Category Archives: moving overseas

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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friendly but possibly fake

IMG_8582I moved to Aruba to learn about other cultures, so it’s odd to me that I’ve learned more about my own culture since leaving it all behind. I often find myself identifying in a strange and unexpected way with my American status. Where are you from is the first question people typically ask here. Telling people I am American is a weird thing to have to explain all the time because it’s not really anything I ever said much before. Most of the time I just introduce myself as Texan.

I’ve discovered that there are very few Americans actually living in Aruba. There are, however, plenty of American tourists who flock here, week after week. I see them all over the place. They disembark from a huge bus in a giant mob on these crazy kukoo kunuku tours that go all over the island. They randomly stop to go have a drink during happy hour at a local bar or feed the donkeys for 15 minutes at the Donkey Sanctuary. Then they zoom off to the next location. It’s a bit of jolt when they arrive because they basically travel in an inebriated mass, and you are forced to confront your own culture as a drunk crowd that could easily fill one side of a small stadium, making every stereotype about Americans seem overly exaggerated. Inevitably, my friends and I always laugh and strike up conversations about how others view Americans when we see the bus. Here are a few things I have learned about what others think of Americans, not only from these conversations but also living as an alien in another culture and country.

1. Americans are loud mouths– I had read before moving overseas about the obnoxious American tourist, but nothing prepares you for routine encounters with this particular breed through the lens of living life in another country. Whether it is waiting in line for 3 hours through customs at the airport or pushing my cart down the grocery store aisle, there is no denying the fact that Americans are extremely loud. For the longest time, I would just put my head in my hands, completely mortified while dining out with friends as we listened to Americans destroy the ambiance with their boisterous conversation a few tables over. Nowadays, after going months without any kind of live connection to my land and people, I find myself wanting to talk to these tourists when I see them. I think to myself: there are my people and wouldn’t it be nice to say helloThen I realize after sitting next to them for a while—why bother? I’ve already heard amplified answers to anything I may have wanted to know as they hoot, howl, and holler clear across the room, broadcasting every detail of their life story to everyone around them.

2. We are friendly, but also possibly fake – This is the one I hear the most. It’s a difficult one for me to understand. I am an animated version of this stereotype since I hail from the friendly state of Texas. I am told again and again that Americans are overly polite and welcoming. We are complimented often by people from all over for this trait. Mostly, it is a good thing, but people also explain to me that there is a specific American cadence in our tone and an overuse of positive adjectives that leave other cultures suspicious of our motives. I’m told people from other countries detect an upward inflection at the end of our words and sentences. That and the actual English words we choose to use are also somewhat suspect, words like great and awesome. Is everything really that great and awesome? Aren’t some things just good or maybe only alright? People, mostly Europeans, describe this, especially with first encounters. It is seen as being a bit superficial as if we aren’t really honest about what is happening inside, maybe kind of like we are always smiling for the camera. Like is another word we overuse. I’ve used it twice in the last several sentences.

3. We are poorly traveled – I can trace my family history back to every major epoch in American history.  The Lewis name is derived from Welsh ancestors who arrived in the mid 17th century. My father’s great-grandfather married a woman whose family can be traced back to some of the first settlers at Jamestown. My great great great grandfather was orphaned after losing his Cherokee parents on the Trail of Tears. Then there were the French Huguenots on my mother’s side who fled Normandy and moved to North Carolina at the turn of the 18th century. My maternal grandmother’s Czech ancestors came with the late 19th-century wave of Eastern European immigrants; they arrived penniless and built a fortune in ironworks. These are compelling, epic stories of brave men and women leaving everything they knew behind to take the journey of a lifetime, some voluntarily and others with no other choice.

But it seems that our ancestors were the first and last adventure seekers and trailblazers; their descendants are far too comfortable living out sedentary lives within America’s borders, or even only in one American state. Maybe it is the cost of travel, or, perhaps, it’s the sheer size of the nation and expanse of the land from sea to sea. Maybe Americans simply think the best places to visit are all in the United States. Who knows? If we lived in a smaller country, maybe we would be more likely to cross international boundaries. Whatever the reason, most people believe Americans do not travel enough. They believe Americans do not really know or want to learn about the rest of the world.

4. English is our only language – This one is obvious once you leave the United States. Everyone I meet in Aruba speaks several languages. I routinely receive language instruction from the gas station attendant where I fill up the tank in my Hyundai. Every week I throw out a new word and he can give me the translation in Spanish, Papiamento, and Dutch. I meet people like him all around this place. I’m waiting in line at the grocery store to check out and the cashier speaks to the family in front of me in Dutch, then she greets me in English, and I listen while bagging my groceries as she talks to the couple behind me in Papiamento.

