The Rules of Engagement…Does it Matter?

The Rules of Engagement…Does it Matter?

About a decade ago, I crossed paths with a gentleman called Dr. Dolvinsky. He was undeniably screwed up. He was bi-polar, had middle-child syndrome, chronic diabetes, a 50-something German wife, a 20-something Swedish girlfriend, and a fairly heroic cocaine problem. His ancestors were Belorussian Jews who had fled the Pogrums. That said, he was a source of rather sage advice. At a time when my life was in the gutter, he told me that the only question I ever needed to ask myself was, Does it really matter? He assured me that for the most part, it didn’t, and that most people couldn’t come up with a rational reason why it did. Uncertain as to how to evaluate whether something mattered at this point in time, he continued by way of example:

“Does it matter that your husband wakes you in the morning by *insert crude sexual act here* (he didn’t spare me the technicalities, but I will you) in your face?”

“Yes, it really does matter.”

“Does it matter that your husband fails to empty the washing machine?”

“In the scheme of things, no, I suppose it doesn’t.”

And thus I was sent forth into the world.
In the Caribbean, the concept of monogamy is both alien and incomprehensible. Men have wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and one night stands and everyone seems to live in perfect harmony – everyone seems to know their role. At least that’s how it seems to me, who is still, for all intents and purposes, an outsider. I admit that I am not entirely sure whether the women follow the same rules. I suspect that they probably don’t have the time, what with all the working and child-raising they have to do. Yet when the boys come over, there are frequent references to “my girlfriend in New York” or “my girlfriend on St Thomas” floating around. Initially, I rather naively thought they were simply referring to friends who happened to be girls, but I soon realised that a West Indian man would never understand or even contemplate engaging in a platonic relationship with a woman.

On this basis, the Rastaman and I have always had an understanding. I know there are other women, I simply don’t want to know the details and it is his responsibility to ensure that I don’t find out. I am a firm believer that ignorance is bliss. Our system has been flawless for over 2 years. However, recently, an unfortunate sequence of events led to me finding out details about several of his dalliances.

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As my heart exploded in my chest, I staggered backwards across the room, pointing at the door and trying to retain composure as I told him that he needed to leave. The Rastaman remained seated and looked confused. He really had no idea why I was losing my mind.  As my back hit the wall, my body went limp and I slid down to the floor, choking out dislocated nouns, verbs, and fragments of thoughts. At which point, the Rastaman leapt into action, scooping me up into his big arms and delicately placing me into his lap. We sat in silence, my cheeks wet with tears, his eyes wide and alarmed. It was at this point that I remembered the words of Dr. Dolvinsky and took a breath to ask myself in earnest, Does it matter? We are conditioned to think that it does, but does it?

Was I happy with the amount of time I spent with the Rastaman? Yes.

Did I enjoy his company? Yes.

Did we argue? No.

Did he give me sufficient personal space? Yes.

Did he always come over when I was upset? Yes.

Did I wish to hang out with him when he was drinking shots and getting loaded? No.

Did I want to have sex with him when he was loaded? Categorically, no.

Did I wish to be woken up by him when he got home loaded? No.

So did it really matter that he sought the company of other women in circumstances when I had no desire to see him? Was he not, in fact, doing me a favour by taking himself elsewhere? Is it not true that in all other relationships in our lives we allocate certain friends to certain duties? Yes, we have our best friends, who we can more or less do anything with, but for the most part, we select different friends to fulfill our differing social needs. So why are we conditioned to putting our sexual partners in chains?

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My eyes dried. The Rastaman loosened his tight grip on me. As he ruffled my hair, I fell into a deep and blissful sleep. I was onto a winner here, and as it turns out, Dr. Dolvinsky was right. It really didn’t matter.

Out of the Mouths of Tourists

Out of the Mouths of Tourists

Disclaimer: My sincere apologies if this offends anyone but please, use some common sense.

Around 50% of the BVI’s economy is obtained from tourism. That’s right – half of this territory’s money comes from those newly-wed, over-fed, really-red, nearly-dead folks from overseas. Those four categories are typically used to describe cruise ship passengers, but we mustn’t forget the various corporate Vice-Presidents, CEOs, doctors, and other well-placed members of society who grace our shores and our offshores with their presence and put bread on the Government’s table. Those of us who have been here for a long time have taken to grouping all visitors of a certain genus into one subcategory of fauna that we call Tourons.

