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

Top Ten Thursday – Old Habits That Die Hard

I’ve been taking note over the last few weeks of things that used to be commonplace in our lives that simply aren’t practical or useful here. So this week’s top ten list consists of things I haven’t done in months (or at least not since we moved out of the dorms) and that I probably won’t do again while we are still on the island.

1. Sleep underneath the blankets (why add additional layers between you and the meager air flow? This includes pajamas.)
2. Take a hot shower (you don’t want to heat up yourself or the bathroom, since the steam will only cling to your skin for the rest of the day and make you feel like you never showered in the first place).
3. Drink hot chocolate (one of my favorite comfort foods, but no thank you).
4. Drink anything that hasn’t done a short stint in the freezer.
5. Wear tennis shoes (at home, I hardly ever take them off, and I am certainly never barefoot. Here, I only put them on to go out at night, when there are centipedes afoot).
6. Enjoy hot food. (We make it because we have to eat sometime and sandwiches got old quick, but I regret every mouthful as it slowly heats up the inside of my stomach.)
7. Snuggle (with anything. The Mister, the dog, an extra pillow. It’s not worth building up trapped body heat).
8. Go outside after dark without a flashlight and some sort of shoes on (last week a flashlight saved me and the dog from a giant centipede near the front stairs, and then helped the boys hunt it down and kill it so it didn’t get into the house).
9. Go outside between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., if I can help it. (The exception to this rule is going to a pool or to the beach to cool off.)
10. Stay in any room that doesn’t have a ceiling fan at minimum and a couple of stand up fans at best. (Otherwise you melt into the tile floor.)

What is something you had to change about your routine when you moved to a new place or started a new job? Any new habits you’ve held onto, regardless of their practicality?

The Island Car Chronicles

So when I wrote and posted “From Four-legged Children, on Two-legged Children” I only did that because I thought it was Monday and therefore time for a new post. Obviously I am more messed up than I thought I was.

But, even when I start to worrying about running out of post material, something always seems to pop up at the last moment and prove itself worthy of Nut House fame. This week, it’s the island car chronicles.

We bought our car a few weeks into the semester (remember this post?) and didn’t have any major issues with it for a while. That is, until the transmission FELL OUT during the Mister’s finals week. Quite literally.

I was driving home from a VIP event the Tuesday night of finals week and the car suddenly made a loud POP! and started skidding and grinding metal in the middle of a roundabout. Thankfully there is a gas station at the edge of this particular roundabout and I was able to pull in and grind to a stop before I was rear-ended or veered into oncoming traffic. I got out thinking I had just blown a tire, but upon trying to restart the car I was greeted by the most horrendous screeching noise ever heard by man. The gas station attendants helped me push it to an actual parking space, since it obviously wasn’t going anywhere by itself.

The Mister came to rescue me and, with the help of a Ross security patrol car, we were able to go home and call a mechanic in the morning. We made a down payment today on what turns out to be a complete rebuild of the transmission (an axle snapped, thus the screeching and no-wheels-turning problem).

But it’s not just our car, oh no. That would be way too easy.

The girl who brought Matthew to come rescue me got to the gas station and discovered a huge hole in her transmission hose, causing her car to leak all over the parking lot and become unsafe to drive back that night. She also left her vehicle at the station and rode back with us in the security car.

The next morning, a friend tried to drive the three of us back to the gas station so we could meet with the mechanic and discuss our options. His car wouldn’t start when we got in. Another friend helped us move to our temporary place a few days later and she also discovered a battery problem.

Now the car we’ve been borrowing over the break has a major power steering fluid leak and popped a tire, which we had patched this morning.


Some days I wonder, I really do.

I haven’t done the research on how much it would have cost to ship a car to the island, but I’m starting to wonder if it wouldn’t have been more cost-effective to ship a reliable car here and then sell it to another student when we leave. But of course then, with our luck lately, something would have gone wrong and there would be no mechanic on the island who knows how to fix something that isn’t already a piece of junk.

Island cars – 5. Chesnuts – 0.

On the bright side, however, we seem to have chosen one of the island’s only mechanics with a sense of timeliness, so he estimates our work will be done by the end of this week – thankfully just in time to start the new semester.

One semester to go until Christmas vacation. It’s so hot here, I think I’m going to get off the airplane in Nashville and purposefully stand outside without a coat just so I can appreciate the sensation of freezing to death.

Top Ten Thursday – It Is Finished

All the questions have been answered and the bubbles darkened. Study rooms have been cleared of debris and the students who aren’t rushing to catch flights home are curled up in darkened bedrooms sleeping off three weeks’ worth of stress and sleep deprivation. We have survived our first four months on this floating rock. Finals are over, and whatever will be, will be. The only thing left to do is wait anxiously for grades to be posted this weekend.

