The novel, Dog-heart, tells the story of an unlikely relationship that develops between Sahara, an educated middle class Jamaican woman, and Dexter, a boy from a ghetto who helps support his family through begging.  The book alternates Sahara’s voice as narrator and Dexter’s local patois voice, and follows the complexities that unravel with Sahara’s desire to help and ultimately lead to tragedy.

Dog-heart’s author, Diana McCaulay, was born and raised in Jamaica. She’s not only a writer but also CEO of an environmental advocacy organization and a filmmaker. I recently interviewed Diana about her film, Jamaica for Sale, a documentary that examines the environmental, social and economic damage large-scale hotel development inflicts on its community. Her novel, Dog-heart, was released in 2010. Diana is a sort-of hero to me, my interests strongly mimic hers, so I was thrilled to discuss with her Dog-heart.

Do you liken yourself to Sahara in Dog-heart? Was there a boy you wanted to help?
 
There are some aspects of Sahara’s life and character that are similar to mine – I do have one son, but I cannot add!  So there is a lot that is different too.  Yes, there was a family of boys that I tried to help in the 1990s, but having said that, Dog-heart is fiction – I made it all up.  Fiction, though, often has its roots in real events, events that cause us to ask:  What if?  What if a woman tried to help a boy?  What kind of relationship would they have?  Would it work?   Dog-heart actually had its beginnings in an exercise in a writers’ workshop, where we were asked to write a short piece from the point of view of someone who was a different race, class, age, sex, social and economic background to ourselves.  The piece I wrote became chapter two of Dog-Heart.  
 
Has your experience as an activist and filmmaker brought insight on how to bridge the gaps between races and the haves and the have-nots?
 
I have no solutions.  I am not a sociologist or a psychologist or a development expert.  But I do think if there is one gift we could give each other it would be this – we should listen to each other, we should try to imagine each other’s lives and circumstances, we should try to reach out across the barriers that separate us.  

I’m curious as to your peers’ perception of Dog-heart. What has been your community’s reaction to the book?
 
Well, mostly folks don’t come up to you and say “I hated your book.”  So the people who have spoken to me have been very positive – many have said that Dog-heart changed the way they regarded children on the streets.  So that was good to hear.  

What would you say to those who want to help others less fortunate?
 
Be respectful.  You don’t have the answers.  Don’t prescribe.  Listen.  Don’t foster dependency; seek rather to empower.   

Your education and life/work experience lend themselves to your position as an executive in environmental advocacy. How did you make the transition to writing fiction? 

I have wanted to write novels since I was very young and it has taken me a long time to do it, mostly due to fear of failure and the possibility of ridicule, so I will never forget 2010 – the year my first novel was published.  I have a second one finished and that is now just beginning its publication journey.

How exciting! What can you tell us about your new book?

The new book is called Huracan, and is a story of three white Jamaicans, told 100 years apart – an eventual abolitionist (1780s), a missionary (1880s) and a modern Jamaican returning home (1980s).  It is loosely based on my own family history and explores the reasons why people came to Jamaica, why they stayed, and the effects of our history on the present.

***

Best wishes to Diana for swift publication of Huracan. I’ll be awaiting eagerly.

What about you? Do you mind a book that delves into sensitive topics? 

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An interview with Jamaican Environmentalist, Diana McCaulay

Unsustainable tourism

White woman on St. Vincent

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While driving down a two-lane highway across a broad expanse of a brown Wyoming, a weathered non-DOT sign popped up on a post alongside the road. It read, “Sacajawea’s Grave” and an arrow pointed to the right. We had just entered Wind River Indian Reservation, I couldn’t bypass that old sign. 

I hit the brakes and pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. The woman behind the counter handed me a photocopied hand drawn map and asked a guy hanging around to explain it to me.

We started down the road under a darkening, cloud filled sky. A cemetery soon appeared.

A large headstone for Shoshone Chief Washakie marked the entrance, but there was no grave for Sacajawea.

We drove on, and eventually found the right cemetery.

A smell of rain filled the air and Remy and Simon were a little creeped out after exploring a ghost town a few days earlier. But I made them get out of the car anyway.

I loved that each grave was colorfully decorated, with hand painted wooden crosses and artificial flowers.

The monument dedicated to Sacajawea is impressive compared to the gravesites in its company.

