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

And then there were four… five… six… wait, how many?

Well the semester is drawing to a close and the Mister and I have become the figurative guardians of at least three tiny baby geckos, recently hatched in various parts of our bedroom.

Baby gecko on the ceiling

Baby gecko on the ceiling

I was getting into the shower one night a month or so ago and noticed something moving around the shower head. My first thought, of course, was that it was a centipede, so I jumped out and grabbed a flashlight. Whatever it was was gone, but I could see something unusual in the gap where the faucet pipe comes out of the wall. Upon further inspection, it turned out to be half of a tiny eggshell! 

Since that night we have seen one baby gecko that hangs around the shower, one that hangs out in the closet and one that can often be found in the main area of the room. They are slightly different, but are all less than two inches in length and very cute to watch. Over the past weeks they have started to expand their territories, and it’s cool to watch them venture into new areas and react to their new surroundings.

The closet gecko, which we call Sam, likes to crawl out of the closet and peek out into the room from the safety of underneath the nearby dresser. The shower gecko – George – recently ventured onto the bathroom counter and then tried to hide against the back side of my makeup bag when the Mister came in to wash his hands. The third baby, who doesn’t have his own name, can often be seen crawling around the vicinity of the air conditioner.

Unnamed gecko baby near the air conditioner

Can you see him? He’s up above the air conditioner cord cover. (Closer pictures were too blurry.)

We like our tiny gecko family and do our best to be mindful of their positions and leave them alone. We have had to scare them away from things that could be dangerous to them, though, like the whirling ceiling fan or Meera’s kennel. (She ignores them for the most part, but she will lie on the bed and stare at them suspiciously if they are moving across the ceiling.)

We have plenty of mosquitoes to go around, and I would rather have geckos than centipedes any day. 

What do you think we should name the third baby? Feel free to submit your suggestions in the comments. 

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.

Top Ten Thursday – Things We Miss (that you probably don’t even think about)

1. The feel of a comfortable pair of blue jeans on your legs. (It’s too hot here to wear them.)

2. Music we know the words to (or can understand the words to)

3. Real restaurants, like where you sit down, they take your order and there isn’t sand covering every available surface

[3b. A choice between staggering-drunk or not-staggering-drunk restaurants.]

4. Fast food, and not necessarily greasy McDonalds-type fast food, but just food that you order and it’s ready in 10 minutes

5. Smiling cashiers. Or even just one who pretends to care “how you’re doing today.”

6. All-in-one stores. Stores here are often a hodge-podge of items thrown together for sale. For example, it would not be unusual to find a store that sells shoes, bras, swimsuits, sunscreen, mixing bowls and trash cans but nothing else.

7. Thunder. Storms here make no sounds, just rain. Not even much lightening at all.

8. Changing seasons. We have two seasons here: raining and not raining.

9. 12-pack sodas. Cans here are sold individually and bottles are sold wholesale in 24-count packages – provided no one else broke it open before you got there.

10. Cars where all the doors work properly

Top Ten Thursday – Local Flowers and Plants

There are so many types of flowering plants here, some I’ve seen before and many I have not. So this week’s top ten Thursday will focus on pictures of those I think are most interesting or most popular. This is not a scientific list by any means, it’s based mainly on which types I have pictures of. I’m sorry I only know the names for the ones I’ve actually seen in the botanical garden; the others just grow wild.

paper flowers near the ocean

1. First of all – my parents have a tree in their backyard that has all these dull yellow, papery flower sacks and we always thought it was weird looking. Well, here, those same papery flowers come in a variety of bright colors and grow on bushes that are often used as hedgerows. Here are photos of a few bushes on campus. 

 

bright pink paper flowers  light pink paper flowers  purple paper flowers

P1150158 2. This one is called – can you guess? – a Hanging Lobster Claw. I’ve only seen them growing in the botanical garden here at Caribella Batik, but these fruits (I guess you could call them that?) are often cut off and used as table decorations. They look a little like odd orange bananas all hanging in their bushes.

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3. I have no idea what this thing is.

P1140845I’ve only ever seen it growing in a giant bush near the dorms here on campus. The brown pods at the top right are the bursted-open version of the green ones at the left. They have tiny red seeds inside them and are fuzzy on the outside, a bit like a kiwi.

                                           P1140850  P1140848

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4. This is one of my favorites. I don’t know what it’s called, but it grows in these big clumps on trees. The flower clumps often cover the tree to the point that it looks like the branches are on fire.

 

 

 

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5. The plant above is very similar to this one, called a Flame of the Woods. This one has a little bit different petal configuration and grows on low bushes rather than on trees. I love their fiery colors though.

6. This type of flower looks like a pile of purple ice shavings. So light and feathery, you can barely feel it when you touch it. It grows on bushes and the tiny feather petals tend to rain down onto the ground beneath it, making it look like purple snow.

