Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Tag: Grenada

7 Things I’ve Learned About Living on an Island

Today marks four months since Husband and I arrived in Grenada. It has been four months of learning and adapting to a life that has been very different from the one we came from. In many ways it is not better or worse, just different.

We went from the US to the Caribbean, Midwest season changes to tropical climate year round, two full-time jobs to being a student and a housewife.

Since I am fortune enough to not be the one who was crazy enough to decide that attending medical school would be fun, I have had lots of time to observe how life on an island is different than life in the US.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far:

1. If that ’94 Suzuki Escudo gets you from Point A to Point B, it’ll do.

Never mind that it doesn’t have air conditioning, sometimes it doesn’t start, and when the windows decide to work you have to hold onto them to keep aligned as they roll up. Luxury car features like radio, automatic locks, and a decent paint job can wait. It gets us from one place to the other (most of the time) and that’s all we really need!

2. You can live in the same three outfits of workout clothes – and nobody cares.

Though the locals seem perfectly comfortable wearing long pants all the time, when the heat index is constantly in the upper 90’s, jeans are the last thing I am thinking of wearing. Most of the time I exist in one of the few pairs of yoga pants or shorts that I brought to the island and a tank top. Everyone knows that we are all existing on student loans right now, we all brought what they could fit into a suitcase or two, and the options for shopping on the island are less than exciting.

3. Honking at people while you are driving can have a ton of different meanings.

In the US, if somebody honks their car horn it usually means something along the lines of, “%*$& you, you #!@*ing $&*@.” Imagine my surprise upon realizing that honking here is much closer to a friendly “hello” than a string of expletives. I’ve learned that honking can mean, “I am a bus, do you need a ride?” or “Hello friend that I saw walking on the sidewalk,” or even “I’m coming up on a blind hill where the road is probably not wide enough for two way traffic so if you can hear this please let me through.”

4. You will never again take for granted living in a place where you don’t have to worry about bugs.

I have been very fortunate to not have many encounters with bugs so far *crosses fingers, knocks on wood*. I have, however, heard so many stories about bugs on the island. Everything from huge centipedes falling from the ceiling in campus buildings, to ants that will find any way into your apartment – and your food containers, to relentless mosquitos in apartments without window screens, to huge, flying cockroaches. It makes the droves of mosquitos in Wisconsin seem like nothing.

5. Even though the seasons may not change, you will hear Christmas music everywhere you go as soon as November 1st comes around.

I’ve learned that Grenada does Christmas big, and you will hear Christmas music everywhere from the grocery store to random houses blasting it across the valley that you live in. At least Grenada celebrates their Thanksgiving in October, so once November comes around Christmas is really the next holiday to look forward to! I distinctly remember a Christmas a few years back where I was driving around and the car thermometer put the outside temperature at -30°F. Celebrating this Christmas in a bathing suit will be just as memorable!

6. You can have a different favorite beach for different occasions.

Living in the Midwest, where most bodies of water have cold water, lots of weeds, and an odor of dead fish, it never occurred to me that some Caribbean beaches might be better than others. Anything would be better than those beaches. In Grenada, all of the beaches that I have been to have beautiful, fine sand, a gorgeous green backdrop, and turquois water that you can see all the way to the bottom through. While they are all beautiful, some are better for snorkeling, some are better for partying, and some are better because you can lay out for a long time without someone trying to sell you something.

7. Just like living anywhere else, it is easy to take for granted the unique things around you.

After being here for four months, I sometimes forget that we live within walking distance of two gorgeous beaches. I’m not surprised that there are multiple fresh produce stands around, even though it is December. I can walk down the beach now without gawking at the scenery. We will be here for two years, and though parts of island life are second nature now, I remain committed to experiencing as much of the island as I can in the relatively short time that we are here!


The first four months in Grenada have flown by and I look forward to the new insights that I will have as I continue journeying through life in the Caribbean!

How I Accidentally Climbed a Mountain

Ok, I knew that I was going to be traversing a mountain. But I think the term “hike” must be used very loosely in Grenada.

You see, when I signed up for a “hike” up Mount Saint Catherine, the tallest mountain in Grenada, I was expecting to trudge up mountain trails, get some nice scenic views of the rainforest, and have really sore legs the next day.

What I got instead was crawling through mud, using ropes that were probably secure to pull myself up the side of the mountain, and a healthy dose of fear for my life.

