Photo: Bath Road, Roseau, Dominica (December 18, 2009). Text: September 2011.
Dominicans are considered to be very modest and religious people. They do not take kindly to revelling holidayers that walk the streets in bikinis and clingy mesh shirts. [Who among us does?]
Please do not anticipate a banana daiquiri on a soft, white sand beach while a Black woman braids your hair in tiny rows adorned with colourful beads. [White tourists: please stop this nonsense.]
Good luck finding a sandy beach, period.
When I read this description in a travel book, I believed it to be true (the part about modesty and religion), having grown up with my grandmother, the country’s most religious compatriot (or ex-patriot). A woman so religious she claimed to be married to Jesus. [She also claimed to be in a relationship with sportscaster Jim Tatti, but that’s a story for another day.]
And so, I approached our trip to Dominica expecting to encounter an island full of Scyllas. And in a way I did, through the sing-songy patois of some of the older folk. As soon as I got off the plane I recognized my grandmother’s way of speaking everywhere. It was so beautiful. An island of Scylla’s, though nary a soul lay their bodies down on the streets, stretching their arms out to greet the rapture or rebuke the temptations of Satan.
The rumours are true, in part: Dominican’s can be quite religiously conservative. But there’s another side to the culture, too. It’s where the legacy of Colonialism meets our African roots in the world of jump ups and ass grinding, liberating booty shaking dance, the pageantry of Carnival, and the soca scene. Two sides that reside side-by-side, often within the same individuals.
One day, I think it was two days before Xmas, we were in the Astaphans, one of the biggest grocery stores in Roseau, fighting the crowds, attempting to procure provisions for the Holidays. A group of women got into a shit talking scrap like I have never witnessed before. Let’s just say, the word “pussy” was thrown around very liberally. And my favourite, “She a jezebel, she got a tattoo!!”
And with that, I discretely covered the exposed artwork on my arm and moved past the ruckus unseen.