I cannot count the number of times people have compared living on a tropical island, at least in the Caribbean, to the 50’s in the US. Neighbors know you and your business, watch your kids when they run around the block, wave from their front porch, and there’s a lot less government regulation. That’s all true. It is free-er. For example, drunk driving is illegal, but every gas station is also a bar. And how about the fact that the cops aren’t paid enough to do much other than drive around with their lights flashing? Though that also means burglars feel pretty free too.
Ah freedom… it’s a double-edged sword. I’ll focus on our particular learning curve…
Over and over again, our Up-North-Sensibilities have clashed with Island-Realities. It all began with the misunderstanding that our water connection was our water connection. Apparently, if you have the only house built in a certain area and someone wants to build a house nearby, they feel perfectly free to cut your water lines and use your cistern and water to mix cement to build a whole house! Never mind that it over taxes your water pump which uses electricity and ends with you having to reconnect and go without water for a day or two (depending on city water pressure) upon your return. Thank goodness my husband can reconnect a PVC pipe in no time… and correctly! A skill he has had to hone repeatedly.
Apparently, builders also feel free to take the toilets out of your house. In their defense, we had just taken possession of the property and obviously no one had been informed that they were now officially stealing. Imaginary conversation snippet in my head: No really, that’s OK, the toilets are yours now. I’m not sure where in the tiny shack they are installed or how, but no need to return them. Thanks. No, thank you.
Have I mentioned that I love these crazy annoyances? No, seriously. They beat the stress and crap I have dealt with as a public school teacher in the US hands down. And these annoyances also mean that I live on a tropical island dammit! So I’ll roll with it. Because freedom is mine and also everyone else’s, it can only lead to an exasperating farce, but so far it has been totally worth it. I’ll see if I have such a zen outlook after many more island years. But for right now, I say BRING IT ON. Which brings me to my personal favorite example of being free on a rock…
Remember moments ago when I mentioned the water being stolen from our cistern and its electric pump? Well, I’m sure it goes without saying that that costs money. Luckily, since we had just taken possession, there had yet to be a meter placed on our electric line and the house had been built before meters were required, so our water was… yes: very free. Once we sorted out the issue of us not having access to our own water or even our toilets, we worked out a deal with the builders to ensure that they would cover the costs if they had to continue using our water and that they would stop dumping all their garbage on our lot. That last one didn’t work out so well, but we had to ask, right?
On our island, it is common practice to steal electricity. Not something we would have ever considered before. However, an island can change you, right?
While we were on our rock in December 2015, we arrived home after dinner and noticed the power was out. No biggie. This is the Caribbean. Though unfortunately, we hadn’t installed a back-up battery system yet. I looked over at the neighbor’s house (built with our water) and noticed that their battery back-up light was not on either. It wasn’t a good sign. We walked in the dark over to the pole and saw that Edenorte, the local electric company, had been out to install a meter for the neighbors and seem to have noticed that we had no meter and thus no business having power so… snip. Electricity cut.
This was not totally unexpected. We had been planning to go into town to officially sign up for an account the next day, in fact, but as luck would have it, it was not timely enough. So our friendly neighbors start calling around to help us out and I finally realized that they were just trying to find someone to illegally reattach us.
Something like, “Juan is a guy we know that could probably get you power for like 1500 pesos. He just needs to find a ladder.” To which I replied, “Uh… does he work for Edenorte?” (laughter) “No. He’ll just get you power.” “Well, if what I think you are saying is just steal the power back, my husband can reattach us and then we’ll go down tomorrow and open up an account” “Shit! If your husband can do that, have at it!” And so he did.
So then we went down and got an account rolling and they were to contact us via our real estate agent and/or neighbors to let us know what our account number would be. Fast forward a month or so, and our power was turned off AGAIN (but not cut. Thank goodness for the meter install.) because we hadn’t paid a bill that we never received. A few more hassles later and we are now legal paying customers of Edenorte. Now that we’re paying, the crazy high electrical rates have forced us to install a battery back-up system and a solar pool pump running off 6 solar panels to gather all the truly free energy of del sol!
Thus, we are learning how to shed our “Up North” prejudices from the so-called Free World where we grew up. Because when I really think about it – and if I’m truly honest with myself – I never really felt as liberated there as I do in the DR just living life and not bothering with all the expectations and regulations that my modern life weighed me down with.
I’ll take the free-wheeling, sometimes nonsensical craziness of island life over that any day!