Find Me In The River
Sariah stared out of the kitchen window and sighed heavily at the sight that seemed to disgust her more and more each day. Ever since she had landed on the island two weeks ago, her spirits were crushed and her usually optimistic and happy-go-lucky attitude had been severely dented. She played the events that brought her to this current state of absolute dismay over and over again in her mind.
Her parents got a divorce. Her mom lost her job. Her father died in that awful train wreck. Her mom then needed to get qualified to make herself more marketable and just couldn’t manage a fifteen year old girl with big dreams of becoming a model, a three bedroom house and the constant barrage of bills that seemed to pile up like a formidable mountain. Something had to be cut off.
And then, the phone call came. Sariah had eaves dropped and heard of her mother’s intention to send her to Dominica to live with her grandmother between uncontrollable sobs. She did not even know where Dominica was.
Ever so often, the old lady on the other end spoke in some kind of funny French language that Sariah’s mom barely seemed to understand. In less than twenty minutes on a cool spring night in April, the world as she knew it had been turned completely upside down.
They had decided that she would leave the hustle and bustle of her convenient and modern New York City life to move to Dominica that very June. With scarcely any time to say a proper good bye to her friends and the life as she knew it, Sariah had protested. Even going so far as to starve herself for a full three days. Her mother, a once beautiful well endowed woman shrugged off her daughter’s defiance as teen angst and spent countless hours repeating the phrase “It’s for the best”. Sariah was convinced that her mother was merely trying to reassure herself of this rather than her daughter who she thought needed the encouragement. She had come to be a shadow of herself- pale and thin. Her once thick, long, black hair that she attributed to her Kalinago heritage had shrunk and was now a black, curly mop piled sloppily on her head.
“Sawo!” the piercingly loud voice of her grandmother, Ma Altina, as she was affectionately called, shattered the silence in the kitchen and broke Sariah’s train of thought.
Why does she keep calling me that? Sariah wondered to herself, feeling annoyed that the old lady refused to call her by her proper name. She had tried on several occasions since her arrival to get her to pronounce her name properly.
“It’s Sariah grandma. Not Sawo. Sa-ri-ah.” It was all to no avail. Grandma Altina deliberately ignored her and insisted on calling her Sawo.
“Yes, Grandma. I’m in the kitchen doing the dishes.”
“Oh you still washing those plates? Well when you finish for you to can buy a pong of brown sugar in d shop for me. I want to show you how to make d logar tonight ok doo-doo?”
“Yes Grandma”, she replied with a sigh.
A tear rolled down her high cheek bones. She pushed it aside with soapy hands and continued staring out the window as she aimlessly scrubbed the cooking pot her grandmother dubbed her absolute favourite – the macorcot cooking pot.
The sight before her made the tears stream down even faster and by the time she had exerted all the energy her arms could muster, the sun was beginning to set. She dashed out the back door and took the winding, rocky path to the neighbourhood grocery and rum shop, all crammed into one.
The ocean view of her grandmother’s two bedroom wooden house was almost like a postcard. Normally, Sariah would have liked the scenery, but with no internet, the ability to chat with her friends via Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype or Viber was virtually impossible. She wasn’t sure her grandmother even knew what the internet was, let alone what was a FaceBook page.
The old television on her grandmother’s living room table was more like an ornament and was completely covered with and surrounded by crocheted doilies and stuffed animals, picture frames and old postcards from as far back as 1965. Watching television wasn’t an option for entertainment and neither was chatting with friends.
She longed for the familiar scents of McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell. How she missed the sounds of a city constantly on the go- car horns blaring, people screaming, music blasting Sariah was a city girl at heart.
The soft rolling waves that gently crashed on the Anse De Mai shoreline amidst jagged rocks jutting out like nuisances, was in sharp contrast to the life and lifestyle she had grown to know and love. From the day she landed at the airport, she had vowed to never appreciate anything about the small, green island that she was forced to now call home. She despised Dominica and all that the island represented.