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7. This flower (I think it’s a flower?) grows in

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short stalks close to the ground and has sharp points at the ends of the pods.

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8. This bush has feathery flowers that grow vertically up from the leaves. I think I’ve seen something similar in the States.

 

 

 

 

 

9. Then of course there is a classic Caribbean hibiscus,

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which is the type of flower we often tend to associate with the islands and the beach. Or at least I do.

 

 

 

 

 

10. And finally, while not technically a flower, the Lipstick Palm Tree is pretty cool. It’s a shorter-type palm tree whose long leaves turn bright, highlighter pink at the ends. I’ve been told that the tree’s sap will stain your skin the same neon hue.

P1150172And just as a side note – if any WordPress users have some tips on easy ways to incorporate pictures into posts like this, please let me know. This entry took me an hour to figure out how to format! Thanks.

 

Not the Right Side, the Wrong Side!

So the Mister and I have been driving our own vehicle here on the island for about two weeks and have only had one near-death experience, which is pretty good for learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. (And I would like to clarify that I was not driving at the time of the aforementioned incident.)

To the Mister’s credit, however, I wasn’t helping matters by yelling “RIGHT SIDE! RIGHT SIDE!” when I meant “correct side” – aka the left, not the right. But we survived so that’s what counts.

There are a few important things to know about driving in St. Kitts. First of all, obviously, everything stays to the left. Secondly, there are very few other rules.

There are no traffic lights on the island and very few stop signs. All intersections are roundabouts, which we sometimes in America call traffic circles. (To all of you in Spring Hill – imagine the circle outside Target and Olive Garden. . .  but you go around backwards.) Vehicles already inside a roundabout have the right-of-way over those trying to enter the roundabout, but otherwise it’s a hang-on-to-your-seat-cushions free for all. There are technically two lanes inside roundabouts – an outer lane for those exiting immediately and an inner lane for those going farther around – but no one actually uses them. Once you’re in the roundabout, you’re in.

There are also very few street names. Getting directions is a little like this: “Take the bypass around to the sugarcane man and turn right. Go past the fire station and turn right when you get to the bay by Port Zante. Go down to that funny little roundabout, take the first exit (which is the first road in a left hand circle, which is essentially just straight) and then take the second right close to the post office. Take the second exit in the Circus (a big fancy roundabout in town) and go straight to the government offices building and turn left. It’s on your right a ways down.” (Those are essentially directions to Karibhana’s, the only department-store-type establishment in the area.)

In America, we honk our car horns to show frustration or as a warning to other drivers. Here, it’s like having a conversation between cars. People honk when passing pedestrians or other drivers, you honk when you see your friends going the other way, taxis and buses honk to potential passengers on the side of the road, you honk when going around sharp curves, you honk when someone lets you into traffic (which isn’t often. . . . basically you just honk all the time. Cars are very vocal here. Which is troublesome because our car horn currently doesn’t work.

A few other things to note: You are not required to slow down to pass another vehicle. All roads are two lanes, but there aren’t really any center lines so if someone in front is slower and the oncoming lane is clear, you just circle around them (after you honk, of course). Also, cars, taxis, buses and people routinely just STOP in the middle of the road without warning. They stop to have conversations with other pedestrians or drivers, sometimes taking up both lanes of traffic. They stop to run into stores; they stop for herds of goats crossing the road (I myself have been stopped by two different herds since we’ve had the car); they stop to pick up or drop off passengers. Thus, the rules about going around people. If you didn’t pass, you’d never get anywhere.

[NOTE: While you can honk at anything else on the island, you cannot honk at the goats. It only scares them and scatters them further across the road and around your car, rather than actually hurrying them across.]

What else, what else. . . oh, left hand turns are automatic but right-hand turns have to look for oncoming traffic, which of course is backwards from the States. There are a few three-way intersections here are there, but they are very confusing because you can’t just continue on to the right, you have to pass the first entrance and then turn right across oncoming traffic, which is also backwards from the States. The gear shift is on the left-hand side of the steering wheel (which is on the right) and the blinker is on the right-hand side, which at least for us is backward and always causes us to turn on our windshield wipers when we’re intending to turn. (No one but American students really use their blinkers around here anyway.)

There is a special type of “car math” used on the island as well. This is not so true in private vehicles, where the driver of course can make his/her own decisions, but in public buses, taxis or when a private person is serving as public transportation (such as picking up attendees for church), there is a special formula used to figure out how many persons a vehicle can ACTUALLY hold. This is very deceiving, since you’d think the number of seats in the car would indicate this, but that is not true. To the best of my ability, I think I have figured out that, in a smaller car, you take the number of actual seats in the car and add two to find the true maximum capacity for the vehicle. In a taxi or bus (which are just 15-passenger vans), you add 1.5 people for each row in the van and that gives you maximum capacity. So it’s not uncommon for a 15-passenger bus to actually have 19-21 people in it. Good thing nothing on the island is very far away.

