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.
When most people think of life on a Caribbean island, they usually conjure up images of beautiful beaches, warm weather, and crystal clear waters. They think of a calm and slower pace of life and that everyone is relaxed and set to “island time”. I’ve been living in the BVI for the last year and I can assure you that this is all true. It is amazingly beautiful and everywhere you look, the scenery is postcard perfect. It is perpetual summertime and I love it. But the thing is, I am exhausted…as in, perhaps I have a vitamin deficiency or actual illness, kind-of-exhausted. But I’m not sick or rundown, I’m just seriously sleep deprived all because I have this inherent resistance to sleeping in on a sunny day, which happens to be almost every day when you’re living in the Caribbean. Any time I try to sleep-in, I suffer a severe self-induced guilt-trip for not being outside soaking up the sunshine.
I moved to the BVI last year from Ireland, which isn’t exactly known for its amazing weather. Most days are quite grey and it rains all of the time. And the rain isn’t like a Caribbean shower where it will rain for a few minutes or an hour and then, voila!, it is beautiful and sunny again. In Ireland, it could easily rain all day and night for several days. I didn’t even see what the big deal was when I experienced my first tropical storm here in the islands last year. Far from threatening, it reminded me of a normal rainy and windy day in Ireland. In my eyes, it wasn’t what I would consider a legit storm or borderline hurricane. I actually quite enjoy a tropical storm. I sleep really well and like being tucked up in bed listening to the howling wind and rain drops falling on the roof. I find it quite comforting, as it reminds me of home.
My sleeping patterns have always been linked to the weather. Prior to moving to the BVI, a sunny day was rare for me and was considered a reasonable excuse to leave work early or not to go work at all. It felt like the end of the world if it was nice out and I had to stay in the office and miss out on the sunshine. Warm and sunny days in Ireland are like gold dust and there is a mass exodus to the nearest beach or park to soak up the limited-time only rays. Everyone is red raw with sunburn and yet they still stay out in the sun and sizzle some more because it may be the only glimpse of summer most people will get. Sunburn, an eruption of freckles, dehydration…these are the things that make up some of Ireland’s best days of the year.
I vividly recall my last sunny day in Ireland. It was almost two years ago and my mom ran into my bedroom to wake up me and ordered me to run outside straight away because it was so nice out. While this may come as a shock to people who have grown up in the Caribbean, I’m sure that a lot of people who have spent time further North will know my pain. I stayed outside that day until the sun went down. My legs were scalded and emitted heat like a radiator for days. I was a human tomato and I couldn’t care less. A sunburn didn’t matter because it’s not like I saw enough of the sun to worry about skin damage – I was more concerned about developing a vitamin-D deficiency due to a serious lack of sunlight.
So, due to being pretty much sunshine-deprived my entire life, I am left with an urgency to jump out of bed in the morning, no matter how tired I am, and make the most of any signs of a clear blue sky. But while I love the sunshine, I am now in serious mourning for the days of staying in bed on a Saturday or having a lazy day catching up on a box set or watching a movie. Now that I’m in the perpetually sunny Caribbean, it doesn’t matter whether I go to bed at 9pm or 2am, I will still wake up at sunrise the next day and begrudgingly get out of bed.
I find myself reminiscing about the times in my life when I had an ability to sleep-in and even bypass the AM hours altogether. My life now consists of a pretty geriatric sleeping pattern – a case of early to bed, early to rise. When lack of sleep catches up with me, I don’t make plans to sleep in late, but instead, try to catch up by falling asleep at an embarrassingly early hour like 7pm. There are some days that I will even hop into bed at 6pm and watch a movie, unable to stay awake long enough to see the end. Sadly, though I’m decades too soon, I would fit in really well in a nursing home at this point in my life. And heaven forbid my phone rings past 8pm on a weeknight. I’m actually shocked as to who would ring so late and wake me up – don’t they know the unrelenting Caribbean sun is waking me up at 5am against my will?
