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Archive for the ‘Nevis’ Category

IMG_1850I’m here—in a pretty little bungalow that’s a virtual replica of the one I stayed in last year! I set my alarm for 5am but woke at 3 this morning; felt a headache coming on so got up and got ready to head to the airport. My driver was a lovely man from Guinea and we made it ALMOST the whole way to the airport before he asked—as all taxi drivers in NYC do–“Are you married or single?” We discussed the political crisis in Egypt, the violence in Syria, the instability in neighboring Mali (which he fears will spread to Guinea). We talked about the importance of education and the high cost of travel between countries in West Africa and the Caribbean. But just as the airport came into view, he asked about my marital status.

HIM: Are you married or single?

ME: Single.

HIM: It’s better to be married.

ME: Maybe for men it’s better. I’m not so sure it’s better for women. Not for me, anyway.

HIM: You just have to choose the right person. Women today want to be independent but they choose the wrong person. God will choose the right person for you.

I didn’t bother to respond to that. Still, we parted on good terms and I gave him a nice tip because I thought of my students when he revealed that he could barely write his own name when he arrived in the US fifteen years ago. “Education is everything.” It certainly is. I hauled my book-filled bag into the terminal and onto the scale—I had my wallet open because I knew there would be a surcharge for the extra weight. But the attendant just put the sticker on my suitcase and told me to drop it on the conveyor belt. Security was a breeze…it was amazing. We landed on time and since I was seated at the back of the plane, I was one of the first people to exit via the rear stairway. I was the FIRST person to clear customs, I got my bags, and had plenty of time to spare before the 1pm ferry left St. Kitts for Nevis. The sea was choppy, perhaps as residual effect of Hurricane Chantal, but I just closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Somehow lurching back and forth doesn’t affect me if I can’t actually see the boat bobbing up and down. When i got off the ferry, Marva Roberts from the Nevis Library Service was there to meet me and she and her daughter drove me to my hotel—all the while filling me in on the many exciting literacy events they’ve held in the past year. I don’t know what it is about librarians, but they’re just awesome. I think it’s that they love books and want others to love books, too. Later this week I’ll meet with the librarians at Charlestown Secondary School to give them the forty books I brought from New York. I actually broke my suitcase hauling those books off the ferry but now that they’re here in my room, they seem rather inadequate. I wish I had 100 books to give…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMy 3am headache has hung around all day but I’m hoping a good meal and a good night’s rest will clear it up. I flopped on the lovely four-poster bed this afternoon and got annoyed when a bird started chirping RIGHT outside my window. This little bungalow has 5 windows, including one right behind the bed and I swear that bird was deliberately sitting on the window ledge so she couldn’t be ignored. I finally dragged myself up and put my glasses back on only to find…a hummingbird! It wasn’t doing all the chirping, it was too busy feeding from the flowering tree outside my window. I watched it for almost a minute before it flew away. So thank you, little squeaky bird, for annoying me enough to draw my attention to the very bird that has led me on this journey.(It was a Green-Throated Carib, I think)

On the plane I sat next to a young woman who looked very familiar. She offered me a piece of gum as the plane took off, and then draped a blanket over her head and slept the rest of the way. We chatted a little at the airport and it turns out she’s a student at Hunter College! I gave her my card when we got off the ferry (she gave me a hug!) and asked her to email me so I could possibly interview her for the book. I’m going to interview my cousin tonight after dinner (if we can stay awake). And my aunt is making me soup for lunch tomorrow, which I desperately need since neither my inhaler nor the cough syrup I’m taking seems to have much effect…

I’m here–can’t say “I’m home,” but I did feel something like pride when the ferry pulled up and I could see Nevis Peak stretching up into the clouds. Plus the man who sat next to me on the ferry had a chuckle just like my Dad’s! I’ve never heard *anyone* laugh that way. It must be a Nevis thing…

 

 

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c08_000peterI haven’t blogged much lately. Partly because I was trying to finish Judah’s Tale (I didn’t) and partly because I can’t stand to spend too much time thinking about all the bad news in the world lately (I’m looking at you, SCOTUS). Right now Gasland II is on in the background but I’m not really watching because I’m thinking about islands—England and Nevis. I spent an hour earlier this evening perusing the correspondence of esteemed British gentlemen on either side of a gruesome 1810 case in Nevis in which a planter was accused of cruelly punishing 32 of his enslaved men and women. Their crime? Not doing their work and threatening to leave the plantation. I leave for my fourth trip to Nevis soon and I’m not sure what to expect. A year has passed since I was there last and I haven’t done much writing on The Hummingbird’s Tongue. I’ve given it a lot of thought, however, and will be presenting on experimental writing at a Commonwealth literature conference in early August. It’s time to give these ideas some kind of form, but what do you do with this?