After graciously denying her grandmother’s many attempts to make “logar” as she called it, Sariah retreated to the small room at the back of the house, to the comfort of her own thoughts. As she lay thoughtfully on the spongy mattress, she couldn’t help but hear a gentle swishing, much like a plastic bag swaying in the wind. She peeked out the window slightly, and proved her initial instincts right. A yellow plastic bag, labelled “Astaphans” was lodged between the top hinge of the window.
“How did that get there?” she wondered out loud. She gently pulled it out and placed in a box under her bed, fondly remembering a lesson she had once done in Home Economics on recycling back when she was in 8th grade at Bronx Community High School.
A wave of nostalgia overcame her and for what seemed like the millionth night in a row, Sariah Dangleben Bridgeport cried herself to sleep.
“Sawo! Sawo! Get up, get up chile!” barked Grandma Altina storming into the bedroom.
Morning had come and with it brought an overly excited grandmother. Sariah peeped her head out from under the thick quilt that her grandmother had boastfully informed she had knitted herself, the first night Sariah arrived on the island.
Yawning, with arms outstretched she muttered drowsily, “Grandma it’s Saturday. Can’t I just sleep in?”
Her grandmother gave her one of those cold, hard stares that made her bolt right out of bed. She knew better than to argue with an old lady who was this excited, this early in the morning.
“Chile, I have some good news for you.” Her granddaughter stared at her with raised eyebrows, hands folded across her chest and an expression that said “try me”.
“You did remember I tell you my naybar have ah daughter ahrong your age, not true? Well she come visit d village for d vacashan an I say is papa God dat sen her because I myself tired see you walking ahrong d house looking like you well ready to fall dong. She coming an check you for allyou to free up ah likkle bit ahrong ten. She will show you ahrong d village”
Sariah stared at her grandmother in disbelief. She instantly had flashes of that fateful telephone call that landed her here. How dare she just arrange a play date on her behalf? After all, she was almost sixteen years old. How dare she?
Before she could voice her protest, Grandma Altina was out of the bedroom and bellowing down the house with what seemed to be her favourite Christian hymn, “It is well with my soul”. A quick glance at the clock told her it was only 5:30am. It was going to be a very long day.
“Toke, toke, toke”. The door was being knocked but Sariah refused to get up to answer it. Her grandmother zoomed in from the back and yanked it open like an eager toddler, shooting Sariah a mean glance.
“Eh beh weh papa. Gurl look how you get so big nuh? Papa, papa, turn ahrong lemme watch you.”
A tall, slender, brown skin girl hugged Grandma Altina and flashed Sariah a bright and inviting smile. Her short, curly dark hair complimented her hazel brown eyes and her athletic build was well balanced by her shiny new NIKE sneakers. The shorts that she wore revealed a hint of a tattoo on her right leg just above her calf. Sariah was intrigued. She had always wanted a tattoo and couldn’t get one in the States. How does one get a tatoo in Dominica?
She walked over in three confident strides and introduced herself, stretching her bronzed hand to Sariah.
“Hello, my name is Nicole. Your granny tell me you just come here from d States?”
“Hi, I’m Sariah. Yes I did.”
Just then, Grandma Altina interjected. “Nicole, doo-doo, bring Sawo out for a likkle walk nuh? Show her ahrong d village and make her feel a likkle free up nuh? You know I in my ole age ahready so I wouldn’t can able to really show her d place. Dat is why I ask ur mama to make you come and check my Sawo”
Nicole let out a hearty laugh. “Ma Altina long time you did have jokes you know. But I will show her ahrong man, let her get familiar wit d place.”
Sariah glared at them both. She had the urge to storm out and go to her room, but she suspected if she did they would both just laugh at her. The last thing she needed was an embarrassment.
Sariah and Nicole left Ma Altina’s house at approximately 9:30. At first, they walked in silence as they sauntered through the rocky streets of Anse De Mai, not saying much to each other, each sensing the other’s tension. Then, it was Nicole who broke the silence.
