Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How the job came about - Part I

It happened by complete chance that I went to the Caribbean for the first time. As a late night distraction from the 2300 spring rolls I’d been rolling for 5 hours straight, I took a break and posted a profile on an internet dating site and ended up exchanging emails with someone who lived in the Caribbean. He seemed friendly, easy-going, funny, and had great taste in music. We ended up swapping emails for a few weeks, eventually deciding on a blind date in Anguilla.

I had an isle seat and slept most of the way from New York City to San Jaun, Puerto Rico, as I didn’t get much sleep the night before because I was painting my toes, plucking my eyebrows and deciding which bikini to bring. The plane from San Juan to St. Maarteen was slightly bigger than a puddle jumper and for the second leg of the trip, thankfully, I had a window seat. I was awestruck by the cerulean waters. Flying over the islands was breathtaking, but landing in them was even better.

I took a ferry from St. Maarteen to Anguilla, a tiny island in the British West Indies. The ferry itself was a great little adventure and my new friend turned out to be an absolute doll and a gentleman. He had his guest room made up for me, a nice bottle of rum waiting with my name on it, a map and a bicycle. On my first day there we went to a thatched roof bar on a beach where we grabbed a couple of cold beers and waded into the water up to our knickers while we chatted and enjoyed our drinks. "Mystery internet guy" seemed very content and happy on his little island and I could see clearly just what was so special about that place. It took no time for me to catch the island bug…

I’m struck with an insatiable case of wanderlust, a curiosity for life and for new places, and a need for spontaneity and adventure. Those are some of the reasons why I feel drawn to New York; it always has something new to offer. However, it is also imperative for my mental health that I get out of New York. I know this, and so every few years for the past decade I’ve managed to work out of the country for a 4 to 6 month stretch. I’d had my foray into indentured servitude doing an internship in Paris in the summer of 1999, and then went to Hong Kong for 4 months on a computer contract. But I’d been cooking in New York and California since then and hadn’t been out of the country.

Before I went to the Caribbean, I’d been longing for adventure and change. But going abroad as a cook is a much different story than doing so as a computer programmer. As a corporate professional the business takes care of things like pay, government paperwork, etc. You’re assured housing, insurance, and that most expenses will be covered. As a cook, you have none of these assurances. On the contrary, most likely, you work under the table for 12 – 14 hours a day, for abysmal pay and in god knows what sort of an environment. As a woman, you have a strike against you. And, depending on which country you choose, as an American you have a strike against you. I’d experienced a lot of these things in Paris. And now, being in my 30’s, I really wasn’t looking to rush back into that. I longed for adventure, but not servitude. I waited for something to call to me. And when I arrived in the Caribbean, had a little taste of the laid-back island atmosphere, felt the soft, white sand between my toes, floated in the warm, aquamarine water and felt that sunshine beating down on me - I knew that was where I wanted to be…

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