The tiny Caribbean island nation of Dominica (pop. 73,000) has an identity problem. Often confused for the Dominican Republic, and with its banana-dependent economy shaky at best, it sets an unusual goal to make a mark on the global stage—qualify for the World Cup soccer tournament finals.
Can the Jamaican bobsled team become The Mouse That Roared?
There is not much of a chance until its wily, imported Italian coach discovers secret weapons—a trio of overlooked, local teenagers. Two—Pato and Tato—just happen to be identical twins whose complementary skills make them difficult to defend. The third, Bluto, possesses a kick that could stun a charging rhino.
Dominica’s route will be full of hazards. Rival Caribbean national teams, seasoned superstars, and a US squad with every possible advantage have their own goals to accomplish. Much is at stake, but success in international soccer will solve many problems for this tiny island nation that unites in the effort.
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By Mike Conklin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Mike Conklin
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Whoops ! Wrong island
On the January day an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, the first jolt was followed by at least 52 aftershocks, killed an estimated 300,000 persons, injured another 300,000, and left 1 million homeless. Not exactly a twister in Kansas.
The quake sent newspaper and TV editors in the United States scrambling to atlases and Wikipedia. They needed a quick fix on Haiti's vital statistics and location. This was to brief journalists assigned to the scene.
First, transportation was arranged. Then, in the case of TV, interns got sent to purchase Columbia Sportswear field jackets for reporters to wear while doing on-camera stand-ups.
The background information gathered by these TV news producers also would be used to assemble fancy, color-coded charts for the next news cycle. Editors love graphics; anything to make the story simpler and reduce the need for written words.
In the news business, Rand McNally moments like this cause everyone to wet their pants.
More than a few geography-challenged editors were startled to discover Haiti shared an island named Hispaniola with the more familiar Dominican Republic. Many knew of the Dominican Republic, or D.R., but that was only because it produced many Major League Baseball players and was a trendy winter resort destination.
Hispaniola is about 700 miles southeast of Miami in the Caribbean Ocean. If anyone traced their finger another 200 miles or so southeast, they can find a country called Dominica, a tiny island nation of less than 100,000 residents and seemingly had no connection to Haiti's earthquake.
Dominica, Dominican Republic. They are not related.
Though it gets confused for the Dominican Republic, and Major League Baseball scouts occasionally mistakenly fly there, Dominica never produced an athlete of note anywhere or anytime. As a vacation spot, it is known mostly as a one-day stop for cruise ships.
In at least two U.S. newsrooms, MSNBC and the Baltimore Sun, assignment editors in their rush to get reporters to the scene confused the two nations. Thinking the best way to Haiti was through Hispaniola Island's backdoor neighbor, the Dominican Republic, flights mistakenly got booked to Dominica.
This came as a great surprise to reporters and film crews, who got off trunk flights from Miami and San Juan and found themselves on the wrong island.
Since they were on generous expense accounts, this normally would not have bothered them. However, because they had no hotel reservations---and Dominica's important tourist season was in full swing, they had to sleep on hastily-provided cots in the airport before catching the daily flight off the island the next day.
There was more Haiti-related mistaken identity.
A week later, an airplane full of relief supplies from the United Nations headed for Haiti via the Dominican Republic erroneously landed in Dominica's airport to the confusion of both the flight's navigator, a Swede who'd never before plotted a course in the Caribbean, and the night manager of the airport, who---for the life of him---could not figure why the U.N. was sending great quantities of plasma, bandages, and aspirin to his tiny country.
Had one of Dominica's long, silent volcanoes erupted without anyone telling him?
This was followed two days later by another flight intended for the Dominican Republic. This second off-course airplane was chartered by Evangelical Christians from North Dakota. They wanted to help beleaguered Haitians and save souls.
When clearance was finally gained to proceed to Port-au-Prince following a 48-hour stay, two members of this group were having such a good time in the casinos of Roseau, the capitol city, they missed the flight.
In the end, the Haitian earthquake simply added a fresh chapter in an ongoing saga of mistaken identities perpetrated on Dominica by the geography-challenged. The two nations are not exactly twins, but the locals are pretty much resigned to this confusion.
Dominica is tiny, about 290 square miles compared to the Dominican Republic's 18,800 square miles. Dominica has a population of 70,000, with the Dominican Republic at 9.7 million.
The largest city in Dominica is Roseau at 15,000 residents while Santo Domingo, at 3.1 million, is the largest in the Dominican Republic.
We're talking Vermont and California here.
A Dominica government economist once computed that being mistaken for the Dominican Republic actually was a plus for the local economy when income from airport taxes for mistaken landings, unscheduled overnight stays, and meals consumed by confused visitors---the Evangelicals from North Dakota, say---got factored into the equation.
The economist estimated that this contributed approximately 3% to Dominica's GNP, which, on his pie chart, he labeled under "other."
