January Brights

17 Feb

Normally January is a long, dull month, purging Christmas sparkle and calorie-laden food with bare walls and cereal bars. Days are spent scampering from one heated building to another under a dull sky. I usually suffer from the January blues.

My first Bermudian January was cold and grey. I was still finding my feet, searching for points of certainty. The January blues came along in my suitcase. This year there were no blues – only brights. Instead of being wrapped up in jumpers and blankets indoors, we spent weekends paddling along the shore, exploring rock pools, walking through nature reserves and eating ice creams!

Given that the previous 27 Januarys I’ve endured have called for enough layers to make me rival the Michelin Man, I overdressed for the first two weeks, because it was JANUARY and therefore WINTER and therefore IMPOSSIBLE to survive outdoors without two jumpers and a scarf. Then, when it finally sank in that it was rather warm, I felt that we had to get out there and MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY SECOND before the opportunity disappeared with the setting sun, forgetting that tomorrow would be yet another beautiful day. It seems my conditioning from a lifetime of cold and changeable weather in the UK will take a little longer for me to shake off!

Whilst the warm sunshine has been a luxury, I did have a pang for home when pictures of snow-covered streets started to pop up on Facebook. I didn’t miss the train delays, the slippery pavements, or the chilly bathroom at 6am on a weekday. But I really missed looking out of the window to see a flawless carpet of white, branches iced in snowflakes, and the satisfaction of feet crunching footprints. Bermuda may have perennial blue skies, but it will never see a snowflake.

Festive Scenes and Grey Skies

18 Jan

For Christmas 2011 we decided to head back home to celebrate with family and friends. We arrived back a few days before Christmas, bleary-eyed from the night flight but excited to be back in the motherland. My first thought as we headed through the glass doors and into my dad’s waiting car was grey. So much grey! Pavement, sky, motorway. As we drove away from Gatwick we passed fields of mud, devoid of colour, like a sepia photograph. Has home always been this shade of dull, I wondered, thinking back to the ripe greens and colour bursts along the roads in Bermuda.

But after a snooze I awoke to a more beautiful scene. Outside my childhood bedroom window was something we never see in Bermuda: Dark, healthy trees with jagged, naked branches. That afternoon they were bathed in a wintry, pale yellow light – light we just don’t get in Bermuda. It looked beautiful and, for the first time, I felt that Christmas really was around the corner.

Later that week we visited the West End. Walking through Covent Garden was a festive treat – smells of roasted chestnuts, Christmas music floating in the air, and lots of shiny baubles lining the market hall. After we’d bought goodies from the stalls, we ice-skated (well I got towed around the ice by my little brother-in-law) at Somerset House, on an outdoor rink bathed in blue light, surrounded by history.

We spent most of our visit making visits, swapping stories and gorging ourselves on rich food and good wine. It was tiring and hectic but wonderful. I missed the sunlight though. Each day we’d wake to a thick grey sky, the sunshine suffocated by cotton-wool clouds. For one stretch, we didn’t see any sunshine for four days – three days too many for a reptile like me! I would wake after a long sleep to a dark day, and feel groggy and lethargic because of it.

On our last day we packed away our new presents and calculated the 35% duty we’d have to pay to bring them into Bermuda. It was a lot of money unquestionably, but for us, it was a small price to pay for our now-cherished daily dose of sunshine.

Christmas Spirit

7 Dec

Christmas morning 2010 - no frost or jumpers here!

The fairy lights are up, the Christmas songs are playing and we’ve er… febreezed the Christmas tree. Yes, although it’s survived a year in a humid storage cupboard with no mould or beasties taking up residence in its synthetic branches, it’s come into the house wearing a cloak of odorous damp. We’ve practically suffocated it with Petal Fresh and left in in the corner to think about its behaviour. If I’d thought ahead I could have probably found a Pine Paradise fragrance for authenticity.

Despite the smelly tree, unpacking the decorations has certainly unleashed a swirl of Christmas spirit in our home – something that’s been lacking until now. In the UK, Christmas starts to creep in around October, with a chill in the air and presents starting to pile up at the bottom of wardrobes. But in Bermuda it’s a different experience. There may be shiny baubles in the shops, but outside there is warm sunlight. And the town’s fairy lights are wrapped around palm trees!

After many years of relating Christmas to frosty mornings and jumpers, my Pavlovian response to the Christmas run-up in a warmer climate leaves me cold. It’s almost as if the lights and baubles across town are for another holiday – one which I’ve heard of but don’t really celebrate.

