Island time.

You read about it, but it’s one of those things you have to experience firsthand; otherwise, the words are just seen without comprehension. In one eye and out the other, you might say. Though once you burn your bridges and make your official move from the mainland, evidence of the abrupt timing differences of everyday life are everywhere.

White_Rabbit_KHREC

In life on a rock, sometimes time matters, sometimes it doesn’t. You cannot just assume that everything starts and ends half an hour late and arrive accordingly. Prepare yourself: you will be hopelessly confused.

So far, in my attempts to make sense of this seeming nonsense, I’ve only grasped a few things. Stores open on time, school opens on time, banks open on time, and, of course, all of them close on time too (unless they close early). So far so good, though since I shop and bank during off hours and avoid school patrols, that precision doesn’t benefit me.

FedEx opens on time, I think, but I’ve learned that it’s closed between 1 – 2pm. I had originally guessed that it might close at noon for lunch, so I arrived for my first visit at 1pm only to find it closed. Unfortunately, the only place to sit and wait is on a step around the corner from the door where you can’t see the clerk return, so I had to keep getting up and checking, because I didn’t realize he had just left. I thought he would be back any minute… turns out it was 60 minutes. It’s a narrow window, because you have to complete the transaction by 3:30pm or the package won’t go out until the next day. Of course, I could have called to find out the actual hours that particular day, because I’ve since discovered that a real person answers the phone, and he’s actually very friendly. At the time though, I had never anticipated that, because I had given up calling businesses except when in dire need shortly after the answers all started to begin with, Appuyez sur deux pour le français. Press one for English. or, Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. You are the eleventh caller in the queue.

Service people seem to have their own schedules – really private ones that they don’t share with anyone. In fact, some don’t seem to have schedules at all. The cleaner does arrive at the right time on the right day, and if there is a problem (like no buses because the day after the election is a holiday), she calls the day before to let us know. I have found though that she is very much the exception.

The pool guy arrives more or less early in the morning, but not necessarily on the same day. That’s no problem at all though, because he goes ahead and does the job whether or not we are home. The proof is in the pudding – the pool is always nice and clean, except for the leaves that blow in the minute he has finished.

island time entry sign

The electrician (a really good one) did quite a lot of work for us months ago and then got really busy because of snowbird season, so he hasn’t come back to finish. Nor has he given us an invoice – that won’t happen until he does finish. I’d have thought he’d like to be paid. I would. Repairmen in Canada usually gave me an invoice the same day they did the work, even carrying a little credit card machine so they could get paid right then and there.

Our house has white railings around the verandas, with fancy “X” formations. Shortly after we paid for the house, we found that about a third of the boards had to be replaced due to dry rot. We hired a carpenter and watched. I’ve done some carpentry myself, so I know that repairing that “X” formation is skilled work – very skilled, especially with the warped boards we get on this island. The carpenter came most mornings (no telling when) and left early or late in the afternoon, and eventually it all got done. I guess you have to be in the right mood for difficult work.

We have a little Art Gallery in town with advertised opening hours of 10am – 2pm, six days a week. Advertised, mind you. Sometimes it opens on time, sometimes it closes late, and occasionally the volunteer locks the gallery for lunchtime, even if she goes nowhere. That used to bother me. I thought you had to do what was advertised, but apparently not down here.

Social events are a whole other story. Expats are more or less on time, unless they’re not. Since the cook in my house likes to serve food on his schedule, I’ve gotten to the stage where I am inclined to say to our guests, “Don’t worry about being fashionably late, we’ll be ready early.”

Bridge starts on time unless you invite a long time resident who has fallen into the island time trap.

Golf starts on time and people are usually there early to get themselves organized, to plant the flags on the greens, and to place the rakes in the traps… except for those who aren’t. The privileged arrive exactly on time and expect all the preparation to have happened magically.

Potluck brunch starts on time now. At first, people came any old time, but they soon figured out that the food is all gone if you’re late and your contribution doesn’t get eaten because everyone has already moved on to dessert.

Here’s the kicker. I read this post to my Writers’ Group, most of whom have been on island much longer than I. They chuckled often, perhaps at my naiveté.

Their verdict?

“You are never going to sort this out. Just live with it.”

pointless

Written By:

Val Zacharias

Current Rock of Residence:

Nevis

Island Girl Since:

January 2013

Originally Hails From:

Saskatchewan, Canada

Val and her husband Bob retired to Nevis (the small relative of St. Kitts, in the Leeward Islands) in January 2013. They often sit on their porch and smile and say, “This was a good decision.” – though never on those days they have to spend dealing with Revenue Canada. Val is unable to do nothing, so she spends her time doing stained glass, making vases and hangings out of palm fibre, playing bridge, and having a go at baby golf (there are 10 tees and 2 greens). That’s when she’s not fixing things (like the automatic gates that keep out the cattle, sheep, and goats), killing cockroaches with a hammer (because otherwise they get up and walk away), and collecting/trying out all possible remedies for insect bites (many of which somehow appear when there have been no insects in sight). Her dad used to say that in Northern Canada, the mosquitos may be too big to go through the screens, but they bring their little ones along and shove them through the holes, where they grow up and wreak havoc inside. Val has found the same to be true here.

The grocery stores are interesting. They only occasionally have prunes, for instance, but filo (Val thought it was phyllo) dough is readily available. That requires work, though, so it stays on the shelves.

Val has found that the key to living on Nevis is to start all conversations with, “Good morning, good morning, how are you?” and to actually be interested in the answer. People are very friendly and amazingly helpful. The 22 months they have spent on Nevis feels like a nice long summer so far – one nice long summer.

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