Sunday, September 30, 2007

Culture Shook

Culture shock does not really describe what occurs when moving to a new country. That makes it sound like something you are not ready for, or something you can’t handle. Maybe a better term would be culture explosion or culture gestation. It is so different that it seems like you are looking at a play - seeing something from the outside looking in. Even simple things here are difficult, but not impossible. I find that living here is not stressful, as I am sure it would seem, but it is like a puzzle or a game. Once you figure out the right move you continue forward.

There is a tremendous sense of satisfaction in accomplishing the small stuff. I absolutely love not being in the excess of American culture. I am still trying to get the house in order. This has made life hard, because I am not seeing all the great things around me, like going to the beach. Yesterday was a holiday, National Youth Day I think. I could not figure out why no one came to work at the museum. I was getting mad and went and opened the building. But then I remembered…

I finished painting the two bedrooms. I have the children’s bedroom all set up. I installed two of the televisions. Today, I am going to build the entertainment closet. I still have a ton of stuff to put away. Right now the kitchen is full of musical equipment and I can not get to any of the counters, just the refrigerator where I keep water now.

Two things I have been thinking about this week: One is, it is hard being alone here. I have lots of people around me, but at night it is not the same. I have heard from many people that to survive here you must have a partner, someone to share all the strangeness with. Most people who come down to work bring a partner of some sort. The young guys who come down to work in the dive industry do not stay long. They think it is going to be like living in paradise, but paradise is no fun by yourself.

Second: I went home over the weekend. Now, I hope no one will take this wrong, but I could not wait to get back. It has not been that long, but I feel very at home and comfortable here. And I have lots to do. I feel that I am a part of a larger experience, something bigger than myself. People are excited about the possibilities and the things I talk about and plan for. I have not had a single meeting where someone has said “we can’t do that” or “we have never done that before.” We have three weeks left to plan for 2008. This will be a busy time. We have to have budgets and projects and grants all lined up or completed. I then will begin to raise funds for our ambitious endeavors. The future is bright. Wear SPF 30.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paradise Virus

I flew back to the US this weekend for a fundraising event and to get take care of a couple of other things. The visit was too short, but I was also glad to get back here. It is funny how quickly something becomes familiar.

I have said repeatedly that it is never dull here. I had a full day of flights, but when I returned there was a film crew using the museum for a shoot. There is a small movie company that owns one of the hotels on the island. A couple times a year they bring a crew down and film really bad B movies that play on Lifetime channel on cable.

This particular movie is a murder mystery. They were shooting scenes in the museum as if it were a bookstore. Deborah was here very late to close the museum. I stayed until 10:00. Thomas came over with their guests and some Mookie Pookie Pizza. This is the only pizza place on the island. It was not bad at all.

While cleaning out the house here, I came across a whole box of VHS tapes. I went through each one the first week. One of them was a tape of Paradise Virus, a film shot on Grand Turk in 2001. It was really, really bad. No I mean it, it was really bad. I didn't even watch the ending. I have kept the tape and I will keep a VHS player. Every time someone comes down to visit I will make them watch it.

I forgot to mention...while I was gone Cool Beans opened. This is a new coffee and ice cream shop. How quickly things change. Niki, one a Deborah's friends, came over to the museum and brought us ice cream. The ice cream was actually great. She said that it was not fair she had to wait two years to get ice cream and I only had to wait two weeks.

While I was gone the water crises was also solved. I have just this minute returned from waiting in line to fill up my five gallon water container. I also dropped by the store to get a cucumber, tomato, and some English Liecester Cheddar cheese. Tonight I am trying to get two bedrooms painted and then I can begin to unpack boxes.
Anyway, I am back. Thanks everyone who put stuff together for me to bring back. It was a great help. This will be a very busy week, both at the house and at the museum. We also had another air conditioner go down while I was gone.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sounds Worse Than It Is

Water is life. I have heard that twice this week. The island ran out of drinking water this week. I guess it was a problem for a while, the reverse osmosis system was working intermittently, but evidently stopped altogether. Water came in from somewhere because there were pick up trucks with plastic barrels lined up down Pond Street waiting to be filled from what looked like a fire hose.

I ran out of drinking water two days ago. That is to say, I have a 5 gallon water cooler and I drank the last of it. No problem really, I had gone down to the store on Monday and bought a gallon of drinking water just in case.

Deneeen hates when I say this, is really hot here. Everyone says "its unseasonably hot." Really its just hot. Yesterday I spent the day working at the house. I drank the entire gallon of water. I was sweating so much that I did not pee once the whole day. I was absolutely soaking wet, every stitch of clothes.

