Mama and Me on Montserrat

written and illustrated by Jan Bester

My Mama is the best mama in the whole wide world and we live on the most beautiful island on earth.  Each morning we awake to the songs of the orioles perched on the branch of the old Flamboyant tree, outside our window.  Wake-up, wake-up, they call, another bright day is here.  The sun is shining and there is so much to see and do today.

Mama and I put on our favorite dresses, then share the juicy mangoes we picked yesterday and eat some johnny-cakes for breakfast.  Today is our special day.  I love these days we spend together.  We have many places to visit and I'm anxious to be on our way.  Mama holds my hand as we walk down the shaded lane to the road below.

The air is fresh and clean and fills my head with the sweet smell of jasmine.  Everywhere we go we can see the ocean.  It's like a great artist had painted these beautiful views especially for us -a canvas filled with so many different, radiant colors of blues and greens.

We stop along our way, close to the water's edge.  Derek Jones is out in his fishing boat this morning.  Maybe we will buy one of the fish he catches, later, when we get into town.  I hope he brings some nice red snapper, my favorite.

Coming from behind, we hear the clip-clop, clip-clop of a donkey's hooves.  It is our friend Daniel, riding Old Joe.  Daniel is carrying a long machete, so he must be on his way to cut some grasses to take back home for his cow and goats.  Mama and I wave to Daniel as he rounds the bend, close to a lush patch of tall, green grass.

As we walk on, I ask Mama to please tell me the old stories of Montserrat again. Taking my hand, she starts by asking me to imagine a huge volcano rising up from the bottom of the blue ocean, growing larger and larger, creating mountains and valleys from the hot lava and rocks from beneath the ocean's floor.  Then as time went by, trees and flowers began to grow and soon covered this tiny, little island in a  blanket of green, with rivers trickling down from the highest peaks,  twisting and turning until they reached the sea.  It was truly an island paradise.

The first people to see our island must have made their way up from the shores of  South America, many,  many years ago. History books may say that it was Christopher Columbus who discovered our island, but I think it was these first people, the Arawaks, who discovered our home. However, Columbus did give our island her name of Montserrat, when he spotted our island during his voyage in 1493, because it reminded him of another beautiful place, half way around the world, an Abby in Spain, called  Santa Maria De Montserrate. At that time the Caribs  were living here, after they had dominated and destroyed the peaceful Arawak people, who had  given Montserrat her first name, Alligonia. The Spanish did not settle here, but an Englishman, Thomas Warner, a Catholic, arrived years later, from our neighbor island of St. Kitts, colonizing the island for Great Britain.  Soon Catholics from other Caribbean countries, Ireland and Virginia,  made their way to Montserrat.

Mama points to the Montserrat Museum, part way up the hill, saying, this is where some of the artifacts and journals are kept and displayed for everyone to see. The museum is housed in an old sugar mill that had once been used to grind the sugar cane grown on our island.  This is a good place to visit and learn more about our ancestors and the people who contributed to make Montserrat so special.

As Mama talks of the times long ago, I see the old sugar mill in the distance. It stands all alone and quiet now, but it used to be a very busy part of one of our island's bustling sugar plantations. Mama tells me of the time, long ago, when all the fields were planted in sugarcane and about how the slaves worked day and night planting, harvesting, grinding and boiling the cane to make sugar, molasses and rum. It must have been very hard work.  During the seventeenth century Montserrat became a sugar and slave colony.

Sugar fortunes began to dwindle by the end of the next century because of  earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, and French raids on the island, and also because of some poor farming habits. The slaves were all freed in 1834 and with the loss of the slave labor, the plantations could not survive. Some landowners tried to replace the sugarcane crops  by planting limes and others tried growing cotton. Sea-Island cotton was made into very soft, fine material.  Now there are no more slaves and no more sugarcane. The fields once planted in sugarcane have grown over and large, beautiful green trees and ferns cover the land once again.

Just outside town, the gray-black metal of two old cannons shine in the morning sunlight. Several hundred years ago this quiet little island had its silence broken by the blasts of these big guns during the competition in containing the islands, planted in their fortune of sugarcane.  Montserrat was invaded several times  by the French and captured twice.  At the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, Montserrat was once again returned to Britain and today still remains a dependent territory of Britain.  Mama says that the English and the French both wanted our land and sailed across the ocean to fight and die in hopes of obtaining the fortunes of our island, but Montserrat will always be our home; its wonders lay deep within our hearts and souls.

As we round the bend in the road, the lines of red roof, stone and white buildings appear. People are gathered at the busy market square with their boxes of fruits and vegetables that they have brought to town to sell.  Everyone is happily talking and catching up on the latest news.  Close by, several teenagers are rhythmical tapping out a joyous  tune on their steel drums.  It makes me feel like dancing as my foot keeps time with the beat.