I now find myself fantasizing about what my life would be like if I was well rested. I would probably be happier and better looking. My skin would be radiant, my hair would be super shiny, and I would have boundless energy. People would stop and ask where I get all of my pep, rather than asking if I am anemic and recommending that I get my iron levels checked. To me, sleep is a one-size fits all solution to all of life’s problems. Who knew that a move to the islands would deprive me of this?
So until I overcome this psychological barrier to sleeping in while it’s sunny out, all I can do is pray to the weather gods for some rain or, even better, a tropical storm for the weekend. Saturday is only a few days away and, fingers crossed, let’s hope it’s a wet one!
Driving around the US Virgin Islands, you’re likely to see a cheerful catchphrase on most license plates: “United States Virgin Islands, America’s Caribbean!” You’ll see the same slogan splashed across the main tourism website for the territory, which entices US travelers by proudly proclaiming, “No Passport Required for US Citizens!” You might imagine a move to the USVI would be similar to relocating to a beachy mainland locale like the Jersey Shore or Cape Cod. You would be wrong.
While it is technically true that one can hop off their plane or boat in the USVI without handing over their passport for a stamp, those who live here know the truth: we’re not in America anymore, Toto. Sure, the dominant language is English and we use the dollar for currency, but don’t be fooled. Island life often feels distinctly foreign from anything you’d experience on the mainland.
You may get your first inkling of these differences while preparing for your journey to the USVI, as the airline representative explains that you cannot check a box when traveling to St Thomas because it is an international flight; boxes are only permitted on domestic flights. As this is your first brush with your new island’s somewhat ambiguous status in relation to the mainland, you’ll be passed through four different customer service representatives, none of whom have a satisfactory explanation for why this flight is considered international. “You don’t even need a passport,” you explain, helpfully. You will be put on hold for a very long time.
The most obvious difference you’ll notice as you disembark on island (gleefully skipping past Immigration, unburdened by that pesky passport!), is that we “keep left” here in the VI, the only US territory with the distinction of driving on the left side of the road. This will be a particular challenge, as they were handing out shots of rum as you departed the airport. Careening towards your new apartment – driving on the left, in a car built for the right – you’ll be baffled as to why the road signs say “gade” where you’d expect them to say “street”. No matter – you’ll eventually arrive at your new apartment, miraculously unscathed – time to enjoy some celebratory rum!
You will quickly realize that the Tourism Department’s “No Passport Required for US Citizens!” announcement should really include the caveat, “…unless you plan to live here.” You will be turned away at both the bank and the post office as punishment for arriving in the USVI without that little blue book. You will return to the post office the next day and find a less grumpy employee who kindly sets you up with a PO Box after you hand over your lease, a paystub, and a blood sample.
Similar persistence with the bank will not pay off. Resign yourself to the fact that all of your banking will be done in your husband’s name; he will need to sign every check you write until you can get your hands on that passport you were convinced you did not need. It is very expensive to live here – he will be signing a lot of checks. Luckily, the passport office will expedite your passport processing for a fee. Less luckily, you will call six weeks later to ask where your passport is and be told it was not processed as expedited. (It should go without saying that the US Passport Office will be unable to help you recover your passport expediting fee.)
As you realize traversing the mountainous roads of your new island exposes you to near-death situations on a daily basis, you’ll try procuring yourself some life insurance from a mainland company and endure the barrage of additional questions they ask of those applicants who “reside internationally”. Patiently explain that you live in an unincorporated territory of the United States, for goodness sake! The company will tell you that this does not count. Completing the telephonic questionnaire for “international applicants” will take three hours, as your phone keeps picking up on the cell tower from the nearby British Virgin Islands and dropping your call.
As you arrange to have the rest of your belongings shipped down, you’ll quickly discover that the confusion over the USVI’s status relationship with the USA is nearly universal. The US Post Office will – thank the heavens – operate much the same as the mainland USPS (other than necessitating the rental of a PO Box, as home delivery is impossible without a standardized street address system). But when trying to arrange overnight shipping for an envelope containing a single sheet of paper, you’ll nearly faint as the FedEx representative tells you it will cost over $80. “It’s international shipping,” you’ll be told. Attempts to order a few other necessary items from the internet will similarly fail, as you’ll find many websites lack “VI” as an option in their drop-down menus for shipping locales. You briefly consider calling some of these vendors to inform them of this issue, but elect to dejectedly drink rum instead.