Sucking her teeth loudly, she exclaimed, “Those people dere nasty we!”
She kicked at the plastic bag that lay sprawled out on the street. This time, the label read, JE Nassief.
Sariah broke a branch from a low hanging guava tree, picked up the plastic bag and tossed it in the garbage bin. She shook her head in disgust.
“Wha’ppen? Why you put your face like dat for?” Nicole asked.
“I don’t get you people. Why are there so many plastic bags flying all over the village and garbage everywhere?” Sariah looked at Nicole with a questioning look in her eyes.
Nicole shrugged as if to say she had no explanation. Rather than addressing Sariah’s question, she said, “Aye you want check out something interesting?”
Sariah shrugged like an insolent toddler. “Why not,” she replied rolling her eyes.
Nicole led her down a small winding, track. The foliage got thicker and greener with each step and so too did Nicole’s pace quicken. Sariah began to get worried and was tempted to turn back but seemed drawn to the sound of rushing water. Suddenly, Nicole turned around. Spreading her arms apart, she shouted “ta- da!”
The scene beyond her out stretched arms was, simply put, a beautiful disaster. Crystal clear water trickled from among rocks but its appeal was soiled by the bits and pieces of garbage everywhere. Among the rocks on the river bank. Floating in the river. Styrofoam cups. Plastic bags, Old shoes. Rotting clothes. Half burnt tin cans. Bicycle rims and tires. Name it, it was there.
Sariah and Nicole stared at each other, both looking like they wanted to vomit but knowing what was required of each of them. They sat on the river bank, both seemingly heartbroken. In that moment, an unshakable bond was formed.
The girls began conversing at length about how the river got to be in such a state. Nicole shared memories from her younger days of having cook ups at the river bank with family and friends. This was the place she learnt to swim and this was the place she caught her very first fish.
They both agreed that something had to be done to restore the once beautiful river, Gwo Glo, as Nicole affectionately called it.
After spending several hours at the river side, Sariah and Nicole formulated a plan. They would work together to restore Gwo Glo to its former glory.
The walk back to Grandma Altina’s was in stark contrast to their initial walk. They were laughing and talking, bonding even. Ma Altina smiled broadly at the sight of them as they walked up the front porch.
“A, a, papa. See dem we. Allu leave enemy but all u come back friends we. Papa. Thank you Jesus. Ca c’est bon!”
The girls looked at each other and giggled.
During a lunch of fried red snapper in creole sauce, ground provisions and red beans, Sariah and Nicole shared their discovery with the old lady. She listened intently, flashing an occasional toothy grin.
When they had poured out their heart, she replied, “Well allyou, is ah good fing allu want to do dere ehh. Any way I does can help all you know I will. But d first thing all you have to do is check d village council office and tell dem what allu want to do so dey can give allu some funds or materials maybe.”
Sariah and Nicole together with Ma Altina’s help, formulated a plan.
They would write to the Village Council. Sariah was artistic and it was decided that she would design a flyer to let the villagers know what they wanted to do. Nicole would speak to the shop owners and other villagers to donate garbage bags, spades and any other materials they would need. The grand cleanup campaign was scheduled to take place in two weeks on July 25th, providing everything they anticipated came to pass. Operation Gwo Glo Clean Up was well on the way.
In the days that followed, Ma Altina saw a completely different side of her granddaughter. For the first time, the child actually seemed to be happy here in Dominica. She would wake early, help her grandmother do chores and then take off with Nicole to discover other remote parts of Anse De Mai. Every evening on her return, she would regale her grandmother with stories of animals, plants and people she encountered.
What pleased her grandmother even more was the fact that Sariah had started drawing again. Her sketchbook was filled with paintings of leaning coconut trees, leaping lizards, obscure crabs and sleeping fishermen, lazing about on the beach under the shade of broad almond trees. The scene outside her bedroom window which she once detested was now perfectly drawn and painted, hung up in Ma Altina’s living room. The old lady had insisted it be hung up there, above the antique television set, simply so she could have a story to tell whenever she had visitors.
