“So, what do you do on a typical day?”
It was the first time anyone asked me that particular question, but I took it the same way as the other questions we hear frequently from our friends and family back where we came from: “What do you do there?” or “How do you spend your time on the island?”
Trust me, I often ask myself that question too at 4:30 pm when I hear the ice cream truck jingle. Wow! Is it already happy hour? What did I do all day?
At first, I felt the need to justify my existence on the island. I would list off things I liked to do such as snorkeling, diving, swimming.
“But do you have jobs?”
“We’re retired,” I’d reply, wondering if retired people back in Canada got this kind of grilling too.
“So how do you spend your time?”
If you live on an island, you know that everything here takes longer: lines to pay bills, bank queues, driving to different grocery stores (because one doesn’t have everything you need). If you stop in at the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, you have to chat with Beverly or Mark if they’re working. If you go for lunch, and the restaurant isn’t busy, you might have a visit with the owner – sometimes a very long visit. It’s island life. Try explaining this to someone who works in the hustle and bustle of the big city in Canada or the US where people hardly speak to one another. Try explaining that I can sit on my balcony having morning coffee while watching the boats coming and going, enjoying the colors of the sea as they change, and even watching the storms for hours, until the morning is half gone.
When we first moved, I was asked the same question by someone who lives here. She works here and confessed that she doesn’t have much free time. When I tried to describe my day to her, she looked at me blankly, as if she didn’t understand the concept of leisure. “I swim in the morning, we do our shopping, we pick up the mail, we plan our next trip.”
Blank stare. I felt like I needed to justify my life.
“We like to cook, so we shop almost every day.” I could have added that we make everything from scratch, seldom eat out, and unlike most of the working people here, I don’t have a helper to clean my house. I recently noted to my husband that we spend a lot of our time discussing what to eat for supper, shopping for the food and wine, preparing the meal, eating, and cleaning up.
“I spend a lot of time chasing the iguanas away from the pool,” I added, wracking my brain for things I do all day.
“Do you want to come over to my house?” jokes another guest at the party.
This was when we were still new to the island, so I thought maybe I needed to find a volunteer opportunity as a means of justifying my existence.
But, it turns out, it’s really hard to commit to a volunteer job when you:
1) Prefer to be a participant in all the one-off activities such as A Taste of Cayman, the Cayman Film Festival, the Flowers Sea Swim, the Parade of Lights, or a 10k walk. No, I can’t volunteer at those events, I’ll be attending them!
2) You are usually planning your next trip or you’re just returning from a trip.
3) You have guests visiting and you want to show them everything the island has to offer.
I soon realized that finding a volunteer opportunity was not a priority for me. In fact, my priority was finding time to exercise and write.
When we moved, I imagined leisurely days by the pool, writing stories, and reading novels. I read a lot of novels in the first year. I didn’t write much, and I clearly didn’t exercise enough.
My most recent response to “What do you do here?” has been that in the past year, I’ve had two foot surgeries, so between trips to California, Europe, and Canada, I’ve been recovering and making visits to the doctor.
When I’m home and healthy, this is a typical day: I swim almost every morning. I try to get to the tiny pool early, before my neighbor, or I patiently wait for her to finish and get out before someone else decides to add “morning swim” to their workout routine. I make coffee, do a workout, and I make breakfast for my husband and myself. I’ve been studying languages, so I do a few lessons. I clean up a little – Is that an iguana by the pool? I run out to the pool to chase iguanas away. I digress. Some days I clean house or do laundry or make a dessert for a special occasion. I’ve made 2 quilts out of old t-shirts since we moved here, and I’m working on another.
(At this point in the conversation, the person asking “What do you do?” usually gets a glazed look on their face.)
At this point in the day, my husband might say, “We should go to _________ and get ___________,” which means there is usually some part needed for an appliance or an ink cartridge for the printer or something that requires a trip to a store, which will end up taking two hours or more.
A trip to the hardware store is an opportunity. It’s an outing. We might need a part to fix the toilet, but we also need to see what’s new in the fabulous commercial kitchen section, or check out the new linens in the home décor section.
This outing is always followed by a stop at the grocery store, the wine store, and finally the post office to pick up mail. On the days we don’t have these outings, we’ll go to a matinee at the Cinema.
By the time we get home, I might sit down to check my email and catch up. This is often when I hear Turkey in the Straw signaling happy hour… oops, I mean that it must be about 4:30 pm and time to do some yoga before happy hour.
We don’t really have happy hour everyday anymore. No… not everyday.
I notice that now, when my husband is asked, “What do you do on the island?” his answer is, “We just live.”
My answer could well be, “So much more than I ever did before.” Or “We do whatever we feel like doing. We’re retired.”
I no longer feel the need to justify my existence. I’m simply enjoying retirement. I’ve replaced my jackets with bathing suits, my chapped skin lotion with sunscreen, and my winter boots with bug spray.
And that’s what I’m doing here.