Girl Sitting on Beach

Alone On a Rock

Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog knows that I have a lot of friends here on Tortola, most of whom are a short (albeit precariously steep) walk down the hill from our apartment. But for 12 days earlier this month, I was, technically, alone—without my partner, my significant other, and my companion—while Bill was back in the States, getting his health checkups and visiting family and friends.

This was only the third time in our 19-year relationship that he’s traveled and left me at home alone, and the previous two times were only for a few nights each. Granted, for over ten years, I traveled extensively for work, mostly without him. But when you’re the one who’s doing the traveling, you’re far from alone. There are tons of people at the airports, hotels, and restaurants that become your temporary home-base. And there are meetings with colleagues, customers, or tradeshow attendees. So being the one who leaves is quite different from being the one who is left.

Sandy Cay, Belize

Some days felt like this.

During Bill’s previous two trips, I was working in an office, so between being at work all day, going to the gym, and running errands, I was barely home to notice his absence. Which made this time even more unique, since I’m now working from home, with my living room being my gym, and the only pressing errand being a trip to the grocery store. So nearly every waking hour was spent here, at the apartment, without his presence.

Soon after Bill’s departure, I discovered that even on a small island, where you literally can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know, it is possible to be very, very alone. I hadn’t watched TV since the beginning of the year, yet during those twelve days he was gone, I turned on the TV just to simulate having someone else around. But virtual company is a poor substitute for the real thing, so nearly every evening, I was compelled to visit one of our favorite hangouts, in search of people to talk to. (Confession: I talk to my cats, but they’re not very good at keeping up their side of the conversation.)

The upside of being alone was that my daytime productivity went through the roof. The downside was that I had to do everything that Bill normally does—including lug five-gallon water jugs up and down our stairs, re-light the stove pilots when they went out, haul off the trash, and wash the Jeep. This resulted in the realization that although he may have fewer domestic responsibilities than I do, they’re exactly the ones I can’t stand doing. Note to self—no more (or at least less) grumbling about the uneven split of household chores.

Thanks to FaceTime and unlimited international calling plans, we were able to talk every day, with multiple phone calls on some days.  And every time we talked, Bill would boast about the speedy internet, or what restaurants he visited, or what he went shopping for that day. He truly enjoyed his time back in the “real world.” But to me, his depictions of and enthusiasm for life in the States didn’t compare to the warm weather and breathtaking views of early spring in the Caribbean that I was enjoying. Although I would prefer not to go about it alone, I’m still quite happy here. And after almost two weeks, I’m very glad to have him back on the rock with me.

Bill and Danielle

Better together…

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Christmas in the Caribbean

Christmas in the Caribbean

Our first Christmas in the Caribbean! Or, as we call it, Thursday.

Maybe it’s because the holiday isn’t as commercialized here. Or maybe it’s because the sun is always shining and the weather is perfect. But Christmas doesn’t have the same feel here on our rock that it did in the States.

I used to envy people who spent Christmas in the Caribbean. Escaping the cold. Avoiding the hours of cooking, days of cleaning, and weeks of decorating that so many of us spend in preparation for the holidays. (Not to mention the cleanup and un-decorating that follow.) Don’t get me wrong, though. For me, Christmas is the most special holiday of the year, with its combination of family-centeredness and religious importance. But if we’re honest, most of us would admit that it’s a lot of work – physically, mentally, and sometimes, emotionally.

Now that I’m one of those who has escaped the hustle and bustle and celebrated Christmas on a tropical island, I’ll share some of the differences, oddities, and adaptations that come with spending the holidays in paradise.

Weather

The months of November thru February are the things I miss the least from back in the States. Since I recently wrote a post regarding the brutally hot months of September and October here on the rock, I should point out that the heat has, thankfully, subsided. The weather has returned to a Goldilocks state of warm, but not too hot, with the Christmas winds providing a cool breeze when you’re sunbathing on the beach. But as far as the holiday season goes, it’s a bit odd to celebrate without at least once wearing my favorite red wool blazer or fuzzy snow boots. (Not that I ever really needed to wear snow boots in North Carolina, but on the few days when the temperature dipped below freezing, I could sort of justify them.)