Witness went and sat down in Dr. Crosse’s gallery–Says, that two drivers continued flogging said negro man for about fifteen minutes.–Says, that as this man appeared to be severely whipped, he was induced to count the lashes given the others, conceiving the country would take up the business.–Says, that defendant gave one man 115 lashes; to another 65; to another 47; to another 165; to another 242; to another 212; to another 181; to another 59; to another 187; to a negro woman 110; to another woman 58; to another woman 97; to another woman 212; another woman 291; another woman 83; another woman 49; another woman 68; another woman 89; and another woman 56.

Witness says, that the woman who received 291 lashes, appeared to be young, but most cruelly flogged.

I’m hoping to find the original court documents. I have a few names: Quashy, Ned, William Coker, Nellys Juba, Madges Juba, Catherine, Castile, and Range. Then a slew of witnesses—all white men, of course—testified that they had seen punishments just as severe elsewhere. In other words, this kind of torture was not unusual or extraordinary in the Caribbean at that time. The planter, Edward Huggins, was found not guilty by a jury of his peers but abolitionists back in England used reports of this case to further their cause. I don’t know if I’ve got all my facts straight, but I believe these brutalized men and women worked on the Montravers Estate, and I will be touring the ruins sometime this week. I used some of my grant money to buy a video camera but I’m not sure if there’s any point filming the ruins of a plantation. It reminds me of Claude Lanzmann’s footage of demolished concentration camps. Why document an absence, show what’s no longer there? Because there’s a residue that persists. I need to write…

P7015625Last night I was angry, wishing I hadn’t scheduled the trip for this month. I haven’t finished Judah’s Tale and I can’t gain momentum when I’m constantly shifting my attention to other projects. I have yet another article to revise and swear I will NEVER submit my work to another academic journal. My bad mood took a turn for the worse when I realized that given the choice, I’d rather go to Oxford. I’ve been watching Inspector Lewis lately, which is filmed in Oxford, and there was one shot where two characters were walking by the river and the path went past a golden, walled building that had a gorgeous border of shrubs and flowers. It was a gloomy day, the actors were wearing autumn clothes…one of the suspects worked in a tea shoppe. And the truth is, that is my dream. I don’t like hot weather; I’m not a tropical kind of girl. We’re in a heat wave right now, which might account for my miserable mood. And I realize that when I think about Nevis, I don’t think about serenity. And perhaps that’s why it has taken me so long to start writing this book. My own discomfort around this history, my own family history, the climate, the landscape–it’s hard to look at sometimes (my discomfort, that is). And that’s how I know this book will be SHORT. It’s too hard to balance my shameless fixation with British culture against my righteous indignation at the lasting damage of slavery and colonialism–part of which IS my fixation with British culture…

So bear with me. It could be a bumpy ride.

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The only good thing about having a summer cold during a heat wave is that it keeps me at home, which is where I get most of my writing done. Last week I was out and about every single day, but since waking with a sore throat on Monday, I’ve pretty much been out of commission. I had one day of fun on Thursday, but I’ve been housebound otherwise and that’s led to increased productivity: last week I wrote 4500 words and so far this week I’ve written 6000 words. I’m hopeful that between naps and coughing fits, I’ll be able to write at least 1500 words today and tomorrow. That would put this first draft of Judah’s Tale at 85K words. I am determined to NOT go over 90K. On Friday I got an offer for The Deep. I’m not sure how/if that’s going to work out, but I’ll keep you posted. Right now I want to get my voice back so I can read at tomorrow’s festival and plead my case for greater diversity when I meet with my publisher on Tuesday…

