Category Archives: aruba

dushi island home

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Last year around this time I wrote about what it feels like to settle into a daily routine living in another country. I was excited to report about the shift in mind that took place once I realized I was no longer a tourist. Spend enough time in another country and this shift becomes even more pronounced. It begins to feel as if life has always been this way. Sunday afternoon at the beach year-round. Sipping on soursop smoothies. Following yoga instructions in Dutch and Papiamento. Chasing lizards out of your kitchen. Listening exclusively to Caribbean rhythm on your car stereo. There are days when it seems like I have always done these things. The mind can play tricks on you when you slip away across borders.  

That is the only way I know how to describe what happened: One hot summer day I serendipitously slipped out of my country. I didn’t plan far in advance. I didn’t plot out a course of action years ahead of my departure date. I never thought that someday soon I would board a plane and fly away from home. Looking back, I realize now that all of it was quite arbitrary. So it feels odd to begin to feel rooted here after such a chance landing on this island, some 20 months ago. It’s the kind of experience that will make you forever question Where is home? Is it always defined by a plot of soil on earth? Could it also be a state of mind? And if place is inextricably meshed with identity, could it be the case that some of us are more inclined to put pieces of places together so as to best, most authentically, shape our sense of self, especially the wanderlust types?

Texas is where I was born. I grew up in the grit of a concrete and glass city. I moved to New Mexico when I was 17, at my first opportunity to live life out from under the roof of my parents. I spent six years there; those mountains are a part of me now. My dreams take me to other places that feel like home because they are in sync with my spirit. These are cities, countries and regions that I have traveled to again and again. Some where I have a stayed weeks, maybe a month or longer. Others where I have spent entire summers. These are the places that speak to me through books and call me to come home and stay awhile: Mexico, the Redwoods, New York City, the Andes, Big Bend, Italy, San Francisco and so on. Now I pay taxes on a desert island in the Dutch Caribbean. I have a doctor and a dentist assigned to me here as a result. Aruba is home for now.

Home for me then has become a patchwork of places more so than an actual structure or dot on a map. Some of these pieces are bigger than others, but all have shaped who I am. And in doing so, my mind is definitively more open and my soul has stepped far beyond what was possible staying put in just one place. I’m hoping Aruba will be a rather large piece of this work in progress because, simply put, it is paradise here, and I want this piece of paradise to be with me forever.

It’s not just the white sand and turquoise sea that make it paradise. I think it also has something to do with island geography because island life is not like life lived on any other landscape. There is something about being completely surrounded by sea that changes everything people once told you about how you should live your life. Perhaps it is because islands are solitary specs on the map, far-flung from the continents and their conventions. Who knows? What I do know is that less emphasis is placed overall on living life according to rules. Life here is always about living in the moment.

Loitering? What’s that? There are few rules about loitering here as far as I can tell. Community ties are important, and men meet at the corner store after a hard day at work to drink Balashi. The store clerk opened the bottle of beer for them on the way out the door. Then they stand in a circle or take a seat on the curbside next to their buddies. No tickets to worry about for parking in the wrong space or in the wrong direction. Celebration is an essential part of life, and you can park anywhere you want in order to get to the parade on time. 

Apart from the freedom that comes with a bit of lawlessness, it is the people I have met here who truly make this place paradise. The people of Aruba are always happy, and there is a reason the license plates read One Happy Island. Just yesterday, we stopped for a drink late afternoon at the White Hill Bar in San Nicolaas. It is family owned and operated, like most businesses here. After ordering drinks and taking music requests, the daughter, who was busy making tamales in the kitchen, brought out Carnaval costumes for us to wear while we sipped our beers on the breezy outdoor patio. Eventually she came outside to join us, only this time disguised as an old man in a latex mask. Celebration here is a state of mind. It is part of the everyday, so it is to be expected everywhere you go. At any moment, a waitress might change into an old man and dance around the table, and you better be ready to get up and dance too. Basically, be ready to do anything on a whim because there are no excuses for not living in the moment. 