The word touron is a completely fictitious noun and serves to combine the words “tourist” and “moron” into a jovial juxtaposition of jargon. In terms of expression, it can be used with the same tone of disdain as when using “moron” when witnessing someone doing something idiotic from a distance. Hence, the definition of touron is: a tourist doing (or saying) something idiotic. Sadly, this is most often right under our noses, rather than from at a distance.

While we may still shake our heads, we have long ago forgiven them for their “Caribbean holiday outfits” that they have so carefully chosen for their trip. Hawaiian shirts, socks worn with sandals and pulled up to the knees, fanny packs, bee-keeper type hats, and a raging sunburn are no longer causes for surprise. They’ve given in to the various Caribbean stereotypes acquired subconsciously over time via television shows, advertisements, and movies, and show up looking like weatherman Joey Stevens. All that’s missing is the puppet parrot on their right arm. But it’s fine. They thought this was the Caribbean norm. They thought it was quirky and fun. They didn’t know any better.

Complete and utter ignorance as described above is laughable, and just about forgivable. It’s when some tourists arrive, decidedly devoid of common sense, that we tend to start muttering “touron” under our breath. It’s as though, when faced with the issue of overweight baggage, they decided that removing their brains and leaving them at home would allow more carry-on room for their jelly shoes and zinc. That’s about 8lbs right there, and besides, I won’t be needing this in the blissful waters of the BVI, right?  Wrong. Showing up here without your noggin is far from forgivable…it’s downright inexcusable.

Upon experiencing the words and actions of a touron, stunned silence, widened eyes, raised eyebrows, uncontrollable bursts of laughter, a face-palm or pursed lips (and schtupsing) usually ensue. In hindsight, however annoying they may be at the time, all of them are downright hilarious. I’ve compiled a few of these incidences below, which I have either experienced myself or which have been shared with me by friends and family.

 

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO… HUH?

 

  • Walking in the middle of the road.

Ok, not a huge deal, but…why? It’s clearly a road. There are two lanes, with cars going up and down it in either direction. Would you walk in the middle of the road at home? No. I rest my case.

  • Walking around town in a bikini/with their shirt off.

Again…why?! Surely not something that’s encouraged upon the shores of home. I can only assume that this stems from the stereotypical view of “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem.” Well, guess what: no shirt? No shoes? Big problem. Walking around half naked for all the world to see is considered culturally offensive in the BVI. You can’t blame the heat either…if I can survive in a work blouse and trousers, you can handle it. Put your Hawaiian shirt back on!

  •  Referring to the locals as “indigenous.”

?!?! Really, I have no words for this one.

  •  When asked to provide picture ID with their online credit card purchase: taking a selfie with their computer webcam and emailing it through.

Hmm looks like sometimes their brain is stored away before they even board the plane.

  •  Asking how long it’s going to take them to get back to the ship from where they are…when they can see the ship, big and bright as day from where they are.

You’d be surprised how often this happens.

SAY WHAT?

Yes, people really said or asked these things.

 

  •  “How do you keep the islands from floating away?”

Magic. We’re not quite sure but it has something to do with mermaids and giant anchors.

  •  “What do you do with the islands in hurricane season? Do you have to tie them down?”

See above. They work overtime.

  •  “How long do you think it would take me to swim under the island?” [Blank stare.] “I’m not stupid; I know I couldn’t do it all in one breath, but hypothetically, how long do you think it would take?”

Why don’t you give it a try and find out? We’ll give the mermaids a heads up on your arrival.

  •  A lady’s response when she was asked why she was carrying multiple small vials with her: “I want to collect the different shades of blue in the ocean.”

Good luck with that.

  •  When sitting on board a sailboat in BVI waters: “What’s the altitude here?”

Seriously? You’re sitting on a boat. On the ocean. You know, the sea?

  •  Having met a crew member on a cruise ship in the middle of a stairwell: “Excuse me, Miss, do these stairs go up or down?”

Erm…what?

  •  How many sunsets do you have?

Just the one. Everyday. About the same time. You see, the Earth revolves around the…oh, never mind.

  •  What are those weird dark patches moving over the mountains?

It’s that same deadly fog that’s in Lost. Yeah, we’re going to be stuck out here for a while. Or at least until the clouds move…

  • After using the head (toilet) on a sailboat: “The colour of the ocean is so blue you can even see it in the toilet bowl!”

It’s fucking Fabuloso.

And on and on it goes. It’s quite scary to think that these types of people are responsible for half of our economy.

