Readjusting to the Mainland 101 – “Rossie Rehabilitation”

So this past weekend marked the end of seventh semester for the Ross University class the Mister and I started with back in April of 2013. Green semester has returned home to the mainland, and our friends are struggling a little with the transition back to first-world life. So, since the Mister and I have been back stateside for almost a year now, we’ve (well, I’ve) decided to help “rehabilitate” the island-dwellers with an orientation course of sorts.

So, in the spirit of what I used to call “Top Ten Thursdays,” here are ten lessons recently-returned Rossies should keep in mind during this transition period.

  1. Intersections: There are stop signs and traffic lights here, and you do actually have to stop a few times between your house and your destination. Yes, I know it’s annoying, but it’s the way things are here. Google the rules about turning arrows, right of way and right on red because you’ve probably forgotten how to handle those.
  2. Passing other drivers: There is a thing here called a “double yellow line.” There are also sometimes things called “passing lanes.” Familiarize yourself with their meanings and purposes, because they are important. Don’t do like I did and fly around somebody in the oncoming lane just because you can… because my person turned out to be the mailman, but your person might turn out to be a cop.
  3. Police: If your person that you flew around on a double yellow DOES turn out to be a police officer, don’t offer him or her money. I know that was the accepted thing on the island, but it’s sort of frowned upon here on the mainland.
  4. Money: Prices here are in U.S. dollars. All prices – not just things at fancy hotels. The U.S. dollars are the green ones; the money with all the colorful sea turtles doesn’t work here, so don’t try. At first you will mentally multiply everything by three and add import and VAT taxes to find the price in EC and then think, “This is only $20. $20! Can you believe it? We can afford 15 of them!” But don’t. Just because that shower curtain costs $3 US and not $25EC doesn’t mean you need one in every color. This will be hard, so stay strong.
  5. Technology: When you return to the States, you will likely acquire some sort of Smart Phone. Or at least a phone with speaker capabilities (unless you’re me and the Mister, who still haven’t gotten there yet). These phones are very complicated and can do things like actually call the person you want to call, deliver text messages on time and sometimes even talk to you. Do not be afraid – that voice is contained within the phone and won’t come out to strangle you in your sleep. Yet. (Also, people here expect you to carry your phone with you at all times and answer it reliably. This is a skill I have not yet remastered.)
  6. Air conditioning: There is another wonderful thing here called “air conditioning.” It’s this thing where you tell a little box on the wall how hot or cold you want it to be in your house, and cold air comes out of the walls to make you happy. It’s wonderful. Use it as much as you want. It’s not free, but there is no reason the bill should be $900 a month (and if it is, complain. This is not considered “normal” here.).
  7. “American” time: Time passes much more quickly here on the mainland than it does on the island. It is not normal for food to take an hour to reach your table, and if it does you will probably get it for free. Also, you will be expected to get to places “on time,” which means at or before the time the event is scheduled to begin. You can’t simply assume the event won’t start for another hour and show up then. That’s not how it works here.
  8. Fast food: Speaking of food not taking an hour, there is even an entire eating genre called “fast food.” You can drive next to a building, tell a little talking box what you want to eat, and you can be eating it in five minutes or less! You will probably gain some weight in these transition months, because who doesn’t want to eat something you can have in five minutes?! But try to control yourself. You’ll thank me later.
  9. Centipedes: Be sure to check your luggage, anything in your luggage and the areas around your luggage thoroughly for stowaways. It has happened. My in-laws didn’t see a single ‘pede while on the island, but managed to bring two of them home last year. (Don’t worry; they were immediately extinguished and a centipede uprising was prevented on American soil.) After the initial check, you can relax. The centipedes here do not bite, are not poisonous and will not make a home out of your pillow cases. However there will be a long period where you may freak out in front of your neighbors when that long black smudge on the wall looks like it might attack. Develop a cover story for this situation early so your new friends don’t think you’re simply crazy and afraid of moving shadows. *shudder*
  10. Seasons: They change here. You’ve spent the last two years and four months on a tropical island where the only seasons are “raining” and “not raining.” Here, it will start to get cold in about two months. Sooner for those of you resettling in the northern part of the country. I know you probably haven’t seen a sweater or a pair of thermal leggings since 2013, but you’re gonna want to find those, and soon. You’re probably shivering right now, since anything under 78 degrees feels like the arctic. You’ve also discovered the air conditioner at this point, so you’ll want to bundle up in those jeans and hoodies just for the sake of cranking that beautiful central air unit all the way down and bragging about it to your friends.
  11. BONUS! Grocery shopping: You do not have to shake all the pasta boxes to find one without bugs. You do not have to put your cereal, rice and noodles in the freezer to kill the weevils. You should never have to skim floating insects off the top of your boiling water again. You also have a significantly increased expectation that the milk and dairy products you’ve selected will still be good the next day. Or, for that matter, later that same day when you open the container and take that first sip. And if you run out of something – YOU CAN DRIVE DOWN THE STREET AND BUY SOME MORE! (Although keep #4 in mind at all times.) Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Take notes. There will be an exam.

