St Helena Online

Tag: Doreen Gatien

‘No lost souls on our island of free spirits’

Writer Neels Blom raised hackles by describing St Helena as an island of lost souls – a reference to a film title. “Most younger Saints either leave the island, or want to leave,” he wrote in his article on the building of the island’s airport. “Those who can, leave. The others, those who are unlikely ever to afford an air ticket off the island, or passage aboard the RMS, and who are unlikely to gain much from repatriated hospitality profits, must accept the largesse of its colonial owner – or perish. For many, St Helena is indeed The Island of Lost Souls.” DOREEN GATIEN, who left for a new life in America, sees things differently:

Doreen Gatien
Doreen Gatien

I do not believe that the majority of people at home on St Helena Island feel as though they are “lost souls.” I am always reminded of the fact that what one does not know exists, one cannot miss. However there are many who have “been there, done that” and no longer desire to be a part of “that.” Certainly there are some people who have never left the island and who may simply wonder what it would be like to leave and explore greener pastures, but there are also those who have no desire to leave at all. For example my second eldest sister had no desire at all to leave home and then just last year, when her sister planned a trip to Cape Town, that sister, at the age of 60, decided that seeing she would have some company on board, she would also take a trip.

Many who visit my island and later write about it and its people, seem to write with heavy hearts because the islanders are “poor” or “many will not be able to afford to leave”. I marvel at how the thought that plenty equals happiness has messed up the lives and thoughts of mankind.

The majority of Saints still living at home are pretty contented to be living where they live right now and I bet many would not be reluctant to report that they do not feel half as “lost” as our ancestors did. At least, this is what I have been told by many.

I believe the majority of my fellow islanders would not be reluctant to report that their homeland is the safest and happiest place to live. Look at the misery of the world outside!

Growing up in St Helena, life was marvellous. We lost our father when I was eight years old, but we had a loving mother who worked really hard for us, and I can never remember being naked, hungry, or feeling poor.

Definition: POOR – having little or no money, goods or other means of support.

This certainly couldn’t be the Saints of today because last time I visited home there were more cars than people; I heard cars are being imported with every ship.

I don’t ever remember anyone at home being hungry or naked. So what if we were a little short of money! Not one time did I ever feel poor, even if we were. Not with second helpings at dinner time, hot porridge for breakfast, “hard cake” for tea every Sunday, lots of boyfriends, lots of girlfriends, single mum, two pregnancies – yes sir – churchgoer, nursing at the only hospital on the island, being able to hike around the island on my days off without fear of kidnap, rape or murder… phew – what a life!

Despite not having what the outside world calls “necessities” the Saints are very strong, and persevering, and if there is a “lack” with a family or in the community, people are always willing to share. Did situations and the Saints change in comparison to my memories?

So why did you leave, one might ask? I was given two options: get married and leave, or accept nurse training abroad. I accepted the former, much to the dismay of my matron, Miss Katie Kershaw. Did I leave because I felt poor? Absolutely not! I had worked since the age of 15. If my fellow Saints feel poor, they they do so because outside sources tell them they are.

Definition: Poor – poor little rich boy (or girl); wealthy person whose money brings them no contentment.

Be of good cheer my Saints! Everything will not be perfect in this world. There will always be injustices and unfairness. Look forward to your airport with great eagerness. And remember, we are not lost souls, no matter how or where our ancestors were dumped off. We are sweet souls! And always will be.

Read Neels Blom’s original article here:

Simplicity makes Ladder Hill life so beautiful, writes Doreen

Boy running, Ladder Hill Barracks. Picture by Guy Gatien
Jordan Stevens running at Ladder Hill Barracks. Click the pic to see more of Guy Gatien’s pictures

Doreen Gatien 100People living in Ladder Hill Fort have been warned they may have to move out in two years, to make way for a hotel. Writer DOREEN GATIEN, now living in California, cherishes her memories of a barracks childhood. Click here to see a gallery

The headlines coming out of my beautiful island are not very warm and fuzzy. Airport dust is one thing, the introduction of mobile phones is another; the diabetes crisis is shocking.

But to hear that the Ladder Hill Barracks community will have to leave is very regrettable.

