Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

August, 2011:

Don’t you have hurricanes?

Everybody asks this question when you move to or live on a tropical island. Do people ask the same question of folks who move or live in Florida or the Carolinas or apparently even Washington, DC and New York? I just don’t know. Yet, here I am enjoying a lovely day in the tropics. My cisterns are now full from the recent rains. The sky is a pretty light blue with some fluffy, white clouds. The breeze is quite comfortable. Life is good. It is, however, August, so I am tracking a hurricane.

What is unusual is that this is not a storm that is coming towards me (thank goodness). This is Hurricane Irene. She is traveling up the east coast of the United States. The outer banks in the Carolinas have been evacuated. The dedication of the MLK monument in DC has been postponed. New York City is bracing for the storm. One surfer has already died surfing the storm waves. It makes me wonder if people always fixate on the threat of natural disasters when pondering places to live or if there is something about the Caribbean that makes then focus on the hurricane risk.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, a place that Mother Nature generally overlooks when she gets aggravated. Sure with all those rivers coming together there is always the risk and the reality of flooding. And every how-many-ever decades there may be reports of a tornado, but generally Pittsburgh is a pretty safe place. So we didn’t really think about nature’s wrath.

I suppose that when I moved out to California, people must have commented on the earthquake issue. Surely they would have; but I was a new graduate in love moving across the country with a guy I had only known for a couple of weeks so everyone was warning me about so many apparent errors in my judgment that the whole earthquake thing must have gotten buried in the mountains of unsolicited – and unheeded – advice. (BTW, yes ‘that guy’ is my husband, Michael.)

Whether you are talking about earthquakes or hurricanes, though, people tend to overlook the fact that the risk areas are huge. The Atlantic Ocean is very big, and Anguilla is very small. California is very big, and my house there was very small. So while, I felt a half a dozen earthquakes in my 15 years in the Bay Area of San Francisco, I never personally suffered any damage. Not even from the horrible, Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated the area in 1989. At my house, not a single picture was askew.

Yet, this week, in Maryland where my older brother lives seemingly safe in his nearly land-locked, mid-Atlantic state, he has already experienced an uncharacteristic earthquake and is right now waiting for Hurricane Irene to pass by. The irony is not lost.

Here’s hoping that in the end it’s not as bad as folks fear.

Anguilla hornets and Bermuda onions

Just a quick anecdote today.

After a few days of heavy rains on the back side of Hurricane Irene, I was getting ready to venture out to run some errands today when I stepped out onto the veranda to talk with the gardener. We were chatting about the weather, politics, taxes – all of those topics over which we have absolutely no control.

While we were pondering, I absentmindedly brushed something off of my wrist. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a benign little leaf or a hair or even a spider. It was a hornet.  At first I deluded myself into thinking that he hadn’t actually stung me. It didn’t hurt in the beginning. That was just a delayed reaction, though, and, in short order, the spot starting stinging like crazy. I have seen Michael react to similar hornet attacks in a really big way so I had visions of ending up with a grossly swollen and completely useless appendage.

Not knowing what else to do, I knelt down and immediately immersed my arm in the swimming pool in the hopes that the cool water would be soothing. The gardener, however, had another suggestion: rub onion into the sting.Sure , it sounded crazy, but what harm could it do especially given how much my arm was burning by that time? So I ran into the house, cut an onion, grated it, smeared the paste on the sting and covered it with a band-aid.

Viola! The stinging went away within minutes, and now that the little wee bit of swelling has dissipated, my arm is just as normal as normal can be.  I’ve taken the time since to google ‘onions and stings’, and it’s obvious that the gardener isn’t the inventor of this cure.  It is not some kind of island voodoo. There are, in fact,  plenty of discussions pro and con about whether onions work in these situations. All I know is that in this one case – of my arm, my onion and my hornet – it worked like a charm. Thankfully.

Thomas Alva Edison would be proud

Remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about the array of demanding, beer brand-loyal, tool-deficient, contractors working at the house? One of them was installing our new hi-efficiency, two-speed pool pump with its compatible dual timer and asking us for wire.

Well, after he left, the pump wasn’t working at all. He was called back immediately and just could not figure it out. A second ‘specialist’, electrician was called out who presumably has experience installing such fancy pumps and timers. He worked for hours to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, even after he finished, the timer that is supposed to kick the pump speed from low (when the second timer is off) up to high speed (when the timer kicks on) worked completely opposite. (On was low and off was high speed.) Obviously we could use it that way, but it would be pretty confusing for someone else. So we were waiting for the second guy to come back to fix it assuming that the wires were just crossed.

Meanwhile, I was checking on the pump settings and thought, hmmmmm, the two timers are not set for the same time of day. So I fixed that.  Days later I checked again. Hmmmm, they are off again. Obviously something in the wiring is making the second timer run slower. Make a mental note: electrician needs to fix the clock on the second timer, too.

