Tropical Thoughts

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Bid Farewell

Tropical Thoughts

Such a strange, bittersweet sensation I'm feeling.

I leave my island paradise in fewer than forty-eight hours, and I'm still having just a little bit of trouble wrapping my mind around it.

It's not that I don't want to go -- I do. My time here is definitely done. Professionally, I need to find new challenges and growth. Personally, I've had it up to my eyebrows with circular roads, shite customer service, craptacular shopping, the lack of sports, and asshole boy situations that are unavoidable because of the island's small size.

But, in the end, I will miss this place dearly.

I will miss being able to make the two-minute walk to "my" quiet Simpson Bay beach, pulling out a good book, and listening to the waves beside me and the planes overhead. I've been trying to blaze the azur-coloured waters onto my mind's eye, knowing that the cold, dark lakes of home will do their best to erase them. It has been a novel comfort knowing that the waters of the sea hug me so closely in this place.

I will miss the cacophony of sounds. For some, these sounds are irritants; but for me, they are almost symphonic. I adore the barking dogs, the Caribbean music bursting from homes, the planes taking off, the unhushed voices of neighbours laughing and calling to each other.

I will miss the plants and trees and flowers... the tropical factor. I have grown accustomed to palm and banana and papaya trees, aloe plants and cactus. I became used to the sometimes overpowering greenery around my house. Sand is everywhere in my home, and I came to cheerfully accept that it was merely symbolic of my new life.

I will miss the lifestyle and attitude of living here. When I left Toronto almost two years ago, I was stressed out and unhappy and ready for change. I needed to get away from what had developed into an uptight routine from day to day and week to week. Living here allowed me that luxury. It was refreshing and reviving, and I've learned not to take anything for granted. I've learned, truly, to slow down and look around once in a while.

I helped start a school here. Already, in two years, I've watched it change so much. I will miss my grade seven students, with whom I have shared so much in two years. They are the first group of kids to whom I have ever really attached myself, and my heart is paying for that now. I actually feel like I meant something to them -- that I have influenced them for the better. For the first time in seven years, I really understood why I went into teaching in the first place; the moment of realization was tearfully exhausting, but also such an epiphany. Those sevens reminded me. As a teacher, I made a difference here, and that has always been my biggest professional goal.

This journey will soon end, but another will begin. Isn't life exciting that way? I love looking back and trying to remember what I was thinking about my life two years ago. Did I ever imagine it to be like this? No way. And that excites me, because it means that there's probably a lot of the unexpected in store for me in the NEXT two years as well.

I met some of the most amazing friends and students here, and the memory pile is a huge one. So, yes, the ending is bittersweet -- both exciting and heartbreaking -- but it has been an amazingly unforgettable ride. My hands were raised high above the lap bar, my eyes were wide open, and I was screaming with glee the whole time. No regrets.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Butterfly Effect

Tropical Thoughts

The island is awash in butterflies right now. I have no idea WHY it is so, but it's almost like driving through confetti when I have to go anywhere. It's gorgeous, actually. I am, literally, giggly over it. They're distracting for me, which probably isn't a good thing when I'm behind the wheel of a car, but I'm a visual person, so such is my curse!

They seem especially active in the morning hours, when I'm on my way to work. They're dizzying in their flutter, as they dance chaotically and burst forth from everywhere. The vast majority are some species that is muted yellow in colour, but their energy is anything but quiet. They seem almost drunk in their movements; the complete opposite of a practiced and synchronized school of fish. But maybe that's why I like them. They are frantic and disorganized and seem to be enjoying every minute of it all.

Yay butterflies!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Unique Day

Tropical Thoughts

I spent yesterday on my grade nine homeroom's class trip. Two students in my homeroom organized the entire thing, pretty much, with minimal guidance from me. We all met at the school and, as the other hundred kids traipsed through the gates in their formal Monday uniform, my guys strolled in wearing beach gear and only half-hidden smirks.

We headed to Pelican Key together to board a catamaran called "Lambada", which was chartered for the day, for our group alone. Lucky us, eh? We had four crew members, a huge catamaran, coolers of food and drink, and the beaches and waters of the nearby island of Tintamarre all to ourselves. It was a little piece of paradise. I judged swim contests, I played card tricks, I marvelled at the water colours, I had a fish nibble my finger while I snorkeled, I watched another fish play its own hilarious little game of "Jump the Floating Leaf" off the shore -- it must've jumped over that leaf about twenty times before it finally got bored and went to find something else to do... I enjoyed myself with a group of young teenagers! (Hmm... maybe I found the right age group for my own maturity level...) But beyond that, I was thinking about what a truly unique experience the whole thing was.

Most likely, there will never again be a time when I can just hop on a boat and go sailing and swimming with my homeroom class for a day. I enjoyed their company, their banter, their own camaraderie with one another... and I found it interesting that kids so far away from the ones back home can still be so similar to them in many ways. Seeing them together -- a group of friendly, fun, bright young people -- reminded me of possibility and all that there is ahead.

It was a day to pause and reflect, in the noisy end-of-year bustle, on the last two years of my life, and to remember that this place and my experiences have had a major impact on me. I will certainly miss many of the kids I've taught, but I also thank them for what they -- and their island -- have taught me.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Under It All

I've now been over to the lovely island of Saba twice since living here in St. Maarten. I went yesterday to go diving with my friend Chris, whereas the last time I visited, it was to hike.

I'm not an expert diver, obviously, but yesterday's journey into the deep blue sea was fantastic. We did two dives; one was a wall dive, during which we descended Saba's island wall about 80 feet under the water's surface. The coral and plant life was magnificent, and I saw the biggest fish I've ever seen in my life. It turned out to be a red snapper, and it must've been about four feet in length and about two from back to belly.

