Archives For life

Goodbye Curacao…

August 19, 2013 — 7 Comments

Well my friends, after 11 months of Caribbean adventure, I have decided to return to the United States.

As I hope you could tell from my blog, I had my share of amazing and challenging experiences that I would trade for nothing. Many of those experiences, musings, and observations are still in my head and my heart. As I write now, I am back home in my hometown of Dallas, processing my experiences and preparing for my next moves. I have unpublished stories from the island that I’m excited to share in time. So while my physical self is back enjoying the Texas weather, my mind is still very much on Dushi Korsou.

I believe in there’s being a time, a season for all things. As I have written before, beneath the exterior of beautiful beaches, colorful buildings, and amazing weather, Curacao is a small island with increasingly big problems, politically, economically, and culturally. While I appreciated the laid back lifestyle, to be honest I never quite felt…at ease accepted quite at home. Maybe it was cultural differences, maybe it was moving from the hustle and bustle of New York to a small island community or just….maybe it was just my  time.

Sometimes things don’t always work the way we want, but things always seem to work for the best. At the risk of sounding cliche, I met a lot of amazing people along the way, and there are a special few that are in my heart and I will miss teribbly. When I stepped on my outbound flight last week from Curacao’s Hato airport, I knew I was returning a completely different person than the person who left everything behind in September of last year to chase her dreams.

Thank you to everyone who followed my adventures here, I really appreciated your comments, support and emails. I hope you continue to follow on my next adventures!

xoxo Karen

 

 

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8 Months In

June 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

I meant to do the obligatory It’s-been-6-Months-Since-I-Arrived-Here post but I was away in Europe, and so much has been going on, so I apologize!

Well, it’s been almost 9 months since I decided to take the Caribbean plunge and transplant my life from New York City to Willemstad, Curacao formerly, the Netherlands Antilles. I had a dream in mind, to leave, to take some time away from the hustle and bustle of the East Coast big city life and just do something else. 

Americans are a pretty rare breed here in Curacao. Wherever I go, when people learn that I moved here from the States to live, they usually respond with, “You moved here?? Really? Why?” Very often, this remark is accompanied with a searching look that seems to say, “there’s gotta be a GOOD story behind why this girl decided to come here”! When I first came to Curacao, I used to think this reaction was slightly amusing. Now, I totally understand why people where might think my choice to come here is peculiar at best, crazy at worst.

Curacao is small. Geography wise, one can do a loop around the island in under 3 hours.  Most activity is concentrated in Willemstad, which is the capital. So unless one is interested in going to the beaches in Westpunt, or hiking up Mt. Christoffel, or exploring the northern rocky coast, pretty much all of the major social life is in good ol’ W-Stad.

Socially, Curacao is small. There are powerful families that control businesses and financial interests on the island that have been here for centuries. Political and business appointments are given to friends and family members. In many ways, it can feel very difficult as an outsider to “get in” if you don’t know anyone on a personal level. It can take some time before people trust you enough to “let you in”. The same can be said for socializing as well. I’ve talked to people who have been on the island for years and can recall the times when neighbors said hello to each other and thought nothing of leaving their doors unlocked and open without feat. “Nowadays, people are so into themselves”, my Papiamentu teacher told me one night. “Building high walls around their houses, staying inside all of the time.”

Curacao is not the place for big, ostentatious Carnivals, or bustling streetlife. But what has been rewarding for me, is when I am allowed the chance to enter into people’s lives, to see what goes on beyond the colorful architecture so often seen on travel postcards. I’ve had the chance to speak with communities of illegal immigrants, religions minorities, the rich and the poor, the Dutch and the Yu di Korsou (native Curacaon), and I still get the sense of a country whose national identity is still very much in flux. With the recent death of the controversial politician Helmin Wiels, (who some say was actively working to raise the the level of consciousness in Curacao’s Yu di Korsou population) and the rise of violent crime in the last few months, there is a sense of hand wringing among locals about the future of the country only 2 years after becoming an independent constituent country of The Netherlands. I wonder along with them.

As for me, I do miss home, friends and family, naturally. I’ve been lucky enough to have been visited by a few friends since I’ve been here. But living on an island can feel a bit isolating. Gone are the days where one can just take a long road trip or bus right for a quick trip. The key to keeping one’s sanity, I’ve been told, is to be able to get off the island as much as (financially) possible. But things are getting easier. My Dutch and Papiamentu are coming along a bit, so at least I can somewhat follow conversations. Other than the occasional homesickness and island fever, I’m really glad I made the decision to come here. What the next year may hold for me, I’m not sure, but I’ll be ready!

