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…


O.M.G. S.U.P. Y.O.G.A

OK, first of all, I don’t really talk like that.  But that’s the only way I could express both the delight and the fear I had in my first SUP yoga class…

I spent both Saturday and Sunday afternoons at my favorite beach for hanging out and socializing – Cane Garden Bay.  Saturday was a low-key visit:  read, float, have a drink.  I’d heard there was a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class at CGB, so I asked around and found out that there was a FREE class on Sunday.  So on Sunday afternoon, I trekked back to CGB (20 minutes from our apartment to the neighborhood, 25 minutes parked and in the water).  It didn’t take long to spot the teacher, as she was finishing up a SUP class for about a dozen kids – and I might add that these kids looked like professionals.

I’ve done presentations in front of hundreds of people – CEO’s, executives, people way smarter than I am.  But for some reason, trying a new physical activity for the first time scares the daylights out of me.  In my first golf lesson, I was so nervous that it’s a miracle I didn’t drop the club behind my back when I took the first swing.  And it wasn’t much different in the SUP yoga class.  I had only been on a paddle board once before, and all I accomplished that time was to paddle out a few yards, quickly give up fighting the wind, drift down the beach a few hundred feet, and paddle back to the shore.  Then I had to carry the board back up the beach to where it belonged.

So, yeah, I was nervous about this class.

The teacher instructed me to paddle out on my knees, and she would come right behind me to help me get my “sea legs” and get going.  But she got caught up with something else, and I was left there, on my knees on the board, paddling as best I could and trying to listen to her partner, who was yelling standing near the shore yelling instructions at me.  And the wind was blowing the opposite way of where the group was gathered…

Ten minutes later, with some direct intervention from the helper (i.e. he paddled out and literally pulled me and my board in the right direction), I joined the group.  This is where the OMG part really begins.

I made it through the warmup and the Sun Salutations ok, despite the fact that my legs were shaking like twigs in a hurricane.  Then came the Crescent Lunges and the Warriors.  The instructor had warned me that Warrior II was a tough pose to do on the board.  Whew, I made it through that, although I couldn’t properly do Reverse Warrior, but I modified.  Then came Side Angle.  An easy pose.  I can even “fly” in this one.  (“Flying” is where you bind your arms around one leg and lift it up while balancing on the other leg – called Bird of Paradise).

And fly I did.  Right off the side of my board and into the water.  (And I wasn’t even trying to do the Bird of Paradise variation.  I was just trying to do the basic Side Angle!)

I shook myself off like a wet dog, climbed back onto the board, and finished the class, legs shaking even more now.  But I finished, and I even managed to do a Tripod at the end (squat down with your hands on the ground/floor/board, put the top of your head on the board, put your knees on your elbows and lift your feet).

At the end of class, as I lay there in Savasana (also called Corpse Pose, where you lie on your back with legs apart and arms by your side), instead of closing my eyes, I looked up at the blue sky and the tip tops of the palm trees in my peripheral vision and felt grateful to be in such an amazing place, doing such amazing things.  This.  This is the reason I wanted to move here.

Cane Garden Bay:  View from a SUP

Cane Garden Bay: View from a SUP


Island Bumper Cars

There goes another side mirror

There goes another side mirror

In a previous post, I mentioned that the roads here are bad.  But it’s not just the roads, it’s the other drivers that make navigating the island an exercise in facing your fears.

Case in point – within the first week of arriving, we had a (thankfully mild) run-in with another vehicle.

It was the day my sister and I arrived with my two cats.  She had been here all of about two hours, and we were going to dinner in Road Town.  There are two ways you can get down the mountain from our apartment, and both involve steep declines (because you’re going down a mountain), narrow roads, and sharp curves.  But one route is a bit worse than the other.  We were taking the worse of the two options, because at that time, we didn’t know any better.  And it was night.

So we’re going down the road, and one of the oncoming cars is obviously in our lane (if there were actual lanes on the roads, but that’s another issue).

