Saturday, August 29, 2015

Relocation Part 3: Surviving vs Thriving on the Island

Sorry this post is a little later than planned... our internet has been down for about 4 days and counting now. Right now, I'm hijacking a feed from my neighbors while they are out surfing :) We still have our cell phones, but we're about to head into Tropical Storm Erika, so I'd rather not burn through all my data just yet.

Communicating to the masses from one screen (or book or whatever form) to the next is a wonderful thing at times, but a horrible form of communication at others. You are often left wondering what the receiving end might be 'hearing' and if that was your overall intention to begin with. Humbly I ask that you understand, I am by no means an "Expert on moving to Exuma" or an expert on anything for that matter, and I am well aware of that. I have my opinions like anyone else, and that is all I'm expressing here. Take it with a grain of salt, or sand or whatever you fancy.

This is the final post on our Moving to the Island Series. We've covered: 
Now, this is about Surviving vs Thriving the Island! All too often we'll hear tourists that have been here for a few short days saying things like,
"Oh yeah, I can totally get used to this. I'm gonna open my own 
beach bar and just live this slow-paced island life! It'll be like a vacation all the time." 

All you need to do is look around for the locals that are giving each other the 'here we go again' looks to see who really lives here and who doesn't. Exuma isn't an easy place to live for many people, yet it is paradise to others. The trick is digging deep and asking yourself which side of the fence you may fall on, and what you are looking to get out of Life on the Island.  

While we, personally, choose to live here, there are many living on this island that do not have the luxury to choose, or the option to pack up and move and many of them do feel trapped. There are some, on the other hand, that are quite content to be on their little rock and living a peaceful life. It isn't easy all the time. Remember our little quiz on the last post?? I think the shock of the inconveniences and lack of "stuff" is a really hard pill to swallow, and sometimes that in itself is enough for people to runaway from this place. 

By "stuff" I mean:
-modern conveniences (drive-thru banks, 24-hour shopping, easy online ordering, public transportation,etc)
-technology advancements (reliable high-speed internet, online shopping through the Bahamas, email for businesses, online community info, etc)
-shopping (NO stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, Kroger, Sams Club, Best Buy, etc)
-entertainment (no playgrounds, splash pads, movie theaters, bowling, arcades, sports teams, etc)
-dining experiences (no fast food or chain restaurants, only local owner places and local cuisine, etc)
-sports associations (no real leagues for baseball, soccer, swimming, karate, gymnastics, dance, etc--just small parent led groups with a handful of kids for best case scenario)
 and many other things that may come to mind...we simply don't have it.

Compared to towns in the US, Canada, Europe and even compared to Nassau (the capital city of the Bahamas), Exuma is lacking in many areas. For starters, we don't have the money or population to maintain most of that "stuff". Next, the handful of people you find around the island that are actively doing things, supporting it financially or lending their time and energy to make the clubs happen and organizations run are spread thin trying to do too much so they just can't do anymore. Finding people to step up and take the lead is hard. Perfect example, our main "city" on the island of George Town doesn't have a fire engine. A town in the northeast US donated 3 fire engines to the island, but the island needs to raise the money to get them here and for the firehouse. One of the smallest settlements on the island, Barraterre, is the only settlement to do this so far. It's hard to get the island as a whole to really Work Together!

I understand there are many seasons in our lives that we are simply trying to survive. We're not looking for bells and whistles, but just that little light at the end of a long, dreary tunnel. Whether you're a mom to a newborn baby (or 4 like my friend Leigh is right now) and going through the sleep deprivation season, or the sweet grandmother that is battling with Leukemia (or maintaining remission like my mom is right now) or the dad who lost his job because the company downsized and is trying to figure out how to support his family... or whatever tough season you may be in... there are times to merely survive. I don't believe the place you call home should be something to just survive. 

As a kid, I remember feeling very torn with each move we made. You get so excited to be going somewhere new, and for a while all you can see is the positive for the new place and negative for the current place. 

 "Oh, I'm so glad we won't be shoveling 6 inches of snow off the car every winter anymore" 
 "I can't wait for that warm tropical weather!"

Then, just before you move, as you're saying your farewells to friends, family, your home and community, that's when you start to truly appreciate what you do have there and what you will miss.