As you make your way back to the airport, sunburned and quite possibly hungover, you may be startled to find yourself being directed to the line for Customs. Your confusion is understandable, as you didn’t go through Customs upon arrival to the USVI – back in the good old days when you still thought you were in the United States. Someone will tell you that this is because the USVI is “outside the Customs’ territory of the United States” and these words will make even less sense to you than “unincorporated territory”. The Customs agent will scowl at you for your lack of passport. “But this is America’s Caribbean!” you’ll say, weakly now, as you make your way to your plane and your adventure on the island with an identity crisis comes to a close.
Every once in awhile I get the notion to create a Virgin Islands nature photo series that includes the litter. Curiously, you don’t see this particular point of view among the postcards, calendars, watercolors, and fine prints already for sale. I suppose this project wouldn’t fall under the category of commercial art. It would be more like my own little PSA campaign.
Visit our pristine tropical paradise!
Because as much as the water—with its multiple hues of turquoise—dominates the island landscape, the garbage is undeniably part of it too. We’re surrounded daily by stunning natural scenes of the sort that most people use as desktop backgrounds, a little in-cubicle motivation toward that one annual week at the beach. And yet, plenty of island residents soil the beauty of their home by littering with absolute abandon.
Thus, the vistas are a mosaic of verdant hills speckled with brightly-painted houses, vibrant flora, and the green and brown shades of beer bottles. The beaches, with their white sand and crystalline water, are bordered with a mix of coconut palms, sea grapes, and washed-up trash. Detritus that resembles the innards of a junkyard piñata, cracked open to release a confetti of partly-broken-down plastics, mixed with more substantial prizes: work boots, for instance, and empty dish soap bottles.
Our dishes are cleaner than some of our beaches.
Waste Management consists of a series of dumpsters scattered throughout the rock. Extremely limited truck service is offered only in “urban” areas like Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie. So one must take their trash to the neighborhood dumpster. Yet this proves too taxing for some, who find it simpler to fling their trash bags into a roadside ditch or an abandoned lot.
This despite several signs encouraging people not to litter, a few that even threaten fines. Which of course makes no difference to those for whom it’s essential that the inside of a moving vehicle be completely free of debris at every moment. Immediately after a water bottle has finished serving its purpose, out the window it must go. Reflecting upon the live-grenade-like haste with which it’s abandoned, one might wonder if, perhaps, an island legend claims that the Snickers wrapper will self-destruct ten seconds after the candy is consumed.
I’ve started using walks with my dog, Hershey, as an occasion to pick up trash in my neighborhood. I don’t do it every day, I’m no saint. But, if the mood is right, and if he voids his bowels in a considerate location, I use the (evil) plastic, doubled grocery bags I carry with us for litter.
It’s mostly Heineken and Vitamalt bottles that I come across, mixed with a smattering of Fanta cans and plastic cups. Sometimes the beer bottles have been hillside long enough to now be considered erosion control. Those are left untouched; I’ll be damned if I’m going to dig them out and cause a landslide.
Oh, the things we could build with beer bottles if only we put our minds to it!
I see my share of picnic forks and Vienna Sausage tins left from the lunches of laborers. When the utility company has been in the neighborhood, in addition to the decimated landscaping left behind, are remnants of job site meals: chicken bones (biodegradable, yes, but gross and my dog remains obsessed until they’ve composted into oblivion), scraps of tin foil, to-go boxes, beverage containers, and more plastic cutlery.
At one house, I finally picked up a large plastic child’s ball bat and a pair of toddler shoes I’d often passed with no motivation to grab. How many times have these people walked from house to car, stepping over their own garbage, without feeling moved to collect it? I mean, if the three minute drive to the dumpster proves too laborious, you’d think they’d at least deposit their rubbish in the abandoned lot down the road.
A few days later, I picked up several old car parts outside the same house that I didn’t have room for when grabbing the kid things. Last weekend when passing, I saw that they had started another auto repair. The parts boxes strewn on both sides of the street were what tipped me off, that combined with the collection of freshly-extracted auto guts lying adjacent to the vehicle.
