Sunday, August 31, 2014

Never Never Land

It's been 3 weeks since our arrival on Grand Cayman. 3 weeks is longer than most peops vacation, so I feel like I'm officially past "vacation" stage of the move. To be honest though, it's never felt like a vacation since we were immediately thrown into survival mode, attempting to settle in to living here as quickly as possible.

I'm certainly not an expert at navigating island life after 3 short weeks, but I do have some observations - things that I've noticed after 3 weeks of island living. These observations could definitely be way off - perhaps I'll change my tune after a few more weeks, but here's a list of things I've noticed after living and working on the island for less than a month:

1) No, I didn't mean to turn on my windshield wipers!
It's tough enough navigating the streets of Cayman on the left side of the road, but you have to understand that, as a driver, you are situated on the right side of the car. In addition, the signal lights are on the right side of the steering wheel (where typically in North America, your windshield wiper controls are). I cannot even count how many times I've gone to signal a turn and immediately heard the 'swish swish' of my wipers. NO!!! it's sunny and 110 degrees outside. I just know that people are passing me, laughing, and pointing, "Foreigner!!" haha.

2) Dear Ms. Lindsay, your email skills are atrocious!
I've come to realize that while greeting co-workers, it is customary to refer to each other as Ms. or Mr. followed by your first name. For example, when I meet up with a teacher, she will call me "Ms. Kirstie" until I instruct her to "please call me Kirstie." Even the little kiddos are taught to address us very formally. When my little kindergartener (called "Reception" here) stood all proper, hands behind his back in his little uniform, stating, "Yes ma'am." I had to hold myself back from saying, "No worries! At ease little buddy!" But this is how it is done. Got it. I wasn't aware; however, that a similar formality existed with emailing. The other day, I went to send an email to one of my co-workers. In typical casual Kirstie register, the email read something like this: "Hey there! Just checking in to see if I can assess the following children on Monday. Thanks! Take care, Kirstie." I thought nothing of my email until I began receiving emails from other co-workers throughout the day. My heart pounded as I realized there is an email formula here. A formal email formula that I was not aware of. Each and every email I received began, "Dear Ms. Lindsay, blah blah blah, I wish you a good day, Sincerely, Ms. so-and-so." Damn. I was most definitely too casual in my email exchange. Lesson Learned. It's become a joke amongst my new friends - all new recruits on the island. At happy hour the other day, we all lamented, "I am sick and tired of learning lessons!!! Haha

Note to self: no more smiley faces inserted within emails and most definitely do NOT attach a link to your favorite you-tube video (In case you're wondering, my favorite you-tube vid is "hey cat") Pure awesomeness.

3) The beauty of sand and sweat
You are always sweating here. It is inevitable. You sweat while you brush your teeth, you sweat while you are eating, you sweat while you are chewing gum. It is hot. You will sweat. You then have the shock of entering a building where the air conditioning blasts, creating meat locker conditions. Your sweat then becomes cold; hence the term " a cold sweat." It takes some getting used to. In addition, if you frequent the beach (we've been trying for a few beach sunsets a week), you will find sand everywhere. Sand in your car, sand in your hair, and sand in places you didn't know sand could find. I'm going to embrace that sand is a joyous side effect of island life and think of it as "full body exfoliation."

I'm still in the honeymoon phase of tropical island living. The beauty of my surroundings do not go unnoticed. As a colleague and I drove to the East End to check out one of my schools, I was in awe by the turquoise waters and palm trees that lined the highway all the way to my school. "What a beautiful drive!" I exclaimed. "Ya, I guess it is, " answered my co-worker (who is awesome, by the way), "After a while, you kinda stop noticing," he continued. I understand how that happens. I hope that doesn't happen to me. It's exhilarating to take in a stunning postcard scene and think, "I live here! I am so lucky to live here!" My goal is to hang on to that for as long as I can.

Still can't get over the sunsets!

