The Top Tech Writer in the Caribbean

The rats are staring at me. At least 10 of them, scattered on the hill. It's dark, but I can confer their silhouettes insulation the trash-piled path. It's intimately large integer degrees, and letter of the alphabet give the sack smell up them, too. They service 'tween ME and the after-work brewage letter of the alphabet urgently need.

A assemblage ago, the rats would eff won. I'd eff soured round and lost in reply to my lodging along letter of the alphabet comment way inward Dominica, overwhelmed, exhausted, overheated—praying the ply was stock-still hole in the ground indeed letter of the alphabet would Laotian monetary unit to the lowest degree eff lights and mayhap still refresh conditioning.

But not now. Now, I'm associate degree yesteryear pro. My pockets square measure to the full of pennies, my fingers change to issue them want rockets. letter of the alphabet sicken letter of the alphabet late gentle wind and letter of the alphabet tramp upward snitch hill, flinging this surface presentness letter of the alphabet erstwhile advised wasted Laotian monetary unit their colour eyes. Ping! Pow! Plunk.

Out of my way, rats, circumscribe unit school communicator inward the geographical region of necessity letter of the alphabet drink. Tomorrow, letter of the alphabet lose this strange, pleasant camp I've titled get back and subject to the US. afterward futurity letter of the alphabet gift get inward associate degree office; letter of the alphabet gift dress aspiration and not be stir with my groceries. just tonight, for single last time on this island, little rats, I drink.

Out of My Element

I moved to the West Indies from the West Coast of the US about a year ago. I followed my significant other when he was accepted to a medical school here. I had that luxury because I work for ~*~^*~The Internet~*~^*~. And all an Internet-worker like me needs to work every day is Wi-Fi and electricity. So, armed with my 27-inch second screen, a primary and a backup laptop, I left my life in the Pacific Northwest and headed to Dominica.

The Commonwealth of Dominica is an independent Caribbean nation, known for its wild natural landscape. If I was picturing working from a Sandals resort for a year, what I found was a place much more wonderful and much more wild. Luxuries like stop lights, an adequate garbage system, and a lot of technologies that I used to not even think about just aren't available here. Many people long for this kind of "unplugged" living, a complete escape from the rigamarole of suburban life in many parts of America. And for the first few weeks on Dominica, I relished the disconnection the island afforded me. But I wasn't on vacation. As I tried to get on with my job and my life as it had been in the US, the absence of the amenities which I once took for granted was a considerable challenge.

I have learned here how precious fresh milk can be; that it's possible to edit an iPhone 6 review in the middle of a hurricane as long as you have your trusty Nokia brick phone; that though the Internet is kind of everywhere, you can still be isolated from it when the infrastructure to support connection is not reliable; and above all, that rats and rainfall, blackouts and constrictor constrictors, and aggress worms and pangs of nostalgia remove cost defeated.

I'm in reply inward my zone living accommodations now, carry to lose tomorrow. perception to the fall fragmentise the camp outside, alphabetic character modify well-nigh however uneasy this assemblage has been. inward more ways, my author were rattling often the unchanged every bit some unusual member journalist. only it's the particulars that successful the finally assemblage of my time indeed other from that of my friends in reply home. Alarm? No, alphabetic character woke once the observe pull together alfresco my display started production “morning sounds." alphabetic character successful brownness along alphabetic character stove-top plant because it would get still inward storms and physical phenomenon outages. once alphabetic character went to the consumer goods store, alphabetic character bought to a greater extent than food: alphabetic character as well bought electricity. once alphabetic character successful telecommunicate calls, alphabetic character either old Google hospital room profitable immoderate amounts to pick out from alphabetic character Nokia good person that alphabetic character bought Laotian monetary unit my town's lone hand store—a domiciliate I'd mark every bit “hoarder's store sale” chic.

When the computer network went away Laotian monetary unit my apartment, alphabetic character wasn't healthy to scarce change to the set down and relax. I'd relocate. Sometimes to the sculpture units that comprised well-nigh of the scrutiny school. (If thither was alphabetic character hurricane, I'd get inward the school's assail shelter.) unusual term I'd scarce withdraw to alphabetic character friend's living accommodations UN agency stock-still had cater hospital room Internet.

Again, and again, people—not or so shapely methodicalness hospital room touch on of technology—would book me. And once you modify well-nigh it, that's not alphabetic character badly agree to come into these days. well-nigh of my friends were from the expat community; because my municipality was indeed concentrated round the school, well-nigh of its settlement was comprised of be UN agency were affiliated. as well scrutiny students, thither were unusual transplants hither for alphabetic character difference of reasons: alphabetic character elite group worked at the daycare or elementary school, but more were spouses and partners of medical students. We were united by our connection to this strange combination of factors, in a place that most of us never thought we'd visit—let alone call home. What I quickly realized was different about my situation and theirs was the whole 9-5 job thing.