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Of course this wouldn’t be the first time I have danced around in costumes on a Saturday afternoon. But there is something here that I never could find in the United States. It can only be found through making friends with people from around the world when you are the one who is the immigrant with a working visa, immersed in a crisscross land of cultural traditions that mix and mingle.

It is a borrowed mindset that becomes your own after repeated experiences living amongst other cultures, after long conversations about the meaning of life with someone from another part of the world. So much of what has brought me joy – and relief – living life here is the notion that I can completely forget what I was programmed to believe about happiness in the United States.

There is nothing like Dutch directness to slap away neurotic American assumptions about what is truly important. It’s like throwing out a long list of ingredients to a recipe that doesn’t work and replacing everything with a few quality staples to always keep in mind. Excessive consumerism and media consumption, toss all of it. Ditch the Botox, Dysport, and Juvederm. You can throw out the teeth whitener while you are at it (you won’t find any of that here anyway). Focus on collecting experience over stuff, that is one of the staples. Get outside, move, relax, enjoy, and just be you are other essential ingredients. And above all else, don’t do anything because everyone does it that way according to age, gender, etc. Finally, add a heaping spoonful of Caribbean celebration and a dash of Dutch quirky humor and pragmatic thinking, and you are well on your way to discovering the taste of freedom. 

I’m certainly not here to knock the United States, although I do worry a great deal when I tune in to the evening news for the five minutes I allow myself to stay informed, but not go insane. I guess I left at a convenient time because it has become clear to me that I have far more in common with the values people bring to this island (from all over the world I might add) than those shared by a large portion of people living in the United States. Someday I will slip back across the border much the same way I left, perhaps four years later than I had planned. My hope is that I can carry this giant piece of home from Aruba back with me. I can easily hold on to the Caribbean rhythm. I may be able to find imported soursop somewhere. As for everything else from my Aruba home that I will eventually miss, I can always return during the winter months with a flock of American tourists.

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settling In

 

I love the name of my new neighborhood in Aruba: Tanki Flip.  The two words just seem to complement one another in a happy-go-lucky way. All kinds of sunbeamy images come to mind. A friend of mine mentioned tanki top flip flop when I told everyone where I would be living; both items are useful when living near the beach. Basically you picture blue water and acrobatic type action when you hear the name. Tanki Flip just sounds like someone is inviting you to jump off the high dive into a swimming pool on a sunny day. The actual origin of the word are more grim and gloomy. It is a haunting story of sorts. A tragedy really, albeit a tragedy that takes place in paradise. One story tells about a man, Flip Kelly, who was dejected by his girlfriend and plummeted to his death by jumping into a tank of water. Another story tells us that Flip’s death was accidental, not a suicide. Rather he was riding his horse when the poor creature took a tumble in the mud, plunging head on into the water. Poor Flip was all tangled up and drowned in the water alongside his horse. Regardless of which story you adhere to, Flip flipped into a tank of water and drowned to death. Hence the name Tanki Flip. So much for sunshine, cool breeze, and blue water.

I just moved into my house here in Tanki Flip and am slowly settling in as a resident on the island of Aruba. I love my neighborhood and the mix of people living in it. My next door neighbors are Dutch on one side, and the neighbors on the other side just moved here from Venezuela. The neighbors across the way speak Papiamento, the native island tongue. They had a wild fiesta the first night I slept here. That was the same night all the electricity went out for no apparent reason, which I am told happens all the time around here. Then there is the gatekeeper for our tiny cul de sac who confirmed for me that there really is a tank of water in the neighborhood of Tanki Flip. I call him a gatekeeper because he lives off the main road in front of our cluster of houses behind him. None of these roads have names. We all take the name Tanki Flip as our address. There are no street addresses in Aruba, and all of the resident numbers are clustered together haphazardly. He claims his family once owned the land where my house stands. He is collector of sorts. He collects all kinds of stuff which he proudly displays all around his house. He also collects the stories of the land and people in Tanki Flip. He seems to have the background story on all who reside in this area. He was very pleased when I knocked on his door and introduced myself, admitting he had wondered about me and what I was doing here, as if a spaceship dropped an alien into his village.