Well, that and become parents. (Puppy-parents, that is.)

This first island break is going to be an interesting one, I’m sure. First of all, we’re moving out of our tiny dorm room (thank heavens!) and into a much larger apartment with a set of roommates. Secondly, we’re bringing home not only our puppy, Meera (we decided to keep her island name), but we’re also taking in two additional dogs for the duration of the break.

The August break is two weeks long, starting today and going until classes start again on the first Monday in September. Students are required to move out of the dormitories by this Saturday, but our new apartment won’t be cleaned and ready for us to move in until the end of next week. So another student/VIP pair has graciously allowed us to stay in their home while they are gone for the break. In exchange, we’re dog-sitting their sweet island puppy, Kylie. A third dog, Roy, got added to the deal somewhere along the way and will be staying with us as well. Kylie and Roy are already good friends, so we’re hoping Meera will get along with both of them too.

Our apartment will be ready for us by the second week, and we hope to take all three dogs to our new place, rather than leaving Kylie and Roy alone in the other house for a week. (Of course we would go over each day to feed and walk them, but it just seems unfair to expect them to sleep contentedly for seven days straight.) It’ll be an action-packed two weeks, I’m sure, but at least we’ll be making a little bit of money and keeping ourselves busy while the majority of our friends are off-island.

We hope to get to explore and appreciate the island a bit more while the Mister’s not in classes as well. We already have reservations to go to Lobster Fest at Reggae Beach this coming Friday night, and we also hope to explore some of the less-popular beaches and possibly visit some of the tourist attractions in the area. I would love to stay overnight on both Nevis and Statia at some point, but that might not be possibly this time since we’ll have all the dogs to feed.  

Nevis is the island immediately to the south of St. Kitts and is part of the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis (obviously). We’ve been told that we must visit the old sugarcane plantations and the natural healing hot springs, as well as the island’s botanical gardens. All the taxi drivers and tour guides will tell you that Alexander Hamilton – on US $10 bills – was born on Nevis and his grandfather is buried on St. Kitts not far from Ross University. Nevis is also a popular destination for celebrities.

Statia, however, is often forgotten. Eustatius (nicknamed Statia) is a tiny island just to the north of St. Kitts. According to the tourism website, the island is largely undeveloped and is a very good example of how Caribbean island life was before everything started to be so commercialized. There is a botanical garden, a bird sanctuary, lots of beautiful hiking trails and picturesque old Caribbean villages with their local art and traditions. I definitely want this to be an item on our island bucket list.

So, because it’s Thursday and I’m expected to have a Top Ten list (something I forgot about until just now), here are a few items on my island life bucket list.

1. Spend a night or two in a plantation bed and breakfast on Nevis

2. Visit Statia

3. Watch the baby sea turtles return to the sea

4. Go ziplining through the rain forest

5. Ride the Scenic Railway

6. See a pelican catch a fish in its mouth

7. Successfully go snorkeling

8. Teach my dog to swim in the ocean

9. Hike to the crater (which is realistically probably not going to happen, since I am anti-sweat and anti-mud. Lol)

10. Visit and photograph all the accessible beaches on the island

Do you have any advice on caring for three puppies at once? What would you add to my bucket list?

The View from the Other Side

Last week a heated argument broke out on one of the many Facebook pages set up for island students (there are two medical schools here in addition to RUSVM). The young woman who started the debate posted about her interaction with a St. Kitts post office employee who charged her an unusual fee for her package and then refused to accept her check in payment. The student pointed out a sign that hangs on the post office desk that clearly states that they do accept checks. The employee said that they only accept local checks and not US checks, clearly assuming the young lady would not have a local form of payment. But we, as students, do have island checking accounts and are issued local checks, which the girl explained. The employee then restated her objection, saying that the post office does not accept checks from STUDENTS.

A Ross employee spoke up in the online debate and insisted that students are not targeted or excluded from doing business with locals and that there is no difference in treatment between students and local customers. That may be the official line, but I am here to tell you that this is not true.

Now, the real issue here is not about whether or not the local post office should charge for shipped packages or what forms of payment businesses should or should not accept. It is about mass judgments and assumptions based on nationality – i.e. racial discrimination.

The three island schools represent a wide variety of countries and ethnic backgrounds. Windsor, a medical school, seems to be largely composed of Indian students and native islanders, from what I have been told by others. The student bodies of the University of Medical and Health Sciences (UMHS) and Ross Veterinary School, however, are predominately white. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is predominately black (albeit, black of various origins; suffice it to say, “not Caucasian”). There is nothing wrong with this. However, there is something wrong when a white student is made to stand in line until all locals have been served first, has honest payment refused, is detained at police checkpoints purposefully set up on exam mornings, or is required to pay a ticket fine for an unenforced offense that locals are seen driving around with every day (like chipped license plates or nonfunctioning headlights or blinkers).