4) Critters
With the heat comes tons of insects and marine life that I've never seen before. Some are endearing - (love the little crabs that shuttle sideways after sunset), some are slightly terrifying (Was that iguana bigger than a German Shepherd?), and some are annoying (ANTS!) The Ants are a problem. In the office where I work, it is very very important that you do not leave any food out for more than 30 seconds, or the ants will carry off your lunch. I'm not even joking. I actually witnessed hundreds of ants carrying away someone's pork chop. I fear that if I sit stagnant at my desk for too long, those resourceful little buggers will carry me off to their Queen.
These guys pinch Dundee's nose on walks. 

5) Peter Pan and Never Never Land
In our 3 short weeks here, we've managed to meet quite a few expats who've moved here from various countries around the world. People who choose to pick up and move to a tropical island all seem to have something in common - these peops are adventurous. They are not afraid. They do not feel obligated to follow the "rules." For some, there was a major life event that made them rethink their life plan - perhaps it was a health scare, a broken relationship, or a significant career change. For others, they simply weren't content with where they were. Instead of saying, "I've always wanted to live in Australia," you hear, "Maybe my next move will be to Australia." In any case, I've noticed that "keeping up with the Jones'" mentality seems to be null and void. Status symbols, such as expensive homes and fancy cars are taken out of the equation. Although the people we've met have fabulous jobs and likely have incredible salaries, most rent their apartment. Vehicles are simply a mode of transportation. Expensive shoes and clothing doesn't seem to be an issue - you wear shorts and flip-flops. Perhaps I've just lucked out and met down-to-earth people and I will eventually change my tune, but presently, I don't feel that sense at all. I like that aspect a lot. I'm not going to lie, there have been moments where I've missed my beautiful jacuzzi tub or my granite countertops. But, the tradeoff seems to be worth it. It feels good. Simpler, I guess. Instead of discussing your race up the corporate ladder or the material things you've acquired, people discuss activities that they want to partake in once the work day is over. "You like diving? Let's go Friday!" "I have no clue if you're an accountant or a janitor but wanna learn to kite surf? I know a guy!"

One guy described it perfectly to Evan, "You work hard, but you play harder. The grown-up things just aren't important here. It's kinda like Never Never Land. People come here to be Peter Pan." Makes sense on an island where the word "tax" is not in the dictionary. Hmmm...I can handle that for a few years.
I thought this starfish was staged. It's actually real at Starfish Point. Super cool!
Dundee loves sunsets too!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Edo Japan!

“Kirst, you’re driving on the wrong side of the road.”


Evan calmly instructed me as I turned the little white Colt (incorrectly) into the right lane.

It seems as though everything is presently a challenge. Everything is slightly to completely uncomfortable. The days are cognitively taxing. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling, it’s an adrenaline rush, but it’s also difficult to remain emotionally stable when there are so many ups and downs  - so many “firsts” and newness in each day. 

You will look at my pictures and you might think, “Lucky biatch!” And, yes, we are very lucky to have this opportunity. This is truly an experience of a lifetime; but, I don’t want to mislead you with, “I love my life” facebook  fassaud (you know, where people only post awesomeness on facebook to portray the perfect life).  Although we are settling in, and have met some really awesome people, there are moments when I feel sad, lonely, and wish I was “home” where, in my mind,  everything seems easier and more comfortable to me.

First off, we got a car.  A good, reliable car is not easy to come by here on the island. There’s a website, like our version of Kijiji, where people post items for sale, so basically, Evan called anyone who had a vehicle in our price range ($5000 US for anything decent around 7-10 years old).  Knock on wood, I think we found a great car. We ended up buying a Mitsubishi Colt. It’s a little (Read: very little) white car that was shipped from Japan by its previous owner. It speaks Japanese. Literally. The GPS lady only speaks Japanese. In addition, when you pull up a map on the GPS screen, it displays a map of Tokyo. Just Tokyo. Super helpful. But I like it. When I’m flying around the round-abouts (no traffic lights here, just the British round-abouts), I feel fast…and am furiously self-directing, “stay left, stay left.” Evan has named the vehicle “Edo Japan” after his favorite fast food Japanese restaurant. Haha. I’m starting to find my way around the island, although I was really intimidated to drive initially. There is quite a bit of traffic during rush hour, and no one seems to signal or make anyone else aware which lane they are intending to be in. In addition, you must watch for iguanas and chickens. No lie. I actually stopped to let a hen cross with her babes today and chuckled to myself as I thought, “why did the chicken cross the road?” bahaha. Things you don’t see back home.
Look out. EDO Japan is on the road

