As it has been some 5 weeks since my last update you can assume that ‘work’, our initial catalyst for both of our island relocations, has begun in earnest (that, and I always knew that Pen Going East would be less comprehensive than its southern counterpart due to the change in our parenthood status). I do my best to leave my professional life out of the blog for a host of reasons (contractual obligations, child safeguarding/confidentiality, personal preference and audience consideration) but the work/life balance does creep in at times as a factor in our story. It will inevitably impact the frequency of blog updates as my think-too-much approach to everything in life tips the balance off by some way.
Here in Seychelles (the Seychellois people often seem to drop the ‘The’ from The Seychelles but I haven’t queried the correct usage yet), there seems, like many small islands, to be a much more considerate lifestyle when it comes to work. This isn’t to say that people don’t work hard here, but if you drive out of work at 4pm (most people’s clock-off time, I’m told) the roads are noticeably busier than at 5. Similarly, attempt to get hold of anyone in a customer services/advisory role in either the public or private sector outside of standard hours (or at lunchtime) and you are living in the wrong city, my friend. Frankly, that’s just how it should be. The proliferation of the unspoken, unpaid overtime expectation in so many sectors in so many countries is a hard feature to undo once it has crept in. Obviously, education can only aspire to the idea of fixed hours, but while I may not benefit from (and am often inconvenienced by) the lifestyle balance that others have, I still wholeheartedly agree with the principle of it and the impact it has on society.
I know that I will never avoid working at home in the evenings and weekends, but now that I have different priorities in life (namely: little J) I am determined to try to bring a healthier work-life balance into my career. My hope is that more happiness and less fatigue will also reflect positively on my professional outcomes. Time will tell whether that proves true, but it’s what I’m telling myself for now and it means I get to go to the beach every once in a while so I like the message from that part of my brain.
Where not so long ago, our daily/weekly/monthly routines (they were the same thing) saw little variation in activity, people or surroundings (as dictated by ongoing lockdown laws), we’re having to adjust to the idea of being able to do other things, go other places and see other people. H astonished me just this week by announcing that she was annoyed not to get a swim in that day as it was the first day since we arrived that she hadn’t. While I was both enviable and amazed by this matter-of-fact statement, it was also reassuring to know that the decision to take the job and move was justified by sentences like that.
The handy location of our house and the near-constant sunshine does make beach trips ludicrously regular. We were also given a very thoughtful pair of snorkel masks as a gift (thanks Scott!) which have proven their worth on many an occasion. I wasn’t sure how well they’d work but the waters here are unbelievable and I’m very glad we have them. We don’t regret much about our move yet, but our lack of foresight over the wonders of what lay beneath the water has left us wondering if an underwater camera would have been a smarter move than the DSLR we’ve yet to take out. The ‘phone in a bag’ solution has mixed and nerve-wracking results:
As with all international moves, there have been a few things to get used to. For example, there is life everywhere! Lizards and bugs of all kinds are a constant everywhere you go! I’ve never had a lizard interrupt a lesson by running into a student’s bag before, so that was a novel first week memory. Ants, geckos, centipedes, beetles, flying cockroaches and all kinds of other creatures just seem to be everywhere, which is bringing joy to little J (and, admittedly, much less to H).
As a Brit, I feel the need to mention the weather: the tropical storms seem to bring about as much rain as Ireland suffers but here it dumps it in the space of 20 minutes instead of ruining an entire week’s worth of activities (again, getting it the right way around). I’ve never seen anything like it. On Sunday, 25mm of rain fell during the day. To put that in perspective, I looked it up and England had around 20mm of rain in April. The whole month. It’s impressive.
We’re also adjusting to some lifestyle changes the likes of which we’ve not had for quite a few years. We are gorging on fruit and veg, for example. It’s so hot here that everything seems to grow. J has no idea how lucky he is: eating fresh papaya, bananas, mango, passion fruit etc every single day. People sell it on little stalls on the roadside, so we nip to the beach and stop off at a stand or two. In one trip we came back into the house with fresh passion fruit, bananas, soursop, custard apple, avocado, papaya, star fruit and golden apples (which aren’t apples, by the way). It’s unbelievable and 5 years with limited access to fresh fruit has left us highly appreciative.
This theme of being starved of something increasing the pleasure we derive from it has continued on other fronts too. After a mid-week yoga session a while back, for example, H went to the pub for a drink. It was the first time in over a year and she returned like she’d been to Disneyland. She’s not an alcoholic, I should add; it was just so novel.
