Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Uncomfortable in Her Tall Skin

     When nineteen-year old Sheryl enters holy matrimony, according to The Talking Palm: How the childhood storms of a young woman’s life remained hidden until a palm fruit started talking: she does so with a measure of low self-esteem. She thinks she is too tall. In fact, she is taller than her peers and as tall as her six-foot tall fiance. Sheryl does not like that. She does not want to be as tall as her fiancé. That makes her uncomfortable, especially because she grows up hearing and believing that girls should be shorter than men.
     But Sheryl has never fitted that man-woman height mold. To her, she has always towered over her peers. In fact, when she was younger, she felt so desperate, that she asked God to shorten her.
She now stands at the threshold of womanhood, and looks across her fiancé's face, not up at him. Sheryl is not happy about that because the ability to look up at the man, she thinks, is what makes a woman feel pretty, fragile and feminine. She goes into her wedding not feeling as feminine and pretty as her shorter girlfriends.
     The problem here is that teenager Sheryl has not yet learned that God, not culture, should be the source of her identity. If she discovers and believes whom God says she is and what He thinks of her, that knowledge is enough to ground her and build her up into a confident and powerful young woman.
     How do you think a young woman's dependence on societal norms of beauty can impact her sense of self and hence, her marriage?
Thank you.
Esther  Jno-Charles

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Your “Talking Palm Moment”

Hi Friends,
Sheryl is thirty-eight years, a mother of three and a student at Smith College in Northampton with a writing assignment that is due in a few days. She does not know what to write. Even though lots of ideas spin through her mind, they seem irrelevant and uninteresting. The fact that her assignment is based on her childhood experiences does not necessarily help her.  
Sheryl is in trouble. She may not be able to submit her homework on time. Late work will lower her grade.  How embarrassing would that be?
Fortunately, Sheryl does not have to spend another night pecking at her head for specks of inspiration.  A coconut shows up unexpectedly in a bag of groceries her brother brings in from New York City.  Sheryl has used the coconut so many times in her adult life without it reminding her of her childhood connections to it. But somehow, that night, seeing and feeling that brown palm triggers her childhood memories. 
The Talking Palm
The mere appearance of that hard-shelled palm fruit opens Sheryl's heart.  Sheryl has a "talking palm moment," for out of her heart, like the water in the nut, pours forth some of her childhood experiences, happy and sad. That night, Sheryl's grade is saved. 
What is your “talking palm moment”? Where were you in your life when something you were once connected to stormed back into your life, triggering memories you thought you had forgotten?
Read Sheryl's stories at

Urge 5 other people to read as well.
Forever at your service,
Esther Jno-Charles

Monday, May 6, 2013

Coconut Milk and Cocoa

When he wanted someone to fetch the breakfast that my mother had prepared for him, hot cocoa without milk, codfish stewed with coconut oil and onions, and lettuce and tomato salad, I was it.” The Talking Palm
Sheryl, the main character in The Talking Palm, grows up helping her father bake bread in her family's bakery in Dominica. She usually gets up while the village is still asleep to help her father prepare the bread for the morning rush. In addition to kneading and rolling and blasting dough into loaves, albeit to her father's dissatisfaction, Sheryl does other errands, which she would prefer not to do, but must.
One of these errands includes fetching her father's breakfast. Sometimes that breakfast includes hot cocoa with no milk. Without milk, the tea is deep brown with a pure earthy taste. Who could afford to buy evaporated or powder milk to whiten cocoa tea and make it more palatable? But sweetened cocoa tea flavored with cinnamon or lime skin or bay leaf or nutmeg tasted as good as it could be.
Coconut milk could surely add a delicious blast to the dark cocoa. But Sheryl's mother would have had to find the coconut, break it, grind it and then milk it for its tongue-pleasing effect. Which mother has that time?
Fortunately, in America, we don't need that hard labor. We can just run to our local supermarket, grab a tin of coconut milk, one of the healthiest milks in the world, and add some to our cocoa tea. Then, while relaxing at the table, we just surrender to that tongue-teasing flavor of coconut milk and cocoa. Ah.
By Esther Jno-Charles, author of The Talking Palm