Do they notice that someone has come along and picked up trash that’s languished outside their home for who knows how long? And if so, what do they think? Are they pleased that someone has finally removed it on their behalf? Are they pissed at the phantom trash collector for not minding their own business? Embarrassed that their own lack of pride and effort has finally moved a stranger to clean up after them? Although I’m curious, I must admit, I really don’t care.
This particular house also has one of the grossest items I’ve encountered. Namely, an overturned plunger head that’s been re-purposed into a water collection vessel with the apparent function of aiding in the reproduction of mosquitoes and, therefore, the dissemination of dengue fever. Other nasty items found in various locales (and all left behind, like I said, I’m no saint) include dirty diapers, one tampon applicator, and of course, the occasional used condom….At least they used protection?
“Just tuck the Pamper behind the rock where no one will see it.”
Recently, I came upon a man washing a decades-old truck that had long ago lost its color to the sun. A truck I might not bother washing at all. I noticed a small pile of beer cans in the grass next to the truck. And then watched the guy travel from truck to pile, depositing another can. I had enough room in my plastic bag to fit the cans, and had every intention of going home with them. But how to go about it? I mean, the perpetrator being right there and all. I considered the possibility that he was, indeed, planning to throw these cans in a proper trash receptacle when done with the truck. I decided, however, not to take my chances.
I wondered if I should say something when entering the man’s personal bubble to pick up his trash. Something non-threatening yet pointed like, “I’m sure you were going to get these, but while I’m at it, why don’t you just let me,” stated with a smile, of course. Or something more confrontational like, “So do you expect someone to pick up after you or is it that you just don’t give a shit?”
In the end, I said nothing. Just nonchalantly crossed to his side of the street, bent over, retrieved the cans, and put them in my half-filled sack. Not breaking pace, removing my headphones, or even so much as glancing in his direction.
Here’s a fun find.
I haven’t stated what is perhaps the obvious yet, but certainly attitudes toward litter are, in part, a cultural thing.
One day Magnum and I were outside a St. Thomas shopping center when a Cheetos bag swept across our path like a millennial tumbleweed. I followed my instinct, which was to race down the trash and deposit it in the closest outdoor garbage bin.
When I returned to his side, Magnum’s glare held a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.
“When we together in public, you never pick up trash. Understand me?”
“Bullshit,” I told him. “I’m not letting this stuff end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You don’t like that ’bout me, then we shouldn’t hang out.”
“But you taking somebody job.”
“Nobody picks up litter, you kidding me?” I sucked my teeth. “Maybe downtown where the tourists go the government pay someone to do it but not out here by the mall.”
“The kids do it in summer.”
“You full a’ shit, man. I never seen anyone picking up litter on the side a’ the street down here.”
“Well, outside dis business, dey pay someone to pick up trash. You takin’ dey job. Plus, you ain’t no dog, Miss. Why you need to go messing wit dah trash?”
Because someone has to give a shit! And it might as well be me.
It’s sort of therapeutic, anyway. And I can’t completely squash the idealistic hope that if people see me picking up litter, they’ll be less likely to create it in the first place. Although, I admit they’re more likely to throw it out with greater glee, knowing that some white girl has taken it upon herself to act like the dog she’s always walking and mess with other people’s trash.
The main tourism in the British Virgin Islands is all about the sailing. Famous for practically year-round ideal trade winds, these tranquil waters are one of the top destinations in the world for seamen and seawomen to get their sail on. Living on my little rock in the middle of all the action, I am surrounded by boats every day of the year.
Watching the boats come in and out of the Sound each day, I can’t help but take notice of their names. Few are intriguing, some are memorable, most are generic, and many incite collective groans in their wake. Call me petty, but I’d like to see a bit more creativity out there. I’d enjoy spotting more names that make me want to know the story behind them. Or, at the very least, less that make me want to roll my eyes and yawn.