Upon further research, I found Wyoming isn’t the only state that claims her gravesite. In fact, her actual grave has never been found, but records say she died on the Wind River Reservation in 1884, when she was one hundred years old, and is buried somewhere on this hillside.  Other historians say she died in 1812 at Ft. Manuel, South Dakota, not long after returning from the Lewis and Clark expedition, at only 25 years of age, and left behind a baby daughter.

If you happen to find yourself driving down Highway 287 in Wyoming, look for an old weathered sign and ask for directions at the gas station to Sacajawea’s Grave. If you’re lucky, you too will have ominous Wyoming weather to make the expedition all the more adventurous.

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With 2010 on it’s way out, it seems appropriate to summarize the year somehow, so I just added a new “Best Of” page.  Although this blog came to life in the end of 2009, all of these posts were written in 2010.

They are not only some of my favorites, but also they’re some of the most viewed posts (thank you for reading!).

I hope you find something you like.

 TRAVEL

Daily Life on La Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

A sweet piece of paradise

Road trip: dispersed camping & the bed-car

Dead Man’s Cove

 

FOOD

Coconut sugar cakes

Cooking school in Japan: main courses

In search of guavas

Eating Eritrean in Seattle

 

SUSTAINABILITY

Unsustainable tourism 

An interview with Jamaican Environmentalist, Diana McCaulay

Coffee from the source-Nicaragua

 

CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE IN THE WORLD

White woman on St. Vincent

Seis horas

A winery and distillery in Seattle

Auto shopping, island style

 

WRITING

One year of blogging-looking back and ahead

Reality check

I had heard about the hours long wait to get a table at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House’s newest location, just across the lake from Seattle in Bellevue, Washington. With locations spread across Asia Pacific, including China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia, the Bellevue location is only the second of the Taiwan-based chain to open in the U.S. (the first is in L.A.).

Din Tai Fung’s specialty is Xiao Long Bao, or steamed dumplings, and once you try them, you may be hard pressed to find their match.

Din Tai Fung is especially known for their Juicy Pork Dumplings. See how they’re flat on the bottom? It’s because they’re filled with soup (the juicy part). We found it’s best to eat the whole dumpling in one bite, so as not to loose that yummy soup.

We asked our waitress how they get, and keep, the soup inside. She told us it happened during the steaming process, and had to do with the special folding process. Each Juicy Pork Dumpling has exactly eighteen folds.

We also ordered the Vegetarian Dumplings. Often a veggie dumpling alternative is disappointing, but not here.

These were filled with a finely chopped mixture of leafy greens, bok choy and mushrooms. The dumpling dough is so tender, biting into one feels like an indulgence.

Part of the thrill of a visit to Din Tai Fung must be the viewing window, where you can watch the chefs hand make each dumpling.

Even though the restaurant has been open only a month, these cooks have six months experience preparing dumplings. The Taiwan training crew arrived five months before opening to start training and they’re still on site, making sure everything runs just right.

The Pork Chop Noodle Soup and the Noodles with Sesame Sauce were also good.

 

But next time, we’re planning to do as the table next to us did, and only order dumplings and more dumplings until our bellies are full.

This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesday. Check it out for more stories of food and travel!

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 Coconut sugar cakes

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Scrambled eggs? Squid guts? Breakfast in Japan

I had the pleasure of learning of Diana McCaulay when she came to Seattle last Spring to present her film, Jamaica for Sale, through the World Affairs Council at the University of Washington.

Jamaica for Sale is a documentary about tourism and unsustainable development. The film examines environmental, social and economic damage inflicted by large-scale hotel development. Jamaica for Sale takes us beyond the pristine beachfronts and well-appointed hotel rooms to the community, where construction workers, fishermen, tourism industry professionals, and everyday citizens are interviewed in an effort to provide the full picture. 

Diana McCaulay is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jamaica Environment Trust, which focuses on environmental education and advocacy. Born in Jamaica, Diana McCaulay holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management Studies from University of the West Indies. Diana was the recipient of a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in 2000 and studied a range of environmental subjects at the University of Washington. She went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, with majors in Environmental Policy and International Development. She has served as a member of the Board of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, the government regulatory body for environmental issues. She is also a past Chair of the National Environmental Societies Trust, an umbrella organization of environmental groups, and has served as Treasurer and Vice Chair of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, a local funding agency. She was a weekly columnist for The Gleaner for seven years, writing on environmental, gender, and social issues.