 

Caracassbaai Sunset

One thing about Curacao, this place always has the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. #ItsTheLittleThings

A few weeks ago, I was at the Curacao courthouse to report on the sentencing of a Curacao-born Olympic athlete for the Netherlands who was arrested carrying cocaine while attempting to board a plane for Amsterdam. While waiting for his hearing, I sat on the wooden benches with other local journalists and watched as other cases were brought before the judge. One by one, the defendants, (all of whom were black men) were led into the room by their translators and lawyers (advocaten). My Dutch is still pretty pathetic, but I could make out that each of these men were answering for drug offenses. A Dutch journalist, who was kind enough to be my translator for the day, said, “This is pretty normal. And so many times its the black poor chaps that get caught. The white Dutch are also smuggling too.”

It is no secret internationally that Curacao is a hub for smuggling. There’s a healthy menu of trafficking options to choose from: cocaine, gold, humans, even counterfeit cigarettes. But what effects do these things have on the island itself?

Many of my friends tell me that cocaine here in Curacao is as cheap as it gets. “And its the good stuff,” they always say. I’ve heard stories of young Dutch interns who pick up cocaine habits, and frequent parties high as kites, grinding their teeth while they grind to the music. Walking down the street, one may see cholers, some of whom are drogadictos walking in a daze in the street. Unfortunately, sometimes these wandering drug addicts are subject to abuse and attacks by ill-intentioned souls. Plenty of times, I hear the stories of business owners and big men who have fallen prey to drugs. Usually the story starts like, “See that guy over there? He was/used to be/used to work at ____________ before the drugs set in blah blah blah.”

One of the major drug addiction rehab clinics in Curacao shut down earlier this year. How will people get help? That is, if they got help in the first place…

Another side effect to this whole drug business is the rise in violent crime. Talk to many people on the island and they say that the level of assaults (atrakos), shootings, and violence with weapons has risen drastically. While there could be other economic explanations for people turning to crime, many people blame the drug trade from Colombia and Venezuela. In the last few weeks, authorities have admitted to the existence of a gang war that has been resulting in reports of shootings and attacks quite frequently.

Let me not forget about alcohol. Drinking culture is heavy here in Curacao. As expected from a small island, there is not always much to do. Happy hours are big here. Every day there is a drinking time at some popular spot. While the happy hour life may be fun for a two week vacation, it can be too much for some living here. I know people who have gotten into serious accidents while driving intoxicated. My boyfriend tells me that numbers of Dutch people who come to Curacao pick up alcohol abuse problems and smoking habits.  One of the tour operators, the quirky “Mr. Goodlife” (more about that trip at another time) told me, “Yeah, many Dutch people cannot handle it here, you know? They come here and then gotta go back ‘cuz they pick up alcohol problems. Too much freedom here sometimes.”

I knew we should have put our phones in Ziploc bags that morning.

Yesterday was Fuik Dag on the island of Curacao. For those who don’t know what Fuik Dag is, it is perhaps one of the most anticipated days of the entire year for many people on the island. Hundreds of people take their boats to Fuik Baai, or Fuik Bay, near the old salt mines. The bay is pretty much only accessible by boat, and chances are that nearly every boat on the island will be chartered for the day. The boat owners and operators arrange themselves in various circles of sorts in the water, and around 2,000 people spend the day drinking, barbecuing, while dancing to live music from barges sponsored by Heineken, Polar, or some other beer company. I heard tales of hundreds of people of brightly colored inflatable inner tubes, rafts, and other makeshift flotation devices drifting from boat to boat under the Caribbean sky.

I really wanted to see all of this for myself. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but we didn’t reserve a boat on time. Luckily we found a way to hitch a ride with a water taxi to the bay. The boat was small, perhaps about 8 feet long with a tiny little motor, operated by a local Curacaoan. When it came to pick us the five of us up from the dock, I was a bit surprised at its little size, but hey, whatever it took to get to Fuik, I was down.

We started through the Spanish water which was not too bad. We passed by the former Hyatt (now Santa Barbara Resort) Resort where a number of Curacao Coast Guard boats were checking smaller boats passing to Fuik to make sure they had life jackets before heading out to the open water. I asked my boyfriend if we needed to be checked.

“Nah, I think we can pass through, its not a big deal,” he said.

We passed out of the Spanish Water Bay into the open ocean. This is when I started to get nervous. The water started feeling way more tempestuous for our aquatic hoopty.  There were numerous larger boats passing us creating wakes that spilled into the back of the boat. Soon enough, the water on the bottom of the boat went from being a puddle, to being ankle deep and rising. In a matter of minutes, the engine was under the surface and the back of the boat was tipping down under the weight of the water rushing in.

Amidst the Dutch flying around, all I could understand was “Get out!!” One of the ladies in the boat that we picked up was given a life vest. I don’t know what happened to her, but I think she got out alright. The rest of us were hanging on to our water coolers packed with the drinks and sandwiches we had prepared. At that moment, well, it was pure adrenaline. All I knew to do was to just hang on to our little cooler and to stay as close as possible to the group and resist panicking.

