We move into a new apartment with a view of the ocean on the south side of the island. Through the palm trees and the villa style arches of the patio the ocean looks like a calm lake, clouds shimmering in the water, the waves breaking in the distance. In the mornings the dawn casts a golden glow across the length of the ocean, and in the evenings the dusk lights up the clouds that linger in the west.
An iguana lives on the patio. Iguanas are everywhere on the island, and they’re the most common form of road kill. This iguana stretches to its full foot long length in the sun. I think of him as the real landlord of the place—we’re just tenants. In the mornings, you can hear the roosters calling to each other, parrots in the trees, a hundred other bird sounds I don’t recognize. A black bird lands on the patio as I write and chaks his way across before flying into a coconut tree.
There are times when it feels like coming here was a mistake—especially when we’re swamped with work and drowning in the learning curve. We’re far away from friends, family, and the North American way of life we once knew. About once a week Natalie and I check in with each other. “Are you doing ok? Still happy here?” Some days are harder than others for either one of us, but during the early mornings when I look out at the ocean, when I watch the Iguana sunbathing on the patio balustrades, and see the palm trees sway in the tropical breeze I remember why it is we came here.
We came here because of hope.
The area is called South Sound. Later I learn that the definitions for sounds are ambiguous. I choose the one that bests describes our view of the ocean: a sound is an inlet for the ocean, a protected anchorage. The south side of the island is where the many cruise ships of tourist season dock. They drop their anchors a distance from the shore, and little shuttles ferry passengers between the ships and George Town, the main hub of the island. In a single day, the island’s population can increase by a third, depending on the number of cruise ships arriving.
It’s nice to finally have a place that we can call our own. When we unpack we put up pictures of our old life, find corners for Funko Pop Captain America and Thor to stand watch. While living in the corporate suite was nice, we always felt like guests. Most rental apartments in Cayman are fully furnished. When we move in I feel like a college student again, checking out a new apartment before the other roommates get here. Natalie and I do an inventory of the place, and I try not to be disappointed by the kitchen (nothing really wrong with it, just not up to our standards).
How much additional stuff do we buy to make the place home?
What makes the place home is the dog, the woofer, the stinker, the monster, the puppy. Winry is a goldendoodle, a golden retriever and a poodle mix. We got her last year from Mennonite breeders in Maryland. Goldendoodles are bred for their temperament and their hypoallergenic fur. They’re friendly with people and other dogs, and are easily trained. Almost everyone I meet has nice things to say about their breed.
And sometimes I’m sure that she’s going to be the death of me.
Winry arrives the day after we move into our new apartment. After staying back with Natalie’s brother Aaron, for two months in “quarantine” as we processed her import paperwork (that is a whole different story and drawn out hassle, wow), she arrived via cargo plane in a grey plastic travelling crate. The day she arrived we waited anxiously for time to pass, then waited anxiously in the customs clearinghouse, then waited anxiously at the cargo warehouse. On the other side of an invisible warehouse line we weren’t supposed to cross, our dog sat in her crate on top of a wooden shipping pallet. Workers drive pallet trucks and stackers. In the distance, crews unload a cargo plane, a foreman yells for them to hurry up. A van pulls up to the warehouse doors and a forklift loads boxes of frozen seafood.
We try calling to her but she doesn’t seem to recognize us or our voices. It’s only later when the department of agriculture inspector lets Winry out of her crate that she recognizes Natalie. Her reaction is muted, as though she’s waking up from a dream. She doesn’t realize it’s Natalie until she smells her, licks her hand. Then she won’t stop jumping up on her.
Winry doesn’t know what to make of her new life. The cable repairman with a heavy Jamaican accent jokes that soon she’ll be an island dog. “She’ll be a eating lizards like the rest of them,” he says making slurping noises. I don’t know whether to believe him. With his long hair, goatee, and large hoop earring, he looks like a pirate dressed as a cable repairman.
There are noticeable personality shifts. Where she was once really friendly to everyone (everyone was her new best friend), she’s now protective of us, uneasy. She barks and lunges at people. She was this way when she first met Dan and Olga. But after a few pets and sniffs, they are her best friends.
She’s skittish. She growls at unknown figures in the morning and night. She barks at new noises, suspicious looking lamps and shadows. One night she sneaks out of the bedroom at 11PM, padding to her food bowl and chowing down on the kibble. Mid bite she starts barking, and we hear her growl, her feet padding along the tile floor as she runs back to the bedroom. “What’s wrong baby?” Natalie asks.
Winry scared herself while eating.
The dog and I have more in common than I realize. In her eyes I see the same uneasiness and anxiety I feel towards a world of new things. We uprooted her from our apartment at Overlook Ridge and transplanted her into a tropical land. Nothing is the same and everything she ever knew is gone.
Some things haven’t changed—she still decides that the perfect time to go to the bathroom is when we’re about to eat. It doesn’t matter what time we eat—she has to go pee at the moment we sit down to eat. She fixates on her favorite toy of the month. This month it’s a red Frisbee (she really doesn’t have much else. She killed a stuffed pig we bought her within the first day). The dog is so happy to carry the red Frisbee around. Her tail wags and within minutes the entire surface of the thing is covered in slobber bubbles and slime.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same.” Cayman life is a blend of western cultures and a slice of Caribbean. We’re impacted by world news, but unaffected. Locals and expats talk about major issues, then go about the day like nothing happened. The inauguration of President Trump is broadcast on all the TV stations. We can watch feed from British, Canadian, and American sources. Ordinary people and dignified officials stand in the rain. Former President George Bush, has an argument with a poncho that won’t stay on properly. The internet loves him.
The media hasn’t recovered from its shock over the election. Its surreal, the political climate of the country was polarized. One day it was going to be another Clinton era. The next it was a Trump presidency. “It still feels like a dream,” Natalie says. This is further reinforced because we left the country shortly after election day. Now the world events feel like they’re happening a world away, an alternate history on a science fiction show.
Winry sniffs the tile floor on the patio, sticking her head through the balustrades. When I’m not looking, she licks the iguana droppings and eats it.