Where was I? Or better, where were you? Oh, right: still on my neighbour’s back porch, recovering from another attack. Crazy cat. 

Every once in a while there will be a vet coming to the island, so when that was the case, they tried to get you fixed. But my neighbours totally underestimated your opposition to being put in a carrier, so ten steps on their way to the vet you were out and away. Good for you!

Pumpkins the cat that changed his mindNext time they asked my help, and together we got you into a cage, and to the vet. It was amazing to see how you relaxed into the idea of sitting in a cage for hours inside an unknown space full of strangers and dogs, waiting your turn. You just went to sleep. You really seem to know when to surrender, don’t you? (you should write a book about it, make it into a workshop, it will sell very well). When it finally was your turn, the vet sedated you through the slits in the side of the cage, to prevent you from attacking her. Once you were out, you looked so harmless and sweet. But lo and behold: you had never been operated in your life, but you had no balls. Well, you have balls for sure, but no testicles in your little ball-sacks. They had never dropped in. So you didn’t get fixed. All that trouble for nothing. You were of course very pleased with yourself, I assume.

A few months later, time was coming for my neighbours to leave the island again. Their house would be occupied by a watchman, and he was ordered to feed you and give you fresh water every day on that back porch. They left a big sack of cat food, which should be enough for the time they were gone. You were in good shape by then, with only some minor scratches now and then, but no gaping holes, festering puncture wounds or other parts missing. You were basically living your independent cat life, apart from that bowl of kibble every day. I was only asked to report back on you every now and then, nothing else. 

The night before their departure, you disappeared, like most house cats would do. It’s that old trick of making us humans extra worried, so that we feel guilty about leaving you behind, even though there is not one hair in your fur that wishes to travel with us.

So as expected, they worried, came over and asked me to keep an eye out for you and let them know if I found you, if you were alright, etc. So suddenly I had cat duties……

 

If you want to read episodes 1-5 of Pumpkins’ story, click here.

(a major case of procrastination)

healthy habits - procrastinationYou may wonder about the picture featuring a bag of Diatomaceous Earth (DE), a brush and a lemon press? Well, the DE became today’s prompt for me to write this post. That bag, no kidding, has been sitting on my counter top in that exact spot for about 2 months now, without ever having been opened. Looking at it this morning it all of a sudden became a very obvious symbol of my personal procrastination…..and that called for some honest writing.

Before I moved it to the counter top, this same bag had been sitting on a shelf for another 4 months at least, again, without being opened. And it isn’t just your ordinary bag of diatomaceous earth (a natural food supplement) that I bought around the corner in the nearest health food store (because there is no such thing as a health food store within a few hundred miles from here). No, this is a Very Special Bag of Diatomaceous Earth because it has been flown in from Canada on my request, and is most likely The Only Bag of Diatomaceous Earth on the whole of Little Corn Island or maybe even in Nicaragua (well, I may have a few healthy friends here and there that might have their own very special bag of DE). 

Why have this stuff brought to me from so far? Because for months I had been regularly reading about all the health benefits and healing properties of it, and how I should take it on a regular basis (see below for relevant links). As if I didn’t have enough healthy habits yet, I felt the need to add the daily ritual of a glass of juice or water with DE to the long list. It was going to change my life for the better. I was going to be even healthier! Yeah, right.

I have literally drank one (1!) glass of it since I got that stuff 6 or 7 months ago, when I prepared it for my cat Pumpkins, to help him with his intestinal parasites (yes, good for pets too!). He had been bloating like a blimp, and the stuff actually helped. But I never took it again.

So how does that work then, creating a new healthy habit? 

Not by just buying the necessary ingredients or equipment (running shoes is another good example) and putting them on your shelf. Even putting them smack in your own face in the middle of the kitchen counter doesn’t seem to do the job. That much is very obvious.

So why does it not work, then?

Because there is more to it. There is a mind you have to deal with. A very resisting mind. Let’s call it ego. Ego doesn’t like change (hmm, where did I hear that before?). So first we have to convince Ego that this new habit is really going to make us feel better. In our argumentation we may have to dwell extensively on all the discomforts that we experience due to NOT having the new healthy habit yet (bloating, digestive issues, etc.). Really convince ego that you’d like to put an end to all that ‘suffering’. Get the main motivation in place. Well, that’s probably where it went wrong for me, because I didn’t feel that bad. So I didn’t have a lot of convincing arguments to win my case against ego and motivate myself. 

healthy habitsOn top of that, I (or was it lazy ego?) managed to come up with a bunch of reasons that made it even more viable not to start that habit of taking DE on a daily basis. For example: I don’t drink milk or factory made fruit juice, so I would have to mix it with water or tea which doesn’t taste too good, or make my own juice. Making my own juice is not only a lot of work, it also would involve electricity, which we don’t have until 1pm, so there was another lovely procrastination argument, because I only take fresh fruits in the morning, before I eat any other foods. So I would have to change a decades-old habit to create this new habit…..ahh, that resistance is taking on unknown dimensions by now……Also, the price of fresh fruits on this little tropical island is ridiculously high because they have to come from far, so taking a glass of fresh juice with DE would become quite an expensive daily habit. And because I have only a small fridge, I would have to go to the village more often and lug all that heavy fruit home several times a week, instead of my regular 1 trip. Whoa, taking DE as a daily supplement had grown into an insurmountable obstacle of hardships, physical and monetary discomfort and a major investment of time (which I could otherwise spend in my hammock, or on the beach). Ego won the case…..I think. I can sit back and relax and not feel guilty.