It all started out innocently enough, though. We began with the usual bus ride, where the one-eyed driver managed to not drive off a cliff in the winding, mountainous interior of Grenada by the grace of some higher power. When the road got so steep that the bus could go no further, the hike began.

About ten minutes in I was panting and hoping that the 12 liters of water that I brought for the day would be enough. To my great relief, though, the trail started to level out after that and we were able to enjoy a stunning view of the ocean.

ocean view from mount saint catherine hike

After a period of hiking through the rainforest – and occasional deep mud – we came upon a spot where a clump of tall bamboo had fallen away from the mountain and was obstructing the path. One by one, we clambered over the bamboo.

As I was putting all my weight on the hand of the guy helping me up so quickly that I just about pulled both of us over, I thought, “Wow, we are getting to do a little climbing on this hike! How exciting! Surely this will be the hardest part.”

I could not have been more wrong.

Eventually, the path got very steep, and we had to start climbing. Only it wasn’t quite climbing.

The mud that was a mere nuisance on the flatter path behind us made the vertical cliff walls that we were climbing treacherously slick at points. Okay, maybe they weren’t vertical cliff walls, but since I have the climbing skills and upper body strength of a toddler, it sure felt that way.

In any case, the going was slow, slippery, and much more closely resembled climbing than hiking.

Above us on the path, I could see that the trees cleared. The first few people who made it to that point exclaimed that everyone had to look at the view when they got there.

I continued climbing and finally reached the clearing. I looked around to see…

Nothing.

We were so high up on the mountain that everything was shrouded in mist, and all I could see was the frighteningly narrow, steep path extending a little way above me and a very little way below me.

I panicked. Suddenly, I couldn’t find good handholds or footholds to continue climbing, and I was stuck, clinging helplessly to the side of the mountain.

Luckily, someone that was ahead of me on the trail was able to pull me up the rest of the way. Otherwise, frozen by panic, I’m pretty sure my fellow hikers would have had to turn around early and get me air-lifted off the cliff that I was glued to.

This bit of climbing was followed by a narrow ridge where the sides of the path dropped out abruptly in places. As I continued, I clung to the plants on either side and kept my gaze focused on the path in front of me, trying to ignore the clouds below the path that I could see through the foliage.

Scurrying across the ridge, trying to stay as close to the ground as I could, I’m sure I resembled some type of Gollum-like creature. Despite living in the Caribbean for three months, I’m still definitely pale enough to pull off the comparison.

After the Ridge of Doom – as I affectionately named it – we came to a place where the path was so steep that there were ropes there to help you pull yourself up. As I was climbing with generous use of the rope, I heard someone below me call out.

With all my weight on this ancient rope and nothing but clouds below me, “check the knots in the rope when you get to the top,” was not what I wanted to hear.

After a good deal more climbing through the mud and dense foliage – during which time I began my pre-emptive panic about how we were going to get down the mountain – we finally reached the top and were greeted by this view!

top-of-mount-saint-catherine

Ok, so the clouds were kind of obstructing any real view that we would have had from the top of the mountain, but it still looked cool, and the howling wind and low visibility made me feel like I was Matt Damon in The Martian when he was stuck in that storm on Mars.

As we ate lunch in the gusting wind and dense clouds at the top of the mountain, I was able to collect my thoughts. Probably nobody had died on the mountain. A few of my hiking companions had done the “hike” before and obviously they hadn’t died.

On the way back down, all I had to do was keep my wits about me, go slowly, and try not to slide off the side of the mountain. Easy peasy.

When all the obligatory top-of-the-mountain pictures were taken, we began our descent. In order to stay as close as I could to the ground, I made liberal use of a technique that I’m pretty sure many professional mountain climbers use – the sliding butt-scoot. Whatever hope I had held onto about not being 100% covered in mud was quickly eliminated.

I descended the scary rope part of the mountain and was once again crouching Gollum-like on top of the Ridge of Doom, where I was waiting for the rest of the group to climb down. There, I reflected that going down the mountain was much easier than I had anticipated, and maybe my preemptive panic had been unnecessary.

It was all downhill from there (ba dum tss) and slowly the path began to widen and become less steep. Just after the adrenaline wore off and I was sure my legs were going to give out, we reached the bottom of the mountain. I never thought I would be so relieved to see our one-eyed bus driver as I was in that moment.

As we careened across the narrow, mountainous roads home, I began to reflect on the “hike”. I was proud that, despite my exquisitely unobservant nature and arm strength comparable to that of a T-rex, I had made it to the top of Mount Saint Catherine and back without becoming the target of a search and rescue mission.

