Published: September 13th 2009September 13th 2009
Time is winding down and I’m already realizing all that I’m going to miss. I’m also realizing how much I have adapted to island life and Caribbean culture. The first time I consciously noticed change was when I was walking to work with Eli and I thought to myself that he was walking faster than usual, but then I realized that my walking pace had, in fact, slowed down. I haven’t worn a watch in almost three months now, it’s such a relief to slow down and not feel the constant pressure of time.
Some adaptations happened naturally, others I found more difficult to internalize. Greeting people, for example, is one thing I adapted to right away. Everyone greets each other here with the customary “Good Morning/Afternoon/Night.” This greeting applies across the board, whether you are passing a stranger on the street, asking someone a question, purchasing a mango, or even just asking for directions. Once, when I was in a rush for a meeting, I forgot to say good morning before asking directions to the conference room and I received some scalding Kittitian attitude. I never made that mistake again.
In terms of work, I’ve learned to adapt
to the way community meetings are held over here. I’m use to having meetings in formal settings with proscribed note takers and people who moderate discussions and keep an eye on the clock, but over here community meetings take on a life of their own. Our Project Steering Committee meetings have a very formal tone to them, but besides that, it is common in community meetings for people to talk at the same time, yell and laugh, answer their phone mid- sentence. What can I say? It’s definitely a lot livelier than what I’m use to.
In Toronto, I just hop on my trusty old bike or on the subway and go where I need to go. I felt quite cut off for the first month or so over here, as I was advised not to leave my apartment after nightfall and I don’t have a bike or a car to get me around the island. The bus is actually a van and you hail it down and ask it to stop wherever you want to get off. There is not really a bus schedule or designated bus stop. Now, I’m comfortable taking the bus anywhere and I also
feel quite confident walking around (cautiously), even though I’m constantly stared at and hooted at by the men…which leads me to my next point: gender.
This has, perhaps, been the most challenging aspect of adapting. My friendly nature has often been misconstrued as being suggestive and I’ve had to meet outright explicit sexual passes with outright explicit rejection, while trying not to offend (oh so Canadian of me). Sometimes men holler sweet comments at me like, “You look beautiful today, princess” (who doesn’t like to hear such things?), while other times the comments are a lot more x-rated. It’s not like I’ve never been objectified in such a way before, but here it’s a lot more in-your-face than I’m use to and I’ve learned to be firm and laugh it off.
Unless otherwise clarified, if you spend time with someone of the opposite sex, it is assumed that you are together (in whatever manner togetherness is interpreted though different people’s eyes). And if you are spotted taking a casual stroll with someone, be prepared for the gossip that will surely catch up to you. At first the gossip bothered me but with the advice of some of my neighbours (who, incidentally, were also gossiping about me), I just “don’t study it no more.”
On different conceptions of beauty: North American ideals of beauty do not hold true over here. Big girls are what it’s all about. Curves are sexy. Body hair is natural. I’ve never felt this comfortable and confident in my skin before.
On a more serious tone, I’ve never been more aware of my location of privilege. Just by virtue of my skin colour, I’m assumed to be loaded and many folks have approached me on the street to ask me for money or to top up the credit on their phones (mostly the kids). Things that I take for granted like owning a pair of flip flops and having AC in my apartment and being able to buy bottled water have come into sharp focus living where I’m living. I know what it’s like to have debt and work three jobs to make rent and live from pay check to pay check. But I don’t know what it’s like to feel hungry....I mean really hungry. And I don’t know what it’s like to walk around with no shoes and I don’t know what its like to live in a tiny shack-like house with a large number of people, as many people in this neighbourhood do. What do I do with this knowledge?
Having spent years studying philosophy, I thought that I could come up with some witty, introspective conclusion to wrap up this blog and answer this question. But it’s one month on since I wrote this entry and I still got nothing. I have a feeling I will be reflecting on this for some time.