Things are Different in the Islands

IMG_1585Things are different in Turks and Caicos. For one, everything is really expensive. I mean really expensive, nine dollars for a case of water, six dollars for a tiny bottle of honey, three dollars and fifty cents for one avocado. I know they have to import everything, but I still think there must have been a little price gouging going on at the Graceway IGA, though I can’t be sure. I suppose I could have stopped in the “real cheap” grocery store tucked inside the industrial park, to test my theory, but I didn’t think the family, all cozy in what passes for a minivan on TCI, was up for a side trip.

Speaking of our ride, which truly needed pimping, the steering wheel was on the wrong side, unless you’re from Turks and Caicos, which then would make it on the right side. Apparently, this is convenient for driving on the left side, which is all terribly confusing the first few times you drive, especially when navigating traffic circles, or roundabouts as the locals like to say. Seat belts are also a bit different in that they don’t retract and lap belts are still a thing, or maybe just a thing in the twenty year old “minivan” we were driving. Who can be sure? I thought I would be able to look in someone else’s rental car to check out their seatbelt situation, since we were instructed to leave all the windows down and the car unlocked every time we parked, but no one else seemed to follow this rule, leaving us to wonder if this was really a rule, or if someone at the local car rental agency was just messing with us.

Belongers (yes, that’s really what the people of Turks and Caicos are called) don’t seem to have the same fear of pesticides that we do, or, at least, I do. When a trail of ants appeared on our counters we called the front desk in the hope that some bait would be laid down, and voila, the ants would disappear by morning. Instead, housekeeping showed up with a nondescript spray bottle, ready to fumigate the hell out of our unit. I politely declined, recounting my old days in Florida, where ants ruled the scene. It was while living there that my pediatrician posed the question, rather rudely, I might add, “Would you rather live with a few ants, or poison your child?”

After sending housekeeping away, ten minutes later, the maintenance man showed up with some traps from 1979, that even the ants avoided at all costs. I decided to embrace the ants as our friends.

Belongers, unlike Americans, don’t make a big deal about trivial things, like finding poop in the pool. When said poop was discovered, maintenance was called, came out, looked at it with disgust, and walked away, which I guess is island protocol when dealing with these kinds of inconveniences, squashing the assumption that poop in the pool is an actual problem that needs to be solved. Only after a repeated phone call to the front desk, informing them, that in fact, the poop was still in the pool, did someone begrudgingly come out and fish that sucker out. Close the pool, why bother? First the ants and now the poop? I could almost hear them thinking, Americans are soft.

This island nonchalance, not to be mistaken with rudeness, because in fact, no one was rude, or in a rush, or overly chatty, or overly concerned about anything (see above poop paragraph), left me with the impression that they thought it was I who was a bit too anal. When asking about food allergies:

Me: Does the pancake mix contain any nuts or sesame? (Just for the record, some, like Krusteaz do.)
Island Lady: No, they just mix in some eggs and milk.
Me: So, there’s a mix? Do you have a box I could read?
Island Lady: (Hesitates) No. We threw it out.
Me: But you know it doesn’t contain nuts.
Island Lady: (Shrugs. Not an I don’t know shrug, but you’re boring me kind of shrug.)
Me: Ok, we’ll stick with the oatmeal.

When renting snorkeling equipment: 

Me: (sounding fussy and overprivileged by just asking the question) Do you sanitize this stuff?
Island Lady: (sounding mildly bored) No one’s every come back and told me they got sick.

Do you notice a pattern (besides the fact that my family waits for me to ask all the obvious questions)? Not only are Belongers nonchalant about everything, but no one ever answers a question. I don’t know if this is genius or subterfuge.

Regardless, I took my equipment upstairs to my room and washed it, but my children put her methods to the test, since they popped their breathing tubes in their mouths within seconds of it being handed to them. IMG_1638To her credit, no one’s gotten sick, yet. Maybe I do need to relax.

The airport is quite different in Turks and Caicos, too. Why bother with order, or speed for that matter? Airline paperwork already informs everyone that they need to be at the airport at least two hours before their flight. Why not make use of that time? Sitting in an air-conditioned space waiting to be called to your unnumbered gate is a waste of time, and sitting too much causes early death (hasn’t anyone been reading the news?), so the Belongers are actually doing you a favor.

The fact that some people can bypass these silly little lines of sweaty, sunburned, annoyed (and annoying) people by finding just the right valet, or feigning illness (as was the case with the lady, who I sat with on the plane, who magically perked up by the end of our flight), the rest of us sheep can try, like we did, prepared with the Benjamin’s to get out of that miserable line, but if you are unlucky enough to be followed by the really pissed off guy who raises holy hell that your attempting to pay  someone off to cut the line, well, then you’re screwed. If this happens, you will spend the rest of your day and flight scowling at that red, freckled faced man, while he stares right back, ready to throw down if he so much as utters a word to you. Lines and heat are not a good combination.

Not that I think I’m above waiting in a line, but listen, I tried to check in at one of those kiosks, which along with the Belongers, don’t operate the same as the do in the United States, and it wasn’t having it. It checked my husband in, in row 22, in a seat by himself (like that’s happening). It tried to put my children in an emergency exit row until I had to fess up that the kids were too young. The computer then booted me out and would only print one boarding pass, my husband’s. That left my six year old, nine year old, and my eleven year old, who has food allergies, sitting alone on a plane where every meal and snack, from it’s chex mix to its fruit tray and M&M’s, contained nuts. I mean who the hell even knew there was such a thing as almond M&M’s?  I was not happy and so, willing to shovel out some cash to get to the front of that line in attempt to get our seats changed. That is until freckles butted in.

We just made it through the check-in line before we had to make a last minute rush through security, which would have never happened had I not been obsessively stalking the freckled face man, whom, in the end, I just have to add, I beat out of the check in counter. As we stood, in yet another ridiculously long line, I watched him cut the line and head right through security. I’d call him an ass for doing what he complained about us doing, but watching him was the only we way we found out that they had opened up a separate line for our flight because it was getting ready to board. Announcements, who needs them? If you’re not in the know, and by not in the know, I mean minding your own business, then you’re out of luck.

Once on the plane, which we had to hike to in the blazing heat, I expressed my concerns to the flight attendant, as instructed. Not a Belonger himself, and thus accustomed to some kind of rules, he was the first person ready to address my problems, which were his problems too, since in the end, the counter agent still sat two of my kids in the exit row, even though they couldn’t be there. And work it out he did, for a lot of families, who were also scattered all over the plane, yet, I’m sure could have easily been sat together if there was just some sort of system. It would have been comical, watching the chaos that ensued, had I not had to live through it. In the end, though, the whole seating fiasco bought us an extra ten minutes on the runway, which was probably the only reason my luggage, tagged fifteen minutes before, made it on board. Maybe these islanders do have it all figured out.

Whew!  Yes, that’s how I felt when everyone was seated, me across the aisle from my nine year old son, in the last row of the plane, my food allergic child and daughter, with a doctor next to them, my husband behind them, next to another woman and her nut allergic child. I’d say given the circumstances, it couldn’t have worked out any better. The best part, with all this other shit going down, I didn’t even have time to indulge my fear of flying.

After reading this, you might get the impression that I had a miserable trip, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a wonderful vacation on a beautiful island. But, when we returned to the United States, and walked directly from the plane into the brand new, desolate international terminal, muzak playing softly in the background, I was tempted to fall to my knees and kiss the ground. Things are different in the United States, and boy, am I grateful.


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