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Help Sheryl Speak Loud and Far Movement

In “The Skerrit,” a story in The Talking Palm, little Sheryl thinks she is going to die in a house in the ocean. She thinks she deserves such cruel punishment for her truancy. She also believes that no one, not even her mother, can rescue her from the tragedy that awaits her. So she stands alone, scared, powerless and silent before a powerful adult her culture has led her to believe has the absolute right to hurt her. 
Like Sheryl, thousands of girls around the world are led to believe that they deserve to be ill treated, dream-deprived, uneducated and silenced. Let us reverse that legacy for the silenced girls of the world by helping Sheryl speak loud and far. Make her voice reach at least one million people. We can do it. Together. With your help, Sheryl will no longer face the world alone. With your support, Sheryl’s voice will be heard. 
You broadcast Sheryl’s voice when you tell 5 people or more to get The Talking Palm :How the childhood storms of a young woman’s life remained hidden until a palm fruit started talking at 
Then tell each of the five or more to tell 5 others and so on.
On behalf of the once silenced Sheryls of the world, I thank you.

Esther Jno-Charles

Monday, April 1, 2013

To Take or Not to Take the Biscuit

     Fourteen-year old Sheryl loves Shirley Biscuits. Twenty-five year old Sam knows that. Sheryl also knows that Sam does not like her family. One night, Sheryl rushes to her neighbor's store to buy some last-minute groceries. There, she encounters Sam, the shopkeeper's cousin. He is alone.
     Before Sheryl can even ask for what she wants, Sam throws her a dangerous proposal: he will give her a free packet of Shirley Biscuit in exchange for sex. Suddenly, the teenager is confronted with a dilemma: should she or should she not take the thing she loves?
     What do you think Sheryl does? What do you think of Sam? Are there moral problems immediately apparent in Sam's proposal? Do teenagers ask their peers to make such choices regularly, daily? Do adults ask adults to compromise their moral values for material gains? Have you ever faced such a dilemma? How did you deal with it?
     Read The Biscuit, a story in my autobiographical book The Talking Palm: to see how Sheryl resolves that crisis. Tell teenagers and mothers about it. Strike a conversation with them about the dilemma the story poses. Who knows? Your telling could change a teenager's life, for good. 
     Have fun.
     Thank you

Esther Jno-Charles 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Favorite Food

     When I grew up in The Commonwealth of Dominica, coconut foods were some of my favorite foods.
Roasted coconut with the fresh butter loaves were irresistible. Copra, the coconut fruit that forms when the coconut dries inside its shell is oh so delicious. What a goodness gracious smell it gives.
     Have you heard of coconut tablèt? I lived for it. My friends and I had to find a way to get some pennies to buy those sweet coconut treats on our way back or our school day was not complete. Why? “Some were finely grated, light and fluffy; others were thinly sliced, compact and sticky. The stickier they were, the sweeter, and the sweeter they were, the better.” (The Talking Palm )
     The vendors made it so easy to tempt our little noses and inquisitive eyes. They kept those lick-your-finger sweets right where we could see them as we walked to and from school. Of course, tablèt addicts like me knew which gates to peek over and which windows to focus our envious attentions before we got through the doors.
     Let's not forget the delectable coconut jelly swimming inside its own water in a green coconut. On a hot day, that jelly brings cool relief to a thirsty tongue.
     Did i introduce you to sanngkotj, that out-of-this universe gravy my mother used to make with stewed meat and coconut milk? How did I delve into that rich goodness? With fingers of course. Five fingers. Shhh.
Before I send you on a coconut rampage, I must remind you of coconut ice cream. Have you tried it? Do.
     Try something coconut. Let me know what you think.
     Coconuts. Sheryl's favorite food in The Talking Palm:  Get the book. See what else Sheryl did with that tropical fruit. What was your favorite part? Tweet/blog it. 
     Have fun.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fathers Bloody End