Happy homecoming to you all, and may the force be with you.

-The Missus

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I open at the close…

It’s 3 a.m. The Mister and I said goodbye to our island family several hours ago and have been trying to wind down and get some sleep since just after 11. Obviously that’s not working so well.

I’ve spent a few hours in that state where you are calm enough to rest but not quite enough to actually sleep, so I don’t feel too terrible right now, although I’m hoping the action of coming upstairs and writing this post will help push me that last little bit into dreamsville. I’m not sure if the Mister is still awake or not – I have a feeling he is – but we’re coping in our separate ways.

This is my last post from the island, which is actually very fitting, since I sat at my mother’s kitchen table at 2 a.m. (Central Time) the night before we originally came here and wrote out my nervousness in a journal much less public than this one.

I know that in a reflection such as this I’m expected to say things like “it was a life-changing experience” and “it was for the best that we came,” but if I’m being honest with myself and with you, I don’t know how true that is. I sort of feel like we’re returning to the States with roughly the same amount of physical, mental and financial material that we left it with, which makes me wonder if we couldn’t just rip out these pages in our history books and piece pre-St. Kitts and post-St. Kitts together like a jigsaw puzzle without any gaps in-between.

The Mister got his chance to try veterinary school, and that is good, but he worked so hard for so long only to get pushed aside in the end by an administration that poses as one “for the good of the students” but is really just about the money.

I don’t know that I am any better about dealing with different kinds of people and cultures, but I was at least forced to give it a shot, and I suppose that is good as well. If nothing else I now have a much greater appreciation for southern hospitality, courtesy and common sense.

There have definitely been both good days and bad days along the way, but I think they ultimately balance each other out into a fairly neutral overall experience. We will of course never forget or be able to replace the friends we’ve made here and the people we will be leaving behind, but I have faith that tonight will not be the last times we see them, Lord willing. They, at least, are the tokens we will cherish most from this chapter of our lives.

I do intend to continue adding to this blog as time goes on, but the main content will obviously have to change as our lives evolve around it. Hopefully there will be updates about jobs, houses and the antics of children in the future, but we’ll just have to see how the world turns.

One thing I can be completely certain about, however, is that after tomorrow I will not be getting on any airplane of my own free will for a very, very long time.

So here’s to change, to starting over and to second chances. Here’s to bumps in the road, broken transmissions and busted radiators. Here’s to the hundreds of slain mosquitoes flushed down our drains, and here’s to a thousand blazing sunrises over a sparkling ocean. Here’s to pelicans, stilt birds and mongooses. Here’s to lying by a pool, watching shooting stars light up a Caribbean sky, listening to the chatter of your best and closest.

Here’s to endings.

And new beginnings.

Here’s to life. Go make it happen.

A New Road to Walk

The night the Mister and I said goodbye to our families before we caught that first flight to the unknown world of St. Kitts, I cried so hard I could hardly speak, and then sat at my parents’ kitchen table from 2a.m. until flight time trying to figure out why I felt such an oppressive weight of doom.

I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were being sent from our loved ones and exiled into a world of shadowy darkness to chase a dream that – had the system been constructed fairly – the Mister could have followed at a stateside vet school. I know it’s no secret that I’ve not always been the biggest fan of this Kittitian world, but when faced with the immediate prospect of leaving it, I find there are many things I will be sad to leave behind.

I have so many more faithful readers on this humble blog than I ever thought I would gain, and I feel that, since you’ve journeyed with us on our island travels for so long, you deserve to know how they have ended.

