There are many perks to living on a remote tropical little island paradise in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua, and I bet you can dream up a few: year round warm weather (although not always sunny, as our last Christmas proved by the bucketful), white sandy beaches and turquoise seas (with one lost crocodile that is keeping us from swimming at the moment), a relaxed lifestyle (for most of us) and a hammock (I personally believe I have the best hammock on the island).
In another post I will write about all that is not so paradisiacal about life on Little Corn Island (and there is plenty), but today I want to focus on just one thing: FAQ’s. Yes, you read that right: Frequently Asked Questions.
When you settle in a remote place that happens to be a tourist destination, you tend to meet a lot of tourists, especially when you own a business catering to them. And man, are they curious!
But since they make our money, we have to accommodate them as best as we can, so we have to answer the same questions hundreds of times…and I tell you, that gets quite boring. Sorry, tourist friends, you cannot help it. I believe you are truly interested. But by the 250th time the story of how we got here and how long we have been here gets pretty b-o-r-i-n-g, and but the 500th time I’d rather not answer your questions ever again.
At least that is how I felt for quite a while, a few years ago. At one point I had read some stuff about the personal stories that we tell about ourselves, and how we can get really stuck in them, or attached to them, while we actually have the option to change that story every minute of our conscious life. After reading that, I was even less willing to repeat my ‘island story’ time and again, and I would kindly explain the asker why I didn’t want to answer. I was going through this phase where I really wanted to let go of my story and just be in the moment, not attached to the past.
Well, good luck with that, with all this nosy tourists around. Impossible.
Then one of them kindly told me off, explaining that she really understood my resistance, but that she was asking the question for the first time. She pointed out that my story could be an inspiration for some people, opening their eyes to change or giving them the courage to finally do what they had been dreaming of for ages, thinking it wasn’t doable. She said that she herself found my story very inspiring. I was humbled. It made me change my attitude towards the FAQ’s.
The funny thing is, that when you live your own life, you’re never as impressed by it as others, who don’t live it. I really don’t think it’s such a big deal that I left my corporate job and after a few years of wandering the world ended up on this little island, where I now have my own yoga and massage studio. I don’t think it is brave to have done all that on my own, because I was never scared. So I don ‘t feel a big urge to talk about it either. But for some people it is brave, because they are scared, or stuck (most likely in their comfort zone). They are the ones that want to hear my story, because they don’t believe they have it in them to do what I have done, while I am convinced that anybody could do it.
But let’s not argue about can or can’t.
Since that ‘inspiration’-lecture I went back to dutifully telling my story again and again, answering the same questions another few hundred times: at my doorstep (dancing around while the ants are biting their feet), during massages, after yoga class when I can’t get my students to leave the Karma Shack or when they stop to ask the way….whenever a tourist gets an opportunity, they will fire their FAQ’s.
I had already been playing with the idea of making a FAQ’s page on my website as a joke, and I will, now that I wrote this blog post. Recently I had another massage client asking me the same questions, but she added to it: “If you don’t mind me asking.” I did mind that day, probably because I was a little tired, after Christmas, but I didn’t want to be rude. Now that I have this blog and website I realized I could create an elegant way out. I told her that I didn’t really mind, but that my talking takes the focus away from the massage; she would get better value for her money paying attention to what my hands and her body are telling her, than listening to my voice telling island stories. I referred her to my website, where she could find all information about the history of the Karma Shack, and explained her my plan to write a FAQ section. She appreciated my excuse and chose to focus on her massage. I had created a writing commitment right there…
You may want to know by now which questions are asked so often…here’s the list. The answers are to be found on the FAQ page of this website. The order is pretty random, apart from the first one. That is definitely The Most Frequently Asked Question!
- How long have you been here?
- How long have you had this business?
- How did you end up here?
- Why Little Corn Island?
- Are you here for good?
- Has it changed a lot since you got here?
- Is this weather normal for the time of year?
- How often do you go back (to Holland)
- Is there a path here that takes us back to the village (walking into the backyard of the Karma Shack)
- Do you never get lonely?
- What did you do before you got here/back in Holland?
- How long does it take you to make one (coconut carving)?
