An Excellent Island Adage For Living, But Bad For Renovations
Ah, the pace of island life. If you haven’t heard, it’s a bit slower than most everywhere else in the world. Many see this as a bonus; it is, in fact, the reason many choose to live on an island in the first place. No rushing, less stress, no worries, mon – soon come. A popular saying here on this rock, soon come is meant to ease your mind, to remind you to lay back and relax, all will be done shortly, it will happen soon enough.
For the most part, I’ve honed my ability to go with the island flow over the years. I’ve even uttered this phrase to others with a feeling of blissful nonchalance in my I-Love-my-Island-Life moments. But this little phrase has come back to bite me in the ass from time to time, particularly when it comes to home renovations.
Soon come is all well and good until you set a time on your lunch hour to meet a contractor. You say 12 noon. He says 12 noon. You get there at 12 noon on the dot, but – surprise! – he is not there. Fifteen minutes later, he is still not there. Half hour passes, then 45 minutes, still no contractor. At ten minutes to 1 o’clock (and ten minutes left on your lunch hour), you call and ask “Did we not say 12 noon meet?” He replies, saying he’s coming, he just stopped by the store, will be there in 10 minutes. The extent of your lunch hour passes, 15 more minutes go by, and then he arrives. Today’s “soon come” equaled over an hour late. Same drill with the plumber the next day. All this before the actual job even begins.
I started writing this rant as a means to calm my irritation back in late February, a day when the workers were set to show up at 8am. Actual arrival time: after 8:30am. Soon come, they all say. They will show up, get to work, no harm done, or so their attitude is. Except WE are the ones left wasting our time waiting on them, and as always happens in renovations everywhere, the job drags on, and on, and an extra on (because we’re on an island), all the while saying, soon come we finish. And here we are, now bidding adieu to Contractor #3.
You see, back in mid-December, our bathroom tiles started changing color. They were once white, and had turned a depressing grey. After growing up on an island where he is quite familiar with tile floors, Hubby knows that ceramic tiles turn color when wet, and he deduced there was a leak. Most likely a big one, as now there were several tiles that had the same grey hue. To find the leak, many, many tiles had to be ripped up and this led to having to replace the entire floor. Something about the existing tiles not being available anywhere on island and we could not find a close match to save our lives.
Enter: Contractor #1
This guy tears the place apart to find the leak with the intention of patching it. Time comes to make decisions as to how it will be fixed and he’s out, saying he’s not up for the job. Bye, bye Contractor #1.
Enter: Contractor #2
This guy assures us he can start quickly, and yes, even though Christmas is coming, he wants to get started now. Even though we both know that nothing gets done over the holidays from Christmas, to Boxing Day, to New Years – all workers on the crew leave the island, not to return until January 4th. Soon come takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to island holidays. Yes, he wanted to tear up our bathroom the day before all the crew was leaving the island for this extended holiday. For 2 weeks, over the Christmas holiday, we were to have NOTHING in the bathroom. No shower, no toilet, no sink, no floor. Merry Fucking Christmas! Add to this preposterous idea (apparently we were the only ones that thought this preposterous…) that his idea of a quality job differed greatly from our idea of a quality job. Contractor #2 quits before he even got started.
Enter Contractor #3
We were hopeful, as this guy had a good reputation in the complex. However, we had to wait for him to start as well. By this time, Christmas was over and he was catching up on work he had not touched since before the holiday. Soon come, it’s February and we finally have our first meeting. After showing up over an hour late, he tries to ease our minds with the Soon come, and No worries, mon, h’it will be done spiel. I was ever the optimist, embracing the Soon come, I’ll be laid back as long as it gets done attitude with the hopes that things would be finally done to our satisfaction. That lasted exactly 3 days. The work started, but the mess, the dust, the slack standards of the contractor, the plumber, and the tiler being so different than ours – the job just couldn’t be done fast enough. Come April, both the contractor and us are on the same page – Worst. Job. Ever. Bye, bye, Contractor #3.
– – –
To this day, I still have holes in the tiles bigger than the pipes that go into the wall for both the shower and the toilet, tiles that run halfway up a wall and sit a full 1/4 inch out from the wall above it, sloppily filled with grout, and a drain that sits too low for the tiles next to it. Suffice it to say, it was not an amicable ending to the job. Nearly 4 months to do a 5ft by 9ft bathroom. Soon Come was far too slow, frustrating, and painful – to say the least!
Under other circumstances, soon come is a refreshing attitude to remind us that our rushed existence is stressful and unnecessary, because in the end – yes, things do get done eventually – the weather is gorgeous and the views are beautiful. It is times like these meant for sitting back, enjoying the island vibes, and sipping a rum punch (or two or three). The national airline even offers free rum punch on all their flights to this rock to properly set the mood.
