Stories from the
Solid Gold and Others
by Juliet Brown Rergyamdee
My time spent as a teenager on Montserrat gave me some of my
best memories. Having had grandparents living in the Caribbean
most of my childhood, I was greatly influenced by life there.
Since Montserrat is a small island, like a small town, you get
to know many of the people around you and see the same folks and
familiar faces everday. There were many colorful characters there,
that to this day, still bring a smile to my face. My favorite
was a guy who called himself "Solid Gold", after the popular American
dance show of the same name. The big thing to do on Friday and
Saturday nights was to go dancing at places like La Cave and The
Yacht Club in Plymouth, now destroyed by the volcano. Solid Gold
was a regular at La Cave, dressed in gold, and would preform solo
dance numbers that were a mix between Michael Jackson moves and
break dancing where he would attempt to spin on his back. It was
very amusing! He worked the pumps at a gas station in Plymouth,
and I was with my mother there one day when we came in contact
with him. He started coming on to me, and because I was young
and not used to this, plus I didn't know him personally, I was
not talkative. I suppose he wasn't pleased with the response he
was getting from me cause he asked, "Don't you know who I am?!
I'm Solid Gold!"
Another guy, who was also an aquaintance, was "I Bladder". He
mowed lawns and was always walking by our house with his mower.
He had long, thick dreads which formed a huge mound under a knit
hat. He seemed like such a happy guy and mostly all I ever heard
him say was, "Irie, irie!" He lived near us and there was always
a red glow coming from the window of his one-roomed shack at night.
Later he built a house near our good friend, Lydia Fenton, and
he had this oil drum trash can out by the street that read in
spray paint, " One Love."
Another guy was this little old guy who hung out at the post office
in Plymouth. He always approached ex-pats with a big smile. He
would pat your arm and would chit chat for a second (could never
understand him!), then his face would suddenly go stone serious
and his hand would reach out for a cash hand-out. You couldn't
help but like him though!
There were so many funny and interesting people. It really saddens
me that everyone is so dispersed due to the volcano and most of
my friends are no longer there, but Montserrat is still a gem.
Most of my friends were from the neighboring town of Salem. We
were usually together everyday at the beach and then together
dancing on the weekends. Those were good times. I think back and
by Elizabeth Salt
I first became acquainted with Montserrat when I was studying
anthropology at Ohio State University in the United States in
1975, and one of my professors, Dr. John C. Messenger, would give
examples in his classes from his work on Montserrat. Twenty years
later, when Montserrat came into the world news because the volcano
became active, I began to follow the progress of the eruption
on the Internet, and I wanted to get involved and help the people
of Montserrat somehow. In 1997, the Montserrat Red Cross put me
in touch with Ruth Allen, who was then the head librarian at the
public library on Montserrat. Since I am a university librarian
in the United States, I thought that perhaps I could best help
by providing new library materials for the island's library. Out
of this initial contact, a strong and lasting friendship has developed
between Ruth and me, which I treasure. I hope that I have helped
Montserrat at least a little bit, but truly, Montserrat has given
back to me so much more than I have given to the island. My Montserratian
friends have shown me how to be strong in the face of adversity
and how to value what is really important in life -- true friendship
and faith in God. Getting to know Montserrat and developing friendships
there has enriched my life immensely, and I am truly grateful
that Montserrat has become an important part of my life. Montserrat
is a special place which has captured my heart. May the island
and her people always be blessed!
Montserrat Bugs Me
by Oksana Kravtchenko
Even though we have traveled to many of the Caribbean Islands,
a trip to Montserrat is always special. Since our first visit
during Christmas 2002 we have gone back to Montserrat almost every
year. People say that we have the "Montserrat bug". Montserrat
keeps "bugging" us to return once we are back at are home in Toronto.
Before our first visit to Montserrat, all we knew about Montserrat
was that it is in Caribbean; that the island has a volcano that
has been active for almost ten years, and that part of the population
fled to England, the United States, Canada, and other destinations
in search of shelter and security.
At first we were afraid to spend two weeks so close to an active
volcano. However, we discovered that many locals still lived there
but had moved to the safe side of the island. We took a comfortable,
overnight flight on BWIA to Antigua and from there a fifteen-minute
connecting flight onWinair (a local Caribbean Airline) to Montserrat.
