Written by: MADALYN TAVARES
Anytime I venture back to the states, all of my conversations with friends and family members seem to revolve around how lucky they think I am to live in paradise. “It must be so easy!” they exclaim, “I’m so jealous!”
While I do feel very fortunate and grateful for my experiences and time here in the islands, it’s hard not to want to put these people in check. As we island girls know all too well, there aren’t cabana boys catering to our every need, you don’t always get what you want, and life isn’t always just another day at the beach. I often say that life on a rock is a character-building experience. I’ve seen enough people come here, stay for six months, and then get chewed up and spit back out to their respective homelands. You’ve got to roll with the punches and that often means changing a bit of who you used to be.
Here are 5 things that I never thought I would do or experience, yet now, in the middle of the Caribbean, it’s simply life:
Mention this one to your stateside friends and a horrified, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT face is what you get. In Florida, where I’m from, it’s very uncommon for someone to not have a car. There isn’t really any public transportation, so having your own vehicle is essential. I remember seeing hitchhiking in the movies – it was always a guy or gal with baggy pants, a backpack full of belongings, and the quintessential hitchhiker’s thumb, signaling their need for a lift. It was never something I thought I would end up doing, mainly because my mother said it was dangerous and because in most states, it’s illegal. That all changed when I moved to St. Thomas. Down here, cars are a lot less reliable. Even if you have a car, sometimes it won’t start. So instead of calling AAA, you just start walking. Thankfully, because many people can relate to car troubles, almost everyone has given someone a lift at one point or another. The one main difference in hitching a ride here vs in the states is that you do not use your thumb to signal a ride – you simply use your index finger and point down. My legs have been very thankful for the many rides I’ve received and now that I have a functioning car, I’m always sure to pay it forward.
2. Coexist with Bugs
As a kid living in the Sunshine State, I was very familiar with bugs. Bugs of all kinds – the flying, the crawling, the slithering, the creeping – you name it, I’d seen it. So when I moved to the rock, it wasn’t something that was really that much of a shock to me. Actually, there are a lot less bug varieties here than there are in Florida. What is different is that instead of living in your nice air-conditioned house where bugs merely “sneak in” from time to time, here, you are instead living in the bug’s world. Though I was never all that squeamish when it came to bugs, my nonchalance has reached new levels on an island. Now, I’ve been known to sip my water, find a bug in it, simply remove it, and carry on drinking. Water is precious, am I right? Here, you coexist, which I think is how we are meant to live anyway.
3. Embrace the Island-style AC
While we all can exhaust our own opinions on WAPA (the much loathed “Water and Power Authority” here in the US Virgin Islands), there is one aspect that stands true: electricity is expensive! One of the most expensive in the world actually, at nearly .45 cents per kilowatt hour. Considering the cost, it is no wonder that almost everyone goes without air-conditioning. Most days, it’s really not so bad – I enjoy the fresh breeze off the coast and enjoy the positive aspects of humidity on my skin. But some days, it is just SO. DAMN. HOT. That’s when “Island-style AC” comes into play. One day in particular it was so unbearable that I took over 15 “showers”. I say showers in quotes because I’m not really going through the full motions – i.e., using shampoo, soap, etc. By “shower”, I mean stand in front of the nozzle as semi-cool water flows out, and then immediately jump out and stand in front of the fan while dripping wet. Repeat as necessary.
4. Drink and Ride
Now let me just say – I DO NOT condone drinking and driving at all. I think it is very dangerous and you put yourself and others at risk. Just don’t do it. With that being said, there is a more relaxed feeling about that down here in the islands. Need gas? Walk into any gas station and I can almost guarantee you that there will be a bottle opener at the cash register. “Road Sodas,” as they are commonly referred to down here, are pretty normal. While the driver shouldn’t drink and drive, that doesn’t mean the passengers can’t drink and RIDE.
5. Go Island Casual
Headed for a girl’s night on the town? Look to any stateside chick’s Instagram page and I can almost bet there are pictures of these ladies dressed to the nines – eyebrows on fleek, chokers on deck, and heels to boot. While there is nothing wrong with that (and honestly there are times I really long to get dressed up too), that just isn’t the way it goes down here. Heels won’t work on all these old cobblestones streets and sand; the cistern water is a limited resource so quick showers it is; electricity is crazy expensive so all those hairstyling tools can only be on for brief periods; and the fact that almost every bar is outdoors means all that makeup will sweat off in an hour or two anyway. For us, it’s cut-offs, bikini tops, and t-shirts. We keep it simple down here, and that’s just the way I like it now.
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What are some things that you do now on your rock that your friends back “home” would find strange?