It is a truth universally recognized that people who are handy with things generally do better with island living. Those who know how to repair engines, build things and handle household DIY jobs have the skills to cope with the Murphy’s Law that covers life on a rock.
Tom and I, educated for professions of a more sedentary sort, were not those types of people when we built our TCI house. We knew that, so one of our preparations was taking a class in home repairs offered by our local vo-tech school. It gave us a few clues about the skills we would need to develop, such as putting new screen on a frame, fixing a faucet leak and turning off a breaker before approaching a light switch … and deciding to call an electrician.
Over the years we’ve picked up other island skills that were not innate. I can now de-bug, lubricate and file the points on our pump motor. Tom has replaced outdoor light fixtures that rusted away. I can eat a bonefish. Tom built hurricane shutters. We know how to make great gullywash and rum punch.
Other skills are taking longer to acquire. I’m still dangerous with a machete, wishing I could cut open a coconut without drama. And I’m still pretty bad at filleting a fish, having grown up a landlubber.
We are good, though, with that most vital of island skills: improvisation. In a place where buying the right tool for the job usually means getting on a boat, then renting a car, being able to find another way to do things saves time and money. No spline tool for the screen? A screwdriver, used carefully, works just fine. Duct tape is a wonder (does anyone use it for ducts?), and you don’t have to fish (another skill) to find fishing line useful (great for hanging pictures!).
The same is true in the kitchen. If you’re a cook who insists on having all the proper ingredients for a recipe, you’ll have to be wealthy or willing to “pack it in.” Island cooking is a matter of making do with what’s available in the local stores, with your skill at improvisation and “from scratch” making the difference. Yes, you can make your own salad dressing and sausage! Nachos do not require bottled salsa or packaged tortillas. And yes, limes work in place of lemons in many dishes.
(It helps that if in addition to your improvisational cooking, you have “improvisational” taste buds, willing to try something new. But that’s another blog.)
Even though Tom and I lack some of the hard island skills, we’ve been saved by improvisations. Some day, I’ll be able to whack open a coconut in four motions. Until then, my hammer and screwdriver, plus some effort, will get me started on my gullywash.