I’m back in town after a week in the Turks and Caicos Islands for my sister’s wedding. I didn’t even know where these islands were when Sara first mentioned them. I had to look them up here to realize that they are a chain of islands southeast of the Bahamas. Providenciales, the island where we stayed, is close enough to Cuba to pick up Cuban radio. How cool is that?
I was so busy before we left on November 1st that I hadn’t thought much about where we were going. I was finishing a grant proposal, teaching, thinking about the elections (and voting early, of course). So when D and Stella and Zoë and I arrived in Providenciales, tired and sleepy on Saturday night, I peeled off layers of clothes, took a deep breath of humid air, and thought, oh my God, we’re in the tropics. We’re on vacation.
I’ve always wanted to swim in the Caribbean, to step into water that color, clear and light. When I was in junior high, I searched magazines for photos of tropical islands and taped them to the wall above my bed. I loved the contrast of sky, sand, water. I positioned my favorite island photo, which I had snipped from a calendar, so that as the sun set in frigid Minnesota, it would hit the photo just so, illuminating it. And I would imagine stepping into it, disappearing into that deserted beach.
Sunday morning, when Zoë woke us all bright and early, I walked out onto the balcony of the huge villa my sister and her fiancé had rented for the week, and it was as if I was stepping into the photo from my adolescence. I stood there, looking down at the pool and the ocean, and I thought, this is it, the photo. I am here.
On Sunday, we got settled and swam. Stella was in and out of the pool and ocean a dozen times. We also went grocery shopping. The islands don’t grow anything to speak off, so groceries are exorbitant. My sister warned us that food was expensive, but I was thinking expensive in the way organic vegetables are expensive compared to conventional vegetables. No. Food there is three times as much as it is here. A box of Cheerios was nine dollars. A cantaloupe eight. I know that most of the world spends a much larger percentage of their income on food than we do here in the United States, but this was mind-blowing. And as we returned to our luxurious villa, I couldn’t help feel guilty thinking of all the people who live and work on the island—the construction workers and maids and waitresses. How do they afford to eat?
There are problems with these islands—there is a great deal of corruption and very little environmental protection. They have some of the worlds most beautiful corral reefs, which they will destroy quickly if they don’t take measures to protect them. Instead of gifts, my sister and her fiancé asked that donations be made to an organization that works to protect Turks and Caicos’ natural resources.
I felt uncomfortable at times even being there, knowing that fast growth with little regulation due to tourism is part of the problem. But I couldn’t help enjoy myself. We split our time between the villa on one side of the island, and the resort on the other side where my mom and step-dad were staying. We went for a sunset cruise on a huge sailboat. We went snorkeling, floating above parrot fish and barracuda and long fingers of purple and orange corral. (Some of our snorkeling group even saw a shark.) We went kayaking around the small islands near the villa. I felt the need to keep stopping in the middle of whatever amazing thing we were doing and acknowledge how amazing it was: I can’t believe this. We’re kayaking in the Caribbean. I can’t believe it. I just saw a barracuda.
Sara had her computer with her and offered it up if I wanted to check e-mail, but I refused. I needed a break so badly, from my phone and e-mail. I needed a real break, to be renewed and refreshed. I was.
Tuesday, CNN was on all day, of course, and between swims and naps and eating, we watched the long lines of people here at home, waiting to vote. I was a little sad not to be here on election day, not to wait in line and feel that energy, but it was also nice to be able to put it out of our minds for an hour at a time as we floated in the ocean. Tuesday night, we ordered pizza and sat glued to the television, watching as states turned blue or red. I went to sleep about 10:30 because I didn’t think the election would be called early, so I missed hearing Obama’s speech live. The next morning I jumped out of bed and, when I heard that he won, I screamed and screamed, and then was overcome by such immense relief that I felt dizzy and had to sit down. Wherever we went in the following days, people congratulated us. Everyone we met assumed we were thrilled, which, of course, we were. I was amazed by how relieved and excited they also were. On the Cuban radio station, people from all over the Americas were weighing in, hopeful: Obama Obama Obama.
I don’t know what the wedding on Friday would have felt like if Obama had lost. We would have still celebrated their marriage, of course, but we would have felt heavy.
As it was, the wedding was amazing, right at edge of the ocean in front of the villa. Sara was gorgeous. My dad, who had been nervous all week, performed the ceremony, as he had for Rachel and for me, and he did great. The ceremony was followed by champagne and appetizers and then a dinner at a restaurant on the other side of the island: Conch spring rolls, an Asian-inspired salad, and fresh grouper over fried gnocchi. I ate until I almost exploded.
The travel was long, but overall, Stella and Zoë did really well. We are home now, and the leaves have fallen, there is snow on the ground, and the sky is gray. But I still feel refreshed, and those pictures from my childhood bedroom walls have been replaced by a real picture: I am floating in the teal ocean, watching Stella laugh as she cannonballs into the pool a few yards away.