Diana was kind enough to answer a few questions:  

How would you describe the current tourism situation in Jamaica?
 
It depends where in Jamaica you are talking about.  I think the way the north coast has been developed is disastrous – large, ugly hotels directly on the beach, with insufficient attention paid to all kinds of infrastructure, such as sewage, roads, housing and schools for workers, and also excluding Jamaicans from their own coastline.  There is insufficient analysis of the economic benefits as well – tourism is undoubtedly a large employer in Jamaica, but there is also considerable “leakage” – in other words, the income from tourism not staying in and benefiting Jamaica.  There are other parts of Jamaica, though, which have not yet gone the way of the north coast and you can still see reasonably healthy marine resources and experience Jamaica the country (as opposed to Jamaica the hotel).  What saddens me is that our decision makers seem determined to develop the rest of the Jamaican coastline like the north coast.      

What do you think are some of the most pressing issues regarding tourism development today?
 
We need to talk about the whole model of tourism development.  There are many large Jamaican hotels, both locally and foreign owned, where you could be anywhere in the world.  We need to talk about the disregard of natural resources, particularly during the construction phase.  We need to talk about carrying capacity – there seems to be a view that there is no limit to the number of hotels, marinas, cruise ship piers and golf courses that any island can hold.  We need to talk about cumulative impacts – what may be a well designed single project may well be the last straw for a piece of coast, when you consider all the other projects that have gone before it.  And we need to talk about inclusiveness – how to make sure that the majority of Jamaicans, especially those who live near to where the hotels are built, benefit from the tourism industry.   

What would be your ideal tourism development strategy?
 
A model that starts with respect for the uniqueness of the place, respect for the people who live there.  We should not transform our countries to meet some fantasy of the tropical paradise held in the minds of our visitors.  As an example – tourists all want to be right on the beach and also to have an unrestricted view of the sea.  This leads to hotels being built to close to the high water mark, exclusion of Jamaicans from the beach and removal of all coastal vegetation.  When beach erosion follows, there are howls of despair and requests for expensive sea defense works.  But the beach erosion could have been avoided if the hotel had been built in harmony with the natural resources.  And Jamaicans resent being excluded, which leads to crime and tourist harassment.
 
Scale matters too – very large structures are too obtrusive and spoil the natural beauty of the coast – those things that tourists, presumably, come to see.  We also need to change the mindset of our visitors, who too often want to have all the comforts of home – air conditioning, no bugs, the same food.  We need travelers, people who are excited to see and experience another culture, not tourists.   

Do you know of successful examples of sustainable tourism?
 
I don’t know of anyone who has done it perfectly – although I am sure there must be examples.  But I was just in Costa Rica and was struck by how they really seemed to value their natural resources and the low density of the resort I was at.  In Jamaica, the site would have had many more concrete structures.    

What recommendations do you have for travelers who’d like to make positive travel choices? Can you point us to helpful resources?
 
There are various websites you can look at – Tourism Concern, Responsible Travel, spring to mind.  But basically, try and stay at local places, spend your money with the local community, be respectful of local customs, be restrained in your use of resources such as energy and water, and try to limit the amount of waste you produce.  I think visitors should also find and help local charities.  
 
What are your top three recommendations for visitors coming to Jamaica to do or see?
 
I’ll tell you a couple of few hotels I like, but when you recommend unspoiled places, you run the risk of causing a sudden influx of visitors to those places, making them spoiled!  We are very bad about limiting numbers here in Jamaica – I have been to other parts of the world where numbers into a natural area are strictly controlled, but we rarely do that here. 
 
I like Tensing Pen in Negril – small thatched cabins on the rocks in Negril’s West End – and Mockingbird Hill in Portland. 
 
My number one “don’t” is this – be careful about the attractions you visit, particularly those with animals.  Ask yourself how were the animals captured and transported, and whether or not you think it is appropriate for animals to be forced to perform tricks or other services for our entertainment.

*

In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss with Diana McCaulay her novel, Dog-Heart, and we’ll delve further into social and economic issues, including race, class, and privilege. Check back!

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Unsustainable tourism

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Taking a paid, guided horseback ride in the northern mountains of Nicaragua is nothing like a guided horseback ride in the United States. For one, I can’t imagine an American operation thinking it a good idea for an inexperienced six year old to ride and control his own horse for six hours.

