The U.S. Virgin Islands vs. the Rest of America: Similarities and Differences

Many people don’t realize that the U.S. Virgin Islands exist, and are very much American. In fact, there are so many similarities between living here on St. Thomas and living in almost any other state, I oftentimes wake up thinking I’m in Brooklyn. See what I mean:

– Just like in Maine, approximately 89% of roadkill here is iguana.

– Just like nowhere else in America, people here believe they’re right all the time. In holding firm with that opinion, they fight about everything—then usually laugh it off minutes later. They fight about dominoes, poker, billiards, parking, directions, taxis, picnics, girls, etc.

– Just like in Missouri, there’s terrible snorkeling here and on St. John.

– Just like in the states, my friends here are super nice to me. Case in point: This conversation.

Friend: (After going through family members) “…so what is your mom like?”

Me: “Well…(yadda yadda yadda) …and we look nothing alike. You’d never guess my mom and I were related.”

Friend: “So your mom is hot?”

Also:

Friend: “Do not hit me. If you hit me I will sexually assault you.”

(This is their way of flirting. I tried to tell the local guys that this doesn’t quite fly in the states, but it fell upon deaf ears.

– Just like in remote Alaska, the police really care about your vehicle. The most common wrongdoing one is pulled over for is expired registration tags. Actually, besides illegal parking, that’s the ONLY thing I see people pulled over for. In the meantime, you’re allowed to drive with missing headlights, drive with missing mirrors, drive with missing taillights, drive with shattered windows, drive with no windows, drive with shattered windshields, drive drunk, drive high…you get the idea. Yup, you can drive drunk here. Makes me feel real safe.

– Just like in New Jersey, pollution here makes weddings difficult to photograph. There are often pelicans flying into the photo, ridiculous sunshine, huge waves, breaching sting rays, running roosters, and jumping fish that try to ruin my shots.

– Just like in the states, this stop sign on Water Island is perfectly legal.

– Just like in Connecticut, I’m able to go to the beach at night and see my feet and colorful shells at the bottom, all crystal clear in the midnight water.

– Just like in New York, there is an astounding variety of food here. There’s rice and beans, stew pork, stew chicken, plantains, and yeah. That’s pretty much most of it. There is no Thai food, Indian food, Lebanese food, Vietnamese food, or much variety here at all. A trained chef here said the most adventuresome food he’d ever eaten was foie gras. Really?

– *Just like in the states, I do yoga here on cliffs.


*Note: I do not do yoga, so don’t bother correcting my form.

– Just like driving in Nebraska, your ears pop here on almost any 15-minute drive. It’s THAT mountainous. On a terribly environmentally unfriendly side note, one of the work SUVs I drive here gets 10 miles per gallon.

– Just like in Oklahoma, it’s easy to go for a 1-hour hike and get views like this.

 

Yes, life here is tough. I’m off to work a bit and then to pick up a friend visiting from snowy New York. Until next time, ta-ta.

Moving to the Caribbean

My backyard view

My backyard view

Toward the end of 2014, I got a job offer to move to the U.S. Virgin Islands and work full-time as a destination wedding photographer. As someone who has always been mesmerized by green-aqua waters–and always wanted to live in the Caribbean for a few months–I didn’t have to hem or haw very much. How about not having to suffer through horrific Christmas music? How about missing snow in January and February? What about NOT being cold and miserable in New York? All right, I said. If you’re pulling my arm, I’ll do it for at least a few months.

As often happens, I had about one week to wrap things up in New York and move down to the oh-so-tropical St. Thomas. As usual too, some friends seemed excited for me and others put up a semi-hard shun. I spent Christmas scuba diving, and I was totally okay with that.

It’s the U.S., yet not. Things are run differently here. The food is terrible. Everything is uber-expensive since it all must be imported. The views are more beautiful than I could have imagined. I love [most aspects of] my job. Driving here is very stressful. Iguanas are the squirrels of the island. Nothing runs on time. You get the idea?

I have oh so many posts coming up but too little time to write them down–and so many visitors, which is awesome! As usual, in the meantime, here are a few li’l photos to carry you over. If you’re lucky enough, I’ll post a poem or something next time.

Not Overheard in New York

1I8A2544logos

I always thought that conversations overheard in NYC were interesting, but they’re nothin’ compared to what people say to you abroad. Locals truly say the darndest things while you’re on the road, so as proof, I decided to write a few of them down. And yes, all of these conversations took place word for word.

 

Not Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

My coworker, while in the car with us, listening to a song on the radio:

“What is this song about?”

Abraham, our driver: “The internet. How fast it is.”

(Silence as he listens intently.)

“It’s the fastest 3G network!”

 

Role Models

Random man who came up to us while on the beach:

“I’m a good Muslim. I don’t do anything bad. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. But I do do Bob Marley.

 

He was stoned.

 

Birds? Naw.

