Montserrat is one of those islands in the Caribbean where some people are still likely to ask, “do people still live there?”
That’s because most of the island had been badly devastated by its Soufriere Hills volcano which began erupting in July of 1995 and is only now beginning to quiet from ensuing years of smoldering, duelling ashy dance with death.
The volcano has quieted considerably since those intervening years of dome growth and collapse, of pyroclastic flows, mud flows; of villages being buried fathoms deep, valleys being leveled off to look like football fields and new deltas being created along the coastlines that are now ringed with black sand beaches that encircle the island like ebony jewels.
And what of the original twelve thousand inhabitants, two thirds of whom had to flee their homes seeking shelter in neighboring islands and further afield in North America and Europe?
Well presently some four and a half thousand are still on the island, determined to rebuild their homes in the northern third of the British Overseas territory. The resilient islanders have taken the challenges in stride and are working with nationals who have come in from neighboring islands as well as consultants and other technical teams from the United Kingdom and elsewhere to build a new town and reestablish infrastructure such as roads, a new airport, new homes, new communities mostly funded by Britain and the European Union.
The inhabitants consider themselves to be the custodians of an island that still has much to offer those who come to see how they are coping.
There are still the verdant, green center hills where the Montserrat Oriole, (Icterus Oberi), the island's National bird resides alongside other bird species and the National flower, the Heliconia, where the Oriole makes its nest. There's other flora and fauna too and memorable sites that would leave one breathless, speechless and humbled at what nature can do, at its worst and best.
The islands former capital, now a waste land of sand, stone and rubble must be seen in order to fully understand. The island's volcano in the south soufriere hills must be seen, stark, steaming, smoking, with giant scars on its flanks and not a blade of grass any where near it.
And yes, many miles away, to the north, one must meet the people, hear their story of survival of renewal; men, women and children, their sense of humor intact as they bravely work to regain their livelihoods, their dignity, their spirit renewed, strong in the knowledge that things will get better and that every day brings with it hope for a better future.