Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dominica Traffic - Caribbean Norm or Witches Curse?

It’s everywhere you go. Even the Caribbean has more than its share nowadays, though Anguilla is never overburdened and several of the smaller islands beyond the capital cities are usually untrammelled. We’re talking traffic, lots of it. Kingston Jamaica, Port of Spain Trinidad, Bridgetown Barbados, Castries St Lucia are increasingly clogged with cars as journey to work times continue to expand.

Last week I experienced a strange variation on the theme. The narrow one way systems of Dominica’s main town of Roseau are rarely congested, unless one of the giant cruise liners just happens to have docked at the waterfront, but this was not one of those days. I’d pootled into town from Goodwill in the north, clattered over the river bridge into Queen Mary Street and was quietly minding my own business when the light traffic in front inexplicably ground to a halt.

There was no obvious obstruction ahead, no breakdown, no minor collision or stray dog, just some sort of impasse. It happens all the time of course around the islands, drivers passing the time of day with each other, handing parcels over etc., just as you want to get somewhere fast. I could see passengers gazing sideways where people were thronging the porticoed sidewalk in steadily growing numbers so I turned off the engine, sat awhile because there was no option, and strained to see what the fuss was about.

Eventually, with time ticking on, I leaned out and inquired of a sensible looking citizen “whappen down de road, sir?” His response was immediate, and throwaway; “Nuttin’ much sah, a witch jussa block de footpath” ! Whhaaaaaat?? Apparently then, if a pedestrian comes face to face with a witch, black or white, it’s common courtesy to pass to her right so you won’t be affected by any spell. If she doesn’t allow it, a stand-off ensues and a blockade develops. This had just happened, effectively bringing the whole of downtown Roseau to a halt as drivers stopped to await the outcome.

They may still be there, it wouldn’t surprise me; nobody was budging so I somehow manoeuvred a nifty reverse and made my getaway down a sidestreet. You’d think stories like this were apocryphal but here they’re commonplace. In Elma Napier’s wonderful evocation of a 1930’s bohemian colonial life here in “Black and White Sands” published by Papillote press last year, she muses “it has never been easy to analyse, to define the mysterious charm that has lured some people to stay in Dominica forever, and from which others have fled without even taking time to unpack”. Incidents like this at least give us a clue. Yes, Dominica’s different, very different.


  1. Now I've experienced traffic in Bridgetown, Port of Spain, Castries, and more, but I've never experienced witch related traffic.

    I wonder if they put that on the traffic report on the radio!

    Great post.

  2. Agree with Patrick! Great post!

  3. A witch huh...You have to love the culture of the Caribbean. I'd be happy to sit in that traffic and soak it in.


  4. Better to be stuck in traffic on a beautiful Caribbean island than some sprawling city in the U.S.


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