As Americans, we aren’t really forced to learn another language because so many people speak English. There is something rather sad and limiting about only experiencing the world through one language. There is so much joy to be felt when discovering a new word for something you have no translation for in your native tongue. Words work a little bit like magic that way. I may never master French, which was the first language I ever studied. But at least I know I can buy a train ticket in Italy and talk my way through a mordida when driving across the country of Mexico.

One important thing I can do abroad is to continue to study and practice using another language every day, mostly because It is a way of building connections and showing love and respect for other cultures.

5. We sleep with a gun under our pillow – Here is another stereotype I have to contend with all the times as a Texan. I’ve never owned a gun, nor do I ever want to own a gun. Actually, I’ve never felt safer than I have these last 9 months living in Aruba even though there is a makeshift outdoor bar around the corner from my front porch where men from all over the neighborhood start drinking every day at 2pm. They’ve furnished the place with a couple of chairs, a sofa, a pull-a-part car, and a wrecked boat, littering the ground all around are countless bottles of beer and rum. During the evenings my neighbor across the way routinely gesticulates up at the night sky and screams at the canopy of stars above. Do I feel my life is in danger? Should I worry about my safety?

No, not at all, I sleep easier at night knowing my chances of getting shot tomorrow have significantly decreased since leaving my country. Close friends at home have been held up at gunpoint. My family members have been shot while walking to their car after dinner out on the town. They were all lucky to make it out alive. As far as I am concerned, the gun violence at home is rampant and evident even from where I sit perched on this rock far away. Recently, I was the only American in a jam-packed room waiting to pay my electric bill at Elmar while CNN covered another mass shooting in the United States. I looked around the room at all the Aruban faces watching the screen and thought to myself: People around the world must think we are nuts.

6. Americans have lost their minds – Actually, people around the world do think we are nuts. How else could a xenophobic, misogynist become a serious contender for the White House? I remember a friend’s comment before I left last summer. “Aren’t you so relieved to be leaving the country before this circus gets started?” They were just setting up the tents at that point. I thought I could bury my head in the sand and by the time I had cable TV (a 3 month waiting period in Aruba) America would come to its senses. When cable was finally connected in January, he was still there on the screen pointing his finger and shouting out loud about his penis size across my living room during a debate. I thought to myself – Eek, what did he just say? How is this happening? What did we do to deserve this? My friend was spot on with her remark. Yes, I was happy to escape the circus, but that circus has now turned into a terrifying carnival, the kind with distorted mirrors and scary clowns and creepy music, the kind where freak shows are still permissible. People around the world are either pointing and laughing or recoiling in terror at the freak show. Mostly, they are just asking – What are they thinking? 

7. Everything is big – I hear this one all the time, about as often as I hear overly-friendly.  There is an impression that everything in America is bigger. The size of the country is big. American patriotism is super-sized. Not only do they love their country, Americans also really love themselves because I often hear about big American egos. The stores they shop in are colossal warehouses filled with an endless supply of tons of stuff to buy in bulk. They are voracious consumers; their appetite can never be satisfied. We consume things constantly, especially food and beverages in supersize quantities. They like to eat big burgers and steaks and pizzas and hot dogs and wash it all down with extra large sodas. They drive big trucks, especially big white Dodge Ram pickup trucks. Americans are physically big in size and stature and carry around extra pounds of fat. The list goes on. Some big descriptions are positive. Americans are big tippers and give their money generously to charity. But then they can’t understand why we would give away our money.

8. Fend for yourself – There is this glorified American wild west myth of horses and cowboys that still exists to this day. Our American landscape is romanticized by the rest of the world. I remember hearing that one back in 1989 during my first trip to Paris. “Do you ride horses?” I was asked again and again. We were just kids at the time, on tour with our French class, so we answered, “Sure, we ride horses to school every day and wear cowboy boots most days as well.” It was easier to play along. This wild west story lends itself well to the idealism of American ruggedness and individualism. There is this notion that the untamed landscape shaped the American identity. We are seen by others as fiercely independent. You fend for yourself in America. Enter at your own risk and be sure to take some risks along the way, or you may never get ahead. Hopefully, it all works out for you because if it doesn’t, well—it’s the wild west and you’re on your own. Saddle your own damn horse. 

