Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview by the Liberian Listener: 11 Questions-Althea Romeo Mark

Interview by the Liberian Listener
This interview was conducted by Daniel Geply. I wish to thank him for providing this wonderful opportunity.




11 Questions: Althea Romeo Mark, Writer, Poet, Educator
Althea Romeo Mark is an educator and poet who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  She earned a B.A. in English and Secondary Education from the University of the Virgin Islands and a M.A. in Modern American Literature from Kent State University in the U.S.A. She considers herself a citizen of the world having lived and taught in the Virgin Islands, U.S.A, Liberia, England and now currently Switzerland.  She has published 5 collections of poems as well as various short stories and poems in a variety of literary magazines.

Where published and literary influences?
1a. I have been published by two prominent Caribbean journals. First The Caribbean Writer, which just published its 29th edition, and is published by the University of the Virgin Islands. It has been publishing my poems and short stories off and on since the 1990s. Then there is POUI, a literary journal from the University of the West Indies, which has just put out its 16th edition. Coming from the US Virgin Islands, having one’s work published in a journal from the University of the West Indies is considered a great achievement, as they tend to focus only the work of writers from former British colonies. Being published in the New Yorker will be a major achievement.  I just need to do it.

1b. I have been part of a few anthologies on Caribbean writing. The earliest is Sisters of Caliban: Contemporary Women Poets of the Caribbean: A Multi-lingual Anthology edited by MJ Fenwick, USA, 1996; Karibia Forteller, published in Norway in 2001 (in Norwegian); The Hampden-Sidney Poetry Review: Poetry of the Caribbean (Virginia, USA), WomanSpeak: A Journal of Writing and Arts by Caribbean Women, Bahamas 2014. I am also blessed to be part of Seasoning for the Mortar, a special anthology on Virgin Islands Writing, published by the University of the Virgin Islands in 2004, and have just signed an agreement for the follow-up anthology of Virgin Islands Writings, First the Kata, Then the Bundle which comes out in 2016.

1c. I haven’t been influenced by one particular poet but have learned the craft of writing and sculpturing  poetry from Maya Angelo and Allen Ginsberg. Maya Angelo mentored young poets at a poetry workshop in Liberia in the 1980s and Allen Ginsberg, one of the famous Beat Poets, mentored young poets at the University of the Virgin Islands in the early 1970s. I think my rhythm might be influenced by the rhythm and rhyme of Calypso singers and writers, and the natural sing-song of Caribbean speech patterns. I am a visual person, so I like to work with images. I started out painting and drawing in high school, and switched to painting with words when I got to university.

2.         With these accomplishments, what do you hope to still achieve in this celebrated sojourn?
I hope to be an established name in the Caribbean Literature, and maybe in the world. But that requires constantly being in the limelight which I tend to shy away from. It is more important that I can inspire others to fulfill their dreams of becoming great writers.

3.   Would you say your writings reflect your collective personal life experiences?
Yes they do.  All writings are inspired by experience, or some seed of truth planted in the world in which you live through mediums like news headline, your immediate environment, traditions, culture, history and the world in its crazy pulse of existence.

4.   As an educator, what level of teaching do you find the most rewarding. 4a. Your students must be lucky to have such a well traveled and accomplished writer?
a) Teaching at university is very rewarding.  I miss the intellectual stimulation provided by fellow lecturers and students. As a lecturer you learn from the brilliance of students.  Your role is not only to impart knowledge but to also to learn from the knowledge that students share. You evolve as a teacher as a result of that experience. There are many opportunities (forums, conferences, workshops, research) for growth offered in such an environment.
b) Teaching English to people, for whom English is not their mother-tongue, is equally rewarding. You get to witness their transformation from speakers of a few English words to people who can hold an intelligent conversation. Students are motivated because they need English for work or to travel around the world. They recognize that English is the language used on the international stage for communication.
d)  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to teach Creative Writing. It requires a language competence equivalent to mother-tongue English, and most students at that level are concerned with building their careers. I have offered courses though.  A course needs to have a minimum of eight students to run. I have done booklets of descriptive essays written by my students though.