Well, actually, no. Because there is a very simple solution to wipe all these very strong arguments against the habit off the table in one swipe: just drink it with some water. The taste isn’t that appalling, just a little chalky, something I’m not used to (resistance to change, right?). I bet if I drink it a few days in a row, I won’t even notice it anymore. And hey, by drinking it with water I am saving myself tons of money and time…that’s a win:-)

What it really melts down to is this: how much importance do I want to give to all the arguments against my new healthy habit, and how much am I willing to admit that it is just another example of that infamous resistance to change, fear of something new, having to come just half an inch outside of my comfort zone….(recognize any of this?)

Now let’s look at the actual implementation of this healthy habit-intention. The most important part is remembering to do it every day (our resisting ego is very good in forgetting stuff!). The trick is to use another routine that you already have firmly in place as your daily cue. You just tack the new habit to the existing one. I chose this one:  Every day I take some supplements with some water around lunch time….now it will be: take some supplements with some DE-water around lunch time. The difference between procrastination and starting a new healthy habit can be as small as two capitals and healthy habits - procrastinationa hyphen. Sometimes it’s that simple. I’ll report back to you in a week from now…

 
The other two items in the picture at the top have gone through identical periods of sitting unused on shelves for months…but I am proud to tell you that for at least a year now I have the healthy (and very pleasant) habit of dry-brushing every morning and drinking a glass of lemon water right after I get up and have cleaned my mouth and teeth. I believe there is still hope for my Diatomaceous Earth!

So what could be your procrastination symbol? Take a picture of it, and post it in the comments or maybe just on your own social media as a confession and a commitment at the same time!

 

 

PS: A week after writing this…..I have dropped out of this midday habit, because I don’t want to drink a whole glass of water right before or after lunch. Now I’ve changed the habit to the morning. My first cup of tea has become the victim: I pour it before yoga class and let it sit on the counter getting cold. I put a tea spoon across the cup to remind myself to add the DE before drinking it. By the time I come out of class, I am thirsty, ready to drink a hole cup of lukewarm tea, with its DE! 

So with some trial and error I have found the best way to integrate this habit into my life, finding the way of the least resistance. It is all about taking away the obstacles that we like to blow up to enormous proportions in our imagination, but are actually quite manageable in reality. Go for it! Just do it!

Learn more about Diatomaceous Earth here.

Learn more about dry brushing and its health benefits here.

Learn more about the impact of drinking lemon water every morning here.

 

 

This episode finds you at your new home. You instantly made the big mistake of flagging your territory inside the house as well. That definitely made you a little less welcome, and my neighbours banned you to the porch for good, but you seemed alright with that anyway. Your legs were getting stronger, and you were venturing into the garden every day, and stayed away a little longer every time. You were slowly getting back to being a proper bush cat, always outside. But you had changed your mind about one thing: it was very convenient that you had a plate of food on that porch waiting for you every day, plus some treats whenever they had some tasty leftovers from their dinner. Life wasn’t too bad for you, a couple of months after you dragged yourself near-dead into that hotel-kitchen. It had been worth the humiliating effort of asking for help. 

Pumpkins the cat gets chased by dogsHaving said that, you got into trouble again. Somehow two dogs got you cornered when you had ventured off the deck. My neighbours caught them in the act of tearing you apart, literally. One had hold of your hind legs, the other of your head, and they were pulling in opposite directions. You “looked three feet long” as my neighbour described it agitatedly after they had bravely rescued you from the bloody chops of these ferocious canines. Result: re-traumatised cat with several puncture wounds and cuts. Where had we seen that before? 

Anyway, back on the porch you licked your wounds, stayed low and just recovered again, like you did before. A little more skittish for a bit, but after a while you were just back to your “normal” self. Did I ever tell you that we have a dog on this island that’s called Trouble? I don’t think she gets into a whole lot of trouble herself, but jeez, that name would fit you well, Pumpkins! 

So after this incident my questions were: how do you get yourself into so much trouble…..do you not see the danger coming because you’re partially blind or deaf or otherwise impaired? Or do you not consider it danger? Did the Creator not fit you out with a healthy sense of danger-assessing abilities, the way they usually come with a complete cat-kit? Do you just have no concept of danger at all? Are you a total dare-devil? Or do you have such a big ego that you think that you can handle everything, and no cat or dog or even two or three dogs can bring you down?  Maybe you are just plain suicidal but not very successful at it? I am not sure what is the answer to these speculations. Let’s keep it on a mixture of all of them. Although, on second thought, if you were suicidal you wouldn’t have dragged yourself into that kitchen. So fair enough, we’ll scratch that option. 

Life goes on even if you're woundedRecently I was reading a book by Wayne Dyer, such a wise man. Illustrating the concept of living in the moment he described how he had once been on a safari where he watched a zebra peacefully grazing and chewing her food. She seemed very graceful and calm, notwithstanding the fact that one of her legs had been chewed off by lions the night before, but she had somehow escaped. Since there was nothing she could do to change the situation of her probable near-death, she just went on with what she would always do in the morning: have breakfast, and then go for a drink at the watering hole. When I read that story, I couldn’t help but think of you, Pumpkins. Even though you are severely damaged at times, you just go on with life, as normal as possible. 

