Friday, 31 August 2012

Orange You Glad It's Friday!

Hosted by Hood Photo Blog

Today I'm joining a whole new meme based on the colour orange! That's right. You can take photos of anything orange and join!  So below is one of the pictures I took during our recent festival here in the British Virgin Islands.  Visit the Hood Photo Blog to see more great pix!

Members of the Anazasi Dancers troupe during Emancipation Festival, 2012

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Cover Reveal - The Water of Sunlight!

I'm so very happy with the cover for my new novel, The Water of Sunlight!  Isn't it gorgeous?!!!

People have been taking things from Onita all her life but when the drug dealer she owes money to takes her baby, Onita fights back and changes her life forever!  The Water of Sunlight will be out in October!  Watch for it on Amazon, Smashwords and wherever ebooks are sold.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The St. Thomas Synagogue - Snapshot Saturday

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Few people know but the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere is found on the Dutch island of Curacao in the southern Caribbean; the oldest synagogue in an American territory, however, is found on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  The Jewish congregation was founded on St. Thomas, then part of the Danish West Indies, in 1796 and remained quite small until 1803 when 22 families were registered as members.  By 1831 when much of Charlotte Amalie, the capital, was destroyed by fire along with the synagogue, the congregation numbered 64 families.

The present building was constructed in 1833 and is located on Synagogue Hill.  My daughter and I spent a few days on St. Thomas recently soaking up the history and these were taken during our visit to the synagogue.

The membership remains small, numbering about 120 family and single member registrants.

The US flag is flanked by the territorial or USVI flag and the flag of Israel.

When my daughter asked why the floor was covered in sand, I told her it represented the forty days and the forty nights the Jews wandered in the desert after Moses led them out of Egypt.  Then I read the brochure and had to explain that apparently it was the custom of Spain's "crypto-Jews" or conversos to spread sand on their floor thus allegedly muffling the sound of their songs and prayers while they held services in their cellars.  (Luckily we'd done the Inquisition before launching into Columbus so she understood what being caught would have meant for the Jews - exile or execution.)

Very interesting exhibit through these doors on Jewish history with pictures of some of the earliest settlers in the then Danish West Indies.

The lovely and shady Jewish cemetery is a brisk 20 minute walk from the synagogue.

My area had a 33-hour power outage last weekend so while my post went up as scheduled I wasn't able to enter the meme.  If you're interested in seeing my pix of our annual festival, please click here.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Unburnable, a review

Unburnable: A NovelUnburnable: A Novel by Marie-Elena John
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Decades ago, in the 1940s, a woman by the name of Matilda was hung for murder on the lush, green island of Dominica. Her story became the stuff of chante mas songs, songs sung during the pre-Lenten Masquerade and known to everyone.

Now, her grand-daughter, born in Dominica but partially raised in the United States, is back to discover the real story behind Matilda’s execution. Was Matilda really an Obeah woman with the power to heal as well as to kill? How did Matilda’s daughter, Lillian’s own mother, the beautiful Iris, lose her mind? To whom did the bones hidden in the forested mountains really belong?

Unburnable weaves together the lives of three women, Matilda, Iris and Lillian, into one amazing story of love, betrayal, murder, madness and loss, all against the background of the rich cultural history of Dominica. The vivid descriptions of the dresses, the costumes, the masquerades and the customs of the island make Unburnable a rich feast for the senses.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Festival, BVI Style!

The highlight of our annual emancipation celebrations in the Virgin Islands is the August Monday Parade which takes place on the 1st Monday of August.  (Emancipation for the British colonies came into effect on 1st August, 1834 which happened to be a Monday, hence the tradition.)  Usually I watch the parade at street level but this time I watched it from my aunt's balcony since I didn't want to get too far from the coverage of the Olympics!  I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too!

Mocko jumbies are my favourites!

This band, Showtime, won Road March for its song "Exercise."

The kiddies do their thing.

More mocko jumbies (also known as stiltwalkers)

The colorful Treasures troupe entertains with their routine.

The winning Anasazi Dancers put on a show for the crowd.  The territory traditionally pays homage to Native Americans in the parade.    

Snapshot Saturday is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Presenting, Aisha Banks

Hi, everyone!  Please join me today in welcoming novelist, Aisha Banks.  Below is her guest post.

