Bring on Autumn

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A peek through the mangroves

Far from the poetic color-changing leaves of New England, or even from Instagram’s fall favorite, pumpkin spice, autumn in the Caribbean is a different flavor altogether. In general, we lucky island dwellers can expect things to remain pretty much the same from season to season: We keep visiting the beaches, never lose track of our shades, and definitely have no need to un-mothball any scarves or coats. Still, there are a few signs it’s not summer anymore around here.

Cooler temps: Granted, we probably won’t have anything you might describe as “crisp” any time too soon, but it has already started to cool off a touch. I can tell because I’ve switched the fan from “gale force winds” to “stiff breeze” setting and the heat rash that the baby and I have both been battling since May has finally subsided. Soon I’ll want to put on a light sweater!

Shorter days: I have to admit, it’s a bit harder to jump out of bed in the morning now that the sun isn’t shining into my face before 6am. But it’s nice to have dark in the evening. I can even use the oven again without the entire apartment feeling like a sauna.

More visitors: Although they aren’t quite in daily just yet, the cruise ships are back at the pier on a regular basis. There are also a lot more vessels dotting the territory’s waters than there were just a few weeks ago. All those extra sailors are a sure sign that the Christmas winds aren’t far off. Which also means…

Re-openings: Some of the restaurants and bars that took a break over the slow summer period are opening back up again, meaning we all have a lot more options when it comes to going out, socializing, eating and drinking. Whether you’re revisiting old favorites or trying someplace new, fall is a fabulous time for foodies and going out in general around here.

Events galore: Hands down, my favorite part of fall is the return of the BVI’s busy event schedule. You’ll start to see the events listings here in the Limin Times get pretty crowded with parties, festivals, sailing races and other entertaining events. Later this month the annual favorite BVI Food Fete will kick off, then we will all get to enjoy a month of food, fun and culture before the pressure of Christmas.

What are your fall favorites?

This column first appeared in the Oct 19 edition of the Limin Times.

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Ask Me Another

CGB swim dock

The old swim dock in Cane Garden Bay.

Living in a tourist destination means that we are all walking information kiosks in one form or another. If you spend a lot of time walking around Road Town, you’ll often meet visitors asking for directions somewhere. Work on a boat? People want to know about pirates and their treasure. Serve food at a restaurant? They want to hear about local dishes.

Personally, I get to field a lot of questions via the emails to our sister publication, the BVI Welcome magazine. Generally, these are folks who have found the magazine’s website and are trying to think through the logistics of an upcoming trip: Is it possible to catch a ferry after a certain hour? Who gives good island tours? Is there a way to get from St. Thomas directly to my hotel? What is the best beach for ______? I like hearing from these folks and try my best to assist them, and they’re always appreciative.

Some people seem to lose their common sense when they come on vacation, asking questions that will get a laugh before they get an answer. I’ve heard of folks aboard a yacht asking the captain how far above sea level they were (captain looked over the side and said, “about three feet”).  I’ve heard of others asking where the beach is while standing at a beach bar, and, my personal favorite, there was a visitor who wanted to know the best way experience the water under the island… because he thought it floated atop the water like a really big buoy. Thank goodness people on vacation have a good sense of humor and can laugh at themselves.

Of course, as in most encounters with new people, the first thing I will get asked if it’s going to be a substantial conversation is where I’m from. Once people learn that I was not born a daughter of the soil but have adopted the BVI as my home, the nature of the questions quickly changes from a tone of idle curiosity to something far more specific. They want to know how I got here and, although it’s sometimes phrased differently, how they can move here too. Since a grand total of zero of these people are recent journalism school graduates, alas, they can’t follow my path.

It honestly feels strange to be the subject of that laser-focus of envy, but, I always think, who can blame them for wanting to move to paradise?

This column first appeared in the Limin Times in August 2018.

 

Island Time

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A gratuitous pastel sunset in the BVI.

Island time is a phrase that could mean a lot of things, but it bugs me that the most common usage seems to be the disparaging way we talk about Caribbean people or institutions running behind schedule. Not that I don’t respect a punctual operation, because I do. No, the reason it bothers me is because in my experience, at least here in the BVI, island time is not about simply running late. Instead, it’s a nuanced and complicated way of describing different aspects of time, being on time, or levels of rushing.

The most eye-opening such phrase, for me, is one I have heard exiting many buses and taxis: Take your time. If you’re not used to hearing the phrase, it can seem off-putting, almost like a commandment, but it’s actually sound advice. Even though a load of people might be waiting on me to exit the vehicle, it would inconvenience everyone a lot more if I wasn’t careful on my way out and wound up injuring myself or another passenger in my rush. I’ve also heard people say taking time ain’t laziness, which speaks to the way that a task well done is worth waiting for.