*Did I mention that you drive on the left here?  The cars are American-style left hand drive, but you’re on the wrong side of the road, which puts the passenger sides of the cars in the center of the road.  So when you’re the passenger, oncoming traffic is coming directly toward you, not the driver.

As the headlights came closer, it was apparent this car was not getting over to his side of the road, so I did what any rational person would do.  I closed my eyes and screamed.  I heard a slight crash, and when I opened my eyes, there was a mirror in my lap!

The other driver had clipped our side mirror, which popped the glass part out.  Thankfully, I had my window rolled down, and the glass mirror landed squarely in my lap, broken, but salvaged.  I still can’t believe I “caught” that mirror!

The rest of the night was a little tense, to say the least, since Bill felt bad about getting the rental car damaged (although there was little he could have done, short of running into the side of the mountain), and I was not looking forward to dealing with the credit card and rental car companies over this little incident, which would probably cost a fortune to get resolved.  But an inquiry the next day at a local auto parts store put us in touch with a glass shop.  One day and $50 later, we picked up the replacement glass and popped it back into the mirror assembly, with the rental company none the wiser.

Bill’s theory is that when the Jeep gets here, we’ll get more respect on the roads, since it’s big and has these massive, after-market bumpers on it.  My theory is that I’d do just fine in a Mini-Cooper.  Or a Smart car.  Or maybe a golf cart.  I’ll take the smallest thing that can make it up the mountain.

Seating for six and lights for nighttime driving.

Seating for six and lights for nighttime driving.




Free Coco! (Or, how I almost shut down CLT airport)

Free Willy

Chronologically, this post is out of order, because frankly, it’s embarrassing and I had initially decided not write about it  But, contrary to what my sister might tell you, my life isn’t always easy or glamorous, and this story very much proves it.  And in hindsight, it is pretty funny…

A few days after arriving on the rock, I made a quick trip back to Charlotte to pick up my sister so she could help me bring back two of my cats, Coco and Smooth, and spend a couple of days here experiencing the island.  The two cats we were tasked with transporting are pretty timid – Coco is afraid of almost everyone except Bill and me, and although Smooth has gotten more sociable in his old age (he’s 13), he’s still very much a loner.

During our initial move trip a few days earlier, Bill and I had brought down the first two cats, Trouble and Snowball.  They did great getting in & out of their carriers and going through security, so I was hoping for that part of the process with Coco and Smooth to be quick and relatively painless.  My worry was that one or both of them would cry through the entire flight, like our little “angel” Snowball had done during her journey.

Boy was I worried about the wrong thing…

At the airport, we managed to get Riley into the TSA prescreen line with me, so I was doing a little victory dance in my head, as that meant we didn’t have to deal with the laptops/liquids/shoes in the security line and could just focus on getting the cats out, through the scanner, and back in their carriers as quickly as possible.  And we picked a security gate that, when we got there, was virtually deserted.

I was in charge of Coco and Riley was in charge of Smooth.  I took Coco out of her carrier, walked through the scanner, and waited on the other side for her carrier to come through the x-ray machine.  Just as we got through the scanner, she started wriggling.  And as we waited for her carrier, the wriggling got more intense and quickly turned into full-blown “let me down now or I will claw your eyes out” flailing of limbs and tail.  I was trying so hard to remain calm, and I said to the agent screening the x-rayed items, “Sir, I need that carrier as soon as you can get it to me, please.”  The TSA agent standing at the end of the conveyor saw the cat getting more and more agitated and said to her colleague, “You need to get her that carrier, quick.”  And out it came.  Then, before I could reach it, in it went again – back into the x-ray machine!  It was like slow-motion, and all I could do was say, again, this time in a much more urgent tone, “I need that cat carrier now, please!”

At that moment, Coco launched out of my arms and ran.  As I watched her scurry away, hunched down and looking back to see if anyone was following, I heard a TSA agent yell “Animal on the loose!”  All I could think was, “They’re going to shut down the airport and it’s going to be my fault!”