5.   You quote that “I write because I have to,” could you please elaborate further?
For me, writing is like breathing and eating, things that are necessary, things you need to do to stay alive. You don’t think much about it. You just do it. The environment provides the stimulation.  Sometimes when I see a blank page, I just have this urge to fill it with meaningful, communicative, transcending words. Fulfilling this desire can be very successful most times; there are times when the words are not ripe, and you cannot force them.

6.   Are you working on another collection of poems to be published in the near future?  
I have had a collection ready since 2014-2015, but I have written and published so many poems since then, I need to do a revision.  Then, there is the nagging question of whether to self-publish or to send the manuscript to a Caribbean publisher.  I do not teach at university, so I do not have contact with university presses. This is why I send my work out to various publications.  One has to build a resume in the publishing world, so people can recognize your name when they see it. You need to publish several times a year to be taken seriously.

6b. Any advice to young writers and especially Liberian/Caribbean writers?
If you love writing and want to establish yourself as a writer, you have to write, be open to others critiquing your work.  You have to get the opinion of someone who can look at your work with an objective eye. Join a writers’ group. I have been a member of a writers’ group wherever I have lived (USA, Liberia and Switzerland). Writers’ groups help to stimulate the individual growth of writers. Do not be daunted by rejection letters. Sometimes you look back at work you sent out and realize that it was “crap”  and your work was correctly rejected. I started writing as university student in the 70s and haven’t stopped. You have to be willing to learn from others, have determination and believe in your dream. You never stop learning as a writer. Take advantage of all opportunities for publishing that come up whether big or small. Remember: You are building that resume and preparing for the big break.

7.   You are well travelled and have lived in many places, what was your favourite location to reside?
 Liberia was the country in which I grew as a person the most.  I arrived at a naïve age of twenty-six.  I became an adult there.  I met my husband, married, had three children, survived several political upheavals, and had to declare myself a refugee upon arriving in England and decided to start over. I was forty then and had spent the prime of my life with beautiful, expressive people. I also learned about my Caribbean past because I heard some of the folktales my father told again in Liberia.  One makes that connection and embraces one’s West African roots.

7b. You recently travelled to Africa as a guest poet, commendable indeed.
I wanted to visit the African continent again and the Kisii International Poetry Festival provided that opportunity.  It felt great to be back on the African continent, this time East Africa, to be among humble people with big hearts. The people in  the villages were very welcoming. I missed that very much.

8.   What would you like your writing to be most remembered for? It is my hope that my poems carry a message about the strengths and weakness of human nature, whether it be the message of love, betrayal, the frailties of man or the continuity of traditions. It is my hope that they make some kind of impact.

9.   Besides writing, what do you like to do in your leisure time?
I like to travel if I can and learn about other cultures. Otherwise, I go to the gym and try to prolong my life by exercising.  I need to do more of that unfortunately.

10. With all the places you have been, how many languages do you speak? 10a. Which is the hardest?

I speak only two languages: English and German. I understand Swiss-German. It is a medieval version of German which I find difficult to express.

11. Thank you for your time Ms. Romeo-Mark, do you have any final thoughts?
As a writer, as long as you live, there is always something to write about. The world is a fascinating, sometimes disappointing place, filled with human beings exercising their will, not always in our favor, but we try to find the good in all the craziness that we live through. Life gives you much food for thought.

Neighbors Sanderson

Warm summer night.
Windows flung open,
are dressed in curtains of light.
Old Mr. Sanderson across the way,
kneads his wife’s plump arms,
rubs her hands and swollen feet.
The scent of eucalyptus,
wafting into the air,
subdues the smells
of frying oils and salsa,
and settles in our noses.
The fragrant ointment
glistens on Mrs. Sanderson’s
thick, veined hands
and fleshy fudge-brown arms.
Her face, tense with the
hurdles of aging, slackens.
Evening ritual done,
Mr. Sanderson nestles
next to her and reads
from a well-read book
she had dedicated to him.
and made famous long ago.
It is then we shut out distractions,
shush those in mid sentences,
strain our ears to hear elegiac words
that speak and sing for a
voice now stilled by stroke.
In baritone, Mr. Sanderson reads
about seductive flesh and
love in spring shifting into summer.
There is no autumn or winter.
It is a love superior.

Republished with permission by Althea Romeo-Mark, from Moko Magazine, November 2014 issue (www.mokomagazine.org).  