We were picked up within a few minutes by the Curacao Coast Guard patrol and brought back to the Santa Barbara resort. I did a quick inventory of our stuff. Our food was gone. Our phones–flooded. Brand new camera—probably done. ( I KNEW we should have put the phones in additional plastic bags that morning. But how do you )  Then as the adrenaline started to wear off I started shaking a little when I realized whatthehellhadjusthappened. The small little boat would have fully sunk if it was not for the Coast Guard being there. I might have started panicking if we were further out in the ocean with no life jackets. (Why didn’t we get life jackets??) Over the course of the day all the “It could have been way worse if it wasn’t for (fill in the blank)” thoughts filled my head.

I decided to continue to Fuik and hitchhiked on a bigger boat with some Dutch Good Samaritans. I tried to enjoy myself and have a good time. Yes, Fuik Dag was all that people had said it was, full of people of all cultures and races enjoying the start of the New Year. But I found to it hard to concentrate on having a good time. No amount of alcohol could override my desire to be away from water and boats, and the potential for more irresponsible behavior in the water. Plus, the only food we brought that survived the boat sinking was our potato chips, and the smell of other people’s barbecue meals was making me miserably hungry and irritated. So we packed up what was left of our stuff, got on a much better water taxi (with life jackets!) and went for Burger King and went home to just listen to music on dry land.

There ends the tale of my first Fuik Dag. Next time, we are getting the 150 guilder all inclusive boats, for sure.


My year in photographs. Each signifies a representation of significant events in my 2012. 

100_0759 IMG_0403 IMG_0473 IMG_0628 IMG_0716 IMG_0826 IMG_1032 IMG_1147 IMG_2055 DSC_0001 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1402 IMG_0922 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_0169 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_0140 IMG_0086

 

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2013, you have a tough act to follow.

A Thanksgiving Note

November 22, 2012 — 3 Comments

This week marked my second month in Curacao…two months since I decided to pack my Manhattan life into two oversized bags and come down to a small island in the Caribbean with 150,000 people. I have a lot to be grateful for for the past year. I finished graduate school in May. I had an amazing opportunity this summer to work in New York city working in journalism. I met some of the most amazing individuals I’ve ever encountered in the last year, not the least of which includes the man I am very much in love with.

But rather than engage in the typical “Top Ten Things To Be Thankful For” laundry-list, itemized style of reminiscing over the things and the people that have made me happy in the last year, I wonder if there is another, deeper way to look at this time of the year. Especially as I spend Thanksgiving away from my family for only the second time ever in my life.

How do you define being “thankful”? Like what is thankfulness? Who can tell me what a “thank” anyway? If we don’t know what it is, how can we be full of it? Or how can we give it away every fourth Thursday of November?

I find myself right now looking up the definition of gratitude, or the “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Thankfulness means “expressing gratitude and relief”. Other words synonymous to gratitude (according to my Mac’s Oxford Dictionary) include “recognition”, “acknowledgement”, and “credit.”

My mind keeps focusing on the word “acknowledgement”. To me acknowledgement is slightly above “being aware” of something, but rather is a  public expression an awareness of a kind action, of support, or of a good deed.

I think we can do better than mere acknowledgment. We can go beyond the blanket Facebook and Twitter declarations of thanks for friends and family.

There are the big things like, the man who offers you his umbrella when you’re stranded in the rain. Your classmate that offers to help you study for the next exam when you were sick for lectures that week. Maybe we are more thankful when strangers who have no ties to us offer to help us.

But what about the people close to us? The parents who dutifully call you a few times a week “just to check up on you”? The girlfriend who still loves you despite  your oddities and quirks? The close pals you can count on to be with you through thick and thin, relationships and break ups, and who are always down for happy hours and karaoke? Do we recognize kindnesses that we see on a day to day basis?

Take the time this Thanksgiving to tell your friends and family, individually if you can, not just that you are thankful for them, but why you are thankful for them. What is it about who they are and what they do that has impacted your life so much? Write to a friend and tell her how much her support and good humor over the last few months while you were going through rough times helped you. Write to your mentor and tell them how much you appreciate their time, and their wisdom, and their willingness to invest in your future success. Tell your employees how much you value their hard work. And of course, most of us can never thank our parents enough for giving us life, but today, you can try.

Lastly, we should all strive to be someone that others would be thankful to have in their lives. As we give thanks for what others have been to us, or done for us, we should continuously aim to do for others, and to be for others, the best we can. Beyond being thankful for what we have achieved, or the material things we have acquired in the past calendar year, let us remember that the people who seem to have the most in their lives are the ones who are the most freely giving of themselves, their time, their energy and their love to others.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

My friends and I at my going away party in September in New York. So thankful to have amazing people in my life.

