I am in St. John for the first time, having just arrived by ferry. My friend Bill, who lives on the island, picks me up at the wharf. It is night so I can’t see much of anything but house lights on hills and a cool reflection of the moon in miles of water.
I haven’t eaten in 14 hours so I am starving. I call upon my Haiti strength- remembering the children that I met that know too well the feeling of not eating one day, even two. I shouldn’t complain, I know. But hunger– hunger is powerful.
Bill takes me to Beach Bar, an adorable little island spot in Cruz Bay where we play Scrabble and drink painkillers and eat big tuna steak sandwiches (one of my most favorite things on God’s green earth). It’s been some time now since I’ve seen Bill- a whole three weeks, in fact- when we were in Haiti, and now we’re at another Caribbean island, and quite a different one. They both have the same geography, the same general location. Yet Haiti is a dark, potential future of St. John (one we hope to be able to avoid) with severe deforestation and, in many areas, nearly desert-like conditions. And we haven’t even touched on the obvious differences in demographics and social economics.
But I digress.
We’re sitting in Beach Bar and there’s this guy staring at me. I see him in my peripheral vision watching me. I feel his eyes and I look over. He’s looking deeply at my face, he’s trying to place me, you can see it. It’s my friend Joël- my buddy from Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., the bartender that was like my big brother, constantly slinging profanities back and forth in front of our regulars, yet in many ways one of my most real friends there. He moved to St. John a while back but I had thought that he wasn’t there anymore. So imagine my surprise when ten minutes into my visit he’s right across the bar from me!
I jump into Joël’s arms and we hug over and over. “WHAT THE F**K are you doing here?!?!?!!?”
he exclaims repeatedly. “I can’t believe you’re here!!!” He convinces me to take five minutes away from my Scrabble game and run around meeting all of his friends. He is training to be a yoga instructor so he’s up at 3:45 every morning and hardly ever goes out at night. Imagine his surprise when the one night he goes out is also the night that I have just arrived in St. John.
He asks me where I’m staying. It turns out that it’s the same spot that he works- the Maho Bay Camps. We laugh at the coincidence. St. John certainly is small. He texts me later the next day, inviting me out. It’s nice to get the lay of a land through the eyes of a local.
The more I travel, the more people I meet. It’s quite fascinating how exponentially this really seems to grow. You step off a plane and somewhere, somehow you know somebody. You make connections across the world. It’s a great feeling to be in a new place and to suddenly feel like you’re at home again…that something is familiar to you.
It’s amazing that not ten minutes ago I was in a strange land, and ten minutes later I’m right back in my own skin. Now St. John is not a distant place. It is an extension of me, it is part of my own self and my chronicle of experience. I am again a participant in the web of the world, weaving my tales among those of all the other people on the island, visiting, vacationing, living. A product of my upbringing and my self-upbringing. Spinning connections like we are all family on one earth.
So great to hear that you had such a warm welcome on StJ. Obviously, we’re biased, but the Virgin Islands are a very welcoming place. And, of course, St. John is a gorgeous place to visit… Even if you have to do some work while there.