      A surgeon at the hospital severed the blood vessels that fed the ulcer in my father’s stomach.
     It was a new procedure, an experimental method the tall young doctor devised to interrupt the life source of and starve the ulcer.    
     My father had endured the discomfort and pain of gastric ulcer for more than three decades, visiting the Princess Margaret Hospital from time to time to get some medical relief.  Suddenly,  my father wanted permanent relief.  The doctor was ready to give it to him.
     “It might work,” the doctor said confidently, trying to allay the fears of my father, my youngest sister and my middle brother.  
     The experimental surgery triggered a blood flood.  Blood oozed out of all open venues on my father’s body.  Blood gushed from my father’s anus and nose as quickly as nurses pumped it into my father’s blood vessel.  My father wreathed in pain.  His bloody eyes rolled uncontrollably. 
     “Doctor, nurse,” he panted between convulsions.  “Give me some aspirin. Give me something.  Too much pain.” 
     They gave him something to ease his pain.   He asked for more.  They gave him more.  
    “Doctor, nurse,” he cried again and again. 
     “What do you want?” asked the weary nurse that night.
     “Help me,” he whispered through tortured lips. “Too much pain.” 
     “The doctor said no more painkillers.” The nurse told him, “You are too troublesome. You are complaining too much.”
     My two siblings held aluminum pans to my father’s mouth to collect the blood blurting out. They burned with despair when their pleas for help failed.  As they patted my father’s drenched forehead with cool pieces of cloth, he asked God for help and death for relief.
     Then my father pleaded out the names of his children who were in Antigua, St. Thomas, England and New York: “Solomon. Frances. Timothy. Esther. Help me! Help me!”
     My father called for his wife, our mother.  She was with me.     
      In New York City, I felt trapped, trapped by my father’s anguish, trapped by my inability to ease my father’s pain and end his sorrow.
     I longed to board a plane and rush to my father’s side.  But, I could not.  I would not be able to return to my three children, my husband, the new life I was beginning to build and  the new future I was trying to carve.  My passport would be stamped with the last place I had visited, the last time I had entered that place, and the last date I had departed from it.  My passport would have shown that I had left New York later, months later than the time immigration had given me to stay. 
     My passport would have shown that I was an illegal immigrant.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Too Late to Forgive?

     An entire community converged upon a tiny Baptist church in the village of Salisbury, Dominica, one sunny April day in 1993. They came to see the mouth of a man who made them laugh, who dominated their conversations, who sold them bread, who bought their agricultural products for resale, finally silenced in death. People of all stripes of life lined that white bungalow, bringing their memories of my father with them: one brother from Antigua, another from England, my mother from New York,   business associates, religious friends, customs’ officers, relatives, neighbors, the community.  From far and near, from villages and towns they came, packing the church and spilling into its yard, determined to have the last word.
     In that village of about two thousand people, my three brothers and sister eulogized my seventy-three year old father.  They said that whenever he came from the family garden he first divided his ground provisions and then religiously sent his children to distribute to our neighbors.  They shared that when he shopped, he always got exactly what he wanted:  the biggest head of fish, the leanest cut of beef or the firmest ripe fruit.  They remembered how he made fun of himself and had everybody that came to buy his bread, laughing.  They said that he insisted that his children never steal, and commanded  us to return the limes we sometimes stole back to the owner’s farm.  They revealed how he made his children bring back the extra change that the shopkeepers sometimes mistakenly gave us when we bought groceries.  And they troubled my father’s ears with the gospel songs he often made us helpless children sing at his house church every Sunday.
      But I was not there.  I was not at the funeral.  And it hurt.  It hurt that I was not there to forgive my father in person for the times he called me monkey and stupid when I did not knead the dough the way he wanted me to, and when he said I was worse than a prostitute when I spoke to boys while I was still a virgin.  It hurt that I could not tell my father I forgive him because as an adult I finally understood he cared about me even though he used the twisted means he knew how to protect me from what he thought were the ravages of youth.  It hurt that I could not tell my father’s silent ears that I had picked up the phone numerous times to forgive him but was afraid to speak into his open ears.  It hurt that I had lost the last chance to let my father know that I needed to hear him say, even once, that he loved me. 
     Will my father ever know about the letters of forgiveness I wrote him, in my mind, before he died?     
Esther Jno-Charles