This is our new friend Georgi. Her real name was Georgina, but everyone on the island refers to her simply as Georgi. Georgi was our tour guide on our tour of the island country of Dominica. She was the sweetest lady with the most beautiful soul, and loved the island she called home very much. She greatly enjoyed telling us all she knew about it and her eyes would light up when you would ask her a question, to which she would answer with great excitement and detail.
Except for Maria.
Hurricane Maria had struck the island a year ago and had caused great devastation. The loss of property and life was devastating and so many on the island lost all they had. As she spoke of it, you could see tears start to well up in her eyes and you sensed immediately the sadness she had in her heart from her experience. She had lost much, but then again everyone on Dominica had.
Some had lost everything.
She spoke of one of her neighbors, watching in horror as the floodwaters from the mountain caused the Roseau River to wash his house out to sea, carrying with it his wife and children, mother and sister. Everything he owned and everyone he loved were gone in an instant, never to be seen again. He died a few days later she told us, simply because he could not bear the sorrow.
Regardless of this horrific event, she was remarkably optimistic and pleasant. She was thankful that the cruise ships had returned (she told us we were the first one of the season) and that her banana tree had started to bear fruit again, because all the trees had been destroyed in the storm and vendors were charging more than five dollars for bananas, something she said she refused to do. The overall feeling you got from her was pride and gratitude. It shone from her like a light, and it was so powerful that you could not help but feel it too.
Because of her contagious optimism, I began to look on this place with an entirely different perspective. Despite the devastation, I started to see the island for it’s beauty as we stopped at the local hot springs, gorgeous waterfalls and even visited a shrine erected in honor of a woman who had lived her whole life on the island for 127 years! Yes, the people of the island had been through hell, but despite this they were strong and determined and most of all, proud. Unless you were completely dead emotionally, you had no choice but to be effected by this tremendous amount of positive energy.
Without a doubt, the time spent with Georgi on the island of Dominica had a dramatic effect on me, to the point that I felt compelled to write about it now. Although I bought no souvenirs, I took away more from this visit than I had ever though I could:
Gratitude is the foundation that all positive energy is built from. These good people had lost so much, and have received so little help from the outside world, and yet they persevere it seems solely on their thankfulness of all they still have. From this gratitude springs all the other qualities needed to not only survive, but to thrive under such challenging circumstances. Pride, determination, and a sense of togetherness that they share in order to help each other rebuild their lives.
We have all lost things in our lives, and I realize that when tragedy strikes we need to grieve. Not only is it okay to do this, but it is imperative that we must! But at some point we need to put things in perspective, and realize that we still have much to be thankful for, and focus our hope for the future. For me, the mental image of that poor man watching the raging river wipe away his entire life in one instant, is etched in my brain forever. So until the day comes, that God forbid, I see everything I love destroyed in an instant, I intend to wake up each morning and take a second to show gratitude for all I have, right now in this moment, and at the same time be thankful for all the good things that are coming to me in the future. Georgi and Dominica taught me that being thankful for what you have now, and keeping hope for the future, gives you little time to regret the things you have lost in the past. It is impossible to keep moving forward if you are focused on what’s behind you.
At the end of our tour, Georgi told us that she is not paid by the tour company, but rather she was dependent on our generosity for compensation, and she would be grateful for any amount we felt we could afford. I gave her most of the cash I had in my wallet, and wish I had more to spare. Sure, a cynical person would think I got hustled and she probably lays that rap on anyone who gets suckered into that tour. If that’s true, then it was still worth it, because she must be the most convincing con-artist on the planet. Anyone who could fake that degree of sincerity deserves an academy award. Either way it doesn’t matter, because the amazing feeling I took away and the positive outlook it has given me was worth every penny. Georgi will never remember us, as she will no doubt give hundreds of travelers the same tour, but I will never forget her, and I will do my best to share the gift she gave to me with as many people I can.
Thank you Georgi, Muy Bien.