Some of these questions are posed by more than one set of tourons (perhaps they go to conventions, or interbreed), but you can guarantee that by the end of the tourist season each year there are a slew of new touron-isms being relayed to us year-rounders for our audible pleasure.

Many of the stories make us laugh so much our bellies ache. All of them make us shake our heads and mutter: “tourons.”

Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!

My Baby was Bahn Here

My Baby was Bahn Here

Well, okay, not really bahn here (island speak for “born here”), but she’s been here on St. John since she was 2 months old. Her mother – me – is a controlling Virgo and first-time mom. I must say that after watching so many pregnancy/new mother/chick-flick movies, my ideas of what it means to be a mom are a bit on the commercial side. I have idealized motherhood and child-rearing in the context of a city – not an island – and there have been some rude awakenings. I’ll discuss (bitch about) a few…

Pediatricians

I see that there are other infants on St. John. There has actually been a bit of a baby boom of recent with little boys and girls popping out of island gyal’s canals all last year. Unfortunately, regardless of demand, there are no practicing pediatricians on island. BOOO! There are health care providers wandering under the domain of the all-encompassing Myrah Keaton Clinic, but I was frightened off at our last visit when the friendly nurse wanted to give my 3 month old daughter a vaccine made for 6 month olds.

So, being city-minded, I went to the internet and Googled “pediatrician in the US Virgin Islands”. After a few clicks and phone calls to the St. John health care providers listed, I was informed that while the doctors on staff do see children, they are not pediatricians and that I should instead contact the neighboring island of St. Thomas. This was not good news – St. Thomas is huge and it is either expensive to pay the $50 to barge your car over or a pain to take the “dollar safari taxi” over with an infant and mandatory stroller/diaper bag. Fortunately, I found a pretty feasible option (as if there were many) near the ferry terminal in Red Hook that would do, only to find out a few months later that the doctor we were seeing had started her own practice way in town and the distance necessitated further transportation than just a walk across the street from the ferry dock. I guess this means we should stop feeling so special and just go see the general doctor at the St. John clinic.

Childcare and Babysitters

Unfortunately, the nearest blood relative to my daughter and me is about 2,000 miles away, give or take a few hundred miles. So what’s a girl to do when she wants a little rendezvous with her he-for-me, you ask? Wait for the baby to fall asleep and speak sweet nothings very softly  in the living room for the 30-60 minutes she’s out.

Fortunately, I am staying at home with my daughter and her father is supporting us which means we don’t need a regular childcare provider. But out of curiosity, I’ve asked around anyway. Back in Wisconsin, there is a childcare provider on every corner along with a church, liquor store, and bar. I am used to knowing there are many places to bring your kids when you’ve got to play or work. Here in the islands, it is a different story. After several inquiries to neighbors and women I’ve run across holding infants, I have only been told of TWO places on island that provide childcare, both of which close at 5pm sharp. There are a few other loose arrangements I’ve heard of where woman are watching folks’ infants while the mothers work their 9-5. The only babysitting service I’ve seen costs somewhere around $20 an hour and is geared more towards villa services for the tourists here on vacation. I guess three’s not a crowd when there are no other options. “Me time” and a solo shower are overrated indulgences anyway, right?

While motherhood on a rock comes with its adjustments, there have been some major positives. There is nothing more breathtaking or serene than playing in the ocean that surrounds us, watching my baby laugh and taste the salt of the earth. Living here is beautiful and while we may not have a lot of conveniences and the pleasures of material wealth, we are surrounded by beautiful spirits both in the flesh and not. And that is priceless to both mother and child – pediatrician or not.

Me, My Radiator, and My Day Off

Me, My Radiator, and My Day Off

I was talking to someone recently about how frustrating it is that everything over here is constantly breaking. But then I began to wonder whether things actually did disproportionately break on this rock or whether the truth was that it simply took a disproportionately long time to repair anything, hence giving the impression that everything is constantly breaking.

It’s a double edged sword of gloom and doom.  When something breaks, your first hurdle is that everyone moves in slow motion and tradesmen tend to address most issues “in about a year”. The second hurdle is that “you need a part”.

My car has needed a new radiator for quite some time but I quite simply couldn’t be arsed to deal with it.  So I diligently drove around with a gallon jug of water in the car at all times for topping up.  Sadly, I eventually reached the point that I couldn’t actually complete my 5 minute slide down the hill to work without the radiator completely emptying. I was still in denial until the boys at the dock in the morning starting talking about gaskets blowing and $$$$$$ being spent.  They drove the point home – I had to buy a freaking radiator.