Below are some of the journals in which Althea Romeo-Mark has been published. 


Althea Romeo-Mark's last poetry collection




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Revisiting My Nests Part II: Antigua and Barbuda

St. John's, Antigua 2015
August 4th, 2015


My daughter, Malaika, Carl and baby Zoe, accompany me to Cyril King Airport (St. Thomas, V.I) where I have a scheduled 2:00 p.m. flight (Antigua). I am travelling by way of L.I.A.T (Leeward Islands Air Transport), a popular airline used to do island hopping in the Caribbean.  Of course, Caribbean airlines have a reputation for being late, and I am not disappointed.  








There are running jokes about Caribbean airlines. B.W.I.A (British West Indies Airways) is now known as Better Walk If Able, and LIAT ( Leave Island Any Time or Languishing in Airport Terminals.  

In another nest, Liberia, West Africa, people are also fond of interpreting abbreviations to suit themselves.  A very popular one, in Liberia, that has nothing to do with flying, but with health and safety, is “Just For Killing,” It is used by local folks for  JFK hospital named after John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

But let me not get away from the topic.  We are told that LIAT is going to be late.  There are grave, loud sighs, lots of chuupsing (sucking teeth). At 2:30 p.m. we are told that the plane broke down in St. Kitts. They are trying to fix it. By 3:00 p.m. we are updated— a different LIAT has been diverted to pick us up, and because there is a new captain, and crew, It won’t arrive until 4:00 p.m.. There is an uproar. 



People are going to miss connecting flights and might not get to their destination tonight. One woman, louder than the rest, vents enough anger for all of us.  At 3:30 we are told that the plane will only fly to Antigua (I sigh a quiet relief. That is my destination), and passengers flying further will be put up in a hotel overnight. 




 Out comes the cells- phones. Loud voices are “cussing” and making alternative arrangements. The brunt of their displeasure, of course, is LIAT, living up to its reputation. I do not bother to call my family. They are on a beach relaxing and enjoying themselves and cannot do anything about the delay. The substitute plane arrives at 4:00 p.m. as promised, and soon I am up in the air, off to my other nest, Antigua, which I left in 1956. 



Antigua is the island where I was born, but it is not where my parents were born; however, it is their nest, too.  Both of my parents were born on islands where their parents had gone to create a better life for their children and themselves. 





                My father was born in The Dominican Republic, where his mother went to improve her fortune, while my mother was born in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands where her mother, too, hoped to better her future.

Caribbean folks travel to greener pastures, like people instinctively do, when times are difficult. Nature, by means of drought, hurricane, and earthquake has often been the culprit that pushes people to leave land and loved one behind in order to seek their fortune elsewhere. War is another driving factor.


               It is dark when my plane touches down. I go through Immigration and Customs hassle free. At the taxi-stand, I am told it is the last night of carnival and traffic is jammed. There is no way to reach my hotel, located in the city center, directly.  I get into a taxi that is waiting for another passenger. She is going to a bus station not far from my hotel. I learn she is from English Harbour and plans to take a bus from the south bus terminal to get there.  As we drive along, I tell her I was born in English Harbor last visit was 1970. She gets out at a street near the terminal. Then the taxi driver informs me that I will have to get out the taxi and walk. 









My mind begins to race. I think back to 2014 when I attended the Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kisii,  Kenya.  Upon arriving in Nairobi, after a delayed flight, my arranged transport had left and I had to seek a taxi. The driver, who had no clue about the hotel’s location, spent an hour and a half, driving up and down dirt roads trying to find it. And I, during this time, was wondering if I was a kidnap victim.












And before that, in 2010, I had attended the 20th International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Columbia. Then, upon arriving in Bogata, Columbia, I was told that my flight to Medellin had been delayed and knowing only a few words of Spanish, worried that those who were there to pick me up in Medellin, had left before I got there.  And further panic setting in when I could not locate my passport.



I am not familiar with Antigua’s capital, St. John’s. How will I find the hotel at night?  The taxi driver soon stops and says I have to get out here.  He parks and helps me with my bags. I breathe lightly as he walks beside me, pulls my bag along in alleys crammed with revelers dancing to blaring calypso.  