This Christmas, instead of traipsing around the Southeastern U.S. dressed as though I live in the Arctic Circle, I’m spending most of the holiday in climate-appropriate attire:  shorts and a tank top. Christmas Eve Day was celebrated at the beach, and Christmas afternoon was spent outdoors as well, with brunch at our favorite restaurant. And sometime between Christmas and the New Year, I plan to do SUP yoga again. While I miss a few of my favorite winter clothes, I’ll take a bathing suit and flip-flops over turtlenecks and socks any time.

Uggs Beach

If I see anyone on my rock wearing these, there will be a drowning.

Decorations

I love holiday decorations – all of them.  Green, red, gold, blue, silver, white, big bulbs, little bulbs, Santa, reindeer, trees, manger scenes, the Grinch, candy canes, gingerbread men… You get the picture. I think this appreciation for all things shiny and bright came from growing up just a few miles from Christmas Town USA. And this is the thing I miss the most about Christmas back home – decorations at every turn. Everything from the immaculate displays in department stores to lights haphazardly strung around trees.

Since Tortola doesn’t have a) shopping malls, b) neighborhoods with many houses in close proximity, or c) reasonably priced power, I barely saw any Christmas decorations this year. There were a few exceptions, though. Both of the roundabouts in town were decorated, and there was a gorgeous Christmas tree just across from the ferry docks.

Roundabout in Tortola, BVI

Road Town Roundabout – decorated by the Rotary Club

For reasons of space, cost, and practicality, the only Christmas decor that we brought with us was a table runner given to me by my best friend. My sister, however, had other ideas about our holiday decorating.  She insisted that everybody needs a Christmas tree, and sent us a small, wooden tree that I had purchased for my niece’s bedroom when she was a baby. Despite missing my own decorations and the mega-displays of lights and bows and garland, I must say that the decorations this year seemed more special.

Wooden Christmas Tree from Germany

Because everyone needs a Christmas tree!

Commercialism

According to Facebook posts from Stateside friends, some stores were displaying Christmas decor alongside Halloween decor this year! Surely this confuses the kids? “Mommy, I want to be a ninja for Christmas.”

Black Friday Cartoon

It won’t be long until this happens.

Here in the BVI, there’s no problem with Christmas burnout. Holiday activities don’t even begin until the first week in December. Which makes the holiday season seem incredibly short for those of us who take the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as the official start of Christmas.

In terms of consumerism, because shopping options are so limited on the island, there are virtually no Christmas sales to lure you into the misconceived notion that you Must. Buy. All. The. Things. A few local stores tried to capitalize on the Black Friday phenomenon (despite the fact that Thanksgiving and the day after are not holidays here, so everyone’s at work). But when you’ve memorized every store’s inventory, with virtually zero chance that they’re carrying anything you haven’t already seen, there’s not much incentive to go Black Friday shopping.

As for online shopping, I’ve discovered that if you have your name and email removed from the mailing lists of major clothing and home decor stores (I’m talking to you, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn), there’s virtually no temptation to spend money. It’s amazing how much your desire to spend is curtailed when you actually have to cultivate the mindset of, “Hmmm, I wonder what new things are out there that I might want to buy this Christmas?” and go online and search for them. It’s just much harder to do when you have to search it out than when it’s presented to you in a sleek, glossy catalog or clickable links.

Santa

Santa is another thing (person) that’s not as ubiquitous here in the BVI as it (he) is in the States. Again, without shopping malls or big shopping centers, there are no places on the island to go visit Santa. He has to come to you. And from what I’ve seen, he’s only made a few appearances here on our rock. Unlike in the States, where parents actually make up stories about how Santa has “helpers” so he can be everywhere at the same time – to explain when the kids see him in three stores in a row. “But the Santa you had your picture made with was the REAL Santa.”

