10 truths I’ve learned living in aruba

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The school year just ended, along with a two-year commitment I signed up for when I agreed to move to Aruba back in March of 2015. I remember telling friends around that time that I just needed to go live on a Caribbean island for a couple of years and clear my head. I’d dealt with a lot of loss in 2014. It’s all part of life I know, but 2014 really delivered punch after punch. I knew I needed to focus on all the things in life I could do instead of those things in life I had lost or would never have. Moving to Aruba with that mindset turned out to be a powerful formula for pushing myself forward to survive many challenges that could have knocked me out completely. Here I am on the other side of it all, and I have decided to stick around on this island a little longer because I feel like I still have so much to discover and learn, not only about Aruba and all the nearby places to travel in South America and the Caribbean, but I also still need to figure out where it is I go from here. I’m not certain what the next step will be, but here are a few truths that I know for sure now after living here:

1. Keep a machete under your kitchen sink. It’s useful for gardening, especially whacking the palm leaves of coconut trees. But it also can be used to protect yourself, or so explained my neighbor when he gave it to me.

2. Books are disappearing. Or maybe it just feels that way when you live on an island because books in English are rare and people here tend to hold on to them until the musty brown pages fall apart. Living life with these relics makes you feel like books have already vanished from our world. Something about all of this has me reading more now than ever, as if I am in a race to read up all the books I can before they are gone forever.

3. Travel really is the best form of therapy. Nothing compares to travel when you are trying to figure out the deeper meaning of life. It puts everything into perspective. The world is beautiful and disastrous at the same time. It isn’t a perfect system, but travel always makes life seem more like an amusement park than anything else. And it inevitably lets you see everything through the same lens you used as a child.

4. If you are moving to a desert island, be sure to bring a supply of bedsheets. You won’t find any with the thread count available in the States. It is probably a good idea to bring towels as well.

5. Plastic has got to go, along with American consumption. You will see the devastation up close anytime you walk along a shoreline that isn’t in the tourist areas, obscene amounts of plastic swallowing up every pebble of sand. What are we doing to our planet? We only think we need this stuff. After living without all the things you used to buy as an American consumer because these things are hard to come by on an island, you realize you never needed all that stuff in the first place. 

6. My life is different from what my mother experienced. And even more so than the life my grandmother lived. As a daughter of the Women’s Movement, I was taught to get an education and build a career before anything else so that I could be financially independent. Only it can be a challenge to make the marriage and family pieces fall together in the few, short years you have left after you have done all of the above. I could blame myself for not reaching each major milestone on time, or I could give myself some slack because I was born to the first generation of women navigating our way across this new and unchartered sociocultural landscape. Regardless, I’m learning that there are more women than I realized who are walking in my how did I get here shoes. I also found out that the Dutch tend to skip the marriage part altogether, especially the big expensive wedding. Maybe American women could use a little less pressure and a lot more flexibility when it comes to putting all the pieces together.

7. You can’t get away with wearing anything less than SPF 50 on your décolletage. Repeat after me, you can’t get away with anything less than SPF 50. Don’t even try. And don’t forget to put sunscreen there because you routinely put SPF 30 everywhere else, so you skip that part of your body out of habit until you can dig around in your beach bag to find SPF 50, but then someone asks you a question or offers you a Balashi and the applying sunscreen thing never happens. Ouch! Which brings me to truth number 8.

8. Aloe Vera is a miracle plant. It is a cure-all for all that ails your epidermis and can be taken internally to strengthen immunity and fight inflammation. And coconut oil could receive an honorary award behind aloe. After that, a trip to the beach can cure just about anything, but you won’t be able to go if you do not follow truth number 7 above. I’m grounded from the beach today as a result.

9. Normal is boring. This is what I tell myself anyway when dealing with my family. I know everyone says that their family is nuts, but mine is the extreme kind of eccentric, as in certain behaviors border on seeking out answers to question such as, is this safe, is this legal, and when do I consult an expert or an authority? I’m pretty much upfront and honest with all of my friends about my dysFUNctional family, and I depend on my friends quite a bit for support since I am an only child. Friends in Aruba tell me again and again that having a normal family would be boring. It is such a relief to give up on normalcy. And at least I know I will always have a story to tell even if I am stuck in the middle of Kansas somewhere. My family and upbringing have certainly provided an endless amount of material.

