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Dominica weekly is a personal weblog about the nature island of Dominica.


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Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be in the charming company of celebrated Caribbean Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, at our first ever Literary Festival held on the beautifully manicured grounds of the University of the West Indies.

Quite an opinionated and beguiling fellow, I must say. Among his words of wisdom was an interesting comparison of slavery and tourism. From Mr. Walcott’s point of view, ‘at least, during slavery you didn’t have to smile’. Walcott certainly has a basis for such an innovative comparison. And I am aware that his sentiments are shared by many.

Thousands of persons in the tourism industry, all over the Caribbean are inclined to work in this sector mainly by the attraction of high value foreign currency, and the fact that relatively little training is required, but not necessarily because it offers occupations in which they are passionately interested. Apart from this scenario, our regional governments seem ever so intent on convincing us that success in tourism is our only significant prospect for economic prosperity.

So the people go about their jobs with plastic smiles, often making ridiculously large efforts to grin, laugh and be friendly to the tourist. Children, from a very tender age are taught to wave and smile at the larger-than-life tourists while they drive by on the bus like celebrities taking pictures of the simple island people.

The funny thing is many of us forget that the average tourist is able to realize when someone is overly eager to please him, with sugary words of greeting. Let’s face it- if the Caribbean’s service sector was overloaded with so many brilliant actors and actresses in disguise, we would have our own colony in Hollywood by now.

I am not against tourism, but I certainly agree with those who feel that in too many islands it has not yielded returns which are comparable to the large investments and sacrifices made to accommodate visitors. Just think about it. Too frequently, you can’t get a bus to home, school or work when there’s a cruise ship in port- the bus drivers all morph into taxi men. The road network is often totally jammed as a result of the cruise ship as well and both students and workers must leave their houses more that 15-30 minutes earlier than on a regular dat. Sometimes the water system to certain communities is disrupted to supply the needs of the ship in port.

As long as tourism remains the main focus for economic development by our Caribbean leaders, these are situations to which we all must adjust, whether we like them or not. But one of the downfalls of tourism is that it really does make some of us feel like we just can’t do much better for ourselves as a people, for economic survival. The average vendor- toothless or not- must smile all through his day- or else the tourist will feel uncomfortable and he won’t get paid.

I never thought about it, but here are probably a lot of vendors out there who don’t want to have a smile stuck on their face all day long. But they have too. It’s this sort of compulsive ‘singing for our supper’ role that Walcott was referring to. Once again, he is opening our eyes…

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6 Comments »

Comment by Veselo
2008-08-15 10:16:54

I agree with you. If you can’t provide some services or hate to provide some service or if you do not like to do something or you’re not passionate about it – DON’T DO IT! Do what you love and love what you do.

One thing, I do not understand: Why they have to do it?
Why don’t they channel this energy into Developing themselves, and do something else?
Why you or Derek Walcott do not give plans or ideas on what they can do instead?
Is it because it is simpler just to find the reason and blame somebody?
Why people do not take responsibilities for their own life, instead of waiting for somebody who will do it for them and show where to go and what to do?

Actually it is not only with Dominica like that. Everywhere people looking for excuses do not do what they like to do, because they afraid to fail. They do what they do not like to do and start to blame somebody else.

I was fortunate to be there on the third day of this book fest and to listen the words of Paul Kings Douglas, who was speaking about how to write good. He said: “Do find your personal voice and do not listen people, who want you to do something just because their think you should do that. Do what you are passionate about.” He was speaking about writing, but his advices can be apply for any field of life.

Comment by Suki Subscribed to comments via email
2008-08-15 21:47:51

Veselo,

You are looking for plans or ideas that could increase revenue outside of tourism. I have a few suggestions.

1. Customer service/information technology – in this day and age of internet customer service can take place anywhere. With a country the size of Dominica, it would only take one major corporation to sign on to have Dominicans provide the customer service for them for it to have a major impact on the island.

2. Nature – a quick search online will reveal that people are very interested in cultivating their own gardens and growing trees. Hawthorn Trees can be bought from England and nursery’s sell their fruit/vegetable trees all over the world. Why not capitalize on your year round growing season to sell your nutritious and medicinal fruit trees? Or learn to process the extracts?

3. Build an eco-efficient island – Dominica is a country that can model and implement a society that has the smallest carbon footprint in the world. Once you build the system of energy through natural elements, you educate the world on how to achieve this feat. The conferences and schooling will take place on the island of course.

Feel free to share this suggestions liberally, no credit needed.

Suki K Tranqille

 
 
Comment by Dan
2008-08-15 11:01:18

Right. It is never a good idea to appear servile. We should be polite to everyone, foreign tourists included, but they in turn must recognize that they are guests in our beautiful Nature Island and act accordingly.

 
Comment by Joel Halfwassen Subscribed to comments via email
2008-08-15 21:44:37

I have a question as a non-islander. What other opportunities are there for those working in the tourist trade on Dominica?

I live in Phoenix right now which is for the large part a tourist destination. In the late fall our population goes up by almost a third as retirees flock to the resorts to bask in the beauty that is the desert in winter. Never mind the increase in during various times of the year to festival and what not. And during Spring Break…well…forget about it! Every hotel, resort, golf course, restaurant, and bar are just packed!

The thing is…if i don’t like it I have a HUGE opportunity to go do something else someplace else. I could move to another city, another state, in some cases I could go to other countries if I work the right angles.

Do Dominicans have a chance to do other things like that?

My next question is this…Could it be that singing for your supper is the price for the children’s future? In the US we have a long history of one generation doing slave labour (literally) for the same of the children. Could this be the case with Dominica?

Not rhetorical, truly looking for an opinion on the topic.

Joel

 
Comment by Dan
2008-08-16 11:27:21

As an American soon to become Dominica, let me add this perspective. We have the island of Martha’s Vineyard near us. In winter, its population is about 10,000. In the summer months, tourists boost the island’s population to over 100,000. That is when most of the island residents make all their money. I know some who move out to a tent in their yard and rent their house to tourists because that pays their entire year’s mortgage and property taxes!

But they do not become servile. They maintain their dignity. Perhaps the situation is not quite the same because the islanders aren’t culturally very different from the tourists. They are also mostly racially similar (although MV has many racially mixed peoples due to hit heritage of immigration peoples from Cape Verde, where the Portugal once maintained a station to hold African slaves purchased from other Africans and to be sold to other slave traders for transport to North & South America; and where much racial mixing took place).

Dominicans must maintain their pride and dignity. But they always must be prepared to increase their learning, and remain polite — this is advice that would be good for any people, anywhere, any time.

 
Comment by Dr. J. Shannon Swann
2008-08-18 14:59:38

Good Afternoon,

What is wrong with smile? I lived for many years on the New Jersey shore.
I worked in the Tourist business and too was also required to keep that
fake smile on my face. The more I smiled the more tips I made. Enough in
one summer to buy a brand new Thunderbird car. Often times my smile was a
silent laugh of thinking silently to myself these silly people giving me
these large tips for a big smile.

Where else can you live in Paradise? You should always be smiling.

Many tourists are not that bad. I am certain you have realized that by the
tips you have made delivering drinks to them.

I lived in the Caribbean for 10 years and plan to come back soon. Will I
be a tourist?

My Great Grandmother was a slave now I smile because we are all free.

Please every day smile once because you are free.

The best to you!

 
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