Santa 1977

The REAL Santa

Tourists

Most of the people who vacation in the BVI either charter or own a boat, as this is the sailing capital of the Caribbean. And with a relatively small number of hotels on the island (the “no franchise” law means there are no Hiltons, Marriotts, etc.) we’re spared the huge influx of tourists that places like St. Thomas and the Turks and Caicos see during the holidays. So we’ve been pleasantly surprised that the holiday season hasn’t resulted in a significant increase in tourons on our rock. (No offense to anyone who has or may in the future come to visit us. We’ve all been a touron at some point.)

Although the cruise ships do become more frequent in December, the only place where the tourists can be overwhelming is at Cane Garden Bay – the most popular beach on Tortola. They arrive like a flock of birds, descending on this beautiful beach for a few hours before banding together and migrating back to their floating hotel. If you want to people-watch, go to CGB when a cruise ship is in.

Ship in Road Harbor, Tortola

And the migration begins…

Back to the private and charter boats, which house most of the tourons tourists in the BVI… I had seen some large yachts cruising these waters over the past few months. But the size and sheer number of megayachts that are here over Christmas makes you wonder how many billionaires there actually are in Russia. I have to say, though, it’s pretty cool to watch the yachts travel back and forth across the bay. And when I spot a really big boat, I break out the binoculars to see if I can spy a celebrity sunbathing on the deck. No luck so far, but with so many boats this time of year, the odds are in my favor.

Family

This is my first Christmas ever spent away from family, and it was harder than I expected. We’re fortunate to have made good friends in our first eight months on the rock, and being around them helped tremendously over the past few weeks. Even though a lot of our fellow expats are off-island for the holidays, the ones who stayed in the BVI gathered together on Christmas Day and talked about our former traditions back home and new traditions here on the rock.

Technology also helped us through Christmas morning. With my 7-year old niece holding the iPad on their end, FaceTiming with the family was a bit like watching The Blair Witch Project, but we enjoyed seeing everyone on Christmas. And we have an unlimited plan for calls back to the States (one monthly bill that I don’t mind paying), so we got to talk to a most of Bill’s family and many of our friends. Of course, it’s not the same as being there, but technology is a godsend for those of us who live far away from home. I can’t imagine doing this ten years ago, before FaceTime, Skype, and iMessage.

In the end, Christmas in the Caribbean was just as I expected – warm, quiet, and unhurried. But to my surprise, it also made me appreciate Christmas back home.

National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

There’s nothing like celebrating Christmas with your dysfunctional family.

 

 

Tortola Apartment, BVI

The Climb

Several days a week, I visit the hotel-bar-restaurant (aka “The Club”) below us to hang out and commiserate with friends about the realities of island life. When we first moved here, I always drove down, like a true American, even though it’s barely a stone’s throw away. But about a month ago, the hassle of driving started to get to me.

First, the road where The Club is located is just one lane wide. So if you meet oncoming traffic, one of you has to back up and let the other pass.  Typically being the less aggressive party, and clearly a “non-belonger,” I tend to be the one to give first in this game of chicken, which means I have to back up the road, into a three-way intersection, with a blind curve to the left and a steep downhill drop behind me. Fortunately, their road is mostly residential and dead-ends at the beach, so there’s not a ton of traffic. But even if I make it there without this harrowing experience, coming home presents another challenge, in the form of parking.

We’re lucky that our building has designated parking and we don’t have to park on the street, unlike many other places here, but squeezing the Jeep into our parking spot is like fitting a hippo in a coach seat on an airplane. Then there’s the fact that you’re backing into the parking spot coming from the opposite side of the road, with blind corners in front of and behind you. Yes, it’s every bit as nerve-racking as it sounds. And yes, I pretty much just close my eyes and pray every time I do it, even after six months of practice. If we ever move back to the States, I will never, ever complain about tight parking spaces again.

Three Wide

Three wide

Jeep

Yes, I parked that Jeep, thankyouverymuch.

So I finally came to the realization that we moved to the island to have less stress rather than more of it, and I started walking to The Club instead of driving. I can even avoid setting foot on any “public” roads by taking the stairs to the bottom of our building and walking down a series of driveways that lead from our building’s lower parking area to their back entrance.