We humans could learn a lesson or two from animals here, couldn’t we? Whenever we get “severely damaged”, we curl up in bed and cry and whine and feel very sorry for ourselves and hope that everybody else also feels very sorry for us, and how are we ever going to get over this misery? Often we need counselling to get over all our traumatic experiences, or store it at cell level in our bodies which then start aching or develop chronic diseases……Right? Well, as the zebra and Pumpkins have been illustrating, there are other ways to deal with trauma…… Just saying.

 

If you missed earlier episodes of Pumpkins’ story, you can read them here.

 

 

Another cat had gotten air of you, Pumpkins, the new cat on the block, and had started marking its territory outside my house, in the garden, and even on my doorpost and porch bench. That freaked you out. You had to do something. So you actually ventured down the steps into the yard, and spritzed your best scent all over the place. In the mean time I scrubbed the doorpost and the porch bench. It had been another cat 

pumpkins the cat that changed his mindand a challenging situation that had made you brave enough to come out of the house and get back into the big world. Go Pumpkins! We all need a little push now and then to get out of our comfort zone, or out of our funk.

But this other tom cat wouldn’t put up with the unknown invader that was hidden in my house. At night he would come to piss all over the place again, and actually start a fight with you, through the crack under the front door. Growling, scratching and full on screeching was taking place in the middle of the night. Hmmm, not so much fun anymore to take care of you, Pumpkins, since this was costing me my precious sleep. Luckily my neighbours were coming back soon!

A few days after their arrival we transferred you to their house. I thought I was just going to carry you up there, but I had totally overrated our relationship that was barely a week old. Maybe I thought that picking you up was an OK thing to do by then, but you definitely didn’t agree. Ten metres away from my house you put up a fight and I had to let you go. Mission aborted.

 

Pumpkins the cat that changed his mind

So I had to find a box and fix it in such a way that I could put you in and close it in one smooth move, before you would find your way out. Only then we could move you to your new home. You were not pleased at all with that box-manoeuvre. All cats like boxes, but only if they can play with them in their own time. The moment you put them in there when it is not playing time, they are highly offended. As they always are when they are not being treated like the queens and kings they all think they are, you included, my dear damaged Pumpkins.

At your new home you were getting the back room and adjoining porch as your domain. There was a litter box inside, and corners to hide, and during the day the door to the porch was open, so you could be on the balcony, safe from dog attacks, because there was a dense railing all around. You could see the world, and you could squeeze through if you wanted, but no dog could come in and get you, and that was the main goal: keeping you safe from mauling dogs, that had done such terrible damage to your body and to your mind, while you were recovering.

You didn’t start off too friendly with your new caretakers, and they may have been a little impatient for you to become a sweet and cuddly house kitty, who knows. You lashed out at either one of them every once in a while, and bit them several times, so they started calling you psycho kitty, which probably wasn’t helping the situation. When we repeatedly say or hear something, it becomes a belief and then gets confirmed time and again, because we start to manifest more of it. The Universe (or God, if you want to call it that) will always provide us with what we put our energy to. So my neighbours got more unexpected scratches and bites, thanks to the fact that they called you Psycho Kitty. This is my belief. Because after enough time for you to get used to me, you hardly ever lash out to me anymore. And I have never called you psycho kitty. So there you go, theory proven right, right? Life can be so simple.

Missed the first 3 episodes of Pumpkins’ story? You can find them

here.

 

 

Read more about cat behaviour:

 

fear of changeA simple, no-bake 3-ingredient recipe that anyone can make in less than 1 minute. Whether you like it or not, that is totally up to you.

Ingredients list:

1 cup of this quote by Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change.”

1 cup of this old Hebrew proverb: “Change can happen in an instant, but the resistance to change can last a life-time.”

1 cup of (only the thought of) change of your own choice ( for example a new job, a divorce, a new exercise regime or diet, going back to school, an accident, loosing someone close, moving to a different place).

 

changeDirections:

Fold all three ingredients gently into the recipient of your consciousness. Stirring is optional if you want to throw in an extra dash of upheaval. And Voila!: most likely you will be experiencing a variety of unsettling emotions, ranging from just slight and short-lived unease (when you’re getting a new hairstyle), to full-blown anxiety-attacks, anger bursts, depression or great sadness. All of them causing you to suffer. And nothing hasn’t even changed yet!

Change, it ain’t fun for most of us, is it? 

Change (and the resistance to change) is one of the main pillars of my blog. In these pages I will regularly explore the many ways in which change manifests itself and the many roles that it can take on for us, hoping to inspire you to look at all those things in your life that you could change to make it happier, healthier and more fulfilling. 

I bet you have heard this quote a million times: “Change is the only constant”. It is so true. There is no way denying that one! It’s the cycle of life: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything with a spark of life in it gets born, grows, blossoms at its peak, withers and dies. Even concrete will crumble, stainless steel will get unstable, sand dunes shift, mountains get pushed higher by sheer tectonic force, or lower from the never-ending grind of little grains of sand. 

