Well, okay, not really bahn here (island speak for “born here”), but she’s been here on St. John since she was 2 months old. Her mother – me – is a controlling Virgo and first-time mom. I must say that after watching so many pregnancy/new mother/chick-flick movies, my ideas of what it means to be a mom are a bit on the commercial side. I have idealized motherhood and child-rearing in the context of a city – not an island – and there have been some rude awakenings. I’ll discuss (bitch about) a few…
I see that there are other infants on St. John. There has actually been a bit of a baby boom of recent with little boys and girls popping out of island gyal’s canals all last year. Unfortunately, regardless of demand, there are no practicing pediatricians on island. BOOO! There are health care providers wandering under the domain of the all-encompassing Myrah Keaton Clinic, but I was frightened off at our last visit when the friendly nurse wanted to give my 3 month old daughter a vaccine made for 6 month olds.
So, being city-minded, I went to the internet and Googled “pediatrician in the US Virgin Islands”. After a few clicks and phone calls to the St. John health care providers listed, I was informed that while the doctors on staff do see children, they are not pediatricians and that I should instead contact the neighboring island of St. Thomas. This was not good news – St. Thomas is huge and it is either expensive to pay the $50 to barge your car over or a pain to take the “dollar safari taxi” over with an infant and mandatory stroller/diaper bag. Fortunately, I found a pretty feasible option (as if there were many) near the ferry terminal in Red Hook that would do, only to find out a few months later that the doctor we were seeing had started her own practice way in town and the distance necessitated further transportation than just a walk across the street from the ferry dock. I guess this means we should stop feeling so special and just go see the general doctor at the St. John clinic.
Childcare and Babysitters
Unfortunately, the nearest blood relative to my daughter and me is about 2,000 miles away, give or take a few hundred miles. So what’s a girl to do when she wants a little rendezvous with her he-for-me, you ask? Wait for the baby to fall asleep and speak sweet nothings very softly in the living room for the 30-60 minutes she’s out.
Fortunately, I am staying at home with my daughter and her father is supporting us which means we don’t need a regular childcare provider. But out of curiosity, I’ve asked around anyway. Back in Wisconsin, there is a childcare provider on every corner along with a church, liquor store, and bar. I am used to knowing there are many places to bring your kids when you’ve got to play or work. Here in the islands, it is a different story. After several inquiries to neighbors and women I’ve run across holding infants, I have only been told of TWO places on island that provide childcare, both of which close at 5pm sharp. There are a few other loose arrangements I’ve heard of where woman are watching folks’ infants while the mothers work their 9-5. The only babysitting service I’ve seen costs somewhere around $20 an hour and is geared more towards villa services for the tourists here on vacation. I guess three’s not a crowd when there are no other options. “Me time” and a solo shower are overrated indulgences anyway, right?
While motherhood on a rock comes with its adjustments, there have been some major positives. There is nothing more breathtaking or serene than playing in the ocean that surrounds us, watching my baby laugh and taste the salt of the earth. Living here is beautiful and while we may not have a lot of conveniences and the pleasures of material wealth, we are surrounded by beautiful spirits both in the flesh and not. And that is priceless to both mother and child – pediatrician or not.
I was talking to someone recently about how frustrating it is that everything over here is constantly breaking. But then I began to wonder whether things actually did disproportionately break on this rock or whether the truth was that it simply took a disproportionately long time to repair anything, hence giving the impression that everything is constantly breaking.
It’s a double edged sword of gloom and doom. When something breaks, your first hurdle is that everyone moves in slow motion and tradesmen tend to address most issues “in about a year”. The second hurdle is that “you need a part”.
My car has needed a new radiator for quite some time but I quite simply couldn’t be arsed to deal with it. So I diligently drove around with a gallon jug of water in the car at all times for topping up. Sadly, I eventually reached the point that I couldn’t actually complete my 5 minute slide down the hill to work without the radiator completely emptying. I was still in denial until the boys at the dock in the morning starting talking about gaskets blowing and $$$$$$ being spent. They drove the point home – I had to buy a freaking radiator.
With car repairs here you have three options: they have it in BVI; they have it in the USVI (and will put it on the ferry – a truly exhausting experience); or you have to ship the part in from Miami (which takes so long you have lost the receipt by the time the shipping agent needs it). Fortunately for me, I drive the car of the islands – a Suzuki – so parts can normally be found over here. The Rastaman drives a Dodge, which might as well be a spaceship for the teeth sucking and head shaking that goes on when that thing needs a part.