Aisha Banks
Aisha Banks, an alumnus of Howard University, majored in Fine Arts with emphasis on Play Writing. She is the author and director of several Christian plays. The first, “Just Let Me Live Before I Die,” was performed under the aegis of the American Writer’s Guild. Other plays include, “Herod is After Your Child,” “Family Affair,” and “The Office,” all of which were produced by church-based theatre ministries.

“UnderCaribbean Skies” and “MoonlightOver Caribbean Skies” are fictional stories drawn from the author’s observations of women and their relationships. Both novels examine the delicate issues of love, integrity, and compromise as the characters experience the inward tug-of-war between godly and worldly perspectives. These real-life dynamics are explored in a light-hearted, honest, and insightful manner, and Aisha’s novels are sure to ignite uproarious laughter, keep you turning pages, and leave you hungry for more!
 Under Caribbean SkiesMoonlight Over Caribbean Skies

 “Under Caribbean Skies” is a rich story of intricate relationships that are neatly woven together with quick dialog and vivid images. Faith and Lisa are childhood friends who have given up on the glamour and allure of Los Angeles and gone to the Virgin Islands in search of real men and true love. Both have suffered failed relationships; one with a long-term boyfriend who has an aversion to marriage, the other with an estranged husband who really prefers men.

Once in the islands, they commit to manage any new relationships God’s way. It’s not long before they find themselves working, entrenched in the island lifestyle, and being pursued by charming young men. They think they’re living a fairy tale until events threaten to disrupt their hopes and dreams, causing Faith and Lisa to wonder whether they have found enchantment or disaster Under Caribbean Skies.

“Moonlight Over Caribbean Skies” continues the captivating story. In this second installment, novelist Aisha Banks brings new depth, richness, and grit to the lives of her primary characters, and further explores the complex interrelationships of the people whose lives they touch.

Faith and Lisa are anticipating marriage to the men of their dreams. Much to their surprise,
however, Faith’s mother and two aunts who have come to investigate why Faith quit her six-figure job in Los Angeles, have now become enamored of island men themselves. The personalities of this delightful fantasy take readers from one unexpected turn to another. It’s a journey that will be long-remembered and much-enjoyed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Water of Sunlight

An excerpt from THE WATER OF SUNLIGHT.  Coming in October!