But the confidence of Jamie, our Nica guide, assured me. Or at least made it seem allowable. And my six year old was certain it was a grand idea. My eight year old would ride Paloma. Isn’t she pretty?

We headed out in the misty early morning. The foals of Paloma and her sister, Mariposa, desperately wanted to come along.

Our six hours would take us through Miraflor Nature Reserve, a protected area where farmers grows crops and raise cattle sustainably on small plots interspersed throughout the three microclimates of the 200 sq km reserve.

 

Our first stop was the Orchideario.

We were visiting at the end of dry season and the orchids weren’t flowering at the time. But we found leaf cutter ants carrying big pieces of leaves across the path to their home, transparent butterflies, medicinal berries, and this tree that Jamie crawled inside and climbed up and then rappelled back down on the outside using vines. 

Four types of coffee are grown in Miraflor. The small trees were interspersed with tall banana plants.

Then we set out to wander the countryside. At a steep rocky ravine, the horses balked at going down. Jamie insisted it was no problem for them. My six year old’s horse, Mariposa, was the best at leading the group, Jamie said. My six year old would go first. I willed him to hold on tight. 

We came across this dead turquoise blue snake. I can’t say I was disappointed it wasn’t alive, but it is a gorgeous color, isn’t it?

At Miraflor, farmers are trained in sustainable farming. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. At this farm, we dismounted from our horses to walk alongside the new crop of beans

to this river with a lovely waterfall.

I must mention: if you are visiting at the end of dry season, do not strip off your clothes for a dip under the waterfall. Unless you don’t mind an infestation of ticks. Newly hatched and hungry, we were a magnet and they the iron. It was impossible to get them off before we were covered with more. We’d have to attack the ticks later.

Back with the horses, Remy played with a puppy.

Even though the concept of Miraflor is very first world, farmers still have very little. Oxen, not tractors, pull the plows through the fields. There are few vehicles. Some people have horses but we saw most people traveling on foot.

While riding back to the farm where we stayed, Posada La Sonada, Jamie asked if we wanted to let the horses run. The kids thought it a brilliant idea, and before my instinctual motherly concerns could be projected, we were all off and running. Jamie had earlier fashioned a little whip out of a stick for Simon to keep Mariposa moving, since she was the leader, and Simon took to his running horse like a cowboy set loose after a day of being reigned in. His cap caught the wind and blew off as he whipped Mariposa (gently, of course) with one hand and held onto his saddle with the other. I couldn’t help but laugh while I willed my kids to hold on tight.  

Back at Posada La Sonada.

And to our room to strip and search for ticks.

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One year ago today, I wrote my first blog post on A Dream Made Truth.

My initial intention was to create more of a website than a blog, a place for literary agents to find out more about the memoir I’m writing. I didn’t know what I was doing but I did understand that more readers was better than less and in order to have them view my site more than once, I’d need to post new content regularly. 

Hitting “publish” for the first time was slightly terrifying. I kept my first post short and sweet. 

Months later, after receiving feedback from an assistant at a big time New York City literary agency, I decided my 100+ page proposal needed significant changes. But I haven’t made those changes. Whatever the future holds for the publishing industry, one thing is certain: it’ll work differently than it did yesterday. So I set aside my search for an agent to do what feels right today: write my book and maintain my blog.

So what’s in store for year #2?

  • A revamp of my blog (an undertaking for non-technical me but I’m excited)
  • Could I possibly finish my book this year?
  • And more stories not just from me, but others immersed in the world of travel, food, sustainability, and connecting.

I started this blog feeling it was a prerequisite to getting my book published. And I have struggled this year with where to spend my limited time: on the blog or writing my book.

But in delaying the completion of my book, I’ve found a community of people who share my interests from all over the world and stayed connected with friends and family. For that, I am grateful. Thank you!

Have ideas for my new and improved blog? Suggestions for writing my book? Thoughts on posts you’d like to see here? Send ’em my way!

Happy new year everyone.

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My recent life in food

Dead Man’s Cove

Coconut sugar cakes

Recently I noticed, while going through my camera roll, just how many food related photos my family has taken lately.

People often ask who cooks in our family. They want to know if I’m eating chef prepared meals every day. My husband is a chef after all.

