I’ve been living in Antigua for four months now and in less than 2 weeks we’ll be leaving. In true Carmen ‘leave-it –to-the-last-moment” fashion, I’ve still hardly written a word about Antigua and I how I feel about being here. It comes down to a little bit of procrastination. Mostly though I didn’t want to write because of how miserable I felt about being here; starting when Tasi died. He was one of Jason’s closest friends and being unable to make it to his funeral was very hard for us. It was one thing after the next following that; missing important birthdays, being unable to comfort my family when they needed me, and just simply missing home and the people I care about.
Being stressed about not finding full time positions while all around us our friends were hopping onto boats just made me want to be home all the more. As South Africans we knew it would be hard to find positions, we just didn’t know how hard. The painful truth is that when it comes to hiring, Europeans and Americans will always take precedence over even the schengen-holding-South Africans.
A few weeks ago I went on a charter as a chef/solo stewardess with a Kiwi (neither the bird nor the fruit) Skipper who helped me gain a little perspective. After a week working together, because he realised how hard I’m prepared to work and that I’m really good with guests, he asked me if I would like to come work for him when the owner buys the new boat. It made me realise that there are still Captains (or at least captain) who don’t care how much paperwork it takes to have the most diligent crew rather than the most entitled. After arriving back in Antigua, a South African friend of mine was also offered a job and he is now on his way to England.
Back to the point though; what do I think of Antigua? In the last four months Antigua has become a little like a home to me and not because I’m fond of Antigua itself, in fact I barely like the place. It’s the friends I’ve made here that have made it a home. I’ve always struggled with people a little; I’m very judgemental, cynical, harsh and also insecure at times which makes it hard for people to like me. Coming to Antigua gave me a fresh start; a chance to be more of the positive traits I have. In the last five months, I’m including Tortola, I’ve made more friends than I have my whole life.
Antigua without these people and without Jason would just be the brown island of the Caribbean with terrible service and a shortage of good manners, to me.
Other than that it’s the small things about Antigua that intrigue me; it’s the small things about any place that I want to hear about. When my Aunt came back from India where she lived for six months one of the things she told me that fascinated me the most was simply that ‘toilet paper is really expensive in India’. That’s not exactly something you would find out about by reading ‘Lonely planet’. So I want to talk about the small things and you can find out about the beautiful beaches and great restaurants in a travel guide. By the way if that travel guide also tells you that there’s good snorkelling in Long bay then the writer obviously hasn’t snorkelled there since they built Sandals on the beach; if you want to snorkel then go to another island all together.
The first thing the guide books won’t tell you is that the locals really aren’t big on ‘service with a smile’; in fact half of them make you feel guilty about having asked for service in the first place. In my experience whenever I’ve had a friendly waitress, bartender or cashier he/she has come from another island. I won’t pretend to know why this is; maybe they’ve had enough of all the tourists and crazy yachties or maybe their culture is just plainly lacking in etiquette. Either way it’s something you become accustomed to if you stay here long enough. I’ve acclimatized to the point where I might never tell off a Cape Townian waitress again.
The rest of the things that bother me about Antigua are pretty much the same as the things back home: animal abuse, careless littering, steel drum bands, drug abuse etc.
I regress; just like the toilet paper fact I’ve one trivial fact (from now on known as the toilet paper fact) about Antigua that really surprised me. A while ago I started looking in all the little shops in English Harbour for an A4 book. When I didn’t find one I went to the stationary shop in Antigua’s town, St. John, and in every other possibly stationary related shop and I still couldn’t find one. Soon after that I started noticing all the scholars doing their homework, outside the local internet cafe/grocery store, in little A5 books.
Toilet paper fact #1: Antigua has no A4 books.
Well now that I’ve made Antigua sound like the worst place in the world (tourist music!?!?) I have to be honest and say that there are also things that I like about Antigua besides the fact that you can walk in the streets without a shirt and a beer in your hand. Not that I would do either.
Antigua has really good public transport in the form of very expensive taxis and very cheap buses and if you manage to hop on either in the right direction there are parts of Antigua to see that aren’t brown. We went to see some of these places on four-wheelers which happened to be my favourite day spent here. I’ll let the beautiful photos Jason took do the mending.
Now the season has ended here, all our friends have left or are leaving, and also because I don’t particularly like hurricanes it’s time to leave. We’re going to Newport where we’ll try again for a little while and then we’ll be on our way home.