Along the same lines, some people say hurry, hurry, never done. This phrase tells you that the more you rush something, the more likely it is that you will make a mistake and wind up having to start the whole task over. When I was a kid, the old people used to say “haste makes waste” in much the same way.

Describing time can be a source of confusion regardless of where you are, but I’ve found the BVI is pretty consistent. One time means that something should be happening immediately or right away. If I ask you when you want me to pay back that money you loaned me last month, you would probably answer “one time,” and hold out your hand.

For things a bit less urgent, you will hear just now, which means in a while, or that there’s no rush. This is the one you use when your partner wants to know when you’ll be ready to leave the house but you just need to fix up your look before you can go: “just now, babe.”

If something has been going on since before the discussion began, the phrase is all now. This is the one you can use when you’re waiting on your buddy and they ask you when you will get to the meeting place: “I’m here all now.”

I know there are a lot more time phrases out there. I’d love to read what other people’s favorites are in the comments.

 

This column first appeared in the Aug. 16 edition of the Limin’ Times.

Nature Baby

The Wee Baby Abel at 8 months old. This was one of his first big beach days.

Before I had my little one, I had visions of how lovely it would be for him to grow up here on island, especially when it comes to having access to nature. I love to walk, hike, swim, or just float; and I pictured the little one tagging along on all these activities. I even hoped — ok still hope! — that as he grows up we’d even learn some new outdoorsy skills together.

I’m not sure if he managed to absorb these daydreams in utero, but this kid really loves to be outside. I’ve been loving the calm seas we’ve had for most of this summer in part because it’s meant plenty of time in the water for us both. For now, the baby normally sits in a floating seat, which keeps him entertained. He splashes us both for stretches far longer than I usually expect from a single activity given his miniature attention span.

He’s just as rapt by the outdoors on land. Let’s just say, for example, that I’m carrying him from a building to a vehicle. If there’s a tree or bush nearby, he must reach out a chubby little hand to try to touch it. If I then run into someone I know, he will squirm to be put down and out both hands go in search of leaves and rocks to inspect and feel. Maybe you’ve seen viral videos of kids who hate the feel of grass on their skin. When my kid gets near grass that’s even sort of green, he strokes it like it’s a favorite pet.

He also really likes animals. He will watch dogs, cats, and larger lizards as though they are putting on a show for him. Probably because they make noise, he especially loves birds. After a while, he will babble at the animals in a friendly way, like he is conversing with them. My favorite is when he extends a hand and holds it out toward the animal. Does he think he can Jedi Mind Trick animals into coming closer to him? I laugh every time.

His special favorite creatures at the moment, to my embarrassment, are chickens. He doesn’t understand that feral chickens are pests that only tourists find endearing. To him, they are exciting friends to shriek at and to follow around. I’m very curious what he plans to do if he should ever get close to one, but my guess is the chicken would get the classic baby pat-pat move that our cat at home has become very accustomed to.

This column first appeared in the Sept. 27 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Retail Therapy

dsc01364-e1537903935348.jpgEven if you’ve never heard the phrase retail therapy, you can likely guess what it’s all about. You’re having a low day or week and you buy yourself a gift to lift your spirits. This is not the kind of shopping for something specific that you either need or really, really want. It has to be at least a little bit frivolous. For some people, it might be entertainment like music, movies or books. Others might head to the shoe store for a pair of killer stilettos, or to the nearest arts and craft supply spot to pick up the inspiration for a new project.

I may be the cheapest person in the world, but for me to enjoy this kind of thing, it has to involve minimal spending of actual cash. Years ago, my preference was for someplace where everything cost $1. I would grab an assortment of small, joy-bringing goodies, for example, a new candle, a sweet snack, a greeting card, a book and a bunch of silk flowers. It was great because I would walk out of the store feeling like a total baller while having managed to spend less than $10.

Living on an island makes retail therapy a little harder to come by. Since the geography and our small population means that we are either importing our goods, or buying from small-scale suppliers who don’t get the cost advantage that mass-production brings, many of things we want to buy cost a lot more than they might elsewhere in the world.

Still, there are a couple of ways I satisfy the craving for retail therapy without breaking the bank. Starting with the cheapest, there’s heading to a favorite online outlet and filling up my shopping cart. Nope, this is not a shopping spree, it’s a game of make believe. After my cart is full, I close down my browser and go to bed. By the next day, if I still want any of those things, I check what it would cost to ship them down here and mentally estimate the customs fees. That’s always enough to make the items look much less desirable.

