Word of mouth (May/June 2015)

Tropical beauty at Dominica’s annual flower show, and going the distance at the Rainbow Cup Triathlon

Photograph by Paul CraskPhotograph courtesy www.rainbowtri.com

The flower ladies

Paul Crask explores his neighbours’ colourful gardens as they prepare for Dominica’s annual Flower Show

Stephanie Royer tells me she can’t make it right to the top of her golden apple tree anymore, because she tends to come over a bit woozy. I feel rather light-headed just thinking about it. She’s seventy, though you’d never believe it as she strides effortlessly, machete in hand, up the steep muddy tracks of her terraced flower and vegetable plots, leaving me breathless in her wake. President of Dominica’s Giraudel and Eggleston Flower Growers Group for ten years, Stephanie cultivates flowers and sells arrangements for a living. Ambling around her elongated hillside garden of anthuriums, heliconias, ginger lilies, and rambling passionflowers, she says it’s high time someone else took charge. Organising fundraising events, overseeing enhancements to the Giraudel Flower House and Gardens, and putting on the annual Flower Show — which runs from 2 to 6 May this year — are such time-consuming activities that she’s about ready to hang up her secateurs.

One contender for the role may be committee member Victoria Giraudel, whose one-acre cottage garden is bursting at the seams with sprays of colourful horticulture. Every inch, it seems, is inhabited by wildflowers, trees, and shrubs. A huddle of bottle plants catches my eye, and, as we stand chatting, they discharge their seed pods like corks popping from miniature Champagne bottles. Strolling between beds of pentas, azalea, agapanthus, and amaryllis, she pulls up occasional weeds from around celosia, fragrant tuberose, and star of Bethlehem. Begonias and caladium stretch long necks to the light, and salmon pink mussaenda blossoms, gloriosa lilies, and pandanus contribute to what is already a breathtaking backdrop of forest-covered mountain peaks and the Caribbean Sea.

This year’s flower show theme is “Love in Bloom,” Elizabeth Alfred informs me, as we meander the narrow pathways of her mature hillside garden. Like Stephanie and Victoria, Elizabeth and her sister Cybil are also members of the Flower Growers Group, and earn a living from the sale of cut flowers and arrangements. Operating on a much larger scale, their garden has also become a tourist attraction, and in the high season they host bus-loads of green-fingered cruise ship visitors. I tag along with a group who gawp wide-eyed at this visual feast and hang on Elizabeth’s every word, as she enchants them with snippets of homespun life in a Caribbean garden.

Giraudel and Eggleston are known by Nature Islanders as the “flower villages,” because they have supplied cut flower arrangements to both businesses and residents of Dominica’s capital, Roseau, for generations. Planted on the side of the Morne Anglais volcano, the villages look down on the town from a vertiginous height. The Flower Growers Group, born from a women-in-agriculture movement, has few male members, though neighbours and nephews are all dragged into the fray in the frenetic weeks of preparations before the show opens. Stephanie, Victoria, Elizabeth, and Cybil coordinate activities, and despite the good intentions of early meetings, everything always happens at the last minute. It is customary this way, it seems, but miraculously it all gets finished in time for the pomp and protocol of the opening ceremony. Were it not for the love affair between the ladies and their delicate blooms, I wonder if any of this would ever endure. Indeed, the tremendous array of plants and flowers used for the show’s creative displays all come from the their own backyards. It’s a personal sacrifice that usually goes unnoticed and unmentioned.

“There should be more plants for sale this year,” Stephanie muses, as we share an old sofa on her porch, drinking sorrel and enjoying the sea view. “So we might be able to make a little money back this time.”

 

Go the distance

The sport of triathlon, with its run-swim-ride combination, is not the for faint-hearted. But Sue Ann Barratt discovers that even an asthmatic competitor can experience the thrill of victory — and the cheers of onlookers — at Tobago’s Rainbow Cup race

Hhughh, hhughh . . . I gasp for air as I make my way through the run leg of the triathlon. I ask myself, why am I doing this again? No answer comes to mind as I contemplate the finish on this last leg of the race, broiling from within under the blazing Tobago sun. The only thing clear to me is that I must keep moving, must not give up, must cross the finish line.

In 2011, I joined the sport of triathlon, jumping in head-first with the Rainbow Warriors club. I was slow but determined, acquiring skill, “bad mind,” and flair. It was a welcome respite from the constant mental and emotional stress that came with completing a PhD thesis. I now had the opportunity to work my body in ways I had never done before. I knew I wouldn’t be competitive, being overweight and struggling to control cough-variant and exercise-induced asthma, but I didn’t care — I could now get out of my head, and enjoy the relaxed, fun, family atmosphere with just enough competitiveness mixed in to build motivation and excitement.

I was open to every event, and I didn’t mind coming in dead last — I was joyful at the finish. My first experience at the Rainbow Cup Olympic Distance Triathlon in Tobago was a moment of self-actualisation. Was I nervous? Oh, yes! But from the reception at the start to the after-party, I knew I could do “me” in a space that facilitated any athlete, from the most competitive to determined participants like myself.

Then, the following year, I decided to up the ante. I knew that my lungs would not allow me to pick up the pace, but I also knew I had the strength to go longer. My past experience at Rainbow Cup had given me confidence and a zeal for battle. It was a battle indeed. Coming out of the sea for the second lap of the 1,500-metre swim, a little voice said, “just stop.” But then I heard my friends, family, teammates, even strangers, calling out. “Go Sue, go Sue!” they screamed. How could I stop with such encouragement, even when the beach was near-empty, as most of the other racers had gone ahead of me? I had to go on, if not for me then for those who supported me with such dedication.

I had to go on when I jumped on the bike for eight laps, legs trembling and already exhausted, and I heard leading athletes urging me on: “Just keep going, you looking strong.” I just couldn’t quit when a male spectator told me on every lap that he was waiting for me, he wasn’t leaving until I was finished.

I gasped my way through the run leg — truly a walk for me, really — and I crossed that finish line, praising the Almighty for taking me through. With tears in my eyes, I didn’t care about cameras or a photo finish — I just felt my heart bursting, not so much from exertion, but with gratitude for the support I got along the way.

A lady came up to me at the end and told me she was impressed — a big woman like me in an unforgiving tri-suit facing the demons of body image, athletic challenge, and hot, hot sun. I thanked her, sitting cautiously to rest my aching body, and humbled by each person who passed and congratulated me. Then I found the energy to party the night away with a group of people who were living life on their own terms, and loving doing it. Once again Rainbow Cup was a true mind-body experience: the place, the people, the vibe, calling my name, forever urging me to “Go Sue, go!”

 

The 2015 Rainbow Cup Olympic Distance Triathlon takes place on 13 June at the Turtle Beach Heritage Park in Tobago. For more information, visit www.rainbowcuptobago.com