So I got lucky. Not only did they have a radiator over on Tortola, but one of my boys volunteered to pick it up for me. I felt like a princess. Add to this the fact that my next-door neighbour is one of the best mechanics on the island and he volunteered to fit the bloody thing. For the first time in many months, I felt like a winner.
The radiator was duly delivered to my house by my boy. The Rastaman duly opened it. So near, yet so far….. a beautiful radiator without a radiator cap – ergo, totally freaking useless.
How long could it possibly take to buy a radiator cap on a Saturday, you ask? Nine hours, my friend. NINE HOURS for a $13 cap.
From previous experience, I decided that the safest thing to do was to take the radiator with me to ensure that by the end of the day I had the right cap. So the radiator and I left home at about 9 am and spent about an hour on the corner trying to hitch a ride. We made it to the car parts shop at the other end of the island, only to discover that it is closed on Saturdays. The helpful man that I hitched a ride with told me that he assumed I knew that the shop was closed on Saturdays and that I had other reasons for carrying a car radiator to this destination. Arsehole! This detour meant that I missed the ferry to Tortola. So, at 10:15 am, I cracked my first Heineken. Bring it on. If this is the way this day is going, I’m going through it half-cut.
By 12:15 pm (only three and a quarter hours since I left home), I arrived at the car shop on the next island that had sold my boy the radiator.
Me: “My boy bought this radiator yesterday but it doesn’t have a cap.”
Salesman: “Of course it doesn’t have a cap. New radiators never come with caps.”
Sweet baby Jesus. I am not sure if I was more annoyed with radiator maunfacturers for selling their products without the only vital part or with this charming assistant who had failed to share his in-house knowledge when we bought the radiator in the first place. Would it not be helpful to have a large sign on the box like “batteries not included”, as they do for kids toys? Men/Kids, Cars/Toys, you get me?!
Approximately one minute later, I am the proud owner of a natty cap for my radiator.
Now, because I am a self-confessed idiot, I thought I should try to make this pointless morning more worthwhile by squeezing in a much needed haircut. I figured the next ferry was at 2:30 pm, so I had enough time. Sadly, the hairdresser was fully booked – it was Saturday afterall. So I mooched off to the nearest bar and hit the liquor to drown the sorrows of my pointless day off. I drank another Heineken, a couple glasses of wine, a piña colada, and a shot of cinnamon whiskey. I felt a bit ill.
Suddenly alarmed by the time, I staggered/ran to the ferry dock, clutching my now very cumbersome radiator and was delighted to find that I had arrived ahead of time. Yet 2:30 pm came and went with no ferry in sight. I had an overwhelming desire to sleep now or simply lie down and possibly pass out. I mustered the energy to enquire as to the whereabouts of the 2:30 pm ferry. It transpires that the 2:30 pm ferry is a figment of my imagination. I was now looking down the barrel of a two hour wait for the 4:30 pm boat.
I sat under the pathetic shade of a dying tree and felt the sun burning my pasty white skin with the knowledge that my lunchtime hangover was in the post, guaranteed delivery before nightfall.
When I finally made it back to my island, some poor blind man who couldn’t swim managed to step off the ferry into the gap between the ferry and dock. The ferry workers reacted as if someone had dropped a piece a paper. The next man to disembark reacted like a normal human and dove into the water after him. I, on the other hand, could only focus on one thing – HOME. I was half-cut, sweaty, dirty, sunburnt, and clutching an uncomfortably large box.
I hiked up the road and waited at the prime hitch-hiking corner. The wind blew my radiator into the road. I left it there. I figured I would pick it up when I got a ride. I finally arrived at home after 6:00 pm.
The Rastaman was sinking a cold one on the porch.
“Hello, Princess. Have you had a nice day off?”
For the last 5 years, I’ve been living in a hotel. My boyfriend, David, manages the resort, which is why we’ve lived on-property in one of the rooms all these years. It’s a very small island resort with only 8 guest rooms, a restaurant/bar, and a marina downstairs. And while it’s a lovely spot and the two-bedroom villa we reside in is quite cozy, it’s not as flashy as it sounds.
Most people become visibly envious when they hear I live at a resort. I can see in their widening eyes exactly what they’re picturing – a never-ending, luxurious tropical vacation which is somehow fortuitously my everyday life. This assumption is not entirely untrue (I can get room service whenever I don’t want to cook, which is often), but there are plenty of undesirable quirks to deal with as well that people don’t really realize when they’ve never called a hotel “home”.