So I can’t wait to visit home in a few weeks’ time and overdose on Christmas spirit – hot chocolate, ice skating, and of course, plenty of frosty mornings and jumpers. It’s been two years since I last saw my breath cloud in the air as I exhaled and – strange as it sounds – I’ve missed it! Best of all though, we’ll get to see all our loved ones at their happiest – full of Christmas spirit (and Christmas spirits).

Earning a Living

23 Nov

My first day at my new job was a bit like my first day at school – shiny bag, polished shoes, nervous smile. I spent the day eagerly trying to remember names and procedures, carefully writing notes in a blank notebook, squaring the edges of piles of paper on my new desk. It had been 51 weeks since I was last employed and I had missed this.

I’m now seven weeks into a job that is slowly losing its “new” badge, and I cannot begin to explain how exciting it is to be earning my own money, and learning new things. When I first signed up to the employment agency, I’d already made peace with the fact that I’d probably spend my days filing, so to be working within marketing is an absolute blessing. I get to write lots and organise lots – the two things I love to do most!

The most difficult challenge I’ve faced so far? The language barrier. My team, made up of Canadians and Bermudians, find me ridiculously proper because I say “do” before the imperative, e.g. “Do call if you need help”, and roll about laughing every time I say “query” (apparently they just make do with saying “question”). Part of my role is to manage our social media – where informal, colloquial language is key. But I’m only fluent in informal London English! Every time I write a tweet or a Facebook message for the company, I have to check myself. Will people know what I mean if I say “swanky”? Is “yonks” a term only used in England?

One of the greatest things I’ve gained, aside from the experience and learning, is structure. As an unemployed volunteer, it’s difficult to make time your own because you have no reason not to take on another project – all time is your own until no time is your own. Now my boundaries are clearer, and it’s easier to set time aside to simply watch TV or read a book in the evening without feeling guilt creep up and scold me for being indulgent! I truly am earning a living.

Just last week I ran my last computer class with my senior students. Despite having seven more on the “waiting list” I told my heart to be quiet and listened to my head, making the decision to take back some of my weekend for myself. And that naggy voice of guilt didn’t even argue! She must be tired :)

Dear Me, One Year Ago

21 Oct

Right now you’ll be at the airport, saying goodbye to parents. You’ll feel emotional, but it still hasn’t sunk in that you’re not just going on holiday for a few weeks. It’s a bizarre sensation, almost like a dream. Everything seems familiar – the rituals of watching the flight departure screens, buying a paperback for the beach, anticipating the sunshine at your destination – but it’s not quite as it should be.

When you arrive it’ll be dark; your eyes will be glued to the taxi window, taking in the black shadows of palm trees, the pavements bathed in amber light and, beyond, the dark waves of the ocean. Straight away you’ll unpack, in the mind-set that you need to make the most of your time here because you’ll be back to reality soon.

The next few weeks will be a delightful novelty – playing housewife in the mornings, exploring in the afternoons, returning to make sure dinner is ready for the hubby when he gets back from work. The temporary apartment will be comfortable enough, but you’ll find it a little tired and you’ll grow increasingly intolerant of the little pile of dead ants that mysteriously appear in the kitchen every morning.

So it’ll feel like Christmas when your shipment arrives in your new condo. Mundane things will seem unexpectedly special; UK carrier bags will no longer just be functional but hugely sentimental – “Ah, Sainsbury’s! Remember when we used to do our weekly shop on a Saturday there?” You’ll be just as thrilled to see your teatowels as you will your shoes. Then it will actually be Christmas – the tree will be up, your parents will be here, and you’ll have a fun but bizarre festive period, with Christmas morning against the backdrop of a white beach in place of the usual backdrop of a white-frosted lawn. The year will finish brilliantly with fireworks and cocktails, and you’ll feel excited about what 2011 will bring.

Winter arrives. You’ll get a job offer – which is fantastic – but have to wait almost 3 months for the work permit. The weather cools, the sky is permanently grey and there is little to do at weekends. You’ll be doing your best to carve out a role for yourself volunteering, but it takes longer than you’d (unreasonably) expected and you’ll worry you might be losing brain cells on a daily basis. You won’t have anticipated this feeling of being without an anchor, of not quite knowing what your place in this new world is. You’ll cry sometimes.

In April, after 9 weeks of waiting, you’ll find out that your work permit has been rejected. At first, you’ll think, “Oh well, it is what it is”. Then later it will hit you. You cannot work here. You have no job back home. You have no career options. Everything you had planned has just vanished, like a gust of wind just scooped up your dreams and carried them away. You’ll feel like there’s an amazing life here in Bermuda, but there’s a layer of plastic between you and it. You can see it, but you can’t quite touch it. You’ll cry a bit more.