With car repairs here you have three options: they have it in BVI; they have it in the USVI (and will put it on the ferry – a truly exhausting experience); or you have to ship the part in from Miami (which takes so long you have lost the receipt by the time the shipping agent needs it).  Fortunately for me, I drive the car of the islands – a Suzuki – so parts can normally be found over here.  The Rastaman drives a Dodge, which might as well be a spaceship for the teeth sucking and head shaking that goes on when that thing needs a part.

So I got lucky. Not only did they have a radiator over on Tortola, but one of my boys volunteered to pick it up for me.  I felt like a princess.  Add to this the fact that my next-door neighbour is one of the best mechanics on the island and he volunteered to fit the bloody thing. For the first time in many months, I felt like a winner.

The radiator was duly delivered to my house by my boy.  The Rastaman duly opened it.  So near, yet so far…..  a beautiful radiator without a radiator cap – ergo, totally freaking useless.

How long could it possibly take to buy a radiator cap on a Saturday, you ask?  Nine hours, my friend. NINE HOURS for a $13 cap.

From previous experience, I decided that the safest thing to do was to take the radiator with me to ensure that by the end of the day I had the right cap.  So the radiator and I left home at about 9 am and spent about an hour on the corner trying to hitch a ride.  We made it to the car parts shop at the other end of the island, only to discover that it is closed on Saturdays. The helpful man that I hitched a ride with told me that he assumed I knew that the shop was closed on Saturdays and that I had other reasons for carrying a car radiator to this destination.  Arsehole!  This detour meant that I missed the ferry to Tortola.  So, at 10:15 am, I cracked my first Heineken.  Bring it on.  If this is the way this day is going, I’m going through it half-cut.

By 12:15 pm (only three and a quarter hours since I left home), I arrived at the car shop on the next island that had sold my boy the radiator.

Me: “My boy bought this radiator yesterday but it doesn’t have a cap.”

Salesman: “Of course it doesn’t have a cap. New radiators never come with caps.”

Sweet baby Jesus.  I am not sure if I was more annoyed with radiator maunfacturers for selling their products without the only vital part or with this charming assistant who had failed to share his in-house knowledge when we bought the radiator in the first place. Would it not be helpful to have a large sign on the box like “batteries not included”, as they do for kids toys? Men/Kids, Cars/Toys, you get me?!

Approximately one minute later, I am the proud owner of a natty cap for my radiator.

Now, because I am a self-confessed idiot, I thought I should try to make this pointless morning more worthwhile by squeezing in a much needed haircut.  I figured the next ferry was at 2:30 pm, so I had enough time. Sadly, the hairdresser was fully booked – it was Saturday afterall.  So I mooched off to the nearest bar and hit the liquor to drown the sorrows of my pointless day off.  I drank another Heineken, a couple glasses of wine, a piña colada, and a shot of cinnamon whiskey. I felt a bit ill.

Suddenly alarmed by the time, I staggered/ran to the ferry dock, clutching my now very cumbersome radiator and was delighted to find that I had arrived ahead of time. Yet 2:30 pm came and went with no ferry in sight. I had an overwhelming desire to sleep now or simply lie down and possibly pass out.  I mustered the energy to enquire as to the whereabouts of the 2:30 pm ferry.  It transpires that the 2:30 pm ferry is a figment of my imagination. I was now looking down the barrel of a two hour wait for the 4:30 pm boat.

I sat under the pathetic shade of a dying tree and felt the sun burning my pasty white skin with the knowledge that my lunchtime hangover was in the post, guaranteed delivery before nightfall.

When I finally made it back to my island, some poor blind man who couldn’t swim managed to step off the ferry into the gap between the ferry and dock.  The ferry workers reacted as if someone had dropped a piece a paper. The next man to disembark reacted like a normal human and dove into the water after him.  I, on the other hand, could only focus on one thing – HOME. I was half-cut, sweaty, dirty, sunburnt, and clutching an uncomfortably large box.

I hiked up the road and waited at the prime hitch-hiking corner. The wind blew my radiator into the road.  I left it there.  I figured I would pick it up when I got a ride.  I finally arrived at home after 6:00 pm.

The Rastaman was sinking a cold one on the porch.

“Hello, Princess.  Have you had a nice day off?”

