When first in Raro, I had to make a conscious effort not to compare aspects of life here to those of the majority of my life in the US. I knew three things would happen: my mum would feel insulted with any criticism of her birth land, one country would lose this contest of relativity, and that I would soon keep chanting “I can’t wait to get to New Zealand! I can’t wait to get to New Zealand!” None of the following is meant to be a slight on a 300 million plus population infrastructure or a slight on a way of existing among 10,000-15,000 people. The following observations range from quirks to wallet-draining realities (and other culture shocks) to soul-defining droplets.
* left lane driving in right-hand driver vehicles;
* British spelling (tyre, centre, flavour, favourite, savour, programme, materialise);
* light switches: flipping a switch up = off;
* lots of people walk about barefoot (kids going home from school, kids at recess and PE, bank and immigration office workers);
* scooters and motorcycles are the majority;
* there are lax regulations regarding personally made food and drink items. In most grocery and convenience stores, homemade items are out on tables, ranging from donuts to curry chicken/rice lunches to coconut milk in used plastic soda bottles. Very few have origin stickers (e.g. Tiare’s Taro, address, web contact) and none have ingredients lists;
* the police do not carry guns;
* people are super curious about US politics. I’ve been asked several times what I think of Obama and Trump;
* laws are extremely lax. You will not see parking regulations, no loitering signage, etc. It feels both freeing and unsafe in some cases;
* only very rich people have a clothes dryer: 1) they are not sold here, 2) electricity is very expensive, 3) 99.7% of people line dry clothing;
* There is no “ghetto”. Houses that need a bit of work/windows/yard maintenance are interspersed with the resorts and big houses;
* There are chickens EVERYWHERE! This is adorable when the mamas babystep around with their chicks, but not at all cute when a cock perches at your window and wakes you up at 3AM and again at 4:15AM and so on.
* dog owners are pretty damned irresponsible. Loads of dogs roam off-leash and wander the streets. One dog has tried to bite me twice when riding by. A call to police did little more than the officer asking me heaps of personal information;
* food and personal items are CRAZY expensive (e.g. one can or bottle of beer = $2.50-$3.50, a can of pinto beans = $3.50, a small can of Red Bull = $5, a loaf of bread = $5, a small bag of chips = $5-7, dental floss = $7, 1 liter of Coke/L & P = $7, pack of 10 flour tortillas = $12, cereal is $7-$12.50, pack of cigarettes = $24, standard ream of printer paper = $25);
* items that can be had in the US for next to nothing are insanely expensive here (there are no fridges here for less than $1,000, a queen-size bed will set you back $1,300, and a used 4-door Kia or Toyota will start at $12,000);
* some items don’t have an equivalent. For example, I searched everywhere for rubbing alcohol to use in crafting projects, to sterilize countertops, clean cuts and scrapes, to dry water in my ears. No one knew what I meant. One woman even asked why I would need to clean cuts;
* mosquitoes are silent and will bite the shit out of you before you even notice;
* there are zero craft stores. Yes, that’s right, none. I’m so glad I stowed acrylic paint, Mod Podge, razor blades, and scissors in my bike box...heheheee LAX;
* Ready for this one? Free WiFi does not exist...If you are lucky enough to have a modem in your house or like to go to 2-3 places that will charge you for the privilege of using their connection, wifi costs $50 for 1250MB. I know three people who forgot to turn off their WiFi and it drained their data in a matter of minutes. Plus, the MBs expire 30 days after purchase (haha, if they even last that long). As much as it pains my bowels, all pictures here have to be sized way down to pixelated sadness;
* grocery stores and restaurants close very early (2-4PM) and very few stay open on Sundays so one needs to plan ahead if food is needed on Sunday;
* in an effort to minimize drunk driving, the cost of alcohol keeps going up and is not sold mornings, late evenings, on Holidays, or on Sundays (Hmmmm, wouldn’t it also make sense to have more sobriety checks and taxis or other safe rides available to keep people safe);
* government corruption, underpaid imported labor, police ineffectiveness, violence against women, etc. are frighteningly transparent here due to the small population—it serves as a microcosm of the ills of a large population;
* “Culture” as displayed to tourists is often exaggerated and, in some cases, erroneous. This is especially true of the venues that claim superiority with their ‘authentic’ shows;
* many people burn their rubbish. If it is yard waste (esp. coconut shells) it smells okay, like incense. When people burn household waste (esp. plastic) it smells horrible, you have to hurry and close windows and take your clothes off the line;
* seat belt and child seat laws do not seem exist. Babies, toddlers, and small kids can be seen standing on front seats, in the back of trucks, strapped to motorcycle drivers, or holding on for dear life.
* the speed limit is slower—30K through populated towns, 40K for scooters/motorcycles without rider(s) wearing helmet(s), 50K (32MPH) elsewhere—though it all still feels pretty fast on a motorcycle;
* an urgent care doctor’s visit and prescription costs a resident $5;
* my cousin's farm produces fruit and veg that is mostly organic, delicious;
* buildings over three stories are not allowed and are extremely rare;
* water is free;
* people are generally nicer (in public and while driving--most will give cyclists and slower motorists loads of room while passing;
* there are no wild animals that prey on humans. That’s right. Hiking galore without fear of bears or mountain lions or snakes;
* most people are bilingual. Keeping your island identity through the language is very important. Enough so that schools have bilingual standards and the rationale behind these culture-preserving standards built into the curriculum. These kids are very lucky;
* gravesites are located around one’s family home. It feels special to know that if I build a home here, my great-grandmother and aunts and uncles would be amid my garden;
* the ocean is clean, tar-free, abundant with colorful life, chill (because it is mostly-encased lagoon).
* greetings are very affectionate. My first week here, I hugged and kissed more people than I have in most of my life. It is what I will miss the most--people who are kind and personable and affectionate.