My Tiny Rock in the Sea, How Do I Love Thee …

Written by: ANDREA MILAM

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for love. If mushy, lovey-dovey proclamations aren’t your thing, you might want to stop reading. Because today is one of those days when I’m bursting with gratitude and feeling so fortunate to have built a life on this rock, and I want to tell you why…

Natural beauty

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This hits first on my list because because natural beauty is often what initially draws people to the Caribbean, and I must admit, it’s part of what I still find so dazzling. People scrimp and save for months, sometimes years, to vacation on the beaches where my children learned to swim, the pristine stretches of white sand where they go on school field trips, and where we spend nearly every Sunday as a family. During the winter, one percenters drop anchor in the dreamy blue waters that I glimpse from my desk. And I absolutely understand why. When we take our weekly Sunday sojourns to the north shore and come around the bend that reveals the incredible palette of blues in Hawksnest Bay, my heart still jumps into my throat the way it did on my very first tour of the island.

Island residents are in touch with nature

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Here, the landscape isn’t beaten back and controlled for the benefit of human residents the way it was in my childhood suburb. Chickens, donkeys, deer, cats, and iguanas show up in our yard. Bananaquits eat sugar out of my children’s hands each morning. We make do without air conditioning in favor of power bills that aren’t heart attack-inducing, so we live an open-air lifestyle among the trees. Hearing the breeze rush down the hillside through the leaves, the anticipation of knowing that breeze will soon invite itself inside by way of our sliding glass doors, is the ultimate luxury on a hot August day. Even those residents who do sculpt their landscaping, chase the chickens from their yard, and close up and air-condition their homes can’t get around having a close and personal relationship with one aspect of nature: rain. Rain fills our cisterns, and we live by the rhythm of the raindrops hitting our roofs. This method of water supply teaches us that water is precious; we understand that lengthy showers, leaving the water running during teeth-brushing, and even flushing every time is inconceivably wasteful. We look to the skies for water, and all residents learn quickly that this resource isn’t something that can be taken for granted.

Waste not, want not

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My island has no big box stores, no car dealerships, no Starbucks (gasp!), in fact, no chain stores or restaurants of any kind. New residents learn quickly that what they thought were “needs” were actually “wants,” and the number of conveniences that fall into your “needs” category directly correlates to how long you’ll last on island. Though not having a Target within a five minute drive from home is surely some people’s idea of hell, I adore the lack of materialism and consumerism that seems to run more and more rampant in the U.S. with every visit I make. Cars here are lovingly patched together with garbage bags, duct tape, and twine, driven until they simply can’t go anymore. Clothing and toys are handed down and passed on. Electronics are opened up and repaired again and again. A fridge that’s marred with rust on the outside yet perfectly cold on the inside will be kept in service rather than being discarded for its unsightly appearance. Here, we don’t have the option of being wasteful, and this inspires a special kind of resourcefulness and creativity among residents that never ceases to amaze me.

We are out of touch

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Forgive me for briefly introducing politics into this article, but the fact that cable service simply isn’t available to residents on my road because the cable company hasn’t yet run the necessary lines has been a blessing in disguise. We get out of being bombarded by the news, commercials, attacks, and straight up hate that are all a part of this year’s election (according to my Facebook feed). On another positive note, my kids know nothing of pop culture or the advertisements that teach them from a young age that they aren’t good enough without certain products or beautiful enough if they don’t meet certain beauty standards. These things just aren’t important here. Before I moved in 2005, I knew an embarrassing amount of celebrity gossip. Now, I have no idea who’s famous or who the lead singer of that one band is sleeping with or what movies are breaking box office records. And you know what? I couldn’t care less. There’s so much more to life than what the media tells us is important. (Stepping down off my soapbox now).

The small island community

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The mixture of native St. Johnians, down islanders who moved here from their own Caribbean home, and continentals who moved here from the U.S. has resulted in a truly special community. Many continentals here are far away from extended family, so we become one another’s family. We share thoughts of gratitude over turkey at Thanksgiving, we go on vacations together, we welcome one another into our homes on Christmas Day. When an island resident is in need, from meal deliveries after the birth of a baby to fundraisers for someone facing a health crisis to grief support, this community steps up like none other. We recognize each other’s faces and we know each other’s stories. When my son won the St. Thomas-St. John district spelling bee (proud mom moment!), he was showered with congratulations by grocery store workers, bank tellers, and the random passersby we encountered on daily errands. When I go grocery shopping solo, the cashier asks how my kids are doing and remembers how excited they were to devour the donuts I purchased during my last trip to the store. On St. John, housekeepers are friends with multi-millionaires are friends with restaurant workers are friends with business professionals. The pretentiousness and “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” that pervades American culture is notably absent. Here, we look past your appearance and profession to see what really matters: who you are as a person.