The second dive was an ocean dive, not far off the coast of the island, but to depths of about 75 feet. About five to ten thousand years ago, when Saba last erupted, the lava of the volcano ran down into the ocean and made some interesting finger-like formations. We dived around and over and up and down these fingers, dipped our hands into the warm yellow sand that reinforced the island's volcanic capabilities, and were blown away by the phenomenal colours and expanse of the reef. We were visitors to sea turtles, to hundreds of kinds of fish and plant life, and to dozing nurse sharks! It was just breathtaking, and I did squeal in delight a few times into my regulator. It really does make you think.

When I was under there, only hearing the sound of my inhaled tank air and exhaled bubbles, I was struck by the strange twists and turns our lives take. I mean, there I was, breathing underwater, accompanied by a Divemaster, a Dutch kid, and my Kiwi friend whom I didn't know at all two years ago. I was mindless of my job, my other friends, my relatives, my problems, my future plans... and it was, for a moment, heavenly.

Chris was the fun friend he is -- an expert diver who is silly underwater whenever he has the opportunity. But then, at one point, I looked over to him with some mixed-up emotions. He and his girlfriend Krista leave the island today for good. They're going to travel Europe together for a few months, while their dollars last, and then move onto something new. When I looked at him, I was pleased that he and I could spend a fun, totally tension-free day diving together. But I also thought about how we all leave here. I thought about how there's always this underlying sense of something missing here on the island... otherwise, why would we all leave? I know very few people who plan to reside in St. Maarten forever -- even students who have grown up here.

For me, I've always said that being here has been like a working vacation, complete with the deadlines, flings, heartaches, marking, sand, planning, and more heartache. Professionally, it is time to move on from this paradise. Personally, it is also time. Today, I am sad; some friends are leaving, some friends are changing, and some friends are disappointing. As much as I loved Saba, and as much as I will cry buckets when I leave my island, today I just want to be back to the familiar.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Tropical Thoughts

I watched "Alfie" last night; have you seen it? In short version, it's basically about a guy who's a player. He dates and sleeps with various women, all of whom give more to him than he even thinks about giving to them. The beginning of the movie has some humourous bits, most of which would appeal to the males in the audience, but the movie does grow a little more serious as it continues.

You see, Alfie begins to realize that he has nothing of significance in his life -- at least as far as love and relationships go. He has betrayed his best friend, used random women, and pushed away the ones who've tried their best to reach some depth with him. When the tables finally begin to turn, he is shocked and hurt, and he desperately tries to cling to those he once shunned. They, of course, have moved on, and in doing so, they force Alfie to look inward. He realizes his mistakes, grows up a little, and, thankfully, he doesn't get what he wants in the end.

At the end of the movie, I'd decided that, although it was a decent flick, the outcome was unrealistic. I thought, "People (read 'men') don't really have those glorious James Joyce epiphanies. Guys like Alfie just keep doin' what they love doin'..." But, based on further consideration, the receipt of a late-night phone call, and recent circumstances, I take that back.

Men do, after all, realize their mistakes and want to make up for them. I just wish they'd figure themselves out before inflicting the hurt... It might save some women from winding up jaded. Then again, maybe I should just be content that they even figure it out at all..?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Being Regretful

Regret is not one of my favourite playground friends. She shows up, pouts a lot when she doesn't get her way, whines about anything, is perpetually negative, and she simply brings everyone down. I don't often answer the knock at my door if I know it's Regret calling me out to play.

Sometimes, though, Regret brings her friend, Clarity, with her, and I don't mind that so much. Clarity doesn't always arrive on time; she's never the first to show up at the sandbox. I think distractions sometimes waylay her for a bit. But when she does finally make her entrance, it's often a grand one. Smiles of realization break out on faces, welcoming nods come forth, and a little more sunshine seems to fall on the grains of sandbox sand.

I don't often regret the choices I've made. I find regret too overwhelming an emotion to bear. It allows people to wallow in self-pity and gives them permission to stagnate, rather than move forward. But when those rare moments do come up when I feel that overpowering feeling of sadness and choice-gone-wrong, I seek out the "why". Clarity makes her late, but always welcome, appearance, we hug like old friends, and understanding passes between us without a word.

I've made a few bad decisions on St. Maarten, but I hope, when I leave my island home in a few short months, that the only stow-away in my luggage is the one whose presence is gentle and heartening. I will not carry Regret, but Clarity will always have her place with me on the journey.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Running the Risk

Tropical Thoughts

Recently, I have been coming very close to serious injury due to motorized vehicles and my own two running legs. Today, in fact, I am sporting a lovely scrape on my right knee and shoulder from a tumble I took while running during my grade nine P.E. class.

There I was this morning, bouncing along, watching my footfalls carefully, when some idiot honked his horn. The oncoming car was nowhere near me until I tripped on the rocky ground from which I had just raised my eyes. Tumbling on a forward-right trajectory, I rolled onto the side of the road and actually contacted the tire of the oncoming car with my foot. The students running right behind me stopped, gaped, helped me up, and made several remarks about how "close" that was.

After this past Friday's run, I arrived home unscathed, at least physically. During that particular run, I came very close, twice, to being hit by purely ignorant drivers. They didn't bother to even glance in my direction before making their respective left and right turns. And of course, 'twas I who had the curse words fall on my ears.

I am quite frustrated by the lack of safe driving and of sidewalks on this island, but I suppose I will continue to "run the risk". Does that make me a true athlete, or just a stupid person?