Why such a day? I was finally able to unload our container. It was dropped at the house on Monday and a customs officer came out and cleared our household goods on Tuesday. Joseph, our maintenance staff of one, and I unloaded tools out of the container and removed the existing furniture from the house. I could not unload our furniture until I got rid of all the stuff in the house - which was a lot of stuff. We live across from a house owned by the Catholic church. I spoke to Father Basil about my furniture problems. Furniture here is very hard to come by. It is very expensive and not very nice. If you come here with nothing-you have nothing. Father Basil said that he would take care of it.

On Tuesday night I had three Haitian families come to the house and pick up the old furniture. There was actually a fairly nice king Certa Perfect Sleeper with a bed frame. The math teacher at the local high school came to pick this up. After all of this, Father Basil invited me over for dinner. I had heard earlier that he makes a very spicy curry, I actually had told him this. Father Basil is from Singapore. He is here on his mission assignment. This is a mission area for the Catholic church and they assign priests through here every couple of years. The other priest in the house does not eat spicy food, so Father Basil does not get to make traditional Singapore dishes very often. For the record, he makes a very spicy curry. I think this was the best meal that I have had here yet.

Yesterday, I started painting the interior of the house at 6:30am. At 1:00 I picked up Joseph and we unloaded the rest of the container. The house is completely full of boxes. I can not even move down the hall. I need to finish painting tonight so that I can begin to unpack.

In the middle of all of this, I had an unplanned meeting with the director of what is the environmental agency here. I presented a plan that the museum has been working on and we were awarded a $15,000 project to design and build kiosks to interpret the Salinas along Pond Street.

Nothing quite as exciting today. We had another air conditioner fail in the museum. I am finalizing plans to come home over the weekend. I fly out tomorrow and we are having a fundraising event in Columbus on Sunday. This has been an unbelievable two weeks.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Swimming in a Fish Tank

I went snorkeling today for the first time. I just went off of our beach. Our beach is about two to four feet deep and goes out for several hundred yards. It is covered with sea grass, but every so often this gives way to small pockets of sand and coral. Small tropical fish live at the edges of these pockets. The pockets look just like fish tanks. I swam into one where there was a school of medium sized silver fish with yellow fins; into another and I was surrounded by thousands of minnows. It was very, very cool.

I spent the morning here at the museum working on the HVAC system, we have an air conditioning unit down. This afternoon I have been fixing electrical problems at the house. The salt air is very corrosive, and things have to be fixed or replaced continuously. I got the dining room lights working, replaced the exterior carport light, and I am almost done chasing down some outlets in the living room. The lights in the house have been a goal all week, I am excited to have them completed.

I bought gas for the truck today - $5.35 a gallon.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just another day - except for the cannons

It is pretty lonely here at night. I find that I am working all the time, which makes sense given that I have no family or stuff here yet. I was here until 7:30 last night and in at 7:22 this morning. Though in between, I went over to the BBQ and Mitch night at the Osprey House Hotel. Mitch owns a local dive outfit and he has a small band. He plays every Friday at the Salt Raker and every Wednesday and Sunday at the Osprey House. He plays an acoustic twelve string Taylor and has a guy who plays congas, a guy who plays small percussion, and a guy who "rakes and scrapes" the hand saw. Last night a visitor from the states sat in on tenor sax.

I have a whole lot of reading to get through, all of the legal formations and management plans that have been put into place within the museum. I read about three hours each night before I go to bed. Two nights ago I went through our hurricane recovery plan. We reviewed this yesterday. Today, I see that we may get a hurricane at the end of next week. Today, we are going to go get sand bags from the Red Cross just in case - it came up yesterday that the ones we had have rotted.

I met with the Governor today. This was to be a brief meeting but it lasted a while. It was very good. We then left to investigate two grave yards. It was so hot during the heat of the day today that I felt like passing out. When we got back I literally looked like someone had thrown a bucket of water on me. I then had to give two VIP tours of the museum and went to meet the cruise port manager. This afternoon we removed a fourteenth century cannon off of the museum floor for conservation.

Not that big of a day, but it sounds cool to say Governor and fourteenth century cannon.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saving Puppies

Last night I bought groceries, well sort of. I bought something to eat. Besides the two limes in the house I now have a tomato, a cucumber, and some really hot peppers. I also bought some English white cheddar. Oh, and I paid $3.50 for a loaf of bread. I went home and made cucumber and tomato sandwiches for dinner and felt very English. Today was another matter.

Every five days there has been something quite different. Today, the museum got a call to see if we had a puppy net. The regular puppy saver had flown to Provo today so I offered my services. I was able to locate the puppy net and made arrangements to save puppies at 5:00pm, after the heat of the day...

5:56pm update:

I just met Helene. She is French Canadian and runs a makeshift animal shelter on the island. She is about 65, the size of Lucas, and was a concert pianist. The museum works with Helene to provide an animal hospital twice a year. Veterinarians come from Canada and use our conservation laboratory to spade and neuter all of the animals they can.