I have an 8-year old who lives near us and who has been a big part of my time here in Curacao. I’ll call her “Alice”. Alice is one of the prettiest girls I have ever seen. She has skin the color of honeyed hazelnut, and light olive green eyes. Alice’s mother is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica who worked as a hotel maid until she lost her job a few weeks ago. Since then, Alice’s mom pretty much stays inside and plays on Facebook or goes out with her boyfriend, aslo a Jamaican. Alice is an only child and doesn’t have anyone to play with when she comes home from school. “My mom doesn’t have time for me,” Alice tells me. “She would rather be on the computer than play with me.” Because of Alice’s mom’s illegal status, and the fact that Alice is unregistered here in Curacao, her mother does not like for her to walk to her friends’ houses nearby for fear that she may be discovered and deported.

So my boyfriend and I often hang out with Alice. We’ve taken her to Adventure City, a place for kids with arcade games, bumper cars, and prizes that kids can win. We help her with her math and Dutch homework sometimes, we watch bootleg movies together, and when her family doesn’t have enough money for food, I make sure to cook extra to give Alice a plate. In return, she draws us pictures that we proudly display on our fridge, helps me with my Papiamentu, and brings me beautlful sea glass that she collects on the beach.

One thing that Alice seems obsessed with is making beds. If my boyfriend or I am home, the first thing she does is knock on our door to ask to ask us if she can “spread the bed”.

Yeah, sure, knock yourself out, kid. 

After several bed-spreading requests, I asked Alice last week why she was so obsessed with making the bed.

“Well, if I want to work in a hotel, then I have to learn to spread the bed really, really good. So I want to start practicing now so that later, I can be really, really good at it and make beds nice,” Alice replied enthusiastically.

I was floored.

Her reply really hit me hard. Here was an 8 year old girl getting a head start on her hotel maid career. It is true that in Curacao, many cleaning ladies are Jamaican. I realize that that is probably all Alice has seen to aspire to be as a Jamaican on this island. I struggled with wanting more for her, to tell her, Youre EIGHT YEARS OLD. You should be wanting to be an actress, a singer, a scientist, a dancer, a model, or gosh, even a princess! 

Is being able to dream about those things a privilege? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not Alice’s mother, and as much as my well-meaning and softhearted boyfriend thinks we should adopt her and take her out of her situation, we cannot. Instead of being sad about it, I tell him we should be thankful and grateful for the chance that we have gotten to know Alice, who, despite her circumstances, is a cheerful, sweet, sensitive, and intelligent child.

And that’s beautiful.

“‘Do’ or ‘Do Not’…there is no ‘try’.” – Yoda

A Little Tuesday Inspiration, Star Wars Style

Bon Dia, Curacao!

September 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

Bon dia, from Willemstad, Curaçao! After flight delays and missed connections, my overweight luggage and I arrived safe and sort of sound last Thursday night at Hato International Airport.

I’ve taken the last few days to relax and flush out the stress of the last few months years days of New York. I was treated by my boyfriend to flowers, gifts, and a surprise midnight sail with his friends around the Spanish Water near Caracasbaai as my “Welcome Home” weekend. I’m a lucky, lucky girl. 🙂

“Welcome Home” flowers 🙂

It’s going to take some time for the fact that I just moved to a new country to sink in. I thought that updating my Facebook “Current City” would speed up the process, but that didn’t quite work. I mean, if you officially register with the national immigration as a citizen of a new country update your new city on Facebook, it makes it official, right?

Its Facebook Official: I’m an Antillean!

I’m looking forward to exploring the island, and getting familiarized with the politics of the upcoming elections. I’m beginning the hunt for some gigs on the island in order to line my pockets with some Antillean guilders.

A couple things that I have gleaned from conversations over the past few days about Curaçao:

  • Curaçao is apparently entering its first elections since becoming “autonomous” from The Netherlands with €200 Million over its national budget. The speculation is that the politicians of this small, but relatively wealthy island of less than 200,000 people( I heard Curaçao actually supplies oil to neighboring countries of Aruba and Bonaire, yet gas prices are quite high here) have been stealing the country’s resources.
  • Despite being politically autonomous, Curaçao is not economically independent, as its national budget is subject to approval by the Netherlands.
  • There are populations of Haitian, Jamaican, and Dominican immigrants who move to Curaçao for low wage work. But from what I hear, life is not so easy for them, especially the ones that move here illegally.
  • Some of my Dutch friends feel that there has been a sharp rise in anti-Dutch, and anti-foreigner sentiment as the elections draw nearer in October. Of course, I’m sure that that is only half the story when it comes to the social and cultural relations on the island.

I’m looking forward to meeting and interviewing more people of different backgrounds on the island. Stay tuned!

Karen

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” -Maya Angelou

A Little Monday Inspiration