At the barracks, in the before days
At the barracks, in the before days

I have barely heard more than a whisper, so I am unable to sense how my fellow Saints feel about all of the changes. I just know that when I sit quietly and think about them, I feel pretty sad.

Why are the Ladder Hill community homes described as “poor-condition”? Is it because some of the people still light a geezer for bath water? Or because there is no front door parking or two-car-garage homes?

Not having all of this is what makes living in Ladder Hill beautiful. My family and I grew up there and will always be so very grateful for it.

My mother has lived there for over 55 years. She was the cook at the Government guest house, Signal House, just around the corner.

She is the oldest person there, and has really felt a sense of belonging, sharing in neighbours’ joys and sorrows, and them sharing in hers.

Child of the barracks
Santara, Marjorie’s neighbor

She lives in what one of our friends from England, who dropped by one day when I was visiting at home, called “a beautiful little cottage.”

Why does Andy Crowe, the housing executive, have to “assure the community” that they will get something “new and better?” Why would the Ladder Hill community want “somewhere better” to live, or “something new and better?”

The very reason for wanting to build a luxury hotel in the historic Ladder Hill Barracks is the same reason why it will be a day of great sadness for those who are forced to leave.

For all, there are fond memories of being able to stand at the top of Jacob’s Ladder with tourists climbing the 699 steps and collapsing at the top; memories of the war cannons sitting on the edge of the cliff, the war tunnels, the forts, the Colonnade with its long stretch of storerooms, Secondary Selective School, the telephone exchange, Signal House.

My mother is elderly, but still has the courage to live alone. But I know that with her cheerful and contented spirit, wanting something different is the least thing on her mind, which is why she still lives at Ladder Hill Barracks today.

Picture gallery: Ladder Hill Fort, then and now
Hotel plan means ‘better homes’ for Ladder Hill Fort tenants

Doreen Gatien with her aunt and mother
Mum, Doreen and Esme waiting for the world to go by. Click the pic to see more of Guy Gatien’s pictures

A Saint in America – and the excitement of the US election

The re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America will affect a few St Helenians more than most. DOREEN GATIEN – formerly Doreen Peters – is one of a small number of Saints living in America. She has sent a personal election night dispatch from her home in California.

I am a Saint Helenian, and I have lived in the United States of America since 1986. I am a Resident Alien and not an American citizen. This means that I have every other right that an American citizen does, except the right to vote. However, I too have felt the stress of the many months of the most amazing Presidential race ever.

As I write I am watching the voting results and having a cup of tea and a slice of vegan cake. My husband reminded me he had also made some cookies, so I added this to my election treat. Believe me, I don’t always eat so badly.

Wow! To think I am privileged to live in such an amazing country as the United States of America, where problems of many kinds exist, but where freedom rings!

The number of my fellow islanders living in this country are about as many as the fingers on my hand. On the way home from work this evening I called Debbie in Washington DC. She is a fellow islander and also not an American citizen. Debbie and I were nurses together at the only hospital in our homeland.

I mentioned how would we never imagined more than twenty years ago that together in 2012 we would seem almost like a team again; the only difference this time is we share it long distance. How would we have dreamt we would be sharing and living through the months, weeks, days and moments of the most stressful and bitter American presidential race ever, at least since we have lived here?

The television networks  just now announced the re-election of President Obama. Months and months of planning being repaid. I yelled in delight on my patio for the neighbourhood to hear. The Race has ended!

Governor Romney just spoke and his words were very calm and gracious. I actually felt some tears run down my face as I saw his sadness and disappointment; this is how I am, no matter whose team I am on; let’s admit it, this could not have been easy. It has been brutal.

Now I am waiting on another speech, the most important one of the night. Crowds and more crowds are also waiting at the President’s headquarters in Chicago, with smiling faces and American flags being tossed from side to side. I doubt any of those in waiting are sipping Rooibos tea!

Why did I put so much energy into a process that I cannot be legally involved in? Because when you have lived in the most powerful country in the world for this long, you cannot help but feel the American spirit at its best. Even when the ride is brutal.

Congratulations President Obama. You deserve another four years. And God bless America!

Editor’s note: some readers may notice that this piece is not completely impartial. St Helena Online would still have run it, even had it been from a Romney supporter. Governor Romney is welcome to submit a response.