So there are some immediate adjustments that one must make when moving into any new home. There are things you instantly love about your new place and other things that present pesky inconveniences. I love the Dutch door that opens off my kitchen into the backyard and the windows that invite all of the light and island breeze inside, but maybe not all of the lizard, scorpions, and snakes that find their way through those windows and door.

All of this is accentuated when you move overseas. And even more so for me because I didn’t get one of those all inclusive packages, the furnished place with electricity, water and such. I didn’t move furniture from home because it would not have been cost effective. Instead, I edited an entire life of contents to fit into six suitcases, which I checked at baggage, spending more than the price of my plane ticket. Still that was way less expensive than shipping even a few small boxes. Therefore, I spent my first few weeks here finding my way around to places like WEB, Aruban water utilites; Elmar, Aruban electricity; Setar, Arubantelecommunications; and Cas di Max, a furniture store where I bought a bed.

Eventually, I discovered arubadeal.com which is the equivalent of a Craigslist here. It is a great site for buying furniture since you can pay a fortune here to buy furniture of very low quality. I just got a great price on a 2,000 dollar sofa from a very sweet family who just moved here from Curacao. It is also very expensive to get many household and personal items so you learn early to live with only what is essential. Are zip lock bags really necessary? How much plastic do I really need to live my life? I feel like I am truly living the tenets of reduce and reuse.  Everything at home is so very cheap and plentiful; American consumption is not a myth. Things here are super expensive so you have to prioritize your shopping list to include only the things that you absolutely need. Services are expensive as well, and everyone on the island is resourceful with the use of airco, or air conditioning. Many houses only have airco in one room. Everyone here opens their windows to use the constant trade winds as air conditioning. Still it really isn’t very cool because it is always hot outside, even by Texas standards, so you have to learn ways to deal with the heat. I’m learning to drink a lot of cold water, which is very easy to do here because it is clean and delicious right out of the faucet. Desalinations of seawater provides the island with its only source of water. No more lugging bottles of water to and from Whole Foods.

Ironically, the best way to beat the heat is just to get out in it because there is always a beach involved in just about any activity you take part in on the island. My favorite beach so far is Baby Beach. We went snorkeling there the weekend before last. It is located in the southern most point of the island, St. Nicholas, where the goats and donkeys roam free. After Baby Beach, we went to eat dinner at Zeerovers where the fisherman dock and deliver the catch of the day. Dinner in Aruba usually takes place outside so you can watch the sunset. There is so much nature to take in all around the island. I can’t wait to go to Arikok. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any new friends who shares my enthusiasm for the Donkey Sanctuary or the Aruba Butterfly Farm, so, perhaps, I will save those excursions to take when friends and family from home visit. I have a long list of places to explore and document along the way. Basically every step you take outside is an adventure. Even running errands is fun. I have some errands to run right now. I am on a quest to find blinds and curtains.

my first 48 hours

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Day 1 – I arrived last night, well after sunset  (between 6 – 7 PM here, year-round) with 6 oversized suitcases. I had to lug them all through customs after a bit of an interrogation by immigration. The marimba players in baggage claim really helped soothe my frayed nerves. I met Richi, owner of Richi Rentals, who was holding a homemade sign that read Tiffany Lewis. He promptly asked, “Can you drive a standard?” Apparently, that was all he had left to rent. Business must be good at Richi Rentals. I passed his little test drive in the parking lot and was on my way, shot out behind the wheel of a jerky stick shift onto the roads of a dark island with no visible landmarks and multiple detours due to road construction along the main highway. Welcome to Aruba. 

This morning was equally as rough because I didn’t find coffee until around 9:30. Driving a standard without coffee is about as much fun as driving one in a foreign country in the dark. I made it to Superfood, had a hefty Dutch breakfast, and then went to check in on the house I’m renting with the leasing place, Aruba Happy Rentals. Mostly I just needed to pick up authorization forms so that I could set up utilities since I am not a citizen of this country. Then I was off to a luncheon with new teachers on the waterside. We shared the surf and turf platter. Both teachers just arrived yesterday: one from the Netherlands and the other from Egypt. After lunch, we went to the Aruba Bank where I quickly cashed a check for my relocation allowance. On the way inside, I witnessed a stray dog hunt iguana in the parking lot for lunch. I have never seen a dog with such a high spring in his steps as that dog when he pranced away from the bushes with an iguana wringing about in his jaws.