Another way to bargain the retail therapy is to stick to secondhand shops. Normally, I head over the the Red Cross’ Thrift Shop. The stock is always changing, so pawing through the merchandise feels like a treasure hunt. Sometimes I don’t find anything that suits me, but there’ve been plenty of times I’ve come out with a great dress, a $1 necklace, or some wardrobe basics for the baby. The resale and consignment shop in Fish Bay is also a good spot, especially if you’re more into home décor or kitchen goodies. There’s another secondhand shop in East End that’s on my list to go check out but haven’t made it into yet.

Am I the only island dweller who’s stingy but still feels the occasional need for some retail therapy?

This column originally appeared in the Sept. 20, 2018 edition of the Limin Times.

Blue Water Vagabond

This week, completely by accident, I came across a book by Dennis Puleston, a man who, on a sailing voyage that began in England and lasted six years, happened to spend quite a bit of time here in the Virgin Islands. According to Blue Water Vagabond, first published in 1939, island life back then was idyllic.

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“It is an isle serene, forgotten and undisturbed by the restless world outside,” he wrote about Tortola, continuing, “no noise of cars startles its one drowsy street, no cablegrams send shudders through its noontide rest… We fell in love with the Virgins from the first.”

He describes inviting Dr. Wailing, who was acting commissioner of the territory then, onto his boat, only to later receive an invitation to come stay ashore in Dr. Wailing’s house after the kind doctor was appalled at the boat’s stink (Puleston and his sailing companion had a dead rat somewhere on their boat).

Once settled, they lived as I imagine many did here in those days: “We bought a fishpot and kept ourselves in fish. Sometimes we went out with a torch on the reefs at night to spear crawfish. We rambled over the mountains and swam in the sandy bays.”

He describes visits to The Baths, to Fallen Jerusalem, and Norman Island, and, one trip he’d looked forward to for some time, to meet the people of Anegada, whom he had read “make their living by fishing and wrecking.”

After describing his first impression of the island, he writes that “the men who can make a living in such an unfruitful place must needs be a resolute and hardy folk… They are bold sailors and energetic fishermen.”

Puleston’s ship the Uldra was also an early charter yacht. A pair of American tourists had tried first in Puerto Rico, then in St Thomas to hire a sailboat for an island cruise, but had struck out. Someone on St Thomas remembered Puleston’s recent visit, however, and suggested the pair look for him on Tortola.

“So the Americans had jumped aboard the first sloop Tortola-bound, and here they were,” Puleston wrote, going on to describe that the tourists hired Puleston and his companion. The cost: all the running expenses of the trip.

The foursome wound up “vagabonding down the islands” for several months, and Puleston includes mentions of all the ports they stopped in – I shouldn’t be surprised that a foursome of young single men basically hung out on the islands that had the prettiest women, right?

What touched me the most about what I read was how Puleston and his friend felt after dropping off the American tourists in St Thomas and were heading back to Tortola, which I very much related to after just year or so here.

“Seems like being at home again, doesn’t it?” the friend asked, and Puleston felt he was right.

“In spite of all the other islands I had seen, I was glad to be back. I loved Tortola more than ever.”

 

This column appeared in the Aug. 23 edition of the Limin Times.

Still Healing

I like to live as though everything is normal, because, for the most part, it is. I go to work, play my with kid, wait in line at the bank, do the shopping, try to squeeze in workouts and time with friends, all the normal life things, fun and not-so-fun. This week I had a reminder that even though it’s been almost a year, I’m still processing that monster Irma.

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NOAA infrared satellite image of the eye passing over Tortola. 

I have, by island standards, a beastly commute. The family leaves from the east side of the island to drop Husbae to work at the extreme west part of it, then the baby and I head back to town, which is right in the middle. It’s about an hour and a half of driving every morning. So much time at the wheel isn’t that unusual back in Southern California, but remember, Tortola is only 21 square miles. After years of being able to walk everywhere, all that time on the road was really tough at first, but I’ve embraced it. The baby usually naps, I listen to music or a book or podcast, and I often have the road to myself.

One day this week we had an unexpected squall. I was driving on a gorgeous flat road along the sea but all I could see was rain. They were big fat drops too, so they sounded like an avalanche of rocks hitting my little mom-mobile. A few gusts rocked the vehicle and suddenly I found myself crying, heart pounding, pulled over on the shoulder. It only took a minute or two to collect myself, but for a hot second there, I couldn’t think straight at all.

Especially as news of Hurricane Lance on the other side of the world fills the news, I know that I’m not alone in feeling like I still have some work to do when it comes to my personal post-Irma recovery. To my friends who went through it, we are still healing. Yes, we are #BVIstrong, but it’s okay to ask for support. Talk to friends and family and, if you’re in the BVI and you need help or just aren’t sure, talk to the nice folks at Community Mental Health, who are there to help us all.