As a bona fide, ex-pat resident in Dominica, over time I became less embarrassed by my fellow Americans. Mostly, I am amused and keep a journal that someday I'll turn into a book.
Aside from the occasional hurricane and rainy season, I found the island nation a very agreeable place to live when I moved to Roseau two years before the earthquake. For starters, the tax structure is friendly for non-residents and there are some very congenial banks for storing money.
Certainly it is not crowded. The tiny island nation has great tropical forests and mountains. The water is clear and blue. The second-largest city is Portsmouth with 2,700 residents. And, English is the primary language.
The country is said to have more centenarians per capita than any nation tracked by the United Nations. Nearly 80 per cent of the mostly African-rooted population belongs to the Catholic Church, which basically runs the schools. The island nation is divided into 10 parishes.
Dominica could use help, of course.
Though the government is stable, the economy is weak.
It depends on tourism, which mostly comes from luxury liners docking in Roseau. For years it got rich off its banana crops, but that took a hit in recent years and is a struggling industry controlled mercilessly by bloodless, outside hedge funds.
You can thank American and European market manipulation for that one. There is much resentment among residents.
The population is shrinking by about one per cent annually because of emigration.
I knew none of the above before I moved to Roseau. Now, I think I could be elected president of Dominica after my big adventure.CHAPTER 2
Everyone recalls receiving career advice at some point in their life, whether they took it or not. When I, Beck Martin, left my last steady job nearly 10 years or so ago in Chicago, everyone gave me the benefit of their wisdom.
"So what's your next trick, Beck?" asked Carl Stokes, my best pal and fellow sportswriter at the last newspaper where I worked. "You're too old to join the Navy and see the world. Well, maybe you're not too old to see the world. ... but you better hurry."
My farewell party at a neighborhood tavern, or what I recall of it, was a modest event to celebrate my buyout. The modesty matched my severance package that I hoped could sustain me for a year. I travel light.
On the other hand, my departure pre-dated the wholesale layoffs a year later at my Chicago newspaper. There were so many people walking out the door by then, farewell parties were being held every Friday, sometimes twice a day.
"I'm getting a sugar-high from all the cake," one ex-colleague e-mailed me.
Though it's been a while and memory fades, Carl's question---what are you going to do now?---quickly became my farewell party's theme.
My friends, colleagues, and teammates with the amateur soccer team I played on, kept telling me all night they'd like to be in my position-one ex-wife, no kids, no alimony, a lease about to expire, and no real Windy City attachments.
Also, if I headed south, no cold weather. Why not ?
Almost 20 years as a feature writer and sports columnist on newspapers in Seattle, then Chicago definitely left me at a crossroads.
I could scramble for another job, maybe even try PR---every journalist's fallback position, or I could go see a little of the world and, for a change, stop battling deadlines and, as a bonus, cold weather.
My response to everyone that night was simple: "Have laptop, will work for food."
Actually, one idea had been rattling in my brain for a long time: A cross-country golf expedition that I could write about and turn into a coffee-table size book loaded with pictures.
The concept was simple.
Every day, starting somewhere on the East Coast, I'd work my way to the West Coast playing only municipal golf courses along the way. I stay in motels, play a local layout, and drive to the next town, where I'd get up and look for another course the next morning.
My title would be: Follow The Bouncing (Golf) Ball.
Now, as I look back, I am glad I followed the encouragement to hit the road. Since it was Chicago in the winter, this was not a difficult choice. My immediate thought turned to the South or Southwest where I could tune my golf game.
I had no clue then that "Follow The Bouncing Soccer Ball" would be a better title for any book by me.CHAPTER 3
Where's Johnny Depp?
Let's fast forward from Chicago and the farewell party.
After spending one month freeloading with friends on Siesta Key in Florida's west coast and two more months house-sitting an old college buddy's condo on Singer Island on Florida's east coast, I was golfed out, tired of pushing aside tiny, plastic palm trees in my drinks, and restless.
Never thought this would happen. Did I mention journalists typically suffer from Attention Deficit Syndrome? It's true.
No longer interested in writing a book, I managed to stay busy for a news-feature service writing travel articles about Caribbean islands.
The focus: Vacation spots most overlooked by tourists, almost a direct path to Dominica---not only overlooked, but confused for someplace else.
And for the record, it is pronounced dom-i-NEE'-ka.
In Latin the name means "Sunday", which was the day of its discovery by Christopher Columbus. It is said that if Columbus retraced his steps on that first trip to America, the only place he'd still recognize is Dominica. Or at least that is what I read in the New York Times' travel section, which these days counts for deep research in the newspaper business.
Unlike most islands Columbus saw on that voyage, Dominica's volcanic origins mean it does not have sandy, white beaches. This means cruise ships do not linger when they dock. There are, however, craggy mountains and dense jungles on the 364-square mile island and it is a birders' paradise. Who knew?