She Only Sleeps When It’s Raining

She Only Sleeps When It’s Raining

When most people think of life on a Caribbean island, they usually conjure up images of beautiful beaches, warm weather, and crystal clear waters. They think of a calm and slower pace of life and that everyone is relaxed and set to “island time”. I’ve been living in the BVI for the last year and I can assure you that this is all true. It is amazingly beautiful and everywhere you look, the scenery is postcard perfect. It is perpetual summertime and I love it. But the thing is, I am exhausted…as in, perhaps I have a vitamin deficiency or actual illness, kind-of-exhausted. But I’m not sick or rundown, I’m just seriously sleep deprived all because I have this inherent resistance to sleeping in on a sunny day, which happens to be almost every day when you’re living in the Caribbean. Any time I try to sleep-in, I suffer a severe self-induced guilt-trip for not being outside soaking up the sunshine.

I moved to the BVI last year from Ireland, which isn’t exactly known for its amazing weather. Most days are quite grey and it rains all of the time. And the rain isn’t like a Caribbean shower where it will rain for a few minutes or an hour and then, voila!, it is beautiful and sunny again. In Ireland, it could easily rain all day and night for several days. I didn’t even see what the big deal was when I experienced my first tropical storm here in the islands last year. Far from threatening, it reminded me of a normal rainy and windy day in Ireland. In my eyes, it wasn’t what I would consider a legit storm or borderline hurricane. I actually quite enjoy a tropical storm. I sleep really well and like being tucked up in bed listening to the howling wind and rain drops falling on the roof. I find it quite comforting, as it reminds me of home.

My sleeping patterns have always been linked to the weather. Prior to moving to the BVI, a sunny day was rare for me and was considered a reasonable excuse to leave work early or not to go work at all. It felt like the end of the world if it was nice out and I had to stay in the office and miss out on the sunshine. Warm and sunny days in Ireland are like gold dust and there is a mass exodus to the nearest beach or park to soak up the limited-time only rays. Everyone is red raw with sunburn and yet they still stay out in the sun and sizzle some more because it may be the only glimpse of summer most people will get. Sunburn, an eruption of freckles, dehydration…these are the things that make up some of Ireland’s best days of the year.

I vividly recall my last sunny day in Ireland. It was almost two years ago and my mom ran into my bedroom to wake up me and ordered me to run outside straight away because it was so nice out. While this may come as a shock to people who have grown up in the Caribbean, I’m sure that a lot of people who have spent time further North will know my pain. I stayed outside that day until the sun went down. My legs were scalded and emitted heat like a radiator for days. I was a human tomato and I couldn’t care less. A sunburn didn’t matter because it’s not like I saw enough of the sun to worry about skin damage – I was more concerned about developing a vitamin-D deficiency due to a serious lack of sunlight.

So, due to being pretty much sunshine-deprived my entire life, I am left with an urgency to jump out of bed in the morning, no matter how tired I am, and make the most of any signs of a clear blue sky. But while I love the sunshine, I am now in serious mourning for the days of staying in bed on a Saturday or having a lazy day catching up on a box set or watching a movie. Now that I’m in the perpetually sunny Caribbean, it doesn’t matter whether I go to bed at 9pm or 2am, I will still wake up at sunrise the next day and begrudgingly get out of bed.

I find myself reminiscing about the times in my life when I had an ability to sleep-in and even bypass the AM hours altogether. My life now consists of a pretty geriatric sleeping pattern – a case of early to bed, early to rise. When lack of sleep catches up with me, I don’t make plans to sleep in late, but instead, try to catch up by falling asleep at an embarrassingly early hour like 7pm. There are some days that I will even hop into bed at 6pm and watch a movie, unable to stay awake long enough to see the end. Sadly, though I’m decades too soon, I would fit in really well in a nursing home at this point in my life. And heaven forbid my phone rings past 8pm on a weeknight. I’m actually shocked as to who would ring so late and wake me up – don’t they know the unrelenting Caribbean sun is waking me up at 5am against my will?

I now find myself fantasizing about what my life would be like if I was well rested. I would probably be happier and better looking. My skin would be radiant, my hair would be super shiny, and I would have boundless energy. People would stop and ask where I get all of my pep, rather than asking if I am anemic and recommending that I get my iron levels checked. To me, sleep is a one-size fits all solution to all of life’s problems. Who knew that a move to the islands would deprive me of this?

So until I overcome this psychological barrier to sleeping in while it’s sunny out, all I can do is pray to the weather gods for some rain or, even better, a tropical storm for the weekend. Saturday is only a few days away and, fingers crossed, let’s hope it’s a wet one!

Keep in touch with the tropics!

 

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