We are fast approaching the 7 year anniversary of the day we packed up our lives (including two little furry friends), threw caution to the wind, and embarked on what was supposed to be a 2 year journey in the Cayman Islands. With the intent of “trying out” a 2-year contract, I don’t think that we would ever have dreamed that we would still be living on this tiny island in the Caribbean. These years have flown by! It hasn’t always been a breeze. We’ve endured deaths of loved ones, with the inability to travel quickly to be with our families. We’ve dealt with multiple overseas knee surgeries, which required a ton of thoughtful planning and logistics. And just in the last year, we’ve experienced Cayman’s largest earthquake, a near miss with a massive hurricane, tropical storms, numerous dump fires, nail-biting moments when there was uncertainty about contract renewals, not to mention a world pandemic! It’s been a ride!
Change and growth occurs slowly over time and looking back, I can see how much my life, attitude, and values have changed. Some could argue that that is just a result of aging. I think the 30’s are a time for change and growth for a lot of people! I also think that living in Cayman and being exposed to everything this island has to offer has contributed to these changes as well.
Here are my top changes that I perceive within myself since moving to Cayman:
1) Perspective of the World
I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in your bubble of local politics/ideologies. I remember focusing intently on the “issue of the day” with co-workers in Canada – whether it was complaining about our Prime Minister or expressing our anger with new policies. It was easy to engage in conversation with others who were happy to bitch and perseverate on the same issues day in and day out.
One of the greatest benefits of my job is working with colleagues and families from all over the world. My view of the world has truly changed. For example, I had no idea just how privileged I am to be Canadian. My South African counterparts have passports with massive travel restrictions. My Honduran parents have escaped dismal conditions, where life was not only hard, but extremely dangerous. My British friends and co-workers have their own whole set of concerns with Brexit and the future of their country. The world is huge and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have experienced much different upbringings, ideologies, and values than my own. I believe it has changed my overall perspective of the world.
Aside: It’s been a whole “thing” watching how the world responds to the pandemic from this tiny island that is now essentially Covid-free due to quick government action. Tuning in to the world news often feels like I’m nervously watching a horror movie, popcorn in hand, from the safety of my cozy bed.
2) Concept of time and moving at a slower pace
I distinctly remember living in downtown Calgary, and wondering where the hell everyone was going and why they were all in such a hurry. I didn’t necessarily have anywhere important to be but I also found myself putting my head down, increasing my walking speed, focusing solely on getting to my destination as quickly as possible.
Take that scenario and flip it completely on its head. That is life in Cayman. Everything and everyone moves at a delayed pace. The cashier counts out your change in sloth mode. Evan and I drive slowly through West Bay checking out the dominoes game on the beach on Friday night. People even speak at a decreased rate. Recently, I was at the Health Clinic waiting to see my Doctor. An older Caymanian woman was attempting to check in at reception and the receptionist apologized, “Sorry it’s taking so long…the computer is slow today,” to which the woman replied, “Slow and steady is ok with me, honey. Why rush? You rush and rush and then you die.” I couldn’t help but laugh at this woman’s response, which was consistent with the overwhelming mantra of this island.
To be honest, I still feel the need to be on time. It bothers me when I know that I’m going to be late for a meeting, yet, ironically, even when I am late, I am still often the first to arrive! So I don’t think that the island has completely rid me of my “deadline” brain, but I do observe myself moving, talking, and generally living at a slower pace. I find myself noticing more around me – stopping to watch a crab switching shells or slowing down to deeply inhale a charcoal BBQ on a beach walk.
3) Instant gratification is no longer a thing…and it’s OK.
One of the greatest challenges one must overcome when moving here is learning to be OK with the fact that things take time. Instant gratification, for the most part, is no longer. This is what tends to break people within their first year here, to the point at which they choose to leave. As soon as I hear, “But that’s not how it’s done in insert name of country here!” it’s apparent that individual’s expiration date on the island is fast approaching.
Let me provide an example: it has taken Evan nearly a year to open a business bank account here. Is it frustrating? Yes! Does it have to be that way? No. But…this is how it is done. I sometimes wait in lines for two hours to pick up a prescription from the government pharmacy. Does it make any sense that there are 4 random lines? No. Is it annoying? Yes. Does it break me? Umm….sorta! But it’s part of the package deal that comes with residing in Cayman. And don’t even get me started about Amazon orders that are presently taking months to arrive!
