Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Culture Shock

Legitimately in Paradise!
Ugh.  How is it that I passionately recommit to writing more often, even vowing to post three times weekly in November, yet I haven't blogged in nearly two months?  Life keeps getting in the way.  My poor kid has had three ear infections in the past three months (he ended up in the ER last week; but he's all right now) and I was quite preoccupied with my first-ever passport-required vacation.

To Jamaica.

Which is what I'm sharing with you today.

Way back in February of this year, my husband asked if I'd mind him spending Valentine's Day with my dad at a car show.  I DID mind, a bit, but since every attempt we've ever made to "be romantic and go out to dinner" on V-Day has not gone well, I told him to go.  They had a good time, and a few weeks later, Ross got a phone call that he'd won a trip to Jamaica via a contest sponsored by a local radio station.

Yeah, right.  Most of us have heard that too-good-to-be-true line, only to learn that you've got to invest in a time share or travel club.  No thank you.  Well, it turns out the prize was legit, and I needed to get my passport.  We had to use our tickets and reservations before a certain time, so we elected to go just before my birthday in November.  My parents would watch our son for the five days we were gone, and we'd return home on Veterans' Day, thus enabling my husband to use just 2 vacation days.  We're so clever.

I spent several months envisioning myself in a chaise lounge chair at the pool or on the beach, glistening with sweat and sunscreen, quietly baking myself to a warm golden brown.  I made several attempts to lose enough weight to match the vision I'd had of myself, to no avail.  I'm still at my "default" weight - the weight my body seems to like best regardless of how much or how little I eat or exercise (unless I am seriously counting calories).  I lamented to my husband that, even though I was determined to wear a two-piece suit, I would not be happy in it.

I needn't have worried.  At the family-friendly resort, there was every body type represented: boyishly skinny, morbidly obese, pregnant, curvy, scarred, pale, bronze - and every single person what there to enjoy himself or herself.  I was almost shocked.  Where I had spent my entire life avoiding situations that would require anything other than at least a tank top and skirt, suddenly I was free to accept my body and have fun using it.  I couldn't believe how freeing it was to realize that - honestly - people were very likely NOT looking at my body to find fault with it.  (Truth is, that's probably the case a lot more often than we think.  Not EVERYONE is  ALWAYS looking at our bodies to try to rip them apart or judge us, despite what we might feel.)  I wasn't trying to be sexy or trashy; I just wanted to be brave.  For me, wearing a 2-piece suit was not about making a statement about modesty (suuuuuuch a hot topic is Christian circles these days...), or about being pro-plus size, or really anything other than letting go of shame.  Even at my "skinniest", I was able to find plenty of faults with my appearance.  Should I suddenly drop 45 pounds overnight, I am fairly certain there will be freckles, lines, split ends, cracked nails, an a myriad of other things for me to condemn.  So what good does it do to hate myself for my weight or my figure?  Should I hide because I haven't been able to drop the baby weight?  Should I spend my days in the shade because I have a pooch where I carried my son?  Because my arms aren't toned?  Because my thighs touch?  Because I prefer cookie butter to celery?

(Okay, eating healthy is a whole 'nother story - but my point here is that I have to accept my body and all its flaws, love it for what it can do and had done, and move forward to take care of it - whatever that means to me.)

At any rate, I didn't just wear a two-piece and feel confident.  I also swam in the ocean.  Big deal, you might say - your family does a beach vacation every year.  Well, for me it IS a big deal.  I don't know how to swim, and I've always been afraid of the water.  I avoid public pools and almost drowned in high school gym class, assuming that I could just hop right into the deep end and be fine.  Yet, in the dazzlingly blue water of the Caribbean sea, with the security of my husband nearby, I slowly plodded along with a graceless doggy paddle.  But I was swimming.  I wasn't touching the seabed.  Strands of seaweed wrapped around my arms and legs, and saltwater lapped at my lips.  The brilliant midday sun shone on the gentle waves, and I yelled out, "I'm a mermaid!"
Saltwater tastes awful!

So, that was pretty far from the truth, I guess, but I had a revelation that day.  A few, actually.  First: I can totally see why people are obsessed with beach vacations.  The sun, sand, and sea combine for a trinity of peaceful beauty that you really can't find anywhere else.  The ocean can be both calming and chaotic, and that's a huge part of its appeal.  So much raw, unfeeling beauty that can soothe you or steal you away.  The second revelation I had was that it's okay to face your fears little by little.  I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the phrase "face your fears", I automatically imagine St. George and the dragon.  Or Prince Philip and Maleficent.  You know, the sword and shield, the valiant hero, the fire-breathing lizard.  The all-or-nothing, now-or-never final showdown.  But that's simply not how overcoming fear always works.  I had to first decide to take steps toward the ocean.  Then I had to take them.  Then I had to trust my husband that I would be safe.  Then I had to believe that.  Then, I had to trust myself.

And I'm so glad I did.  

Those brilliant and life-changing realizations aside, the trip itself was pretty wonderful.  Although I broke down emotionally our first day there (I hate flying, missed my baby, and hadn't eaten or rested enough), things picked up quickly, and we enjoyed amazing food, beautiful weather - even the afternoon and evening rain was beautiful, met a fun couple from Canada, avoided serious sunburn, and had some much-needed romantic time away from our beloved baby.

