I suddenly have a lot of new friends on my rock. It’s hard not to feel popular, what with all the personal phone calls coming into the dive shop just for me. Though in reality, the calls are from people looking not for SCUBA appointments, not for me, but for my dill. I comfort myself with the hope that this surprisingly exhausting popularity will soon pass and life will return to its normal, quiet flow – all because I’m no longer up to my ears in tomatoes.
Last November, I bought a hydroponic gardening system. Thanks to it, I grow a variety of lettuces (arugula heaven!), some cute little sweet peppers, rampant dill, some intimidated-looking cilantro (if the dill was your next-door neighbor, you would be too), a cucumber plant that is desperately trying to plan a balcony takeover but is hindered by a relentless need to produce fruit, and three highly bossy and needy tomato plants.
As a result, my balcony is now under surveillance, closely watched by members of my four new groups of island “friends”:
GROUP 1 – GOVERNMENT CRONIES (CUSTOMS, THE DEPT OF AGRICULTURE, AND MY POLICE CHIEF INSPECTOR/NEIGHBOR)
I give thanks for this group’s interest in me to a South African accent and a miscommunication.
My boss (the South African accent in question) was thoughtful enough to pay the Customs’ duty on the shipment of the hydroponic equipment, which Customs was more than happy to accept. However, Customs also requires you to open the package in their presence and produce some form of a receipt for the goods (even if the goods are your oldest and stinkiest pair of tennis shoes… that was a fun day), which they then apply 22% duty on (sounds steep, but we don’t pay any other taxes here). So it’s easy to imagine the excitement that large shipments can cause – I’m shocked that someone hasn’t made it into a reality show yet.
Apparently (and not so surprisingly), there was once an individual on island who had in the past used hydroponics to grow a certain illegal substance. So the typical duty frenzy substantially increased when, lo and behold, another hydroponics kit arrived. Trying to stay calm, Customs asked my boss what the system was going to be used for.
“Gardening,” he replied succinctly (as he always does).
Interest peaked, Customs inquired further, “And what will your employee be gardening?”
“Herb,” my boss answered.
At which point I, the skinny white girl and complete antithesis of a drug grower, walked in.
All eyes turned to me as my boss asked me in confirmation, “Herb, right?”
By then we’d attracted the full attention of both Customs agents, plus a few bored people milling about the airport on their “lunch” break (at 3 in the afternoon).
“Herb? Wha… no! No.” Deer in the headlights, I backpedalled, spouting out names of vegetables like I was being quizzed. I’m glad at least my boss found this funny.
I stammered out a few more random gardening words, thanked my boss, grabbed the package, and tried to make a hasty retreat – which is never a good idea when the box is bigger than you can see around. After bouncing ungracefully off a few walls and entertaining the people in the airport hall, I escaped to the car.
Shortly thereafter, my neighbor aka the Chief Inspector of Police (who I play trivia with every Wednesday or so) decided to drop by and “check out” my new garden equipment. Never mind that he can clearly see my balcony from his own. Even as it’s become evident that there is nothing to cause concern aside from the rampant cucumber, it doesn’t stop him from making his sporadic, unofficial visits, you know, “just dropping by”.
GROUP 2 – CURIOUS TOURISTS
This bunch is pretty self-explanatory, falling under the umbrella of “tourons“. Why is it that all tourists seem to assume that the island locals are always stoned? Weed is way too expensive! Beer is far cheaper, plus you won’t get kicked off the island for simply getting drunk.
This obvious fact hasn’t stopped the crowds from (loudly) asking us in public locales if we will sell them any of our “herb” (the dill, basil, cilantro, etc.) and then laughing hysterically at their clever innuendo.
GROUP 3 – UNEXPECTED NEIGHBORLY NEIGHBORS I’VE NEVER MET BEFORE
These people are another variety of tourist, those staying in villas, who assume that we are happy to share our wealth of lettuces, tomatoes, spices, etc. At which point it’s my turn to laugh hysterically, and then, wheezing, remind them where the grocery store is.
GROUP 4 – CHARISMATIC NON-HUMANS WHO ARE, FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES, ALSO NEIGHBORS
These are by far my favorite and feel most like real friends. While the frogs do tend to squish my baby lettuces when they wedge themselves, butt first, into the tiny planting space, the look of enviable contentment on their cute amphibian faces is worth a few squashed plants. Plus, it’s more than worth the occasional girlish yelp of surprise that my boyfriend makes when one jumps out of the watering can at him in the mornings.
The garden also attracts longing looks from the curly tail lizards one floor below. Occasionally, I throw them a hibiscus flower and sip my wine while watching the fight erupt. Bursts of sand fly upward, heads bob, and tails wag as they battle over rights to the delicious flower, and, almost always, a sneaky mini-curly tail watching from the sidelines seizes the diem and the flower.
The best, though, are the bananaquits. These tiny, fast moving birds have taken a huge liking to the balcony jungle, and tend to visit several times a day to take extremely messy baths in the little bowl of water left out just for them (if it isn’t there, or if it’s too empty for their liking, they complain. Really.). Watching them fluff themselves three times their normal size and slip on the wet railings is better than going to the movies (or, so I assume, as there is no movie theatre around here). They love the garden so much that they’ve gone so far as to build a nest in some lettuces, which, unfortunately, had to be removed (because I wanted a salad. Of greens, that is). For this, they chirped, complained, and boycotted the bath bowl until they got over it and moved the dismantled nest elsewhere. I’m sure they’ll forget soon and try again.
In the meantime, I have the baby crabs to contend with. They climb the solid concrete walls and tend to appear, ninja-like, from nowhere with claws extended and a fearsome look on their little one-inch bodies. You’re tempted to laugh at them, but they look so serious that you just can’t bring yourself to. Plus, it’s not that funny when they land in your hair (and then it’s my turn to scream like a girl).
– – –
But now, summer has arrived (more like three weeks ago) and gardening success (not to mention effort) is exponentially decreasing with skyrocketing temperatures under the blasting Caribbean sun. Fortunately, the bananaquit bath bowl is gaining popularity, and at least the mint is still going strong. I suppose we must shift our focus away from dill and tomato, and roll right into the highly anticipated mojito season. And maybe sell seats for our bananaquit bath movie theatre. So much for quiet time.