The Dreaded DIY, Island Edition

Home renovations.

It’s a phrase that strikes panic and dread into the hearts of even the toughest of men and women everywhere. On a rock, add three significant challenges to that apprehension: 1) finding suitable materials; 2) finding professional labour; and 3) finding both 1) and 2) at the same time.

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One would think that on an island where the unemployment rate sits around 25%, finding the labour part of the equation would be the easy part, right? Well, yes and no. There is a huge difference between labour and skilled labour. The skilled part has proven the trickiest to find.

On our rock, with a population of about 100,000, it’s not surprising that everyone knows everyone else, which in this case translates to, “I know a guy”. Everyone seems to “know a guy” for any given job. Want a plumber? No problem – the gardener’s cousin’s neighbor is a plumber! Want an electrician? The fruit stand lady’s grandson in the next village is an electrician! Just drop the tiniest of hints of the type of labourer you require, and the next thing you know, you will have a group of strange men lining up in front of your gate. Welcome to the island version of The Yellow Pages.

Sounds pretty handy, doesn’t it? I admit, I thought so too at first. Unlike “Up North” where one had to pour through phone books, websites, Better Business Bureau listings, and such just to be informed that your project request would be put in a company’s queue and – if you were lucky – you would get someone to actually start the job next season. Not so on the rock! Just drop the word on the coconut telegraph and WHAM! – some guy is standing by your gate ready to work the next day.

Sure, you may find it odd that this guy comes empty-handed… no tools, no ladder, and he’s wearing flip flops. Oh well, When in Rome you think… plus, he’s only going to charge you 600 EC for that tiling job! So you happily drive to your favourite hardware store, buy your tiles, adhesives, grout, and whatever else you may need for a tiling job yourself, and you make arrangements with your guy for him to start the next day. You drop all of your other plans to get this tiling job done because the old tiles are relics from the 1970s and you just cannot wait to have the new clean and bright white ones installed. But as the next day progresses into evening and your guy still doesn’t show up, you give him a call. “Oh, something came up,” he tells you and promises to come over the very next day, “after lunch”. (Note: I’ve been living on a rock for over 2 years now and I still don’t know what “after lunch” actually means.)

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Sooner or later (though more likely later), your tile guy shows up and you enlist Hubby to work with him to remove the old tiles. Nobody informed you ahead of time that removing tiles is as messy as sandblasting, but you grin and bear it knowing that a brand new floor is in the works. You even forgive the dogs when they decide to check out the dusty floor and decorate the rest of the house with their chalky paw prints.

After several days of dust and dirt, a lot of banging, and schlepping pieces of old tiles to the garbage heap, the room is finished and you are loving those tiles! When the tile guy is paid and leaves, you step into the room to admire your new floor.

“Why is that tile cracked?” you ask Hubby.

You’re told it was the last tile to be done and it broke during installation. “No worries,” Hubby reassures you, “We have some extra tiles and we can replace this one very easily.”

Appeased, you continue with your inspection.

“What’s that strange noise I’m hearing when I tap the tiles?” you ask. You don’t like the look on your husband’s face when you show him.

Ok, so maybe a tile or two weren’t glued properly to the floor. We do have a couple of extras and we can replace them, no biggie, right? But after you finish tapping each and every tile in the room, you quickly realize that it’s not just a couple of the tiles, but the majority of the tiles, and you are going to have to re-do the entire floor. You also realize that you don’t have enough extra tiles to re-do the job.

Off you go to the hardware store the next day. But of course, one just won’t do and you end up going to each and every hardware store and tile warehouse on the entire island because the tiles you want – the tiles that are the perfect match – are out of stock and no one knows if/when they will ever have them again.

So what do you do?

You are no longer a newbie rock dweller. This will not break you. You place a rug over the cracked tiles and you live with the floor as is, knowing that maybe in 6 to 8 months you *may* find your tiles in stock again, and you will find (some other) tile guy to re-do the floor. In the meantime, you have a leaky shower that needs to be addressed by a plumber, and you hear the other neighbour “knows a guy”.