Sadly, when you have a bathroom that has no bath, no toilet, and no sink, you really don’t want to just sit back and have a rum punch. Because when soon comes after the rum punch, you will need a working bathroom. Trust me on this one.
The overhead fan clangs to silent, and I reach for my iPhone – 3:10am.
Thank God for propane and an old-fashioned perk coffee pot. All things will be possible with caffeine. I roll over and go back to sleep. I toss and turn. Hubby throws off the sheet. The sun is up, the fan is still silent.
“It’s a holiday weekend.” DH (Dear Husband) reminds me, as he ambles into the kitchen.
I light the stove burner with a match. Holiday weekends include Mondays, and today is Saturday. “It’s just a brownout,” I answer optimistically, inhaling the sweet aroma of Colombian blend in deeply.
“We’ll survive.” He grins. I smile and nod, remembering our first week in this house. It was late August. We had no electricity for days.
“Cup of joe on the deck?” He pours himself a cup, iPad in hand.
Thank God for batteries… maybe. As he checks his email, I groan at the good-natured posts on my Facebook page where I had been bragging about life in paradise only yesterday. There are comments from those wishing to trade places with me, desperate for an escape out of the below zero temperatures back in Pennsylvania. I now wonder if those folks would be still be envious, considering my last few hours without electricity, an occurrence that can hardly be deemed rare down here.
Life on the rock – electricity comes and goes like the tide. On Eleuthera, brownouts can last 15-20 minutes, sometimes up to an hour or more during high usage periods. Thankfully, that has improved since we bought our home 10 years ago, when mornings stretched into evenings and sometimes we had no power for 24 hours or longer.
“The problem is probably at the pole,” DH reminds me, belting his last gulp of coffee.
“Does it matter?” I throw back at him. “It’s a holiday weekend.” And today is forecasted to be unseasonably warm. I repeat to myself, At least it isn’t August.
We arrived back on the island a week earlier to erratic power surges, so we should have seen this coming. We had been navigating suppertime darkness and freaked out once in the middle of the night when the house lit up like a casino. I suspected poltergeists! Bahamas Electric Company (BEC) has been to our house twice since our arrival. Each time, while they fixed one leg, they ended up actually exacerbating the root problem… but I digress.
Though DH and I hope this is just another routine brownout, every minute that passes without the power blinking back on seems to undermine this wishful thinking. No, things are not looking good for us this holiday weekend.
Three cups of coffee later, I become acutely aware of the long term reality of life without electricity. One flush is left in the toilet. Thank God for the nearby bucket of water we have in reserve for just this situation. (For those of you on public water, cistern pumps require electricity.) DH appears at the bathroom door in time for the triumphant flush. Wielding his electrical meter, he assures me, mission is not impossible. But it’s only half past ten.
Curse words reverberate in the basement where the electrical boxes are located.
Fans are still silent. In a cami and shorts, I wish for some wind from the Carolinas (Wind from the Carolinas is the book I am trying to finish amidst my sweat).
DH stomps into the kitchen, draws a breath of refrigerated air, and grabs a beer. “Somewhere in the world, it is 5pm.” Beer is the only cool thing in our house. “Better try BEC,” he says.
“Holiday weekend, mon,” I remind him. His face tells me now is not the time for humor.
The on-duty BEC employee restates the obvious, “It’s a holiday weekend.” I remind the BEC telephone representative that our refrigerator and freezer are thawing as we speak. (Here’s where ice cubes come in handy: think of them as little melting clocks that keep the time the freezer has been off.)
“You need an electrician,” Mr. BEC says, and gives me the name and number of one of our neighbors. I suspect he’s only trying to placate me and doesn’t think Ivan will be reachable. But Ivan the electrician is a friend. A perk of living on an island: you make friends with folks in important positions.
Within twenty minutes, Ivan shows up with meter in hand. The guys diagnose that the problem is, indeed, at the pole. Ivan confirms this with Mr. BEC. Our neighbor shakes his head, trying to speak a word in our defense over the phone. Alas, it is a holiday weekend and we are not the only ones without electricity. Their skeleton crew is stretched until Monday.
Now we are responsible to pay Ivan for the diagnosis – the same diagnosis my husband confirmed hours ago before the first call of the day. A diagnosis that has played itself out in BEC’s earlier visits, one we are all too familiar with. Sorry, mon is not going to suffice this time.
I grab the receiver. “This IS your problem!” I list the damage that the erratic power surges have caused: The loss of several small appliances, a fan, and an air-conditioner. We’ve only just had the refrigerator motor rebuilt due to these power surges. (Note: this is where joules come in. They cannot be high enough when living on a rock. A joule is the standard measure for electricity. How high of a spike can a surge protector take? The higher the joule on that protector, the better the chance of longevity your electrical device has on a rock.)