Nothing is forever

We all know it, but in our way of living, behaving and thinking we are constantly in denial of that natural law of change. We don’t want to grow older, get sick and die. We don’t want to lose our jobs, our loved ones, our favourite TV-show, our health, our wealth. And we never ever want to throw away our favourite sweater. EVER! Even just thinking of those changes can make us unhappy. So there we are: let’s be totally open and honest about it: we d
on’t like change. 

The second quote in my recipe rubs this in so clearly: ‘Change can happen in an instant, but it is the resistance to change that can last a lifetime.”

It is this last quote, that is less known, that spells out for us the recipe of our own suffering. Our resistance to change is what creates all our emotional upheaval.

Resistance to change……where does that come from? Resistance rhymes with clinging, right? Well, you know what I mean. So why do we cling? Why do we so badly want to hold on to all these things that we have or are, unwilling to let go of the old and familiar and try on something new? 

In comes the Comfort Zone, one of my favourite topics (it was on my list as a potential name for this website, but already taken). I will talk regularly about our comfort zone too, because it is such an important aspect of our lives. It is the nursery of our well-being. At least that is what we want to believe. Comfort feels good, warm, cozy, relaxed, familiar. 

No stress, no pressure, no worries, no hurry. 

Your favourite clothes, your favourite corner of the couch with your favourite food and drink at hand, your favourite person or pet at your side, your favourite music or movie playing……isn’t that what first comes to mind when you think Comfort Zone? All those very familiar things, always the same? Always the same……we don’t want them to change. Every day the same. The security of knowing exactly what is coming. Nothing unexpected to be feared. 

We humans are such creatures of habit, aren’t we? Your daily routines, your work, your relationship…..all very much within the comfort zone. Life seems easy, when you know exactly how and when to do something and what to expect. But routines could easily become ruts, and that already sounds a little less comfortable. Ruts can get ugly, right? 

In ruts, you get stuck. 

resistance to changeOK, I plead guilty, I have just made your comfort zone probably a little uncomfortable……on purpose. Why? Let’s look at that same comfort zone not as a nice, cozy, protective shell keeping the scary unknown out, but as an imposing, restrictive prison cell, keeping you from reaching for the unknown good stuff out there…? What if it is holding you back from exploring new horizons, new possibilities and opportunities, new talents; from personal growth? What if the happiest and most fulfilled version of yourself, your-best-you, doesn’t live in your comfort zone? In the Karma Shack blog I will regularly explore that possibility in depth. For now I want to finish with my third favourite quote: 

“Life starts at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)

See you there!

 

 

 

If you want to read a bit more about change and the resistance to change, check these links:

We’re slowly advancing into your story, probably as slow as you were recovering. 

The cat that changed his mindKaren was going to leave the island and wanted to take you with her, but you were still in no shape to travel. Even though we have learned here on the island that it is easier for a Nicaraguan cat or dog to get into the US than for a Nicaraguan human, for sure no vet would give you a clean bill of health, mandatory to travel. So we looked at other options. My landlord was not particularly fond of cats, so I couldn’t adopt you. I asked my neighbours, who had once told me they were cat people, although they were forever taking care of dogs. They agreed to take you in, when they would arrive on the island for the season. But between Karen’s departure and my neighbour’s arrival was a 10-day gap. So there I came in. Since it was only for 10 days my landlord was willing to give me an OK on having a cat around. You were still so injured it was unlikely that you were really going to go around and make a mess everywhere and get into fights with other cats (we thought…). Under your loud protests we stuck you in a cat carrier and wheelbarrowed you to my house, into strange territory. It must have been another terrifying experience.

 

Once we arrived and let you out, you scooted under the bed, and stayed there for the rest of the day. For the next few days, the far end corner of the bed was where you ensconced yourself. Hardly visible for the outside world, but you could just peek around the corner and keep a lookout through the open door. Then, a couple of days later, you posted yourself on the far corner of the mat that Karen had given me,  it must have smelled familiar, I guess. You still did not want to go outside. The big world had really given you a good scare, apparently, and on top of that you must have felt that your weak legs were a major handicap when it would come to confronting whatever danger was lurking out there. You were happy to use a litter box, since that relieved you from the need to go outside, but your stiff legs that still prevented a proper squat sometimes made you miss the box, so I was mopping every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. My little house smelled of you, Pumpkins, and it was OK. 

The way you were taking your time to recover from your fears AND wounds was an eye-opener for me. You were constantly sitting with your fears balancing on the edge of your confidence, nudging the limits of your comfort zone. Shifting them a little bit every day, moving a little closer to that open door. You weren’t wallowing in you misery and fears, but gave them time to calm down and subside. You weren’t going to be traumatised forever, that wouldn’t work for a bush cat, would it? You had to get back out there, but only when you were ready. In the right time it would happen. An amazing process.The cat that changed his mind

Then you moved to the door mat.

And then trouble came around. 

To be continued….

 

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. You can read parts 1 and 2 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

Little Corn Beach Bums

My last post was about trash and why I pick it up. I didn’t include a story about one particular clean-up session, because it has become quite a long story in itself, the prompt for a charity project that I have started for the island. And when I say for the island, I mean literally for the physical island, for Mother Nature. But as a beautiful side effect families will benefit from it too, financially, and babies, physically! It will be a triple win! Before I go into all the details about the project (and you may be able to help as well!), I will tell you how it all started…..