The issues of racism and discrimination have been on my mind a lot since we moved here, and when you spend some time on this island you understand why. I, and I would say probably the majority of Ross students, have never been in the racial minority before. We complain about it, we cry “discrimination!” and argue with officials about the injustice of their accusations . . . but what can we really say? Are these not things all too often experienced by racial minorities in our own country? We just don’t complain as loudly there, because they don’t happen to us.

Yet it’s an odd thing – racism. I want to say that I do not make split-second judgments about those around me based on the color of their skin. I want to say that I do not apply American racial concepts to the black islanders around me because they are an entirely different people with a different history. But I do. And I do not know why I do.

I truly believe that all people have beautiful souls, valued by God, and are deserving of the same courtesies, respects and opportunities. I also believe that any person can be malicious, dangerous and cruel. Yet how many times have I been out shopping alone and felt that prickle of fear go up my spine when a black man approaches? How many times have I had to fight the urge to roll up my car windows as I pass a group of black men on a street corner? I do not automatically have those feelings about white men. I used to tell myself that it was because the men in question fit a certain stereotype – the saggy pants, the backwards hats, the gangster jewelry . . .  but that’s not true either. The locals here do not conform to those stereotypes – they are American-made and American-bred ideas – yet I still fight those same feelings here. Obviously the connecting element is the color of their skin. I do not know when or where I learned this, exactly; I only know that it is something I cannot claim to have avoided.

I would like to say that I will lay aside these judgments and assumptions after having experienced discrimination from the other side. I would like to say I will return to the U.S. with a new respect for racial relationships. But I find myself resenting the locals for their treatment of students. I resent being on the bottom and treated like I am untrustworthy, unreliable and inferior. This in turn cycles back, causing the locals to resent me and my fellow white students for our intrusion into their country and our insistence that we be treated well. We are visitors here, and yet we all too often act like the color of our skin entitles us to something . . .  even though it is their country. (Isn’t it ironic that this perceived sense of entitlement is also what irks so many white Americans about black Americans?)

Somewhere, the cycle must stop. Somewhere, there has to be someone who refuses to be treated differently; but in the exact same place and time, there also has to be someone who refuses to treat people differently. Sadly, it probably will never end. There will probably always be people who hate other people because they are different and there will always be those who lash out. (However, it would help immensely if the media would simply refuse to reward racial acts with extensive coverage, but that is another debate entirely.) But that does not mean nobody should try.

Why shouldn’t it start with us? Why not me? Why not you? Why not start today and see if your attitude toward another person can influence their attitude toward the next? See people as other souls moving through this world in search of an ultimate purpose. See others as Jesus sees you. Love God, so love people – all people – starting now.

Top Ten (almost) Thursday

One major benefit of being a VIP and not a student is that I don’t have to go to class, study or take exams. However, I’m attached to a student who does. So this week’s list is ten eight ways a non-student can tell that final exams are upon us here at Ross. (Assembled with help from my fellow VIPs.)

1. The students are nowhere to be found. There’s not a line to use the ATM. There are vacant tables outside the Student Union during lunch hour. The campus convenience store is empty. There simply are no students anywhere! (The Mister, however, reads this and says the students are everywhere, all the time. Change of perspective, I guess.)
2. Yet somehow, there is nowhere to park anywhere on campus. Not even on the weekends or early in the morning.
3. Every store on the island is out of Red Bull and Diet Coke.
4. You’ll find people sleeping in random places on campus, and students start scheduling power naps into their planners days in advance.
5. VIPs everywhere are scrambling to make a week’s worth of leftovers and flee the house. You see them congregating in abnormal numbers at restaurants, housing complex pools, the Marriott and beach bars for long hours in an effort to escape the strange person who sits at the kitchen table and mutters medical jargon late into the night.
6. The campus sale on Wednesday is more crowded with sellers but less crowded with buyers (the sellers being the only ones with a reason to be outside the lab). The wandering VIP now has his or her choice of whatever items may be available at rock-bottom prices from desperate seventh semesters who are eager to leave the island in two weeks with as little excess baggage as possible.
7. You can’t visit a seventh semester’s house without inevitably leaving with clothing, household goods, jars of spices, nonperishable foodstuffs, cosmetics, lawn chairs and anything else they are frantically trying to get rid of.
8. Everyone is using one of two Facebook statuses: (1) I’m going home in XX days! or (2) I’m not going home this break and I hate all of you who are.

What are a few signs that the end is near at your school?


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.

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?