My main grievance is the lack of privacy. When we step outside our door, we are in a public space (even worse for David – he is at his work). I’m not a very social person, so this has been particularly challenging for me. Sometimes I just really need some peace and quiet, but when you’re surrounded by drunken vacationers and unsupervised, shrieking children, peace is rare to come by. We try to regard our villa as our small patch of privacy, but the tourists have other ideas.
Much like their stubborn, water-rejecting equine counterparts, you can post a sign for a tourist but you can’t make them obey it. The “Hotel Guests Only” plaques in front of our rooms seem to be interpreted as more of a suggestion rather than a rule. Tourists visiting our restaurant/bar frequently wander into our hotel rooms, usually whenever a door is open while the housekeeper is cleaning. I used to enjoy having my own door open to allow in some breeze while I worked, but after too many instances of intruding tourists on their own self-led tour, I’ve had to forgo the breeze.
This seems to be just another case of the Paradise Induced Mental Relapse I have referenced in earlier posts. Nowhere else in the world have I experienced random people strolling into my hotel room. But here, I’ll be sitting at my desk and in come three couples, cocktails in-hand, flinging open my door and marching into my living room, saying all sing-songy, “Don’t mind us, we just want to see what the rooms look like.” Actually you fools, I DO mind. Even if this was just my hotel room and not my private residence, I still don’t give a shit if you want to see what the rooms look like. Ask to see a VACANT room. This one is occupied.
After the most recent obnoxious invasion of my privacy just yesterday, I figured I’d share a couple of examples of the less-than-charming side of island hotel room living:
I am working on the computer when I hear loud Spanish chattering and the banging of keys trying to be forced into my door’s keyhole. I get up to open the door and am faced with two 30-something Puerto Rican women who do not say, “Oops, excuse us” but rather, immediately become red with anger and shout, “What are you doing in OUR room?!”
I swallow my own rising aggravation and inform them as politely as I can muster that it is 100% impossible that this is their room. I ask which room they were assigned at Registration but instead of replying, the larger of the two ladies attempts to move past me, body-checking me with her over-sized bedazzled beach bag. Now they are storming into my home, telling me it is, in fact, their room (how could I be so stupid?). I have now officially moved past asking and demand to see their room key. Sure enough (I’m not that stupid!), it is for the room named “Bequia” and not my room, which is named “St. Barths”. I coerce them back out the door, point out the name discrepancy between the room placard and their engraved room key, speculate that perhaps this was why their key wasn’t fitting into my door’s lock, and point them in the direction of their (yes, THEIR) guest room. They mutter something in Spanish I am certain is not an apology.
Our bedroom wall is shared with the guest room beside us. There is a group of 6 adults who have weaseled their way into sharing a room whose max occupancy is 4. It is 2 am and they have returned from the bar, sloppy drunk, and are playing loud country music and arguing with each other in slurred Southern drawls. While I am typically a deep sleeper, I am unable to ignore the ruckus and lay fuming in bed, making futile attempts to calm myself with breathing exercises.
Suddenly, the screaming and crying is on our patio and the sliding glass door to our bedroom is flung open. A naked woman is now entering our room, apparently thinking it is her room. This is where I lose it.
I am yelling (because it is the only way to reason with drunk people and it is 2 am), “This is not your room, GET OUT!” The buck-naked woman and her half-naked friend remain on our patio arguing. While this drunk ass woman somehow managed to crawl across the roof from her patio to ours, like a cat up a tree, she cannot get herself back where she belongs. We are forced to walk the nude women through our bedroom, across our living room and kitchen, out our front door, and lead them back to their room.
For some reason, David is not as upset about this as I am.
Just yesterday, I am taking a midday nap on the couch and am awakened by crinkling sounds. I look up to find a woman in my room, rifling through my purse on the kitchen table. Still foggy from sleep, all I can muster is a stunned, “What the HELL are you doing?!”
She is old, leathery, and British. She looks at me, continues to fumble through my belongings, and says, “I’m just looking at the rooms.” I am forced to get up, physically remove her hands from my bag, and lead her out of my home. This bat-shit crazy woman had not only opened my closed door to enter my room, but had closed it behind her, presumably, for privacy. I explain to her that: a) my purse is not a part of “the room”; b) she better not have stolen anything and I’m calling the manager now; and c) if she ever wants to tour the rooms at ANY hotel in the future, she needs to do so with a hotel employee.