While the appeal of a boat’s name is highly subjective and there’s no formula for what makes a winner, there are definitely a few categories of names I consider worse than others. The following is a list of boat genres that I’d personally like to see less of. Ones, I think we all can agree, we can do without.
Perhaps these types of boat names were considered wildly clever back in the advent of puns. Maybe the first time people ever saw a boat named Knot So Fast it was a laugh riot. Maybe. But now, if I can borrow a phrase from 1997, “they are played out, yo”.
If I’ve seen them once, I’ve seen them dozens of times. Such is their popularity that when I spot these pun-tabulous handles, they often have Roman numerals after them: FriendShip VII – meaning that they are the 7th+ person to register their boat in that country under that name. If that’s not a sign to branch out, I don’t know what is.
These types of names are notorious eye roll instigators. I feel almost as though my intelligence is being insulted. Please, oh please – don’t spell it out for us. Choose something – anything – else.
It’s Aboat Time
Keel n’ Time
Seas the Moment
and, eye roll if you please,
To Sea Oar Knot To Sea
REFERENCES TO THE COST OF THE BOAT
We all get it – boats cost a lot of money to buy and a continuous stream of money to maintain. Money that you could be spending elsewhere. But you’re not, because you have a boat. Hilarious, isn’t it?! Hardy har har.
Nobody likes hanging around a whiner who’s constantly reminding them of how much all this fun is costing them. Don’t be that whiner; no one will want to play with you, even if you do have a boat.
Oh, and FYI, this also includes using dollar signs in place of your “s”s.
Her Shoe Money
The Money Pit
B.O.A.T = Bring Out Another Thousand
Price-Sea (double infraction)
Acrewed Interest (double infraction)
While I realize this was a customary practice in the Days of Yore, I’d like to think that we have evolved beyond naming our inanimate possessions after the women in our lives. Let it be known that this misguided “honor” is one I never wish to have bestowed upon me. The last thing I need is to give people a reason to say things like, “I’d love to take you out for a ride on Chrissann“; “Chrissann sprung a leak”; “Chrissann sank”; “Chrissann’s portholes are covered in rust”; “Chrissann is so filthy, it’s going to take us days to clean her before we can take her out”.
Plus, I can only imagine the conversational spotlight-stealing that this would lead to, always having to clarify who/what you’re referring to – do you mean human Chrissann or boat Chrissann? The injustice of it all would no doubt drive me to violence.
My deepest condolences go out to the women with boats named after them. Though it must be noted that the vast majority I see cruising around with women’s monikers invariably tend to be yachts. In which case, I don’t actually feel all that badly for their namesakes riding around in them. Even still, there is so much potential for something more exciting.
You get the idea. Blah de-blah blah blah. We can do better, people.
GRAPHIC DOUBLE ENTENDRES
This category of boat names is by far the worst offender. I generally don’t find it difficult to refrain from having sexual thoughts about perfect strangers, but these boat names all but force me to it. Here’s some average-looking person, reading a book on the bow of their anchored boat. Nothing to see here….then….BAM!..there it is – Master Baiter. No matter how much mental focus you devote to stopping it, it’s now all you can picture and it makes you want to puke all over that person and their boat, which you now assume you’d never want to see under a black light.
For whatever reason, people who own catamarans (boats with two hulls), or “cats” for short, are the most likely to christen their boats in this genre. That fine line between “cat” and “pussy” proves too tempting for them – they usually can’t resist crossing it.
If the judgmental disgust of your fellow human beings is not enough to deter you, consider this: one day your boat may be in peril and you may need to radio for help on the ever-public VHF. Suddenly, your urgent plea is corrupted with ridiculousness as you’re forced to scream, “Mayday, mayday, this is Dixie Normous. I repeat, this is Dixie Normous and we’re sinking!” Save yourself the embarrassment and speed the response time from your Coast Guard rescue team by not causing them an inevitable delay whilst they make fun of you mercilessly.
Really and truly – let’s not overthink this. If you find that you’re trying to be funny, it’s a sure sign that you’re trying too hard. Just pick something that means something to you. Make it short, make it sweet, make it quirky, make it weird. Above all, just make it unique. And please – don’t make it FriendShip XXVI.