I started ducking and weaving through the rope barriers that make up the security lanes, with what were now at least 20 people in line yelling various renditions of “she went that way,” and “she’s over there!”  Luckily, she had found suitable refuge behind a post in the corner and stopped, thinking she was hidden.  About halfway to where she was, I realized that I couldn’t do a darn thing without her carrier, so I yelled to a TSA agent, who was yelling at me for letting her get loose, to get me her carrier.  Someone got me the carrier and I was able to scoop her up and get her back in, where she was more than happy to be, with fabric, mesh, and zippers protecting her from all these crazy people around her.

The agent that was helping me at this point was so nice.  I was apologizing profusely and he tried to console me by saying, basically, that the agent doing the x-ray screening had been an ass all day long, being slow, calling for tons of extra scans, and making everyone’s day miserable.  (I think this incident took the cake for the entire day.)   He calmly informed me that I’d have to go through security again since I was now outside of the official security zone.  (Seriously, I was on the other side of a couple of 3-foot metal poles with a zippy rope between them, but whatever.)  I asked him to please find a way to do this without having to take the cat out of her carrier again, and he assured me that he didn’t want to go through that again either.  So he walked Coco, in her carrier, through the security gate as I went back through the scanner.  And this time, we were both free to go.

Coco, lounging in our BVI apartment, oblivious to the near-breakdown I had getting her here.

Coco, lounging in our BVI apartment, oblivious to the near-breakdown I had getting her here.

The best part is that while all this was happening, my sister and the other cat made it through security with no problems.  And when the madness was over, she, Smooth, and our carry-on bags were all waiting patiently at the end of the screening lane.  For her, it was just another adventure with members of the Nolen family.

10 Days on a Rock

We made it into the double digits!

It’s still surreal that we live here, but already we’ve come to recognize the good and the bad of living on an island, so I thought I’d share a little bit of both sides.

Bad:  You can’t drink the water.  Well, you can, but most people don’t.  Virtually everyone on the island gets their water from a cistern, and the water is filtered but not purified.  It’s not likely to make you sick, but several locals have told me that they use tap water for cooking, washing, and brushing their teeth, but for pure drinking they stick with bottled water.  Now, I know plenty of people in the States who don’t drink their tap water (either they’re on a well and don’t trust it, or they’re on city water and don’t trust it).  So to me, no big deal.  But this is probably Bill’s biggest complaint so far.

Good:  The views.  Just driving around the island, from anywhere to anywhere, the views are amazing.  Either you’re on a mountain overlooking beautiful bays, or you’re on the waterfront road, riding along just feet from crystal blue water.  I will never tire of the views here.

Waterfront Highway, Looking Toward Peter Island

Waterfront Highway, Looking Toward Peter Island

Bad:  Roommates.  Before we moved, I read a lot of blogs from people who live in the USVI and the BVI, and without fail, they all mentioned living with “critters” and the good and bad of each type.  Thankfully, our cohabitants are lizards, which are harmless and the most beneficial roommates to have , as they eat mosquitos and other insects.  The only problem I foresee is that our cats will probably become lizard connoisseurs.  So far, I’ve found two dead baby lizards, so the population in/around our place is probably on the decline already.

Good.  The beaches.  Whether you want calm, flat water or a great place to surf; a hopping, people-watching mecca or a nearly deserted beach lined with palm trees, they’re all here on Tortola.  The beach closest to us, Josiah’s Bay, is of the surfing variety, with waves in the 5-foot range.  (At least until summer, when the locals tell us that it “goes flat.”)  Although I prefer calm water, the waves in this turquoise blue sea are almost transparent, and it’s gorgeous to look at.  I foresee surfing lessons in my future!

My favorite beach so far. Picture-perfect and virtually deserted.

My favorite beach so far. Picture-perfect and virtually deserted.

Bad:  Driving.  The roads are worse than bad.  (NC/SC friends – think of the worst SC roads you can imagine.  That would be considered good here on Tortola.)  The roads are only about 1.5 lanes wide, most of the curves are blind, and there are no street lights.  Now, imagine those conditions on a 13 mile x 3 mile island that is essentially a mountain (the tallest peak on Tortola is the same height as Kings Pinnacle) where you’re perpetually climbing a 20 degree grade or descending a 20 degree grade.

