March 20, 2006

Counting the Days
Sandy Bay (St. Vincent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines

With my remaining time in St. Vincent growing short, I find myself getting anxious to relocate.

For over three months I lugged around an unopened book in my backpack, a Christmas present from my good friend Tristan. Until I arrived in the remote outskirts of Sandy Bay, I found my days and nights were filled to a point where I had no desire (or time) to read. With life now moving at a slower pace, I finally got around to reading it—twice.

I must admit,The Sex Lives of Cannibals has got to be one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time. Although almost entirely devoid of sex or cannibalism, the book is a hilarious true story about a couple in their mid-20s who spent two years in the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced kir-ee-bas).

Written in a story-telling travelogue style similar to my own—but with a much richer vocabulary (I had to look up 23 words I didn't know)—I was laughing out loud constantly. I hate to give it up, but I do need the space in my pack.

Here are three quick excerpts that I pulled from the first 40 pages of the book:

It's an unfortunate reality for innate idlers that our modern world requires one to hold a job to maintain a suitable existence. Idling, I find, is immensely underrated, even vilified by some who see inactivity as the gateway to the Evil One. Personally, I regard idling as a virtue, but civilized society holds otherwise and the fact remained that I still needed a job.

To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental U.S. were to conveniently disappear leaving only Baltimore and a vast swath of very blue ocean in its place. Now chop up Baltimore into thirty-three pieces, place a neighborhood where Maine used to be, another where California once was, and so on until you have thirty-three pieces of Baltimore dispersed in such a way so as to ensure that 32/33 of Baltimorians will never attend an Orioles game again. Now take away electricity, running water, toilets, television, restaurants, buildings, and airplanes (except for two very old prop planes, tended by people who have no word for "maintenance"). Replace with thatch. Flatten all land into a uniform two feet above sea level. Toy with islands by melting polar ice caps. Add palm trees. Sprinkle with hepatitis A, B, and C. Stir in dengue fever and intestinal parasites. Take away doctors. Isolate and bake at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is the Republic of Kiribati.

The immigration official stamped our passports. I was pleased to see that it was a modest little stamp, unlike most developing countries, which seemed to have decided that if they couldn't be Great Powers, they could at least have Great Stamps, ornate displays of grandeur occupying a full passport page, sometimes two. The more irrelevant, troubled, dictatorial the country, the larger the stamp, and so the small ink stain made by the immigration official seemed to bode well, as if Kiribati was declaring We are small. We are content. We have no illusions.

Louisiana Would Be Impressed

Last week I found myself in downtown Kingstown, in the middle of what turned out to be one of the largest funerals the country has ever seen. Thousands of people had converged on a church, bidding farewell to Glen Jackson (the recently murdered press secretary and personal aide to the Prime Minister).

After the afternoon service was concluded, hordes of people were precessing in front of and behind the hearse-driven casket, accompanied by two separated brass, steel, and drum bands. Mourners rhythmically danced and sung merrily as they surged up the road towards the cemetery. The scene was amazing; I've never see anything like it.

Other Observations

The dress for many 14-28 year-old males here reminds me of a bad hip-hop movie, described best as wanna-be-thug urban wear. Enjoyably though, I've found a thuggish attitude doesn't accompany the wardrobe. I'm wondering if the dress predates the Daddy Yankee fueled reggaeton craze (more commonly found further north). I find it's just a peculiar thing to see everywhere, especially up here in the country (the last place I would have expected to see flashy chains, matching athletic wear, and Timberland boots).

During the course of conversation (or even in passing) many people I encounter try to guess my profession, or what it is I'm doing in their country. The most popular guesses (at least two-dozen a piece) have been:

  • Policeman
  • Medical student
  • Army soldier
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spook
  • Peace Corps worker

Notice that tourist is not among those listed above—interesting.

Country Life

I'm incredibly grateful for the chance to experience life up here, but I'm very much ready to move on. There are a lot of enjoyable aspects to living out in the country with Ben and his family, but there's plenty negative of stuff that's been slowly chipping away at my ability to enjoy the days. The constant attacks from ravenous sandflies; lousy beach, city, and Internet access; lack of stimulation; intermittent electricity; huge, incredibly scary brown spiders that love my bedroom; insistent barking from one of the tiny pet mutts that makes me want to drop-kick it hourly; that all music, (bad) movies, and video games must be cranked up to the highest, distortion-maximizing volume level possible (often simultaneously); ants everywhere; and the absence of running water (which has lead to a hygiene problem for me, possibly resulting in what is suspected to be a most unwelcome mite infestation on my person), are just a few of the reasons I'm looking forward to my flight on Friday.

Between the Odessa and Sandy Bay, it feels like I've been camping for weeks. All of my clothes definitely need to be thrown in an actual washing machine, and maybe—just maybe—I might be able to have my first hot water shower since January. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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