A tall, slim brother watched Onita as she stumbled, coming fast toward him but listing to the left like a telephone pole blindsided by an out-of-control car.  He and the shiny black Beemer with the gold rims he leaned against were the first two signs Moon Dog was around, so Onita was glad to see him.  She tried to remember his name as she wiped her nose on her T-shirt and nodded a greeting. 
“Hey, baby, you alright?” she sang out, always civil like her mama taught her, though she had things on her mind.
She might as well have been a piece of drifting trash. The boy’s face, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen, didn't change expression.  He scratched at his chin with the antenna of the cellphone in his hand as he looked into the distance.  Onita knew that if a squad car showed up he would speed dial Moon Dog’s number and warn him. What she didn't know was why Moon Dog bothered with the precaution.  The cops hardly ever came this deep into Holliston Place and Moon Dog never carried anyway.  No self-respecting dealer carried, that was for the small-fries to do.  The most any cop would find on Moon Dog was green, a lot of it.  Moon Dog loved the feel and smell of bills, the newer the better.   Onita had once watched him pull out his clip, peel a hundred dollar bill off and hand it to a kid from her block.  "Buy yourself something nice," he'd said, and the next day the kid was in head to toe Hilfiger.  That was the kind of thing bound the kids, made it so they wouldn’t roll on him, that and plain old-fashioned fear. 
            Onita walked on, holding her head high like she didn't care about being dissed by a boy just a few years younger than her.  Wasn't anyone around to see anyhow, it was too early. The sun was barely up and not too many people lived on this block.  That was probably why Moon Dog had chosen it as his base. 
Four houses down from the Beemer, she came to a stop and took a backward look at the boy, who now watched her impassively.  Turning away, she kept her eyes on the ground and doubled back to the rear of the third house on the street, carefully picking her way through the waist-high weeds, avoiding the broken bottles, vials, and empty syringes.  The back of the third townhouse was as boarded up as the front but one sheet of plywood had been removed, only the two by fours hung from their nails.  Onita ducked under and through.  It took a couple minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.  She swayed a little before putting out a hand behind her to lean on the planks for support.  The ringing in her ears was even louder in the still, moldy air of the abandoned house.  Onita tugged and pulled at her earlobes to make the ringing go away but it only got better for as long as she tugged and pulled, and she couldn’t stand around doing that all day.
            The building looked empty if you didn’t count the Styrofoam containers and other garbage lying around.  The absence of junkies, holed up looking for heaven in a pipe or just for a roof over their heads while they slept, was the third way she knew Moon Dog was around.  He didn't like druggies hanging around him, said they made his skin crawl.  His father was a junkie who ran the other way when he saw Moon Dog coming.  The man was found once, his face like tenderized meat, lying in a small pool of his own blood.  He never said who did it but everyone around the way knew he’d tried to steal a dime bag off of one of Moon Dog’s street dealers that morning.  Family or no family, Moon Dog did not ramp when it came to his money.
Onita didn't try to be in Moon Dog’s way too often, only when she didn’t have the green and wanted to persuade him to let her have some credit.  She was one of his first customers; it was the least he could do.
            She stumbled through the ground floor rooms and headed up the stairs.
            Moon Dog was sitting at a table with three of his boys in the first room she came to.  He called them his soldati.  It was Italian for soldiers, he would say, if anybody asked what the word meant, but the Italians left the twelve square mile area of Holliston Place alone.  Moon Dog wasn’t talking about the real ones anyway; he was talking about the ones he saw on the screen.  He was Scarface’s number one fan.  Moon Dog, himself, wasn't from Holliston Place or even from the South Bronx.  He lived with his mother and five sisters on 6th and Pine, almost another world away.  But here was where you started if you wanted to prove right away that you were the hardest motherfucker in the city.  Holliston Place was New York's crack capital.  If you began dealing here and you were still alive six months down the line, weren't many who would dare touch you, cops included, rival dealers included.  It was now going on Moon Dog’s eighth month and business was good.  He was devouring turf one line at a time, one block at a time. Soon he would reach into Roy Hill and the projects there.  He had five, six kids doing his running and ten or so touts scattered on lucrative corners.   
            "Where my baby?" Onita demanded, feinting left then running right and away from the boy trying to block her way to Moon Dog.
            "Woman, what you talking ‘bout?"  Moon Dog didn't even look up from his domino game.  His black body shirt was stretched tight over his chest and his bulging biceps.  Word was he spent hours in the state-of-the-art gym he’d installed in the basement of his mother’s house but Onita was convinced his build had more to do with prescription medicines than machines.
            "I know you got my baby.  Trina done told me you took him last night.  Where he at?  I want my baby."  Onita's chest heaved.  She lunged at him but the boy held her around her waist.  She didn’t dare try to hit him.  "Moon Dog, I was getting you your money.  That's what I be doing all of last night.  That's why I wasn't home.  I was getting you your money.  You didn't have to take Hani.  Where he at?"  Onita pressed her hands against her ears.  They were ringing like she’d been standing next to the speakers at a rock concert all night.  It was a side effect of the crack she'd smoked that morning before getting home to find her baby, her life, gone.
            Moon Dog looked up at her.  She held his gaze, didn’t drop her eyes.  After a long minute, he shrugged.
            "He over there."  Moon Dog nodded in the direction of a doorway to another room.
            Onita half-ran, half-walked, almost falling.  The second room was darker, dimmer but she could 
 make out a couple mattresses.  There were clothes strewn everywhere.  This was where Moon Dog crashed when, for whatever reason, home was out of the question.  Onita sank down on her knees and pushed aside the bundle almost covering her child's head. 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Committed to Learning and to Education

What were the lives of slaves like?  How did they seek to overcome the conditions into which they had been placed?  Today I continue my own personal celebration of emancipation (1st August, 1834) with a brief look at the ways in which our ancestors sought to improve themselves and work their way free.  This excerpt is taken from my book From the Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands.