Good:  The people.  Sure, there are people who are indifferent at best, rude at their worst.  And some of the drivers are a-holes.  But you’ll find that anywhere.  The vast majority of people we’ve met here – both locals and expats – have been friendly and downright helpful.  One charming thing about the BVI culture is that it’s considered rude not to address someone with “good morning,” “good afternoon,” etc. before you start a conversation, or just as a general acknowledgement, in place of “hello,” when you pass someone on the street.  And when you do this, the person’s entire countenance changes.  It’s amazing how far a little cultural sensitivity can get you when you’re in a foreign place.

Bonus:  Did I mention the views?  I did?  Ok, how about the beaches?  The snorkeling isn’t bad either.

Snorkeling at Smuggler's Cove

Snorkeling at Smuggler’s Cove

Practicing Patience

Road Town

After three days, spent almost entirely at government offices, we’re finally official!

I had read horror stories about dealing with the BVI government, so I knew clearing Immigrations would be frustratingly slow, but darn it, I was prepared with everything we could possibly need. There was nothing they could ask for that we hadn’t already given them or didn’t have in-hand. Or so I thought. When we walked up to the Immigration desk at the airport, operation “Teach the Americans a Lesson” began.

Being the obsessive-compulsive, anal person that I am, I made sure that we arrived on Tuesday evening with all the necessary paperwork for Immigration, exactly following the instructions in our approval letter and double-checking any “gray” areas through phone calls and emails with high-ranking Immigration officials, all of which were meticulously documented.

When we arrived, the Immigration officer slowly scrutinized our paperwork and inquired as to where our criminal records were. I told her that we had both mailed and emailed them to the Chief Immigration Officer, and obviously he had seen them and been satisfied, as he’d granted us approval to reside.  And, anyway, bringing our criminal record reports with us was not specified as a requirement in our approval letter. Unimpressed, she turned to her supervisor, who reiterated that, “you must present official copies of your criminal record upon arrival.”

Long story short, it turns out that the person who typed up our approval letter and spelled out what we needed to bring with us upon arrival just happened to forget this one item. Of course, it was after 4pm when we arrived, and the government offices close at 3pm, so there was no way to verify that the main office had previously received our criminal records. In order to get into the country, we had to turn our passports over to the Immigration officer, who gave us a receipt for them(!) and instructed us to call the main office the next morning to verify the documents were ok and retrieve our passports.

So the next morning came and I called (having already learned that calling in advance can help you get some of the “I don’t know anything about this,” or “that person isn’t in the office” hassle out of the way) to be sure someone was looking into the mystery of our “missing” criminal records . We were instructed to come to the office to get everything straightened out. So down to Road Town we went, passport receipts in hand, not really sure what to expect. In a somewhat fortunate turn of events, the lady working the front desk at Immigration was someone I had spoken to via phone numerous times over the past several months, so there was a bit of rapport already built. She instructed us to come back at 2pm (it was approximately 9:30am) when the Chief Immigration Officer would be back at the office. So we made use of the day by learning our way around town and picking up some essentials for the apartment. And back to the Immigration office we went around 2pm.

The CIO finally arrived around 3pm, but instead of speaking with him directly, our “friend” acted as our intermediary, supposedly relaying our comments/concerns, and coming back to us with his “official decision.” In reality, it was she who wrote our letter, so I think she was trying to save face and cover her ass, since it was her mistake that got us into this predicament. In the end, the CIO, in the intermediary’s words, “realizes that it’s our (the office’s) mistake, so he will grant permission to process your residence visas, but you have to produce the required documents (criminal records) within six weeks.” It was now approximately 3:03pm, and the processing office was closed, so we had to come back the next morning to get our visas processed.

On Thursday morning, we made our (now routine) trip down to Road Town to the Immigration office just before the official opening time of 9am. There were already about eight people in the waiting area, so we took our number and sat down, expecting at least a 20-30 minute wait.