Rumor has it Steven Spielberg considered Dominica to shoot "Jurassic Park" before Costa Ricans got his attention with all sorts of tax dodges and other incentives.
Dominica did get used for some location shooting in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," the sequel to the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" with Johnny Depp. But there were no Depp sightings on the island.
Sadly, when the movie came out and excited Dominicans lined up for its premier in Roseau's lone movie house, the Strand, there weren't even sightings of Dominica in the film. Apparently, Dominica got left on the cutting-room floor.
This was a great disappointment to just about everyone, except the proprietor of Roseau's Sunset Bay Hotel. He got a $39,000 payday when an advance crew from Hollywood scouting locations rented his facility for a week.
What Dominica does have is this: A nice, quiet lifestyle with a peaceful, relatively prosperous, English-speaking citizenry quite content, for the most part, to watch the world---and Christopher Columbus and Johnny Depp---pass by like so many puffy clouds in the Caribbean sky.
If I were to get a sports fill, it would have to be on the Internet. I couldn't find a passable golf course on the island, and the beaches weren't big enough for volleyball. There was a national stadium seating 25,000 or so spectators, but soccer, my favorite when I arrived, was a distant No. 2 sport behind cricket.
On that first day I landed in Dominica to write a travel article, carnival, or Mas Domnik as it is called here, was underway on the island.
Mas Domnik does not compare to Carnival in Rio nor Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is small, but it is mighty. Furthermore, festivities last a month. All sorts of colorful, energetic events erupt on weekends, almost all of which start and conclude with calypso dancing in Roseau's city central.
I highly recommend carnival in Dominica.
On the other hand, unless you are on a cruise ship docked in Roseau's harbor, this is not a good time to arrive. Shops close, innkeepers hang "gone to lunch signs" on doors, and, more important for me, taxi drivers become scarce.
The only U.S. city from which to get a flight is Miami, and then it is not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump. You land on several Caribbean islands before setting down here as the regional airlines make their loops.
The island's lone, commercial airport is called Melville Hall Airport and I have no idea of its namesake's identity. This is on the island's only surface flat enough to accommodate airstrips long enough for big jets to land.
You cannot miss the mountainous terrain because, until recently, night flights were not allowed until radar was installed. There is nothing quite like making a landing in a valley between two mountains during a thunderstorm, which by now I have done numerous times.
"Don't worry," the booking agent assured me in Miami before my first trip. "It's not a problem. Just close your eyes." She meant it as a joke. I did not laugh.
All of the above might not be so bad except that Melville Hall is on the northeast corner of the island. Roseau, where I had booked 10 days in a room in a guest house, is on the southwest corner more than 90 minutes away on roadways with many potholes and occasional livestock.
Apparently every cabbie in the country was doing the calypso in Roseau when I arrived. None were at the airport to greet the daily flight.
It was not exactly riding an ox cart, but I managed to bum a ride into town with Henry in a pickup truck. He was an airport baggage handler who had just punched out and was in a hurry to get to the Roseau festivities.
Despite getting bogged down by revelers in the streets, which meant using a few alleys and back streets, my ride dropped me at the door of the Coconut House Guest Inn. I could not retrace his route if I tried.
Amazingly, Henry, a friendly guy, would not accept any payment from me. Quite possibly it was at that exact moment I began to get good vibes about the island.
"You will like this place to stay, man," Henry said. "You did good to pick it out. Momma Bass, she is very good for visitors new to Roseau. Listen to what she says."
Little did I know my Coconut House stay would last much longer than planned. It would become my new home away from home (wherever that was at the time), a place for scheming and planning that would reach all the way to the highest reaches of international soccer.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The Coconut was seven blocks off the center city, up one of the city's steep hills that slope into the bay. Momma, a matronly sort with a husband (I think) who'd apparently disappeared years ago (I never asked) was there to greet me (sort of).
She gave me 45 seconds of instructions, handed over a set of keys, and, as she hurried out the door, her parting words were: "Get to carnival, young man. That's where I'm going."
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.CHAPTER 5
It did not take long for me to get settled in Roseau. This was the island's largest city, but, at 15,000 or so residents, it had to be one of the smallest capitols in the world.
Almost every resident had a wonderful view of the Caribbean since there were no tall buildings on the layered blocks leading to the ocean. The main commercial area was strung on one side of the street that was adjacent and parallel with the shoreline and docks.
Roseau's pace, I soon learned, was cozy, warm, and friendly like Henry. This was interrupted daily by several hours of frenzy when cruise ships docked and tourists took to the streets. Watching the visitors was a major pastime for locals.
A favorite spot for locals to observe everything was Rituals, a coffee shop and bakery four blocks up the hill from the waterfront and next to the market plaza. There was a busy front patio with tables that were occupied every day except in rainy season.
Excerpted from Goal Fever! by Mike Conklin. Copyright © 2016 Mike Conklin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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