EDO Japan in all its glory
suicidal chicken

morning tea on my patio - watching the cruise ships floating by
We’ve moved into our place. It was a bit of a struggle with a delay to move in, but we’re in, and I really love it. We decided on the beautiful oceanfront place in West Bay. I was hesitant to choose this place based on its location. It’s way at the north end up the island – if you squint really hard, you can see Cuba (you can’t actually), but it’s definitely as far north on this island that one can travel.  West Bay seems to have a “rough” reputation, but I feel safe here and one of the schools I will be frequenting is a 3 minute drive away. When I watch the cruise ships float by in the morning or the sunset at dinner time, I’m reassured that we made the right choice. This is why we came to the island! Also, I am always travelling against traffic so I don’t anticipate I’ll ever be stuck in the bumper-to-bumper crap.
Our bedroom - ocean view from toilet too. Sweet. 

It’s extremely hot here right now. Apparently yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year at 111 degrees Fahrenheit with the humidity. That’s hot. I’m all for hot, but this is a different kind of hot. When I leave for work in the am, by the time I walk 10 steps to get into Edo Japan, my makeup has melted off my face. Literally. Melted. It reminds me of my “clubbing” days. I recall getting all dolled up to dance it up at a nightclub (back in my heyday), only to see my reflection in the bathroom mirror post drinking and dancing to discover that my face had fallen off. It’s the same. Except it is 8am and I’m not drinking or at a club, I’m on my way to work to convince my colleagues that I am a respectable professional. How can do this when my face is running down my face? I will need to adopt a new makeup routine ASAP.

The best thing about my experience so far is definitely the people whom I’ve met. I can’t believe how friendly and helpful everyone is. We’ve lived in many different places over the years, and I’ve often found it difficult to break into a social group. This feels like University all over again – United Nations University for professionals! Everyone is looking for friends, inviting you out to activities and events, and trying to help ease you into island life.  A co-worker's family cared for the pets for a day when we were homeless. My neighbor whom I just met immediately offered up her password so I could access her internet signal (picture me holding my laptop above my head, wandering the grounds trying to get a signal). I believe that making new friends is definitely an art form. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the area, our 18 moves have definitely provided me with tons of experience. Number one, if you can find 1 single thing to connect you to someone within 5 minutes of meeting him/her, you are well on your way to forming a relationship. Our secret weapon is the random locations in which we’ve lived around the world. I have been able to form a geographical tie with almost every single person we’ve met. For example, I found out that one new friend was wandering St. Andrews, Scotland looking for Prince William the same year that I was doing the same (obviously, that didn't work out for us. Your loss, Will!)  One friend has a brother in McAllen, Texas, where we lived in 2005. Another friend was dodging the sniper in Virginia the same year as us. It’s such a small world! Making friends in your mid 30’s is exciting and rewarding; however, sometimes it’s exhausting. You try to present yourself as the “nicest” version of yourself. Smile! Ask lots of questions! Remember the person’s name and repeat it back (people love the sound of their own name). Always appear interested! Sometimes, when my face is melting off my face, I’ve just worked a full day, and was recently lost somewhere near the cruise terminal after dodging iguanas on the road – I just want my friends - the ones who know me and love me and will accept me no matter what my mood. The friends I trust and love.  But making new friends here will be a huge contributer to my happiness, so I will smile through the madness and keep going, celebrating each and every small victory, knowing that it will take some time to settle in.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