My dutiful answers to these FAQ, asked by so many people, must have given them a bit of an idea of what it takes to go to a little island and settle there. I truly hope I have satisfied their curiosity, taken away their fears to make a change, and inspired them to look at their lives in a different way.
Unwittingly their questions opened my eyes to completely different things. While I was bored with my own story, I got more interested in the patterns that I saw in their questions, leading me to wonder about the psychology of boxed thinking.
Why does everybody ask the same questions? Do we have an innate human need to know certain things, or is it cultural behaviour? Are certain questions age or nation-related? Which questions are asked to confirm their beliefs, and which ones are meant to explore beyond the limits of their comfort zone? How much do people idealise life on a tropical island, and to what measure do they want to see it confirmed as an unattainable goal?
Just take that first question: how long have you been here? Why is time so important to us humans? Why do we always want to put things on a timeline (Facebook!). Why do we need to know how long it takes to do something or get somewhere, and why does it matter how long I have been here? Apart from the professional world becoming a complete chaos, I sometimes wonder what would happen to us people if we didn’t have time to keep. Wouldn’t that be a liberating idea? Would we lose our minds? I mean, there are still millions of people on this planet that most likely do not have a watch or clock, and they survive, don’t they?
When you are totally absorbed in a task that you are really passionate about, you completely lose track of time. You are “in the zone” and time loses its importance, its meaning. Time flies when you are having fun, but why?The opposite is true too: when you are bored, time almost grinds to a halt.
But here we are, programmed to keep track of time, to time everything, to be in time and to beat time, if you are into any kind of racing sports. I’d like to challenge you to hide all your time devices for a day and see what that does to you and the way you go through your day and then report back on it in the comments. If you have an interesting experience I will write about it in another post.
The question about how much the island must have changed since I first got here, is another interesting one. The funny thing is, that nobody will ever ask someone living in Chicago if it has changed much in the last 10 years. Of course it has. But when it is a cute little island everybody wants to know. Why? Do they want to hear that it is still as unspoilt as when I got here in 2005 so that they can say that they had a truly original experience? Or would they rather learn that this little paradise is being ruined, that it has lost its charm, that things are going downhill, thinking they got here just in time, or just too late? Are they maybe trying to gauge if with the rate of development as it is, it might be interesting to invest in property or a business here?
Isn’t it strange, that everybody wants to know about things having changed, while most people by nature are afraid of change (I will write about this topic more often in the future)?
Then there is that very personal question, whether I ever get lonely….it’s almost rude, isn’t it? But it is most likely a direct projection of their own fears of being lonely or maybe even their own actual loneliness (they may be standing right next to their partner when they ask the question). The sad thing is, that you don’t have to go to the other end of the world to be lonely. That can happen at home, within your marriage, or with all your family and friends close by. There are many ways to feel disconnected and lonely, and they have nothing to do with physical distance. It is usually this question that I try to answer in the most sincere and honest way, hoping to help this person to find their way out of their own loneliness. My idea of loneliness is this: if you need someone to help you with something (a strong man to help you put up some shelves, a geek that helps you unfreeze your computer, a shoulder to cry on or just a willing ear to listen to your story) and there is nobody available, that’s when you feel lonely. When you are a jack-of-all-trades that has read a lot of self-help books, your lonely moments will be infrequent.
As you can see, all these FAQ’s have in return brought up a lot of questions for me over the years. But I never ask the questioners my questions to find out what’s behind all theirs other than their obvious curiosity. Maybe I should, that would really give the conversation a different twist and make it more interesting for me. But I try to remain polite and don’t want to scare people by confronting them with the psychological and emotional reasons behind their own questions. It might ruin their vacation… I may have to go on a world tour and visit all of them in their home towns and ask them my questions, as that seems to be the way it is done:-)
So I created a special page on this website, to which I can refer them now… (it will be a great way to generate traffic to my website, won’t it:-)). They can find all the answers there. It will save me a ton of time which I can dedicate to writing and gardening, and my massages can be silent and more focused again. Everybody wins!
(I kept the list down to 12 questions just to give you an idea. If your most urgent question is not on the list, you may post it in the comments, and I may even choose to answer it fully and add it to the FAQ-page:-))