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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

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 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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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

Win a $50 gift certificate to Black Bottle!

How?

1. “Like” the A Dream Made Truth Facebook Page

2. Tell us a dream you’d like to make a truth.  Your answer doesn’t have to be a huge, life changing idea you’ve harbored for years, but it could if you’d like. Post your answer here, or on the Facebook page.

3. Tell your friends there’s a $50 Black Bottle gift certificate up for grabs! Tell them about my blog and suggest they Like A Dream Made Truth on Facebook.
 
I’ll take answers until Wednesday, August 11th at midnight (that’s only 2 days!), then I’ll throw all the names into a hat and draw out one lucky winner, to be announced Thursday.
 
Aren’t in Seattle? What are you waiting for? There’s no time like Summer and Fall to visit. But don’t worry, there’s no expiration date, you can use the gift certificate whenever you want. One more thing you should know: Black Bottle serves customers over the age of twenty one years. If you’re under twenty one and you win, the kitchen is happy to pack your yummy food to-go, or you could treat your parents and give them the gift certificate.  🙂

Want to hear my dream? I’ll go first.

Related Posts:

Time to get serious

First taste of the Caribbean

Our chef, and an attempt at a recipe

I finished the first draft of my memoir a year ago.

I spent months writing a proposal for the book.  

I got slightly discouraged/overwhelmed shopping  my proposal around to literary agents.

I started this blog, joined Facebook and Twitter.

I wrote an essay about life on St. Vincent for publication (fingers crossed).

And now it’s time to polish this draft and get it published. 

Here’s my plan.

1. Set my alarm clock for the wee dark early hours.

2. Encourage my children to sleep until 9:00 am.

3. Write, write, write, edit, edit, edit.

I need your help! If you haven’t already, click “Like” on A Dream Made Truth’s Facebook page. If you’re out there keeping tabs on me, you’ll help me crawl out of bed every morning and get to work. 

I’ll post snippets from what I’m working on several times a week, but only on A Dream Made Truth’s Facebook page and Twitter. Brian’s been helping me brainstorm a giveaway for Facebook “likers” (hint: it has to do with eating) and I’ll post the details in a few days.

And if you’d like to be the very first to see new blogposts, sign up to receive posts by email. They’ll be in your inbox the second they’re published and it only takes a second (see instructions for subscribing in the website’s upper left hand corner).

First snippet’s on Facebook already. Support me! Win stuff! Click “Like“!

Related posts:

Reality check

Funny, the timing of things

This island dream

“Where’s all the guava cheese?” Brian asked.

I awoke with a start. “You guys ate all the guava cheese?”

“I… I… I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what happened. I was just watching the movie,” Remy said.

“It’s gone! That was supposed to last for days. That’s all we had. Do you remember how hard it was to find guavas?” I said.

“Ohhh,” Brian moaned. “I only had two pieces.”

The days passed and toward the end of the trip, we drove all the way around the island to the west side to explore Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks. As we neared the canyon, Remy said, “We just passed a guava tree.”

Brian made a U-turn and pulled over, and there alongside us, was a tree loaded with ripe guavas. We admired the sight for a moment, and then rushed to it.

Harvesting fruit as quickly as we could, we laughed and applauded Remy for her keen eye.

Afterward, we gazed into Waimea Canyon. It was spectacular.

Simon and I hiked through fog and misty rain and snuck views into the Kalaulau Valley when the clouds parted. It was something to be experienced.

“Does anyone want to check out any other parts of the park before heading out?” I asked.

“Can we go back and pick some more guavas?” Simon said.

That night, we made a massive batch of guava cheese. Not only did Remy redeem herself, she was our hero. We even had enough to bring some home.

Check out wanderfood wednesday for more food related blogs!

I’m melting into the seat, letting the wind rush over me while it
stirs through the palms and ironwoods lining the north coast and
again, I hear the strum of a ukelele.

I think to myself, Kauai, you’ve held on to your beauty but it’s not enough.

We drive half a mile and the ukelele music is still there. How could I
still hear the music?

“Do you hear a ukelele?” I ask Brian.

He listens. “No. See, it’s the spirit of the island calling you.”

My mind wanders to the previous night. Simon had waited all day to get
to the beach. We grabbed flashlights and walked along the road until
we found a turnoff for a hotel. We strolled past the buildings and
Simon ran to the frothy water.

“Stay close Simon, it’s getting dark,” I said.

He didn’t hear, the surf and wind erased my voice. I followed him until the sound of a ukelele caught my attention. “More ukelele
music,” I said.

Earlier, at the airport in Honolulu, a ukelele echoed through the outdoor walkways as we waited in the garden for our flight.  I looked up the bank at he restaurant sealed in glass. “They must pipe it outside in hopes of luring in tourists,” I said, although no one heard.

Now as we drive, the din of the engine annoys me. I concentrate, straining my ears for confirmation. Is it real? Was it ever real?

I picture Kauai’s ancestors. It’s dark, they’re playing ukeleles, dancing around a crackling fire, smiling at me. Or is it the
ancestors, telling me to let down my guard, showing me this island will always be theirs?

“We bought tickets to Hawaii two days ago. We got a great deal, Brian can take time off work, the kids are elated, our dog sitter is available. I feel like I sold my soul.”

That’s what I submitted to a 3-Sentence Confession writing contest hosted by David Miller, senior editor of Matador Network.

The back story?

I’ve wanted to backpack through Africa for twenty years. My plan was to take The Africa Trip in 2010, the year I turned 40, with my family. Our kids would be 11 and 9, a perfect age, I thought. But here’s a bit of advice that probably does not need to be said: Do not show your children documentaries or reality tv shows about Africa.

For some reason, I eat this stuff up, getting more pumped for a trip of adventurous possiblities. But when kids see people eating coagulated blood by the handful, malaria sufferers, a horrifying worm emerging from an arm, and a mud brick building full of skulls, it’s a big turn off. What was I thinking? It seems so obvious now.

I’ve tried to convince them there is so much more to Africa than what they’ve seen. It hasn’t enticed them. I’ve told them, “This year I get to choose the trip, you can choose the next one.” They’d rather stay home. Traveling with my family is what drives me, what brings me peace and contentment. I bring up Nicaragua.

“Remember, you weren’t all that excited about going to Nicaragua, but it was awesome, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah! Except for the ticks.”

Simon re-told the story of the tick infestation last week to Uncle Jason (we actually don’t often share it) and he couldn’t get through it without cracking up. It wasn’t very funny at the time but we roll with laughter about it now, and those are the memories I long to create with my family. Africa was going to be that good.

Africa is not going to happen this year. I need an memory eraser to wipe away all that shock-value footage my children viewed. What was I thinking? So I’ll compromise. This one is hard for me. Now to figure out how to make Hawaii what Africa was going to be…

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