Montserrat appeared to be nothing like the neighboring island
of Antigua... no fancy resorts and casinos, no crowds of wandering
tourists from Cruise ships. Do not look for those white-sand postcard
quality beaches with tall palm trees. Montserrat is different
in its nature and appearance from all the neighboring islands.
And it should be proud of having the nicest and friendliest people,
secluded black-sand, diamond-sparkling beaches, spectacular hiking
trails through rainforests, underwater diversity and a magnificent
volcano. All of these qualities of the island make for unforgettable
In December, almost every morning would start with a short tropical
rain, as if God was taking a refreshing shower"- it rained for
ten-fifteen minutes, refreshing the colors on the grass and leaves,
wrapping the island in emerald colors, ending the show with rainbow
gates over the hills, inviting the tourist to explore the cool,
breezy and sunny land of Montserrat.
On our first day, we went on a hike in the mountains. The woods
were rich with wild mangos, bananas, almonds, breadfruit, cocoa
trees and coconuts. We saw a rare bird, an oriole, living in the
rainforest as well as local agoutis and a lot of goats along the
roads. I found an interesting fruit, I do not know the name of
this fruit. I dried it and now I keep it on a shelf as a souvenir.
We went on a couple of other hikes and every time we found different
plants, flowers and exotic fruits.
A couple of days after our rainforest explorations, we had a chance
to go to the beach. The black sand sparkles like a million diamonds
under the sun and is very clean. There are a lot of beaches, and
many of them appear to be secluded, even during the high season.
Snorkelling, and especially scuba diving, are spectacular even
from the shore. We made our first dive with a "Sea Wolf Diving
Centre" certified instructor who introduced us to the underwater
world of Montserrat. We spent most of our mornings diving and
exploring the Pillar Corals, gigantic Barrel Sponges and Sea fans.
The dive operator, Brian Cunningham, who comes from Bahamas, told
us that ever since he came to this island, he fell in love with
Montserrat. He had never seen such a great diversity in one dive
anywhere elseduring his twelve years as a dive master. Here you
have a chance to see the famous turtles, eagle rays, French angels,
barracudas, parrotfish, spotted drum grunts, squid, lobsters,
trunkfish and flying gurnard all in one dive. If you are a diver,
make sure to bring all your gear and do not miss the opportunity
to go to Little Bay. There, right from the shore, you will be
amazed by the rich underwater world filled with fish, corals and
many other wonderful creatures. Don?t miss the opportunity to
see "Garden of Eden" ? the name tells for itself. For more information
regarding the dive sites visit http://www.seawolfdivingschool.com/
One evening, we went to watch the volcanic glow. The sky was very
clear and there was no wind. We drove for about half an hour in
the mountains to a point that is safe and close to the volcano.
Never before in my life had I felt so afraid of the power of nature.
In seconds I was extremely scared and ready to go back to safety.
I heard thousands of thunders; I could see those huge red boulders
rolling down from the angry mountain. The view was fascinating
- the mixture of fear and admiration kept me staring at the volcano,
glowing in its power in the midnight sky for a couple of hours...
On our next trip to the volcano, we brought binoculars with us,
so we had a chance to see in detail the volcanic top, spitting
those red hot boulders...
?Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!? - we began to sing that famous song written
by Calypso King Arrow (who actually is Montserratian). We took
a ride to the Festival Village to dance out our excess energy.
The Festival overtakes all of the other activities on the island.
During the day, one rarely finds anyone outside, but by night,
the streets are crowded and no parking can be found close to the
festival. We really enjoyed the songs and the beauty contests.
All the shows were so colourful and filled with that passion to
celebrate. People were dancing in the streets until morning, enjoying
the music and each other's company. The locals are very friendly
by their nature and we felt very comfortable getting around any
time of day or night. I should mention something about the local
food. If you want to taste the best Caribbean cuisine, prepared
especially for you, check out ?Ziggy?s? restaurant, located in
a verdant, intimate and secluded environment. You will have a
choice from an international menu and the best wine selection
on the island. But be sure to make a reservation before heading
out to Ziggy's.
There are many other small restaurants on the island with different
cuisines, all with great service and fresh food. For fish gourmands
there is Jumping Jack?s Beach Bar, where one can try fresh fish
caught by Danny and cooked by Margaret. Meals are reasonably priced
and the environment is very appealing.
