There’s something truly amazing about living in a place, and living a life, in which the most stressful part of your day is leaving the beach to be at work at 4:30, or waiting in line at the pharmacy while the oldest living cashier in the world takes twenty minutes to ring up each customer. It’s a different world down here, and I’m a different self when I’m here. I’m the person I hope to learn how to become anywhere. This place changes you. Changes your priorities, and your standards of expectation. It makes you grateful for every simple thing you have, because you don’t have much. Every day is an adventure because it has to be. There’s no movie theater, no arcade, no mall, no full-size grocery store, no bookstore… it has no excess. It has just enough.
The word “enough” has taken on a different meaning for me since the first time I came here four years ago, and especially in the past year since last March, when I moved down here to live and work for the first time. Being here has helped me to realize just how excessive the society in the United States is, and how excessive my life has been up to this past year. It’s made me realize just how much money I was wasting on shit I didn’t need, and how much money my family and friends have wasted on shit they didn’t need either–all of us putting ourselves into a financial quagmire for nothing. I don’t regret spending money on my education, and on living in Boston to get it. But I wish I’d had the wisdom several years ago to forego the creature comforts in exchange for the time and peace of mind that having to work less provides.
For example, I am able to work only three nights a week in a restaurant and sell handmade jewelry and art on the side, and in a couple of weeks once I’ve caught up, I will be able to sock away money by the hundreds of dollars because my rent is only $200 a month here, and on a good night I can make that in one shift. I don’t have to pay for heat, and our house is on a hill so there’s a constant breeze or wind, meaning we don’t need to run the air conditioner. Our house has a washing machine on the back porch that drains into the yard and takes nearly an hour to finish a load–but every time I do a load of laundry in it I’m grateful, because two weeks ago I was living in a tent and doing my laundry in the sink of a public campground bathroom. What luxury! A washing machine!
Living cheaply and comfortably here is very possible–even easy–but it requires creativity and occasionally daring. For example, every single appliance in our house could stop functioning completely at any moment. I’m pretty sure the microwave is from the 1970s–but it works! The fridge has been painted a hideous shade of baby shit green for reasons I can only imagine (drunkenness? colorblindness?) and the face of the microwave has been brush-painted fire engine red (why??). The other day one of the ceiling fans started emitting a sort of burnt-plastic stink, and we pondered for a moment whether a concrete house could actually catch fire. Then our roommate–who is both creative and daring– jumped up on a chair and disconnected the wire that was overheating, and voila! no more potential electrical fire. So what if we’re one ceiling fan short? The previous day, he took apart the whole oven to figure out how to light the pilot light so the oven would work. We have hot water in our house now–a luxury I haven’t previously had in my homes here–because we spent sixty bucks on a plug-in “suicide shower” attachment that heats the water instantly. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated a hot shower until I’d taken so many cold ones.
Think about it. How many rental situations have you been in where you had to figure out how to solve a problem like a burnt-out and potentially dangerous ceiling fan, or a gas stove that’s so old that there is no electrical plug to it whatsoever? Have you ever lived without television, or made your coffee camp-style in your house? How long has it been since you went without internet? Have you ever lived in a town without a library or a bookstore?
I highly suggest trying it.
Living without the creature comforts I’m accustomed to at home has made me not only appreciate those comforts when I have them, but has also helped me to realize how many of them are just truly unnecessary. It’s quite possible to live comfortably and spend less than half of what we’re accustomed to spending, but you have to be smart and persistent and a bit of a scavenger. And you have to COOPERATE with other people. On Vieques only every fifth or sixth person I know has a car, and nobody’s complaining. The people who have cars will pick you up if they see you walking, and if you need a car for something you can surely borrow one without too much trouble. Nobody’s car is all that valuable, so they’re not worried about what you might do to it.
Just day to day life here is an adventure. Sometimes the island is out of gasoline for four days, and when it arrives, it can take four hours of waiting in the gas line–but we do it because we have to. There have been three power outages in the past week, and my restaurant stayed open all three times. Driving here is like playing MarioKart when you’re drunk, except the obstacles in the road are horses, potholes and dogs. Occasionally a kayak, a mongoose, a goat or an iguana. And we are all daily players in each other’s lives, because there aren’t that many of us. There are days, usually Mondays or Tuesdays when we all have the day off, where twenty of my friends and I will gather at the same beach and spend the whole day just goofing off. Why is that possible here, but nearly impossible at home? Because we’re not working like dogs and so excessively over-scheduled and overcommitted that we barely have time to sleep. We live cheaply, we work minimally, we get by, and we have time to enjoy our lives. Our furniture and appliances might fall apart at any moment, but we’ll figure it out because that’s what you do here. You make it work. And it makes you work less. Almost everyone I know here is happy, which is so not the case at home. I’m practically ecstatic. Every day I wake up feeling blessed with plentitude and completely appreciating everything I have.
It’s not much, but it’s enough.