Side note:  Based on our experience so far, I can safely say that all government offices have a process. You walk in, announce “good morning, or “good day” to everyone in the room, take a number, and WATCH THE CALL BOARD LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. When the “now serving” number comes up, if you don’t jump up within about .5 milliseconds, the attendants move on to the next number, and you’re at risk of losing your place in line.

As I mentioned, this morning, there were about eight people in the waiting area before us, so I expected a wait and started checking email. Within less than three minutes, our number had flashed for the customary 0.5ms, and the next number was staring me in the face.

I walked to the desk and begged to take the next place in line, but in the end it didn’t matter, because it turns out that AGAIN, we not informed about a requirement that we had to fulfill before our visas could be processed.

Everyone (family, friends, blog readers) has been spared of the details regarding the medical tests and procedures we had to go through here in the U.S. in order to fulfill the BVI immigration requirements.  You’re welcome. But these ridiculous, almost humiliating tests aren’t enough. No, the U.S. doctors apparently can’t be trusted, so you must take your medical records to the Tortola hospital and have one of their doctors approve them before you’re granted residence. And of course, nobody told this until Thursday morning, when we naively expected to have our visas processed that day.

So off we slogged to the hospital to have our records “checked” by a BVI doctor, and at exactly 2:50pm, we finally got the medical records back with the necessary approvals and high-tailed it back to the Immigration office. Did I mention that they close at 3pm?  The deputy at the Immigration office took our applications and instructed us to come back Monday, as processing takes two days.

At this point, I was having a really hard time keeping my cool, but once again, she had our passports in her possession, so I sucked it up and nicely buy urgently informed her that I had to go back to the States over the weekend, so I would just have to bring my passport and application back the next week to be processed.  She looked unfazed, but dryly said, “Ok, come back at 1:30pm tomorrow.”  *Sigh*  I said a little prayer that she would keep her promise and not fall ill or get hit by a bus overnight.

We made use of the next morning by going to the DMV and purchasing a drivers handbook – again, taking a number and watching the call board.  Then we found another “department store” (think Big Lots, with many items of questionable origin) to pick up some more things for the apartment.  At approximately 1:30pm, we went back to the Immigration office, and 30 minutes and one rude government worker later, we were official!  I can’t remember the last time I was so relieved and proud.  Maybe this is their strategy – make it so difficult to obtain residence that once you do, you never complain about “island time” or the government again.

The best part is, we had just enough time to get to the bank and open a bank account and swing by the postal service to get a forwarding address set up from Miami.  So now we’re officially residents of the BVI, we can spend money, and we can get mail.  Life is good.

Until we go to get our BVI drivers licenses.


A Not-So-Small Family

There are so many people I want to say “goodbye for now” to before we move, and on Friday night, I had the chance to do that with a very special group of friends.

Not my friends from grade school, or college, or work (who are also special, of course).  The people I was with on Friday night have known me, literally, since the day I was born – they’re the friends my Mom and Dad grew up with.  But they’ve been such an influential part of my life – guiding me, shaping me, and rooting for me (even now, when I’m 40 years old!) – that I think of them as my friends first, and the fact that they came into my life by being friends with my parents is just coincidental.  Some of my first memories include not just my parents, but these guys and gals.

My parents were young when they got married and had me, and there were always people – these people – in the house, hanging out, watching a fight or a baseball game, or playing poker.  One of the staples of my parents’ get-togethers was my dad cooking a full-blown, Waffle House-style breakfast as things were winding down.  Very often, the smell of sausage and bacon would wake me up, so Mom and Dad would let me eat with everyone, and then put me back to bed.

My family, or at least the ones that I’ve been in contact with throughout my life, is small, and I’ve always envied people who have large families.  But I realized on Friday night that my family is pretty big, even if they’re not blood relatives.  These are as much my “aunts and uncles” as those who I share direct DNA with.

So, thank you, Leggs & Lisa, Ronnie & Libby, Manson & Sandy, Crazy Richard, Butch & Brenda, Wiley & Laura, Head & Wanda, and all the other friends of the “Eddie & Betty” show, for helping Mom and Dad out and for helping me get to where I am today.