If you’re in Brooklyn, stop by St. Francis College tomorrow afternoon for the WORD Caribbean Book Festival. My reading & panel starts at 5:30. I’ve been listed as a Nevisian author so the first thing I’ll have to do is break that down…

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Today began with a migraine but ended with some great news—I found out that I’ve been accepted into CUNY’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program, which will enable me to spend the spring semester focusing on The Hummingbird’s Tongue. Around noon today, when I could bear to sit at my sun-soaked desk, I scanned and printed out an illustration by Leonard Weisgard from The Little Island. Now, up on the wall, I’ve got an 1871 map of Nevis, an 1817 slave register, the logo for my future Black Dog Arts Center, my partially-completed family tree, and this image:

I spoke with my aunt in Nevis this morning and learned some good and bad news. The good news is that my citizenship application was approved—on my birthday! So I am now a citizen of Nevis. The bad news is that my aunt’s doctor found a mass during her colonoscopy and she has to have surgery next week. I hope to hear soon about a grant I applied for that would fund a trip to the Caribbean in January, but I’m thinking I should just go ahead and book the ticket now. Until I get there I’m sending love and prayers and positive vibes across the sea…

Are you wondering what to get that special someone for the holidays? Why not support Hands Across the Sea, a nonprofit that provides books for Caribbean children? Sonita Daniel, Director of the Nevis Library Service, let me know that Hands Across the Sea has selected Nevis to receive donated books this year so any amount you give will help to provide books for children in Nevisian schools and community centers. I’ve got a school visit early tomorrow morning and think I’ll put the honorarium towards the Steel Pan Band package, which includes a “Selection of 35 hardcover titles from well-regarded Caribbean niche publishers.” Other packages range from $10 – $2500.

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I haven’t blogged in a while because I figured out that I have 22 non-teaching days in the month of September, and if I write 900 words on each of those days, I’ll have the 20K words I need to finish Judah’s Tale. I got off to a good start last weekend, but this weekend I’ve fallen short—instead of writing 2000 words yesterday I wrote 200! But that’s because I spent most of the day completing a grant report (500 words) and working on an application for a faculty publication program (1350 words). That’s one thing about my job—you constantly have to apply for things. Still, it’s a pretty great opportunity—you get paired with a writing mentor, you meet eight times with other writers within your field, and you get 3 hours of course release for the spring semester, which means one less class to teach. My classes are going fairly well so far, but I’m reminded—once again—of how impossible it is to turn your brain off when you teach. It’s not like a 9-5 where you clear your desk at the end of the day and go home to dwell on other things. With teaching you’re always making a mental list of the things you need to say and do and plan and fix. And then there are the endless emails asking for help; I’m not a medical doctor but I do sometimes feel like I’m on call! It’s part of the job, and I do love to teach, but maybe I’m not being realistic about finishing Judah’s Tale this month. My (pipe) dream is to finish two novels this semester, which would free me up to start The Hummingbird’s Tongue in January. A friend and I are considering London for Xmas, which means I need to budget carefully so that I can do London in December, Nevis in January, and Ghana in May. My travel allowance is $450 so that means I need to get really creative…counting words and counting pennies!

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black dog

Found a photo online of a “black dog” coin. It seems they took these French coins, stamped “Nevis” or “N” on them, and they then circulated as 7 black dogs instead of 7 sous:

 

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break

I’m thinking about taking a break from the blog. Spoke with my cousin a few days ago and she’s worried that I’m putting too much of myself “out there.” The internet can create a false sense of intimacy, and I definitely don’t want some psycho latching onto me because of what I write on my blog. But I also don’t want to feel like I can’t be myself online…to quote June Jordan, “Who the hell set things up like this?” Not me. I’ve got novels to write so maybe taking a break isn’t such a bad thing. Right now I’m reading Vincent Hubbard’s Swords, Ships & Sugar: History of Nevis to 1900. And I had to stop and blog because I just found a possible clue—in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Nevis used silver coins issued by France for use in their Caribbean and South American colonies. These coins—“sous”—were also called “black dogs” by locals. If the enslaved woman I discovered in the 1817 slave register was 60 years old at the time, she would have been born around 1757. Could her unusual name somehow be linked to these coins? So many possibilities…

Just booked my last trip of the summer, but will keep that to myself for now. Back to the book…

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