Since moving to the tiny Caribbean island of Tortola I’ve been quite focused on what I see: a beautiful Caribbean Sea, badly hurricane-damaged buildings, our new concrete bunker style apartment (hurricane proof); but recently I’ve come to realize that I’ve been pushing aside what I feel.
What I feel is that ghosts of sadness and trauma roam this place. I use the word “ghosts” deliberately because my friend Amanda and I have recently started writing ghost stories. It’s a big departure from both my academic writing and my tongue-in-cheek blog style writing but I’m finding it therapeutic. It is helping me make sense of the extreme changes I am undergoing as a result of this move.
For months I’ve been battling with the juxtaposition of the unsurpassed natural beauty of this island vs the unfriendly and sometimes hostile behavior of its residents. I’ve wondered if it’s me…or if I’m just suffering from that thing that Jim Morrison sings about, “…people are strange when you’re a stranger…”
Yet, now that I’m writing and reading about ghosts I am starting to understand what I’m feeling a bit better. To be clear, I’m not talking about the spooky, Halloween, horror movie kind of ghost but the haunting, residual kinds of ghosts that actually occupy places…the kind of ghosts that are not necessarily dead but maybe just gone or maybe even still here.
Let me say more.
A year ago the residents of this island endured a most horrible storm, a traumatizing event that left many homeless, jobless and helpless. Those who could afford it were evacuated but they left behind a residue of fear and tragedy.
Those that had to stay (or chose to stay) carry auras with them of either ‘over-vigilant stoicism’ or ‘wrath of God style defeatism’.
All in all, this place reeks of hardship, struggle and (a thereby understandable) unfriendliness. The trauma that hurricane Irma imposed upon this island still sits heavy in the air and whether or not we were here for that storm does not make us exempt from breathing it in.
We are all sensitive to place. We know this from our life experience. Certain places fill us with anxiety, certain places fill us with calm, certain places fill us with awe and certain places give us the chills.
What I feel now is that I’m living in a ghost town. I’m haunted by the vibrations of destruction that shook this island and I can literally feel these vibrations in “things” themselves. I can feel them in the over turned, destroyed boats, half-sunk in the harbor; in the abandoned, smashed up cars on the side of the road and in the half-operable shops with windows still missing.
But what really haunts this place is more than the vibrations coming from “things” -- the entire island pulses with a tangible fear coming from the living.
As so daily I step out into the thickness of this haunting which hangs all around me, groping my way out of my safe and beautiful concrete bunker, armed only with the very fragile vile of positivity that I could gather up before the school run.
In the midst of being haunted I clutch at my supports: yoga, Jimmy Buffet, beer, family, far-away friends (not necessarily in that order) but what’s the lesson?
There always has to be some life lesson right?
There must be some nugget of hidden knowledge that will ultimately make me a better person right?
As I publish these writings on my “yoga website” surely there must be a bit of yogic wisdom that I can impart from my little ghost town experience to share with my readers…or perhaps not.
As Jimmy Buffett says, “If life gives you limes, make margaritas!”
But surely, the upshot of all this cannot be this flippant.
In fact, I’m sick of reading “inspirational quotes” – one liners that are supposed to help me make sense of it all and make me feel better (#pissoffinstagram).
Are these merely the musings of a woman slowly cracking under the pressure of change?
After all, these are my ghosts. Only I can feel them. Perhaps if you came to the island none of this would be here for you. Maybe you would come here and think it was an island paradise. Maybe you would.