Without going into the long details, which will only sound like I’m blaming the school (which I’m going to try not to do), I can explain that the Mister’s final exams last semester did not go as planned – due largely to outside circumstances – and he fell into a loophole in the system not directly addressed by the student handbook. We went through the process to appeal his scores, and found out yesterday that the committee went strictly by the closest handbook rule and decided to release him of his responsibilities as a student and send us home. Where some other students have won their appeals on the same subject, the Mister’s status as having already repeated a course meant he was gleaned from the flock as a matter of “principle.”

The man responsible for handing the Mister the committee’s final decision told him he had not slept well Tuesday night because of it and felt terrible to be delivering the envelope.

However, technicalities and finger-pointing set aside, the decision has been made and the Mister and I are getting our island affairs in order and plan to return stateside by the end of the month. Thankfully we’ve been blessed with families who won’t leave us out in the streets and friends who work in industries where the Mister can look for a job. I myself have applied for a public relations position back home and have a few other possibilities to look into once we get back.

This is not the end of the road for us, but merely the start of a new path. We know we will be ok in the end, even if the going is rough here for a while. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all, and we have learned so much from this experience that will shape us into better adults in the future.

Prayers and good thoughts are always appreciated, and if you know of anything in the middle Tennessee area that is hiring or might be looking for workers like us, please let us know.

–The Missus

Aaaannnnnd we’re back!

Hey readers, I know it’s been a long hiatus these past few weeks, but the Mister and I are safely back on the island and readjusting ourselves to loose brakes and stringy chicken as we speak. 🙂

The vacation was wonderful and definitely necessary for our sanity. We got to spend time with most of the family and saw a lot of good friends at a beautiful wedding the first weekend we were home. We went to the zoo and canoed down the mighty Duck River, roasted marshmallows over a backyard fire, replenished my yarn supply for this semester’s animals, and ate enough good food to kill a horse. I myself ate four cartons of blueberries over two weeks… but that’s a separate story altogether. (Hey, I really have a thing for blueberries, ok?)

Meera stayed with another student while we were gone and seems to have had a good time. She got along well with the other dogs in the apartment complex, had lots of yard space to play in, went on at least one hike and completely wore herself out to the extent that she’s been asleep since we brought her home earlier this morning. 

We had some complications with the way last semester ended so we have to sort out a few more things before the Mister can start classes for this round, but we should know the outcomes of those decisions by Wednesday. Whatever happens though, we know that life will go on one way or another, and we’ll figure out what path our family is meant to take and see what waits for us at the end of it. 

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers that God’s will will be done, and whatever that turns out to be we will be able to accept it and move forward. Thanks, and happy Saturday!

Here we are again

It’s finals week again in the Caribbean. You can tell because the grocery stores are out of Mountain Dew and when you walk around campus, the air is deathly silent except for the strange mutterings of students who have their hands buried in their hair and their eyes starting to bug out of their heads.

The Mister took his first final this afternoon and has his second tomorrow, so all good thoughts and prayers sent his way are appreciated. He has been studying hard for several days and I have faith that he can get the grades he needs to move on in the program. We won’t know until Friday though, and by that time we will likely be on our way back to the mainland.

One of my best friends is getting married this Saturday, so the Mister and I are making the trek back to the land of milk and honey for the two week break. We are super excited to see friends, family and a long list of restaurants. Especially the restaurants. 😉

There may not be posts for the next two Mondays since we’ll be running around trying to fit in all the family visits, scheduled appointments and other activities that need to be done before we return to the island of misfit toys. We wish we could fit in more people and places, but it’s hard to do everything in only 13 days, so if we don’t get a chance to see you this break hopefully we’ll be able to do it the next time we’re in the country.

We’re counting down the hours and crossing our fingers for good results on Friday. Love to all and, if you’re in the home area, we hope to see you soon.

S.A.F.E.ty comes at a price

We’ve all seen those ASPCA commercials — the ones with the depressing music and puppies in cages and celebrities telling you how to sponsor an animal for pennies a day. If you’re anything like me, you glance out at your happy dogs in the yard and change the channel before it gets too gut-wrenching. There are thousands of animals in the United States who are abused, mistreated and in need of loving homes, but at least someone gives them a voice. There are animal shelters, animal control centers and advocacy groups who work to eliminate animal abuse, and those who are responsible can face fines and criminal charges.

Not so in St. Kitts.

