I’ve been feeling a bit reflective these last few weeks as my husband and I approach our eight year anniversary of living on our rock. I have been thinking about what it was like when we first set foot on our new island home, how much we have learned over the years, and what life is going to be like for us here as we continue to age.
When we first arrived in the Dominican Republic on December 2, 2010, we had just left the first snowfall in Canada. In my mind, I was screaming “I’ll never have to shovel snow again!” I could not help but tease my family and former co-workers about how nice and warm it was – no need for long pants, socks, or winter coats here! I had given all of my “cold weather” clothes to Goodwill knowing that if at some point in the distant future I needed them again, I would likely have to replace all the items anyway, as they would be outdated in fashion if I ever returned to Canada.
Our first week in our new home, it began to rain. My description of the rain is equivalent to someone pouring a bucket of water on my head except the rain was coming down everywhere for days on end. Nobody told us that it would rain for weeks in the winter months. I was cold. I wanted socks. I wanted long pants. I wanted a big thick quilt for my bed. Fast forward eight years – now, I’m experiencing menopause. I want to run naked through the yard in the rain.
During our first year on our island, we had so many new experiences. We were learning to live like the Dominicans! Something as simple as getting cable TV involved not one, but four trips to the local cable office. We didn’t understand the language, the concept of no customer service, and two hour lunch breaks. I cried more in the first month than I have ever cried in my life and constantly asked myself, What in the hell have I done?
We experienced our first hurricane. Hurricane Irene’s eye wall passed 50 miles from our home. I decided then and there that a Category 3 hurricane is not something I ever want to experience again and could not begin to understand how other islands coped with the even bigger storms. Sadly, Irene left many homeless and brought floods throughout the area. Hurricanes are quite rare on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, as we are blessed to have a large mountain range in the middle of the island to deflect storms.
Several months after our first hurricane, we had an earthquake. Dishes rattling in the cupboard, windows rattling, water sloshing around in the pool. We were visiting with friends when my world began to rock and thought there were dogs under my chair shaking it around. When I inspected the ground below me, the group we were with declared at the same time “earthquake.” A half dozen aftershocks later, Mother Earth quieted down.
During our island time, I’ve learned to tolerate bugs. I absolutely hate anything that crawls, particularly at night. I’ve found some particularly toxic bug spray that will make a wasp drop out of the air mid-flight. While I try to be environmentally friendly, there are times when flip-flops for the kill just doesn’t cut it. I’m not that scared of spiders climbing the walls anymore, but I don’t appreciate a 6 inch centipede on my pillow when I climb into bed at night.
One of the craziest things about my island life is driving.We used to have a saying in Canada when living in Alberta: The vehicle with the biggest tires wins. This is 100% correct in the Dominican Republic. Dominicans as a rule are pretty laidback people and don’t do anything quickly except when it comes to driving. These people are in a hurry to go nowhere and do nothing. A vehicle of pretty much any size or road worthiness can race by you like you are in a NASCAR race and three miles down the road, they are stopped almost on the shoulder talking to a friend. Laws of the road are taken merely as suggestions: Passing on the right? Not a problem. Park on the wrong side of the road? Not a problem. Go down a one-way street the wrong way? Not a problem (if you have the bigger tires or are on a motorcycle).
Motorcycles are everywhere and used by the vast population. There’s nothing strange about seeing a family of five on a motorcycle. Motorcycle drivers can carry just about anything: livestock (yes even small calves and pigs), ladders (over two guys’ bodies), twin tub washing machines, Lazy Boy chairs, bed frames, 4 x 8 sheets of plywood (the guy was sitting on top of it), rebar (that stuff sparks when dragging on the ground), 60 lb propane bottles, transmission for a car, PVC plastic pipe, etc. They will even push other motorcycles that have run out of gas.
In our eight years on our rock, we’ve met some great local people, some crazy expats, seen some very strange tourists traveling through our little town and on our beaches, and we’ve made good friends with people from all over the world who also call our rock home. I’ve realized that Amazon and Ebay are my friends and sometimes having less is more. We’ve had great parties, potluck dinners, playtime in the ocean, and a few island adventures. We’ve had one of my daughters find us on our rock and move in with us, accumulated dogs and cats, made some enemies, lost good friends who passed away before they should have, and lost contact with friends and family in Canada for a variety of reasons, some which I will never understand but life moves on.
Both my husband and I have aged eight years. Eight years of accumulating aches and pains and a variety of health issues takes its toll on your frame of mind. My mind says I am 30ish, but my body is beginning to tell me otherwise. I just can’t swing that machete like I used to!
So, what in the hell have I done? I’ve learned to speak a little Spanish, learned patience, tolerance, how to live in a different culture with all the craziness that goes with it, and that if I want things done the “way they were at home,” I’d better head home. I’m a guest on this rock I call home and have learned a key phrase to take me forward in the years I have left on my island: tranquillo (relax and take it easy).
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How long have you lived on your island? What has island living taught you about life and about yourself?