Well, finally, Saturday he returned. He and Michael spent an hour or so in the pump room checking the wiring. No, he said, the high and low speed wires are right. And not only could he not figure out what was wrong with the clock on the second timer, his assessment was that it wasn’t running slowly, it was running backwards!

The plan then was to call Alice’s White Rabbit friend in Wonderland or else the manufacturer of the timer on Monday (whoever answered first) and see what insight they could give about confused pump speeds and backwards running clocks. Always the cynic (ask anyone, they’ll tell you), I decided to take the opportunity on Sunday to confirm the counter-clockwise clock mechanism theory. Alas, this turned out to be a myth. In actual fact, the clock on the second timer didn’t run at all…..confirmed multiple times just for good measure.

So, Sunday night found me reviewing the wiring diagrams and google-ing electrical diagram symbols just to be sure that I understood what I thought I understood. Then this morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I proceed to the pump room armed with the instruction manuals (gasp, the manuals? how  totally pedestrian) for both the pump and the timer, reading glasses, flashlight, screwdrivers and digital camera (I always try to take photographs of the way things are before I change them just in case).

After unplugging the electricity and removing all the protective (so you don’t electrocute yourself) covers to expose the wiring, it took me exactly 15 seconds to verify that the wiring for the clock on the second timer was never changed from the ‘factory provided’ setup to the ‘this is how you freakin’ wire it when you install it in order to actually use it’ instructions; AND, surprise, surprise, surprise, the high and low speed wires were, in fact, clearly reversed. All in all, about three minutes for someone who knows absolutely nothing about electrical wiring to figure this out.

So what is wrong with this story? Why should I have to figure this stuff out? I don’t WANT to be an electrician. And more than that, I don’t want to be an UNPAID electrician fixing the screw-ups of the supposed professionals I AM paying. This is not what I want to do all day.

A Sportin’ Good Time

I’m a huge football fan, but I’m not going to see any live games played here in Anguilla. British sports – yes. Cricket and football (American soccer) are played here although there’s no polo (for which the horses thank you). Biking has even become a favorite pasttime. The National Sport of Anguilla, however, is Boat Racing.

According to the story, once the plantation owners gave up trying to make a profit in agriculture on a desert island with poor soil, they left the Anguillians here to survive on their own with subsistence farming in an unsupportive environment. The men found themselves forced to seek work on other islands as far away as the Dominican Republic. Fierce competitions arose between the boats when they traveled back and forth, and the love of competitive boat racing took hold.

Not fancy yacht racing. Even today these are rough, manly vessels: open hull boats made of pine strips glued together with epoxy resin. The largest ones hold about 14 men plus hundreds of pounds of ballast. (Back in the day the men themselves doubled as ballast and were occasionally thrown overboard if the need arose to lighten the load. Nowadays that indignity is reserved for the sandbags.) Each boat has its faithful followers and the competition is intense amongst the sailors and the spectators who, like Monday morning quarterbacks, always have an opinion about how the race should have been run. (Interestingly, gambling is not tolerated on island but betting on boat races appears to have received a special dispensation.)

Today, any holiday or celebration on island includes a boat race. And the Summer Festival or Carnival is no exception. In fact, during that week long celebration, there are races almost every day.  We don’t usually go to boat races, though. I don’t really appreciate the draw. You stand on the beach waiting for the boats to start the race – typically an hour or so late. You hang out and eat and drink and hang out and at some point you hear the horn blow or you become peripherally aware that the boats are gone. Then sometime hours later (depending on where they are sailing to and back), the boats return. That means that unless you are going to go driving around to new vantage points throughout the race, the amount of actual visible involvement in the race if really just minutes.  It would be a bit like a baseball game being three at bats for one team, three at bats for the other team, and a really long seventh inning stretch in the middle.

We're winning!

On the other hand, if you go out in a boat and follow the race, that is a different story. We’ve been lucky enough to do that for the past few years for the August Thursday race. We load up on the boat around noon. Do a little touring, maybe some snorkeling, get a little BBQ for lunch. Then when the boat race starts, rather than just sitting there and waiting for the end of the race, we take off after them.  The friend who charters the boat crews on one of the racing boats, so that gives me a defacto ‘team’ to root for. That way we stay engaged in the process the whole time. We hoot and holler and blow the horn and cheer them on.

Of course, I don’t really understand much about sailing….tacking and jibing and taking a zig zag path between two points. It’s all pretty foreign to me. Much of the time I can’t even tell who’s ‘winning’ at any given point. Then again, in all fairness, for as much as I love football, I can’t really call a play or identify a defense. It’s all just for fun. So that’s what we did on Thursday. Oh and ‘we’ came in third. We were robbed, of course. Even I saw immediately that the winning boat came around the wrong side of the buoy on one of the turns and cut us off on another. Clearly the racing commission is blind.

Just call me, “Captain Ben Roethlisberger.”