Unfortunately for me, for most of our life together, he’s been missing at the dinner hour. I’ve had to make do at meal time without him. He usually cooks a lovely meal at least once a week, but most days we eat simply. Here’s a sampling of the photos we’ve taken in the last month and half. My kids seem to have inherited the “love to cook” gene so several of these photos are of things they’ve made or preparations they’ve participated in.

                   

Add to these photos the ones from my posts on Eritrean food and the winery, and you’ll know what we’ve been up to lately. 

So now, my kids and I are contemplating what we should bake for the holidays this year. Remy suggested a new chocolate biscotti recipe.

What have you been cooking lately? What are your favorites to bake for the holidays?

Check out wanderfood wednesday for more food stories!

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Seis horas

Emotional rollercoasters vs amusement park rollercoasters

Road trip: dispersed camping and the bed-car

“White wo-man!”

“White wo-man!”

I cringed. It could only be me the voice from behind was calling. The last time a man jogged to catch up with me on my walk from the white house to our dinghy in Clare Valley, not the presence of my toddler riding on my shoulders nor my declaration of love and commitment for my husband did anything to quell his lengthy proposition to please me like no other man could.

“White wo-man!”

The eyes of nearby villagers were on me and my two children, waiting to see what would unfold. The slap of feet pounding pavement grew louder. Goats bleated. Chickens pecked at bugs. I stopped walking and turned around.

The eyes of a dreadlocked man, barefoot and in a raggedy t-shirt and shorts, lit up when he saw my acknowledgment. 

He stopped inside my invisible comfort bubble, panting, and smiled. “Good morning,” he said.

I steeled myself. “Good morning.”

“You have solar panels. I need a solar panel. Can you get me one?”

“A solar panel?” The surprise in my face and voice must have been something to see.

“Yeah, I live on the mountain,” he gestured behind him. The villagers came closer. “We have no power. You have solar panels, yeah? I have money. I can pay for it.”

My shock turned to instant admiration. He wanted to talk business! My heart swelled. He would be my ally.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo Home-Away Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition hosted by Grantourismo Travel and  Home-Away Holiday Rentals.

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Daily life on La Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

My idea of the perfect travel experience is to immerse in local culture. But when I enthusiastically proposed to my family a stay at Miraflor, a nature reserve that’s also a farmers’ cooperative in the northern mountains of Nicaragua, they all stared back at me with blank and unconvinced faces.

“A farrmm?” Simon said.

“How about the beach? I really want to relax and it would be cool to teach the kids to bodysurf,” my husband, Brian, proposed.

“I want to go horseback riding,” Remy said.

“I want to zipline,” Simon said, “But I don’t want to go to a farm.”

Hoping to persuade Simon and not realizing what I was getting myself into, I told them what I knew about Miraflor: There were three different micro-climates, one of them a rainforest. Monkeys and sloths lived there, we might even see the elusive quetzal. There were waterfalls and caves and more than 300 varieties of orchids. And we could ride horses. There was even a six hour horseback ride.

“How do you say six hours in Spanish?” Simon asked.

“Seis horas.”

He and Remy looked at each other mischievously and without another word started chanting in unison, “Seis horas!, Seis horas!, Seis horas!”

Brian looked at me sideways. Six hours on the back of a horse? In former Sandinista and Contra Rebel territory? With our kids? This didn’t sound relaxing. 

“But can we still go ziplining?” Simon asked.

“Sure!” I said.

At the last minute, we passed on the four hour bus ride from Managua to Miraflor and instead splurged on a car and driver.  We assumed we’d just traded stress and discomfort for an indulgent ride, but when every word we spoke in our broken Spanish to Raul, the driver, was met with a suspicious stare from the rear view mirror, we worried how we would even find the office to arrange our farm stay in the town of Esteli, 30 miles before Miraflor.

It’s possible we ended up in Esteli only because the Pan American Highway passes right through the town. 

When we found the office closed for the noon hour, we offered to take Raul to lunch, and that’s when Brian won him over, making jokes using his Kitchen Spanish and asking about Raul’s family. After lunch, we were a team. 

At the office, we chose our farm and set off again with a vague hand drawn map. Few vehicles traveled this unpaved road and Raul asked every vaquero on horseback and campesino on foot we passed for directions.

After several wrong turns, there were cheers all around when we finally found our destination, the farm of Dona Corina Picado.

Then it was pointed out these were the bathrooms we’d need to use. I sure hoped the horseback ride would carry the weight of it’s expectations.

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Coffee from the Source-Nicaragua

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