Then summer comes along. The turquoise ocean sparkles, the sun beams down every day. Your volunteering tasks turn into meaty projects you feel passionate about, and love doing. Friends will fall into place. Weekends will be spent on the beach or playing in the water. You can’t quite believe that this paradise is where you live. You’ll wake up every day basking not only in sunshine, but in happiness – deep-rooted blissful happiness; thankful that you have the opportunity to live in a tropical climate, privileged that you can make a difference through your charity work, hopeful that this is how life will continue. You’ll feel something shift and instinctively know, somehow, that something good is just around the corner.

And it will be because, 11 months after you first arrived, you’ll get a work permit, and a job that you love. By the time you get to next October, you’ll feel like life could not be much better, and will be incredibly grateful for every day in your job, and every evening with your group of fabulous friends. Your only wish will be this – that someone could have written to you a year ago, telling you to be thankful for what you have, and patient for what is to come.

Home is Where the Sofa is

12 Oct

A few weeks ago, Rich came home from the supermarket with a face full of bad news. Our landlords were selling the condo. My head became jumbled with questions: should we move out straight away or wait until they sell? What if we can’t find anywhere as nice as our current home? What if we can’t find anywhere at all – we have no family here to stay with in the meantime! I thought back to when we’d first moved in; the living room filled with our 73 boxes from the UK, and shuddered at having to pack it all back up again and then unpack somewhere new after less than a year.

It certainly would be a huge convenience. But this worry gave way to something else – sadness. When we’d first moved in everything was still unfamiliar and uncertain – but our home was our fixed point for our emotional compass. I’d learned over the months that the unidentified black shapes on the carpet did not need to be interrogated for 3 pairs of legs – they were just pieces of lint; I knew that the dishwasher wouldn’t leak if I left it running when I went out; I trusted that my house wouldn’t let cockroaches creep in; that the closets would stand firm in keeping the mould from getting its dusty fingers on our clothes. In short, we trusted these four walls.

Your home is always a place of comfort and this is even more the case when you’re living abroad. On this island, there are no other buildings which we have as strong a bond with; none have memories of birthday parties, Saturday nights in or Christmases past; none have parents, or grandparents inside.

Thankfully we discovered that our contract is binding until November 2012, and so anyone who buys the condo before then will have to take us on too! It was an enormous relief to know that I wouldn’t have to give up home just yet. And for Rich? It was an enormous relief for him to know that he wouldn’t have to give up the L-shaped sofa just yet! :-)

What do you do?

2 Oct

Invariably, when I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is: “What do you do?” It’s a common conversation starter of course, and it’s even more logical to ask in Bermuda, where most twenty-something expats are here because they are on a work permit. I’ve often wondered whether I’m the only twenty-something expat without one!

My answer used to be simply that “I volunteer”. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume that this meant that I shook a donations bucket outside the supermarket once a month, and then spent the rest of the time on the beach drinking G&Ts. So my answer became a garbled protestation that “I volunteer with three charities, and actually it’s like the equivalent of a full time job without getting paid, and I really don’t like G&Ts”. After a while, even I got bored of my defensiveness, so I just made up jobs – I was an accountant, an insurance underwriter, and a management consultant all in a period of about a month.

I have loved my volunteering work and it certainly has kept me busy. I’ve written communications strategies, delivered workshops on social media, organised corporate fundraising events and, my favourite project, taught a little group of senior citizens how to use the computer. In the office of the charity I volunteer with most regularly – The Centre on Philanthropy – I have my own desk, email account and responsibilities. But I’ve hated not earning my own money.

The Centre on Philanthropy's Give Back Games 2011: waiting to collect the scores for the Sack Race! We raised $72,000 for local charities.

However, after eleven months of being on the island, one rejected work permit, and an encounter with an agency that discovered after two months that my paperwork had actually “gone missing”; the “third time lucky” adage came true. Last week I got my work permit through for temporary and contract roles. A few days later I was offered a marketing role for a telecoms company. I start tomorrow!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to start work. Bring on the Sunday evening blues, the daily commute in rush hour, the overflowing inbox… – I’m ready for it all!

On Friday, my last day of unemployment, I kept my diary clear so I could do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do in almost a year of being here – spend a few hours at the beach, on a weekday! The sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone, and, as I walked along the shore, iced tea in hand, the waves rushed up to greet me, as if to say “what took you so long..?”

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