To end the day, I drove to the south side of the island to visit WEB (water utilities in Aruba) and set up water at the new place, Tanki Flip. After connecting the water, I got lost in Tanki Flip trying to find said new place. There are no street names in Aruba and the house numbers are not in any kind of order. Tanki Flip is not like any neighborhood I have ever seen, almost like another planet. I finally found the house and realized I’m going to have to give up my 2 mile walk twice a week, at least in my new neighborhood, due to the fact that there are too many stray dogs,donkeys and goats all over this island. I will walk along the beach instead I suppose; the iguanas seem harmless.

 

Day 2 – I still need to solve the coffee in the morning situation. Mornings are rough. I’ve made my way to Superfood each morning to start the day with breakfast and one strong cup of coffee. Today, connecting electricity and buying a bed were the big boxes to check off on my very long list of things to do. I mapped out my routes online and stashed Aruban Florins away in my wallet.

On my way to Elmar (electric company) I missed a turn on to the main street, which was a fabulous mistake because I got to dodge hundreds of jars of Jiffy peanut butter that flew off the back of a flatbed truck in front of Hooters. Some of the peanut butter jars busted open and there was peanut butter smeared all over the street pavement. I think my tires may have even made peanut butter tracks. Once I was finally on the main road, I soon ventured off what had been my anchor to driving in Aruba to find Elmar inland. That took me into another world altogether.

The streets became very narrow and congested with tiny Hyundais and Kias that frenetically zip up and down and out from nowhere. I think speed is how the natives distinguish themselves from the tourist. My periphery vision is overworked, because not only are you having to contend with all the Speed Racer native islanders, but you also have to look out for pedestrians who constantly cross the road (no crosswalks) and all kinds of stray animals and bicycles and other unexpected things like peanut butter.Things are constantly coming at you from all directions. To make things extra chaotic, all the radio stations are in Papiamento, which is this amalgamation of African, Dutch, Spanish and Native American. Driving has been the toughest part so far.

The utility companies have been an unexpected pleasure. Everyone told me it would be a nightmare, but I really think the Dutch aesthetic of all government and business buildings helps me to relax and enjoy it all. The interior design is beautiful and the buildings don’t feel like you are going to jail, as it can sometimes feel in the States. Everything went very smoothly for the most part, but then I decided to swing by my school for directions to the furniture store because I was suspicious of how easily everything was coming together.

I was lucky to just come across Elmar because I was really very lost when it appeared. Mapping out my route online proved to be pointless. There are no road signs here so everyone gives directions by landmarks (turn right at the big tree) and roundabouts (all intersections in Aruba are roundabouts). I have to give myself an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere because I will inevitably take a wrong turn or miss something along the way. Because of all of this, I knew it would be helpful to just have a friend at work draw me another map of circles and tall trees.

The furniture store was near my school and had signs posted to help me find my way. Cas di Max is what it is called. I heard I could get a good deal on a mattress there, which I believe to be my most important purchase because I so enjoy my sleep. Paul, the sales guy and owner, was very helpful. His sales pitch went something like this: I always tell people that buying a mattress is a lot like buying a bra. I spent way more money on the mattress than I wanted, so I guess his sales pitch worked.

After that, I decided to go to Arashi beach and reward myself for tackling both items on my agenda before 1 PM, even after the late start due to the coffee debacle. The beach was just amazing. It’s the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. I haven’t found the words yet to describe it. Then I met up with a teacher friend who just arrived from Florence. She lives in the complex where I am staying until my house is ready. We walked across the street to Bingo for a Heineken and snack platter of strange Dutch meaty morsels, including Bitterballen (I’m still not sure what’s stuffed in these balls?) Then we took her to get a new mountain bike, which turned out to be too far away for her to ride it back, so I suggested that she ask the sales man to force fit it in the back of my Hyundai as part of the deal. He miraculously was able to do so, but then we had to drive back home like a clown car at the circus.

Anyway, I just got home and the sun is about to set.  That is all I have to report now. I will write more later.