Live on an island long enough and you lose all sense of normal and whatever that meant in your previous life. Island normal is far removed from stateside normal, and after enough time on an island, normal takes on a whole new meaning anyway. Island standards are different from the rest. Here are just a few things that have happened with enough frequency lately on my rock Aruba to have me convinced that life has always operated this way.
Driving Without Windshield Wipers
My wipers were just recently fixed after packing a car part the size of a fire extinguisher inside my checked luggage on my return flight after the holidays. Before that, they weren’t working throughout most of the rainy season, leaving me to pull my car off the side of the road during the occasional downpour or hitch a ride to work on rainy mornings. My mechanic had removed the wipers completely while trying to track down the part required to fix the back and forth motion. He told me his friend was going to bring the part back from Colombia. After that prospect fell through, I decided to spend a cold day in Dallas over the holidays hunting down the Hyundai Windshield Wiper LInkage needed to make the repair only to return to the island and find, in the meantime, that another door handle had fallen off my car. My friend who was staying at my house while I was away texted, “It came right off the first time I got in.” I told her not to worry about it, that door handles falling off cars is normal on the island. Living near the ocean may be paradise for people, but it isn’t easy on cars.
Swerving to Avoid Snakes
This island has a boa constrictor problem. Of course, they are all dead when I swerve my car to miss them. I have yet to find one slithering across the road. But someone did hit all of these snakes at some point because pulverized vipers litter the pavement all over Aruba. Basically, the roadkill here consists of snakes, along with an occasional iguana. As it is with many mysteries that intrigue me about this place, I needed to know more, so I asked a bartender friend who has lived here most his life to explain. I’m told they come out at night and can be found active on the roads around four in the morning. He claims to have run over a few throughout the years. So now I know the next time I feel a bump in the night behind the wheel.
Crossing Dairy off your Grocery List
The exception here would be cheese. The Dutch can’t go without it. Giant blocks of cheese are in abundant supply at any corner convenience store in Aruba. Purchasing milk and yogurt when you go grocery shopping, however, is never a guarantee because many dairy products arrive once a week, which also makes these products very expensive. And I’m not talking about going to the supermarket to find sparsely stocked shelves like maybe you have to buy whole milk instead of 2% or key lime yogurt instead of coconut. This is a dramatic doomsday turn of the corner to find a long wall of empty shelves behind glass doors. Pushing a cart down an aisle that is not stocked with food is never a comforting feeling.
Mute Dentistry Complete with Drill
I don’t recommend this if you have a fear of the dentist to begin with. I was one of those people who always had a perfect check up my entire adulting life, but my luck ran out once I moved to Aruba, and I recently had to have cavities filled by my government appointed Aruban dentist who does not speak a word of English. The few words uttered were anesthesie and no anesthesie. There was also an occasional command to open what I presumed to be my mouth and a rubber-gloved finger would point from time to time to a tooth with the minimal explanation of here. Never take for granted the value of exchanging complete sentences when reclining back in that godforsaken chair.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point when it comes to electricity on an island. The power will go out while you are enjoying dinner at a favorite restaurant, or running late at night at the track, or standing in line at the Chinese store to pay for a bunch of bananas. I speak the truth when I tell you that the power just went out while I am writing this post. It’s 9 at night, and all of Tanki Flip is pitch black, except for the light from my laptop screen. And it isn’t just the power outages.There’s confusion to be found when dealing with anything that has to do with electricity here. I accidentally paid my neighbor’s electric bill recently. Who knew this was even possible? I was trying to be proactive that day by paying the bill far ahead of schedule because I was leaving town the next day for three weeks. I headed to the bank with the bill in hand because paying all of your bills via the bank is a thing here. Anyhow, I did not know that I was scanning the barcode on my neighbor’s electric bill, which somehow ended up in my mailbox. I suppose it’s the ultimate pay-it-forward action if I had planned it that way.
Family Outings at the Dunkin’ Donuts
Going to Dunkin’ Donuts is a family activity here, especially on Sundays. It’s like a daycare center in there. It clearly has something to do with the Dunkin’ Donuts-Baskin Robbins merge. I’m not sure when that happened, but I don’t remember ever seeing this insane combo before I left Texas. Do we really need a place in the world where we can buy donuts and ice cream? There is something about American fast food, in general, that attracts customers in droves on the island. And the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner from my house is no exception; it is packed out every Sunday with kids bouncing off the walls choosing ice cream flavors and screaming over sprinkles. What happened to the days when you could just go get your old fashioned donut and cup of coffee and be out of there? Isn’t the donut supposed to be a thing of convenience? Who wants to spend their entire day inside a donut shop? Especially when you live on an island!
Guessing Games with Dutch Products
Most of the products I buy are Dutch. That is because the American stuff is way too expensive. A box of Corn Flakes will cost you $10. It’s just more economically prudent to avoid American products by and large. But since I still haven’t mastered this very difficult language, I never know what I am buying exactly. I often take a picture and send it on my phone to my Dutch friend with a question texted below. Is this bottle of cleaner for the dishes or the floor? Is this shampoo or conditioner? It can get complicated when trying to follow instructions for cooking or even life-threatening when determining the dosage for over the counter medications.
Zen and Waiting in Line to Pay Taxes
Any trip to the tax building, or any government office for that matter, is an opportunity to gain practice developing your Buddha nature. You’ll need to take half a day off work to pay taxes on your vehicle, especially if it is the end of January. That morning or afternoon will be spent waiting in a line that goes out the door and down the street. Grown men will behave like toddlers and throw tantrums, screaming obscenities at the security guard. And be sure to make copies of everything. Don’t expect to retrieve any records of taxes that you have paid. If you do ask for such records, you will be told to wait in yet another line, only to be told that someone will call you later that week, and then you will receive a call to tell you to come back and wait in line some more. When you finally make it to the finish line that is the counter, the guy standing behind it will tell you in two minutes – after a two hour wait to have this very brief conversation – that there is no way to get a record of your payment because it is filed away in a box in a warehouse somewhere and won’t be available online until 2020.
There is something so vile and sinister about the centipedes in Aruba. First of all, they are giants and are aptly named Amazonian centipedes. I was recently confronted by one in the middle of a very narrow trail while hiking through Arikok Park a few weeks ago. I stopped in my tracks and was forced to watch this wicked creature because I was waiting for it to leave the trail, and I needed to know where its leaving would take it because that was hopefully back into the bush and far away from my feet. It was a real exercise in overcoming my fears, just standing there staring at that hideous thing with a thousand legs. I’ve witnessed both men and women violently thrash these little monsters over and over again using rather large rocks. They take a disturbingly long time to kill. Few things in life are certain, but I know for sure that I will never be able to master this very important island skill. I’ve had many opportunities to practice too.
Single Women Who Live on Rocks
There really aren’t too many women who just up and leave their home country to move to an island on their own and all alone. So there isn’t anything normal about my life these days. I thought I would fulfill my work contract here and turn around and go back to the States after a couple of years. But then the presidential election happened, which left me wondering about the mental health of my country, and I got to thinking that there is something to this single lady island thing. It is liberating to live on a rock where you are not judged for whether or not you follow in the same footsteps as everyone else. No one cares what kind of car you drive, or if it has windshield wipers and only one working door handle. And there is something very empowering about conquering challenges such as the Amazonian centipede and Dutch language all on your own in a foreign land far from home. The most empowering of all is realizing there really is no such thing as normal.