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1st Month as an Expat - Catherine Fischer [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Catherine Fischer

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1st Month as an Expat [Sep. 14th, 2002|12:23 pm]
Catherine Fischer
Saturday. The end of my first month in St. Kitts. Some things have come to feel like home, and some things are still so...foreign, I don't know if I'll ever get used to them.

I'm used to the roving packs of dogs, goats, and cows in the middle of downtown. I'm used to the family plot in the cemetery having the family goat on it. I'm used to livestock as lawnmowers. I'm used to finding chickens wandering around in the strangest places -- like, say, the bank, or the hospital -- where they're totally ignored. I'm used to cups sweating more than they contain. I'm used to finding homemade things in recycled bottles with handwritten labels in the grocery store (no safety seals, here). I'm used to absolutely everything closing at 3 pm, and not being open on Thursday afternoons or the weekend at all. I'm used to the power going out several times per week, and the fact that occasionally, we just RUN OUT of water (turn the tap, nothing happens). I'm used to drying my laundry in front of the fan in the kitchen.

But I still can't get used to seeing frigate birds soaring over the harbor, the mountains, the ocean outside my classroom window, my house. My heart lifts in awe and wonder each time they wheel and dive and sail past me.

Nor am I used to seeing mongoose snuffling around the parking lots on the beach, or monkeys playing on the lawn. I'm certainly not used to students having to stomp centipedes to death in the middle of class.

I still can't get used to the line "no; don't have that. Try back in a month when the container ship comes in" in the grocery store (for items I perceive as common, like yogurt). Nor can I seem to get used to ATMs that have the same hours as the banks they're attached to.

Nor am I used to the University of Cuba being referred to as the local University.

I'm used to driving no more than 60 kph (about 40 mph) -- so much so that I'm afraid of driving on the highways back in the States. I'm used to the Island Main Road -- St. Kitts' version of a superhighway -- being clogged with buses that stop in the middle of the road, trucks that stop to pick up junk by the side of the road, tractors pulling wagons full of people trundling at 10 mph down the middle of the road, people that park on opposite sides in the middle of the road to pass the time of day. Driving on the left side of the road seems so natural that I can't even imagine driving on the other side (once again, I fear to drive back in the States). I'm also totally accustomed to the "honk & go around" school of driving: someone stops for no reason without warning in the middle of the road in front of you -- honk & go around. I'm used to the car horn being used as an instrument of communication, not of anger. I'm used to driving with the windows down in rainstorms -- the water will just evaporate within 5 minutes of the rain stopping, anyway, and it's not like getting wet is going to make me the least bit cooler. I'm used to buses being the size of compact cars and cars being the size of motorcycles (my own, for example).

I'm still not used to my turn signal lever being on the same side of the steering column as it is on my car in the States -- I keep trying to signal with my windshield wipers. I'm also not used to the fact that the gas stations do not have a self-serve option -- and the attendant invariably fills the tank until the gas runs down the side of my car and puddles on the ground.

But what I still shake my head about, primarily, is the radio.

There's this phenomenon in the Caribbean whereby people who can't sing redo the sappy, horrid soft-rock hits of the 80s -- with a Caribbean beat. Sometimes they even add extra lyrics, some of which leave me howling with laughter. Like the "I can't believe you've gone and left me" genre song, sung by a woman singer in its original incarnation, with a man's voice overdubbed, telling her why. And then, of course, the songs are interspersed with random bits of information -- like the man from the Cable & Wireless company telling listeners for 5 full minutes of valuable airtime that their cable service will be shut off if they don't pay their bills. I look forward to the hurricane preparedness information program, though -- it's interesting, and the announcer has a wonderful voice, with the best West Indian accent.

Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I get music from Cuba in the middle of the night.

Well, my first lab exam will be next week, so you won't hear from me until it's over, most likely; I'm off to the lab to review our dissection. Alas, I also have to review other people's dissections; they'll all be used on the exam, which means I have to be able to identify the grisly gobbets left behind by people who butchered their approaches. Sigh. My weekly treat -- snorkeling -- will have to be short and sweet today.
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