Living on an island leaves us at the mercy of the cargo ships and planes. And the shop-keepers. Sometimes, we have to wait months to get what we want and hoarding is common. I remember times when the words “Tim tams”, the delicious chocolate biscuit from Oz, would be whispered among friends who had heard that they were available in the supermarket (I say THE supermarket because there was really only one that the other little stores got their supplies from when I first came). Then you’d see people sneaking out at lunch time to go shopping before everyone else heard about it. People were as proud of their Tim Tam stash as they were of their cars. Things have improved a bit from when we first arrived, but what do we do on our little rocks when what we want just isn’t available? We learn to substitute.
I came prepared that I might not be able to find a lot of “luxury” items on-island, but what I didn’t expect was having to learn to substitute for some of what I consider, Basic Life Essentials…
You can’t always find Vegemite in Seychelles and for an Australian, Marmite is just NOT the same, but you close your eyes and eat your Marmite toast anyway. Then you wash it down with lots of coffee. Why do we do it? Because we just can’t start the day without our Vegemite toast. It just feels wrong. There is only one shop on the whole island that brings in Vegemite, and I’m pretty sure they do it only twice a year, regardless of my constant harassment. A small jar (that’s all they have) in Australia would set you back $2, but the same in Seychelles sees you shelling out the equivalent of $8. Why do we pay 4x the price? Again, because we just can’t start the day without our Vegemite toast. One Christmas, my brother had a package delivered with six jars of Vegemite – they took pride of place under the Christmas tree. I’m still searching for a suitable substitute for this, knowing full well there may never be one.
…Or, what are called “pampers” here in Seychelles. The first time we came to live on Mahe, I had a baby and brought with me, thankfully, a lot of cloth nappies. But the days of folding the terry-towel sheets into triangles and pinning them to cover a baby’s bottom were almost alien to many mothers here as disposable “pampers” had taken over. So what happens when there isn’t any forex (the words napa forex I learnt very early) and there is nothing to clothe baby’s bottom with in the shops? You cut up towels. And then you wait for the whisper that the “good pampers” are available in the shops again so you can disappear from work for a bit to go and stock up.
What do you do when the toilet paper runs out on the island? Living in Seychelles, one can expect to be asked to bring in things for others when travelling overseas. Imagine being asked to bring back toilet paper! Yes, it has happened. While other travelers were cramming souvenirs, new clothes, chocolates, and duty-free alcohol into their suitcases, many Seychellois travelers were cramming toilet rolls. Of course, you can always manage without toilet paper if you substitute tissues, or if you do what one old man explained to me, in detail, at a shop. Though that’s a story that I will not retell.
When I first came to live in Seychelles, I took a bus trip with my baby in his carrier to another district to try to shop there for toilet paper. I went in and asked and nearly dropped dead with surprise when the shop keeper brought out a whole pack for me to purchase. Everywhere else was selling them by the roll! So I paid and left the shop with one arm around the baby and under the other, the large pack of toilet paper. Well, you’d think I had stolen a bag of gold the way people looked at me. A whole pack! The jealousy was thick in the air. I can only assume many of them were stuck using the old man from the shop’s method.
Learn to love the local brew – it’s often the only thing one can afford on local wages… especially if you drink a lot. When we moved to our island, we took a huge pay cut. So, expensive wine and beer are out and Seybrew is in! Luckily, I quite like it. It’s not as bitter as the Australian brew, so I’m sure visiting Aussie relatives might not take to it, but nothing beats a cold beer on the beach and, if you go to the beach a lot, substituting is a must.
Don’t laugh – it hurts those who have suffered through the days of thin, vegan “chocolate” brought in from India and sold, warm, in the local shops. We take our chances on islands when buying chocolate; sometimes one opens the packet and it’s all good, but other times it can be misshapen, white-crusted, or not really chocolate at all. We take our chances and substitute with beer, if necessary.
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Living on our little rock in the Indian Ocean might mean substituting from time to time… to time… but it’s definitely worth it. At least for this island girl.
Are there any essentials you’ve had to unexpectedly find a substitute for on your rock?