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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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Road trip: ghost town

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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

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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Seis horas

Finding comfort in Granada

Urban Tokyo goes rural

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

“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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Auto shopping, island style 

Island poetry

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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Finding comfort in Granada

The morning after the indulgent dinner, we soaked one more time in the hot springs baths and met up again with Bill and Masami for breakfast.

After days of sampling countless exotic Japanese offerings, Brian and I didn’t pass up the offer of an American style breakfast.

They started us off with an onion topped salad.

And moved on to assorted breads, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and a lovely fruit plate.

  

Comforting, but downright boring compared to the Japanese breakfast.

The Japanese breakfast started with umeboshi, or pickled plums.

Which was followed up by all these dishes:

  

   

And this:

Salted and fermented squid guts.

Known as Shiokara, it’s considered an acquired taste, even to the Japanese. This morning I didn’t have the stomach to sample it.

But as you can see, we had no trouble polishing off everything else.

Stuffed again.

This post is part of wanderfood wednesday. Check out the other food and travel posts!

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A Japanese inn

Cooking school in Japan: main courses

Auto shopping, island style

When Brian and I were in Tokyo, we snuck away with our business partner, Bill, and his partner Masami, to an onsen.

An onsen is a Japanese inn and hot spring. The volcanic archipelago of islands that make up Japan are covered in naturally occurring hot springs and onsens are popular among the Japanese. They vary from simple to luxurious in accommodation.

We visited Sekiyou, an hour outside of Tokyo by way of bullet train and short taxi ride that winds up a lush mountain while monkeys watch from the roadside. A grandmotherly hostess showed us to our sparse and spacious eight tatami mat room complete with it’s own wooden soaking tub, then handed us kimonos and waited while we changed.

 

Bill and Masami gave us the low down on how the baths worked. There were two separate baths, one for men and one for women.

 

Guests always scrub up before immersing in the steamy water. Washing stations line the wall with short wooden stools and detachable sprayers.

I was thankful no one was using the bath when I, the uninitiated, entered and clumsily sprayed myself down at the washing station, not sure just how much scrubbing was expected. The hot springs bath was outdoors, surrounded by dense shrubbery but with a view of misty mountains in the background.

Soaking was lovely.

We met up with Bill and Masami in their room later for dinner, which was delivered one course at a time by a hostess in traditional formal wear. 

The menu.

First course is served to Masami and Bill.

Kanpai!

Sashimi.

Eel

Broth with clams and sugar snap peas

   

Beef with farro and fiddlehead ferns and mountain vegetable

Jellyfish and mushrooms

More.

Ending with citron gelatin and a mochi covered in roasted soybean dust.

The food was amazing. I was blown away by the detail and time and care required to prepare every single dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the best of notes. I’ll blame it on the unusual setting, or maybe it was the sake or shochu (a spirit distilled from rice), or beer.

Later when we returned to our room, futons were unrolled on the floor and beds made up.

Just as we started to settle in, our hostess let herself in, offering to help us get ready for bed.  We bowed in thanks and shooed her toward the door.

We considered sliding the futons together to make one bigger bed, to sleep together like we usually did. But we thought better of it. Not at the onsen.

Check back next week for details about breakfast.

Head over to Wanderfood Wednesday for more travel and food stories!

For more posts like this, check out these:

Cooking school in Japan: main courses

Tokyo: a chef’s tour

Urban Tokyo goes rural

We started the morning in the desert. At noon, it was 108 degrees. We drove through a field of pumpjacks drilling for oil, past agricultural fields where open topped trucks were loaded with loose cherries, through vineyards with workers handpicking grapes, all the way to the chilly coast before the sun set. 

It was the road sign on California’s Pacific Coast Highway alerting us of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas that made me hang an immediate left turn. It may have been the best impulse stop of the entire trip.

The seals were so close!  We watched one use the force of the incoming waves to wash its heavy, awkward body back to shore.

   

Until finally it made it.

Signs gave further information about elephant seals.

And then the sun went down. 

So thankful we have places to keep the wild, wild.

This post is part of Delicious Baby’s California State Parks Photo Friday.

Related Posts:

Road trip: ghost town

5 reasons to roadtrip with kids

Road trip: blindsided by illness

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