OISK

Sometimes things happen that are so unbelievable there are no good words to describe them. It’s during those times – when you find yourself standing in the grocery checkout line, staring blankly at the cashier as your brain tries to process if she REALLY just asked you that or not (or, more importantly, why she felt it was necessary to ask you) – that you have to resort to the alphabet to explain your predicament. That’s how we got OISK – Only In St. Kitts.

OISK, in my opinion, is not used nearly as often as it should be. You’ll usually find it at the end of Facebook statuses or in blog posts like this one, but I think it should really be tagged onto any and all ridiculous stories of life on the island.

For example: (some of the below are my experiences and some are taken from the stories told by others)

  • While walking my kennel dog this morning, I had to keep him from eating three monkeys and a crab the size of a pizza. OISK
  • Bought a car that a mechanic said was in great condition, and then the transmission all but fell out three weeks later. OISK
  • Went to buy car insurance and took all my husband’s IDs with me to add him to our account. The lady threw a fit because she was convinced there was no way I could possibly know the answers to questions like “has he ever had an accident?” and “when did he get his first driver’s license?” When I told her the date, she entered it into the computer wrong. When I corrected her, she said it didn’t matter. OISK
  • You can buy roll-on deodorant and toothpaste from vegetable stands on the side of the road. OISK
  • School maintenance people are up at the crack of dawn to use a jackhammer to repair a window screen (Why? No Idea.), but they take a week and a half to put a new battery in the smoke detector. OISK
  • It is considered acceptable for a dryer to burn half your clothes. As long as they’re dry, right? And no, you can’t have your eight dollars back. OISK
  • You can drive drunk and likely get away with it, but pay heavy fines if your license plate is chipped. (Our car has two different license plate numbers, but apparently that’s not even the point.) OISK
  • I asked [name withheld]’s office if I could come in to sign some papers. She said yes, that would be fine. Went by twice this morning and the person I needed was out; told to come back later. Went back later (3:10 p.m.) and found the person I needed, with the papers I needed SITTING ON HER DESK, and she said I could not sign them because the office closed at 3, come back tomorrow. (Office sign says they close at 4; apparently irrelevant.) Went back the next morning and saw the same woman, who gave me the papers to look over and sign, but then as I went to sign, told me that I couldn’t sign them because I’m not a student. And you couldn’t have mentioned that yesterday? OISK

Island kids – submit your own OISK stories! I look forward to hearing them. And be sure to check out the other blog I linked to above. Her OISK’s are great!

One Man’s Treasure is Another Man’s Sugar Container

Have you ever purchased old ear plugs off the internet? Has the thought ever occurred to you? Well you’ve apparently never been a thrifty St. Kitts student.

There are a variety of Facebook pages dedicated to the selling and trading of items between the many students on St. Kitts and, sometimes, the local residents. People generally use these sites to sell cars, furniture, appliances, clothing and nonperishable food items that they no longer need and can’t take back to the States with them. (And then there are the crazy people who try to sell opened, reusable earplugs and piles of dirty shoelaces. But I digress. . .)

I must confess that I subscribe to all these sites and examine them daily for anything that might be of use to us. I have purchased things like dry erase boards and markers, school supplies and a dog crate from these websites, meeting up with their owners on campus or in hospital parking lots to make the exchange.

However, there are dozens of items for sale here that wouldn’t be considered acceptable merchandise in the States, yet we buy them like hotcakes and brag about the bargain to our friends. So here is my Top Ten Thursday list of things that would probably not be acceptable to sell at home, but are like gold on the island. (*NOTE: All prices are in Eastern Caribbean Dollars (EC). $1 US = $2.6 EC*)

1. Half-used toiletry products. This can range anywhere from toothpaste to mouthwash to shampoo or liquid makeup remover. Stock up people! Buying those half-empty bottles for $5 EC each is cheaper than getting a new bottle for $32.

2. Almost empty spools of thread. You never know when a button will come off your favorite (and maybe only) pair of pants. Who wants to pay $30 EC for a sewing package when you just need three inches of a certain color? Find those three inches (and only those three inches) online for cheap!

3. Cell phone back covers. Students are all issued the same cheap, pay-as-you-go cell phones down here and the covers pop off at the slightest pressure. Yours fall out of your pocket at the restaurant? No problem! Lose it on the beach when your dog brushed against your leg? Don’t worry! Replacement covers are available for a reasonable charge. Choose from the scuffed black or dirty white varieties.

4. Incomplete sets of dishes. If variety is the spice of life, then having a cabinet full of a dozen DIFFERENT plate styles probably makes life pretty interesting.