10. Develop island time patience. You have no other choice; otherwise, you may experience a rise in blood pressure or some other stress related symptom. Nothing runs on time here. A store may or may not be open when they say they will. You will wait for hours in government offices, and they always shut down early on Fridays, as in they will be closed even though you left work early to rush and arrive thirty minutes before closing. I just went to pick up laundry a few minutes ago, and the laundromat was completely shut down at 11:30 when the sign posted clearly states that they are open from 8:00 – 2.00. My frustration becomes a little less so every time something like this happens. Daily life on an island is like some kind of ongoing zen practice. You have to learn to expect delays and respond with calmness and, then, depending on the situation, utilize some creative thinking skills. As of now, I have no clothes, but maybe that means I get to go shopping for a truly original piece at one of Aruba’s many boutiques. Perhaps some kind of synthetic off the shoulder number in pink or yellow neon.

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5 thoughts on “10 truths I’ve learned living in aruba

  1. Gretchen

    Although I’ve never lived abroad, a couple of your points above strike a chord: #6 and #10. I didn’t marry until I was 39 and then had a very small wedding. I always joke that I skipped my first marriage. My parents had other expectations, but I needed to do things in my own time. And I’m glad I did. #10 rings true due to lots of time spent in Jamaica and Costa Rica. It is *so* freeing to work on developing that “island time patience.” I’ve actually been working to transfer that to life in Dallas. Does the 5 minutes it takes to wait on the elderly woman in the grocery store line who is writing a check really make a difference in my life? Maybe the 15 minutes I’m struck in traffic allows me to avoid an accident I would have been in otherwise. I often think of those who avoided being killed in the 9/11 attacks because they were stuck in a line at Starbucks or their child’s daycare opened late. I truly believe we are where we are meant to be at any given time. That’s hard to accept, but I work on it daily. Thank you for your wonderful posts, Tiffany!

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  2. arubatlewis Post author

    I enjoy staying in touch via your comments. I also believe we are exactly where we are meant to be. It’s funny because I was receiving signs many years ago to work abroad. Julia Czyz was always trying to sell me on the idea. She urged me countless times to consider it and said I would be perfect for it. And then it was a random piece of paper buried in a suitcase full of letters that I came a across while looking for something else that really sealed the deal for me. It was an ad from 2005 about ISS and teaching your way around the world. I’d clipped it from the newspaper in my early 30s and then it just landed in my hands ten years later when I had exactly 24 hours to decide whether to take the job or not. I made a lot of big decisions in life based on fear (especially in the #6 category) and I refuse to do that anymore. I think I will always ask myself now how much fear is influencing any major decision I make from this point forward. I also agree about taking the island mentality to life in the states, and I hope to do that someday. It is possible to do. Ultimately, I’d like to live life back and forth between both worlds, because it is easier to hold on to island time when you travel often to be in it. I hope you are having a wonderful summer. Any maybe you are already in Costa Rica.

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    1. Lisa Fuchs

      I am often jealous of you younger women…you have had opportunities and bravery I never had in my youth. I was never encouraged to spread my wings, and my upbringing squelched any bravery needed to do so on my own.

      Later, my choices were moderated by marriage and raising a child, and now by retirement and a stronger need to be present for my granddaughters. But, ohhhh…if I could go back in time…

      I’ll be 70 next year, so I live vicariously now through posts like yours. I love reading about your “adventures” and your introspection. Thank you for letting me into your head!

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  3. arubatlewis Post author

    Yes, I’m fascinated by how much things changed from one generation to the next. I often hear the same stories from my mother and grandmother. And I heard over and over again about how important it was to be completely on my own for a while before committing to a marriage. Looking back, it feels very experimental for those of us who were first, and I think we have learned a good deal about what works and what may need some revision. Thanks for sharing your perspective! I appreciate when women are open and honest about their experiences.

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  4. Vallon

    #2 and #10

    #2. I’ve been inside one book store on Aruba in all my visits to the island( Bruna) and I recall that a lot of the books in the store were in either Dutch or Spanish, there must have been on table where the paperbacks were in English. On my last trip I took books for the daughters of my friend who lives on Aruba. The younger of the two yelled, “WOW!! This book is in English!!” Never realized how books in English were in such short supply on Aruba. The few places where I’ve seen paperbacks in English were in the Superfoods, in the hotel store, and of course in the airport. So it seems like if someone were to open a book store with books, comics, graphic novels etc in English that it would be most welcomed.

    #10. I grew up within Island Time, and for some reason I always make an extra effort to be early and or on time for appointments. Which made me something of an oddity among my friends, who are firm believers in Island Time. Except here it’s called Trini Time, and as the saying goes, “Trini Time is Anytime!!” The only time I’ve ever seen my fellow nations in a rush to get things done in advance or on time is around Christmas or during Carnival. I don’t know which is worse, Island Time or Pura Vida in Costa Rica?

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