Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

April, 2012:

A monkey (wrench) in the works

There are days when I start to consider that maybe I’ve lived here long enough – when I realize that I don’t even notice the view outside my expansive, oceanside windows or when the tropical lethargy and procrastination takes hold of me and I just can’t seem to get anything done at all. From the very beginning of our life in the islands, we were acutely aware of the potential risk of insidious but irreversible mental changes. ( I will stop short of suggesting damage.) It’s a hazard that has always concerned us.

There was that time when I was volunteering. (Now, for those folks who actually know me, don’t get excited. It only happened once. It only lasted for a few months. And I’ve never been tempted again.) I agreed to serve as the secretary for a small, charitable organization. I was heady with my new responsibilities and wanted desperately to do a good job. So when the first committee meeting was scheduled for 9AM, I was up early, hair combed, pencils sharpened and ready to get the jump on my 4 minute commute when Michael asked me to help him with something. I was aggravated. Didn’t he realize I had a place to go, people to see, things to do? I was on a schedule, and he made me late. I cursed him. Well, I’m typically early. So being late can really mean being just on time which is what I actually was. I fussed and fumed and grumbled to myself for the entire 2 mile drive, and then I rushed into the meeting room at the stroke of 9AM only to find, of course, that I was the only one there.

It was 25 minutes before anyone else showed up and nearly an hour before somebody called a quorom and decided that everybody who was coming was there. Oh, that’s just island time, everybody says. You get used to it. Yes means maybe. Now means sometime. Blah, blah, blah. I vowed then that I might endeavor to quit freaking out if I were running late but that I would NOT quit caring about mine or other people’s schedules. And I think if you polled my social contacts on island, you’d find that I am still, 11 years later, pretty darn punctial proving that not everyone falls prey to the allure of ‘island time.’ In fact, I was putting gas in the car one morning while two locals were also filling up next to me. I couldn’t understand everything they were saying, but it became apparent that one of them was ribbing the other for being late to work when he said to his friend, “Well, you know, man, you can’t go for work at 8 to be for work at 8!” See there. That’s not exactly how I might have phrased it, but point taken.

Then there was the time that a friend of ours suffered a stroke. There was no facility equipped to perform fancy, diagnostics and only one option for treatment – anticoagulants which would be indicated in the event of a clot but seriously contraindicated in the event of hemmorhagic stroke. Fortunately he lived. That’s not the scary part of the story. The scary part is that he thought he had received great care when in fact he had just been lucky. Honest to goodness, flip-of-the-coin kind of lucky. We realized then that it was possible to stay on island long enough to lose the ability to see that one shouldn’t stay on island any longer. A classic Catch-22.

So, what happened this week that made me wonder whether I’ve been here too long? The exhaust fan in our closet quit working. (That wasn’t it, but bear with me.) Michael was quick to blame the fancy timer switch and was lickety split off to St. Martin to get a replacement in spite of my suggesting that maybe we should switch out the switch with a simple toggle version to see if that was really the issue. He ignored me and replaced the switch only to find that the fan still did not work. This set him off on a tirade about how he’s never in his whole, entire life had an exhaust fan go bad. This tropical environment is brutal. How can we live this way? And on and on and on. I tried to calm him down by suggesting that maybe we should start by taking the cover off of the fan so we could take a look. Maybe, I propsed, a stupid gecko got in there, got caught and jammed up the fan.

And lo and behold, when the cover came off, what did we find but a poor little gecko cadaver bent in half and wedged against the fan blade. Now pardon me but when you’ve been on an island long enough that your go to answer is “dead gecko throwing a wrench in the fan works” and you are right – well, point taken.

The Tax Man Cometh

Today is April 16th. That means it is tax time for United States citizens all over the world – even for me. It always surprises me how many people think that just because I live in a foreign country I have given up my United States citizenship and/or think that I no longer have to pay taxes in the United States. While it is not always true for every countries’ citizens living abroad, United States citizens anywhere are required to file their income taxes and to pay U.S.tax on all of their global income (except for some allowances if you spend a minimum number of days actually in the U.S.). I can’t personally vouch for any other United States citizens living in Anguilla, but we definitely file. After all, nothing is certain except death and taxes.

The kicker is that when we lived in the United States we earned income in an environment that charged income tax. Then we moved to an island where there is no income tax, but we can’t earn income here. That means we don’t reap the benefit of any tax-free earnings. Instead we now live in a consumer tax world (by way of the import duties) when all we do is consume. Rather like buying high and selling low in the stock market. This plan makes very little fiscal sense.

Additionally, what do we get for paying all of these taxes? Here in Anguilla, we have to pave our own road. We don’t have government water piped to our house. The police don’t stop the dragsters from racing out on the nearest major road. And we can’t vote. Back in the United States, we don’t drive on the paved roads, we don’t drink the public water, and we aren’t there to depend on the protection of the police force. And we can’t vote. O.K. So that last one is not technically true. We can vote. For President. That’s it. We have no senator or representative.