5. Piles of paperclips, Band-Aids or binder clips. Because why just give them away when you could get $1 out of them?

6.  Almost-empty bottles of long-lasting things like syrup. Because again, why pay for a whole bottle if you only want pancakes a few times?

7. A bunch of plastic baggies with a hair tie around them. An undetermined amount in an undetermined size, but hey, Ziploc bags are Ziploc bags, aren’t they?

8. Sort-of chewed up dog toys. Because everyone here has a pet, and every pet needs some toys. It’s like doggie Goodwill.

9. Assorted laundry detergent pods, various scents, color-fastness levels and brands. A roulette wheel of laundry! Convenient for the eclectic laundry-doer.

10. And, finally, weird collapsible containers that no one can figure out what to do with. Is it a beach bag? Does it hold bathroom supplies? Can you use it in the kitchen? Who knows! But it’s $2 so you buy it anyway for the sheer curiosity of it!

I have to shamefully admit that I bought that last item and it is still sitting in our room, unused, because I can’t wrap by brain around what it’s supposed to be for.

READER’S CONTEST! Submit ideas on what the item pictured below could be used for and explain your reasoning. I will choose an answer (either the most logical or the funniest or just the one I like best) and showcase your creativity for the world!

Round shape, mesh sides, opening on the top with a handle

Round shape, mesh sides, opening on the top with a handle

Metal coils in the mesh fabric allow it to "spring" up and down. (This picture was very difficult to take, by the way.)

Metal coils in the mesh fabric allow it to “spring” up and down. (This picture was very difficult to take, by the way.)

We’re all in this together.

One thing that consistently surprises me here is the overall attitude that “we’re all in this together.” (My sincerest apologizes if that sparked a High School Musical sing-along in your head. Sorry about that.)

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve mentioned on Facebook that I needed to go to a certain place and quickly had three students or other VIPs willing to drive me. Or asked about a good place to get a haircut or where to find a store that sells green peppers and had dozens of suggestions in response, including driving directions, prices, specific people to talk to and offers to take me if I needed a ride. (I even mentioned that the Mister and I needed ideas on where to stay in the gap between leaving the dorm and our apartment being ready, and almost instantly had someone offer to let us stay in his empty house while he went home over the break. Amazing!)

And it’s not just limited to the VIPs who have little better to do all day. The students, while competitive, are still largely willing to help each other out. Their specialized Facebook pages are homes to dozens of uploaded PowerPoint slides, old test examples, diagrams and even audio recordings of lectures from those who have recorders for those who do not. The general sentiment is that everyone wants everyone else to do well and be happy so we can all survive the experience and get off this island as soon as possible.

Everyone has had enough free favors done for them that they are willing to “pay it forward” to help another lost, far-from-home student or VIP out in their time of trouble. Everyone here has been in that position before – out of phone minutes at the grocery store with no ride home; car broken down on the side of the road; going crazy in the dorm room because you don’t have a ride to where the fun is; needing a certain recipe ingredient to make your special comfort food, but not being able to find it anywhere; not knowing how to deal with the overwhelming homesickness that attacks even the most traveled among us. They’ve all been there. And now we’ve all been there. And all we can continue to do is pass the wisdom and the favors down to the next incoming generation of Rossies.

So I can only conclude this short post by saying, to any future or potential Rossies who might be out there: You’ll be homesick. You’ll be confused. You’ll be frustrated beyond belief. You’ll have days when you want to just throw up your hands, kick your busted tires over a cliff and give up on it all. But don’t worry. Someone will be there to help you fish those tires out of the ocean, patch them up and follow you home. Because at the end of the day, you are one of us, and we don’t leave anyone behind.

Top Ten Thursday – Things I’ve Learned from being a Big Sister

I can’t pinpoint exactly what my first memory ever is (I think it involves a neighbor lady in Knoxville with a room full of giant stuffed animals), but whenever I start thinking about early memories, I always come up with the same image: me and my brother staring at a pacifier floating in my parents’ toilet.

Now, I don’t know how it got there and I don’t remember how I even got involved, but I do remember my toddler brother and I standing in the master bathroom of our Clarksville house, staring down into the toilet – our small brains trying to figure out how to get his sucky-thing back without actually having to reach into the toilet.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this little adventure has been lost in time, but my toddler brother is 20 years old today. My, how time flies. We fought like cats and dogs until I moved out of the house and went to college, and I feel like our relationship has improved dramatically since we no longer lived together full time. Although I still don’t know him as well as I would like to, you do have to take into consideration that he IS a 20 year old guy, so what can you really know? Haha! Here are a few things I have learned from being a big sister for the past two decades:

1. Giant cardboard books make wonderful sleds for going down staircases.

2. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of Lego pieces and you only need one more for your creation – you do NOT take apart the Star Wars X-wing Fighter!

