Thursday, June 29, 2017

Island Life: The Good, Bad, and Quirky

The "idea" of living on an island evokes a bit of envy and turquoise tinted mental pictures for a lot of people. But just like most things, the 'idea' of something and the 'reality' of it can be very, very different. While I will be the first to tell you that I absolutely love my island home and island life in general, there's a lot more to it than beautiful beaches, tropical slushy rum drinks and cotton-candy colored sunsets (though we do have those things in spades!)...I've written before about >>> how to determine whether or not island life might be for you <<< , but just for fun, here' are some ways that island life on my rock is very different from life back stateside...

1) Lack of abundance: There are no malls, no big box stores, and our grocery stores pale in comparison to those back home. Finding affordable quinoa or natural peanut butter is very difficult and there is less of just about everything on a small island. We island mom's talk excitedly in dreamy, coveting tones about Whole Foods or Trader Joes the way other mom's might gush over that 50 Shades trilogy (...that I have not read). The prospect of shelves upon shelves of organic, wholesome goodness is that exciting for us. Clothes? Again, limited choices unless you dress like a 26 year old from San Diego (which I do). Household goods? Not many options for good, quality stuff but lots of plastic crap from China marked to about triple what it should cost. Life on our rock is expensive because of this but it's the price we pay because what we do we have an abundance of? Beaches, boats and bars. Not a bad trade.

2) Kids wear school uniforms: Here, every single school child wears a uniform. Period. IT. IS. AWESOME. Can someone please explain to me why the United States has not adopted this practice?!?! Dear GOD! Getting my kids dressed in decent, practical clothing is easily one of the most unpleasant parts of my day (they either want to wear completely ridiculous things like socks and leggings to the beach or underware on their head with a princess dress to dinner - which I let them most of the time - or they (Mira) want to wear the same exact ratty, dirty, threadbare thing every. single. day). I can only imagine that this fortitude and pension for 'style' gets more awful determined as we near the teen years (face palm) but, honestly, my uber independent daughters dress themselves and it drives me nuts. School uniforms save me just a little bit of headache and a hell of a lot more time on school days. Plus, they look pretty adorable. AMEN for school uniforms. I dread ever living somewhere without them.

3) Rules are more lax: I have seen numerous signs around Tortola that say you are not allowed to smoke in public places. I have also seen more smokers on this island than I have seen since my pre-smoking ban bar days in Chicago. There is a "strict" helmet law, yet only one out of every four motor scooter drivers is wearing a helmet. And good LORD do not start me on parking. A parking lot here looks like a mini glimpse into the collapse of society. Full-blown anarchy. Every man for himself. When it says "no parking", people will freely park. Even better, if you are parked in a perfectly legal spot, it is not unusual for someone to park right in front of you, blocking you in completely for anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. This incredibly selfish practice is not only commonplace, but pretty infuriating to all residents, and yet nothing is ever done about it. Why? I have yet to see a tow truck or a car ticketed for this. No consequences? Behavior remains the same. Sigh.

4) Livestock roams free: You will not see one single squirrel here on Tortola, but a drive to town or up on the ridge road will present you with a whole host of farm animals. Chickens run free all over the place, goats regularly hold up traffic, and driving by a cow lounging on the side of the road with her calf is no big deal. Donkeys and horses used to be the main mode of transport around here until fairly recent history so you will see plenty of those as well, though their physical states might make you shudder...which brings me to my next point...

5) Animal cruelty and brutality is everywhere: Treatment of animals here is atrocious. Period. I'm not one to hate on my rock, because I love it here so very much, but animal cruelty and abuse is rampant and if you are a true-blue animal lover, you will probably have your heart broken daily here. I don't even want to tell some of the stories I have heard but suffice it to say: it's really bad.

6) You can drink while driving: Yes, you read that correctly. While you technically cannot drive 'drunk' (see #3), driving with an open alcoholic bev in the car is totally acceptable. Do not talk on the phone or skimp on clicking your seat belt, but go ahead and fix yourself that rum and coke before you hit the road. Welcome to the land of the roadie my friends, it's a nice place to be.