From the Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands (Contributions in Women's Studies)"By allowing black men and women leadership roles [as exhorters and local preachers] within the [Methodist] church and by refusing to believe that religious instruction was beyond their understanding, missionaries sowed subversive seeds.  On the one hand they preached subservience, but, on the other, they embraced converted blacks on a footing of near equality with whites.  It is no wonder then that Methodist missionaries were implicated in at least two rebellions.  Members of the Methodist society were among "a great number of slaves who revolted from their masters ' in 1799...
"Yet, beyond admitting blacks into the power structure of the church, the contribution of the Methodists to the people's development was most felt in the classroom.  Since local government made no provision for the education of slaves, churches served as schoolhouses.  On weekdays, adults went to school in the evening after finishing their plantation work.  Three days a week, children were taught from six to eight o'clock in the mornings before they joined the third gang.  Children also attended school from four to six o'clock on Sunday afternoons.  Basic as it was, the education offered by the missions was also attractive to women.  A missionary described 'the adult female class in 1821 as consisting of girls and old women from the age of 18 to 100 years old.'...By 1833, there were 87 women and 255 girls in the Methodist schools but only 17 men and 93 boys....They also outnumbered the men as teachers, in 1833 the Methodists had thirty female teachers and only eight male teachers."

You are gone and we do not know all of your names but you are remembered.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Isaac Newton at the British Library - Snapshot Saturday

I was doing some research a couple years ago and loved hopping off the bus or exiting King's Cross Station and rounding the corner into the courtyard of the British Library where this statue is situated.  Yep, that's the London sky.  No re-touching necessary.  It was a gorgeous day when I took this picture.

Isaac Newton

It's Snapshot Saturday time, Snapshot Saturday is a great meme, sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Thomas Clarkson, Abolitionist

On 1st, August, the people of many of the English-speaking Caribbean islands celebrate the emancipation of our ancestors from slavery in 1834.  Historians and others have pointed to reasons other than those purely humanitarian for Britain's abolition of slavery - for example, the changed economic conditions which lowered both the price of sugar and the profitability of the Sugar Islands, and the financial cost of the frequent insurrections.  Yet, for the friends of our race, it was the humanitarian impulse that was the primary and sole motivation.  Abolitionists were many in number but some of their names have been lost to history.  Today, I'll let one of the greatest and best among them, Thomas Clarkson, speak.  This man literally spent years of his life, at the cost of his health, checking out slave ships to document abuses, speaking to slaves and ex-slaves, and riding thousands of miles around Britain on horseback to drum up support for abolition.

The excerpt below is taken from his Cambridge essay, "An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species; Particularly the African".  The research he undertook in the process of writing the essay changed his life and he later became one of the founders of the The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, one of the groups whose activism resulted in the 1807 passage of legislation to abolish Britain's participation in the slave trade.