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Ivona Bradley

About Ivona Bradley

Ivona (along with her hubby) has retired from the rat race and calls the island of St. Vincent her home. She now pursues an entirely different kind of rat race - mostly dealing with roof rats, mice, bats, and other various critters that seem to love her home as much as she does.

Ivona has swapped her power suits, high heels, and regular salon appointments for elastic waisted shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. Salon appointments now consist of biannual haircuts during her visits to her past home in Canada.

When Ivona isn't busy taking care of her three rescue dogs and volunteering with the local SPCA, she gets creative in the kitchen using whatever local and imported ingredients she is able to snag from the markets and grocery stores. She gets as excited as a child on Christmas morning when rare goodies such as panko crumbs, gouda cheese, or hoisin sauce appear on the shelves.

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7 thoughts on “The Dreaded DIY, Island Edition

  1. Been there.
    Other solution – get a different tile, that “goes with” the first ones – and make an extra pattern in your tiled floor. It could even be random. If you’re happy with it, that’s all that counts. If people won’t come to visit you because of the unusual floor, or even if they turn up their noses at it, they weren’t your friends anyway, and you might as well know it sooner rather than later.
    I’d be very careful about the mat idea, though. Tile floors are very slippery, probably new tiles are worse, and the mat compounds the problem. They are also very hard, so if you trip or slip, it is easy to break a wrist, as I know to my cost.

    • good points….I think we will have to find other tiles that hopefully will fit in with the others. What can you do, eh?

  2. Ahh, been there, done that. Except I live on a smaller island of about 15,000 people, no roads, transportation entirely by boat and vegetables come from the mainland once a week on Thurs. (or Friday or Monday or Tues. – depending upon the weather).

    The Manana theory is in full force here and you were lucky to get your “un” skilled man in short order. We have to ask tomorrow – is that the day after today, sometime next week, what month and what year?

    I, too have a blog which I wrote in for almost 6-7 years. I said all I could say about island living and post maybe once a year – hmmm, Manana theory is not so bad!

    Enjoy reading your “adventures” and remember, there is always another one around the corner!

  3. So many stories, so little time.
    When we build our house we thought, we’ll have concrete floors, mixed with different colors of stain to make a “feather” type feature on the floor.
    Something was lost in translation!!!
    We ended up with red, yellow, purple and blue STRIPES running vertically throughout the house.
    We tried a using a commercial floor sander, didn’t work.
    We ended up painting the floors to hide the circus tent motif.
    Then there was the time a worker was to wet sand my concrete counters. He did not have a wet sander I found out shortly after he started. I stood outside and just cried because I thought all was lost when I could no longer see him, or the inside of my house from the dust.
    I can still find dust on the wood beams.
    Then there is “I’ll be there this week”. One must ask, month, date, year, and century then hope they show up within that wide timespan.
    Things get done, somehow, someway and so far within my lifetime!

  4. I’ve been known to Evostick those sturdy flat woven bamboo mats that come from “Caribbean Home” or something like that in Trinidad over cracked tiles. It works for a while and doesn’t slip like a rug.

  5. A little over 2 years ago, we started remodeling the home my husband grew up in. It’s all stone and solid concrete, so we had to run conduit and try to do it as inconspicuously as possible. Everything in the house dated back to the late 40’s, so all cupboards in the house had to be ripped out and replaced and all the appliances had to go, ceiling fans installed…… Our son was getting married just over 2 years ago when we started, and of course that’s where he wanted to get married. We really had to hustle with what we could and basically, not let anyone in the living area and keep them all outside for the wedding, with drinks and appetizers. We have lived in the house for about a year now and still so much we want to do, but I doubt it will all happen in our lifetime, unfortunately. Last thing, building or remodeling in the Caribbean is much more expensive also.

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