7) Drivers and Roads are Insane: Let me preface this by saying that I have been pulled over for "driving with intent to kill" (no, I was not, it's actually a classification after going over the speed limit a certain amount), ticketed for "reckless driving" and I had my license suspended for a year. I spent many years weaving in and out of traffic in the city of Chicago where I gained some legit "aggressive driving" chops. My point in telling you all this? I AM NO GRANDMA BEHIND THE WHEEL. But here? I literally get road rage several times a day because the drivers here are the very worst I've ever experienced in all the world (and I've driven in Rome, Bangkok and East Africa, to name a few). They are careless and downright terrifying. They fly around blind corners at mock speeds, pass on narrow roads, and play chicken daily. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to avoid what would have been terrible accidents had it not been for me swerving out of the way or breaking suddenly. The roads are just as bad: barely wide enough for two cars to safely pass, featuring hair-pin turns that make your hair curl and hills that are so steep they make your feet and palms sweat. Island driving is not for the faint of heart.

8) Hitch Hiking is normal: Hitch hiking is not only normal, but the way many islanders rely on getting from point A to point B. For one, there is no public transportation here (gripe alert!), which is a real bummer. And secondly, cars are not affordable to everyone and many people don't know how to drive, so every drive on our rock will having you passing hitchhikers standing on the side of the road, casually pointing a finger in the direction they want to go. I have picked up children on their way to school, women on their way home from work, and men headed to their jobs. It's a fun way to get to know people and I've heard some incredible stories from hitchhikers. I also think it's showing my girls an important lesson in kindness, as more often than not they are in the car with me when I pick up people.

9) Village Mentality of Islanders: Living on our particular island is not unlike living in a small town. Most everyone knows one another in some, way, shape, or form and a trip to just about anywhere will have you running into someone you know. Being anonymous here is not really an option. Because of this, there is very much a "village" mentality when you live on a small island, we tend to stick together to help one another out. We are all in a similar boat (no pun intended) and whether it be mom's helping out other mom's or simply picking up a hitchhiker as described in #8, we are all part of this community and we all want to see it be the best it can be.

10) Kids are more free-range: I've talked about how I tend to >>> lean more in the direction of "free-range"<<<  as opposed to helicopter parent and I realize this is largely due to the fact that we live in a very safe community where this is easily done. Kids hitchhike to school, it's not unusual to see an older sibling caring for his or her baby sibling, and young kids running free on the beach with their parent keeping a safe distance is very, very normal. Our girls skinny dip regularly, kick off their shoes at every chance they get, and are full of bumps, scrapes and bruises from being outside every day. Our community is relatively small and we all know one another so there are many sets of eyes on our children. I feel really lucky to be able to give our kids the freedom they want and need and the ability to do this is a large reason we chose to live where we do. I've had a lot of conversations with other parents who child-rear in a similar way and agree that we live in a very special place where times are simpler, where kids can be kids, and where there is no need >>> or social pressure <<< to helicopter.

11) Very little to do outside of beaches, boats, and bars: A certain type of person might find themselves very bored living here full time (pretty much everyone >>> loves to vacation here <<<). There are not many restaurants, no winery tours, no theater district, no dance clubs, few coffee shops, no indoor play lands, no malls, no theme parks, no museums and - in general - outside of nature and outdoorsy stuff related to all things water, there's really not much to do here. Taking a stroll 'downtown' is not something that yields much of anything and if you don't enjoy beaches, boats, bars and water sports you might find this place a bit of a yawnfest. Many of us, however, chose to live here in spite of this and actually enjoy the sleepiness of our rock: there's less distraction and fewer things pulling us every which way. You can relax and unplug here. The focus is more on making simple fun with your community; picnics on the beach with friends, dinners at people's homes, and DIY parties...Though, not going to lie, I'd really love there to be a dance club here where I could go with my girlfriends!

Those are just a few of the ways living on my rock differs from living back on the mainland. Some are weird and funny, some are frustrating and sad, but it's all part of the reality of #islandlife.

If you'd like to see pretty pictures of life on our rock, feel free to follow us on:
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Unknown said...

At first while I was reading, I was like - No way, no how, but then it just seems like the good outweighs the bad, which I'm assuming you obviously agree with? While some things I would have a very hard time dealing with... my gosh, what an amazing experience!!

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