There are no shelters here, and dying animals rarely receive humane euthanasia unless they are picked up by veterinary students and taken to the campus clinic. Animals are property, not companions, and if an owner wants to leave a dog to slowly starve to death in his front yard he is free to do so without fear of legal repercussions. Animals suffer injuries and extents of neglect here that would never be allowed to go on in the United States. Every day dogs are seen tied to trees with heavy chains, wasting away, broken, defeated and barely able to rise from the ground when children gather to throw rocks and stones at the wormy skeleton. Every day. And no one speaks for them.

Kristen Decina, a New Jersey native, is trying to change that.

Decina, a student at Ross University of Veterinary Medicine, arrived on St. Kitts to begin her studies in April of 2012 and immediately recognized the incredible need for an emergency animal rescue agency in the area.

“The last dog rescue, P.A.W.S.*, was founded here in 2002. I felt that with the growing (vet) student population there was room and need for another rescue with a slightly different angle. PAWS was doing a great job, but one rescue could not do it all alone,” said Decina.

S.A.F.E. St. Kitts — “Saving Animals From Emergency” — was officially founded in the spring of 2013 and focuses on being an on-call rescue. There are an average of three to eight animals in the program at one time, with any number of other rescues in the homes of sponsored foster families. Decina and two other Ross students, who make up the SAFE executive staff, have successfully adopted out approximately 50 animals in the past year, with another 50 lives improved through foster families and local education on proper pet care.

“Our rescue provides 100% of the care the animals need, including general vaccines, deworming, treatment for emergent illnesses like heartworms and, in many cases, extensive surgeries,” said Decina. “We also go on rescue calls with other students and community members, and we provide food and supplies to rescuers who don’t have them. All of that adds up.”

It is amazing to see how much a scared, starving animal can improve after a warm bath, a soft blanket and a nutritious meal. During her interview, Decina cuddled the rescue’s newest addition — four-month-old puppy Quinn — who is a skittish skeleton. However, after only 48 hours in a loving home, Quinn was already wagging his tail, playing with his foster family and putting on weight.

Decina says her drive to continue such a daunting task is fueled by rescues like L.O.V.E. (“Left On Volcanoes End”) and Copper.

LOVE was found sealed into a 3’x2′ monkey cage in the jungle, deprived of human contact and affection. “I can’t imagine what being in the crate for so long did to her spirit. She looked absolutely defeated. Her teeth have wear marks from where she tried to chew herself out of her wire prison,” said Decina.

It is unknown how long LOVE had been in this tiny cage, and she was terrified of her rescuers.

LOVE was cut out of her tiny cage and taken in by a foster mother with experience handling unsocialized dogs. Now, after many months of patient care and attention, LOVE is beginning to trust again and greets her foster mother at the door at the end of each day. She is still looking for her forever family.

LOVE is such a couch hog!

Copper was found in port by cruise ship passengers, one leg irreparably mangled as he tried to pull himself through the crowds to a safer resting place. News of Copper’s condition reached Decina and the SAFE team and they were able to locate him in town, surrounded by a crowd of abusive onlookers who sneered at the poor dying animal, who was in so much pain he had given up the fight. The SAFE team transported him to the Ross Veterinary Hospital for evaluation, but they didn’t have any money left to pay for the amputation and other surgeries he would need. In a burst of inspiration, Decina emailed the cruise ship passengers who originally found the dog and begged for their help. Amazingly, all the passengers contacted immediately donated via PayPal to cover the hound dog’s expenses. Copper now lives with two veterinary students who adore him and spoil him rotten.

Copper is a beautiful older dog who doesn’t even know he only has three legs!

SAFE tries to offset its expenses through Ross campus fundraisers and private donations, however much of the costs are being absorbed by the students themselves.

Outsiders can help in a variety of ways, first and foremost by donating money to cover the costs of amputations, stomach repairs, broken bones and other extensive procedures needed by their rescues.

Their website, www.safest.kitts.org, is set up with a PayPal donation link. You can also donate via their GoFundMe account at http://www.gofundme.com/safestkittsrescue.

Those who would rather send supplies (via students returning to the island or USPS care packages), can send dog toys, Kongs, puppy milk replacer, collars, leashes, pee pads and treats — all of which are hard to find here on the island.

“I am blessed because the work I am doing now is what I feel I was put on this earth to do, and coming to St. Kitts and not making a difference in a place where there is so much room to help would have been my biggest regret,” said Decina.