A tall white structure stands proudly across from the market square.  This is our country's War Memorial that honors all the people who were from Montserrat, that died in World War I and II.  Every year we have a ceremony and read their names and remember them in our hearts.

"Good morning, good morning", Mrs. Brambie calls across to us.  Mrs. Brambie is an old, dear friend of Mama's.  "Good morning Mrs. Brambie, how are you this fine day?"  Mrs. Brambie grows  pretty flowers and has brought several baskets filled with freshly cut hibiscus, periwinkle and cannas lilies to sell at the market today.  She and Mama talk.  Before we leave, Mama chooses a nice bouquet of colorful flowers from Mrs. Bramble's collection.  Mama also buys some bananas, a breadfruit, several sweet potatoes and six limes.  We will use the limes later today to make a good and refreshing punch.  We grow many different fruits and vegetables in our rich volcanic soil; melons, bananas, coconuts, christophenes, soursop, pawpaws, pineapples, passion fruits, mangoes, guavas, pumpkins, cabbages, sweet potatoes, lettuce and more.  They are all very good.

The sun is high in the sky when we notice Mrs. Tyler has her freezer filled with her cold, sweet ice cream.  Mama decides that we should try a dish of her latest batch of pineapple.  Mrs. Tyler makes all kinds of ice cream; coconut, soursop, pineapple, vanilla and chocolate.  The pineapple is real tasty.  It is so good and so cold, it cools me off with the first spoonful.

Now we are cooled and refreshed.

Mama looks up past the market square and sees that Derek has just tied off his boat and is unloading his catch.  Looks like today was a good day for fishing.  We finish our ice cream and head for the pier where Mama carefully picks out a large red snapper for dinner tonight.  Derek tells me to close my eyes and hold out my hand.  Surprise, he places about twenty shiny pink and greens shells in my open hands.  Oh, thank you.  They are so beautiful.  I put the shells in my pocket and think to myself, I'll string these shells and make a pretty necklace for Mama.  I thank Derek and we are on our way again.

It has been a  busy day.  We start our walk back towards home and say goodbye to our friends.  Before leaving town, we pause at the churchyard and Mama places the bouquet of flowers next to my grandma's headstone, as she softly says a little prayer.  Our church is called St. Anthony's.  It was built in 1636 and has survived many earthquakes and fires.  Inside are two silver communion plates and two chalices the freed slaves had given for an offering of thanks to God for their long awaited freedom.  I like going to church on Sunday mornings, singing the hymens and I get to wear the new white dress Mama made for me.  Sometimes after the service, all our relatives go to the beach for a picnic lunch and we have fun playing in the ocean.

Montserrat is beautiful and peaceful and a wonderful place to live.  Sometimes Mama tells me other stories of long ago and about the many people who have made our island their home.  Sometimes things were good and some were hard, but it has all come together to make our wonderful island so special.

As we walk up the hill, our neighbor greets us as she pauses from hanging her laundry out to dry in the warm breeze of the afternoon.  For awhile we sit in the shade of the Tamarind tree and talk with her and her daughter, Grace.  Grace shows us the baby chicks that were hatched a few days ago.  When we leave, they walk a short distance up the road with us to check on their goat, who is happily munching on a patch of tall, green grass.

Soon the road leads to our lane.  Mama turns to me, smiles and gives me a big warm hug.  I love her so much.  The sight of our home looks so welcoming, especially the cool, shaded porch.  I look to the green hills in the distance.  They climb so high that their tops are lost in a white veil of mist of midday clouds.  The moist air keeps the rain forest wet and green.  As the constant moisture trickles downward it forms streams that cascade over the tall ledge of stone to become a magnificent waterfalls.  I like to hike up into the hills and swim in the clear, refreshing pool under the falls.  Sometimes I go further up to the volcano to explore its hot, bubbling vents and look at all the strange colored rocks.  But now, it is good to be home.

Inside our cool house, I scrub the potatoes while Mama prepares the snapper to be baked along with rice and some peas we grew in our garden.  Mama smiles at me again and it makes me feel happy.  It has been a wonderful day.

Soon the moon and millions of twinkling stars will fill the night sky.  We sit silently and gather in the beauty that is all around us, as we watch the sun slowly slip away across the horizon and tonight we see the green flash from the setting sun.  The perfect end to the perfect day.

"Mama, someday I'm going to have a little girl and I'm going to tell her all the wonderful stories you have told to me, so she will know all about Montserrat too and the many reasons it is such a very special place ...But what makes it the most special, is you, Mama.  Thank you, Mama, I love you".


About the author/illustrator

Jan Bester enjoys writing children's stories and also painting scenes of the Caribbean, especially Montserrat. She has combined her love of the Caribbean, writing and painting in her "Mama and Me On Montserrat" stories. The beautiful Caribbean with the warmhearted people is where her heart will always be.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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