We finally reach the hotel. I tip him well, grateful that he did not abandon me.  Checked into my room, the boom-boom-boom from bands, shake the roomI wonder how I will sleep, but at 12:00 midnight the music stops abruptly as if someone had cast a magic wand.

August 5th,  2015 
Day One: A visit to English Harbour to connect with family.


I am up, showered, dressed by 9:00 a.m., and ready for breakfast. I leave my spacious hotel room and walk up one floor to the dining room on the fourth floor. I secure a window seat with a partial view of capital city, St. Johns, which I am seeing for the first time in daylight. A huge, docked tourist ship takes up a good portion of the view.  It is probably one of those that carry a few thousand passengers.












The breakfast buffet offers not only the usual choice of eggs, bread, coffee, tea, but also traditional dishes. I choose salt fish, smoke herring, eggplant and boiled green bananas.  I hadn’t eaten smoke herring and eggplant for years.  Breakfast is going to be exciting every morning. I tell the staff  I enjoyed the breakfast, throw in the local name for stewed eggplant (chobah), tell them I was born in English Harbour and visiting after forty-four years. 

I am accustomed to people looking at my light-skin and wondering if I am an imposter. I know that people will try to place me. I have been asked before if I am from Turkey, The Philippines and Germany.

After breakfast, I get directions to the bank, which is not far from the hotel. I need to exchange US dollars to local Eastern Caribbean currency to pay for my bus fare, food, and buy souvenirs.  To my surprise and delight there is a huge tourist market right outside the hotel.  I must pass it to get to the bank. 



At the bank, the line is long and I realize I have to get back into my West African mindset where going to the bank requires great patience. The line snakes slowly and I observe the bank personnel, locals standing in the line and wonder what their story is. 



One of the tellers looks like an Antiguan-Arab. Syrians and Lebanese have been in the Caribbean since the early 1900s. I reach a teller after more than an hour and depart for English Harbour later than planned.


Back at the hotel, I tell the receptionist of my planned English Harbour visit and I am told  I need to take, the South Bus Station which is not far from the hotel.  I leave the hotel, near the dock, and keep right as directed, passing vendors selling mangoes,  other fruit, vegetables and souvenirs.

















Antigua Panorama

I.                Revisiting my Nest

It’s been forty-four years since I flew back
to The Nest, that place where it started,
that place from which my parents had flown
because nature had tested Antigua’s resolve
with hurricanes and droughts, and began
the making nesting places I call home.

II.              St. Johns, Capital

A surprise awaits me around the corner from my hotel.
Vendors are haggling souvenirs. Many are crafted in Colombia
but at least they are Caribbean-made and not from distant China.

I discover indigenous wares—necklaces, bracelets, earrings 
strung from shells of conches, coconuts and seeds.
I seek out vendors from English Harbor, my native village.
They come a long way to St. Johns each day
to grab their slice of the tourist market.

Then hurrying towards a bus station in this visitor-crammed town,
I pass traders guarding yellow mangoes sold in five-dollar- heaps.
They are set on burlap bags, next to sellers, legs sprawled
on narrow, uneven sidewalks.
(c) Althea Romeo-Mark 2015


At the bus terminal, I look for the bus number, climb in at the back, and wait for the bus to fill up.  In climbs the woman who rode with me in the taxi last night. Is this providence? During our chat, I tell her the last names of my family.  Passengers are dropped off at villages along the way. 




After an hour on the bus, she begins to mentions names, like Liberta,  Falmouth, Cobs-Cross with which I am familiar. Suddenly she points at the woman sitting on a veranda.  That is Miriam Potter, she says.  Miriam is my cousin.  I tell the driver I am getting off here.  I pay the money-collector, thank the woman and bid her goodbye.  I would never see her again.



 I had last met Miriam Dorset-Potter and her brother Ewing Dorset at my father’s funeral in St. Thomas, in 2009. They are my father’s eldest brother’s (Robert Dorsett’s) children.  We didn’t have time to talk then. She and her brother had been quickly introduced.  I had met many family members that we had not seen for forty or more years; some since childhood.  It was a time of loss and reunion.

At first Miriam thought I was my older sister, Ianthe, who has a house in English Harbor and visits Antigua from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands twice a year. She calls me by her name.  I quickly introduce myself and spend time getting acquainted.  



