Category Archives: Trinidad and Tobago

Switching Blogs

Hi friends! As you may have realized, I’ve been absent off of this blog for quite some time. This is because I have switched over to a blog that I am writing with my pen name. I’m still blogging about life in the Caribbean, but I’m also sharing how my writing and online publishing escapades are progressing.

Come with me as I make the switch to my blog as Juliana Rose! Hope to see you there!

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Finding a Job Abroad

In some ways, my plan worked.

When I wrote the scholarship proposal for my trip here, I included visits to local professionals as part of my agenda. It’s much easier to say to someone, “I want to come in and learn about what you do,” than “I want to come in and talk to you about you hiring me.” So far, I’ve visited about half a dozen companies of varying size and profession, including landscaping, architecture, and GIS/mapping. When I asked about potentially working there, all but one of them gently said no.

One of the visits I made was to a nursery, and the owner mentioned that he knew someone at a landscaping company who could probably use some help. About a month ago I called and visited. The owner told me a little about what he needs done, and I’ve been going to some of the sites to learn about what’s being done.¬†He’s agreed to hire me part time, so after I get back from Barbados and Guadeloupe I’ll apply for a work visa and then get started.

I am excited! I’m still a little anxious about getting the work visa, but I’m feeling much happier and less stressed now that some things are falling into place.

 

Those inspiring posts about moving to another country and finding a job are all lies

AKA things I wish my past self had known some before starting that would make my present self much less frustrated.

I’m not saying that the inspirational stories about living and working abroad are all wrong, but I do think that many of them sugar coat some things. Admittedly, I only have experience with one country so far, so maybe it’s less difficult in other places. I could rant about all the difficulties that have come up before I’ve even submitted a work visa application (like the fact that the form is supposed to be available online but it’s not, and when I called the office no one answered, and many attempts later the 10th number I called finally picked up, I got transferred three times, and then they told me that they don’t have the answer and to call the first number I called), but then this would just be a long an angry post.

I also don’t want to bash the idea of going out on a limb to live in another country. Even though there have been many headaches, and I’m sure there will be many more, I’m still not sorry to be here. I imagine that God is just having a good laugh at all of the times (daily!) that He’s calling me to be more patient.

If I could go back in time, though, I would have given myself a couple of pieces of advice regarding the whole work visa thing.

The first suggestion to myself would have been to do anything I could before leaving. I glanced at the process to apply before I left, but I didn’t notice that part of my application has to be a certificate of good standing from my government. Instead of just having that done ahead of time, I now have to mail them some forms, wait for them to do whatever it is they need to do, and then wait for the forms to be mailed back to me. Keep in mind that this process is lengthened by the fact that it takes a lot longer for mail to get here (though I’ll at least mail it priority on my end to expedite things).

My second suggestion to my past self is something that would have been more difficult to avoid. In summary, it turns out that it doesn’t matter that I have to wait a long time for a certificate of character from my country because I can’t apply for a work visa yet anyway. The reason is that once I apply, I can’t leave the country until it’s approved. Since I’m going to Barbados and Guadeloupe for my scholarship, I have to wait until I return to apply for the work visa. Had I known that, I *may* have planned those trips to be earlier in my scholarship window, and then I wouldn’t have the no-scholarship no-job interim that I now cannot avoid.

I’m sure that once this part is all taken care of, I’ll completely forget how frustrating it all was. That’ll be a nice day.

Until then, please pray for my sanity . . .

Highlights of Trinidad Living

The best thing for me about living in Trinidad is getting to see Kevan every day. I am realizing that I have swapped one problem (being far from Kevan) for another (working here and getting a work visa, currently), but it is so worth it. The frustrations of figuring out the paperwork/hoop jumping also feel less significant when I get to do cool new things!

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The more I look at this picture the funnier my face looks. Tan face, white neck, and I’ve somehow achieved a Zorro mask sunglasses tan. Kevan, of course, looks handsome as ever in his outdoor adventure hat. The was taken aboard the “Island Prince.”

A couple of weeks ago Kevan and I participated in a beach cleanup, which was the reason for the boat ride above. Ocean currents cause floating trash to end up on the island of Chacachacare, which is one of the islands off of the northwestern tip of Trinidad.

At the actual beach cleanup, where Kevan was excited that the volunteer in the background fit perfectly into the little container.
At the actual beach cleanup, where Kevan was excited that the volunteer in the background fit perfectly into the little container.

Kevan and I also did a marriage preparation weekend retreat at Mount Saint Benedict. We attended sessions where married couples spoke about their own experiences, and then together Kevan and I went through questions and topics about our future. They were mostly things we had talked about before, but it was nice to have the chance to discuss things intentionally.

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One of the views from where we stayed at the monastery. It was worth braving the mosquitoes to sit outside there for a bit.
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The volunteer who took our picture said, “Pretend you just got married!” which is why I am making that face.

