A big step in moving to a rock and getting settled into island life is finding a job.
If you are retired or well off financially, this post may not be for you. This post is for those of us that need a job to make a living and to make ends meet in paradise. But before you dive right into working on a rock, there are some big differences compared to how work life works elsewhere to consider. The tropical breezes, the golden sun, the bright colours, and friendly island life all await you with open arms if you can answer the following four questions with a “no.”
Do you mind being identified by your job title?
No matter where you go, be prepared to be addressed as “the teacher,” “the doctor,” “the cleaner,” or whatever it is that you do to make a living by everyone on island. My introduction to this came when, two weeks after arriving on Saba, I had a doctor’s appointment and politely introduced myself by name to the nurse on duty, who I had never met before. I waited patiently, flipped absent-mindedly through some age old magazines as you do in waiting rooms, observed that everybody who came in greeted the room (note to self: do this next time too), and when my turn came, was to my surprise called forward as “Teacher Jorna.”
I’ve learned by now that this moniker is adaptable, depending on whatever life event changes your position on the island. I am now more widely known as “The mom of the twins.” Hey, I’m flexible.
Are you prepared to run into your professional life wherever you go?
I’ve heard stories of people being called out of bed early on Sunday mornings for an inventory of their shop, of people accosting specialists during their private dinner on a Saturday evening, and I’ve been asked about report cards while deciding between oats or cereal at the grocery store. I find myself feeling self-conscious in my swimwear on our island’s beach while my students are jumping off rocks and there have been times when I’ve brushed shoulders with students ordering drinks at the bar on Friday nights or parents who have tried to chat me up because they didn’t recognize me. Some Monday mornings, I know all too well why students didn’t show up at assembly (I try to remind myself that I was a teenager once too, but I will always make a mental note). Some of these situations make you cringe. Some make you laugh. Some make you angry. Some make you seriously reconsider if this is paradise. Either way, there’s nowhere to hide from your professional life and you have to deal with it 24/7 on a rock.
Do you understand that social media allows people to contact you 24/7?
Not many people are without a smartphone nowadays – even on an island. I think everyone agrees that this can be a curse or a blessing or both. In general, I try to stick to working hours to contact parents through phone, but sometimes the replies through social media or other messaging services come in over the weekend or after hours. During hurricane season, it seems like a blessing. Other times, I’ve had students contact me during rainy days asking if school was open that day. I’ve had random people I’ve never heard of ask me if I can tutor someone or even if they can come swim in our pool. Hey, why not? Come on over. You know where we live.
Can you accept that you will, at times, cross that boundary too?
I’m guilty as charged for crossing that boundary too. Just last week, I paid a student, the son of a local lobster fisherman, for services rendered by his parents. It was just the most practical solution. And I have students come by me to ask how much goat meat I want, or sell the raffle tickets I already agreed to buy from their mom when I met her on the road. Yes, I’ve contacted my local practitioner through WhatsApp. Nasty fluids were coming out of one of my one-year olds, I felt like I needed help directly from the source. I stand accused. Mea culpa.
This familiarity can also pay off in ways you don’t expect. You see, the school bus has a route and all the kids know who gets out first, so they organize themselves in a convenient way so nobody has to awkwardly get up before they have to disembark. When I come wobbling with my baby belly, whosoever sits in the front passenger seat climbs in the back to let me sit. No questions asked. And as a teacher, I also know which mom or dad has just had surgery or which students have lost a loved one or who just had an addition to the family, so I can anticipate my students’ moods. And in return, people won’t complain when I ask them to carry something for me or when I am late because I had to drop off the kids to daycare and the digger was blocking the road, because everybody of course knows the island’s business.
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So are you ready to work on a rock? How flexible are you really? Can you answer these four questions with a “no?” If so, you might just start sending out résumés. So long as you’re prepared to live with these shifting boundaries of private life versus public life, you might just be fit to work and live on this beautiful paradise I’ve been privileged to call home.
In exchange for being open-minded, you will get much goodness and warmth in return, I promise.
Fellow islanders – what do you think people should keep in mind before trying to get a job on your rock?
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