Is any of this true? Who knows? Maybe some of it is true of some but not everyone. Maybe some of it is true in some places but not everywhere. Maybe Americans just need to travel more so others can see how diverse we are as people. People from other countries need to visit America and see how diverse the land is as well. I’m doing my best living on this multicultural island to tell others what a great place The United States is to visit. I make suggestions all the time. I usually throw out something from this list:

Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Spend a week in San Francisco. Camp in the Redwoods. Drive the sand dunes in Oregon. Visit Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle. Go to Mesa Verde and climb inside ruins built by ancient Puebloan people. Hike Moab. Ski Taos. Say a prayer for someone you love inside the cathedral at Chimayo. Spelunk Carlsbad Caverns. Drive the River Road from Presidio to Lajitas. See the mystery lights in Marfa.  Swim Hamilton Pool outside of Austin. Eat tacos and then eat more tacos. Eat some enchiladas too. Smother them in chile. Snowshoe Minnesota. Go to a juke joint in St. Louis. Visit Chicago. Eat beignets in New Orleans. Drive east across the south to the Carolinas and sample comfort food, Southern style. Spend an entire day inside a museum in Washington D.C. Stay a summer in Brooklyn and go get lost in Manhattan every day.

I tell them this is the America I want to share with you. These are only some of my favorite places. Go see for yourself. It truly is a great country. The people really are very warm and welcoming. It’s authentic. It’s real. You will make many new friends. And a road trip is the best way to travel.

climbing mountains

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I’m a bit stressed at the moment thinking about the weeks ahead because I am planning and preparing for a trip to Peru in June. We are hiking the Salkantay Trail, which I have read is one of the toughest treks to Machu Picchu. It starts outside of Cuzco like all the others, but climbs higher and goes farther than the rest, as in 12,500 feet high and 36 miles far. My Dutch friend chose it because her friend who lives in Buenos Aires just climbed it in February. She had nothing but great things to say and gave it a 5-star recommendation. Going into this whole thing somewhat blindly after spontaneously buying the ticket, we decided it was probably best to sign up with the same company her friend told us about. She assured us the trail wasn’t that hard, although I later found out she vertically climbs rocks, so her idea of hard may be slightly different than most.

The logistics to planning it from this speckle island in the middle of the sea are quite challenging. How do you even go about training for it here? Gym memberships are too expensive, so that is out of the question. I’m slowly finding yoga studios that are a good fit and still looking for Pilates classes. There is one mountain/ hill in the middle of the island, the Hooiberg. You can climb the 600 steps to the top. But does climbing this stump of a mountain at sea level really prepare someone for the most formidable range in the Western Hemisphere? I finally found a track at Paradera Park nearby my house. I have no idea what the distance is around this track—maybe a half mileBut at least I can build up speed on a paved surface without having to worry about dogs attacking me. And I love walking at this park on weekday evenings when all the kids are flying over hills and ramps on BMX bikes and skateboards or playing basketball and soccer.

What Aruba does have that helps prepare is a large nature preserve, Arikok National Park. We started a Sunday routine hiking around 5 hours over this terrain. I’m not sure how well hiking in the sweltering heat can really prepare you for hiking the Andes during the winter. I guess I will soon find out.

Then there is the whole conundrum of finding the gear you need for a trip to the mountains in the winter when you live on an island where it is always summer. I desperately need fleece layers for cold weather. Good luck finding any winter clothing on a tropical island. I also need shoes with tread for hiking. All I have here are New Balance for running and an old pair of Converse. If you look online to find stores to buy stuff you need for hiking while living in Aruba, you will find an endless collection of hiking gear designed and named after the island; the irony is that you will most likely never find any of this stuff for sale on the actual island of Aruba. There are the Keen Woman’s Alamos Hiking Shoes in Aruba Blue. Columbia makes Women’s PFG Aruba Convertible Pants, which just happen to be great for hiking. Looking online will only drive you mad, especially when you once drove past an REI twice a day on your commute back and forth to work.

Shipping to an island is super expensive, so I can’t just order something on Amazon and have it delivered. I took a huge salary cut moving here, so my discretionary income is almost non-existent since landing; otherwise, I might consider paying five hundred dollars to get the stuff I need to Aruba.  Most people think I am crazy to complain about any of these inconveniences since I am living in paradise. It’s hard for others to understand what it feels like to see a plane take off while thinking to yourself—there is the way to Columbia Aruba Convertible Pants. I envy the ease in which everyone back home can purchase anything in the world they want and get it delivered to their doorstep within 24 hours. If I am lucky, I may find someone who knows someone coming soon to visit the island from the U.S. Then I can have Amazon deliver whatever I need to that someone’s address in Georgia or California, and then that someone can bring it to the island when they visit. That is how we do it around here.