That same weekend we went on a short hike up Mount Tabor. There was once a fire there which wiped out all of the forest, causing potential for a huge landslide. It was reforested with fir trees, which aren’t native to Trinidad. It’s pretty much the only place in Trinidad you can find fir trees, and when you’re walking along there’s a very clear line of deciduous trees ending and fir trees starting.

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It felt a little like being in the U.S. because of the trees ūüôā

Last Saturday Kevan’s parents and grandparents threw an engagement party for us. Kevan gave a little speech and did a really great job. He told a short version of our story, which I thought was cute. I was also quite glad that I didn’t have to speak!

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This picture with Kevan’s dad is my favorite from the evening. Also, a lot of people brought us wine, which was a happy surprise.
Most of the guests were the parents' friends, but I met a few new friends of Kevan's as well.
Most of the guests were the parents’ friends, but I met a few new friends of Kevan’s as well.
A nice picture, in case anyone wants to see :)
Here is a nice picture for posterity!

Those have been the big events of the past few weeks. As I think about it, it’s not the big things that are different, just the details. An engagement party can happen anywhere, it’s just that this one had lots of LLB and rum cake. A beach cleanup here is like a highway cleanup somewhere else. You can hike anywhere in the world,¬†the scenery is just different. Despite this, Trinidad feels different to me. The weather, roads, food, people, customs, and many other things are quite different from what I’m used to. Perhaps I’ll try to write about that in the future, too.

 

 

 

 

I got to . . .

. . . ride in a speedboat on the ocean! Boy I am lucky ūüôā

Here’s how that happened.

At the suggestion of the nursery owners I met with a couple of weeks, ago I got in touch with the owner of Peter Richard’s landscaping. Interestingly enough, the owner is named Brendan. He bought the company several years ago and kept the name the name for reputation reasons. The company does landscape work, event rentals, and retail (they have a nursery and sell plants). I’ve been going there one or two days a week to visit some of their projects and learn more of the plants used here.

On Wednesday we were at a site and Brendan got a call about some construction work that was happening at his house “down d islands.” I got to tag along. I know that the house on the island is the big deal, and it was cool to see the house, but the boat ride was by far the coolest. I loved the feeling of bouncing over the waves and the wind blowing my ponytail straight back because we were going so fast.

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Not many of these pictures have flat horizons since they were taken from a swiftly moving boat. Brendan’s dad, who was driving the boat, said that if you went 90 miles straight through this channel (called the first boca) you would reach Grenada.
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This island is used as a prison. Kevan says they need fences because people try to swim it. The area water to have sharks, but they got fished out.
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A view back towards the shore. The mountains you see are part of the Northern Range, which run along the north coast, basically. The central part of Trinidad is actually pretty flat.
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One of the least crooked shots. The clear sky makes the water really pretty. These houses are only accessible by boat.
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This picture was taken solely to show the garbage in the water. During the boat ride there were a lot of things floating around, especially empty bottles and styrofoam boxes. It’s tempting to post only about the good things, but many things are imperfect here, just like everywhere else.

Caribbean House Tour

I live up the hill from Kevan with his grandmother and grandfather, but I spend most of the time with his grandmother. She is called Apo, which means “grandmother” in a Chinese dialect called Hakka. Apo was born in Jamaica but studied in Hong Kong when she was younger, so she speaks Hakka.

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Here’s the front of the house. On the left you can see a piece of the gate where you come in, and on the right is a retaining wall. The whole property is fenced in.
Here you can see the kitchen and dining area. You can see how you come into the kitchen from the car park. Apo let's me cook and use anything in the kitchen, so that's great.
Here you can see the kitchen and dining area. You can see how you come into the kitchen from the car park. Apo let’s me cook and use anything in the kitchen, so that’s great.
The living room is next to the dining room and also leads into the TV room, which is on the right. The bedrooms are down the hallway on the left.
The living room is next to the dining room and also leads into the TV room, which is on the right. The bedrooms are down the hallway on the left.

 

This is my room! I tried to get it mostly clean for the picture. The fan is positioned to keep mosquitoes off of me at night, and you can see on the nightstand a little white box that burns mosquito-repelling tablets.
This is my room! I tried to get it mostly clean for the picture. The fan is positioned to keep mosquitoes off of me at night, and you can see on the nightstand a little white box that burns mosquito-repelling tablets.
It's hard to get a picture, but here is an idea of my bathroom anyway. I should put the hair dryer in the closet since it is too hot to use it most of the time.
It’s hard to get a picture, but here is an idea of my bathroom anyway. I should put the hair dryer in the closet since it is too hot to use it most of the time.
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Finally, this is the yard. I get to swim anytime I want, and it’s also nice to sit out on the porch (if I’m wearing lots of bug spray and the fan is on!).