Thomas Clarkson
"When the wretched Africans are conveyed to the plantations, they are considered as beasts of labour, and are put to their respective work. Having led, in their own country, a life of indolence and ease, where the earth brings forth spontaneously the comforts of life, and spares frequently the toil and trouble of cultivation, they can hardly be expected to endure the drudgeries of servitude. Calculations are accordingly made upon their lives. It is conjectured, that if three in four survive what is called the seasoning, the bargain is highly favourable. This seasoning is said to expire, when the two first years of their servitude are completed: It is the time which an African must take to be so accustomed to the colony, as to be able to endure the common labour of a plantation, and to be put into the gang. At the end of this period the calculations become verified, twenty thousand of those, who are annually imported, dying before the seasoning is over. This is surely an horrid and awful consideration: and thus does it appear, (and let it be remembered, that it is the lowest calculation that has been ever made upon the subject) that out of every annual supply that is shipped from the coast of Africa, forty thousand lives are regularly expended, even before it can be said, that there is really any additional stock for the colonies.
"When the seasoning is over, and the survivors are thus enabled to endure the usual task of slaves, they are considered as real and substantial supplies. From this period therefore we shall describe their situation. 
"They are summoned at five in the morning to begin their work. This work may be divided into two kinds, the culture of the fields, and the collection of grass for cattle. The last is the most laborious and intolerable employment; as the grass can only be collected blade by blade, and is to be fetched frequently twice a day at a considerable distance from the plantation. In these two occupations they are jointly taken up, with no other intermission than that of taking their subsistence twice, till nine at night. They then separate for their respective huts, when they gather sticks, prepare their supper, and attend their families. This employs them till midnight, when they go to rest. Such is their daily way of life for rather more than half the year. They are sixteen hours, including two intervals at meals, in the service of their masters: they are employed three afterwards in their own necessary concerns; five only remain for sleep, and their day is finished. 
"During the remaining portion of the year, or the time of crop, the nature, as well as the time of their employment, is considerably changed. The whole gang is generally divided into two or three bodies. One of these, besides the ordinary labour of the day, is kept in turn at the mills, that are constantly going, during the whole of the night. This is a dreadful encroachment upon their time of rest, which was before too short to permit them perfectly to refresh their wearied limbs, and actually reduces their sleep, as long as this season lasts, to about three hours and an half a night, upon a moderate computation. Those who can keep their eyes open during their nightly labour, and are willing to resist the drowsiness that is continually coming upon them, are presently worn out; while some of those, who are overcome, and who feed the mill between asleep and awake, suffer, for thus obeying the calls of nature, by the loss of a limb. In this manner they go on, with little or no respite from their work, till the crop season is over, when the year (from the time of our first description) is completed.
"To support a life of such unparalleled drudgery, we should at least expect: to find, that they were comfortably clothed, and plentifully fed. But sad reverse! they have scarcely a covering to defend themselves against the inclemency of the night. Their provisions are frequently bad, and are always dealt out to them with such a sparing hand, that the means of a bare livelihood are not placed within the reach of four out of five of these unhappy people. It is a fact, that many of the disorders of slaves are contracted from eating the vegetables, which their little spots produce, before they are sufficiently ripe: a clear indication, that the calls of hunger are frequently so pressing, as not to suffer them to wait, till they can really enjoy them. 
"This, situation, of a want of the common necessaries of life, added to that of hard and continual labour, must be sufficiently painful of itself. How then must the pain be sharpened, if it be accompanied with severity! if an unfortunate slave does not come into the field exactly at the appointed time, if, drooping with sickness or fatigue, he appears to work unwillingly, or if the bundle of grass that he has been collecting, appears too small in the eye of the overseer, he is equally sure of experiencing the whip. This instrument erases the skin, and cuts out small portions of the flesh at almost every stroke; and is so frequently applied, that the smack of it is all day long in the ears of those, who are in the vicinity of the plantations. This severity of masters, or managers, to their slaves, which is considered only as common discipline, is attended with bad effects. It enables them to behold instances of cruelty without commiseration, and to be guilty of them without remorse. Hence those many acts of deliberate mutilation, that have taken place on the slightest occasions: hence those many acts of inferiour, though shocking, barbarity, that have taken place without any occasion at all: the very slitting of ears has been considered as an operation, so perfectly devoid of pain, as to have been performed for no other reason than that for which a brand is set upon cattle, as a mark of property
"But this is not the only effect, which this severity produces: for while it hardens their hearts, and makes them insensible of the misery of their fellow-creatures, it begets a turn for wanton cruelty. As a proof of this, we shall mention one, among the many instances that occur, where ingenuity has been exerted in contriving modes of torture. "An iron coffin, with holes in it, was kept by a certain colonist, as an auxiliary to the lash. In this the poor victim of the master's resentment was inclosed, and placed sufficiently near a fire, to occasion extreme pain, and consequently shrieks and groans, until the revenge of the master was satiated, without any other inconvenience on his part, than a temporary suspension of the slave's labour. Had he been flogged to death, or his limbs mutilated, the interest of the brutal tyrant would have suffered a more irreparable loss. 
"In mentioning, this instance, we do not mean to insinuate, that it is common. We know that it was reprobated by many. All that we would infer from it is, that where men are habituated to a system of severity, they become wantonly cruel, and that the mere toleration of such an instrument of torture, in any country, is a clear indication, that this wretched class of men do not there enjoy the protection of any laws, that may be pretended to have been enacted in their favour."

Thomas Clarkson, you are remembered.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Slavery Today

Britain abolished slavery on 1st August, 1834 and, over the course of the next several decades, the rest of the world followed suit and the Atlantic slave trade was brought to an end.  Today, I'm highlighting two countries, Niger and Brazil, where the abhorrent practice continues.  Anti-Slavery International is one of several organizations fighting modern-day slavery.  Amnesty International and  the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are two others.