To donate, please follow any of the links above. For more information, please leave a comment on this post or contact SAFE directly via email at Safe_st.kitts@yahoo.com. They are also on Facebook.

Remember, one U.S. dollar equals 2.7 eastern Caribbean dollars, so even if you don’t feel you can give very much, whatever you can give will be converted and applied toward the rehabilitation of an animal who deserves to find his or her forever home.

Decina responded to a call about puppies starving in a cane field last spring and brought home the tiny creatures that would turn into our strong, beloved Meera and her sister Kitt. Without SAFE, Meera would likely have died in that field, either killed by the land owner or wasting away slowly from starvation and exposure.

If you have pets you love, and who love you in return, please take a moment to consider making a donation to help veterinary students on St. Kitts rescue animals from emergency situations and better teach the island community how to care for their furry friends.

—-

*P.A.W.S. stands for “People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts” and was founded by a local in 2002. PAWS is maintained and staffed through the Ross veterinary student community and has plans, with help from influential local families, to build the island’s first animal shelter. However, there is a long way to go until this goal is accomplished. More information about their organization and fundraising efforts can be found at www.rosspaws.com.

Ohana

“Ohana” is a Hawaiian word introduced to most of us non-Hawaiian people through the movie Lilo and Stitch. In a dictionary it means family, in an extended sense, and includes “chosen family” as well as blood relations. However, I think Lilo explains it best when she says, “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

I have a wonderful biological family and an equally wonderful in-law family, and I’ve had many sets of “chosen families” over the years, the closest being the group of young women I lived with in college. However, it wasn’t until one night a few weekends ago that the true meaning of “ohana” really sank in deep.

I was with a group of friends laying out by a pool at midnight looking for shooting stars, listening to soft music and laughing about whatever was funny at the moment. There was a long moment of silence as we all scanned the sky and it occurred to me that we are a group born of desperation. We are a cluster of people that probably would never have been friends if we’d all gone to our chosen stateside schools. We likely never would have met. We didn’t come together simply because we lived in the same dorm or happen to go to the same school; we bonded out of nervousness and fear of the great unknown that was this unfamiliar place and have formed an unlikely bond that – quite possibly – is stronger than anything else. We are ohana. We are each other’s closest companions and strongest rocks in the storms of St. Kitts life.

We consist of two Floridians, five southerners (some more so than others), a girl from Michigan and a girl from Oregon. We have pessimists, optimists and who-cares-ists. The youngest is 22 and the oldest is about to be 30. We have two married couples, one engaged couple, two single girls and one with a boyfriend back home. We are Greek, Hispanic, Native American and just plain who-knows. We come from all sorts of family and religious backgrounds and don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but the innate knowledge that we are all we have keeps us together regardless of our arguments.

Yet we are the same. We are all working toward the common goal of becoming veterinarians (six of us students, three of us spouses). We are all far away from home – many for the very first time – and we have all been separated from all the people, places and things we hold dear and tossed onto this rock hundreds of miles from real land. I think the RUSVM bond is probably greater than that of other vet students at stateside schools because they at least have the familiar, the knowledge that home is a car trip or a short flight away; but us… we only have each other. Sure, we all have friends and family waiting for us back home, but when something happens here and help is needed, we don’t have the luxury of a visit from Mom with hot chicken soup; we don’t always even have the ability to call home. Without each other, we would flounder; but together, we’ve learned how to swim.

We started out with our original orientation group from first semester, when nobody knew anybody or where anything is or how anything works here. We stuck together because we were required to. Now we’ve added a few stragglers from other orientation groups and picked up a former Black semester. The Mister isn’t in the same classes anymore, after having had to repeat a semester, but we’re still together every chance we get and they are always quick to offer him any advice or materials they have to help him succeed. No one is left behind or forgotten.

I write this long, sappy post to say this – I am eternally grateful for the ohana we have found here; for those we have chosen and for those who have chosen us in return. I don’t know where we would be or how we would get through this without them, and I hope they know they can count on us as well. The saddest part about repeating a semester is knowing we will not finish this journey with them, that we will have a semester on this island alone after they have moved on to greater things. But I have a feeling we will find each other again along the way, whether in clinicals, at professional conferences or at weddings and other special events. We will find each other, because we are ohana, and no one will be forgotten.