After about a year, I stopped asking “Why?” and made a conscious decision to go with the flow. No, I do not understand why I must stand in this seemingly endless line instead of paying the bill online. However, my friends will laugh and commiserate with me later when I describe the frustrating experience, while we sip our margarita on the beach and it will all be a distant memory.
That being said, when we do return to Canada in the summers, I am always extremely impressed with the speed, efficiency, and customer service that is provided to me. In fact, I remember speaking with a woman from the TD Bank in Canada and saying, “Thank you so much!” I legitimately wanted to pack my TD Bank lady up and bring her to Cayman with me.
I remember waiting longingly for our Saskatchewan summer to arrive. Once it was upon us, I always felt a sense of urgency to pack in as many summer activities as possible into two short months. I recall waiting for a hot day, and then being incredibly disappointed when it fell on a workday, and desperately rushing through the day so that I could head out to the lake and summer as hard as I possibly could! (Yes, in Canada, “summer” is actually a verb!) I recall my mom telling me as a child, “Remember this feeling of the warm sun on your face because soon it will be winter and you will forget how good this feels.” Likewise, I would work all winter in anticipation of a hot holiday. When it was finally time to escape the frozen tundra, I would holiday as hard as I possibly could, feeling a sense of dread as the end of the vacation neared. I remember looking out the window of the plane as we descended back into Saskatchewan and feeling the sadness seep in at the sight of cold frozen tundra. The highs were high but the lows were low.
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel a sense of urgency in the summer. Given that we typically spend our summers back in Canada, I know that our time in Canada is limited and I want to ensure that I can spend time with all of my family and friends. However, I feel like I am much more balanced in Cayman, in terms of day-to-day life. I still enjoy leaving the island on vacation; however, I don’t feel that sense of urgency to get the hell out as I did during Canadian winters. In addition, I no longer experience feelings of dread when my vacation is over and it’s time to return to Cayman. In fact, when the plane descends on our island, I always feel an overall calmness associated with returning to our beautiful home.
The super high highs are no longer, but I can’t say that I feel too many lows anymore either.
Let me preface this by saying that I think our values naturally change as we age, so I’m not sure if I can attribute this all to our move to Cayman. But I will say that my list of priorities has significantly changed in the last seven years.
Prior to moving to Cayman, it was important to me to have a nice house. It was important to me to have high end appliances (not sure why as I don’t cook!). It was important to have incredible hardwood floors and an impressive corner jacuzzi tub in my bathroom (OK to be honest I miss that fricken tub a lot). I honestly felt like if I had to endure living in a place I wasn’t crazy about, that I deserved the finer things. In my mind, it was like a trade-off – If I have to survive these savage winters than I deserve the jacuzzi tub!
Cayman is full of wealth! You will see multi-million dollar homes simply driving down the Seven Mile Beach corridor. It’s not unlikely to see a Ferrari and a Bugatti parked side-by-side at Camana Bay. Obviously many people here value nice things. I do too, but it’s just not in the forefront of my mind anymore.
What I do value more than anything during this phase in my life is my relationships with others. Given that we are only back in Canada for a few months of the year, I do try to keep in close contact with my family and friends, as I really value their friendship and I don’t want to lose that with our distance. In addition, knowing that this island is so transient, I am always aware that my island friends and coworkers will come and go. I have learnt to make the most of my time with people, knowing that it could always be our last encounter. I no longer have the big home, but I do have incredible friendships that I value immensely.
So…in conclusion, I do think that I am generally a happier person since our move to Cayman. Perhaps that’s a direct result of maturity and simply being 41 years old. I still have my moments like everyone else – despite living in a tropical paradise you still have disagreements with your spouse, budgeting concerns, work woes, and health issues. It’s not a permanent holiday. It’s still life – but with perks like beautiful weather and white sandy beaches!
Overall though, I no longer feel like I am looking for the next best thing. I no longer think, “If only I had X and Y then I would be happy.” I feel content. Given that my younger self was obsessed with the Beach Boys’ song “Kokomo” if someone were to show my 12- year old self a snapshot of my life now, I would be pretty pleased that I had finally found found a place where I could “Get there fast and take it slow.” 😉
Cheers to good choices!