House Hunters International Lies

After the euphoria of arriving on our tropical island wore off, reality set in. We have a week to find a condo, take a driver's test, buy a car, and open a bank account. In addition, I'm attending orientation half days. Whoa. It's been challenging. First off, everyone here operates on "island time." They even will differentiate for you, "Your orientation is at 8:30 ENGLISH time." You wanna look at a property? I'll pick you up at 2pm ISLAND time. "Island time" is the equivalent of Evan's "ish" time. For example, Ev will tell me, "Be home at 1- ish" That translates to an additional hour added to the time discussed. I will need to get used to "island time," because it's not going anywhere. This is how it's done. I'm struggling to stay calm when I have a list of 5 things to get done in 4 hours, everyone is running an hour behind, and everything closes at 5. I clench my jaw, repeatedly look at my watch, check my cell phone, and basically induce hypertension....while everyone around me is blissful and unaware. Hmmm...I want to be blissfully unaware. I'm going to need to work on accepting "island time" in order to survive on this island.

We've looked at about 10 properties. One of the schools I'm based out of is waaaaay at the top of the island in West Bay - away from everything. We could live in West Bay and have a beautiful condo with an amazing ocean view; however, we wouldn't be within walking distance to any restaurants, bars, or beaches. It's quite secluded. On the other hand, we can have a condo within walking distance to the renowned Seven Mile Beach and all the greatest restaurants, bars, and nightlife - but...of course there's a but...the interior of the condo is reminiscent of something I lived in when I was 21. That being said, I had a lot of fun when I was 21 - you know, swinging from the chandeliers and such. I had pretty low standards of living in my early 20's. Unfortunately, my standards have risen slightly.

Ev and I have always dreamed that someday we would be like one of those couples on House Hunters International - faced with the gloriously wonderful dilemma of choosing a home on a tropical paradise. Sadly, this experience was much more stressful than delightful. Hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry, Ev and I straggled through $2300 (US) apartment after apartment with green shag carpet, broken doors, and dodgy shower curtains. Upon returning back to "Sunshine Suites," we were not greeted with sunshine as one of the guests informed us angrily that our dog "barked the entire time you were gone." Dundee? Bob Barker? Ugh. Likewise, Biloxi, the cat, is also not feeling the sunshine and spends the nights wandering the tiny hotel suite yelling, "OWWWWWWW." In addition, I have 7 suitcases strewn about a tiny hotel room and I can't find my underwear. Did I even pack underwear? Where the hell are all my panties? Why are the people on House Hunters International always so cool, calm, and happy? Lies. All lies. Just sayin'

Presently, Evan and I are under rested and overwhelmed. But you know what? We watch the sunset over the Caribbean in the evening while our dog frolics in the ocean. We eat dinner outside in the warm tropical breeze, as Bob Marley plays in the background. We will settle in. We were told this time would be very challenging, so now we're feeling it, and trying to roll with the punches on "island time."

This does NOT suck

Bob Barker has a beer named after him!

Action shot! Ev rinses off

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We made it!!

Ev and I moved quickly, soaking Biloxi, the cat, and Dundee, the dog, down with ice cubes, as they panted, dangerously overheated in their little carry-on boxes.

"Ev, these little guys can't die now! We've worked too damn hard to get them here!" I joked uncomfortably.

It was the last lag of the journey and we were sitting in Miami on Cayman Airways Flight 104, ready to depart for Grand Cayman. The flight was delayed and very little air was being distributed out of the vents. Evan and I were cooking, so we could only imagine how the pets felt under the seats in front of us. These poor animals that had now endured almost 24 hours of travel.
Here we go!

I cannot be contained!

Within an hour we were en route and the little guys had stopped panting and I was enjoying my first Island rum punch. What a challenge it had been to get to this point. We sold our house. I quit my job. Ev is entrusting the business to his staff. We said goodbye to all our buddies and family, and, of course, we paid Fed Ex like a shmillion dollars to almost not deliver our pets' paperwork! (FYI: they failed AGAIN. We got the paperwork Friday night after we forced them to send the driver back. Yes, that same driver that couldn't find our house...again. Ugh) Side Note: Ev says he wants to send some poop to Fed Ex headquarters...but he doesn't want to Fed Ex it because it'll never make it there. Bahahaha!

