"Why in the world would you want to move back there now that everything is destroyed?" I've heard that a few times since Irma and Maria bombarded my beautiful island with category five hurricane rain and winds. St Thomas is like that lover, that you just can't seem to leave. The one that just holds onto you and no matter how angry you get or how far you go, you just want to turn around and come right back.
There's no way that I can tell my travel story without talking about the U.S. Virgin Islands. Five years ago I moved to the Caribbean as a job transfer from Alaska. I had been working in the fine jewelry industry on and off since 2001 and found a boss and a company that I loved working for. I was trepdatious though to say the least. All I knew of St Thomas was that it was going to cost me more than my Chicago apartment did, and it was hot as hell and everybody liked to party. It took some convincing but eventually I decided to give in and gave it a shot.
The first few months were hard, I even can't lie. Watching my best friend of 15 years who came with me get addicted to drugs, from an obsessed island stalker and then turning right around and falling in love with "the wrong guy" was just rough. Even though I was prepared for the culture shock I still had some of the bumps along the road. Then there was of course the heat, which felt like a sad cloud from the comics was following me around and sobbing right over my head because no matter what I did I just could not stop freaking sweating. And last but not least there was the cultural difference. Now you'd think that since I'm still in my own country this wouldn't exsist but oh yes it does. I am and I sound like, a Chicagoan. I was judged harshly as a "statesider" or a "Yankee" because far too often people from the mainland come down to the island, like best friend did, just to find the dirtiest seediest parts of the island and then leave.
When I moved to St Thomas I had been widowed just barely two years before, on December 27th. I didn't know what I needed I just knew that I was trying to figure things out in the healthiest way possible. After about 3 months I started to settle in and of course carnival time rolled around. I danced, I drank Brugal, I survived a shooting downtown, which simply made me feel like I was back in Chicago and suddenly it was time to fly out and go back to Alaska. It was five months of a whirlwind and I found myself on the plane, sobbing, like a stupid baby.
I went back to Alaska and talked about being in the Caribbean all summer long. I was purely obnoxious I'm sure. We tend to complain constantly when we're in a situation but once we are removed from them we tend to remember only the good parts. When I left I didn't think about any of the stressful or dangerous things that seemed like a big deal at the time. I remembered waking up at the crack of dawn on my off days, grabbing a cold beer, hiking down the hill to Havensight, hopping on the safari $1 bus and going to Emerald beach. I'd lay down my towel under one of the coconut trees and go back to sleep until the bar opened up for lunch. I'd eat lunch at Emerald beach and crack jokes with that great bartender that they used to have from Boston and go home to do laundry. In my morning of lesire I'd managed to get beautifully tanned, sun-kissed hair and a solid workout from swimming. This was the life.
Five months in Alaska passed and I went off to Prague to obtain my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. After my course I taught for ahwile in the Czech Republic but I started missing the island too much. When I returned, I found a house to rent that I planned to stay in until I was ready to purchase on the island. Although I didn't exactly know when or how I'd be able to do so I felt that I was going to be here for awhile. The next winter season began and I started working on Mainstreet again and during my off time I'd travel to the British Virgin Islands. A whole new love affair started up. I spent time going sailing with my girlfriend and her husband. We'd chill out in that brilliant turquiose sea for 3-4 days at a time. Every chance I got I was on a boat or hanging out on the British Virgin Island expanding my love.
The following year I decided to explore Thailand. I rented out my house and went off to Thailand twice during the off season that year and I loved it! It's a beautiful, and peaceful country and I managed to meet many loving people there. I still missed my St Thomas though and Thailand became my off season location for three years. In fact many of my Thai friends are very familiar with local artists like Pressure, Cool Sessions and even the carnival "Kick in She Back Door" by Onyan & Burning Flames. Oh yes! I taught them the absolute best!
No matter where I go in the world I miss St Thomas, Virgin Islands. When first came to St Thomas I had lost all sense of security and community. St Thomas gave me that back. I hated Christmas. St Thomas' beautiful and genuine celebrations have made me love Christmas more than ever. I was blessed enough to meet neighbors that became my extended family. I've never been on island away from my Mama's cooking and another Mama hasn't offered to feed me. The sense of community is truly beautiful and loving and if I don't go back, I will miss it for the rest of my life.
Currently I'm living in Kenya. If I hadn't moved to the Virgin Islands I'd never have been strong enough to endure what's going on here. I know that St Thomas has so many more gifts for me still and I vow that I will return to my beautiful island. I will be praying for Jah to guide me back home. He always does.
Please get involved and donate to help restore these truly beautiful islands. I am encouraging people to please participate in the Adopt a Family Program , a local initive that can be trusted to appropriate funds honestly.