A man who took a fancy to me and wanted to take me out in Africa:

“Let’s go out and play some pool at a real club.”

Me:
“Um…that’s very kind of you, but I work every day, all day, so I’m not really free…”

Him:

“Tomorrow I’m free like a bat flying everywhere.”

 

Taylor Swift Might Disagree

From a Moroccan:

“Kanye West is the BEST!”

 

Commitment

From a suitor:

“You don’t like smoke?”

Me, coughing:
“No,  I don’t.”

Him:

“I will quit smoking for you.”

 

No More Lipitor

Me, to a local after seeing a giant, 2-food-long animal scurry past:

“Uh…what was that?”

Local-turned-suitor:

“Rat. We eat it here to lower blood pressure.”

 

Breaking the Rules 

TSA in Africa:

“This bug spray is over 2 ounces.”

Friend:

“Yes, but there are so many mosquitoes here I need it.”

TSA man:
“That makes sense. You can take it.”

 

We’re Not In ‘Murica No More

Any man to me:

“You look so good.”

 

 He Wasn’t Concentrating on the Rules

TSA in Gambia:

“You had a nice visit?”

Me, nervous about him seeing that I brought water in my water bottle, but knowing anything I buy will be lukewarmer:

“Yes, I had a wonderful time!”
TSA agent:

“Can I join you for a drink later?”

 

 

Well, it certainly appears that people do things a li’l differently over here. I’ve had some more adventures since my trip to Africa, but that doesn’t mean I’ve run out of photos! Here are a few more from Morocco and The Gambia to tickle your funny bone(s).

Working as an NGO Photographer in Africa [and How to Not Contract Ebola]

1I8A3034logo

There are few things I love more than traveling, photographing remote areas of the world, helping others, and not contracting Ebola. Luckily I was able to fulfill all four of those dreams on my recent work trip as a travel photographer to Africa.

I was able to spend my time getting sunburned in a couple of African countries, but my work was all done in The Gambia. It’s a small sliver of a country that’s smaller than the state of Connecticut. The Gambia is sandwiched smack in the middle of Senegal and rhymes with Zambia, but has a pretentious official article in front.

I worked for Penny Appeal, a UK-based nonprofit operating in more than 30 countries around the world. They provide emergency relief, house and educate orphans, build wells, and more. They have dozens of locals working in their own villages. They’re awesome people. They also happen to be a British Muslim organization.

While many I know have issues with this religion and way of life, I felt fine 99% of the time. Seeing little kids memorize the Qur’an doesn’t really make sense to me, but then again, I’m no Muslim. Yes, I am a pretty devout Christian—or spiritual, as might be more appropriate—but I saw no reason not to work with these folks. While I find many of their practices odd and limiting—and oftentimes sexist—I’m quite sure they feel similarly confused about me. Given this particular group’s comments on my clothing (I wore proper attire while working in the field, of course, but shorts when at the “resort”—like the men and holiday-goers), they likely think that females wearing shorts are a sign of physical and moral indecency. But we talked about these issues quite a bit, and I did my best to learn as much as I could. Besides, I’m friends with Muslims in several different countries around the world, and know that just like Jews, Catholics, Christians, and virtually every other religion, interpretations of religion and practices vary widely.

But why does any of this matter? It doesn’t, unless you’re stuck in times of the past or choose to group everyone of a religion into one category. What matters is that these were the nicest, most delightful folks I’ve worked with, and if I can participate in helping orphans, villagers, and needy people, why shouldn’t I—whether I agree with the religion or not? The group does wonderful work, and they’re great people, so I was delighted to work with them for the first of what I hope is many times. I now consider many of them my good friends–they were that awesome.

While photographing the poverty, well projects, orphans, school systems, and more in West Africa, I heard about quite a few ways to not contract Ebola. Tips include:

– Don’t shake hands, as this spreads germs. || In certain villages—or when meeting entire orphanages, we’d shake hands with 40 different kids and adults in the span of just a few minutes.

– Don’t make out with the locals or foreigners while in West Africa. || Though many tried getting me to stay (I was married off over half a dozen times, but I don’t think any of the marriages stuck), I avoided official wedlock—and therefore did not kiss anyone while there.

– Resist making out with any water buffalo. || I already made this mistake somewhere in Asia*, hence why I came back sick years ago.   *This is not actually true.

– Don’t go to West Africa. || Whoops.

– Avoid contacts with bats and nonhuman primates, as well as their raw meat. || I really wish someone had told me this before I ate all that ape. But seriously, they eat rat in The Gambia (huge, HUGE rats), because it apparently helps lower blood pressure. No, that’s not really related.

– Don’t be a doctor treating patients in West Africa. || Shirley you can’t be serious.

Now that you know how to stay Ebola free, I’ve included some non-Ebola photos from my trip. Check back soon for another update, where I’ll be ranting about husbands in Gambia, Moroccan tea, and so much more.