Little Corn Beach BumsOn one of my trash-pick-up outings, I followed a little trail into the bush. I had never walked that little trail, because it doesn’t really go anywhere that I ever need to go. But I was curious…. (well, to be honest, I kind of knew what I was going to find there)….and guess what I found: a big pile of trash. Mostly diapers and plastic bottles. Those bottles made me mad, because they should be in the recycling bins. The diapers made me very sad, because I realised that diapers are the most complicated trash that we have here on the island. For multiple reasons:

  1. we have many babies, and many used diapers as a long-lasting by-product of their sweet presence
  2. the diapers are not organic, so they won’t decompose in nature
  3. they are soaking wet after use, so they cannot be burned
  4. they stink, so you cannot just let them sit in your backyard drying, besides, if you do that, dogs will come by and start eating them
  5. they cannot be recycled, but are full of plastics and other toxic compounds, so even burying is not really an option

Last week I posted a list of 17 things that could be potential deal breakers in your life on a little tropical island. If you started laughing hard at some of my descriptions, you are made for island life. If most of the points made you cringe or gave you the shivers, you may reconsider relocating to a tropical island paradise. 

Today I am giving you the exact same list, but this time I will tell you why most of them are the BEST reasons to come and live on Little Corn Island:

1.The Heat: I love the heat, because I love the sun! I always feel a lot of affinity with the iguanas we have here. They only come out when the sun shines. They first have to warm up, before they can become active. I’m just like that. Inactive in the cold, active in the heat. Although you won’t find me sunbathing on the beach, I always say I was born in the wrong location. In the Netherlands I was often cold, and very miserable in wintertime, when blankets of cold grey dampness do anything but make you feel comfortable or lift your mood. The sun is hidden by that ominous dark layer, sometimes for weeks at a time. The landscape looks grey and brown and dead, without any colour to brighten up your day. Only in my thirties I learned there was a name for my yearly depression: Seasonal Affection Disorder. Living on a little tropical island, seeing the sun almost every day and feeling warm most of the time has totally fixed that problem. Temperatures never drop below 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and are usually up around 25 in the shade (high seventies). The climate forces you to be outside in the fresh air all the time, instead of being locked up in air-conditioned or centrally heated sealed spaces. Having your house all open and being outside all the time also makes the whole island community more welcoming and open. No huddling behind closed curtains to keep the cold out. And thanks to that year-round warmth, Mother nature is always showing herself in her brightest greens and colourful flowers, against the backdrop of turquoise seas and blue skies. Nothing more uplifting for your mood than a dash of bright colour! Oh, and the sweat? Just see it as if you’re working out all the time: a major boost for self esteem and feeling accomplished. 

2. The Rain: OK, I confess, sometimes I have to force myself to love the rain. But imagine the first rains after months of dry hot weather. It is the most refreshing thing ever. I will take rain-showers, literally just standing outside washing myself in the downpour. It’s a most invigorating and super fun experience, and both my skin and hair love it! The rain saves you work, because you don’t have to water all your plants, and you can catch the water running down from the roof to water those that are not exposed, and to wash your laundry. Your clothes just feel and smell different when they have been washed with rainwater. As annoying as rainy season can be, with days of intermittent showers and squalls or 24 hours continuous downpours, we have to be grateful for all that water. It replenishes our aquifer and allows us to live on this little rock. We are totally dependent on the rains for all our daily water use. And after all the heat and sweat and always being outside, sometimes it is nice to be forced by the rains to go inside and do something indoors, without having sweat running down your spine. You have to love the rain!

3. The Wind: ahh, the wind! Here it is called a “sweet breeze”, and what better name for that cooling breeze coming from the sea, to keep you from coming to a full boil around midday. The breeze dries all your laundry in no time, and also keeps the mosquitoes at bay, that’s why you want to live on the windy side of the island. Those of you familiar with Ayurveda will understand when I say that for Vatas the windy season may be a little aggravating, but with the right foods, a thin wrap around your shoulders and some extra stretching it is still ten times better than winter up north.

4. The Transport: oh well, there’s a lot to be said that is not in favour of our transportation system to and from the island. But on all the good days, a ride in that open panga is the best way to come home to our little island. You make friends on the way, see a beautiful sunset over your shoulder, while craning your neck to catch a glimpse of your destination. On an early morning ride out to the Big Island, I meditate under the rays of the sun, not yet too hot, feeling the rhythm of the boat against the waves resonate with my own heart beat. The wind blowing your hair out of your face, the spray from the bow making beautiful shimmering arches. Ahh, I love those panga rides!

5. The Erosion: well, there is nothing to be loved about that. It is horrific and makes us all very sad and scared. Businesses are close to falling into the sea in some places, people are losing part of their properties, the island is getting smaller with every storm. On the opposite side of all that material loss is the impressive power of Mother Nature. You gotta give it to her: maybe we humans are bad to her, but she is a badass herself, throwing right back at us all that we have done wrong. When a good high sea backed by a strong wind washes the sea water over the vegetation into the beach trail, leaving us with ankle deep water full of trash and debris to wade through, I cannot help but think: right on, girl, thanks for rubbing it in. 

