So You Think You Can Live the Dream?

Life on a small Caribbean island is the stuff some people dream about. And who can blame them? See the alluring white beaches and breathtaking sunsets, feel the sand between your toes and the sun on your skin and smell the sun screen while you are rocking in your hammock to a distinct Caribbean rhythm. Who doesn’t want that? That’s the holiday feel you crave when you are working to pay the rent, commuting through the rain, standing in line for the cashier.

But don’t forget that’s the holiday feeling, the feeling that lasts three weeks at most before going back to the rut of reality. What is living on a Caribbean island really like? Is it the non-stop holiday people think it is? What are the problems? What are the benefits? What are useful tips for those wishing to take the plunge?

cropped-pa211040.jpgFor those that are seriously considering immigrating to Saba (no, not for studying), the most regal of the Windward Islands in the Dutch Caribbean, bear in mind that each Caribbean island has a distinct identity and culture. What goes for one island, doesn’t necessarily go for the neighbouring island, so do your research. There are a lot of blogs and websites out there that can help you get an impression of each island. This post is about my experiences on the Unspoiled Queen. I am going to assume you have done most of your basic homework about this island and that you are now ready for the next level of information.

Let’s start with the challenges. The obvious ones are being away from your family and friends and missing inevitable major events such as births, marriages, or the death of a loved one. You may feel the distance particularly devastating in the last case. But these issues are not typical for Saba. On this small tiny island there are several things that could pose a particularly Saban problem if you wish to come here to live.

First of all, there is the cost of living. Rents are high. Housing starts around 650 USD for a basic one room apartment. A two-bedroom house will cost between $1200 and $1500. These are furnished, because there is no IKEA in this isolated part of the world. Almost everything (groceries, building materials, clothes, etc.) needs to be shipped in, so expect to pay for that too. A liter of long-life milk is $2,65 at the cheapest and there is limited choice, though I have to admit that for such a small island we have relatively a large variety of products. There also isn’t a fierce competition between supermarkets. Don’t forget also that travelling to and from this island will cost you. Winair has a monopoly position and sometimes a one-way ticket for that 12-minute flight (a must try at least once!) will cost you over $80. There are ferries (Dawn II and Edge II) , that cost about half that. And you will need to travel off-island at least a couple of times a year, be it for medical reasons or to go anywhere else in the Caribbean, because you need to go through neighbouring Sint-Maarten.

Second of all, there is the politics. People here are superfriendly, they really, truly are. At first. Once they find out you are intending to stay, you will be moved from the category ‘tourist’ to the box ‘expat/immigrant’, which requires them finding out if you are a know-it-all Dutchman (in which case they will shun you), isolated seeker of peace, well-meaning professional, contract worker or a retiree. This process of finding out may take a while, depending on which category you will fit and how you comport yourself. Whatever you do, be yourself, but put your opinions on hold when speaking to anybody. Avoid getting involved in the drama that can come from living on a small tiny island. Don’t listen to the rumours, don’t read the rumours, don’t spread rumours, but expect rumours about you and only say nice things about people. Assume that everything you say will be shared with Tom, Dick and Harry at first. You will be surprised at how hard this will prove to be, because you will feel the need to defend somebody or yourself at some point, set somebody straight or voice your opinion. Don’t. Heed the advice of the penguins of Madagascar: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” This way you won’t be part in “he said, she said” games. It may seem like an open door, because after all, doesn’t this apply to every situation in life? On Saba, however, on this scale, the effects could come to haunt you. Play your cards well, stay positive, treat people with respect, and you will see the return of the superfriendlies.

If you come here to work as a professional, then you might encounter a third problem: public versus private life. Because of the small tiny scale of the island, you will run into people you know everywhere. This makes a trip to the supermarket on Wednesday feel like going to a party, but it can also be a bit of a burden. Once people find out what you do, that will be your name and calling card. You will forever be the teacher, the captain, the doc, the gardener or the coach. Don’t mind it, it’s why they respect you, but expect to get questions concerning your profession on the street. How is my son doing in school? Can you save me some red fish? I have this nagging pain in my lower back… Don’t be surprised to talk shop in a bar on a Friday night (hey, this is when the creative juices tend to flow) and once your phone number is out on the street, expect calls from people you have never met, who would like to make use of your services. Deal with this professionally by saying when and how you would appreciate hearing from them or, if you don’t mind, engage the conversation, it’s up to you.

What about the benefits of living on a small tiny Caribbean Island? I am going to be short about this, because they are self-explanatory:

  • sense of community
  • pace of life
  • safety
  • climate

You see, here is why I know I’m living the dream. After all, which are the more important issues? Cost of living or a sense of community? Politics or pace of life? Privacy or safety? To me it’s obvious. Which of these issues are within your control and which of these issues are a given? You balance your budget, but you alone can’t create a sense of community. You don’t depend on local politics, but the pace of life is dependent on where you work, live and love. You control how to deal with public or private life, but you can’t control crime rates. The problems I mentioned aren’t really problems. They are challenges, but ones that can be overcome.

In the end, it’s all about balance. Wherever you’ll go, you will face challenges. Deal with them. Ask yourself why you want to live on Saba. What do you hope to find and achieve? Be honest with yourself: are you running from something or do you sincerely wish to embrace a more relaxed lifestyle? Face your dragons before you even start thinking of coming here, because whatever dragons you have been battling, they will come find you here, so make sure to leave them behind. Come here because you sincerely believe that you deserve to be in this piece of Paradise. Come here because you wish to be a part of this community and live a meaningful life. Come here by your choice. If you think you can live the Dream, the Dream is yours for the taking.

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2 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Live the Dream?

  1. Just what I needed to read. 9 months later, and amides the health challenges, I feel like I am home. Glad I found your blog when I needed the little reminder.

    • Glad to be of service. This stuff can happen anywhere, but on a small island, it’s often a lot of people having the same virus at the same time… Hang in there!

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