Compared to the driving and parking scenario, you’re probably wondering, “Why is walking so bad?” Well, for starters, the hill leading from our apartment to The Club is so steep that it’s not paved with asphalt. No, asphalt would just flow down the hill like lava. As is the case with many roads and driveways here, it’s paved with cement. Take a look in the pictures below.  See those lines in the cement? Those are to help your tires (or your flip-flops in my case) gain a little extra traction. Without them, you would literally slide down the hill.  When our friends visited a few months ago, their rental car couldn’t even make it up this hill!

Tortola, BVI

The first stretch. It’s longer (and steeper) than it looks.

Second are the corners. Because the hill is so steep, there are two switch-backs between The Club and our building. Coming up the hill, the first corner isn’t too bad, except that if you’re walking in the dark and miss the turn, you run directly into a set of concrete steps leading up to a guest house. Guess how I know this?

Serenity House Tortola, BVI

Not too bad, but don’t miss this turn in the dark!

The second corner is killer though. It’s in the second-steepest portion of the road, and apparently it’s been patched a few times, because rather than being rough surfaced, it’s as smooth as river stone. In the Jeep, if you don’t have enough momentum and don’t hit this corner in just the right place, you have to back up, put it in 4×4, and try again. Walking it is like trying to ice skate, up-hill.

Tortola, BVI Road

Anybody up for a little (simulated) ice skating?

Then there’s the stretch just before you reach our building. The steepest part. Fortunately, at the bottom of this stretch is a clearing that’s perfect for stargazing on a clear night. Using this as an excuse gives me a chance to stop, catch my breath and get mentally prepared for the next leg of my journey. It’s not a long stretch, approximately 60 paces at my stride. But it’s so steep that you’d better have some momentum, because if you stop midway, you’re going to tumble backwards and roll into the bush, where you’ll be fair game for the wild chickens and lizards.

Driveway Tortola, BVI

It 60 paces up this hill, almost as vertical as you can possibly walk (or drive).

Driveway Tortola, BVI

The view from the top, looking down.

Making it up this last stretch to the apartment building is an accomplishment, but it’s short-lived. Technically, you’re home, but there’s one more obstacle between you and the shower:  the stairs. We live on the top floor of the building, which I like because it gives us more distance from the ground and the critters that dwell there. It’s only three stories – 51 stairs – from the ground to our door. But when your calves are burning, you’re panting, and sweat is dripping into your eyes, there might as well be 151.

Tortola Apartment, BVI

Just 51 stairs to go…

Every time I make The Climb, I think about how it’s a perfect metaphor for living on a rock.  It’s tough, it can be a pain in the ass (or the calves, as the case may be), but it makes you stronger.  And in the end, it’s totally worth it.

Home is Where?

Bill and I recently spent a long weekend in the North Carolina mountains with my family. It’s an annual trip to celebrate both of my parents’ birthdays and their anniversary, all of which occur on the same day. (It’s weird, I know.) As we were leaving, I was tracking a developing storm and said something about how we might be delayed in getting “home.” My mom stopped me dead in my tracks and sternly informed me, “That is not home. This will always be home.” At the time, I dismissed it as a just figure of speech, with home meaning different things in different circumstances. But it made me think, where do I consider home to be now?

Even though I’m a U.S. citizen, my home is definitely not Omaha, NE or Buffalo, NY or Portland, OR. And even in my “home” state, I don’t feel at home in Rocky Mount or Boone or Elizabeth City. But I know what my mom meant. To her, home could be no other place than my hometown of Kings Mountain. To me, however, it’s not that clear-cut.

For the first 18 years of my life, until I ventured off to college, I lived in the same house (which my parents bought shortly after they got married, in 1970, and still live in!).  The only time I left for more than a couple of days was for summer camps. When I went to college, it was only three hours away (still in my home state), and even then, for the first two years, I came back home for the summer.

