Before moving to St Helena it had become a regular pastime of mine to use Google Earth, find the Island and zoom out, out and out and out until eventually another land mass came into view. I used to sit and wonder at what it would be to live on this spec in the ocean. I found great pleasure in this wonderment, enthusiastically showing friends and family that same remoteness. A few days ago , for the first time since our move, I repeated that routine, only this time it is different, now I live here. I do not have to wonder any more, at what it might be like to have the Atlantic Ocean dominate our views, what will the weather be like, what will the local people be like, how will we find food, how will we fare in the remoteness, will we make friends, what will I do with my time? I have the answers to all of those questions now. Has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here?
We have been on the Island just over two months, I have of course had my downs, many of them, I have had days where I have felt lost and unsure of my purpose, but I have not once felt lost or unsure of the Island itself. My doubts have been related to my role in our family, the change of dynamic of my work or lack thereof, but I have utterly fallen in love with St Helena as a place, its peoples and environment. When I consider what we have done in those two months, we have been boating and seen dolphins and Humpback Whales with calves. We have climbed mountains and experienced a variety of climates and habitats fitting of a large continent. We have helped conserve endemic and rare plant species and witnessed numerous fish that few other people in the world will ever see, we have felt like David Attenborough whilst tagging Masked Boobies, started to learn to dive, felt and touched history that is alive around us. We have gazed at the Milky Way and witnessed so many stunning sunsets that we have come to expect them as the norm. I have exclaimed “wow”, more times in the past few weeks than I had in half a lifetime previously. We have met people from all over the World, and spend our time with the most wonderful and varied people with rich histories. What will the next twenty two months bring?
For the first time since our arrival, our thoughts turned briefly to how it may feel to leave this enchanting place, expats come and go all the time on St Helena, but how will we feel when it is our turn. Leaving friends, family and loved ones at home was of course difficult, but it was done in the knowledge that two years will pass and we will return home, a reassuring inevitability of the end our adventure. But what about when we leave St Helena, will we ever return? The leaving will inevitably feel more real, more permanent. If you have experienced the holiday blues, that down time when an experience ends, when a time passes and inevitability and routine returns to your life following a joyous adventure, how it will feel after two years, the holiday blues to end all blues.
On Thursday I went shopping, food had not yet been unloaded from the RMS, so I instead sat down, and watched time pass by. Dreaming away, on the wharf, looking out at a rolling blue sea. A percussion orchestra of cascading pebbles, conducted by water falling back to the sea fills my ears and scuttling crabs playing games with the waves dance around me. I sat, I thought, I contemplated myself, have I changed, have things changed, am I different here, and if I am, why, what makes you different, what makes you change?
We adjust to life and the way of things here. Food availability is sporadic, Bananas for example have been difficult to impossible to find in the last week or two. They are of course still available to those in the know, but sadly, when it comes to Bananas, I am not yet in the know, and I cannot find any. In the UK I cannot imagine a scenario, where at any time day or night I could not find any food item I care to think about, but does this really matter, does it matter that I can’t buy a banana when I want it? Back in the UK I rarely ate bananas anyway, now, their elusiveness makes me appreciate the humble banana, I in fact appreciate almost all foods now more than I did two months ago, and seeing a ripe yellow Banana brings a joy that it never held before.
I went to the bank, and stood in line for a length of time, and I did not mind one jot. We wait for food, as one meal at a time is cooked in the local takeaways and eateries, a simple meal knowingly taking at least an hour from order to service. I waited a full fifteen minutes at the coffee shop for some cake (the best cake in the World by the way). But does any of this matter? Does it matter to me, well yes, I hate it! I hate waiting for things, or at least I did but on St Helena, quite simply I don’t, or at least I mind less, (I’m still British). If you know and expect life to take its time, there is no problem, why would you want to reduce your wait, when you may look out at to a blue ocean, with bright flowers and birds to occupy your mind and thoughts. If anything I could have wished for my wait, like the endless and timeless waves, to roll on forever
Arriving in town at nine o’clock the shops will be open, but time is often spent sitting, catching up with passing friends and watching the morning wake up. Shopping can wait, it can wait until the shelves are filled with the days produce with staff starting work at a respectable nine am and filling the shelves then, shopping therefore can start at ten.
In the UK of course low paid staff, are on the shop floor at seven am, ensuring the shelves are stacked before opening. I expect fresh bread, meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables to be available at nine am, in fact I expect it 24 hours a day, seven days I week. I expect all this and expect to pay less and less for it. My demands as a shopper having been raised and pushed to extreme limits to be met by staff on minimum wage working hard to maximise efficient retail and profits for the corporation, the directors of which are still sat at home relaxing with their family watching the pennies and profits roll in.
There is a trust on the Island as a way of life, and we have begun to embrace it, or perhaps fall into it. Sometimes forgetting to lock the car, and often returning home, caring little to find our front door has been left ajar. At the wharf, a busy shipping area with the busy loading and unloading of containers, one can walk along, through the clamber of cranes to collect goods, or even just because. At home in the UK access would be forbidden, a panic of health and safety would ensue should a civilian walk outside of the designated yellow pathways. But on St Helena it is expected and judged that a grown adult has the ability to avoid a 40ft moving crane and will not amble along under its caterpillar tracks.
Forgetting my wallet and with no money, nor the number for our bank account I approached the counter of the bank and asked the young lady if she could provide me with the number for the Tyson account. With very little surprise on my behalf the lady, recognising who I was, not only provided the account number, but completed the cash slip for me, providing me with the money I required with a smile and no question that I might not be who I said I was, and no requirement for Id or a non-existent utility bill! It is a wonderfully refreshing experience to be treated as, adults, and an attitude and respect for each other that are dearly hope can be maintained in the future.
And so, has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here, now that I have the answers, no, not one little bit, I can’t believe it, we live on St Helena, ten months ago I had not heard of St Helena! Iit’s a maddening thing, a wonderfully crazy idea that we are living out. I look at that map, and then out of my window at the expansive ocean and I am giddy with pleasure and joy.
What a wonderful, wonderful feeling