I have got to start locking my door. Or, you know, move.
I’m not a big fan of spa treatments. It’s all a bit too touchy-feely for me. A decent pedicure is pretty much my limit. Typically, I will only get a spa treatment if I am on holiday or overwhelmed by guilt. The main reason being that unnecessary expenses can always be justified with the tag ‘I’m on holiday’ and also because most touristy places have spas on every corner, advertising their life changing treatments and you get sucked in by it all after awhile. Living in a country which is effectively one big tourist resort messes with my head a bit. As for the guilt, I will get to that shortly.
I visit a spa here for one reason and one reason only: the essential bikini wax. It’s the downside of living by the sea – you need to be bikini ready everyday. Imagine being a porn star and needing to be sex ready all the time, the mind boggles. Finding someone who would wax properly over here was a struggle and a situation that I have had to compromise on. There were trial and error attempts with those who wouldn’t take enough off and those who had no sense of symmetry. Admit it – there is nothing worse or more infuriating than a wonky wax. I finally settled on a woman who, quite valiantly, simply takes the lot off. Like I said, a compromise situation.
But this is where the guilt comes in. Being a beautician is pretty low on my list of jobs I could tolerate doing, but if that is what you enjoy, I commend you. However, I always think that waxing must be the job that every beautician hates the most. I presume they enjoy the rest of it, but they must surely release a deep sigh when they look down their list of appointments and see a wax job in there. Whenever you go for a wax, beauticians always try to up-sell. They constantly tell you about all the other pointless crap they do which is going to change your life and make you feel rejuvenated and born again. So there comes a point when I feel so overwhelmed by guilt that this poor women, month in and month out, waxes my VJ, that I say ‘yes’ and agree to have one of her ‘treatments’. I’m not even Catholic. I shouldn’t give in to guilt, but damn it, every time I fall for it…….and every time I regret it, almost instantaneously.
Last week, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to a massage. It is my opinion that the only person who should massage me is a lover. I really don’t want anyone else to touch me anymore than is absolutely necessary. But, like I said, the guilt makes me commit to stupid things. On this occasion, I convinced myself that at the very least, the oil would smell nice and my back did need some moisturiser, so I really had nothing to lose.
From the first minute, I started to wonder how long it would last – when would it end? I soon realised that I was in for the long haul. She did each leg, she did each arm, she did my back, she did my feet, she did my hands. She kept making happy comments and asking me to confirm how great it was. I was counting seconds, I was counting sheep, I was making lists, anything to take my mind of this horrible experience. I hate being touched. How had I walked into this situation with open eyes? Am I really that thick? Why did I agree to this? She’s a beautician, waxing is her job, you don’t need to punish yourself, she chose her career, maybe she even likes waxing? To make matters worse, the oil did not smell good. It was a familiar smell, but one I couldn’t place. She then poured it in my hair, with the belated question, “Oil in your hair? It’s ok?”. I’m English, so out of my mouth spilled forth the words, “Sure, it’s ok, it’s great!” while inside, I was screaming for the experience to end and fighting the urge to bolt. With the oil now running down my forehead, I could finally place the smell. It smelled like barbecued beef, ergo, I now smelled like barbecued beef. Would this never end?
Finally she stopped and I was free to go. She was all smiles and totally delighted with herself. I was struggling to maintain my fake smile.
“I use special Ayurvedic Indian massage oil, you like?”
“I loved it, it was great!” I replied, while inwardly contemplating the fact that as cows are sacred in Hindu culture, whether this was the reason to have a massage oil that was eau de vache?
“Leave it on for 1 hour and then have a cool shower and you will feel great.”
I never discovered if I would feel great. Coated in beef drippings, I drove home as fast as possible and dove into a steaming hot shower and scrubbed and soaped up until the entire experience was a distant memory, to all but my bank balance.
6 months of guilt-free waxing now lie ahead before my next sensational spa treatment. Hot stones or exfoliating scrub?
Caveat: For those of you who read the title above and found yourself hoping to attain some sort of Mr. Miyagi-esque sagacity from this post, I feel compelled to provide full disclosure – the aforementioned wax is not the karate skill-inspiring car polishing variety, but rather, this post is about bikini wax.
