Rock fever (also called island fever) — Look it up, it’s real. I suffered from it. No, it isn’t the medical disease, nor is it the rock band. Urban dictionary does an adequate attempt at explaining it. I’m cutting through the smoke and mirrors and show what paradise is really like through eyes of a local.
LET ME BE CLEAR: I’m not here to bash my hometown or scare people away from island living. In fact, I truly loved growing up on an island and I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood. By sharing my personal journey that spans over 19 years on two small islands, I hope to give a brief insight on what it is like in paradise from one local’s perspective.
The Government’s Agenda
Governments all over the Caribbean dole out millions of dollars a year putting together aggressive, glossy marketing campaigns that paints a rosy, but sometimes artificial depiction of their respective islands. Feel free to look at some of the U.S. Virgin Island’s latest marketing endeavors. They’re impressive, seriously. I find myself doing a double take of glamour shots on their magazine covers of places I’ve been hundreds of times.
It’s not a bad thing, in fact, because tourism is the primary engine driving the economy, not just in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but everywhere in the Caribbean. The U.S. Virgin Island tourism industry along brings in a whopping 70% of its total GDP and is responsible for more than 70% of employment. If you live in the Caribbean; you either work in the tourism industry, married to someone who work in it, or know of someone in the industry. The bottom line, whether we locals want to admit or not, is that tourism is part of the very fabric of our society.
‘Paradise’ from this local’s perspective (I’ll limit it to three points for length’s sake):
Cut off from society – Not literally of course, don’t start shouting at me. Yes, I
have an airport and yes I am quite capable of traveling stateside or wherever else that tickles my fancy. What I meant is that geographically speaking, I live in one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, yet I still find myself cut off from the rest of society. I understand that, especially on my quiet island of St. John, a large part of its appeal to tourists is to “escape reality,” and “unwind.” But as a restless teenager who’s run out of things to do, the last thing I want to do is unwind, to escape reality. So I did what teenagers do best: complain a lot.
Claustrophobic – Islands are typically small by nature. Sometimes very small. Small enough that I felt claustrophobic. I’ve never actually been diagnosed with claustrophobia nor do I intend to find out. When you’ve lived on an island for nearly two decades you tend to do a lot of the same things, know the same people, etc. As a local, the island felt claustrophobic mentally and physically. Mentally, I was so worn out doing the same things over and over to no end. There simple wasn’t enough choices: I had no movie theater, no mall, no clubs, you get the point. Physically, it was claustrophobic obviously because the land mass was tiny. Nine miles long, five miles wide.
Where are all the girls?! – A common, frustrated, but hilariously true statement blurted out many times by my fellow island boys.I don’t mean to offend any of the ladies, but I merely bring this up to illustrate another glaring reality of paradise: small population. St. John consists of a very small community of several thousand people. Predominately, among the folks whose families have lived in the Caribbean for generations, it’s seems everyone is somehow related (creepy). Almost. To end off this last point, I graduated with less than ten people. Ten! I can proudly say I was in the top 5 percent of my class. It’s indisputable.
Conclusion — So what is really paradise? The million dollar marketing campaign will tell you it’s filled with pina coladas, palm trees and feet in the sand. I’m apparently telling you that paradise is filled with anti-social, claustrophobic men who have no idea how to interact with a women. The reality of it is, paradise is both: it’s a bunch of socially backwards men running like hell from small spaces who happen to play beach volleyball on Sundays until happy hour at various waterholes. I’m kidding! Sort of.
The real personality of paradise lies not with the expensive, photo-shopped images splashed across travel and leisure magazines, but within the locals. The true essence of what makes my hometown, my ‘paradise’ is the people who lived on the rock with me. Sure, the weather is great all year around, I can go to the beach everyday after school, or legally drink at the ripe age of 18. But what made paradise, paradise for me was the people with whom I shared my experiences with.
I challenge the people who are reading my blog to share a brief statement about where their paradise (home) is and state something interesting about it that only you, the local would know.