Much to my surprise, moving to my rock did not equate to an instant vacation for me. Like so many of us before we make our move, I imagined myself lounging the days away on some picturesque beach or chilling at a beach bar with a bottomless beer by my side. Instead, the reality of island life equated to a lot of hard work and determination – the opposite of vacation in so many ways besides the setting.
I found myself in the thick of it as soon as I arrived. I was suddenly a foreigner and needed to figure out how to become stamped someway, somehow. And by “stamped”, I mean not being considered illegal for overstaying my temporary visitor status. Island newbie that I was, I stupidly did not renew it and the next thing I knew, I was at the airport being escorted by Customs agents to make sure I got on the plane – the plane I had no desire to be on! Thankfully, I learned another island lesson in that moment of panic: it’s all about who you know. The young girl (me) surrounded by Customs officials – a sure sign of trouble of some sort – grabbed the attention of a respected businessman and friend who, much to my relief, came to my rescue just in time.
He verified with the very nice Customs agent that leaving for two weeks to come back would sort out my standing in the interim, though Customs warned that should I pull a stunt like this again, it would mean no more visits to the rock – ever. I really thought I was going to get the red DEPORTED stamp and be on my way to misery and to be honest, I knew I deserved that. I did not follow the law and even worse, I broke the law of a land that I was not from. I thanked God – and Customs – for the mercy.
Though the business man didn’t actually pull any strings, it was more that he made me feel so at ease in a sticky situation. As one of my first island friends, he even encouraged me to get in touch with him when I returned because he had a plan to make sure I could stay on the island. He believed in my initiatives to make a difference here starting a sailing school that would prepare youth for future careers in the budding tourism industry on our rock. I was humbled and beyond grateful.
Those first five years on my rock, I was constantly reminded of my foreign-ness. I was no longer a tourist that was treated like gold, and was yet to be accepted into the local community. Not family, not guest, but somewhere and nowhere in between. I was tested through and through, and there was a period of time where I thought I might not make it. I worried my dream might go unrealized.
But through the doubt, I worked harder than hard and longer than long, and was belittled and humbled each day in the environment I set myself in to achieve my vision. And one day, I somehow crossed an invisible line: I went from being suspicious to an actual member of the community. And with it came a new me – a stronger me, a grown-up me.
From there on out, I have spent each and every day of my life making damn sure I get to stay on the rock I love, surrounded by the people, culture, and landscape I have grown to adore and could not imagine living without. Because that’s what it takes. It may not be vacation, but you sure can’t beat my office: