Top Ten (Friday) – Ten things I want to tell people when they say, “Oh you’re living in the Caribbean? That’s like an awesome vacation every day!”

Don’t ever say that. Ever. Really. I may hurt you.

Yes, I can see how a Caribbean cruise would be fun. Even spending a week on an exotic island, basking in the sun and sleeping on posh beds in a nice hotel with an ocean view. But it drives me CRAZY when people tell me that I’m just on a really long vacation. Visiting a place like this and living full-time in a place like this are two completely different things. The main tourist attractions may be pretty and shiny and exciting, but this is still a third-world country and when you get down to the nitty-gritty aspects of everyday life, it’s not as shiny as you thought. Here are ten things I want you to think about the next time you feel the urge to tell me I’m on vacation.

1. I pay 17% tax on everything – groceries, restaurants, clothing, trinkets, household items… Literally everything. And that’s in addition to the 12% service charge at any establishment with “customer service,” which, no, is not the server’s tip. That’s extra. And it’s not just for my one-week stay; that’s every day for two and a half years.
2. When was the last time you got an electric bill? Beginning of this month? That must be nice. We still haven’t gotten any bills from September. Electric bills are 4-5 months behind, and when they come in they are a bulk sum for several months, due in full immediately or they shut your services off. And another thing, how much was your bill? Try having $300-400 a month (for a one bedroom apartment) for five months all due at once.
3. People seem to think I live on the beach. I haven’t been to the beach in months. It gets old really, really fast, I assure you. You can only do a thing over and over again so many times before it loses all significance and becomes a chore.
4. The last time you went to the grocery store, did someone ask you how you were doing? Did they offer to help you find something? Did the cashier smile, make small talk, or even tell you your bill total? Lucky. The last time I went to the grocery store (and actually every time I’ve been to the grocery store for a long time) the clerk I asked for assistance looked me up and down and continued the conversation she was having with a friend. The cashier snatched my shopper’s card from me, did not respond when I said hello, and then held her hand out for my payment without telling me my total and seemed exasperated when I asked how much I owed. That’s normal. It happens everywhere. You get used to it.
5. You have to count your items when you start to leave a grocery store, not because you may have left one on the counter, but because sometimes the person you thought was a bagger wasn’t a bagger at all, but a local townsperson picking through your groceries and bagging what she wants for herself and walking off with it, leaving you the rest. It’s happened before.
6. We have several problems with our car right now, including fuel pump issues and a bent rear wheel that wobbles when we drive. People from home tell me, “just take it to a repair shop and they can fix that sort of thing quickly.” But what you don’t understand is that there is no such thing as a real repair shop here. There are men with “shops” on the side of the road and in back alleys who work on cars, some of whom are pretty well recommended but many of which pop up overnight. There is a dealership that does repairs, but only on certain items on certain types of cars, and of you don’t fit that criteria you’re out of luck. And no matter where you take your car, you are not going to get it back quickly. So we prioritize, or, in other words, we drive it until it will go no more, then we worry about the repairs.
7. Do you have free access to your bank account? Do you have a debit or credit card with your name on it that you can use anywhere? That must be nice. I don’t have access to anything because I’m not a student – and therefore not as important – and I can’t jump through the ridiculous hoops to fulfill the bank’s other requirements (a letter from a doctor or lawyer to show my upstanding character, a letter from our previous bank detailing the type and number of my monthly transactions and average balance, an account record of two years or more with the same institution, and a long list of other things). So I have to use Matthew’s card and hope no one contests me and have any money I might make made out to him, since I wouldn’t be able to cash or deposit a check with my name on it.
8. There is nothing for children here. Nothing. Granted, we don’t have children of our own, but I am a nanny for two toddlers and there is nothing for them to do here. No parks or playgrounds, no public walking tracks, no children’s centers and few houses with suitable yards. When was the last time your kids got to go play outside? Did you take them to the playground? Did you turn them lose in your yard so they could work off some energy while you took a few moments of peace to drink your coffee and make a grocery list? Kids can’t do that here, so obviously this is not a good permanent-vacation spot for you.
9. Tourist stuff is great when you’re a tourist looking for “I heart St. Kitts” T-shirts or beach shorts, novelty shot glasses, key chains or Christmas ornaments, but when you’re living here full-time and just want a new pair of pants, it’s incredibly annoying. I haven’t found a store here yet that sells normal clothes for normal, everyday people. I guess the true locals must get clothing somewhere, but I have yet to find it (and people here seem to have missed the memo that the ’80s are over, anyway). Everyone I ask just tells me to order online from Target and wait until I get home to try it on.
10. Did you work hard for a degree and a job? Did you jump through all the appropriate hoops, climb all the acceptable stairs and pass through the conventional doors to get an adult career? So did I. And now I’m a babysitter, like I’m back in high school working for extra spending money so I could go to the movies on the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love Thing 1 and Thing 2 (usually) and I’m grateful to be bringing in a bit of money, but it does create a bit of an identity crisis. I am an adult and I want to be treated like a grown woman with a family of my own – an equal with the parents and on a first-name basis. Yet I’m working an adolescent job, something young adults back home would do for free as a favor to friends and that only teenage girls get paid for, so that makes me feel like I have to be “Mr. H this” and “Mrs. H that” and be younger and subservient all the time, which in turn leads them to treat me like a teenage babysitter rather than a grown woman. I really haven’t figured out how to resolve that yet. Suggestions?

Anyway, just thought I would provide some food for thought on this particular topic, especially since we’re about to head home for the holidays and I’m sure I’ll encounter this statement many times before we return. Feel free to pass this along and maybe save me some of the explaining time.

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2 thoughts on “Top Ten (Friday) – Ten things I want to tell people when they say, “Oh you’re living in the Caribbean? That’s like an awesome vacation every day!”

  1. Excellent writing as usual. So sorry that your situation has so many limits. I wonder what makes the people there so unfriendly? Are you able to offer tutoring services or something from home? Are there any other job possibilities at the school? I sure wish I could think of some way to make life better. Lots of prayer and daily Bible study will at least help to comfort you and lift your spirits.

    I don’t know what the job restrictions are for non-natives but I wondered if you would be able to make and sell stuff to students at the university? Small gifts–crocheted items, baked goods, handmade cards, etc? I know it’s not really what you are looking for but it would fill time and give you a little outlet. Do the students need papers typed and edited?

    • Thanks for all the suggestions! I have looked into odd jobs like that, and I may start trying to sell crochet items next year, but as far as the other ideas they have fallen flat. Nobody bit on my proposal to tutor grade school students, and vet students don’t need services from others who aren’t vet students. I do a little writing for the school, and while I do like that, it’s definitely not the same.

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