Mr. BEC groans and puts me on hold. I hear him on the phone in the background. I relax a bit. After all, he is begging someone to relieve him of responsibility for my refrigerator and freezer. He finally assures me that someone will be at our place sometime before nightfall. They will send a technician from the power station an hour and half south of us, which actually has on-duty technicians.
Ivan accepts $20 payment over a beer, then tells us to get back to him if BEC does not show up. An equal opportunity offender, BEC treats Bahamians and expats the same. We both enjoy the same odds of getting prompt service. But BEC is one hundred percent more responsive than Bahamas Telephone (BaTel); with them weeks turn into months. And we receive both landline and internet via their lines. Ivan departs.
DH debates hauling out the gas-powered portable generator, and I secretly wish he would have gone for the extra expense initially and hooked it up to the electrical box in the first place. But as my Dear Husband oft says, “Island life is what it is.” I take the high road, not wanting to help him dig the monster out and hook up the beast. “They’ll be here soon.”
“What’s a few hours more,” he concedes.
We debate going for a swim when low and behold, the BEC truck pulls up. The technician, dressed in casual attire, shimmies up the pole. He even has an electrical meter!
Down he comes, around the house, back up the pole, down, into the basement, around the house again, back up the pole. “Problem at the pole,” he mumbles.
And then – the fan spins! Rejoice!
He accepts a now only slightly chilled cola.
I pick up the phone to call and thank Mr. BEC but… the line is dead.
Sigh. Can’t win ’em all.
My husband and I have recently jumped overboard from the ship of reality. We moved from an already small island with a population of about 2,000 people during peak season, to an island with about 20 people on a crowded day. This island has one restaurant, an airstrip, and a long, bumpy dirt road that runs the length of its 6 mile fishhook shape. There are beautiful untouched beaches and water that glows in neon blues and greens with periodic contrasting white sandbars intermingled.
But on this island there are no grocery stores, no gas stations, government offices, police stations, or anything that would constitute a proper settlement. In fact, the closest official town to this collection of islands is 25 miles away by boat or airplane. All of the island supplies, food, and equipment must be flown or barged in, and the #1 motto here is “Don’t get hurt”, because medical help is an expensive charter plane ride away.
The windblown shrubbery of vegetation struggles to survive in the harsh salty conditions, a sharp contrast to our lush, tropical garden in Nassau, just 40 miles away. It’s dry and hot, and although the human count is limited, the mosquitoes bustle with a city-that-never-sleeps efficiency and seem to be as densely populated as all of India.
If you’ve seen the reality TV shows about rugged Alaskan bush men, just think of our island lifestyle as the tropical version of that – only without the large deadly mammals.
Awaiting an arrival at the island airstrip
The only reason we even considered subjecting ourselves to such potential madness, is that we just so happened to live on this island before, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were in for. I originally landed in the remote, yet strikingly beautiful Northern Exumas in 2009 and met my now-husband. Surprisingly enough, despite the limited population of this island and surrounding islands, we made some wonderful friendships during our time here.
I’ve heard of people being lonely in cities, surrounded by an unending potential for finding like-minded people, but here it was like we were slotted as prime candidates for the one and only support group, not currently named, but probably ought to be known as Out-Islanders Anonymous. The old adage “We’re all here because we’re not all there” rings true. Maybe we are actually “there” in the head, but we’re all here because we’re all the same types of adventurous souls. I like to think of it more as we’re not all “there” in the suburbs with everyone else, commuting 2 hours each day to jobs in cubicles with fluorescent lights. If you’ve ever seen the movie Joe vs the Volcano, the viewer observes Joe eking out his mundane office existence by sneakily attempting to find solace in his cheery but unauthorized little hula lamp. That scene is the antithesis of my life.
A typical island social gathering for dogs and people alike.
Some people can’t stand the solitude; some people find it beautiful, but couldn’t possibly imagine living here, so far removed from first world mod cons; and a very small percentage are truly envious. I remember being at the bar one dark rainy evening talking to some people from one of the dive boats that regularly passes through. They asked, “So where’s the town?” to which I replied, “You’re in it, and we’re the village people.” gesturing to four others mingling around or serving drinks at the bar. They tilted their heads and gazed at me with a boggle-eyed I-don’t-really-get-what-you-are-saying look about them. This lifestyle is difficult to explain.
A neighboring island – reminiscent of a proper castaway isle
I think the people that are able to understand it best are those that live or work on boats. Everything on a remote island functions like a boat – we have generators, solar panels, reverse osmosis water makers; things break and we have to fix them with whatever supplies and manpower we have on-hand, sometimes becoming very creative in the process, sometimes borrowing from our neighbors with the expectation that they too will be borrowing from us again in the future; “jerry-rig”, “jimmy-rig”, and numerous other “rig” words are a regular part of our vocabulary; we have to be conservative with power and water consumption, and of course, we’re surrounded by water – everywhere you look is a vast expanse of a never-ending sea with low-lying islands dotted in the distance.