As we descended onto Grand Cayman, I had this surreal moment as I looked out the window. The island was tiny. It was surrounded by crystal blue waters and white sand beach. Palm trees scattered the island. I'd seen this sight before as we arrived on various tropical vacations...but this was different. Holy Shit! this was our new home. Holy Shit! we will living here. I turned to Ev and said, well, you guessed it, "Holy shit!"

The four of us are presently snuggled up in  this great hotel across from Seven Mile Beach called "Sunshine Suites, " as we wait to find a place to rent. My job will pay for us to stay here for a week, so there's definitely a sense of urgency to find a place as soon as possible. I am relieved to see "familiar" things on the island like banks (LOTs of banks), grocery stores, and movie theatres. I don't feel a sense of culture shock like I did when we travelled to Honduras, for example, which makes me feel more comfortable about living here.

My first morning consisted of orientation with my new job. I wasn't sure what to wear, and most of my clothes were more wrinkled than Mick Jagger from travel, so I selected a casual skirt and sleeveless top, hoping this would make a decent first impression. As I entered the lobby, I was horrified to see a large group of people, donning business suits and high heels. Shit! I stood uncomfortably in the back and contemplated a quick change - damn, I don't even own a business suit. I was relieved when I realized that I was with the wrong group. These peeps were accountants, heading to their firm! Thank goodness I'm NOT an accountant. I silently applauded my career choice as I discovered my group.  My group, on the other hand, was much more laid back in appearance. I knew right away that I was surrounded by awesomeness. There were about 40 of us - teachers, psychologists, occupational therapists, support staff, and 2 speech therapists, including myself. My first impression was 1) these people are super pumped to be here (we've all given up a lot!) 2) These people come from all over the world (my table was represented by Jamaica, Ireland, New York, Dominican Republic, and Canada), and 3) These people are well travelled - everyone actually knew where Saskatchewan was!

Our orientation was quite unlike any other orientation I've ever attended. It kinda reminded me of one of Oprah's "favorite things" episodes at Christmas time. A presenter would walk in and exclaim "Guess what? You all get free phones!" and as they handed out cells, my colleagues were whoo-hooing and cheering. The room was vibrating with excitement all morning. I felt like I was watching a Riders game: I don't really know why I'm so excited, but because everyone else is, I will stand up and cheer as well! haha. We also covered the basics like pay, benefits, etc. Because I am hired by the Government, I'm learning quickly that being a civil servant comes with a lot of perks. We are entitled to free health care with no personal contributions - 100% covered by the government, as well as 12% towards our pension (again, we do not contribute), and probably the biggest advantage is that we are not on working visas. My passport was stamped at customs as a 2 year "resident" and I will have the option to renew this every 2 years. This also entitles Ev to work, if he chooses, on the island. Pretty sweet deal! The island is also tax free - but with our ties to Canada through Ev's business, I will still have to save some money for Revenue Canada. Damn you, Revenue Canada.

After orientation, Ev and I took Dundee across the street to the beach. Dundee loved it! He frolicked in the waves, jumping, laughing with his little pink tongue hanging out....and then...he puked. Damn salt water. Ev and I sipped Crabbies (Yes, they have Crabbies!) and watched the sun go down. Again, surreal moment. This is where I live? This is where I live! Holy shit I can't believe I live here!

