I recently met a new inhabitant of the rock I call home. It was she, a fully-signed up member of a rock community, who alerted me to Women Who Live on Rocks. Unsure as to the legitimacy of my claim as a true woman on a rock (considering I live on my island on and off throughout the year), I queried the powers-that-be, Chrissann Nickel. Composing my plea for acceptance to such an august group, I was reminded of just how many rocks I have called home, and on which I have left a little piece of my heart. Having now been ordained a bona-fide rock habitué, a short piece about those various, and varied, rocks might be a good way to introduce myself.
The first was Singapore which, to my childhood memories, was a muddle of satay stalls at Newton Circus and the jostle of the original CK Tang where I would spend my pocket money. It has, over the intervening years, given way to cleaner establishments, all still filled with the chattering of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Tamils, not to mention expatriates from across the globe. In essence the Asian crucible.
It is a most cosmopolitan rock, the scent of joss sticks mingling with turmeric infusing the air, and where Gucci rubs shoulders with Ganesha – that lord of good fortune, though free-living is somewhat frowned upon. Even in your own home. Naked meanderings to the fridge in the middle of the night could be reported, and loving someone of the same sex can land you in the nick for a couple of years. Chewing gum of any but the therapeutic kind is banned, as is spitting anywhere and peeing in elevators – something I’m actually okay with. Inflation has hit hard, and should you feel inclined to feed the birds, specifically pigeons, it will not cost not twopence a bag but a hefty $400 fine. And one particular law does not sit, or stand, well with many onus who live on islands with limited rainfall – unlike Singapore: failure to flush is an offense!
But as rocks go, Singapore holds the most wide-ranging memories having lived there three different times. I went to school there. Then one or two years later – okay, okay, about 25 – my daughter went to school there, and my son started his educational journey in the Lion City. It is a vibrant island but perhaps for those of us now resident in the Caribbean, a little too structured. Though the smell of charcoal drifting from an open brazier will always get me salivating for grilled satay dipped in spicy peanut sauce, a slice of cooling cucumber, and an ice-cold Tiger beer.
Where next? Forgive me, but my rocks have jumped around a bit. I could cheat by listing Britain and Australia – technically islands but the line must be drawn somewhere. So let’s go to Papua New Guinea, that island chain whose eastern edge ripples the Coral Sea, and where I lived on and off for five years. PNG is where I had my first job, and where I fell in love for the first and last time.
It is arguably one of the most beautiful and remote places in the world. Where Tok Pisin is the lingua franca, and betel nut from the areca palm is masticated with lime and spat liberally on sidewalks and cars in the few urban areas. No draconian laws about spitting on this rock chain. Dense jungle kids one of the 40 species of the glorious birds of paradise, and where an airplane lost is an airplane lost forever. Remnants of fierce battles in WWII, where Australian and American fought side by side against the Japanese, still litter some beaches.
Culturally PNG is fascinating. Where the height of culinary ecstasy is a mum – pork wrapped in banana leaves and baked in the earth under hot stones. And what is not tantalizing about penis sheafs? What is not provocative about a woman suckling a piglet on one breast and a child on another?
Next, well with a few countries in between, I found myself on the southernmost rock of the Caribbean. The larger of the dual island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. San Fernando was home. And no one would dare spit in the first mall of the south. Sticker shock was a constant companion. So much so I was forced to treadle a sewing machine so my infant daughter and I were clothed and able to appear in public. My daughter is again living on that particular rock with her family – teaching ballet, Pilates, and pole dancing.
With Singapore again and a couple more countries in which I could claim residency, the next rock was a little despotic one in the armpit of Africa. Bioko, the island part of Equatorial Guinea. A more generous writer might observe it can be found, with the aid of a magnifying glass, tucked in the fold of any atlas or map.
It was here I learnt the art of cloying submission. Something which did not sit naturally upon my sweating shoulders but was invariably the correct tactic. One of the aspects of my role as Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul being to sweet talk the authorities into freeing a Brit, any Brit, from the holding yard of the police station before charges were levied. A jail break being significantly more difficult to achieve once a cell had been reached. The infringement might not have been as mundane as spitting or feeding the pigeons, but the punishment meted out was rarely justified – maybe a photo inadvertently taken too near a government, or a little too much San Miguel imbibed, or the lack of a permit – for anything or nothing.
Bioko, once described as the pearl of Africa by some, a teardrop by others, is a rock of little sophistication though the heir apparent has a fleet of luxury cars – a Bentley would occasionally be spotted playing dodgem with the potholes. Parts of the rock are stunning – jungles of creepers, hard woods, and spreading cribs in which live seven species of monkeys, though the chance of seeing them skinned and for sale on the roadside was sadly greater thanks seeing them in the bush. Black sand slithers into the Gulf of Guinea and the sound of rustling palm fronds can trick one into believing one is on a tropical paradise. Just don’t open your eyes. It was on this rock I learnt the acronym WAWA – West Africa Wins Again.
And so we arrive at my current rock, where people are warm and welcoming – St Croix, in the USVI. We are the lesser known of the Virgins – the Big Island but not as boisterous as St Thomas or as serene as St John but beautiful nonetheless. An island filled with Danish delights, but no pastries. Fiercely proud bahn here Crucians determined to ensure heritage and history are not forgotten, and long-time residents happy to share their knowledge with relative newbies like me. Where limin’ is as natural as dinin’!
I have seen no evidence of excessive spitting, particularly of the betel nut variety, and that’s a bonus. There are the requisite chooks (chickens to non-Australian readers), our pigeons tend to be of the more refined breed with elegant white heads and sleek black bodies – there is not, to my knowledge, a fine for feeding them. The beaches are white, the oceans sapphire, peridot, or grey depending on the skies, and the vibe relaxed.
My rocks have been diverse – from the sublime to the surreal. Some I would return to in an instant. Others, well, maybe not… but none have been regretted. All places have one common denominator – the people, both local and imported. And the women on each of my rocks have invariably been ready to smile at life’s absurdities.
The chances are the search is over, and my permanent rocking place will be St. Croix – a rock of character and charm. Cariso and quell. Conch and coconut. Oh yes, mustn’t forget Presidenté and Cruzan rum!
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How many rocks have you been able to call home in your life? What’s been your favorite so far?