When I graduated from college and really moved out on my own, it was to an apartment in Charlotte, less than 45 minutes away from my parents’ house. Then, when Bill and I got married, we bought a house less than two miles from my post-college apartment and lived there for 14 years. Even the rental house we stayed in after selling our home was only two blocks farther away.

Despite the fact that all of my adult life I’d lived less than an hour away from them, my family was ecstatic when Bill and I bought land in Kings Mountain and planned to build a house there. Finally, in their minds, I would be moving “home.” But it turned out that the plans for our house were too big (literally and figuratively) and the area was too rural. The banks essentially told us that we were crazy, and good luck, but they couldn’t help us build our dream house in the middle of nowhere. A few more setbacks finally put those ambitions at bay, and we regrouped and came up with a “plan B,” or in this case, “plan BVI.”

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

So instead of moving “home,” as my mom would call it, here we are, in the British Virgin Islands. Our current home is a nice apartment with vaulted, wood-beam ceilings and a view of the beach. It came fully furnished, but we brought just enough stuff with us to give the apartment a familiar feel. Even before our container of stuff arrived, I was already adopting the “this is home” mindset. And within six months, we’ve figured out how to live in a  new country (it’s more difficult than you’d think), met amazing friends, and gotten comfortable in our new apartment (minus the heat, but that’s a different story).

But my mom is right. This will never be “home” in the same way that Kings Mountain is home. Or the way Charlotte is home. Kings Mountain holds my childhood memories – lots of firsts, some lasts, and more lessons than I can remember. And Charlotte is where I grew into adulthood, having moved there at 22 and not leaving until 40 (!). In Charlotte I made all of my adult friendships, started and grew my career, and found some of my passions.

But that doesn’t mean that the BVI isn’t also home – it just has a shorter history and fewer attachments. In my mind, the place you call “home” changes with the stages in your life. And right now, wherever Bill and the cats and I are all together, carrying out the routines of daily life and still experiencing new things, that is home.

Realities of Island Life – #9

This post was written two weeks ago, but it was so traumatic that I just got up the courage to post it…

Today I had a run-in with another kind of island critter.

I’ve written about living with “island roommates” before, and after today’s encounter, I appreciate my lizard companions even more.  Just this evening, I counted three lizards (what appeared to be two “young-un’s” and one adult) in our bedroom, and I named them Lisa, Louie, and  Lamar.  And though finding lizard poop next to your bed or on your bathroom sink is annoying, I’ll take that any day over what I had to deal with this afternoon….

One of the apartments in our six-unit building is vacant, and our landlord agreed to let our friends stay there for a week, in turn for me doing the “move-out” clean from the previous tenants.  So while I was cleaning the vacant apartment, I did what any good, anal retentive cleaner would do.  I moved the furniture to clean behind it.  No big deal – just the usual dust bunnies, a pair of forgotten slippers behind the bed, that sort of thing.  Until I moved the couch.  When I pulled back the thick, fluffy sofa, there on the wall, looking like he owned the place, was a type of critter that I’d read about but (thankfully) had not yet seen.  The Island Tarantula!!!

Everything that I’ve read online (yes, that’s my reference guide) says they’re not aggressive and not poisonous.  But I. Don’t. Care.  This thing was HUGE.  He was almost as big as my hand – not the kind of spider I would even dream of trying to squash with my measly little flip-flop.  And there he was, just a few feet away from me, looking quite annoyed that I’d invaded his home.  So I did what any sane person would do.  I ran into the next room, where I was out of jumping or scampering range but could still keep an eye on him, and called my spouse to rescue me.

Don't be fooled by the lack of size perspective.  This picture was taken from 12 feet away.

Don’t be fooled by the lack of size perspective. This picture was taken from 12 feet away.

Now, Bill won’t admit it, but he’s just as big of an arachnophobe as I am.  But I begged him to come down to the vacant apartment and help me deal with a “spider issue.”  (If I’d told him that said spider was a tarantula, he would have never ventured below our floor again.)  Not realizing the severity of the situation and the panic attack I was about to have, he took his own sweet time, but he eventually came to my rescue.

