Martin Lander has two Christmas wishes.
“I hope the country will rebuild and that nature will come back to what it was before,” Lander says of hurricane-ravaged Dominica, an island which he has called home for all of his 53 years.
"I know it will take some time. But, I hope everything gets back to normal as soon as possible. Dominica was a very lush and green country but it is no longer like that.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in September, Lander decided to leave the once idyllic island and seek refuge at the home of his brother, Albert, at Nicole Terrace, Maracas Valley, St Joseph.
Today, three months later, Lander is grateful to be spending time in Trinidad with his two sons, Willem and Brandon.
Willem lives in Martinique but Brandon, who is studying in Barbados, was in Dominica when Maria hit.
“My sons are visiting me and I am grateful to have them here for the season.”
Lander thanked Albert for allowing him to stay at his home as Dominica slowly rebuilds. His brother took him in before Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s appeal for citizens to assist Dominicans who had been affected by the hurricane.
“We get along very well and I am very grateful.”
However, he admitted to being homesick.
"Normally, I am home in Dominica with other members of the family for Christmas. And although I am comfortable here, it is not my normal surroundings. It is not my home and what I am used to.”
Lander said Christmas Day will be spent with Albert’s family, relatives and friends.
“We will cook, eat and be merry.”
He observed, though, the gaiety of the celebration in TT contrasts sharply with the disillusionment which is still being felt among many Dominicans.
The flood waters which accompanied Hurricane Maria swept through Lander’s house at Check Hall Valley, on Dominica’s west coast, destroying almost all of his possessions, including appliances and family mementos. He said it was difficult to put a price tag on his losses. The roadway to his home also washed away in the Category Five storm.
Before disaster struck, Lander had managed to seek shelter at the home of his sister at Check Hall on the Hill, some distance away. Little did he know that her home, too, would fall prey to Maria’s wrath.
The hurricane started around 8 pm on September 19 and by midnight, the roof of his sister’s house was blown off.
“We went downstairs to a laundry room and stayed there during the eye of the hurricane, two of my sons, my nephew, his wife ad two kids. We spent three and a half hours in that area until the hurricane subsided.”
A senior tour guide at Dominica’s Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours (KHATTS), Lander said he will never forget the experience.
“It was really heartbreaking, like you go to sleep with everything normal - trees and power lines - and next morning you wake up and everything is in shambles.
“There were telephone poles falling over and there was no electricity. Almost everybody lost their roofs.”
Lander said the island’s landscape also took a beating.
"The green that you normally see around was all gone. It was all just brown.”
He said while there has been some progress, much work still needed to be done.
“From what I have heard, about 80 per cent of the island has no electricity and I think there is water supply to about 70 per cent of the island.”
Lander said apart from agriculture and tourism, the island’s infrastructure was in shambles.
“A lot of the infrastructure has been destroyed in terms off hotels, guest houses, electricity. Access to some of the sights have been interrupted.”
Lander said many Dominicans have sought work in other countries because of unemployment.
He said the onus was on young Dominicans to help restore the island to its former grandeur.
“I think a lot of younger folks must now pick up the hammers and nails and do stuff.”
Lander recalled that as a young man, he was called upon to assist in recovery efforts in neighbouring Montserrat after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1990.
“So, I have done my fair share of rebuilding but there are a lot of young guys who could put their hands together to help rebuild the island.”
Asked how long he intended to stay in Trinidad, Lander said: “I intend to go back in January to do some stuff and depending on what it looks like I will come back. I am very comfortable here.”
Lander said Trinidadians and Dominicans have always gotten along very well.
“In my line of work I have met a lot of Trinidadians in Dominica and after coming here since the 1980s I have gotten to know Trinidad pretty well and have quite a few friends who have been to my home.”