Sunset on the water.
Something I struggled with, however - and my former college roomie pals can attest to this - was the vastly different culture I experienced upon first arriving in Jamaica.  Chaos, noise, disorder - maybe you imagined things to be much more mellow as Jamaica is the homeplace of reggae, Bob Marley, and the glorification of marijuana.  Maybe that's the case for day-to-day living here, for some of the people, and once we arrived at the resort, that spirit of relaxation did seem to take over.  But the hustling at the airport, the terrifying two-lane roads (drivers use the left side and passing in no-passing zones is expected) - these things really jarred me.  I'm an introvert, an introvert bordering on anxious, sometimes, and I was left feeling shaken and exhausted by our first few hours on the island.  There was also the assumption, either because we were Americans or because we were simply foreigners, that we were in Jamaica to party and get high.  Weed is legal there, up to a certain amount, so it would not have been wrong for us to partake.

I think Ross was convinced he'd NEVER get
me to the beach.
However, Ross and I are not "party people". I'm pretty sure that we are the textbook definition of "not party people".  We rarely drink, although sometimes we enjoy a glass of red wine with our Netflix, pajamas, and pizza dates.  See?  I told you.  We're boring.  We don't even do "Netflix and chill".  We do "Netflix and fall asleep halfway through the movie". We politely but emphatically replied to every person inquiring about our plans that we were there to enjoy the beach and work on our (nonexistent) tans.  As alcohol was part of the all-inclusive nature of the resort, we did have a drink with dinner most nights, but that was it.  I can honestly say that, as a freshly-minted 34-year-old, I've never been drunk in my life and I'm okay with that.  I've also never been high.  Yeah - I was mostly the goody-two-shoes in high school...and college...and I think I actually still am, so never mind.  It's just who I am.

The alligator won, BTW...
We stayed at the Grand Palladium and it truly was beautiful.  There were three buffet restaurants and five ethnic restaurants, and the food was pretty amazing.  Something that struck us as interesting in the ethnic restaurants was that we as Americans really have a skewed image of portion sizes.  When Ross and I ordered appetizers, they were exactly that.  A few bites of a delicious and well-prepared food item, presented artfully.  In America it's a cinch to order an appetizer that spoils your whole meal because you're too full to eat your entree!  Determined not to be close-minded, culinarily speaking, I tried several different foods at the buffets: ginger-seafood soup (with whole prawns still floating in the pot), jerk chicken (yes, it's very good), and braised kidney. 

The kidney ended up in my napkin, TBH.

Ross proudly announced that we'd checked two items off his "marriage bucket list".  We swam in the ocean, and we played mini-golf.  I know it's hard to believe, but we had not, until last week, even enjoyed mini-golf as a married couple.  Granted, the "course" on the island was pretty pitiful and there were no real challenges, but we did it and Ross did end up with a hole-in-one.  At one point, I think I missed the ball three times, then finally kicked it into the hole.  

My grandfather would be so ashamed.

I really missed Ronen, more than I thought I would.  There were a lot of children at the resort, everywhere from a few months old to school-age kids.  There were provisions made for children, including a day-care center and special entertainment just for them.  In hindsight, I think Ronen would have enjoyed certain aspects of the trip, but I don't know if it would have been worth the trouble to get him his passport and work our schedule around his.  Especially since he's not walking yet and has recently been plagued with ear infections.  Maybe next time.

On a more light-hearted note, I wanted to share some things I learned - specifically as a petite/plus-sized, curly-haired, pale female traveling to a Caribbean island.  Here are my tips:

Yes, I found an island cat.
Two, actually,
1. Your hair will not obey you.  If you straighten it, it will curl.  If you curl it, it will frizz.  You will NOT have "mermaid hair".  Don't bother with products.  Throw it in a messy bun and be at peace with your world.

2. Shapewear will be useless.  It is so humid that the spandex will literally melt to your flesh.  Just be pudgy and be free, sister.  Embrace your curves.

3. You might think maxi dresses would be your savior, but unless you bring ones cut from actual, breathable material, you're dead wrong, lady.

4. BABY POWDER BABY POWDER BABY POWDER.  If your thighs touch in any way, you MUST PROTECT THEM FROM THEMSELVES or you will have heat rash for weeks after you return.  Trust me on this one.

5. If you're not going to the clubs, leave the clubwear at home.  Sexy strappy platforms are great for, like, full-body photo ops and that's pretty much it.

6. Protect your lips SWEET MOTHER OF ALL THAT IS SACRED PROTECT YOUR LIPS!  Ross and I were pretty careful with sunscreen but I forgot my lips and now, a week later, they are still stiff, sore, and peeling.  Ouch, ouch.

"Caribbean Blue" is a REAL color!
7. Don't be bullied into buying anything you don't want.  The hotel employees were pretty persistent when it came to pushing spa packages and whatnot.  Couples are better targets, so Ross and I frequently split up when walking past them, and met up again at our destination.  Also, those photographers aren't just being nice - they are employees, too, and that great shot they got of you in the ocean (without your awareness, by the way), will cost you $50.  Ross and I avoided this by looking unhappy with each other whenever he came around.  It was our private joke.  We looked like the angriest couple at the resort in order to avoid harassment.  You have to do what you have to do.

8. Your swimsuit should be designed for swimming, if you will be swimming.  Two-piece, one-piece, whatever.  Just make sure you can actually move in it without a wardrobe malfunction, unless you just plan on lying around looking pretty.  Which is fine, too, really.

In spite of our antics, we actually DID and DO
enjoy each others' company...
9.  Leggings for the plane.  I saw women traipsing through the airport in fancy scarves and stiletto boots and that's cool and everything, but I'm all leggings and flip-flops and glasses and a jacket and crosswords.  I didn't have anyone to impress.  Oh, and if you need compression stockings for travel, DO IT.  For your health.  Seriously.  

10.  Be open to trying new things.  Which might include accepting and actually loving your own body for the first time ever.  Island magic!