 

Moving In

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?

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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.

 

Not Living Abroad.

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 fianc√© 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 fianc√© for two months” instead of “I’m visiting my fianc√© 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 fianc√©(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.

 

Long Distance Wedding Planning

A big percentage of my travel preparation is wedding planning. Since the wedding will be in Illinois, and will take place¬†8 whole months after I move to Trinidad, I’m scrambling to get¬†the big things booked before I leave.

I guess I’m working on the small things too.

And the medium things.

And also working full time and still cleaning up my thesis to submit before the extremely soon deadline of 4 days from now.

From the movie Ponyo

It is much easier to get items¬†shipped in the U.S. rather than sending them to Trinidad, and since the wedding is here it seems counter-productive to plan to get things there just to bring them back here. For these¬†reasons, in addition to thinking about the venue and the photographer and everything else that is supposed to go in the 8-10 months before the wedding time slot, I’m also attempting to order bridesmaids gifts and make name tags and get everyone’s address so that all of the invitations (which I already have) can be addressed and stamped and ready in order to limit my wonderful Maid of Honor’s responsibilities to simply dropping them in the mail in five months. (Not that she wouldn’t gladly write addresses¬†for me, but she’s already doing a ridiculous amount of work for this wedding for me out of the goodness of her heart.)

To be fair, I am enjoying brainstorming details like (inexpensive yet cute) centerpieces so early, and this past weekend I had a blast wedding dress shopping with my mom and three of my very best friends.

Something I am excited for that is lacking, though, is Kevan’s involvement. It’s more than a little depressing to go meet with the priest to discuss wedding details by yourself. In terms of some of the major decisions, there’s only so much that can be communicated through pictures and explanations, and he’s kind of just trusting me to do an alright job.

In 39 days I will go to Trinidad. You’d think after 3 years of long distance, just over a month wouldn’t feel too bad. Yet here I am, complaining to Kevan over Skype every few days that I am¬†tired of being apart and I do¬†not want to be apart anymore, and when we are together I¬†never again want to be apart for more than, say, two weeks if it’s really necessary, but of course less than that if at all possible.¬†Honestly, I think if Kevan lived nearby¬†but happened to not be able to come meet the photographer, I wouldn’t care. It’s just that him not being here for things like that are another reminder that he’s far away. Still.

Oh, well. It’s probably edifying me somehow, right? Redemptive suffering. I’m hopeful that when we’re finally together for good it’ll be that much sweeter.

 

Sorting through every single thing I own

I leave in a little over two months. In addition to school and work and wedding planning, I need to organize the daunting amount of possessions that I own to decide what’s being discarded, sold, and taken with me.

Four years ago I¬†had a different packing experience as I prepared to study in France for a year. I wasn’t about to pay extra for a second suitcase, so I really worked to limit what I brought. I even cut my hair so that I wouldn’t feel the need to bring a hair dryer or straightener.¬†I packed light enough that I even had enough room to stuff a pillow in my suitcase, which turned out to be an excellent decision as it was much more comfortable to have that than the pillow that had been left for me that had been who-knows-where. I wore my five-ish outfits into the ground and returned with a suitcase that was only half full because many of my things were too disgusting to bring back.

Although I lived happily 10 months abroad without all of the material items by which I am currently surrounded, the idea of giving up these things for good is difficult.

Several¬†days ago I had a burst of motivation and decided to go through all of the clothes I own. I even made little labels (ripped up pieces of paper with sharpie on them, how organized) for my different categories: Clothes to bring to Trinidad, clothes to last the rest of the summer, clothes to leave at my mom’s house (winter things for when I visit), clothes to discard, and clothes for the garage sale that my mom and I have been meaning to have for years.

After a quick overhaul of my dresser and closet, the piles were done. The Trinidad pile could have easily filled too large suitcases, and I still have to fit in books, shoes, and whatever else. I dug through it, lamentingly removed a few things, and looked again. It could have filled one and a half large suitcases.

Let me tell you an uninteresting story about my stuff. I’ve left some things in Trinidad on previous visits, so I¬†already have clothes there. And if I’m honest with myself, I probably have nearly enough clothes there as it is.

Did you ever read any Little House on the Prairie books? While bumpily traveling out west in a covered wagon, sisters Mary and Laura Ingalls shared one tin cup. Laura had two dresses; a Sunday dress and a working dress. For Christmas one year, Laura was given a rag doll that was one of her most treasured possessions (and maybe the only real toy she ever had). There’s something in a simple, comparatively stuff-less life that appeals to us. When I was discerning religious life, one of the greatest calls for me was poverty: living with few material things and taking excellent care of the things we do have.

I DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF. It’s in all caps because I’m trying to convince myself, too.

This move is going to be an amazing exercise in detachment from things.