Overall, I presently feel really great about this. I'm anxious to get a place to live and a vehicle...I'm a bit apprehensive about finding an apartment in our price range that we will feel comfortable in. Today we start our search.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

We're here for a good time, not a long time - welcome to my sh*tshow

As we drove back to town from Candle Lake, niece and nephew nestled in the backseat after an action-packed sleepover party, I mentally reviewed my to-do list: First up, trip to the vet for Dundee, the dog and Biloxi, the cat. As I've mentioned in previous posts, getting the animals to the Cayman Islands has been about as challenging as licking your elbow. Try it. Challenging. The pets were to meet with the "family vet" first for a last minute check-up, a de-worming pill, and a flea and tick treatment. Once that appointment was completed, they were to meet with the Food and Inspection Agency Government Vet, who would stamp the final "OK," before the paperwork was to be shipped off to the Cayman Islands Government to decide whether or not our sweet, innocent pets are a danger to their nation. Heavy stuff.

I looked to the backseat where Nicole, my niece, sat creating bracelets with her brightly coloured elastics, and Mark, my nephew, played with his Thomas trains. Dundee, the dog, sat quietly between them. Suddenly it dawned on me....Where's the cat? Where is the freakin' cat?

"EVAN!" I yelled, "We forgot the cat at the lake!"

Oh man. We quickly turned around and picked up poor Biloxi, who sat sunning himself in the cabin window. That's when the neurons in my brain stopped firing regularly. A week ago today. Since then, the neurons have been firing less and less, my stress levels are off the charts (yes, for those of you that know me, the "stress rash" envelops my neck on a daily basis), and mini-meltdowns are coming fast and furious. We are in the midst of a shitshow, as we prepare to move in less than 5 days.

Once the dog and cat received all their paperwork, including a pet "passport photo" (I shit you not), I arranged for Fed Ex to pick-up the documents to ensure that they would arrive in the Cayman Islands by Tuesday - that was the cut-off to get our pets permit in time to travel. Guess what? Fed Ex did not show up at my house. I called repeatedly and eventually began speaking with Kevin. You know, Kevin from Fed Ex. Kevin, unfortunately, used the word "unfortunately" approximately 7 times as he explained to me that the Fed Ex driver could not find my house, so he had just left without my documents. He was gone. Unfortunately. I melted down on the phone, sobbing and wailing to Kevin that this was not acceptable. Ev snatched the phone away from me and calmly said, "Kevin, I don't want to be a dick here, but I'm about to become one. How do you make this better?" Evan was told that if I could get the documents to Saskatoon in one hour and 15 minutes, they "might" make the plane. So I drove as quickly as possible, tears blinding my view, snot running down my face, and those documents - 4 months of sweat and tears -  made the flight. Fortunately.

Four days later, I received an email from the Cayman Islands Government stating that I had erred. I was NOT to send them originals and I would require those originals to get the pets on the plane in Saskatoon. The originals that were now sitting on a desk in the Cayman Islands. Good 'ol Kevin from Fed Ex to the rescue...again. Good god. We are now awaiting those originals that seal the fate of our poor little furry friends - and hope that Fed Ex can deliver by Friday, as our flight leaves Saturday. Holy crap, we are leaving on Saturday. Ack!

So amongst all the boxes, suitcases, and chaos, I managed to locate the contents of our well-stocked bar and I did what any other human would do under this much stress and pressure. I got so blasted that I twerked on a dock, shot Amarula straight from a bottle, and drunkenly walked into a screen decompressed with good friends. So there. Suck on that one Kevin from Fed Ex.

As my days here in Canada fly by with increasing speed, I'm faced with saying goodbye to those whom I love the most. It's hard. This is difficult. I know we will be back, but I worry that everything will change. And it will. Change is inevitable. I'm scared of feeling lonely on this little island. I'm worried about where we will live and what life will look like. The only constant in all of this is my best buddy, Evan. I could never embark on this adventure without him and his calm, steady demeanour is invaluable. Today we celebrate 9 years of marriage (I can't believe that was 9 years ago!) It's been a wild ride, but I can't imagine doing this with anyone else. Cheers to our Anniversary, and here's hoping that Fed Ex pulls through by Friday. (If not, is anyone interested in a little white dog and an angry orange cat?) :)
C'mon - do these look like the faces of criminals? Seriously.