Growing up in Miami, I’m no stranger to the odd and invasive organism: monster cockroaches are an everyday norm, basilisk lizards use my parent’s porch as a drag racing course, and tourists swarm off cruise ships to invade Ocean Drive. Miami has 5.5 million people (75% of whom speak a foreign language); Little Cayman and Cayman Brac have a combined population of, in the high season, maybe 2,000 (75% of whom I’m still learning to understand). We (the humans) are easily outnumbered by the local (and endangered) iguanas and whistling ducks, not to mention the constantly underfoot – but adorable – hermit crabs. Miami is also woefully lacking in ambidextrous standard drive island cars (I never remember which side the driver’s seat is on down here) or landlords who unexpectedly stash their dinner collection of giant land crabs in your trashcan (surprise!).
So, while accustomed to the inexplicably bizarre atmosphere that is Miami, island life has been a new kind of eccentric to get used to. Day to day life on an island is, in general, charmingly weird and simultaneously frustrating. What would be considered unusual or flat out unacceptable in stateside civilization becomes the everyday norm: “Oh, don’t worry about the frog in the toilet – he goes away around 2am”; or “Where’s my boyfriend? He’s at the dump finding us some new windshield wipers”; or “But I don’t want all 52lbs of tuna, just enough for dinner tonight!” Fortunately, the beauty of being outside the norm is that there’s no pressure to fit in properly.
Now that I’ve had a few years of juggling interactions with mind-bogglingly trying tourists (“So, does water go all the way around the island?”), unintelligible locals (I swear they talk nonsense on purpose so that they can laugh at me later), and the like-minded and thus unbalanced expats (mudslide contest, anyone?), I have unknowingly established a few very generalized ground rules for basic island survival that may help you maintain some semblance of sanity:
You never know when something will come back to you. The iguanas hiding in your overgrown jungle of a backyard ate your landowner’s scotch bonnets? Seriously consider spending a day catching and relocating them, then go home and bake a rum cake as a peace offering. Got too drunk and fell off the bar whilst dancing on it? Just laugh about it when someone later shows you the video they took, and pretend not to remember. Won the battle over buying a piece of fresh caught tuna on the dock, only to find that the woman who lost is now the person who can single-handedly decide whether the care package you desperately want/need may permanently be withheld by Customs? Bring her the piece of tuna.
Keep and Covet a Stash of “Home Things”
Whatever it may be, that little piece of home can be an amazing help on the “bad” days. It makes me irrationally happy to have saved that last jar of Piccalilli or bar of Lindt chocolate. I nearly cried one day when I found that weevils had eaten through the cardboard and plastic of my last unopened box of Garden-Herb Triscuits I had been hoarding for two months. In the ensuing rage of vengeful fury, I put the Triscuits in the freezer and took way too much pleasure in waiting for my newly chilled snack (the crackers, not the weevils). Lesson: stock up and keep your treasures in the fridge.
Not in the “stop to smell the roses” sense wherein you remind yourself that you live in a jaw-droppingly beautiful place that most people can only dream of even visiting, but because the problem you solved yesterday will mutate into a brand new one tomorrow. Thought you had conquered the aphids that were eating your precious pepper plants? Nope, the ants have ganged up with them and they migrated to your mango plant. You were patting yourself on the back because you had remembered to roll up the windows of your Jeep so the seats wouldn’t get soaked during the rainstorm? Nope, the wind changed direction and rain blew in the open back. Remember those weevils that ate my Triscuits and that I enjoyed freezing sadistically? They ate the bag of Israeli turmeric my boyfriend had brought me back as a gift. When something is going well right this second, soak it up.
These rules help me to survive and stay somewhat on course (what this means exactly, I’m not sure, though it may be related to the number of lunchtime mudslides), but even more important are the things that keep me living island life. Just when I feel I can’t take another thunderstorm cutting power in the middle of cooking dinner, or one more tourist asking me “So how did you get here?”, or that I can’t go another day without a raspberry, I walk into the market to find that the owner heard about my Triscuit fiasco and went out of their way to locate me a new box. People back in the real world just aren’t so consistently nice, and it’s a great feeling knowing that I can leave my keys in my car or my front door unlocked all night and no one will bother either. (Putting aside the fact that neither my car nor my household items are particularly worth much, of course. Just don’t touch the chocolate or the Triscuits.) Not to mention that I live somewhere heart-breakingly stunning and wonderful, thanks to the unbelievably clear waters and resultant dive mecca, the family of friends, and the endless laughs derived from trying (usually unsuccessfully) to follow the three guidelines above.
And when all else fails, there’s always the lunchtime mudslide. Or, more accurately, mudslides.