His first idea was to suck the salad-plate size critter up with a vacuum cleaner, but he decided that a) he didn’t want to kill it (who knew Bill was a Buddhist?), b) it was bigger than the vacuum hose nozzle and probably won’t work anyway, and c) although he didn’t say it, I could tell by the look on his face that he knew if that spider was in the vacuum cleaner, HE would be the one having to empty the dust container later that evening.

So he used a broom and a mop bucket to corral it and take it outside.  And he didn’t kill the damn thing!!!  OK, I’m sorry.  I know I should respect life and all living things have their place, and blah blah blah.  But this thing was HUGE and UGLY and SCARY and I’ll probably never step foot in that apartment again!!!  Because, what if he’s pissed that we kicked him out of his home.  A homeless, dislocated, vindictive island tarantula is NOT something I want to encounter.

So I finished cleaning with my heart pounding and my limbs shaking.  (I lost at least five pounds through sweat after that.)  And I’m saying a little prayer for our friends Kimberly and Alain and their family that our latest “friend” won’t try to get back into his former domicile.  But if he does, I can take some comfort in knowing that they’re the type of people who would appreciate him.  Heck, they would probably capture him, let him die or kill him in some semi-humane way, and use him for a science project or an insect collection.  So at least some good could come out of this for someone.

And as long as I don’t have to witness or participate, I’m ok with that.

Update:  Kimberly, Alain and the kids stayed in that apartment for a full week, and as far as I know, they didn’t have any encounters with “roommates,” either four-legged or eight-legged.  Although I’m still on the lookout for an irritated spider who’s looking for revenge.  

Perception and Reality

In our first ten weeks on the rock, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with people back in the States and in Europe, and there’s a common theme to their opening comments.  Every conversation tends to start with something along the lines of, “So, how’s paradise?”

It's not always like this - I promise.

It’s not always like this – I promise.

It’s difficult to temper people’s perceptions of what life on an island is like, and I understand, it sounds like a dream come true.  I won’t lie, in a lot of ways, it is.  But as I told friends and family before we left, life on a rock isn’t all palm trees and boat drinks.

To save time on future phone calls, I’ve compiled a list of perceptions/questions that you might have, and my responses.

  • Caller’s Perception:  I hear tropical birds in the background.
  • My Reality:  Those are called roosters.  And yes, they’re crowing at 10am.  And at noon.  And at 7pm.  Island Roosters Never. Shut. Up.
They've taken over the island.  Seriously.

They’ve taken over the island. Seriously.

  • Caller’s Perception:  I hear the roar of the ocean through the phone.
  • My Reality:  Actually, that’s an industrial-strength fan you hear.  It’s 89 degrees here with 95% humidity, and no air conditioning.  So we invested a small fortune in fans – floor-level, adjustable-height, oscillating, stationary – you name it, we have every style of fan you can imagine.  The plus side:  the fans tend to blow all the cat hair into one corner of the hallway, which makes quick work of sweeping the floors.  (Full disclosure, we do have AC in the bedrooms, but we only run it at night, because power here is very expensive.)
  • Caller’s Perception:  What type of fruity cocktail are you having right now?
  • My Reality:  The kind you buy in mass quantities from a vending machine.  Also known as water.  (On Tortola, it’s advised to purchase your drinking water, and the most economical way is by filling 5-gallon containers from water dispensing machines around the island.)  In this climate, you drink more water in a day than even the most health-conscious people back in the States.  And if you don’t, feelings of lightheadedness and grogginess will quickly remind you that dehydration is setting in.  The plus side:  your body processes all this water so efficiently (via SWEAT) that you don’t constantly have to pee, contrary to what you would expect.  And you’re never bloated.  So you’ll have to come up with another excuse if your tummy is hanging over your shorts or your bikini bottom a little more than usual.
  • Caller’s Perception:  How was the beach today?
  • My Reality:  In ten weeks, I’ve only hit the beach during the week on three, maybe four, occasions.  I can see Josiah’s Bay beach from my patio, and every day I look out and smile at its stunning beauty.  But typical life stuff still has to be done – cleaning, grocery shopping, taking the trash to the dumpster, getting drinkable water, searching for shaving cream… So contrary to popular belief, I’m not taking phone calls from a lounge chair under a palm tree. But don’t get me wrong, I do love the views, even if my toes aren’t in the water.
You can reach me at 1-800-Cocotel

