The Not-So-Sunny Side of Life in Barbados

The photo showed four of my former colleagues in the hallway of one of the school buildings, heads tilted toward the imaginary center of the selfie, faces masked, two of them in front, two more trying to socially distance in the back. One of them had posted the pic to to my Facebook page with the caption, “Thinking of you.” 

As soon as I saw it, I began typing a response. “Awww. . . This makes me smile.” But I stopped writing when something caught my eye—their eyes. It was clear they weren’t smiling under those masks—their eyes showed. . . was it jealousy? It definitely wasn’t happiness. And it immediately clicked: thinking of me here in Barbados while they suffer through online or socially distanced remote teaching during one of the coldest winters in Asheville’s history . . . of course it was jealousy! In a “we-love-you-and-are-thrilled-for-you-but-we-hate-you” kind of way. 

I thought of the moment, just an hour earlier, when I’d bursted into tears. It was a brief cry—one outburst, a deep intake of breath, hands braced on the kitchen counter. I was saved by the memory of my sister Meg’s words to me when I called her last week, upset with life: “Have you eaten yet?” 

So I pulled out the last of the Israeli Couscous salad I’d made the day before and devoured it. A chaser of icy cold water and I was back in it—ready to see my next student. 

It was then that I realized when people (seemingly suddenly) resign from their jobs and four months later move to Barbados, posting pictures of their sun-soaked ocean views, they’re not telling the full story . . . so before I logged on to my next tutoring session, I made a quick list of the not-so-sunny moments I’d had that day and decided they needed to be shared. 

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining about any of this. If I had to choose between the life I have now and the one I had 6 months ago. . . there’s no competition. But to make you all feel better and give a little reality check, let me tell you about the cell phones. 

—-

“I was in the service,” the T-mobile technician told me, “and yes, Verizon is the best choice when you’re stateside, but T-mobile is what you want if you’re going anywhere else.” So, though T-mobile has terrible coverage in most of Asheville, Michael switched to their Magenta plan a few days before his flight to Barbados. “I can’t have crappy cell service,” I told him, “so I’m not switching until I’m ready to leave.” (At that point, I was due to leave for Barbados one week after Michael. That didn’t happen. Which is a very long story for another day. . . )

Recommended to us by a few people in the Barbados Expats Facebook Group, the technicians we talked to in two different T-mobile stores in Asheville and the one we talked to on the phone all assured us the Magenta plan was the way to go. Unlimited data and texting. Free calls when on wifi. Okay. Sign us up. 

“I got a text saying I had $126 in international calling charges,” Michael told me mere days after he arrived in Barbados. Blaring sirens went off in my head. “But I called them and they said they’d take care of it,” he assured me. 

“Umm. . .okay. But why is that happening? If it’s working correctly, we shouldn’t have any charges.” Michael had some explanation that I don’t recall, and I had too many other things on my plate, so I just let it go. 

Three days after my own arrival in Barbados, I got a similar text message. Fifty-six dollars in international calling charges. I called T-Mobile. “You need a SIM card,” she said. I recalled Michael and the T-mobile tech  back in Asheville both explaining to me why I don’t need a SIM card anymore. Something about eSIMs. I texted Michael, then patched him in on the call (because I am still in quarantine, he’s in a different room).  I tried to push out the horrible flashbacks of the 5-way call (!!) I’d had just last Friday in order to get me onto a T-Mobile plan in the first place. (That call included Michael in Barbados, me in Asheville, my father in New York, a T-Mobile technician and a Verizon technician. . . I can tell you about that another day. Wait. Actually, no. Don’t ask me. There are some things I just want to be erased from my memory.)

“I’ve been getting more of those texts about international calling charges,” Michael said. “But I’ve just been ignoring them because the guy I talked to a couple weeks ago said he’d take care of it.” The woman I was talking to—the first female cell phone technician I’ve spoken with since we started this whole debacle—informed us that we were now up to $400 in international calling charges. 

Lesson learned: when a T-mobile guy says, “I’ll take care of it” he might not. 

After one hour on the phone with Martha—who informed us she’s worked there for 13 years (THIRTEEN YEARS??!!! Who would do THAT job for 13 years?!) — our charges were cleared, credits for a different plan were given, SIM cards were mailed to my father who will then ship them to Barbados. . . 

And did I mention that only 10 minutes into this call I had to put Martha on hold because it sounded like two large Russian mafia men were about to break my door down? Luckily, that wasn’t the case. It was just the washing machine. Apparently, when running a load of laundry in this place, you can’t do anything else that requires your hearing to be intact.

Maybe after all of this I should have sat on my deck with a glass of wine. Michael wisely stocked my kitchen with two bottles, neither of which I’ve had time to open as the time difference means I’ve tutored students until 9 or 10pm—by which point all I want to do is crawl into bed. And that deck? It’s so windy out there I sometimes wonder if a hurricane is coming and no one told me. Though it’s supposedly 80 degrees here, I have to put on long pants and a sweater to be warm enough to spend any time on the deck.  

For those that think I’m overestimating the power of the wind, this morning I looked down from my fourth floor room to see a table, umbrella, and four chairs in one of the pools on the ground level. I was thinking of calling the front desk to let them know, but they called me instead. 

“Mrs. Weston?” 

“Yes.” 

“Is Mr. Weston there?”
“Uh. . . no. He’s in a separate room. He arrived three weeks ago. So he’s out of quarantine and in another room.” Apparently the records indicated that Michael was staying in this oceanfront room and staff that delivered my meals reported seeing me answer the door. The new “See Something, Say Something” campaign to stop the spread of COVID has worked . . . there were suspicions Michael and I were together. “I haven’t seen him since I got here,” I said. “He waved to me when I got out of the taxi from the airport, but that was it.” She was very polite and explained how they must check everything out. I should have said, “Honestly, I’m thrilled to be alone in this room. . . After this is all over, I’ll tell you all about it over a glass of wine on the non-ocean side of the resort as far away from the washing machine as possible.”

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