Only on the Rock

People often complain about the service they receive on island, which is definitely justifiable some of the time. Though in many ways, I’ve found that the small town atmosphere on my rock has led to unexpected advantages – plenty of instances that leave me thinking, This would never happen on the mainland… 

*click for image credit

Take yesterday, for example: I went outside, having allotted myself a mere six minutes to get to an appointment in town, only to find that I had a flat tire stopping me in my tracks. My husband and I tried to change the tire ourselves, but the tiny little car is only equipped with one tiny little tire wrench; the lug nuts were really tight and wouldn’t budge despite our efforts. It took us more than six minutes to figure that out, so I missed my meeting, but then, what can you do?

I called Marlon Brando, the man who sold us the car. Though the sale was almost two years ago, he still remembered us and where we live (a great relief, considering that giving directions and locating a house is greatly complicated here by the lack of house numbers and street signs). In less than an hour, he had come to the rescue, removed the tire, replaced it with the spare, fitted everything back into its tiny slots, and advised me to drive only as far as the tire store. In less than an hour. And he charged me only $8 USD.

I can’t remember anything like that ever happening back at home, a place where we once called a repairman because the garage door opener only worked occasionally. A place where it took days to get a repairman to come unstick a button on the control panel with his fingernail, and subsequently charge us $75 USD for this “expertise”. Apparently, back at home, it costs $1 to unstick a button, and $74 for knowing that it needs to be unstuck. Thankfully, not so on the rock.

On a recent visit to the island hardware store, I gave my Good morning, good morning greetings, and the nice man who often helps me replied in kind. I asked if they had any extension shower rods (seeing as our whole house is concrete and tile, I was not about to start drilling holes into tile). He let me know that they were located upstairs, but also offered a bit of useful advice: “The springs in the extension rods fail here because of the sea air, and then you have to replace the entire rod. We have another kind that you might like better…”

He showed me the other option, which consisted of a pipe, and in a separate package, two ends that fit the pipe. You cut the pipe to fit, put the ends on, place it where it needs to be, and simply un-screw the ends so that they tighten against the shower wall. Slick as a whistle. I did have one problem, though: “Thank you, but I don’t have any tools to cut the pipe.”

“No problem, we’ll cut it for you. Just bring in the measurement, and we’ll do it while you wait.” Amazing. Even more amazing – this whole deal was less expensive than the extension rods I had originally planned on buying. Tell me – where else in the world does a salesperson ever recommend that you spend less? Only on the rock.

*click for image credit

With all of our wind-y, hill-y roads, car maintenance is another important service needed in island life. Here, the mechanic drives to my house (out of town), picks up my car, leaves his own for me to drive, and returns the car later after its stay in the “hospital” – usually the same day. No paperwork, no signatures, no nothing. It’s like he knows how important it is for me to have his car to use – I couldn’t go play bridge without it.

Another time, I needed cushions for my couch and chairs. They were made by hand, on-island, and brought to the house four days later. I had said I did not need webbing, but Kenrick the installer showed me how stretched out the base was, and replaced the webbing anyway. He didn’t even charge extra for doing all that.

Ryan, the man who maintains our pool, also brings us live lobsters. As if that’s not astounding enough, one time he came back unexpectedly the next day with change, saying that he had accidentally overcharged us. That made us feel good for days.

During our first season here, we were concerned about how to properly prep the house in the event of a hurricane. Ryan reassured us – “No problem – just give me a call if you need help.”

We depend on the internet to phone the mainland, using a device called Magic Jack. Sometimes it sounds like we’re next door, and sometimes not. During one particularly bad period, I called a couple of times, and a day or two later the cable company called back to say, “The problem with Magic Jack is nothing to do with your equipment. It’s ours. We’re working on it, and we’ll have it fixed as soon as possible.” I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard a utility company accept responsibility for anything.

One morning, as I was leaving a parking lot, I said, “Good morning, good morning” to a young man nearby.

Naturally, he replied in kind, and asked, “How are you?”

I said, “I’m fine thank you. I’m just walking slowly so I don’t trip on this rough ground.”

He slowed his pace, and walked all the way down to the main street with me, just to make sure I made it all right. Once again, it made me feel good for days.

Only on the rock.

