The village of Vieille Case lies in the northern part of Dominica, It’s built into a steep, Jagged hillside. With mountains to the west and ocean to the east, Its one of the most isolated villages on the island.. Difficult to get in and out of, It all depends if you can hitch a ride with one of the few passing cars or trucks. I lived on a hamlet of Vieille Case called Ambas (pronounced amber). between my house and the school I was teaching at was a large valley, so each day I would have to walk what seemed like up hill both ways in the hot and humid sun. I rented my house from a great family who I came to know and admire. $600 EC dollars for rent + utilities. The house was vibrantly tranquil . It was built on a plot of land that was part jungle and part garden. I had about 50 yards of sloping garden that ended a large cliff face that plunged about 200 feet into the ocean below. The house was made of thin slats of wood nailed to a frame and toped off with a corrugated steel roof. Because it was built on such a steep hill ( a hill that ended in cliffs) it was propped up with cement stilts on back end. Only about 20% of the house was on land, the rest was sitting above the earth balanced on stilts. The laundry was hung under the house to dry. Facing the cliff side was a small veranda that had a small table that was perfect for drinking beer and staring and the mango trees that doted the yard. There were about 30 mango trees sitting about the house in the jungle clearing that was the property. A small dirt road that was used for foot traffic lead past my house and onto the hillside and gave access to the banana crops. The main road was about 50ft away so the house was very private. Lots of trees and hills to provide that. When standing on the veranda you could see across the straits and see a very small island called Mari gallant (sp). The inside of the house was mostly wood but one room was made of cement so it was always 2 or 3 degrees cooler in there, of course I made in the bedroom. There was about a 2 inch gap between the walls of the house and the roof and none of the interior wall met the ceiling. It looked something like cubicles you would see in an office building. The floor was made of wooden slats which could be pick up (they weren’t nailed down) to reveal the earth below. The floor was covered with a yellow and brown contact paper. The slats of the floor would bow if too many people were in the house. The house got loads of air and sunlight…and insects. The insects are thick in the jungle and loved the indoors. At night they are attracted to the light and will fly in unannounced. Huge green grasshoppers that looked like bright green leaves would fly in, stay for a while and leave. After a while you have to give in and stop chasing them out. You’ll be getting up every few minutes, like all the insects, they will leave when they are ready.
The house was decorated with pictures of the landlord’s family, pictures of people I didn’t know. Behind the frames that hung on the walls slept a society of gecko lizards. I had the most fortunate experience of observing these clever lizards, each night for 2 years. At night the lizards would awake from behind these picture frames and begin to hunt for insects that had attached them selves to the walls of the house. There was a light the jutted out of the wall that separated the bedroom from the living room. This was the best hunting ground for them so this is where all the action took place, only the toughest lizard could hold the spot on the wall as he had to defend it from many other challengers wanting to get in on the abundance of insects there. Each night the lizards would battle over this spot. The longest any one lizard could hold it was about 2 weeks before a bigger, badder lizard would wrest if from him.
Mosquito nets were mandatory if I was to get any sleep, my village had one of the highest mosquito indexes on the island. The mosquito net wards off more than mosquitoes. They gave me an overall feeling of security from any and all critters and lizard drppings that would fall from the rafters. One night I was up late and tired, I climbed under the mosquito net and into bed. It wasn’t long before I was up again because I though I felt something. I got up and turned on the light only to find my bed covered in termites. there must have been close to 500 or 600 hundred of them coming up through the floor, up the bedpost and onto the mattress, they were walking in trails like ants across the mattress and I had been laying on them in my boxers for a few minutes before I convinced my tired self to get up and investigate this very subtle but strange sensation. They were stuck allover me.
The house had a small kitchen with all cement counters. There was running water that was pumped straight from a near by river. Small tree frogs would climb through the pipe and into the house. There would be a new one almost every morning but hey would soon leave, some died and would only be discovered when cleaning. I would place the tiny fragile skeletons on the windowsill along with the lizards who had perished in the house. Because the island is a rain forest it rains a lot. Rain hitting a corrugated steel roof sounds like a train until its sudden stop and then perfect silence.
Across the footpath that lay in front of my house was a banana field. The island had a population of pythons that for the most part would stay in the jungle and out of the villages. Apparently one was crossing the dirt path in the daylight when it was happened upon by a farmer who hacked it with a machete. He left its incredibly large dead corps where he had killed it; in front of my house. That day I was expecting a man from the electric company to come by to check my power. He saw the snake and urged me to move it. If I left it there he explained that as it decomposed the stench would be unbearable for about 10days while the snake rotted in the hot sun. Together we used large sticks to cradle the snake’s body. The plan was to toss the body over the cliff and into the ocean below, but as we tossed the snake, it got caught up in some branches that grow out of the cliff face. The snake just hung there only 20 or so feet from my house. We couldn’t move it because of how it was situated on the cliff face so we had to leave it and as the man warned, for the next ten days as the snake decomposed, an indescribable stench wafted through my house. A stench that could not be ignored.
Just a few thoughts on my house. I lived in this house for most of my two years on the island. Just after, the house was torn down and rebuilt using no wood, only concrete. That will always be my favorite house..
Erik D. Gonzales, Dominica 00-02