That means that, in effect, we have no actual representation. Anywhere. Not here. Not there. Nowhere. I believe that this is referred to as ‘taxation without representation’. Furthermore, if you study history, I believe that there was a little revolution of sorts fought by some British  colonists over this very issue. Yet, here I am today in that very same boat. There is nothing we can do and nobody we can complain to in Anguilla about our situation because we have absolutely no voice here (other than in the form of our license plate holder).

Some years ago, however, we did go to a meeting on island where the guest of honor was the United States Consul from Barbados. That was a perfect opportunity to discuss this travesty of government. Michael confronted Mr. Consul about the fact that we pay United States taxes but receive no benefits for doing so. ‘How is that fair?’, he queried. Mr. Consul obviously had heard this complaint before because he was ready with his reply. He answered quite simply, “Dr. Paul, you pay taxes to the United States while you choose to live abroad so that when you decide to go back home again there will be a United States there waiting for you.”

Well, as we say here in my temporary country of residence, “Tru dat, my friends, tru dat.”

Wild life in Anguilla

I haven’t posted in a while because we were off island for two weeks at a conference in Denver and then for a few days in San Francisco seeing kids, doctors, accountants, etc. Then this last week back at home has just been chockablock full of excitement in the form of some attention-grabbing, local wildlife.

We aren’t talking about the kinds of wildlife we were accustomed to in the States. While living in California we enjoyed the unique pleasure of having skunks and raccoons picking apart and rolling up our lawn while the deer on the hillside politely kept their distance. The wild boar were never seen but only heard at night running down the drainage ditch on the other side of our back fence, and the occasional opossum rarely caused any trouble.

Contrary to the recent reports of plans to open a zoo on island featuring local animals, though, the pickings here are pretty slim unless you consider the petting zoo favorites of sheep and goats. Certainly there are no lions or tigers or bears, oh my. The land tortoises can be kind of cute, but even our lizards don’t get particularly big. The wild life that was left causing me so much trouble was actually of the typically domestic type.

My own cats are 100% indoor pets. Whether we were living in the States or here in the islands, we never let our cats outside. The restrictive confinement of these open, breezy 3500 square feet of living space complete with an indoor courtyard full of plants offering the optional activity of gecko hunting is simply the tradeoff for keeping the cats clean and dry and safe and healthy. However, the scope of my control ends at the perimeter. So when a free-roaming, stray feline or two or three decide to come up on the veranda to taunt my poor little captive cats, things do not go well on my side of the screens.

The first night we were back in our own bed (after hardly sleeping at all the previous night on a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Miami), we were awakened four times by our cats screaming and hissing at an intruder outside. Each time we’d have to chase off the stray and then try to calm down our cats. Just when we thought we might get some uninterrupted sleep, the roosters started in. At least three of them were competing to see who could make the most noise and win the favors of four or five hens. Obviously someone had already won once since I heard peeping over the wall and investigated to find three, little, wee chicks running around. And the rustling outside the window of our office proved to be at least four little kittens.

Swell. That means that I, a card-carrying, animal-loving veterinarian, had to get into the decidedly disagreeable business of trapping animals. Trust me when I say that this is not my most favorite pastime. Plus, what are the odds that after trapping one or two of any given species the rest of the group won’t get wise to the process resulting in abject failure from that point on? Luckily, the kittens were not too bright because not only did I catch one after another after the first two together, but I also caught a fifth one overnight. Also luckily they were not too feral or ferocious yet so that there is hope that the local animal rescue foundation might find homes for some of them. The same could not be said of their mother who found her way into the trap a couple of nights later. I’d like to think she went to ‘live on a farm somewhere’, but I’ve been on the receiving end of these exchanges before so it’s hard for me to convince myself of that.

Meanwhile, having set the trap outside a bedroom window, I anxiously watched as one of the roosters was courting his girlfriend along the side of the house. He shrewdly sent her into the trap first and then followed her in. I was incredulous. I was going to literally catch two birds with one kibble. But no, the trap didn’t spring. And they happily went about their way. I ran out, eased off on the latch a bit and waited. Sure enough they came back, and I was rewarded with one trapped chicken and one really angry rooster. After taking her to the owner of the local grocery store, I reset the trap without much hope that the rooster would be stupid enough to go in it, but knowing that there were other birds out there who had not witnessed the first hen’s undoing. Imagine my shock come morning when the rooster was found screeching in the cage.

Since then it’s been all quiet on the oceanfront. I don’t know where the other roosters and chickens went, but they’ve cleared out for now, and that’s all I ever wanted…..peace and quiet. And that’s given me the opportunity to relax and take in other slightly more exotic sights: like the osprey who travels through these parts every year on its way to other shores, the return of Johnson, the eagle ray, to our beach, and this morning – much to my surprise – three whales passing by. That’s real, island wildlife.

PS – Quite literally, I saved this document to my computer and got up to stretch my legs just to catch a glimpse of this guy out by my pool. In eleven years on this rock, I have NEVER seen an iguana (hence my comment above about the lizards being small). This fellow must have taken umbrage at my characterization and came out of hiding to make a point. Had I been sunning myself on that chaise lounge, I might have given the screeching rooster a run for his money.