Now, I am home. I have scrubbed the mud off my scraped and stinging skin and I am so sore that I need to hold onto something to lower myself onto the toilet, but it was worth it.

In all seriousness, it was a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was yet another example for me that when I get out of my own head – like I did on the way down the mountain – things are not nearly as bad as I think they will be. Also, I went on the “hike” with a group of awesome, helpful, encouraging people who made the day fun, and it is definitely an opportunity that I am glad I did not miss out on.

Maybe next time, though, I’ll find out what is involved in a “hike” before I go.

Learning to Live on Island Time

When we were preparing to come to Grenada, many people warned us about “island time”. They said that everything was going to take longer, from receiving a call back to getting food at your table in a restaurant. We prepared ourselves as much as we could for things to take more time than they did in the hustle-and-bustle of the US.

We even experienced island time before we got to Grenada when we were looking for apartments. Some rental companies seemed aware of the culture of instant customer service that most students coming to the island were used to and replied to our inquiries right away. Others, however, took days to hear back from, if we got a response at all.

It turned out that we were apartment hunting at the same time as a lot of other people, and places were filling up quickly. This, combined with slow response times from many of the people that we contacted, led to my anxiety-fueled fear that we would never find a decent apartment.

As is the case with many thoughts that are a product of anxiety, this fear of not finding a good apartment in time did not turn into reality. We did, in fact, find an apartment that we like very much. However, this first encounter with island time left me a little apprehensive about living with it once we got to Grenada.

Now that we have been here for a few months, we have had plenty of encounters with island time. One of the first things that another student told us was to multiply any amount of time that someone gives you by three. For example, if someone says that they will meet you in 15 minutes, expect them to be there in 45. I was skeptical of this at first, but it has proven accurate so far!

Another aspect of island time is that places might not be open when you want them to be. Coming from a college town in the US where you can get any type of food you want at 3am, I was surprised when people here boasted about the restaurant (yes, singular) that offers 24-hour takeout.

After I finished grieving the loss of easily accessible fast food and considered the relative size of the college town here compared to the one I was used to, it made sense that there were fewer places to get a quick bite to eat any hour of the day or night. At least places would be open during the day at their regularly scheduled hours, right?

Wrong.

One of the first restaurants that we went to was closed on a random week day with no indication as to why. There was a holiday earlier in the week, and my guess is that they decided to take a couple extra days off. Oh well, if you can’t go to a restaurant, at least you can always rely on the grocery store, right?

Wrong again.

The grocery store’s recent floor re-surfacing project, which already involved limited hours compared to their regular schedule, ended up being extended about an extra week. Their hours became more limited, and they even opened later than their already delayed start time on at least one occasion.

Any one of those things happening when I lived in the US would have driven me crazy. Now, though, I just have to laugh about it.

You see, the key to living with island time is living on island time. This might seem obvious, but as a person who always kept busy and had a rigid schedule, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make the transition. No doubt living the stay-at-home-wife life made it easier, but I don’t feel like I had to make an effort to live on island time. Island time found me, and it has been incredibly rewarding.

When I bought a vehicle from a local, what started out as his gracious offer to help me get car insurance turned into an all-day affair where I got to try authentic oil-down and see beautiful parts of the island that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That was only possible because I allowed myself to be on island time.

Not being able to get groceries when you set out to could easily make your day worse. But when you’re not rushing to get things done based on some pre-determined timeline, you have the opportunity to think about the things that are truly important – the things that really need to get done – and you are able to prioritize those. Maybe you can even prioritize something that you want to do.

I realize not everyone will have the opportunity to experience a slow, purposeful life lived on island time. It is hard to slow down when commuting and work and exercising and running errands and social engagements can take up so much of your time. I know that after two years on island time, I will return to that life, and it will be hard to hold onto the lessons that I’ve learned here while slowing down.

However, the three things that I have learned on island time and hope to keep with me throughout my life are: 1) Make it a priority to leave a little time for yourself each day. Do something that you want to do, not something that you have to do. 2) Don’t feel like time spent relaxing is time wasted. Those moments spent in slowness, either by yourself or with others, are likely to be the things you remember most – and most fondly – later on. 3) Live deliberately and with purpose, instead of just reacting to what life throws at you. This will make even the mundane moments more worthwhile and vibrant.

I can’t take island time with me, and while I’m inclined to be sad about that, that would go against the true meaning of living on island time. Island time is, at its essence, about being more mindful and present in the current moment.

And that’s something I can always take with me.