She introduces me to her husband with whom she manages a holiday home in the area and shows me photo albums of her children.  They are not home today so I take photos of them.  I show Miriam photos of my family.  She phones our cousin, Durand Horsford, who is unavailable and leave messages to let him know we are on our way.


Around noon, Miriam prepares lunch. After lunch, we walk to English Harbor in search of cousins Durand and Steven Horsford.  We pass places that look familiar.
I am eager to explore, reignite my memory of places that have become distant and fading fast. 
My dream is to walk around but a bad heel has left me walking with caution since the beginning of spring. Any twist of my ankle would doom my holiday.














 We reach a narrow plot of land my grandmother left to her children and Miriam call out to our cousins. Steven , who came to Antigua for a wedding from St. Thomas, and never returned, finally shows up, but Durand is nowhere to be found.  






I had been communicating with him in Switzerland and was looking forward to meeting him.  After waiting a while and leaving a message, we leave and go to a shop located at the entrance to English Harbour. 

Shirley Heights, English Harbour, Antigua

From the introductions at the shop, I gather I am a distant cousin to everyone around.  Miriam arranges with a taxi driver to take me to Shirley Heights and Dock yard. Now a tourist, I take photos of these history-filled tourist attractions and buy a souvenir.

Shirley Heights, English Harbour, Antigua
Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua


Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua
English Harbour, Antigua

 Antigua Panorama

III.          Southside/English Harbor

I have had no time to visit Antigua’s white-sanded resorts,
but I must go home to the corner of the island
where my navel string is buried.

At Shirley Heights with it plunging cliffs,
I watch sky and sea kissing, then pass by
Clarence House, former home to royalty
and Dockyard, once shelter to the British navy.
I find the narrow, overgrown spot, 
my grandmother’s piece of earth
bequeathed to her children.

In the barb-wired strip sits a narrow, tiny shack,
the “hang-out” of cousins,  free spirits
“living off the fat of the land,”
and keeping the art of coal-making alive.

This chosen “hand-to-mouth” existence jars
with those whose lives are driven by the tourist trade:
the inn-keepers, shop keepers, taxi drivers, and jewelry-makers.

Lives hang on the swarming of strangers to my village,
the nectar of dollars and euros changing hands,
the need of strangers and their desires.
(c) Althea Romeo-Mark 2015

Shirley Heights, English Harbor
Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua         
At Dockyard, I realize my re-acquaintance with the village is much too short.  My vision of the village is still not a concrete image in my head.  I need to return and spend more time getting to know family, and the people who make English Harbour what it is.  I wait for the bus that would take me back to St. John.
               I find my way back to the hotel, and go up to dinner to find out that I am the only diner.  I learn from staff that most guests, often island returnees,  now there for carnival, eat out in local restaurants or with family.
               I go to bed after sharing photos I have taken and chatting about the day’s with family in Switzerland, Florida, and California.


Tomorrow is the first day of the conference I am here to attend.  I am meeting people I have been corresponding with and who I will be meeting for the first time. They include Dr. Paget Henry, the conference organizer, Edgar Lake, with whom I have corresponded for years, Joanne Hillhouse, Antigua best known writer after Jamaica Kincaid and Brenda Browne, local writer. My cousin, Desiree Dorsett-Zacharia, calls to say that she will be at the conference tomorrow and that my cousins, Irwing Dorset, and Una Dorset-Allen had driven to English Harbour to see me but I had already left. We arrange to meet the rest of the family on Saturday morning. I feel this is an extraordinary moment.

August 6th, 2015

Day Two: Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books 10the Anniversary Conference.
Dr. Paget Henry, who teaches at Brown University, picks me up around 2:00 and takes me to the venue. See program below.



