My first few days of settling in have been busy. I am living at Kevan’s grandma’s house – I have my own room, and essentially my own bathroom too. I’m really lucky. The last of my stuff got unpacked today, and most everything has a place now. I forgot how many things I left here on previous visits and how much I sent with Kevan when he visited me. For all my thoughts about living simply and not having too many material things, I probably have more clothes here than Kevan.
Kevan had a phone set up for me when I got here. It’s his old phone and he says it stinks, but I’m finding that it works better than my previous phone. Opens things right away, downloads apps, et cetera. It even (gasp) has a front-facing camera! (I had an iPhone 3, so naturally it was getting slow in its old age.) I’ve connected with some of my friends on WhatsApp, which is great, and I’ve been using my phone to call people with whom I want to meet for my scholarship and for job-seeking purposes. Exciting.
On Saturday I went with Kevan and one of his scout friends to cut bamboo for a booth that the scouts are having this week. I only had my phone, and Kevan was not lying when he said the camera was bad. It has a lot of focus issues. The front-facing camera focuses great, but of course I can’t quite see the picture I’m taking. Anyway, bamboo-cutting was cool. I helped a little. Nothing says “Caribbean jungle island woman” like hacking at bamboo with a machete, right?
I’ve driven a few times since arriving. I think that remembering to stay on the left side of the road is a lesser problem, and that getting used to narrow roads and driving etiquette here are going to be the tough part. Kevan says I have to learn how to honk. Some honks mean thank you, some mean “hey I know you,” and angry honks are angry. There are also huge potholes around, and I accidentally drove through one and splashed a guy. I feel really bad about that.
This already feels different from the other times I’ve been here. Having my own room and space, my own phone, my own key, and practicing driving all are starting to make it feel like I live in Trinidad.
I guess I can’t actually write about “living abroad” for a while. When I arrived in Trinidad I was harshly reminded that I am not, in fact, living here. Yet.
Before Friday, my passport had five stamps from Trinidad and Tobago. Those five times through immigration were easy – they asked what I was doing and how long I was staying; I gave them Kevan’s name and my return date. This time, however, something threw up red flags for them. Perhaps because I said Kevan was my fiancé instead of my boyfriend. Maybe because I checked the “study” box in addition to the “visiting friends and family” box, they needed to know more. It could be that the attendant was just a very thorough person. Or maybe they’re reluctant about Americans since Trump and Clinton are the two major presidential candidates. Regardless of the reason, the woman asked me questions for twenty minutes, wrote down my whole life story, and then told me that I couldn’t enter the country unless I had a ticket to leave. So I sat in the middle of the floor near immigration and cried as I made an expensive phone call to Kevan on my U.S. phone (thanks Dad for keeping me on your plan until I got here, it really helped out) and bought a plane ticket for both of us to go to Barbados in two months.
An hour and a half after the plan landed, I finally left the airport, with my bags still thankfully waiting for me. At midnight after a full day of travel it felt pretty traumatizing, but now it feels like less than a hiccup. It’s especially a non-problem because – pro tip that was really just luck – the airline with which I had booked the tickets had a 24 hour refund policy. Though we do intend to go to Barbados at the end of October, cancelling the tickets without penalty was a happy ending since we can get multi-city, round-trip tickets at a better price.
Two takeaways I have learned from this event:
Keep the story simple to avoid suspicion/manymany questions (“I’m visiting my fiancé for two months” instead of “I’m visiting my fiancé for two months while I work on a scholarship project and the scholarship is from my university and I’m working with this person in your country and yes I can show you an e-mail from him and no I don’t have any certificate for the scholarship available to look at and . . .”).
When we go to Barbados and Guadaloupe, I will be sure to have either a work visa or a ticket to go somewhere else to avoid all this trouble. Apparently you can get stay as a visitor for six months (for $100TTD, or approximately $15USD), so if I don’t have a work visa by then perhaps I’ll do the extension and just buy my ticket to go back to Illinois in April for the wedding.
As an answer to a question, Trinidad does not do fiancé(e) visas. I will most likely apply for residency after Kevan and I are married, but we’ll see how the work visa thing goes.