Humor is an essential part of island life.
After all, when a flying cockroach the size of a sparrow decides to take flight straight at your head, the only response (after shrieking and running full speed in the opposite direction like a deranged hyena – while still managing to keep the entire contents of your rum & coke in the glass you are clutching…bravo!) is to laugh about the absurdity of your circumstances.
Ditto when you walk into the grocery store to discover that the only produce available is six cucumbers (and you don’t really like cucumbers). Or when you spend two hours waiting in line at a government office, only to finally have it be your turn and then have the nice lady behind the glass window tells you you’re at the wrong place (you only make this mistake once).
If you can’t find a way to make these things funny (along with a gazillion other situations you will only ever encounter on a rock), you will slowly go insane. The alternative – or supplement to humor – is to drink. A lot. Which brings its own host of issues…like getting fat. And having a perma-headache. And alcohol consumption on an island is a whole ‘nother issue, anyway. So let’s not go there.
But there is one situation that defies the discovery of humor. Or at least I haven’t found the funny part. Yet.
Longing for the familiar places, spaces and faces from your past can be a tough thing. And it can hit at any moment, no matter how many years you’ve proudly worn the Island Girl crown. It probably won’t hit in those first few glorious, boat drink-filled months after your arrival. After all, you’re still a newbie and everything is so amazing and hilarious and fresh in those initial halcyon days, that you hardly have time to think about the stuff you left behind.
But at some point, you will start to think about it. And this is what I consider decision time. You will either adapt to “real life” on a rock or eschew rock life altogether. If you choose option B, you’ll head back to the land of Mickey D’s and Tarjay and consider your short time on a rock a fun experiment with a quick expiration date.
But if you select Option A (you should!), some changes will have to be made. Your liver demands it, if nothing else. And eventually, even the most die-hard rock dwelling woman will have a schedule and obligations and, shudder, responsibilities. Because, you know, we’re grown ups and all, with bills and shit…even in paradise. (Some aspects of your new life will look frightening similar to your old one. Sorry.)
But, don’t despair! The new life you create will not be an imitation of your old life back home. At least not if you do it right. After all, drinking a cold beer for breakfast or wearing a bikini top in lieu of a bra are usually not things that happen on the daily back in NYC or Chicago or Seattle (at least not for me).
Then at some point, once you’ve assimilated and committed to keeping your hangovers confined to non-workday mornings and feel like you’ve got it all under control, you’ll wake up one morning and be super homesick. It will strike without warning, too. One day you’re on the beach, sipping prosecco with your besties marveling to yourself, “Self…you are one lucky bitch!” And the next day? Bam. Life on a rock sucks, sucks, sucks. WTF, right?
If you’re lucky you can just whip out your credit card and buy a plane ticket back to the place you miss most, but many times that just isn’t an option. For many reasons. Finances. Work commitments. Lack of vacation time. High season. Whatever. And you find yourself stuck, nursing a bad case of “I want to go hoooooooome.” (And if you’re REALLY homesick, you think you actually want to move back to the land of convenience.) But you can’t do the one thing you really, really want to do. Escape.
At which point you’ve got a choice. Throw yourself a pity party for one (strangely the one type of island party nobody else ever wants to attend, no matter how much free alcohol you throw into the mix)…or…you work through it.
And while I’ve chosen option one on occasion, option two is a far better long-term solution.
How you work through it depends on you, of course. But I’ve found a few strategies that work for me.
Make yourself go out and do something you love. Even if you don’t feel like it. For me, it is kiteboarding (if there’s wind) or standup paddleboarding (if the wind gods are on vacay). There’s just something about reminding yourself why you moved someplace in the first place that re-wires your brain and puts you in a happy place. It used to be hiking in the Cascades when I lived in the PNW. But now it is feeling the warm ocean water spilling over me that soothes the chaos in my head and washes away my longing for being someplace else.
Remind yourself of all the reasons why you left in the first the place. Remembering the insane traffic, grumpy people and gloomy weather I left behind in the PNW is usually enough to knock me out of my island funk. And if that doesn’t work, I remember the Upper Midwestern snowstorms of the first three decades of my life. Presto! My current situation looks pretty damn good.
Do something new. Ok, so this last one might seem impossible. After all, if you’ve spent any significant amount of time on a tiny speck of land in the middle of the sea, you might feel like you’ve “been there, done that” to everything. But there is always something new to try. Learn the local language (if you haven’t yet, like me…bad Island Girl, I know). Try a new sport (yeah I mock the windsurfers often, but only because I’ve heard it is super-hard to learn…and I don’t want to suck at it). Join a group or volunteer your time (every island has countless charities and social organization that could use your help).
Whatever you decide to do, do something. Because wallowing in your homesickness – especially when you simply cannot leave your rock is, quite simply, no bueno.
The only other alternative, unfortunately, is to drink your cares away. And that is not a good idea, for so many reasons (beyond the mid-week hangovers and increasing body mass). Sure Island Girls joke (often) about beers for breakfast or post funny FB pics of our shopping carts loaded with bottles of booze or Instagram the hell out of ourselves toasting with glasses of prosecco on the beach (#islandgirl, #lifeisgood, #proseccoparty, anyone?), but that is (hopefully) a slight exaggeration of how we actually spend our lives. In fact, we’re far less the party animals than what we’d lead you to believe on social media (Say what? Social media isn’t real?!). But, shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone. We have our carefree, island images to maintain.
Anyway…I’ve been very homesick lately. Like crying-on-the-terrace-in-the-dark-with-a-glass-of-whiskey-in-my-hand-wondering-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life homesick. Obviously, I don’t always follow my own advice. Although if I am honest, as I’ve lived so many places, I’m not sure where I’m actually longing to be. Anywhere other than here, I guess. Classic expat predicament. With no plane ticket in my immediate future. Yes, it happens to the heartiest Island Girl now and again. No, I won’t be Instagramming this shit.
But instead of wallowing in my misery (well except for that one night on the terrace with the whiskey), I pumped up my kite and let Mother Ocean do her thing. Which is probably what I needed in the first place, anyway. Not a plane ticket. Just some alone time doing what I love most. And it seems to have worked. While I am still admiring the fall foliage in the mountains (via friends’ social media pics), I don’t feel the anxiety and ready-to-burst-into-tears-at-any-moment feelings I had just a few days ago.
And so it seems the magnificent Rolling Stones were right…while you cannot always get what you want…if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
I’m a writer living on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Originally from the U.S., I followed my heart to the tropics in 2011 at the wizened age of 43. Since then, I’ve been blogging to inspire and entertain. I love kitesurfing, a good gin & tonic, and corgis.
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