There are other very specific things that you can’t order on Amazon and you only realize that you need them after moving to an island. You look through everything you brought, thinking surely I remembered to bring that one thing I will eventually really need after leaving the United States and moving to a rock in the middle of nowhere. Take, for example, a pamphlet my orthopedic doctor gave me a few years back on exercises to strengthen my ankle joints, after diagnosing me with ligamentous hyperlaxity resulting in chronic lateral ankle instability and perineal tendon insufficiency. What the hell does that even mean? He went on to explain that I was born with the joint flexibility of a circus performer and had essentially overstretched my ligaments in too many years of dance classes. Now they had lost their elasticity, much like a rubber band I suppose, and I would have to do a nightly routine in ankle exercises to keep them strong. Who has time for that? Apparently, I never did, or I would remember the whole routine. I’ve searched YouTube and can’t find anything that seems familiar to me, except for the draw out the alphabet with your big toe series. I would give anything for that piece of paper, but it is deep in a box somewhere in storage in Dallas, Texas.

What I am learning from the people I meet is that you have to seize any opportunity you can to travel. You can find a way to do it if you really want it. So I can’t let any of these obstacles get in the way. There aren’t any excuses for choosing not to turn the page on your next journey. There is so much to be gained from doing so, and you can always get there, even on a budget. You just have to do it. So I will move forward with my hypermobile joints and find a way to get what I need without the convenience of clicking here and there on Amazon. However, since I know so many talented and amazing people reading these posts, feel free to send me anything you’ve got: ideas for how to get stuff here, words of inspiration, ankle strengthening exercises, a Camelbak hydration pack, wool socks, etc..

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aruba adventures

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Dedicated to friends arriving soon from Texas – a short list of big adventures. It would be even better if I listed directions for each, but that is way beyond my capabilities.  Maybe this map will help. Hopefully, you will get lost at some point because doing so will delightfully lead you on your own island adventure.  I certainly do not claim to be an expert on all that one can experience here. After all, I have only been here for six months. I work all the time, but when I’m not at work, I’m exploring the island—albeit, on a shoestring budget. So here are a few discoveries made. 

Sand  – You will want to spend the majority of your time at beaches. Our favorite is Baby Beach. Drive to the southern part of the island to get to Baby Beach and stop at Charlie’s Bar in San Nicholaas. It closes early because it is in the Red Light District. Also, stop at Zeerovers for dinner on the way home, but only on the weekend, because only then will they remove all the shells, skin, bones, and eyeballs from the heaping baskets of seafood you are about to devour. Many Sundays here have been spent at Baby Beach followed by a delicious catch-of-the-day dinner at Zeerovers. Eagle Beach is named one of the best in the world. Its powdery white beaches and turquoise blue waters will not disappoint, especially during sunrise and sunset. We also frequent Arashi beach. There are more locals there and a drive up to the California Lighthouse after is a nice way to end the day. Another great place for sunset is the Alto Vista Chapel. One more beach worth mentioning is Andicuri Beach. We just had a barbecue there last Wednesday.

Sea – Definitely do some kind of water activity while you are here as well. Snorkeling is the simple, go-to activity if funds and experience are lacking. There are plenty of snorkel spots throughout the island and you can buy gear inexpensively at stores all over the place. There are a plethora of other water activities as well, from kite surfing to kayaking. Also, get out on the water if at all possible. I haven’t been out on a water tour yet, but I heard the Catamaran “Dolphin” tour is the best.

Off-road – There is plenty of activity on land as well. Rent some type of all-terrain vehicle and explore Arikok Park. Be sure you find your way to Conchi, or natural pool. Take the plunge. Just make sure you have on your stylish water shoes.  Spelunk one of the many caves while exploring the park. Quadiriki is my favorite and the setting of an Arawakan legend. There is also a bar/ restaurant in the park called Boca Prins. It’s fun to sit and relax there while enjoying a tall tropical drink and a fantastic view. If you have the time, keep driving along the coast to the California Lighthouse.