The village was buzzing with excitement at the prospect of a grand clean up day for the Gwo Glo River. The Village Council had approved Sariah and Nicole’s project and they were to receive even more assistance than they originally requested. It was touted to be a grand activity which would go on the history books of the small fishing community.
Saturday, July 25th was finally here. Sariah bolted out of bed in a flurry of excitement. Running down to the kitchen to shout her grandmother’s name. Ma Altina sat peacefully on her rocking chair and handed her granddaughter a cup of thick cocoa tea.
“You ready for your big day my chile,” she said proudly. Sariah nodded her head in excitement.
Just then, a knock shattered the silence. Sariah knew it was Nicole, her now best friend, and she excitedly swung it open. Nicole beamed with pride.
“Sawo, the whole village ready to help clean we girl. I cyah believe dat ehh. First time I see Anse De Mai people come out so.”
Sariah nodded her head and gave Nicole a huge hug.
“Let’s get this done,” she replied.
The heavens seemed to smile on the village of Anse De Mai that day from the moment the parish priest, Father Thomas Auguiste, blessed the campaign and all the villagers who would work to see it come to pass. The day remained sunny and slightly windy, and the villagers were kept cool throughout.
The entire village worked tirelessly, in togetherness, to clean and restore Gwo Glo River to its former glory. Sariah taught the villagers what she knew about recycling and all the garbage was separated. The styrofoam and plastics were burnt. Metals and white goods were sent to the land fill. The other items were bagged and placed on the garbage trucks sent by the village council.
The villagers cleared the path to the river and painted a sign. “Gwo Glo River”.
Some men built picnic benches and tables whilst a few children made signs that read “Take care of the Environment” and “Keep Dominica Clean and Green”. They painted stones in fanciful designs and decorated around the flowers that the women had planted. Anthuriums and ferns decorated the pathway and even the animals seemed to want to play their part.
The more experienced men cleared the river of fallen trees and lined its banks with boulders, creating mini walkways at different point along the river bed. They worked feverishly to dig a “basseh” which Sariah later learnt was the Creole word for pool. Some young boys found an old rope once use to tie a cow near the river bank and made a swing, tying it securely on a thick branch of a sturdy cocoa tree.
They had started at 6:00am and it was now 5:30 in the afternoon.
They sat back, hungry, dirty and tired, surveying their work with satisfied smirks on their collective faces. It was now time to celebrate.
Word had spread across the country like wild fire and the media houses had shown up. Sariah and Nicole were interviewed as they were the ones who spearheaded the entire campaign.
The front page of The Chronicle Newspaper read: “TEENS JOIN FORCES TO PRESERVE THE ENVIRONMENT”. Ma Altina cut out the newspaper clipping and framed it, placing it next to Sariah’s painting above the antique television in her living room. It was something else her granddaughter had done to cause her to beam with pride.
The village of Anse De Mai now had a perfect recreation spot for outdoor activities, thanks to the efforts of Sariah and Nicole.
The following day, after a hearty breakfast, Sariah sat next to her grandmother who rocked gently back and forth in her old rocking chair.
“Sawo,” she said calmly.
“Yes grandma,” Sariah replied.
“Your mammy called me last night we. She want you to come back in d States and meet her. She say she get ah next job and tings working out just fine for her now. She want to send d ticket for you to come up next week so you can be back in time for your schooling.”
Sariah stared out the window at the familiar scene she had come to love. The waves crashing gently on the rugged coastline. Sea gulls squawking over a fisherman’s catch. Boys playing cricket with a coconut bat on the sea shore.
She turned to her grandmother and shook her head.
“No grandma, I’m not going back. Dominica is my home now. Anse De Mai is my home. I have never been so at peace with myself since my dad passed away. Being here and working so hard to restore the river has restored me. I won’t go back, I can’t.”
Ma Altina smiled that toothy grin that Sariah had grown to love.
“Chile, I need you here. Dominica needs you here. You ehh going nowhere tan?”