There is a limited culture of animal kindness here. People do not treat their dogs especially well. Someone dropped four puppies off in front of the TCI Bank (this means on the front road down by the ocean). Helene came to rescue them. They were hiding way down in some sticker bushes. She had gotten two, but then called the museum to see if we had a puppy net, which we did (actually used for underwater archaeology). Thomas, the regular puppy saver who by now had returned, trapped one down in the rocks with the puppy net. I thought kindness would work better, but I was bitten three times on my hand and finger. Kind of bad on one finger (but it was just a puppy). I overcame the pain and got the lost dog in the bushes. All is well. Now I must go home and make more cucumber and tomato sandwiches.

Oh, I also had meetings on the importance of confronting treasure seekers (pirates) on the open ocean and lessons on how not to back down from their physical threats, but this is to be expected.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Rain and Nights

Last night it rained and the wind blew very hard. The metal roof makes this seem like a freight train coming through the house (or actually something else that I am not going to mention). I could not sleep and was up from 3:00am until 5:30am.

Today was a very big day. The nine museum trustees flew in from around the islands for the first trustee meeting in over a year. I am working here with some outstanding people, and I am excited about the possibilities.

It is hot and lonely here without Deneen and the boys. I have a sun burn. Our stuff came in today on the container ship but it is going to take a week of coordination to get it out of customs. I have to record, or hire someone to record, every single item that we packed. These are to be itemised on a customs form. Each item coded with a standard custom code number. This would have been easier had I known this when we packed.

I don't have a phone or TV, or even any food in the house. Today, the boat with fresh produce arrived and I was told that everyone will go to the market and buy what they need today and tomorrow. I don't have anything to cook with and I don't know what I would buy anyway.

I met the Russian guy who installs satellite systems today. He is going to hook our house up, but I have to pay several months up front so I have to wait until I get paid here. I have very little money left right now.

However, yesterday I swam on our beach and took a walk. Everyone I have ever known will want to visit us here. It is one of the most beautiful and magical places I have ever been. I will need to buy snorkel sets for every one plus additional sets for visitors. It is so outstanding to be in the water that it is almost unimaginable. Last night I had pizza with our neighbors. It was a great dinner and a great time.

You need sandals and extra sandals here. As well as plenty of sheer, loose fitting clothes of thin material that can be washed and dried easily. Not too many jeans. I have piles of clothes that I sweated out. Life is tough in the house right now, but everyday at work I meet someone interesting. It is like living in novel. I opened up the museum on Sunday and had 15 people come in from the Crown Princess. Today, I have heard twice from people who said something like, "I heard you opened the museum up on a Sunday. Couldn't believe it. Very good."

Did I say that I miss my family.

Such is the end of my fourth day on Grand Turk.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Starting from Scratch

I met two guys from the Crown Princess cruise ship today from New York. They live up above Tarrytown. After talking about how and why I got to the TCI they told me I should write a blog. I told them about my friend John Leistler, who moved from Tarrytown to Amman Jordan at the beginning of August. John told me he had started a blog about his adventure. I started reading his blog today. After seeing how nice it was, I decided to start my own. This will not be as eloquent, nor as lengthy, as his. I am hoping to write a paragraph or two every few days. We will see. If you know John, go read his blog, it is amazing. He is at

Here's my blog entry:

In the movie Angel Eyes, a Luis Mandoki film starring Jennifer Lopez and James Caviezel, there is scene that is one of my favorites. The main character is living in a dirty apartment with no furniture, just a mattress on the floor. He has a line: "Do you know when some says lets starts from scratch? Well this is what it looks like. This is scratch."

That is what it has felt like living in the TCI for the last three days. It feels like scratch. I have nothing in the house but water. There is old furniture, but I am afraid to sit on it. There are about five DVD and VHS players. every night I struggle to get one to work. Last night I finally found one that would play. I set it up in the one room with an air conditioner. I only have three DVDs, the two Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure. Go figure. I work all day trying to get up to speed and I clean the house in the evening. My furniture should be arriving in port on Monday. This will also be the first Trustee meeting for the museum.

I have been trying to figure out where to purchase things and how to live here. Today I bought 4 limes. This was huge because now I can have something more than water. I can put lime in my water. I cut one open. It had begun to rot. I used it anyway.

In the midst of this. In the last three days I have stumbled upon the fish market. Every day at three local fishermen bring in a small catch, clean it and sell it at a small table just down the street on the beach. My first day here I had a fresh Conch right out of the ocean. These guys smashed the shell, cut it into strips, put hot sauce on it, and passed it around. It was an amazing experience. Yesterday, I went down to investigate the ruins of a resort closed in the 1980s. I walked down to the beach area and spent an hour on the softest sand I have ever felt in my life. These two events were so brief, but they make up for any other discomforts. Next week should be better.

I miss my family.