rock trails, cutlasses in hand, battling against the teeming jungles. Battling against the heat and humidity of the tropics. Battling against hunger, and malaria, and the yaws, and ulcers of the feet. Battling against inadequate education inadequate law and justice, inadequate agricultural equipment, inadequate transportation, inadequate touch with the outside world, inadequate chance for self improvement. But in spite of all this, a people who have learned that their greatest possession is the possession of each other, of friends and neighbors. Their greatest wealth is their wealth of personal qualities, their wealth of character. Surely God will in some future world reward these good people wuth rewards which they have deserved and earned bere but have never been privileged to receive. Dominica, I salute you!