6. The Bugs: they are beautiful! At least, quite a few of them. Colourful butterflies, amazing moths, bright red dragonflies, bright green grasshoppers, the most amazing beetles, caterpillars and (tiny) praying mantises, and have you ever taken a good look at a cockroach? It’s actually quite a beautiful creature. So is a tarantula. We have banana spiders here who have a miniature skull face painted on their backs. Ants have intricate ways of communicating and working together, never giving up their tasks. Watching a mosquito from close by, seeing how it lifts its hind legs, is quite interesting. But then you just smack them on the head. Mosquitoes and sand flies offer excellent training in letting go. Letting go of wanting to be in control, because you can’t. Letting go of being annoyed by their high pitched buzz, because you can’t stop them. Letting go of the need to scratch an itchy bite, because you will cause it to get infected (you can stop yourself). Thank you bugs, for providing us with multiple reminders to let go and relax.

7. The Dogs: they are so much fun! Most island dogs run around free, and choose whom they want to hang out with for the day. They may be your best friend for a couple of days, until they run into someone else that all of a sudden becomes their preferred company (probably a better bite from a hamburger). Most dogs have names, and we all know them by their name. So we greet all dogs just like we greet each other. They are an integral part of the island community, are allowed in most restaurants, feature in lots of tourist’s pictures, get their own Facebook pages and are missed by many when they pass away. I’m a cat person, but I love the simplicity of dogs too.

 

8. The Aquifer: Not much to rejoice about an aquifer in itself, but the fact that it is limited makes you very aware of the amount of water that you use every day. Once you become aware of the possibility that the aquifer gets depleted, every drop of water plays a trick on your conscience. You learn to conserve water, recycle it, catch it. It definitely contributes to mindfulness and conscious and creative living!

9. The Trash: another one that is hard to be liked. Trash everywhere. Always washing up more on the beach, from all around the world. Always a stinking, burning pile of household trash somewhere close to you, unless you live smack on the beach, upwind from everyone. Always trash lying around everywhere, since a lack of education has not taught a good part of the local population that trash does not belong in nature. Besides: we have nowhere to go with it. Still, there are good things to be said about trash and little tropical islands: for a lot of us living here and being responsible for our own trash has made us very conscious of it. Some of us have started to shop more consciously, looking for things in bulk, creating less trash. I personally have let go of most processed foods, to avoid trash. So in a way I can thank trash for a healthier diet with mostly whole foods. It also makes us more resourceful, finding creative ways to recycle it, like stuffing soft plastics in cushions for the beach, or reusing PVC-pipes used for pouring cement posts to organise T-shirts in the gift shop. I have made a lot of fun things out of beach trash, and it is my way of not getting totally sad and upset about all that rubbish sitting on the beach. Watching the giant Karma Shack mobile made of beach trash slowly doing its never-ending choreography makes a lot of people feel good. 

10. The Limited Availability of Basic Things: love that one! The lack of choice is so liberating. When you need new shorts, and the store has only two pairs of cotton shorts that are not jeans and full of bling, you don’t mind that one is a size too big, and the other not really a colour that you’d normally wear. You just buy them! When you start to think about it, modern life is a daily struggle of choices, taking up a lot of your time. All day long. A lot of them are choices about stuff that you buy to wear, to use, to eat or drink. On a little tropical island there is not a whole lot to choose from, and it leaves you with lots of time and energy to do other things, or think about other things. The realisation that you won’t die when you don’t get your favourite coffee, your preferred sweet rolls or flip-flops that match your bathing suit, means that you are growing away from a highly materialist life of having, and start to get more into the mode of just being (I even have a pair of non-matching rubber boots). If you can handle the limited availability of basic things, you have passed one of the main rites of passage for life on a tropical island (in my Christmas 2016 post I wrote about ‘being vs having’ as an essential characteristic of island life).

11. Lack of Proper Healthcare: this is an interesting one. When you know there is not really a reliable medical service, you become more resourceful in finding out on your own what could be wrong with you, and then finding natural treatments for it, instead of pharmaceutical remedies that are sometimes not available anyway. But you also let things just take their course more often. When you get sick, well, you just wait till you get better, instead of running to the doctor for some pills. You start to rely less on someone else taking care of your health, and become more responsible yourself.  In all these years on the island I have visited the clinic once. Living a proper stress free island life also makes you less prone to disease. 

12. Lack of Communication: the lack of reliable telephone and internet signals has made me very independent of my phone, and of my need to stay connected with people in other parts of the world. When I can, I will, when I can’t I won’t cry over it. As I write this it is noon, and I just realised that I have forgotten to turn on my phone this morning! (and I am still alive!). When I am in the middle of posting a blog and the internet blacks out, I just go rake the garden or walk along the beach. Having unreliable communication can also be a great excuse to not stay in touch, or not get any work done! I sometimes dream of making our little island a digital detox destination. DDD, I’d love to offer that in the Karma Shack! 

13. Limited things to do: bullshit. I never have enough time to read all the books I want to read, study all the topics I want to study, write all the posts I have in my head, make my garden look perfect, finish all those arts&crafts-projects, and make all those home-cooked goodies that I’d like to eat, just because I am too busy with island-life as it is, and I don’t mean work. Boredom is a choice, and it’s not mine.

14. Temptations: that can be a tough one for some. But it can also be your real challenge. Staying true to your choice to live a life free of addictive substances that are toxic for you in many ways, is a very empowering experience. Especially when you are surrounded by people who are daily users of one for more of them. 