"Man, I didn't realize we had so many friends here that have been with us through all this!"
"How on earth is Gracie going to survive without her best friend?"

Next thing you know, you've arrived to that NEW place and suddenly you're overwhelmed with not knowing where the best grocery store is, or who the most reliable mechanic is, or which neighborhood is the safest. It's tough, anyone that has moved will tell you that moving is tough. Moving to an island is no different. You get here and then you can only see the negative.

"Oh my word, it is ALWAYS hot here, does it ever cool off?"
"I can't believe milk cost that much, how on earth are we going to eat?"

Thriving on the Island of Exuma is no different than thriving in the small town of Wakefield, Kansas or Deming, Washington or Jacksonville, Alabama (shout-out to some old stomping grounds). You have to make an effort to make it home. You have to get out and familiarize yourself with the community, meet the people, get involved, learn some local ways and appreciate them.

There is a history of distrust from Bahamian people to many foreigners that come to their islands, buy their land and open businesses or even just build their nice beach homes. Typically, foreigners in the Bahamas are viewed as very wealthy. Due to the fact that the Bahamas can make money off of foreign investors, they have increased the cost of nice beachfront, hilltop and ocean view property. Few natives can afford such property, so they see the foreigners as someone coming in, taking their land, and spending a couple weeks out of the year here.  It's a love/hate relationship, because the wealthy beachfront properties that people can rent for the week or month by the thousands is nice because it brings in visitors to the island, folks eat, take tours, buy liquor, rent cars, and generally help keep us all going down here with tourism. But it is also very frustrating because you see this incredible home on this incredible piece of property that would be amazing to live in (not just vacation in), and many locals are stuck back 'in da bush' with no view, no breeze, swarming with mosquitoes, and squeezing large families in tiny homes.

I would like to remind anyone building homes here, current home owners, native Exumians, Bahamians from other islands, long term visitors, anyone living here.... even if you're only on the island a few weeks out of the year, or simply following a loved one with their work

Don't stay shut up in your house, in your own alternate-reality or dwelling on what Exuma doesn't have or always doing everything on your own. You won't last long.

Locals will always have a hard time accepting you into the community if you can't reach out to them, but more importantly, we all need each other to really thrive. I'm not saying throw wads of cash at them, sure that helps sometimes if you're in a position to help financially, but I'm saying volunteer your time and skills to help make OUR community better. It belongs to you now too if you are living here (home owner or not, long term or short). The foreigners that are LOVED all over the island are the ones that you see out impacting the community. It's a small island. Everyone knows who helps and contributes and who doesn't. There are tons of ways to HELP!!!!!

-in the schools and after-school programs
-teach the kids basketball, karate, yoga, dance, baseball, track & field, piano, guitar, art, photography, golf, tennis, swimming, sailing, computer skills, cooking, baking, sewing, design, READING!!!!! (so many kids struggle with reading down here), etc
-pack boxes for food distribution, bake goodies for that neighbor up the road who is taking care of 13 grandkids and 4 nieces and nephews, donate food to the distribution, etc
-help your other neighbor install plumbing for an indoor bathroom, help repair schools, etc
-help head up a fundraising committee to organize getting the fire truck to the island

If you want specific contacts for certain programs that are already going on... just ask around. We'll help, folks at the stores around here are full of information, the Ministry of Social Work, Exuma Foundation.... the info is out there, you just have to look for it!

When we first moved to the island, Dallas and I worked for a high end resort. Part of our initial training in the company was driving home the point that we could not tell a guest "No!" No matter what they asked us, the answer could not be "No". They may ask, "Is it going to snow today?" and we'd have to say something like,
"It's not likely, but I'll look into that for you" {insert unamused emoticon here}.  And funny note about that particular hotel... they left after about 4 years down here. The word NO is healthy folks. Sometimes you just need to hear it. In order to thrive here, you have to be okay with hearing that word at times, and you need to realize that money can't change all your problems down here. Even if you can afford that part for your car, it may be half way around the world and it will take time to get here, even expedited. And the guys working at BTC (telephone company) may take a little bribe to come check your internet faster, but ultimately, someone else on a different island or somewhere else needs to do something before it will get fixed. So you wait or change your plans... just be flexible!