Although it’s been over a month, we’re still adjusting to meeting new people all the time and it’s great to hear everyone’s stories. For example, we recently met a couple whose usual residence is London but they are currently working from home and have decided to do so from here (the genius of which naturally begs the question why anyone is still working from home in the UK).
We’ve had the time now to have a few trips into Victoria, the capital, which I’ll cover in more depth in its own post. Suffice to say that it’s a charming, fascinating little city with real character. We got a taste of its past when we discovered that the main junction in town is a miniature replica of the Queen Elizabeth Tower (or Big Ben, as it is incorrectly known). We’ve now, I think, covered all of the admin stuff that comes with moving and it brings me great joy to say that. Having lost 4 hours of my life there, I have vowed never to visit the bank again (to be fair to them, that was 4 hours across two separate, very complex trips: one to open an account, the other to collect my card).
In other developments, we’ve bought a car! This might sound quite run of the mill, but all drivers know that a car can seriously alter your experience of a place. There is a huge import tax on cars here and the winding mountain roads, tight corners and short distances mean small cars are de rigueur. Most people here seem to drive Hyundai i10s, Kia Picantos or Daihatsu Scirions (other cars are also seen as it pays to keep them running as long as possible: it’s not like dead cars can leave the islands). We found a little 989cc Daihatsu Charade (a youthful 2005 model) with a good history and we hope it lasts us a few more years. It’s a big step-down from the two Pajero 4x4s with a combined 6 litre engine capacity that we were running, but its surprisingly nippy for its engine size and I’m becoming quite taken with the little terrier.
While we were viewing the cars, we heard a familiar noise and were pleased to see more giant tortoises being looked after at the same place, giving little J something to keep him occupied while we checked the AC (crucial for us here, of course).
Mostly, though, the last few weeks have been spent establishing our daily routines, including H & J enjoying daily trips to the beaches here as much as possible and pinching ourselves that we get to live somewhere so casually beautiful. Every beach here is just picture-perfect and H’s phone is just filling with daily pictures like the ones below (I believe ‘NoFilter’ is the correct…ahem…’hashtag’ used by young’uns in this situation). It’s giving little J one hell of an experience to enjoy and the excitement we see from mention of the beach is both reassuring and heart-warming in equal measure. I worry that some day the novelty may wear off and we’ll become complacent about how lucky we are, but I hope the blog will help remind us of this. Margate just ain’t going to cut it any more.
Covid19 Post(erity)Script: When last you heard from us, the Seychelles were opening up their borders and allowing tourists free roam on the back of the highest per capita vaccination numbers in the world. While many might have expected to see herd immunity reached and the country pioneering the ‘return to normal’, panicked headlines around the world declared that the country was seeing a worse crisis than India (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/05/06/seychelles-vaccines-covid-cases/) and the world was looking on. Some might say ‘well obviously, the tourists are coming in’ but the cases have been mostly among the local people. So it is true that the island has become something of an experiment for vaccination efficacy and social measures but the numbers, as always, don’t tell the full story.
Per capita Covid cases are higher here than elsewhere, yes, and the government has closed schools for 3 weeks. The situation, however, is perhaps hinted at by the fact that pubs and restaurants are still open (until 7pm, Covid never leaves until last orders). The official government response is ‘though infections have risen recently, thanks to the island nation’s vaccination programme which was rolled out in January, people are not seriously ill and the health system is not under pressure’: http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/14799/Official+COVID+situation+in+Seychelles+is+manageable and, this time, I’m inclined to believe them.
Government statistics are limited in their scope and usefulness, but what has become clear is that the vast majority of the people testing positive (80%) were/are from the small percentage not vaccinated and, of those testing positive with vaccines, hardly anyone is getting any real symptoms. In small communities, percentages and per capita figures can easily sound more shocking than they are.
Our anecdotal view, from the ground, is that we’ve reached the point where everyone we know is fully vaccinated and everyone they know is fully vaccinated so, put simply, people let things slip (all the way back to pre-Covid times). In some ways, the recent spread is perhaps a result of the newfound confidence that citizens have in the government’s campaign and ‘open up’ subtext.
Clearly, there are still a few people left to vaccinate (and soon we would hope that number will be near 0) but my hunch would be that this is a statistical anomaly caused by the increased socialising, increased testing/contact tracing and decreased anxiety over Covid19. So far, no-one here seems worried and neither are we. As vaccination numbers increase and governments open social businesses and borders, it becomes harder and harder for the ‘stay at home, don’t mix, take it seriously’ message to hold sway with people, so I suspect we’ll see similar blips in other test cases like Israel and the UK. That’s my hunch, anyway. As always, the message is: don’t believe everything (anything?) you read in the headlines.