15. The Tourists: Love them or leave the island! So many wonderful people from all over the world come to our little island. And they are all here to have a good time, so as soon as you contribute to that, they are your best friend forever! I have met so many interesting people through my work in the Karma Shack, from submarine engineers to drummers in famous bands, ayurveda specialists and acupuncturists, young families travelling with 3 little kids, and double breast cancer survivor 85-year olds still swimming everyday. A guy that made a living of carving wooden spoons and teaching people how to do that, with a raw vegan chef as his girlfriend, whom he asked to marry here on the island. A woman who teaches yoga to children with special needs. War veterans, relief workers, missionaries. Wonderful musicians share their talents, artists leave their paintings, and many a tourist will spend a couple of hours leaving our beaches cleaner than before. Some of the tourists come back and become part of our community for a few weeks or months every year. These people become our favourite pack-horses to lug special requests from the US and Canada down here for us. Tourists! So grateful they come here!

16. The Local Community: a local island community is always a fun mix of many. Because even the locals come from all over the place, and add to that your mix of foreigners settling here after they have arrived as tourists. Once tourism starts to offer a good amount of jobs you see the local and foreign community mix more and more. Living in a place like this you get to have friends from all over the world. Apart from Nicaraguans both from the island and from the mainland, we have French, Italian, British, Irish, Portuguese, German, Austrian, Swiss, Spanish, Norwegian, Israeli, Argentinian, Australian, Kiwi, US, Canadian, Salvadoran, Colombian and Syrian people living on our little island. To this day I am still the only Dutch resident here, phew! 

The local community provides a never ending course of life-lessons. More than anything you learn that the way they do things in your country, is not the way they do things in any other country, and especially not on your little island. You learn to open your mind to different ways, and accept that things cannot always go your way, simply because you’re not at home. 

17. The confrontation with self: a great point if you’re into personal and spiritual growth! Being in unfamiliar surroundings with a lot of common things missing, out of your comfort zone, not surrounded by your closest family and friends that are always there for you and put up with your quirks or moods when necessary, you get to face yourself in the mirrors that random strangers will hold up for you, not knowing you so well. What you see in that mirror might not be your most favourite you, but then you can start working on it, and grow into a better version of yourself. Enjoy the ride!

So here we have the exact same list that I presented last week as 17 good reasons why you DON’T want to live on a little tropical is
land. Today I turned them around and made them perfect reasons why you DO want to live here. Last week’s list was based on all sorts of fears, keeping us in our comfort zones, today’s list is based on love, challenging us to step out of that comfort zone and learn new things and have different and magical experiences. That is always your choice in life: do I think, speak, act and live from a place of fear based on discomfort, uncertainties and the unknown, or do I live from a place of love, based on a willingness to learn and grow? Take that thought with you when you pack your bag to come and visit us and check out our little island for yourselves!

So there you were: a wreck.

At first sight I had even had thoughts about how we could help you out of your misery in the most humane way by ourselves, since there was no veterinarian on the island, and you looked beyond repair with your snapped spine and dragging hind legs. Karen had the same thoughts, but she also felt that she could at least try and make you feel comfortable and safe, until you perished or would be “destroyed” as she would say. (I found that the most horrible expression ever for putting you down. But then I am not American, and maybe this is a common word for it in the US?)

Anyway.  You did’t get destroyed, nor did you perish….you started to improve….. 

Only later did I come to understand that you are not an ordinary cat with 9 lives. You have probably 58 or more. 

So under Karen’s nursing love and patience, you showed signs of getting better. You started to be able to use your legs again, which was amazing, after the way your spine had been twisted. On your own, without surgery, without pain killers, without physiotherapy, crutches or braces, you just started to use those skinny legs again, bit by bit. It made me wonder why an animal can do that, and we (Western?) humans think we are incapable of it. Then I realised that you can, because you have no other options. You don’t know about doctors and operations and pain killers, and that is why you don’t need them. You either get better and survive, or you die. That is nature in all its simplicity and beauty, God at work. In nature you don’t have prescription drugs that you will have to take every single day, thinking that otherwise you will be sick and suffering for the rest of your life. We humans do that, because we cling on to life, with all our might (which is in fact not so mighty at all), and the pharmaceutical industry makes sure that we believe that we need all their medicine to be able to survive. We cannot deal with discomfort, and most certainly not with the idea that life might be short. We are unwilling to accept life as it comes to us, with disease and injuries, that either heal or not. Basically, with medicine and operations, we are just trying to play God, aren’t we?

Oh well, I got side-tracked here. Back to you, Pumpkins. You slowly managed to stand on your own feet again, and walk, albeit awkwardly. Jumping was still out of the question, and so was sitting. It was funny to see you trying, but literally not being able to bend your knees enough to sit on your haunches. It reminded me of some of my less flexible yoga students (usually guys, sorry, men!), trying to do the Garland Pose or Malasana. Garland Pose is a beautiful name for a wide-footed hip-opening squat where you push your knees outwards with your elbows, while your

hands are folded against each other in a praying gesture in front of your chest. The idea is to have the feet flat on the ground, but with short leg muscles and more than anything with tight hips, you cannot squat very deeply without lifting your heels off the ground. But since most people always want to go as deep as everybody else in yoga class (what do you mean, shutting up that little ego-voice in our heads and just be on our own mats without constantly comparing ourselves with others?), those heels will come off the ground and the not-so-flexible yoga student will be squatting on his toes, which will make him lose the stretch in the hips. But as a cat you don’t have a concept of squatting as deep as everybody else; you have no need to be as good as everybody else. So when your heels started to come off the ground, you just stayed there and didn’t squat any deeper. It looked very awkward, and it probably was, because you never sat for long. It taught me that when I have such a tight student in class I maybe should not make them stay in this pose for too long, because they are most likely feeling very awkward. Bummer, because I love to hang out in Garland Pose forever! So guys, be grateful for Pumpkins teaching me this lesson!