LOCATION:  UNIVERSITY of the WEST INDIES
OPEN CAMPUS ANTIGUA
Thursday, August 6, 2015            



3:00–3:30 PM    OPENING REMARKS:
Paget Henry (ABSA) and Allison Hull (UWI)

3:30–4:50 PM    PANEL ONE: 
THE ARTS AND THE GROWTH OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE - PART 1:
Presenters:
Adlai Murdoch  -  Writing and the (Re)Definition of ‘Antiguan-ness’
Hazra Medica  -  Rescuing the ‘Wharf-rat’: Working-class Male Identity in Antiguan Literature
Dorbrene O’Marde  -  Reparations Scholarship: Recognition, Justice and Development
Chair: Susan Lowes

Dr. Hazra Medica

5:00–6:20 PM   PANEL TWO:
RELIGION IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION
Presenters:
Elaine Olaoye  -  A Socio-psychological Analysis of Allan Davis' Theology of Suffering
Valerie Combie  -  Good Old Time Hymns of Faith: Their Impact on Community Life
Edith Oladele  - A Vision of the Caribbean Church: Indigenous, Diaspora, and Totally Free to Be
Chair: Paget Henry

6:20–7:00 PM REFRESHMENT BREAK

7:00–8:30 PM    KEYNOTE SPEAKER:
Distinguished Professor, Gregson Davis  -  Sands of Paradise/Sands of Time: Rethinking the Aims of Education for the 21st Century
Chair: Ermina Osoba

8:30–9:00 PM  BOOK LAUNCH
Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, Volume 8, Number 1
         
Dr. Paget Henry, Brown University
  
I introduce myself to those within my perimeter during the refreshment break. That includes, Jamaica Kincaid, who thinks I am Swiss.  I explain my background to her, take photos, exchange books with fellow poets,  US based, Elaine Olaoye , (Passions of the Soul), Virgin Islands based Valerie Knowles Combie (The Hovensa Chronicles) and Edith Oladele who lives on and on in the Cameron where she does missionary work.  
Brenda Browne offers to take me on a tour of the north side of the Island.  I am looking forward to visiting this side of the island not seen before.

              















At the end of day one of the conference, the tenth anniversary edition of The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books is launched. It features the best articles written by and about  Tim Hector, an Antigua activist, educator, as well as other articles and poetry by well known Antiguans.















Also presented on that day is a photography book, The Art Of Mali Olatunji: Photography from Antigua and Barbuda. It is edited by Mali Olatunju and Paget Henry.


















Day Three: Antigua and Barbuda Conference
Friday, August 7,  2015

LOCATION:  ANTIGUA and BARBUDA YOUTH ENLIGHTENMENT ACADEMY

Althea and Desiree

Before the conference starts, my cousin Desiree Zacharia introduces herself.  She points to the camera man and his wife, who are recording the program for television, and tells me that he is my cousin.  







 Desiree, who works for an international company, is a globe-trotter who spends most of her time abroad.


Althea and Delia



Then another cousin, Delia Allen, arrives. She is the camera man’s sister.  We sit together for most of the program. We chat between breaks.  I learn that, like me, she is an educator and spends most of her time in the classroom. Her brother, who owns a company that specializes in media events, is too busy to chat.




















               





Desiree, William Martin, Althea
            

An Antiguan friend, William Martin, who lives in Basel, shows up. He is working with his brother who runs a private TV station and is also recording the program.  








William is in the music industry in Basel. I have recorded poems for The Caribbean Writer at his studio.
Brenda Browne, Althea Romeo-Mark, Joanne Hillhouse


He takes photos of my cousins and me, Brenda Browne, Joanne Hillhouse and me, Jamaica Kincaid, myself and others. Of course, I timidly ask Jamaica Kincaid if I could take a photo with her. She surprisingly agrees. 





Althea and Jamaica Kincaid

We take a group photo which includes Elaine Olaoye and distinguished professor, Gregson Davis. 

           
Dr.Elaine Olaoye, Althea Romeo-Mark, Jamaica Kincaid,distinguished and professor, Gregson Davis. 
Valerie Knowles Combie, Althea Romeo-Mark, Edgar Lake and Dr. Bernadette Farquhar

 I am very honored to meet many of Antigua’s literati, quite surprised there are so many of them, who teach at ivy league universities in the USA. 