Getting here isn’t easy or cheap. Most people that can afford it charter their own plane. It helps if you have friends with airplanes, or can convince someone with a boat that you’ll chip in for gas and beer if they captain the expedition. Somehow over the years we’ve always managed to hitch hike our way here, and we’ve always been welcomed with open arms.
The airstrip doubles as a road so watch for planes while in transit!
The island, it seems, is having a hard time getting rid of us. Those of us that keep returning agree it’s some kind of island juju that we’ve tapped into. So here we are, back where we started, and upon returning, we have immediately settled into our old social scene.
Recently we were invited to a friend’s home for a potluck dinner with a few other residents of surrounding islands. This island and the Exuma island chain in general, is known for missing out on the heavy amounts of rainfall that generally flood the larger land masses like Nassau, Andros, and Abaco during the summertime, which is the main reason for its desert-like scrappy vegetation. However, on this particular day, the rain gods had different ideas. We sat in our cozy living room watching black clouds and a wall of rain approach, which led to an impressive lightening storm and wind-blown sideways rain. After about 30 minutes of harrowing cracks and ominous rumbling, the dark clouds drifted off over the ocean to make way for clear skies. Thinking the worst had passed and that it couldn’t possibly rain again for another few weeks after that session, we gathered our potluck swag and the two dogs to make the 4 mile trek to our friend’s home for dinner.
Our current transportation is an obnoxiously noisy Polaris Ranger that’s missing a windshield. The dogs hopped delightedly into the back mini pick-up bed and I settled in with my potluck garden salad tucked safely between us in the front seat and our cumbersome bag of libations on the floor at my feet. We had filled our Tervis Tumblers with our to-go beverages of choice and as a second thought, donned our raincoats, just because it was still a little breezy with a hint of a damp nip in the air.
The rain had caused every little dip in the road to fill with copious amounts of water. Cruising at a normal speed, the first puddle had no qualms about jumping right into the Polaris, spraying all of us with a good dose of murky dirt water. We laughed and trekked onward. Moving forward, each puddle was navigated at a snail’s pace in order to prevent coating ourselves in a grayish-brown bath of mud. Four miles was going to take a loooong time at this rate. And then, the unthinkable happened.
The skies opened and a few big drops started to fall, leading the way into a torrential downpour. With no windshield to protect us from the elements, the rain poured right in, trickling onto the seat and soaking our bottom halves from all angles. I pulled up my rain hood, but it was no use; my hood acted as a scooper, the rain rushed horizontally into the rear part of my jacket and started running down my neck and onward to my back. I glanced at the dogs who were squinting and squirming as the rain pelted them, so we stopped and put them up front for some added protection. Just when we thought it was going to let up, it started raining harder. We were soaked, our raincoats were proven flimsy, unhelpful pieces of material, keeping only our armpits dry.
It was a very long, very wet ride. By the time we reached our friend’s house, the rain let up. We rang the arrival bell and then slopped our way up the stone driveway and onto their beautiful airy deck overlooking the ocean. I shivered in the cool breeze, which was probably close to 78 degrees, with the wind chill factored in. Our gracious hosts welcomed us and gave us air-hugs to prevent an unwanted shower. We shook off our raincoats and hung them on the windward side to dry. They provided towels for us and for our wet pups, and even a fresh change of shorts for me.
The sun crept out from hiding and in an instant it was steamy. The dogs took off into the bush to check out what scents had changed from their last visit. We laughed about how unconventional this social setting seemed, so far removed from traveling in enclosed vehicles with windshield wipers and temperature control, and of driving on smooth highways and byways. No neighbors, no city noises, only sounds of the ocean breaking onto the rocky coastline, the wind rustling the palm fronds and seagulls and tropic birds chattering as they swooped and dove for fish.
A few more friends arrived by boat from a neighboring island. We caught up on the latest sip-sip, which didn’t take long since there really isn’t much going on from one week to the next, so we moved onto more important topics like the fishing report and the unusual, but welcomed, wet weather on this dry little rock.
At the end of the evening, and feeling the jubilation of numerous intoxicating beverages but knowing there was no concern of a road block or police check point, we mixed our extra large tumblers with one more cocktail for the long trek home and headed south in the cool night air. The night hawks flew ahead of us in the headlights, with their white spotted wings leading the way, land crabs scurried across the road, disappearing into the bush as quickly as they appeared, and mosquitoes lightly batted against our faces the entire way. For an island with a limited human population, the night was bustling with life; my favorite kind of life – nature.
A curious life we live, indeed.