My New Island Name

The Department of Motor Vehicles, no matter your country, seems to be universally regarded as an atrocious place within the 3rd Ring of Hell. In the Virgin Islands, take those sentiments, add an island bureaucracy and lifer government employees, and you’ll understand why the island’s DMV is located deep within most St. Thomian’s worst nightmares. I heard story after story about people who barely survived (and those who actually didn’t). My hesitation to visit the DMV only increased with time, and my Florida driver’s license became one of my most prized possessions. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I waited 2 solid years to make the legal switch to a VI driver’s license, though I am sort of proud to have been able to hold out so long.

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Upon realizing my Florida license was about to expire, I mustered up the courage to finally take on the island DMV. I brought everything I thought they might need and more: my social security card, my FL driving record, a carefully completed application, my passport, my FL driver’s license, my lease, and the rights to my firstborn child. Upon arrival, I was ordered to three different windows, each with its own line and surly woman behind it. Though surly doesn’t even begin to describe how unfriendly these women were. I realize everyone has their own problems, but really – it was 8 am, they had fresh cups of coffee, AND they were in air-conditioning. To me, it seemed like a heavenly respite from my preschool teaching job. But, just my perspective.

I handed over my copies accompanied by a bright smile and the obligatory “Good morning!” to each woman. 45 minutes of death stares, teeth sucking, and paper shuffling later, I was finally paid, stamped, and ready for the last step: to get my picture taken. I waited outside the photo room, hoping the rest of my visit would go as smoothly.

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As I entered the room, my documents were handed over once again to another sneering DMV employee. She studied each document carefully, with an almost medical precision. Each and every document. As she read my former driving record, I tried to lighten the mood by regaling her with the story of the time I was able to turn “speeding and running a red light” into a mere “traffic violation”. Most people find that tale entertaining, but apparently, she didn’t share in the humor. The blank stares I received told me to just shut up and sit down.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Sarah, S-A-R-A-H. Last name, Dillie – D (as in dog)-I-L-L-I-E.” I replied.

She double, triple, and quadruple checked to ensure I was being accurate and clicked away on her computer.

This office was clearly her domain. Pictures of adorable children and family members were taped to her monitor. Scripture quotes popped out on brightly colored paper. Discarded coffee cups had made a small home on the corner of her desk. She obviously had been inputting details on Virgin Islands licenses for a long time and she seemed to take her craft seriously. When I asked (again, trying to make small talk) if the end of the month was a busy time for her, I was given a hand held in the air and told, “this ain’t gonna write itself.” Okay then.

She took my photo, printed it out, and handed me back my documents along with my shiny new license. I had survived. On my way I went.

It wasn’t until a couple of hours later – hours that I had spent gloating to anyone who would listen about getting out of the DMV unscathed – when I was taking a picture of my license to send to my family (to, of course, gloat some more), that I realized there was a mistake.

No longer was I Sarah. My new license had renamed me, Sahah.

My new VI name

My new VI name

My first reaction was one of delight. I had been christened with a new island name! It made me feel like I finally belonged. I was no longer an outsider and I had a license to prove it.

But my joy was short lived. I quickly remembered that I get my ID checked down here A LOT. Not for alcohol, mind you, but every single time I use my debit card, my credit card, even cash. Ok, so not really for cash, but you to get the picture. And knowing my luck, I would be constantly denied since my new island name on my driver’s license does not match my actual name on anything else, even if it was just off by one letter.

So back I went. With my Social Security card, FL driving records, application, passport, new VI driver’s license, and my lease. And, of course, my island name.

“Ha!” said the license-maker woman, finally cracking a smile. “That’s just how we type our ‘Rs’ here on the island. You’ll get to know that.”

Considering I’ve been here for two years and during that time have been educating local children, I’m pretty sure I would have heard by now about this apparent confusing correlation between Rs and Hs. I thought about telling her as much and calling her out on her mistake, but thought better of it. Instead, it was my turn to adopt the death stare of aggravation, collect my corrected license, and bid her a nice day.

