When I moved to the US Virgin Islands, it was the most perfect time in my life to make such a tremendous change. I was a young single woman who’d been living on my own, working full-time, and paying my own bills for twelve years since college graduation. I had already come to two major conclusions in my life.
The first was that I needed to change from being a case-worker to a more meaningful line of work. The pay was great, but listening to family problems and trying to help grown-ups mend lives which they themselves had botched up, quickly became a real drag. The second conclusion (which I actually should have mentioned first) was that the older I got, the more I downright detested winter weather in Baltimore. Sure, I’d hated the cold, wet, blinding snow since childhood, but as I approached my late 20s and early 30s, my muscles were already beginning to suffer from too many days each year spent standing on the corner, waiting for the bus or a taxi to come by, only to be told by a passing transit line officer that, “Sorry folks! It’s too dangerous to maneuver on all of the roads today. You have to get to where you’re going as best as you can.” For me, too many times, that meant walking back to my apartment building. I lived on a secondary road, which also meant that we wouldn’t get our road plowed or salted until after all of the main thoroughfares were serviced. Needless to say, I learned how to save up most of my leave days until the harshest of winter days, then I’d politely call in and spend those hellish days at home.
But in 1983 I visited St.Thomas, and from my very first three days on island, I began planning my “Escape To Paradise.” I actually made eight subsequent visits back before my final relocation date. The first thing I did to get the ball rolling was to bring my job experience and academics portfolio with me upon my second visit. This is where versatility began to come in handy. I hired a cab to take me on a very different sightseeing trip. First, he took me to the Department of Personnel. That’s where I applied for all of the local government jobs that I already knew I had qualifications for. Next, I went to the local Department of Labor – that’s where all of the private industry jobs were listed. I also decided to use my years of experience as a volunteer performer/ dance instructor/summer camp counselor and youth chaperone to apply for work at various neighborhood daycare centers and tutorial programs. In the islands, you have to be prepared to switch things up if your main job isn’t available and you don’t have a Rich Uncle, Sugar Daddy, or a Secret Santa. The more skills you have, the longer you can survive here! And I should know, considering I’ve just began my 36th year on this crazy rock.
In noticing that none of the jobs for which I qualified paid as much as I was used to receiving, I seriously made my Pros & Cons list. This is the utmost important step for anyone who is considering living on an island. So, I decided that since the majority of the stateside stores for which I had credit cards neither had a store on island, nor would they handle mail orders from here, they had to go. That was a major accomplishment! I paid them all off (after buying a year’s worth of summer clothes and accessories) and cut them up right away. Then, even though back in the 80s you could get roundtrip airfare and resort accommodations for 8 days, 7 nights for a lot less than it costs now just for one-way airfare, I decided to become a frugal traveler. I decided to forgo staying at the resorts and that I’d fly on reduced rates air-only tickets, then stay in town at the smaller guest houses. That was another worthwhile compromise. Besides, I rapidly discovered that I could still go to the resorts’ beaches, restaurants, and nightclubs for far less money, and return to my little “no frills” guesthouse to sleep at the end of the night. I loved the idea of staying in town and walking through the market and shopping area, meeting the locals, and getting a feel for the place. That also allowed me to discover which eateries gave the most food for the lowest prices. And this proved to be extremely helpful after I finally moved here.
When checking out possible living quarters, the word compromise became even more important. Stateside, my apartment was a basic one bedroom apartment. It consisted of the bedroom, living room, full kitchen, and full bathroom. On St.Thomas, what is advertised most of the time as a one bedroom apartment is actually either an efficiency or studio apartment for the price of a one bedroom. I’ve lived in three apartments apartments here so far (after living at a very nice guest house for my first 7 years here), and none of my apartments have had a living room, nor a tub, nor a full kitchen. They were all advertised as one bedrooms too. Where we live now in Frenchtown is a large one room ( Studio) apartment, but the layout has been configured to give the appearance of three tiny “rooms” (sections) with a tiny kitchen “nook.” But, the plus with this place is that we (Hubby and me) have a nice little front porch. So, compromising has its blessings in disguise.
Compromising especially applies when living small forces you to get rid of everything that you just have, but don’t really need. Hence, why yard and apartment sales have become so popular here over the years. The new term is downsizing! It has become quite prevalent here. The great thing about “living small” with just the bare necessities, and not much fluff and possessions is that when culprits like Irma, Maria, Dorian, and other natural disasters spring up – as they will and do every few years – the least amount of possessions you own, the least amount you have to lose, and the less amount of cleaning up and replacing you have to cry over. When those menacing hurricanes strike, both versatility and compromise become your best friends. Well, at least I’ve found it to be true!
On the job scene, the more skills and experience you have, as well as some college credits, the better. With the various storms, changes in local government and other factors have drastically and negatively effected our local economy. Now, nobody can truthfully be sure of having a permanent job position. Agency and department heads change with every election, overhead prices, utility woes, and spikes in the cost of living have all caused businesses and agencies to closed down, lay off staff, and/or move away. So versatility becomes necessary for island survival. And that knowledge keeps us all engaged in sharpening our abilities to compromise.
For me, I’ve learned to become an expert in parlaying all of my past part-time, non-paying jobs into jobs which have paid enough to keep me from having to return to the states. Over the past three decades, I’ve worked as a Pre-K teacher, summer camp counselor, after-school tutor, kids’ club organizer, toy store demonstrator, kids’ party entertainer, wedding singer, weekend and holiday nanny, childrens’ arts specialist, kids’ dance instructor, and part-time game room assistant. All of those positions eventually convinced the local government to hire me for the past 15 years as a classroom para-professional for grades Kindergarten through 6th. And because all of those positions that were held throughout my 35 years of living here, I am now able to sit back and enjoy my life as a new retiree.
All of the compromises of my past now afford me the ability to live well within my financial means quite comfortably. None of my past 35 years living on this fabulous island would have been possible had I not learned the arts of versatility and compromise before arriving. Versatility makes it possible for that next door or window to open for us when the first one closes unexpectedly. Compromise helps us adjust and take a quick inventory of what are the most important things in life. And the ability to exercise both skills, makes life on a rock a fabulous, life-changing adventure.