While the idea of living in a big house with a group of thirteen strangers conjured up images The Real World, the reality was, no one ever stopped being polite. There were no episodes of binge drinking or drunken brawls, roommate roulette or random hook-ups, cat fights or salacious scandals. Well, at least not that I was aware of. Though I quickly learned that not speaking the same language as those you live with tends to deafen you from reality. So, from my narrow perspective, the energy in the house felt friendly and easy amongst us expats who call Indonesia, Thailand, India and the Philippines home. Oh, and of course there was me, the one black chick from 'Merica.
Navigating around our spacious kitchen in the mornings, cooking our own cultural variations of breakfast, and cleaning up before our 8am Spa meeting was like a well-choreographed routine with impeccable timing and spacing. But I still ate most meals in my room instead of at the community dining room table because, to constantly sit and eat with people speaking different languages felt far lonelier than eating alone. I wished I could've wiggled my nose to become instantly multilingual because the language barrier felt extremely isolating. I so desperately wanted to understand the stories behind their outbursts of laughter and the intense dialogue that connected them on deeper levels. I envied that haven of community they shared. Without that grounding element and unique bond created by common culture, customs, and language, I wonder how many of them would survive as long as they do on this remote island so far away from friends, family and the creature comforts of home.
I ended up spending a lot of time by myself and in conversation with myself; part of that by choice, but largely because my colleagues were insanely busy as there's far more demand for Spa treatments than Pilates workouts. And in that alone time, some of those conversations with myself felt constructive and affirming, full of personal inquiry, and deep reflection. Some of them felt positive, supportive, and even inspirational. I relished in the time and mental space I had for creativity and the natural evolution of ideas that had been stuck as mere sparks of my imagination. I loved having time to write, workout, and cook healthy meals without scrambling to squeeze everything into an overbooked schedule or feeling completely depleted at the end of the day. I enjoyed the calm of the Caribbean pace. It felt good to my nervous system.
While these were welcome gifts to this New Yorker habituated to the constant grind, frenetic pace and sensory overload of the city, I desperately needed connection. I needed some external stimulation, motivation, and inspiration. I craved creative collaboration and conversations that challenged me to explore new ideas or fall over in laughter. With the exception of the few hours I spent teaching, I was usually alone where the little voices in my head would play devil’s advocate; questioning my purpose, the direction of career, and the sorry fate of my love life. They intensified my midlife crisis; magnifying my loneliness, and heightening my fear of the future. The idea of the second half of my life being devoid of passion and deep connections haunted me; especially when the first half of my life felt so rich and exciting. I was terrified of my post-divorce life remaining status quo; full of monotony and routine with only fleeting moments of happiness. And then I'd feel guilty because, hey, I was living in paradise and experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity.
But there was absolutely nothing or no one on this island to distract me from myself; no social life, no nightlife, no intimacy, and nowhere to go. This resort was built for quiet and stillness; not recreation and entertainment. It's the perfect destination vacation for a New Yorker but perhaps not the perfect home. There were so many nights I had wipe my own tears and cuddle myself to sleep. This felt like the ultimate game of survivor.