It is illegal to use a cell phone while driving, in any shape form or fashion. Speeding is also illegal, but it’s one of the many laws that aren’t enforced. (But you can’t drive very fast anyway because the pot holes will rip your car to pieces. And because people just STOP in the middle of the road!) However, the car insurance law is enforced and they will put you in prison if you’re caught driving without it – something I think the U.S. should definitely adopt.

One last thing – there is a reason cars here are called “island mobiles.” They are not the same types of cars we would normally drive in the U.S. Here, it’s considered perfectly normal for a car to not have working air conditioning or functioning power windows, power locks, radios, windshield wipers or blinkers. Island mobiles also have the odd habits for all the doors to not work properly. It’s normal to have at least one door on your car that either doesn’t open from the inside or doesn’t open from the outside. On our car, for example, the passenger’s (front left) door won’t open from the inside unless you pull the open handle and the lock switch up at the same time, and the back passenger’s door won’t open unless you smack your full weight into it. The driver’s door won’t stay locked from the outside unless you push down the lock switch, close the door while holding the handle out, and then release the handle. Oh – and almost every vehicle on the island, if it was owned by a Kittian at any point in its lifespan – has some sort of name or saying painted on it. It’s just something they do here; I have no idea why. Ours says “Pure Rumours” in a strange font across the back windshield. One car that parks on campus a lot says “No Me Fault” on the front windshield and all the buses have crazy names painted on the sides. It’s just another one of those strange island habits that I guess you get used to here.

What are some driving rules in your country? If you drive on the left side of the road, what are some tips you could give those of us used to the right side?

The Nut House Goes House Hunting

All first semester students here at Ross are given the option of living in the on-campus housing (dorms). And I’m not saying that’s a bad option – it puts you in easy walking distance of the main campus, with its ATM, fitness center and eating options, and you meet a lot more people in your class that way – but for us being a married couple, it has definitely had its challenges. We live in an efficiency room, which means we have about 20 square feet of space that serves as bedroom, living room, study area, kitchen and dining room all at once.

Yes, we’re married, and we’re close, but there comes a point where you get TOO close. . .

There are other types of dorm rooms – two bedrooms, and even split-level townhouse-type apartments – but everything is first-come, first-serve. So we have an efficiency. It is what it is.

But everyone has to move off campus for second semester, so we’re house hunting! I think it’s a lot of fun to go around and look at all these places with the realtors, although it would be more fun if we had our own car and didn’t have to call a taxi every time. (Cross your fingers and toes – we should have possession of our car within the next two weeks!)

Our future roommates (M and B) and the Mister and I have looked at a few options with a lot of potential and have our eyes on one in particular, if we can work out some kinks in the rental agreement. I won’t post any pictures or give any real details until we settle on something, since there may be other Rossies reading this trying to hijack our house, but let’s just say the one I like best is a real catch. (I know you’ve already got your fingers and toes crossed, so go ahead and cross those arms and legs too while you’re at it.)

We’ve looked at three so far: two in quiet neighborhood-type areas and one up on the tippy-tip top of a mountain overlooking basically the entire island. The view is breath-taking! But the drive up is pretty frightening, so we’ll have to see how that one goes.

Ross is really good about helping students find housing, and they have an entire website dedicated to listing the available units and showing extensive pictures and details about each one. The school is really good about understanding exactly how much students can be expected to tackle alone in this brand new area and new culture. They conduct security checks on all the properties and list the approved units on the student housing site; they include all student housing in the safety rounds and help write the lease agreements on whatever units we choose. However we are still responsible for setting up our own appointments with the realtors, finding our own roommates and making our own final decisions. You can choose to live somewhere that’s not Ross-approved, but it’s a decision you make at your own risk. And even then, if you ask, they will still send out a security team to conduct the check on your unit and give their professional opinions.

So we’re on another leg of this continuing adventure. But at least we are making friends, learning our way around, testing our wings and trying to make the best of it. So wish us luck in the house hunt. I will soon have an oven again, hallelujah!

 

 

**NOTE: I am trying to start a weekly blog theme called “Top Ten Thursday,” and I am open to any and all topic suggestions you may have. The Top Ten lists can be cultural, like local customs we’ve seen; they can be photographic, like local flowers, birds, colorful headdresses, etc.; they can be personal, like marriage lessons; or they can be how-to tips we’ve used, like about flying internationally or driving on the left side of the road. Anything really. realLeave your suggestions in comments and I’d appreciate it. 🙂