Two weeks have flown by and we had to pack for the trip back home
to Toronto. We took the same Winair to the Antigua Airport. All
too soon we are back in our Toronto home ?feeling hot, hot, hot?
even in the middle of our Canadian winter. There is no other place
on this planet that has ever left this kind of feeling in my heart.
There is nothing like this very special island called Montserrat.
I will be back again soon, of that I am sure!
By Shirley Spycalla
VOLCANO STORY (1)
After a period of quietude lasting for 400 years, the Soufriere
Hills Volcano on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean roared
to life on the 18th July 1995, disrupting the idyllic way of live
on this paradise island. With the volcanic crisis now its eleventh
year, one-half of this 39-? sq mile island is in the exclusion
or daytime-entry zones. The remaining citizens, those who hadn't
fled in the early years of the crisis, have put on a brave face
in a disaster that has caused nothing but turmoil.
This event happened in the 1st week of August 1997, when explosive
eruptions were almost exactly 8 hours apart. Lou, my husband,
had gone to work at the Golf Club where he was manager. On a mad
impulse, and without telling anyone where I was going, I drove
into the daytime-entry zone to our apartment on Richmond Hill,
overlooking Plymouth, to take out some of our belongings that
we had had to leave behind. The entire area was devoid of life
and covered with thick gray ash - a desolate moonscape. There
was absolutely no one else around.
Leaving my handbag and car keys on the dining table in the apartment,
I hurriedly began taking things out onto the front porch to be
later transferred to the car. The volcano was rumbling gently
- a most nerve-wracking sound. On the second such trip when I
was outside on the porch, a volcanic earthquake shook the building
violently. The front door swung shut with a bang and automatically
locked. Desperately I walked around the building but could find
no way to get back in.
With no other option available, I decided to climb through a window
that opened out onto the porch from the drawing-room (living-room).
The space between the steel-framed louvres was about 8". I had
got my head and shoulders through when I got totally and irreversibly
stuck! Going backward was not an option anyway, as I HAD to get
inside to get my car keys and bag (I had no cell phone). The police
would padlock the barrier between the "safe" and "unsafe" zones
at 6:00pm, and I would be locked into the unsafe zone without
anyone knowing where I was.
On cue, the volcano started to erupt with a terrible roaring.
Stuck between two louvers and frightened like the devil, I bawled
for about half an hour at the thought of rescuers finding my skeleton
half in and half out of the window. Overweight as I was, I would
definitely not have made an attractive skeleton! Reaching the
conclusion that bawling was getting me nowhere fast, I stopped
crying and starting praying like ten pundits. Suddenly an idea
came to me - to get one hand back outside and dig my way in, at
the point where I was caught by the metal edges of the louvres.
With my right hand digging deep into my flesh and pushing, and
my left hand digging in and pulling, I slowly inched my way through
the louvres. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I dropped
onto the drawing-room floor like a baby exiting its mother's womb,
bruised and in pain all down the right side of my body. Without
further ado, I grabbed my handbag and keys and ran for my life,
leaving everything behind. Like a bat out of hell, I raced out
of Richmond Hill and made it back to the barrier two minutes before
the police closed and locked it for the night.
Lou and I went back to the apartment eight years later, in May
2005, and found everything gone - all the furniture, appliances,
cupboards, chandeliers, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, sinks,
bathtub, toilet, water heater and all the light fixtures. All
that was left was moldy, warped parquet floors and wires sticking
out of open electric sockets. Our apartment, along with many other
once-lovely island villas and condos, had been thoroughly vandalized
with everything looted.
When I reflect on my actions that day in 1997, I conclude that
it was foolhardy of me to have risked my life for material things
that were mostly all replaceable. The second thing I learned from
the experience was never to doubt the power of prayer. If I hadn't
prayed, can you imagine what the headlines in the Montserrat Reporter
newspaper would have been? - "SKELETON FOUND STUCK IN WINDOW!"
Perhaps in the "Jus' Wondering" section on the back page of the
newspaper, there might have been a couple of entries written in
the local dialect: "Jus' wondering a who de skeleton be dey a
window an' why e carn use de door!"
"Jus' wondering if de skeleton a bruk een or a bruk outa de house
and why e nuh no dat e look lek wan tief!"
So life goes on
Volcano Story (2)
The second event happened in March 2000 when new guests arrived
at our guesthouse to stay for a few days. The husband, John, was
a full-blooded Native-American. Actually he looked as if he had
just walked off a wild-wild-west movie set with his shiny long
braid, high cheekbones, slightly hooked nose and honey-brown skin.