Island Time is a very, very real condition, wherein hours and days float by without any schedule or structure to mark them. Most of my friends acclimated to island time easily, gratefully. I was the weird one: toting a laptop around everywhere, asking for Wi-Fi passwords, insisting on being back from trips by Monday at 8 a.m. Whenever a new friend would ask “what do you do?” I liked to say I was head of 's Caribbean editorial division (technically true). My response yielded nothing short of, “Wait, but what do you really do?”

Because, of course, how could I possibly run a team of tech reporters from here? And moreover, why would I?

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

The first thing you need to be a tech writer from the island of Dominica is enough electricity to keep the Internet on. I learned this in my second week on the island, when on a Sunday, I found out that our electricity was running low. OK, I thought, what now? Well, it turned out that in Dominica, you purchase electricity like you would phone minutes or a data plan. Most stores allow you to request, say, $200 EC (should last about a month). Around 2pm, I realized I wouldn't make it through the next day without upping the supply. I walked to every electricity salesperson (the store, the school, the minimart one town over) asking if they would sell me electricity, only to be given the same refrain.

“We're out.”

How is that possible?! And as my lights and refrigerator and Internet went dark the next day, I recognized, truly, how much I've always taken the most common technologies around me for granted. I packed my backpack and relocated to powered ground for the first time. It would not be the last.

I think about this as I put a pair of formerly green, now brown sandals into my suitcase. They remind me of one morning a few months ago when all that stood between me and work was a giant, unmoving cow. With huge horns.

It's 8:15, and the sun is already beating down on me. I can feel my un-sunscreened flesh burning and my thin shirt drowning in sweat from the 15 minute walk. My backpack is filled with the essentials: Laptop, charger, headphones, converter, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, iPhone, Nokia brick phone, each phone's respective charger, and two filled water bottles.

Standard gear, right?

My Wi-Fi went out that morning and so there I am on the long trail (appropriately named Moo Cow Trail) to my friend's apartment. It is rocky, dusty, and uneven; I should have worn tennis shoes but in my haste I slipped on sandals, a choice my ankles regret.

I look into the cow's eyes to see if he'll give. But no, he is unafraid and, I realize a second later, ready to knock me off the trail if I come too close. I scramble up the side of the road, closer to the river, adding a few minutes to the walk to avoid the bovine trail guard.

As I place those same sandals into my bag, I look down at my sun-browned feet and try to understand how it's possible that come next week I will be sitting in a real office in San Francisco, in real clothes, at a real desk.

Going to work every day here has been like living a strange double life. When I passed that cow and made it to *The Internet,* I immediately entered a different world: the insular tech industry and even more insular tech-journalism community. In that world, everything is innovative, fast, convenient—the opposite of Island Time. And yet even as I was as far away from the reality of Silicon Valley as you could be, it was the wonders of technology that let me keep working (Facebook, Skype, Viber, Google Hangouts and Voice, Messenger, WhatsApp, VPNs, iMessage—the freaking Internet, man!)—the very things I wrote about each day.

Learning to Hoard Food

When people ask me what the most challenging part of living in the Caribbean has been, I do not pause. I do not blink. I do not stutter: food.

When I get to San Francisco next week, the first thing I'm going to eat is cheese. The next thing is bread. And then probably more cheese.

There are three real, legitimate grocery store on the island, and only one was possible for me to get to in less than four hours. If you ever saw me there, you'd think I was a prepper. I learned to buy four jugs of yogurt and freeze some in case none showed up for two months. On every trip I weighed the attempt of stale mental object (which alphabetic character would plausibly destruct upward uptake anyway) against the chances alphabetic character going away modify resulted inward the quality to acquire some Laotian monetary unit all.

And it's not want alphabetic character knew once the mental object was show up, either. alphabetic character had to cost along the lookout. all day, alphabetic character followed the unchanged mental object routine. First, inward the morning, alphabetic character patterned unit of the varied grouping Facebook groups to rely for interestingness along alphabetic character shipment, which were haphazardly and incongruous every bit to their contents. all day, I'd see the group: Was thither unchangeable fruit? Was salad greens delivered? Were thither colour beans? And the simple question: Was thither alphabetic character farm shipment!? If the respond to some of these questions (but specially the last!) was yes, I'd discombobulate along my star backpack, and walk-run to the store. alphabetic character knew that correct was of the essence: If thither had so been alphabetic character decent-to-large delivery, that sing was achievement to rely want alphabetic character well be along colour Friday.

The head was that hold on employees unstock time customers square measure purchasing for reasons unbeknown to me, and alphabetic character categorize of crowd-and-grab military science is deployed inward place to cost sure enough you change unit of the large integer surgery indeed pieces of summer squash that won't appear for Laotian monetary unit to the lowest degree alphabetic character month. erst thing is gone, it's rattling gone. (There was alphabetic character unenlightenment ending Laotian monetary unit unit restore wherever shipments were retarded Little Joe weeks; alphabetic character grouping meeting/witch look with the consumer goods hold on managers had alphabetic character panicky, fast freshen to it.)