3. The little brother will someday look like a big brother, and it will be commented on in public. It will be embarrassing. The little brother will never let you forget it.

4. You torment him when he’s little and when he grows up he’ll pay you back.

5. Sometimes even the worst enemies can become allies. Especially when daddy is hiding somewhere in the hallway and you both have to go potty.

6. THE FLOOR IS LAVA!

7. A little brother is the best person to keep you company while you sit at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning and repeatedly ask your parents if you can come down yet. And then when they say no, you go back to bed and discuss what might be down there. And then sneak down anyway to see what you can see in the light of a flashlight. Until your parents figure out you’re doing this and start setting up the presents in the basement.

8. Nobody gets to tease my little brother but me!

9. There are just some things you don’t tell your parents.

10. There are very few people you can be more proud of than little brothers when they grow up to be good men. 🙂

So happy 20th birthday to my little brother; sorry I can’t be there, but I hope you get to have some fun anyway. Love, the best big sister ever. (Come on, you know it’s true…)

A Cracker Barrel Frame of Mind

Something I have to say about being here at Ross is that I have never been in a more diverse place in my entire life. And I’m not even talking about the locals and being in a foreign country – I just mean the campus community itself.

In college, I thought being around a handful of “Yankees” and the occasional foreign exchange student made my life a culturally diverse atmosphere. Boy was I wrong. Yeah we were from different areas of the south, but we were (mostly) all still southern kids. We were all raised in the Bible belt, all taught to be polite to our elders, all grew up on a variety of deep-fried foods, and pretty much everyone at least knew who George Strait is (even if you didn’t actually listen to country music).

I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a place (inside the U.S.) where there wasn’t a church (of some type) on every other street, country music on restaurant radios, a Cracker Barrel at every interstate exit and a cashier calling you “Sugar” in every grocery store. We often call America a “melting pot,” and here I can finally see why.

Just in mine and the Mister’s usual group of friends there are people from North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, California, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Arizona and even Canada. A couple of weeks ago, a small group came up to us and said they were “collecting southern phrases” to use to annoy a friend from New Jersey. They wanted us – the token Southerners – to pitch in ideas. Disturbingly, all their suggestions were phrases that, in their words, “Southerners use to make insults sound nice.” Wow. . .  what a good way to characterize the south.

Another friend and I were talking about restaurants we want to visit as soon as we get home, and this girl had NO IDEA what a Cracker Barrel is!!!! Mind. Blown.

We’ve met people with Northern accents the likes of which I’ve never heard – even from “Yankee” students in college. Is New York an entire city of people who talk through their noses?? Although I’m sure others have had comments to make about our “adorable” southern accents as well. One friend did teach us that when someone in New Jersey wants to say, “Hey friend! I haven’t seen you in ages. I didn’t know you were working this job. How’ve you been?” they simply raise their hands and shout, “OY!”

In Arizona, apparently it gets above 110 degrees regularly, but you can hardly tell because there’s no humidity at all. No water in the air! Who knew weather like that even existed? Tennessee is nothing without its humidity.

It’s like the Brad Paisley song says, “Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea. Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans. Not everybody goes to church, or watches every NASCAR race. Not everybody knows the words to ‘Ring of Fire’ or ‘Amazing Grace.’” True, a lot of these things I don’t do either. For example, I don’t like sweet tea (or unsweet tea, for that matter) and I’ve never watched a NASCAR race in my life. I don’t own a gun, but my husband does, and he never goes anywhere without his baseball cap. He has two pairs of cowboy boots in our apartment right now, and if his feet wouldn’t melt off in the heat he’d be wearing them everywhere.

But to have never driven a pickup truck? Or eaten a funnel cake? Or to not know the words to “Amazing Grace?” And I can’t tell you who sings most of the songs that I know, but to hear “Ring of Fire” and NOT know that’s Johnny Cash. . .  it’s beyond me how anyone can even get through life without those things. That’s just basic information that everyone should know!

We have learned a lot of things from people here about different parts of our great country and the ways the different people have grown up, and I feel like I can see a broader picture of the world now. Not everyone is like us, and we are like few other people. I can now name the five boroughs of New York and I understand that the New England students are not being rude all the time; it’s just how they talk. (No offense, but it’s true. Many of you probably hear a southern drawl and associate it with stupidity. It’s a common first impression.)