Get lost – Somewhere along the way during your time in Aruba it is essential to get off the beaten path and just get lost so that you can experience authentic island life. This will inevitably happen if you turn off any main road because street signs are nonexistent in this country. Don’t worry about it. You are on an island, so how lost can you really get? Eventually, the road will take you to water. Stop any place that looks fun. Explore the aisles of a Chinese supermarket or grab a Balashi paired with a pastechi at one of the many roadside eateries.

Beasties – Designate a day to spend some quality time with animals and insects while you are in Aruba because there are so many sanctuaries that provide serene shelter to a large variety of species, from Howler monkeys to camels. My favorite places are the Donkey Sanctuary and the Ostrich Farm. The Butterfly Farm is also worth a visit. There is a tour guide to educate you on all of the life science moments in case you have forgotten them since 7th grade. We listened attentively as our tour guide described the transformation from caterpillar to cocoon. I was so transfixed that I watched YouTube videos of this process for at least an hour after my visit. I’ve discovered these videos will put you in the exact same meditative state as the Bob Ross’s Joy of Painting series.

Chow down – Sample Suriname food while you are here; order the roti. We like Yanti, Indo, and Swetie. Colombian food is a must as well. There are several restaurants serving authentic dishes. I have only been to Don Jacinto where my friend, who had just returned from a visit to Colombia, emphatically recommended the bandeja paisa. Savory Colombian empanadas can be found at snack stands and food trucks all over the island. Go for Dutch pancakes and order something you don’t typically have with your pancakes. Linda’s Dutch Pancakes is good. There is also a fabulous Dutch bakery in Paradera called Huchada. Sample Peruvian at El Chalan. Finally, we are always on a budget because we are poor school teachers, so if you are looking to splurge, here is a complete list of all the restaurants.

Party – Arubaville, Bugaloe, and Salt and Pepper all have excellent mojitos. All three also have delicious tapas to choose from on their menus.  Arubaville and Bugaloe are waterside spots. Moomba is right on the beach, as in the legs of your chair will sink into the sand. 080 and Chaos are fun Dutch bars to visit where you can strike up a conversation with anyone. I was just at Chaos last night and it appears to be the party headquarters for all the Carnival parades. Order bitterballen somewhere along the way when you are out for the night. Another great location to grab a drink is Casibari Cafe and climb the Casibari Rock Formations.

City streets – Also, I haven’t done much of this because I moved here to get away from the city, but visit downtown Oranjestad. Walk around. Go shopping. Take the trolley. Talk to people. Everyone is incredibly friendly in Aruba. You will meet people from all over the world. This is the best part of living here.

62nd Carnival – Finally, Carnival is scheduled for Sunday when you arrive. I went to the lighting parade last night as a sort of run through for next weekend. I am thrilled to soon be experiencing something new here with all of you.

struisvogel

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I made an appointment with my dentist on a recent trip home to Texas. I had some sensitivity near dental work he did back in May, so I wanted him to check it out and make sure it wasn’t something more serious. Upon arriving, I explained to him that I had moved to Aruba over the summer; still caught up in the red tape of obtaining my work permit, I had not yet been assigned an Aruban doctor and dentist. Mouth agape, oral hygienist by my side ready to retrieve tools on command, I sat back in the chair as he began to inspect the indentations of the surface of my tooth with his tiny steel instrument.

Why is that always the time to strike up a conversation? It’s always the case with these doctors and dentists. Basically, once the probing begins, it becomes some kind of green light to ask you about work, weather, or the upcoming holiday season.

“Aruba,” he began to query, “That must have taken a leap of faith.”

“Uh huh,” I responded as I nodded my head because this was all I could manage.

I was in and out of his office in a matter of moments. Nothing was wrong with my tooth, but the short visit made me realize that it had required much more than faith to pack up everything and leave the country.

Boarding that plane back in July was the crossing of a threshold for me. The ambiguity amplified at that moment is one that most people would never choose to experience unless it was forced upon them, which it had been for me over and over again as I moved through one uncertain moment after another in 2014. The year gave me plenty of practice dealing with situations beyond my control. Some of those very difficult moments didn’t even phase me.