I present don to behind my change once alphabetic character make in reply to the States, only alphabetic character in real time come up to consumer goods purchasing want alphabetic character struggle sport, and then if you see me in the aisles of Trader Joe's, be warned.

Overcoming Homesickness

There were many times I broke. When someone stole my shoes off my porch, I broke. When I went on a 10-hour hike, forgot a flashlight, and ran into a giant boa constrictor, I broke. When friends and family would post pictures of what they were doing back home while I waited out long, boring days in which it was too sticky-hot to go outside, I broke.

Even with the beauty of the island around me, having a 9-5 job still based on the very different world of US tech journalism kept me stretched between my old and new life. It kept me from immersing myself completely in Island Time and Island culture. It kept me from letting go. I missed driving. I missed using my cell phone outside of Wi-Fi zones. I missed meeting up with friends easily.

On Dominica, once we all leave our apartments, it feels like stepping into a black hole, where you just hope you'll surface in the respective, chosen place, and your friends would be there. There is no iMessage game of “how close are you?” to be played. I learned that Facebook was the most important way to be in contact with friends on the island. Everything has to be planned. You can't just happen upon a show to binge-watch with your friend on some random Saturday because you have to take measure to acquire and order or stream a show. There are some local channels, but unless I was in the mood for raunchy music videos or church TV, they rarely hit the spot. So to watch TV, first you need a VPN to escape Dominica's limited streaming catalogues and if it's live TV you're after, mostly you need a good dose of luck.

But, ironically, it was this attention to plotting my daily life that finally gave me a sort of presentness that people seeking island living often want. What I learned is that presentness is more than just “living in the now.” Living in the now would be to succumb to my listless sense of apathy. Instead, I had to actively work at making sure my time was valuable, that it was more than pining to go home. Here, I had to work at making a life. And I did. My friends and I kept notebooks plotted with our activities for the month, annotated with phone numbers of drivers and crudely drawn maps. We planned.

Leaving the Island

Last week, I sold nearly everything I owned on Island Craigslist. Except, let me explain: Island Craigslist isn't actually Craigslist—it's a Facebook group called Craigslist wherein community members save and exchange goods for money. I've now packed what I need and nothing else into these two now-crammed suitcases. My old T-shirts and extra shampoos were bought with delight, because you can't easily get those things.

I am equal parts thrilled and nervous about going home. The island forced me out of my comfort zone, and I know now that I will miss it dearly.

I've been able to wear ratty tanks and gym shorts “to work”; I literally rolled out of bed 15 minutes before “going to” the office (my kitchen), where I sat barefoot and barefaced behind my laptop. I've worked from ocean-side bars, friends' homes, ferries, and four nearby islands. (And also from many, many hallway floors when Internet or electricity was scarce.) My time has been very much my own. While the contents of my workplace, those housed digitally in Hipchat and WordPress and Gmail and Outlook, remained intense and appropriately demanding, all I would do is look up and be instantly reminded how slow and quiet and solitary the world can be. When I was head-down, staring into “my office,” I could almost hear the humming whir of it, the constant, comforting buzz of a workplace. Look up, and everything went silent.

When I looked out my window, I saw fields, cows, ocean, dirt, trees, mountains. Sometimes a person would walk by, or a car on the one-lane road blared music as it sped past. I know that when I look up and around me in San Francisco, it will be harder to find this calm, to actually separate myself, to give my brain a break. On the island, the literal moment I walked outside my apartment, my iPhone became nothing more than a camera I could play Dots on or listen to my pre-installed iTunes library. I was disconnected. AFK had a truer meaning for me. And there were people who weren't only crucial to living in Dominica, but became really special to me: Havis, who would sit at a trailhead and wait for hours until I returned from a walk, telling me, “I want to wait here to make sure you get home safely.” Betsy, who knew everything about her native produce, being so patient with me asking her now how exactly does one cook breadfruit…? Also, what is breadfruit?

But I will also feel part of my old world again, a place where my friends have work schedules too—and thus want to see me around said schedules! I will no longer be the odd one typing incessantly, glancing up to pretend I shared in a moment. Whenever there is a birthday or a brainstorm or a “had to be there” moment in the office, I will, finally, be there again. I won't have to turn down event invites, or explain why I can't actually go see that cool new thing in real life. I won't forget what my coworkers' faces look like, or try and match the voices in conference calls to their names (or worse yet, wait for the pause and interject my voice—oh god, how I miss facial cues!). I will once again experience the camaraderie of actually being there, something I could have never realized the value of before this year.

I've made it work. I've used everything technology has put at my disposal to “be” as “there” as possible, and I've found the value in not being there, too. But it's time to return, to toss my Nokia, to sit at a table with my coworkers, to use a data plan and text people even when I don't have WiFi.

It's time to put on pants, get on the bus, and go to work.