You can reach me at 1-800-Cocotel

  • Caller’s Perception:  I’ll bet the seafood/fruit/produce is really fresh and amazing there.
  • My Reality:  I’m allergic to shellfish and don’t eat much seafood.  I imagine that this will change over time, but for now, I’m sticking primarily with beef, chicken, and pork.  And as far as produce goes, Tortola is basically a mountain in the middle of the Caribbean, and the terrain makes farming a challenge.  As a result, 99% of the food is imported, so availability and quality are somewhat spotty.  We’re learning which markets to go to on which days for which items, but it’s a fact of island life that if you have a specific recipe in mind, at least one of the ingredients will be completely sold out on the entire island.  So learning to improvise is important.  That and obsessively checking expiration dates.  And not buying any fresh fruits or veggies that you don’t plan to use within about three days.  But when you find something that’s locally grown, it is amazing.

So there you have it.  Five misconceptions about life on a rock and the not-so-glamorous realities behind them.  Feel free to share your perceptions/questions in the comments, and I’ll give you the behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like.

 

Role Reversal

Didn't Fail.

Didn’t Fail.

I love personality tests – Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Predictive Index.  I’ve taken them all, several times, and the conclusions are surprisingly consistent and, if I’m honest about how I really think and act, accurate.  So those of you who’ve known me for a long time will not be surprised to hear that these test all identify me as a strong introvert.

However, those who know me solely, or mostly, through work may be surprised that I’m labeled an introvert.  In my professional life, I am (as a professor once explained) “an introvert who has learned to adapt.”  Being in sales and other customer-facing roles, I’ve learned to dig deep into my persona to be outgoing and curious about others.  Having an abnormally high level of empathy helps with this adaptation.  (I’m talking about the kind of empathy where you cry just because you see someone else crying, even when you have no idea why they’re crying.)

Bill is also an introvert, but not the kind who “adapts” and acts like an extrovert when the circumstances would call for it.  No, he’s almost always reserved, to the point that I’m afraid he puts other people off with the scowl he carries on his face when we’re in public.  Our very good friend, Jon, tells a great story of how the first time Bill walked across the street to talk to him, Jon saw the look on his face and heard the tone of his  greeting (a simple, but harsh “Hey!”) and thought Bill was coming over to start a fight!

Even on vacation, he seems to be saying "leave me alone!"

Even on vacation, he seems to be saying “leave me alone!”

With all that being said, I assumed the task of making friends here on our rock would fall to me and my “adapted extrovert” self.  But there seems to have been a reversal of roles over the past six weeks.  Bill has become the one who’s curious about other people – what they do, where they’re from, how long they’ve been here – and I’ve mostly reverted back into my shell, watching and listening from the sidelines. Thanks to Bill’s newfound willingness to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, we’ve met:

  • a temporarily homeless boat hand from the Netherlands
  • two (yes, two) George Clooney look-alikes!
  • several Rastafarians who show up at the same spot, at the same time, every day
  • a ton of boat captains
  • a guy in the financial sector (I expected to meet more of these, as finance is the second largest component of the BVI economy.  But I guess the places we’re hanging out are too low-brow for the finance crowd.)
  • three very loud and very opinionated middle-aged women (mental note:  sit at the other end of the bar when they’re around)
  • a doctor who works at the local hospital (a very good contact to have)
  • and more bartenders than I can recall

Maybe he’s just trying to gage what we might be like in 1, 3, 5, or 10 years.  Or maybe the confines of a 13 x 3 mile island are getting to him.  Whatever is driving this newfound extrovertedness, it’s kind of nice to let someone else do the social navigating for a change.  Next up, I’m putting him on the hunt for a certain country star who lives nearby.  Stay tuned…