A yoga studio recently opened on my street, about ten steps away from my apartment building’s door. I enjoy doing yoga, and I need to do it to keep my joints flexible in the face of encroaching arthritis, but even though this place is super-convenient, I won’t be going there. Why? I don’t like the yoga culture. I don’t want to buy or wear yoga pants, my yoga mat is actually a beach towel, and I don’t want to listen to tinkly New Age music that goes nowhere. I will continue to do my yoga at home, alone.
With that same reasoning, I don’t frequent Starbucks because I think its culture is too precious and snooty. I won’t subject myself to being looked down on because I want a SMALL cup of coffee, not a grande or whatever they call it, and I want skim milk, not a “skinny.” I’ll just reverse-snob them right back.
Okay, so I’m strange and perverse. But at least I’ve sampled yoga studios and Starbucks shops. I’ve been a tourist at both places.
Now, the Turks and Caicos don’t have a Starbucks, but they do have samplers like me. They’re called tourists. Mind you, not all tourists are there to sample the culture of the islands. Some whisk from the airport to a Grace Bay resort and are content to enjoy the beach while enfolded in a resort culture that could be at any number of places other than the TCI. But others want to experience more and venture out to local restaurants and Fish Fry, and take day trips to Little Water Cay (billed as Iguana Island), Fort George Cay and North-Middle. Often, these are the people who fall in love with the islands and decide to buy a house or condo and keep coming back.
But then something weird happens. Some of those who profess to love the TCI proceed to wall themselves off from island life. They don’t frequent the local shops; they haul food with them from Canada or the U.S. They think local tradesmen are inferior to imported labor. They won’t try green corn, learn how to prepare conch or use locally-grown potatoes instead of Idahoes. When they go out, they go only to places that cater to tourists, not the local spots. They stay in their closed-up homes, re-creating the life they came from.
Why? I have no idea. Just staying in their comfort zone, I suppose. But I believe they are missing so much. I know my own life has been enriched by the time I’ve spent on North Caicos, and if I had made Aloe House into a little Richmond there are many things I wouldn’t have learned, like how to make guava ice cream and jelly, the social fun of roasting green corn and bragging about how many ears you’ve eaten, how to just hang out at a party, the pleasures of gullywash and the benefits of donkey poop.
To have a place in the islands and not appreciate the local culture … well, that’s like practicing yoga alone or ordering a small coffee at Starbucks! Hmmm. I guess we all have our contradictions, don’t we? At least mine don’t involve a lot of expense!