Many of the basic services people take for granted out there in the real world are the little things I often long for. From dry cleaning, to a good tailor, to a cobbler (both the kind made of peaches and the man who fixes your shoes), to food delivery options (seriously – nothing fancy – I would dance in the streets if I could get a pizza delivered) are all on the list. But no matter how much I yearn for a proper bakery and the like, I would stop whining about it all if only I could have a good bikini waxer.
Once upon a time in my past life in The Land of Convenience, I used to get fantastic bikini waxes on a regular basis. And while I realize “fantastic” may seem like a bizarre word choice to describe the procedure of having scalding hot liquid poured on your lady parts and ripped off whilst attached to your hairs by the root, I now know just how fantastic my experience truly was. Each month, I would visit my favorite chamomile-scented day spa and see an efficient French woman named Françoise. Not only was she quick, she skillfully minimized the pain in what can be a torturous enterprise and I left there with skin so smooth and hair-free, if I wasn’t 5’3″ (and, you know, womanly) you’d think I’d just been born.
Having lived in the islands now for close to 8 years, I am disappointed to report that I still do not have a waxologist who I can trust. It is a cruel injustice to live in a place where you wear bikinis year-round and not be able to get a good bikini wax. In my fruitless search for The One, I have been burned, ripped, and pulled in ways that still make me shudder. Commiserating with my fellow women on rocks, the tales of disappointment in waxdom abound – one friend even had the top layer of her skin inadvertently pulled off. Down there. It bled for days. I wish I was exaggerating this in some way, but I am not.
And it’s not just that these so-called estheticians lack an aptitude for depilatory treatments, but I have yet to even find one that actually uses the appropriate type of wax. Why is it me telling them, the “professionals”, that they’re using the wrong wax? They look at me with the same feigned patience I would give some random patron telling me they could do my job better, but really – I could do their job better. It’s my sensitive lady skin that is being punished here and I feel like this is not one of those situations where you can just grin and bear it. Let me just tell you – there is NOTHING like a bad bikini wax.
Life on a rock often motivates you to start taking matters into your own hands. I have become much more resourceful living down here; when something I desperately want is unavailable, I have been known to try to fill the void on my own. I have learned how to make all sorts of shit I would never have attempted if it were readily available – I make my own whole-grain bread, veggie burgers, sorbet…hell, I even made my own hair serum. I’m not quite sure why it has taken me so long to decide to start doing my own bikini waxes, but in a fit of frustration after my most recent waxing debacle, I finally made the decision to go at it on my own.
I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I researched and shipped in the right kind of wax and even got myself a salon-quality wax heater. I figured it was best to not complicate things by adding the microwave into the equation.
On the day of my waxing appointment with myself, I was already smug before I had heated the wax. I imagined that I would emerge from my first self-bikini wax with the same victory I experienced when I realized I could make my own almond butter. It’s so easy! And cheap! I can’t believe I’ve been paying $27 a jar for it all these years! Spoiler alert: doing your own bikini wax is nothing like making almond butter.
Conducting a self-bikini wax is quite literally a sticky situation. Gravity is working against you and despite your best intentions, you end up dripping a considerable amount of wax on inopportune places – in between your toes, for example. And sadly, the “Wax Removing Lotion” you lavishly purchased along with your Easy Bake Waxer does not, in fact, remove wax. It is also safe to say that I am now in need of a new set of bath towels, as the ones I sagely used to protect the floor are crusted in what looks like a honey explosion.
I will not go into the specific details of my bikini wax endeavor, not because I am shy, mind you, but more due to the fact that my brother reads this. I will say it wasn’t a total fail, but the ease I had so arrogantly anticipated was illusory. An experience that typically takes around 20 minutes at the spa consumed 2 1/2 hours of my Saturday and it was nowhere near complete; it turns out, I am not as bend-y as I like to believe. Another unpleasant side effect was the unrelenting crick in my neck that lingered for 3 days following due to all of my below-the-navel gazing.
Alas, bikini waxing remains a service I still wish I could pay somebody else to do. I suspect I will improve as a self-waxer with time, but it’s a lot tougher than I presumed and there’s only so much you can do with one set of hands. Until I can work up the courage to try someone new again, I may just have to make it more of a festive affair by adding music and copious amounts of wine to my self-waxing Saturdays. But I would like to send out this S.O.S. – if you live in the big world and are an adept esthetician looking for an island adventure, pack your bags, friend, and head for the tropics. You can stay at my house. The wax is already warm.