Coming home to a broken window and anxiously assessing that many things had been stolen or destroyed by scary thieves, you gain a lot of practice dealing with uncertainty when you come home from work to find something like that. Scoping out the crime scene all alone as I walked from room to room, I remember thinking, eh, it’s just stuff. Who cares? Other moments were much more profound. Hearing the ticking of the clock while holding my grandmother’s hand as we waited for her to cross her own threshold to the most uncertain moment of all, now that will change you forever. Americans do not talk much about death, which is why I never knew that a single tiny teardrop will fall when the moment arrives. It was the hospice nurse who told me to look for it. I will never forget that moment, “Hippest Cat in Hollywood” by Horace Silver was playing on the jazz station we were streaming in the hospice room because jazz was her favorite music. Watching that teardrop fall across my grandmother’s cheek clearly illustrated for me all that I needed to map out my journey forward.

When it came time to assess what I would keep and what I would sell, the only things worth keeping in my mind were the things that belonged to my grandmother. We loved all the same things in life. Her paintings and books remind me of what really matters. The only things of my own that seemed worth keeping were nostalgic items, pictures, books, and my winter wardrobe. That was it. That was all I wanted. I sold everything else or gave it away to Goodwill. I wouldn’t need the jackets and scarves in Aruba, but maybe I might need them someday someplace on Earth.

I have somehow managed to fill an empty home with what I need to live here in under four months, after arriving on this island with only six suitcases. There is joy one experiences living with less, and finding what you need on a limited budget and with limited resources ignites the creative process.

I finally made my last major furniture purchase, a dining room table with chairs, scouted out at an antique store down the street from my house. The place is like a palace one might come across in a distant land. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies to explore. A petite woman rules over this expansive space, and she likes to haggle and then bark orders at you on how to maneuver heavy, cumbersome objects through tight corridors and down treacherous steep stairwells. My Dutch friend was there to convince me that I should buy a table in the attic space we were perusing because the quality was good and the price was right. After purchasing the table, we both risked our lives transporting it down a winding staircase, but none of us more so than the shopkeeper who would have certainly been killed if we had taken one misstep since she was solitarily supporting the table from below as we precariously made our descent. She insisted we turn the table upside down and slide the top along the incline of the stairs so as to mar the surface even more so than it already had been while crossing the Atlantic from Europe a hundred years ago. “Oil and a rag will smooth the scratches right out,” she insisted.

In addition to a house full of furniture, I also finally have a dentist and doctor here in Aruba which brings me to the finish line of a very long process in international paperwork that began back in March: Many hours spent sitting in government offices in the United States and in Aruba. Costly Fed Ex shipments across both country and sea. The Apostille required from any state where you lived out a chapter in your life story. A series of identical passport photos, which I had to retake because my ears weren’t exposed. Turnaround day trips to and from Austin during visits home to Texas to acquire more Apostille authorization after I was told while living on the island that the government would need a copy of my divorce decree. The whole process seemed never-ending, and it took nearly one year to complete.

Near the end, there was even more paperwork to take to the Aruban hospital to clear me of every scary disease known to man. Only this time I would really be missing that polite, small talk conversation about the weather as the doctors pricked, poked and probed me. After being ordered into a closet of sorts between two doors—another threshold I suppose—I was told to strip down to the waist as the door slammed shut. Moments later, the door flung open on the other side, and a lab technician gruffly ordered me around in Papiamento. I followed orders as best as I could, sheepishly covering myself and tiptoeing across the cold sterile room until I found myself standing spread eagle in front of an X-Ray machine. You know you’ve reached your most vulnerable moment when you are standing cold and naked with your arms above your head in a foreign country.

Thankfully, all the international paperwork is behind me and I finally have the much-coveted stamp in my passport so that I can live and work in Aruba and fly to and from the island hassle-free. My home is finally ready for guests; my first guest arrives on Monday. I am ready to just relax, enjoy, and focus on finding new adventures when I am not working hard during the week.

Today I meet the ostrich, otherwise known as struisvogel in Dutch, and then off to the beach because this is the stuff that really matters in life—meeting big bird and taking a dip in the cool Caribbean Sea.

settling In

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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 sunbeam 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 is 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 his. 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 a collector of sorts and 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 breezes 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 utilities; Elmar, Aruban electricity; Setar, Aruban telecommunications; 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 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. Desalination 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 at the southernmost 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 share 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 for 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 AM. Driving a standard without coffee is about as much fun as driving one in a foreign country in the middle of the night. 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 an 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 a giant lizard 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 in 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 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 driving in Aruba to find Elmar inland. That took me into another world altogether.

The streets became very narrow and congested with tiny Hyundai and Kia cars that frantically 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 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 found inside every government and business building here really 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 when you take care of these sorts of matters. 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 various 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 salesman and owner, was very helpful. His sales pitch went something like this: I always tell people who 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 salesman 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.