All that was needed to complete the portrayal was a feathered
headdress, moccasins and a tomahawk!!
As John and his wife sat at breakfast on their first morning at
"Erindell", John said to me that he sensed there was an angry
spirit on the island. To this I replied that that must be the
volcano, and explained about the tragedy of the deaths in 1997.
He said, no, that he knew about the volcano, but that it was something
more than that.
John asked me if I'd noticed an increase in crime, serious accidents
and deaths involving young people on Montserrat. To this I replied
that Lou and I had indeed noticed this, especially deaths of people
in the 25-45 age group. I added that there were also a number
of island residents who were simply disappearing - about ten within
the last few years! In a small society such as ours, on an island
with an exceedingly low crime rate, the disappearances had become
a matter for concern, and the police had so far not been able
to solve the problem.
Seeing a mystery unfolding and a possible link, I told him about
the archaeological dig at Trant's Estate in the east of the island,
early in 1995. Dr David Watters, a curator at the Carnegie Museum
of Natural History in Pennsylvania, USA, had led the dig. I also
told John that two of the Amerindian remains had been shipped
off to the museum for further research, along with several cases
of pottery shards, stone tools and arrowheads.
At this point, John became very agitated. He said that it was
a big mistake to have disturbed the burial ground of the native
people, and that as long as they were off the island, the volcano
would never go back to sleep!
Before John and his wife left the island, he asked me to lend
him a red ballpoint pen, which I did. On the last morning of their
stay, he presented Lou and me with a painting he had done, using
the blue, black and red ballpoint pens.
Staring at the figure in the drawing for a moment, I said that
it looked like an Anasazi (pronounced "Anasahzi") medicine man
doing a ceremonial dance. Anasazis are an extinct tribe, so John
was astonished that I knew, but he agreed that it was indeed so.
He then said that as long as we kept the painting in our house,
we would be protected from the troubles of the island, and that
we would always have peace and love in our home.
Immediately upon returning home, John reported the matter of the
disturbed burial ground to the Native-American Association. Two
Native-American Chiefs, one of them being Chief Billie, came down
to Montserrat and visited with the Chief Minister of the day,
David Brandt, and the Governor, Anthony Abbott. The Chiefs then
returned home, satisfied that every effort would be made to return
the Amerindian remains to Montserrat for re-interment.
Up until today, the remains are still at the Carnegie Museum and
the volcano is still erupting, now in its 11th year, more than
twice as long as the average length of the eruption periods of
andesite volcanoes (3-5 years). I have followed up constantly
with the National Trust and have been assured that as soon as
a new museum is built, the entire shipment, including the remains,
would be brought back home to Montserrat.
* * * Meanwhile, strange things continue to happen. On the morning
following the huge dome collapse in July 2003, when the island
was covered by 12" or more of thick, concrete-like ash, four young
men came up our road with shovels. They bypassed every house along
the way, came straight to our house and asked if they could help
us clean. I had never seen them before in my life. Earlier, Lou
and I had started to clear away the ash, which was about 6 - 8
inches thick on the patio and walkway, and it had taken us one
hour just to clear away an area about 3' in diameter. Needless
to say, we were happy for the help. The young men worked all day,
and I truly believe that our house was the first to be cleaned
on the island!
There were many times when huge ash clouds would drop ash on houses
to our immediate right and left, but no ash at all would fall
on our house! Our neighbours also remarked on this phenomenon.
n 2005, I was interviewed as part of the radio programme, "Volcano
Stories", commemorating the 10th anniversary of the start of the
eruption. During the interview, the interviewer asked me if I
would allow him to make a photocopy of the Indian painting and
I agreed to it.
When the hour-long programme ended, there was a telephone call
waiting for me in the outer office. A man whom I did not know
(he wouldn't give his name) begged me not to give anyone a copy
of the painting or it would lose its protective power. He kept
repeating this for at least 40 minutes, so that the interviewer
grew impatient and left the compound without getting a copy.