This is a brain drain, but Antigua has only one university which does not have the resources to support scholars of such caliber, and they are not missionaries, willing to teach for free, and give up resources necessary to maintain their stature in the competitive academic arena



Day Three: Antigua and Barbuda Conference
Friday, August 7,  2015

LOCATION:  ANTIGUA and BARBUDA YOUTH ENLIGHTENMENT ACADEMY http://www.abyea.org/

12:30–1:50 PM   PANEL THREE:

THE ARTS AND THE GROWTH OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE: PART 2
Presenters:
Althea Romeo-Mark  -  An Immigrant Story, the Arts and Self-knowledge
Edgar Lake  - Rewriting the Archive
Bernadette Farquhar  -  Pére Labat’s Description of the Making of Bamboula: A Dying Antiguan Culinary Art
Chair:  Valerie Knowles Combie



2:00–3:20 PM   PANEL FOUR:
THE ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA ECONOMY: AN UPDATE
Presenters:
Don Charles  -  The Antiguan Economy: Skills Training and Education Requirements for Sustainable Future Growth
Paget Henry  -  The Antiguan Economy: a Left Perspective
Jay Mandle  -  Diaspora and Development in the Post-colonial Period: The Case of Antigua and Barbuda
Chair: Alvette (Ellorton) Jeffers

3:30–4:50 PM PANEL FIVE:
ISSUES IN CONTEMPORARY POLITICS
Presenters:
Ermina Osoba  -  Gender Relations in Antigua and Barbuda: a Reflective Update
Harland Henry  -  Mobilizing Small Business Entrepreneurship in Antigua and Barbuda
Chair:  Arthur Paris

5:00–6:20 PM PANEL SIX:
EXPANDING THE EDUCATIONAL SECTOR
Presenters:
Juno Samuel  -  The Making of the University of Antigua and Barbuda
Anthony Joseph  -   Secondary School Exit Exams in English and Mathematics
Claude Turner  -  A View of the Antigua and Barbuda Knowledge Economy, 2020
Chair:  Mali Olatunji

6:20–7:00 PM  REFRESHMENT BREAK

7:00–8:30 PM    KEYNOTE READING:
Distinguished Author, Jamaica Kincaid
Chair:  Hazra Medica

CLOSING REMARKS
           


               I am impressed by everyone, soak up the academic atmosphere which is a rare happening  since I left the University of Liberia twenty years when I fled, like thousands of others, at the start of Liberia’s civil war.
               




I am particularly blown away by Jamaica Kincaid’s readings from her novel, See, Now, Then, in a voice smooth as melting chocolate and soothing to the ear. 
I find her book humor-filled and fascinating. I dream of having her kind of fantasy, but we are individuals and have fantasies of our own.












Saturday, August 8th




My family meets me around 10:00 a.m. in the hotel lobby. While we wait for Miriam to arrive, we chat about their father(Robert Dorset), my father’s older brother, who had spent some time in the Dominican Republic with his mother and his younger brother, my father, Gilbert Romeo.  My grandmother, Sarah Finch, returned to Antigua when Robert Dorset (Uncle Bob) was nine year old.  I inquire about other members of the Finch family. 












My great grandfather, Robert Finch, came to Antigua from England in the mid 1800’s. I find some Finches, who live in a village not far from English Harbor, in the telephone book. No one has contacted them and I have no time to make inquires.  We also chat about my grandmother’s family. We come to realize that her generation, concerned everyday survival, would not have the luxury of jotting down family ancestry.


  On our way to visit a critically ill cousin in local hospital,  we pass classy shopping centers. The hospital  looks like a five star hotel.  My cousin is in her early forties, and is the youngest of  Una Dorset-Allen’s. 







We pray for her, try to keep hope alive.  I would receive the news of her death several months after I return to Switzerland.




            
   From the hospital, we go to my cousin, Ewing Dorset’s home.  There I would meet his son, a musician, who would take a photo of all of us.   I take a photo of a picture of uncle Bob

        




Delia, Miriam, Ewing, Una, Althea


Ewing and his musician son
  
   





They drive me back to the hotel where Brenda Browne picks me up at 2:00 p.m. to tour the northern side of  Antigua.  It is lush, rain forest-like in places. She stops at many places, but it is at Betty’s Hope, where she sometimes comes to write, that she tells me, if I listen,  I can hear the dead working on the plantation. My fantasy is fired up.  And I try to capture the experience and the atmosphere of Betty’s Hope in a poem.

























Antigua Panorama

IV.          Northside

Here the land is not parched nor
are gardens neglected in the face of drought.
Mango trees, burdened with fruit,
litter the ground with their abundance.

Land nurtured by its own abandoned fruit
is nutrient-rich and no one seems to notice.
Shouldn’t the city folks come and reap this harvest,
take advantage of nature’s generous giving?