You live in Exuma because it's different! It isn't like every other place in the world, and you take the good with the bad. Your kids are safe running around playing with their friends and you don't fear for your life every time you go to the food store wondering if some crazy person is going to follow you home and hold you at gun point. You get to spend TONS of time boating, playing at the beach and exploring the ocean around you. An ocean that is crystal clear, full of life and so unbelievably beautiful that you have a hard time describing it to others. You live here because the simple things in life are still precious to you, like having a job that allows you to spend more time with your family than at the office. Whatever your reason is for being here, you must dwell on what you're gaining by living here and not what you think you're missing or doing without. 

You're considering moving to Exuma, you've heard some info about living on the island, how to really make the island feel like home, now it is ultimately up to you to make it down here! Just remember Exuma is a REAL island, where REAL people live and work REAL jobs to survive. And we have to work pretty hard too, it's not a vacation all the time!


Mika said...

Thank you for writing this series of posts on moving to Exuma. I've been following your blog and FB page for a couple months.

I've been traveling all over looking for a place I think I would enjoy living for a change (I have lived in Europe, Canada and a few places in the US, currently in FL)

We visited Exuma last month (July) and I really enjoyed it and it's definitely at the top of my list of places to visit again and research further as a possible option.

Your posts have been very enlightening and helpful for someone who hasn't ever lived in that kind of environment, only as an outsider looking in. Some of the points you brought up in your 2nd post would not be things I'd have thought of until/unless they actually happened.

I also just finished reading "Life on a rock" by K.A. Albury, which was an easy read and also an eye opener in some ways about life on a remote Cay. I recommend it to anyone considering a move like this, and it is just a fun read anyway.

Thanks again. Glad you (and we) didn't get much of a storm from Erika even though it can be frustrating after doing all the prep work.

Out-Island Explorers said...

Thank you so much for the comment! I'm glad to hear some of this may have helped. That book comes highly recommended, thanks for sharing it. We'll be keeping most of our storm prep 'prepped' in case Fred or another storm find their way close to us this time of year. Glad you guys were in the clear too. I'm waiting to get some more info to email to you, hopefully it won't take long :)

Anonymous said...

Just nother thanks for taking the time to record your thoughts. Never know who might benefit out here on the www! My mothers people are from Mobile (and they all went to that other school) and the other side from NC, where we live in the mountains. I was born Grand Bahama and lived there w my family for several years then returned to the states. I've been back several times but after my mom died 12 years ago from Leukemia (aml) I went down to get my Bahamian passport, because it was important to her. Since then I've gotten the kids theirs, who have been to Abaco only once.

On that trip in 2003 or 2004, I went to Exuma and rented a sea kayak and got dropped off in B.Terre. I loved it, but after many days alone I saw a couple sail in from the sound and drop the hook. I was back near square rock by then. I was fascinated with their program, I just hadn't given much thought to traveling by boat before. They had gallons of water and ice! I've been a farmer for my career, and I did not grow up yachting, or doing anything along those lines. Actually leaving North Carolina winter and being plopped down there was pretty adventurous for me, but you know the reality of paddling those waters in winter, outside of the fronts. water and sun were biggest part, and sand fleas.

Anyway, I went home, learned to sail, and got our kids out on many offshore and inshore adventures. They're 17 and almost 21 and so my wife and I are thinking about moving down at some point, and perhaps buying an affordable lot around Michelson or something, and building a very basic home. I have always wanted to give back in the Bahamas and contribute to island agriculture in some way. Haven't figured out how yet, but we'll see what the needs and resources are when we end up there. Besides running a larger farms w sustainable practices, I've also worked in Cuba, leading programs there for several years related to agriculture. That's the right model for Bahamian climate, but the culture is much less conducive to farming in the Bahamas. In Cuba it is the first place for privatization and a farmer can make good money, and was seen as a substantive way to support the revolution all along anyway. In '91 they starved when the USSR collapsed, so they figured out organic vegetable production in their climate and have drawn a lot of attention w their success.

Long comment, mostly wanted to just say thanks, and all the best to your family.