Have you heard of Dominica?
We speak English and patois, and you’re probably saying the name wrong. It’s Dom- e-nee-ka.
My mother and I leave Dominica when I’m seven, visiting twice thereafter. Though we trade our green passports for the blue one and my accent no longer labels me a foreigner, Dominica is home. Granny and Papa have been waiting nine years, and I’m excited about the photos I’ll take. It is May.
Then Maria appears. With a force she charges across our homeland, plucking every leaf off every branch and every branch from every tree. “It’s like there were demons in the wind,” they later recount. She peels back the roofs of people’s life savings, baring the state of their mattresses, and leaves with the light, water, and the island’s color. We see images of our brown Dominica and listen as the death toll rises. Devastation is not a tropical paradise. It is September.
My aunt finally calls, and my mother explodes. She can now exhale. Greenery makes its slow return and the roads to our village are passable, my aunt informs. Electricity is still months away and water inconsistent, but Dominicans celebrate the small victories. They even find time to laugh above the hum of generators. Jokes are funnier in patois. It is October.
Dominica receives us, and I hesitate to acknowledge the damage. The drive from the airport affords time for confrontation, but I hide in the backseat of an SUV. I see no coconuts, just years of progress, undone. Nevertheless, the warmth reminds me of earlier times and the breeze still speaks the same language. The roads narrow and wind as always and, nine years later, terrify me less than before. Our village shrinks as it comes into view. I can almost reach over the ravine and touch the pastor’s house from the top of my street. It is in plain sight, compliments of Maria. Her name arises in daily conversation.
“Maria gave you a new number, huh?”
My mother distracts herself with the new brick houses and drivable roads where there were once trees and dirt paths.
“Whose house is that?”
“Wow, it’s so nice there! So many houses.”
Though not ideal, we enjoy our time home. My mother makes passion fruit juice one night, and we occasionally savor some our favorite island cooking. Most importantly, we spend time with our family, and they with us. Between expressions of joy and pensive silences, Papa speaks.
“These are wonderful and beautiful words I’m telling you.”
“All that I’m telling you is righteousness! Take it or leave it.”
I take it. This is home. It is December.