But further up the road, in the land no longer kissed by falling rain,
the eerie quiet of an deserted plantation, Betty’s Hope, cloaks me.
Sugar mills are at a standstill. In tranquil awe I hear the distant slash
of machetes against cane stalks.

Do the African slaved-to-death walk this hill at night?
Do their spirits watch us from a distance through the day?
Do we disturb their rest with crunching gravel
as we walk and ponder upon the misery of their lives,
as we recall the sacrifices they made so we could live?

Today we tell their tales, write about the horrors of lashed backs,
the broken beasts of burden some became,
and those who had no salve to ease their pain.
(c) Althea Romeo-Mark 2015

 
Sunday, August 9th
             

 I fly back to St. Thomas, via LIAT, stopping in St. Kitts and Saint Martin before it finally reaches its destination.









 I spend a quiet night in a hotel near the airport, call my brother, Lloyd my sister, Ianthe and a cousin, Kathleen Smith to bid them farewell and give a rundown of my Antigua stay. My sister Arlene, her daughter, Katysha and family, my daughter, Malaika and her family have already flown back to the US (California and Florida).



Monday, August 10th, Last Day in St. Thomas





It is lonely without my sister, my daughter and family around. I wish I could share these last moments of the island with them. We have made  unforgettable memories here.








I take a last look at the beach.  I will not see this for a long time.  Or will I be back in 2017 for the University of the Virgin Island Literary Festival that I have been invited to take part in? It is conflicting with my teaching schedule and I have to think about it. I walk to the pate truck to have breakfast and buy pates (meat pies) for my daughter and son back in Switzerland. I am packed and ready to make my long journey back to my present nest, Basel.














At the Miami airport,  I learn, after being informed of delays and waiting for hours,  that my flight has been canceled. We are told that we have to rebook and will be re-routed. Some of us are lucky to be booked into a hotel. We stand in line for hours to re-book. I am booked to fly to Frankfurt instead of London, then to Basel, Switzerland. 




We are given vouchers for meals and hotel, and finally arrive at our hotel at 2:00 a.m. in the morning.  I do not get much sleep. My flight leaves in the morning.

I safely arrive in Basel one day later. It would take one week for my body to adjust to the time difference. I am not looking forward to my next long flight.


Patient Dog, Patient Job

I   Island Hopping

This is what you do when you live on tiny islands
where flights are never direct and passengers
must be dropped off on islands nations
some now independent, some still flying flags
of European nations fulfilling manifest destinies.

There could be a mechanical breakdown.
You will wait for hours for the airplane to be fixed
or a new one sent to pick up the stranded.
Passengers will curse because their destination will not
be reached tonight and they might be put up in a hotel.

We go up in tiny planes and soon go down again—
Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Martin, St. Thomas.
When clouds clear, hilltops emerge,
some drought-marred, some green
and through the not so distant clouds
the sea, blue, aqua, foam after slashing rocks.
Buildings creep crab-like into view near the runway.

We land, remain in the belly of our silver, mechanical bird
until passengers disembark and seats fill up again
and accents heard are similar yet different,
still sound like singing.

The bird sputters, starts,  is soon in the air.


II Between Continents

The story is not different.
There is a delay due to technical difficulty
or unforeseen circumstances.

Pilots must have their mandatory rest
or there must be cool air in their sleeping compartment
while they take turns in the cockpit.

Then there is the unpredictable fanatic bound
on fulfilling a mission to get quickly to the afterlife.
Security search luggage, test shoes for killer liquids.

Let them take their time. I will be patient.
It is what you need to be if you frequently fly,
Patient dog, patient Job—
we pray to get there in the end.

© 27.08.15 Althea Romeo-Mark, 24.12.2015

Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour - Abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1889 and restored in 1961, Nelson's Dockyard is a conglomeration of old stone warehouses, workshops and quarters now filled with souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and a museum. With the yachts out in the harbour it still retains a nautical charm.
Clarence House is located on a low hill overlooking Nelson's Dockyard. Built by English stonemasons to act as living quarters for Prince William Henry, later known as Duke of Clarence, the future king stayed here when he was in command of the Pegasus in 1787.

 On my wish-list for my next Antigua visit is dukanah and pepperpot, two traditional dishes.