Day 8 -14
With the help of a man everyone in the office calls Mr. Derrick, we moved to corporate housing this week. He is always Mr. Derrick, while his boss is known as David. As far as I know, Mr. Derrick’s responsibilities in the office are to drive the office van to run errands like helping new employees move out of their hotels, and sending emails to the entire office when someone parks in a spot they’re not supposed to (which is actually a pretty busy job. He sends out an email nearly every day).
A two-story apartment on the third floor of a plaza most well-known for a sushi restaurant is where we will be staying for the next month until we get our own apartment. The apartment is beautiful, a short five minute walk to the beach. Tourists pass through the parking lot on the way to the restaurants, their own lodgings. Mentally I do the math on how much a place like this would cost in Boston. Granite counter tops and new appliances, a long dining table of dark wood and six chairs, a green felt couch that is both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time, high speed internet, two large bedrooms with king sized beds, 2.5 bathrooms, and a tiny, tiny view of the ocean? Easily $3-4000 a month in Boston.
Even with the new apartment we still live out of our suitcases. Red luggage cubes we ordered from Amazon filled with polo shirts for work on the dining room table. Open suitcasces in the living room. It’s hard to unpack and settle in somewhere when you know that you’ll be packing up in a little over a month. We have the basics in order though. The kitchen is stocked, and we have Netflix ready to go.
Yet, as gorgeous as the apartment is, two essentials are missing: toilet paper and a hair dryer.
Toilet paper is easy. We find it at the local “Cost U Less,” a Costco inspired warehouse store that maybe costs you a total of $0.05 less. I try not to do the exchange rate in my head. The stress of thinking about how much money we are actually spending to live will only increase my grumpy old man tendencies.
A hair dryer is not easy to find. Cost U Less has a cheap aluminum shelf tied on to the end of a warehouse row filled with hair products—two curlers, three types of straighteners, a razor for haircuts.
“Do you sell hair dryers here?”
“What you see is what you get my friend,” the red-vested employee shrugs.
It takes us five days to find a store that sells hair dryers.
When we finally track find it Natalie clutches the hair dryer like a prize hard won—a small victory in a sea of change.
Birthdays and Christmas Trees
I turned old on Friday, or at least that’s what everyone tells me. People return my birthday wishes with declarations of “Happy olding day!” on Facebook and WeChat. They convey blessings of sunshine and happiness on this day of my new life in Cayman.
True to November form, it’s cloudy on my birthday.
We stayed in, ordering Jamaican jerk chicken quesadillas from the hotel’s restaurant, a frozen Marie Callender’s pecan pie from Cost U Less, and opt to watch Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. The movie is an amazing train wreck of proper nouns too complicated to learn, tragic things happening to everyone, and absolutely stunning CG special effects. And you have to play a video game (coming out Nov. 29, 2016 after 10 years in development hell) to resolve any of the major plot lines. Natalie isn’t as impressed as I am. She falls asleep seconds after the credits roll.
What Natalie IS impressed with is the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trailers. We drive down to Camana Bay (only making one accidental turn that was a happy mistake) on Saturday. Camana Bay is the local equivalent of a mall. Pleasantly surprised to find matinees for 9.50 for any show before 6PM.
The trailers are about to start when a large young man sits next to Natalie and tries to make small talk.
“Have you ever tried one of these before?!” He was eating a marshmallow, a plate of nachos in his lap. “Do you want to try one?” he asks, dipping the marshmallow in the nacho cheese. “It’s SO GOOD.”
“Why do I always sit next to the weirdos?” As someone that’s always sitting next to her, I pretend to be offended.
After the movie we linger for Camana Bay’s Christmas tree lighting. The outdoor mall is filled with local families, expat families, and tourists. I still can’t tell the difference between locals and expats like us. I wonder if we stand out in the crowd, if the locals are able to spot us easily, if the locals are bothered at all. The island is made of so many people from everywhere, that everyone could easily be an expat and a local.
There’s a general buzz of happiness in the air. We spot another Chinese/Caucasian couple having dinner on the patio of a restaurant that serves American food. The girl bounces a baby on her knee, and he cradles a beer. Their food is long cold. They’re waiting for Santa and the lights to come on.
Parents and children crowd the plaza. Some kids swing cross shaped light toys (Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, really), others throw glow sticks around. We climb the observation tower—a 75 foot tower with panoramic views of the area—for a better view. After Santa arrives he leads the countdown. From our spot in the tower we can see the Christmas Tree.
I’m a sucker for these simple Christmas traditions. In Boston Natalie and I sometimes went to the lighting of the tree in the Common, or wandered around Faneuil Hall for the lights. It’s a little early this year. I’ve become used to waiting till after the Thanksgiving madness for the barrage of Christmas, but this year it’s comforting. Even though it’s the day after my birthday and we’re only halfway through November, there is something comforting and magical about celebrating Christmas in a new place.
It’s our first American holiday away from home. But where is home now? Is it America? Canada? The Island? I think of a thousand clichés about home and none of them really fit.
“Don’t be too surprised if I’m a little sad today,” Natalie warns me. Thanksgiving is one of her favorite holidays, and in some ways she likes it more than Christmas. Every year she makes a traditional feast—turkey, potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, homemade pies. We invite friends and missionaries over, we eat until we’re stuffed, do nothing, then eat some more. This year we have to go to work. It is hard to work on Thanksgiving, knowing full well that across the ocean you could be eating turkey and hanging out, and taking a nap.
It’s been 13 years since I celebrated my last Canadian Thanksgiving. I’m used to not celebrating it. I am NOT used to not celebrating American Thanksgiving (which if I really had to admit, is kind of a better holiday because you get more time off). The radio ads announce impending Black Friday sales, but it seems odd to have a sale when the weather is warm, and you don’t have the day off.
The Relief Society ladies of the local branch of our church throw a somewhat impromptu Thanksgiving party. Instead of watching football or a Macy’s parade, one of the sisters hires a professional ballroom instructor to teach us salsa dancing, merengue, and bachata. Natalie is the only full-blooded American at the party, and the only Caucasian. To the locals, Thanksgiving is another excuse to get together, to have a party and dance and eat.
The instructor calls out his directions across the room, and it’s unclear how many people are listening. The room is full of self-conscious people and laughter. They laugh with their friends about how silly we all look. I ALWAYS feel better about life when I’m dancing. It doesn’t matter what kind of dance, but there comes a point, a special sweet spot if you will, where the whole world doesn’t matter, and I don’t feel like an idiot.
Between bites of turkey and stuffing, the island starts to feel a little bit like home.