But the best thing about it is that this experience has solidified in my mind that I don’t want to live anywhere that’s farther than four to five hours from Nashville, Tennessee. Outside that circle and things just get crazy. (I mean, no Cracker Barrels? Seriously? How do you not starve to death?)

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What is something distinctive about your part of the country (or the world) that others may not know about? Or may have the wrong impression about? What’s something surprising you learned about somewhere you’ve never been?

Top Ten Thursday – Ten Places to Visit on St. Kitts

As always, this list is not scientific in any way and is not in any real ranking order. It’s just the places that I and other Ross students think are fun/interesting places that tourists should visit. (Click the bold links to learn more about a place or activity.)

1. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park – located on the west coast of St. Kitts between Challengers and Sandy Point, Brimstone National Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort was built by some of the island’s original slaves and was never officially finished. It offers one of the best views of the island and has a variety of displays about the fort, its military occupants and their daily duties. Residents (including island students) pay $5EC; tourists pay $8US. Open daily.

2. Caribella Batik and Botanical Garden – Batik is an island art of fabric dying using wax to layer colors. Caribella Batik is a shop located inside Romney Manor and offers some of the most authentic Caribbean souvenirs. The botanical garden allows visitors to view a wide variety of plants and trees native to the federation. No entrance fee.

3. St. Kitts Scenic Railway – The St. Kitts Scenic Railway is a day-long excursion taking riders from Basseterre up to the northernmost point of the island on a classic railcar. Riders only ride the railway in one direction and take either a bus or a catamaran boat back the other way. The railway costs around $100US for tourists and offers some of the most amazing panoramic views and photography opportunities on the island.

4. Sky Safari – Located on the same property as Caribella Batik, Sky Safari offers the adventurous an opportunity to ride five different zip lines through the island rain forest, depending on your safari package. A full tour takes 2.5 hours to ride all five lines; the half-tour takes an hour and 50 minutes to ride four lines; and the “three lines and river walk” option takes two hours and ten minutes to ride ten lines and enjoy a walk along the riverbank between. Cruise passengers must make their reservations directly with the cruise ship office. A full tour usually consists of eight people.

5. Shipwreck Beach* – Located on the west side of the St. Kitts peninsula, Shipwreck Beach is a relaxing place to grab an umbrella chair and a plate of the bar’s amazing chicken nachos and enjoy the crystal blue of the Caribbean Sea. Just be sure to swim only in the roped-off area, as sea urchins and fire coral are common, and do not stray into the trees that line the parking area. Many of them have poisonous sap and will burn the skin on contact. This is also a common place to see mongoose and the island’s famous green vervet monkeys. (This tourist’s video was actually taken at Shipwreck).

6. Reggae Beach (also known as Cockleshell Beach)* – Located way down on the St. Kitts peninsula, Cockleshell Beach is home to the famous Reggae Beach Bar, which lends the area its local name. This is a good place to find yachts of the rich and famous anchored nearby, and all manner of water sports equipment is available for rental, including fly surfing. Also a good place to find green vervet monkeys.

7. Basseterre – The capitol city of St. Kitts, Basseterre is home to roughly 19,000 people and offers a variety of tourist shopping and dining options. The main attractions here are Independence Square and Port Zante (where the majority of cruise ships dock). A good place for people-watching.

8. The Marriott Resort and Casino* – The Marriott is easily the largest building on the island and is worth a look, even if you aren’t a hotel guest. With two lavish swimming pools, a craft market, tourist shopping and a variety of restaurant styles, there is something here for everyone.

9. Palm Court Gardens – Located west of Basseterre in an otherwise residential area, Palm Court Gardens boasts one of the island’s only public infinity pools, as well as a small-scale botanical garden. The pool overlooks the Port Zante area and offers a full view of all cruise ships coming and going. There is also a gift shop where locals create a variety of items out of shells and sea glass found on the island. There is no entry fee for the gardens, but visitors are required to pay an $8US fee to use the pool.

10. Sandy Point – Not much by way of a town, Sandy Point’s one attraction is the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. Standing at the edge of the water, tourists can look out and see the opposing currents creating waves where there would otherwise be none.

*If you go to the beach on St. Kitts, be sure to choose one on the Caribbean (western) coast, like Shipwreck, Reggae or Timothy. The Atlantic (eastern) coast is known for its strong rip currents and beaches on this side are not generally safe for swimming. The Marriott private beach is an exception, although close care is still recommended. North Friars is a particularly dangerous beach for swimmers, but is often visited by those who wish to watch for sea turtle hatchlings on their way back to the ocean. It is a protected, monitored site for the turtles’ safety. Learn more about the sea turtle conservation program.