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Val Zacharias

About Val Zacharias

Val and her husband Bob retired to Nevis (the small relative of St. Kitts, in the Leeward Islands) in January 2013. They often sit on their porch and smile and say, “This was a good decision.” – though never on those days they have to spend dealing with Revenue Canada. Val is unable to do nothing, so she spends her time doing stained glass, making vases and hangings out of palm fibre, playing bridge, and having a go at baby golf (there are 10 tees and 2 greens). That’s when she’s not fixing things (like the automatic gates that keep out the cattle, sheep, and goats), killing cockroaches with a hammer (because otherwise they get up and walk away), and collecting/trying out all possible remedies for insect bites (many of which somehow appear when there have been no insects in sight). Her dad used to say that in Northern Canada, the mosquitos may be too big to go through the screens, but they bring their little ones along and shove them through the holes, where they grow up and wreak havoc inside. Val has found the same to be true here.

The grocery stores are interesting. They only occasionally have prunes, for instance, but filo (Val thought it was phyllo) dough is readily available. That requires work, though, so it stays on the shelves.

Val has found that the key to living on Nevis is to start all conversations with, “Good morning, good morning, how are you?” and to actually be interested in the answer. People are very friendly and amazingly helpful. The 22 months they have spent on Nevis feels like a nice long summer so far – one nice long summer.

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8 thoughts on “Only on the Rock

  1. Absolutely beautiful. Val, explaining this sort of thing is like explaining rural small town life in the U.S. to New Yorkers–nearly impossible because there’s almost no frame of reference. But you did it!

    My favorite “I love my rock, my rock loves me” story happened at Customs on the way back home to my rock. The Customs lady scrutinized my baggage, sternly questioned whether I had contraband, then asked if I was the wife of “Mr. X.” I said I was.

    “Chirren yet?” she asked, suddenly interested in my motherhood status.

    “No, I don’t think we’ll be blessed that way. I’m 46.”

    She became my wide-eyed close confident immediately:

    “No, girl, on the island I was born there’s a lady 54 years old who had her first. Not to worry.”

    She immediately zipped up my baggage and sent me on my way, shaking her head and making me promise to remember the 54-year-old lady from her island.

    • Yes – I grew up on a small farm, and “town” was 5 miles away and had 350 people. I lived most of my life in cities, and my rock is like going straight back to my childhood.

  2. Love it! Makes me homesick for Tortola. I still stay up with my lovely friends by FB but it’s been a couple years since I was last there sailing. Great video. Guess I will have to try Nevis!
    Chery

  3. It’s so nice to read a post about how kind people are on the island, rather than how frustrating. But Val, I wish you would keep secret how lovely little Nevis is!

  4. LOVE these pics! Such nice stories.. I’m a Ross grad and LOVED SK/Nevis!! Can’t wait to go back – planning a Sept trip!! 🙂

  5. Thank you! What an uplifting post! Island people are soooo pleasing when we choose to please them. I loved living on rocks and the good things ALWAYS outweighed the nasty in my heart! Your “Good morning…good mornings” get your foot in the right door. God bless you, island girl!! Loved the video!

  6. Greetings from your neighbor on Saba 🙂 I really enjoyed your post, as it captured the essence of the helpful, friendly people who inhabit this area. The experiences you have had on Nevis are very similar to those I have had on Saba: very positive. I also enjoyed the photo of your rock with my rock in the background. I have not had the pleasure of island hopping yet, so this is the first view I have had of my home from another island (other than Sint Maarten, of course). I look forward to visiting Nevis one day. And if you ever come to Saba, look me up. As you are aware, on an island this small, it will be easy to find me…even without road signs 🙂

  7. Lovely story.
    I am interested in Nevis, have lived on Anguilla for 20 years. Can’t say that I have ever missed the rain of BC Canada.
    I can give you my tip for cockroaches- I slip off my flip- flop and use it like a hammer. However they are substantial – orthopedic type.
    For the itches, the French- if you go to St Martin, have a good product in a very small roll- on , or there is another “zapper” spring loaded sort of looks like a nasal inhaler that takes the itch/sting out immediately. Both products are sold in the French Pharmacies.
    My other stand-by for strange rashes, itches is vinegar. Dilute if you have sensitive skin good for “Sun poison” jungle rot, or my favorite St Vititas Dance” diagnosed by the maid.

    Enjoy your island life.
    Mary Ann

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