Culture

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I save this one for last because above all else, it’s the culture that brought me to this rock. During an August 2002 trip to Barbados, I found myself ‘pon de road, decked out in a blue sequined Kadooment costume that was every bit as shiny as it was skimpy. The music! The dancing! The sheer joy among the band of revelers who welcomed everyone to partake in this important cultural ritual! That day changed me. Two years later, I chipped down the road in the capital of Caribbean carnival culture, Trinidad, in a costume even more brilliantly decadent with a tall feathered headpiece to match. A year after that, I couldn’t ignore the call of the Caribbean any longer, and I made the move to St. John. The very culture that brought me here is something I still revere today, and it’s something I hope that visitors and transient residents learn about and respect too. When you’re out and about on St. John, greet those you encounter with a friendly “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good night.” Eat some kallaloo (I like it best with a thick layer of fungi at the bottom). Wash it down with soursop juice. Don’t be afraid to tek a little wine to some soca music. And remember that St. John is more than just a pretty face. This island has warmth, community, and culture in spades. And I get to call it home!

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What things are you grateful for on your island today?

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Andrea Milam

About Andrea Milam

After making friends with several Caribbean people during college, Andrea's love of roti, rum, and soca led to her being dubbed an honorary Trini. An American in real life, she made her move to one of the Caribbean islands where she could live without dealing with immigration laws - the U.S. Virgin Islands. She admittedly moved with stars in her eyes, but after more than a decade of island life during which she got married, built a home, and had two kids, those stars haven't dimmed. As if living on a gorgeous island isn't sweet enough, her passion doubles as her profession. She's edited and written for several travel, wedding, and lifestyle/architecture magazines, and some of her travel writing clients include MasterCard and jetBlue. See her work at www.andreamilam.com.

CURRENT ROCK OF RESIDENCE: St. John, USVI

ISLAND GIRL SINCE: July 2005

ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: Ohio

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7 thoughts on “My Tiny Rock in the Sea, How Do I Love Thee …

  1. Great post…I love St. John, recognized the photo immediately. We have decided to actually leave the US and move to Ambergris Caye, Belize. An Island that called us the moment we got off the plane. So love your gushing and this article made me smile and want to take a trip back to St. Johns.

  2. From another Susan ….. You have echoed my thoughts 100%. People either love it or hate it, and, thankfully, those who hate it leave 🙂

    I have always said “There is nowhere else I would rather live.” And … “I live on an island: physically, mentally, and spiritually”

    Thanks for sharing……

  3. I moved from Ohio to St. Thomas almost two years ago. This post speaks to many of the reasons I’m also grateful to be here on my rock. This particular line was is my favorite: The very culture that brought me here is something I still revere today, and it’s something I hope that visitors and transient residents learn about and respect too.

    Wishing you a great remainder of 2016!

  4. Awesome Post! Having been in Ambergris Caye for three years, and now Placencia, I too, feel this sense of community that is sometimes very difficult in the states. People slow down, enjoy each day and the little things that happen, whatever that may entail. Life is simple, life is slow….Life is Good! Loving my island too!!

  5. Beautiful Heartfelt Post. I lived on Island (SXM ) for years and now I find myself back in Florida for family reasons but your words sing to me and I am still saying Good Morning , Good Afternoon and Good Night to people where ever I go …and most of the time I get a response or a smile.. And if I don’t get a response, I know that its their problem not to be kind and respectful and they’d never make it on any Caribbean Island with out those words in their vocabulary(including at a small grocery store, the clerk may refuse to even acknowledge you if you don’t say Good Morning)! Have a great Day from the Overlooking the Beach in Hollywood Florida, this fine sunny morning!

  6. I certainly share your gratitude and the reasons for it . We love living on our small BVI rock for the same reasons. We have lived here every six months since 2001 and spent a lot of time here before that. Life here is even better than vacationing, partly because of living in a small community where we all know each other — or about each other. ( though I sometimes wonder what is told “about” me…). Since some of the people we have known since 1998 or earlier have homes here which they visit for a month or so every year and then return to their other residences in Europe and America, we also learn first hand about stories in the news whose facts are only skimmed or distorted, plus we have real people we know and like to visit should we take a trip to one of their lands. And what a pleasure to show them our beautiful other state, Oregon, when they tour the USA.We also love watching the children we have known since they were little become wonderful, caring, unpretentious adults. We are still Aunt Mary and Uncle Rob to many of them!Exactitude and precision are not musts for every aspect of life on a Caribbean island!

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