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Sarah Dillie

About Sarah Dillie

Major life choices should probably be reserved for the times you’re not looking at friends’ Facebook photos longingly – particularly when you have a friend that lives in the islands. But jealousy for backyard beaches and year-round sunshine proved to be quite a motivating factor for Sarah, one that defied logic and required immediate action. She booked a ticket to St. Thomas, telling herself it was “just for three months”… Two and a half years later, she’s picked up a job teaching preschool, a salty boyfriend, and two stray dogs. Their little abode rests in the hills above Bolongo resort, where every Wednesday, she and her dogs can be heard singing along to Iggie’s infamous Carnival Night – their inescapable island soundtrack from down below. When not freaking out her neighbors, she can be found channeling her creativity into her teaching, running earthquake drills during actual earthquakes with the best of ’em.

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14 thoughts on “My New Island Name

  1. Well Sahah, I can totally relate to your story, having been re-christened with not a typo but with my last name as my first name and my maiden name as my last name! Sheesh! And I got the same explanation from the Crucian (St. Croix) DMV, complete with death stare. “OK, thank you” I said brightly (still wondering what kind of cluster-F this would create down the road).

    Didn’t take long to find out: flying TO Florida was no porblem as the TSA people in St. Croix are quite relaxed and basically just go thru the motions. Not so in Miami….. (Welcome to hell). Luckily I had my passport for ID so managed to get back home. Then I decided I needed to right the wrong, which became a career in itself. Fast-forward thru the various island obstacles and I am back in FL spending $400 for a “legal name change”, despite birth certificates, marriage license etc. Though this is not ALL the fault of my VI lisence, I have found that bureaucrats everywhere need for all documents to EXACTLY. MATCH. one another and somewhere down the road what seems like a small annoyance will become a migraine.

    Loved your rendition of the events and your descriptions of the DMV…made me laugh and cringe knowingly!!

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I laughed out loud at your recounting of DVM hell in St. Thomas. All I can say is that in some 30 odd years nothing has changed. I lived on St. Croix in the late 70’s early 80’s and waited 4 hours at the DVM while I watched every other person there be called to the window but me! Patience is not my virtue but I gained some that day. When it came to registering my car and having it inspected it was much easier! I just met a guy in a field, paid him $50, waited while he disappeared into the bush and returned with a my decal and stamped registration! Voila!
    Thanks for your blog, I love it and will share with all my old buddies from the VI.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Nora! Yes, I found that out too – that it was much less painful to pay some guy then to try and attempt the hellish experience yourself 😉

  3. Dear Saha (Island speak),

    Welcome as a new VI insider with a new island name to prove it!

    Didn’t you know that the island computer keyboards have reversed R and H keys? I thought that was one of the first things that they taught you before you become an insider.

    Well, you learn something every day! Even for educators like yourself. 

    Love, Uncle Dan

  4. Back when I was in Little Cayman, my friend Eunan went to Cayman Brac to get his license sorted out. He went all the way there, and came all the way back (5 mile flight, one whole day) just to realize they had marked him down as “female”. Whoops.

  5. I sympathise-I became Phiyllipa Kaber on a flight ticket. Whilst many people confuse spellings of Philippa, although usually only mixing the Ls and Ps, I am seriously unsure how Lake became Kaber. No matter on these tiny islands, I still flew!

  6. I waited nine years to get my license only because they no longer make you take the written test.
    Q: “What is the minimum acceptable time to stop in the road and speak to your neighbor”?
    A: 1 minutes
    B: 5 minutes
    C: 10 minutes
    D: A short while
    The answer? D: A short while.
    They also made you pay $3 for the application/test booklet.
    Since it’s been a few years that I’ve been gone, I can probably tell this without fear of legal retribution: I kept my stateside license by telling the stateside DMV I lost my license. They issued a replacement. I took the old one to the VI DMV and got a new one. Then I moved off the island the next year due to unforeseen circumstances. In retrospect, I never would have gotten one in the first place. I did renew it a few years ago on my first visit back to the island after leaving.

  7. Sahah! I just moved into a house above Bluebeard’s last month, moved here from San Diego. Dreading my inevitable trip to the DMV. I’ll look for you at Iggy’s! -Dave

  8. That’s a great story. I’ll keep that in mind when I change my residency, after the general presidential election, in the US. In the meantime, you may want to consider altering your license photo even more. It’s pretty easy to find your home, even with the cropping you’ve done. Just a thought.

  9. I feel your pain!! Of course I was only getting a health card with my drivers license and ss card on St John… And the lady INSISTED there was a space in my last name “Sorjonen” on my ss card. SOOOO, my health card re-named me Sor Jonen as my last name. They are unbelievable.

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