Over the years, other guests at our guesthouse asked if they could
take a digital photograph of the painting. I agreed, but something
always came up to intervene, like cameras that simply stopped
working, or the guests got distracted and the photographs were
never taken. Weird! I do wish those Indian remains would come
by Julie Rergyamdee
My greatest memories were my friends from Salem and Friday and
Saturday nights spent dancing at La Cave, the Yaght Club, and
other clubs in Plymouth. Their destruction is especially sad since
there are no longer any places like them on the island. "My" Montserrat
has been wiped away, but it's still a beautiful island and people
who remain are just as colorful as they always were. One memory
of a colorful soul was a guy who called himself "Solid Gold" and
was a regular at La Cave. He wore gold clothes and would attempt
to mimic Michael Jackson, I think! :) Very entertaining! There
were many just as interesting back in those days! Julie Rergyamdee
By Judy Brown
When we lived in Montserrat during the 80's, we lived in Old Towne.
The kids and I would often take walks at night---the sky was so
clear and the stars so bright, we had no difficulty seeing where
we were going. One night, we ended up down on the golf course.
As some rain clouds had just passed over, the golf course was
still quite wet. As we neared one of the greens, we noticed quite
a few frogs sitting on the green. There had to be 8-10 frogs!!!
So we progressed to the next green---the same thing!!! So, we
ran from green to green, counting the frogs. Sounds silly, but
we had great fun---and thereafter did it often---after an evening
rain!! Next story- Living so close to Old Road Bay, we pretty
much lived at the beach! I would notice, from time to time, some
crabs that lived in holes at the back portion of the beach, under
the trees. I asked some of the local kids if you could eat them,
and they said yes! Being from Maryland, we do crabs alot!!! I
even had some Old Bay seasoning. But the kids told me that you
have to catch them at night, when they come out of their holes.
So, a bunch of us went down there one night---me, my kids, and
some of their friends who would show us the capturing technique!!
We were armed with flashlights and big bags---you're supposed
to shine the flashlight on the crab and he won't move---then you
can pick him up. I held the bag open---I wasn't going to pick
them up!!! We managed to collect about 3 dozen. Then the kids
informed me that I had to take them home and put them in the bathtub
with a little water, and let them sit over night so they could
purge all the mud out! Yuk!!! All night I listened to them scratching,
scratching on the sides of the tub, trying to get out. The next
morning I had to face cooking the crabs, with only a small pot---it
took all morning. Then I had to pick the meat out of the shells.
I was dismayed to find that I was only getting about a tablespoon
of meat out of each crab. It became clear early on that I was
not going to have enough meat to make crab cakes!! The picking
took all afternoon as I had been long ago abandoned by everyone--they
had all headed for the beach. As it turned out, I had only enough
meat to make a crab quiche---bummer, to say nothing of the hour
I had to spend cleaning the mud out of the bathtub!!
also invited to be a part of this project
the project: Book name "My Montserrat"
History in short stories
Project organized by Howard A. Fergus and Igor Kravtchenko
Deadline of submission stories: End of September 2006
Deadline of submission photographs: January 2007
Publishing June 2007
Collection of short stories and photographs about Montserrat
"Wherever I traveled I found that Montserrat is a special place
to me. Montserratians is not a nation it is a family of people
who's connected by tiny string, string of Love to the "Emerald
Isle".I believe each Montserratian and visitor carried their own
experience about Montserrat. Lets those stories do not disappear
in human history, like Plymouth under the ashes..."said Igor Kravtchenko
No matter if you are Native Montserratian and live close to Exclusion
Zone or lives overseas, or even you are not Montserratian but
love this tiny island please share your own story, share your
own experience with "Emerald Isle" to the World! Real stories
that happened in pre and post volcanic periods are welcome. We
are looking for people who can write a personal story and personal
experience with Montserrat. We are looking short 300 words (max
500 words) stories. We would like to cover each angle of Montserrat
with stories from entertaining, from unusual angle, with local
dialect, about everyday real life, curious, historical facts,
traditions, funny and sad, I encourage people to share their own
We are looking
for photos of pre-volcanic Plymouth (excluding postcards). We
are not expecting photos to be in a great shape and great artistic
view. Very old photos will be a great asset! Photos depicting
all human activities ( sports, at work, hikes, sailing, and leisure
time) showing real life. Non- posed photos are better. Photos
that carry a story behind it will be great (especially if you
submit a short story with it) We also would like to have some
images with sceneries, beaches, ( no sunsets please), shops, discos,
from exclusion zone. We promise to mail back all the photos after
scanning at high resolution. Please supply your info as well for
credits.( Joe Joseph, London UK, scientist at Cambridge?Anne Lee,
New York, USA, housewife, Anne@msn.com)
share our Love to Montserrat with the World!