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. Read part 1 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

To be continued…. 

 

Living on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua for years now, I have often been told by people that I am ‘living the dream’. It’s funny, but I never dreamed of living on a tropical island, it just happened to me. So I usually tell the person that I am happy to live their dream, but that it never had been mine. In the mean time, I do think I have a pretty good life here, don’t get me wrong.

Living on a tropical island is one of those utopian dreams that many people nurture during their whole lives, but only few will actually manifest it. I think it is typical example of something that you learn to wish for, through advertising. Since it is a pretty difficult dream to fulfil (at least that is the common opinion), it is one of the most longed for and most idealised. Life on a tropical island is usually rated as living in paradise, which, according to some old book, is pretty awesome, if you play by the rules. Well, let me burst your bubble. Life in paradise is less than perfect, or, using a recently learned expression: sometimes even less than stellar. If you can’t let go of the idea of paradise’s perfection I can rephrase it for you: life on a tropical island is not to be compared with living in paradise, since it is far from perfect. Let me give you the list:

  1. The Heat: the tropics are hot! Here we have an average of 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) in the shade, running much higher in the sun, especially when there’s no breeze. Depending on your activity, physical condition and acclimatisation, you may sweat from a few hours a day up to 24/7  year round. Especially doing some work indoors like cooking or cleaning, your clothes will be soaked in no time. You will either have to take multiple showers and change clothes often, which is environmentally unacceptable or you go around sticky and maybe smelly and get used to it. You have to drink tons of water not to get dehydrated. You may get severe sunburn, or a farmer’s tan.
  2. The Rain: it’s not only hot, it’s also very wet in the tropics. Rainy season is officially 8-9 months long. Our Christmas dinner was nearly cancelled due to the pouring rains, and I have declined an invitation to a New Year’s Eve dinner because it would involve slip-sliding through the mud in the dark(we have only limited paved walkways). I am very happy to live on the beach, where I only bring wet sand into my house, but friends who live inland never stop mopping and cleaning their floors and sheets in rainy season, because there is MUD EVERYWHERE! For a good part of the year their utopian dream is to have clean feet:-)
  3. The Wind: being surrounded by seas the winds can be quite extreme on our little island. Hard winds will lash the shore, eroding it, churning up the sea weed and dumping it with all its trash onto the beaches. The wind will whip up the sand from the beach and make it fly at eye level, blinding you and covering all vegetation and your whole house (inside and out) with a fine but sticky layer. The saltiness of the winds will burn your vegetables and flowers on a sunny day, and the multiple almond trees that can produce new leaves within a few days will keep dropping them in your yard, so you are raking all day. Ah, and any winds above 20 knots will cancel passenger transportation. Which gets me to the next point
  4. The Transport: small tropical islands are typically reached in small, open boats. In perfect weather conditions that is a wonderful experience. Alas, usually the weather is far from perfect….the boat ride can be very bumpy, very wet, downright scary or just cancelled. In that case you are stuck. Tourists always say, when they hear about that possibility, that there are worse things than getting stuck on a tropical island. Another utopian bubble to burst: when the boats are cancelled and you get stuck here, the weather sucks, there’s no diving, no snorkelling, no kayaking, no sunbathing, and often no internet-signal too. It’s not that much fun to get stuck here, I tell you. At best you make a lot of new friends sitting for hours on the dock waiting to find out if a boat will go later that day.
  5. The Erosion, another weather-related point: due to climate changes there are higher seas and stronger winds and depending on the wind direction, the currents can carry off tons of sand overnight, leaving your beach front property a size or two smaller. This sometimes continues for a fortnight. The government is not extremely interested in saving foreigner’s properties, so you will have to invest in your own costly shore protection if you want to keep your house from falling in the sea (I have no information about home insurance).
  6. The Bugs: a big one: yes, we have mosquitoes, sand flies, nasty ants, big spiders, wasps, lots of cockroaches and a gazillion termites. Mosquitoes and sandflies give you very itchy bites, which drives some people mad. There are a lot of theories why some people get  bitten so much more than others, but in the end we all get some bites. Mosquito repellent is not a 100% guarantee to stay bite-free, and the poison that you put on your skin to avoid some itchy bites can actually cause cancer and all sorts of other horrible internal damage to your body. Long sleeves and long pants work relatively well, but are hot to wear in this climate. Mosquitoes may give you Dengue, Chikungunya or Zika, none of them very pleasant diseases, but you will survive. Bugs are part of tropical island life. Ants can get annoying too. They may invade your house, get into your delicious coconut bread that you saved as an after-party-snack, or just bite you while you stand around minding your own business. Spiders come in all sorts and sizes, and surprisingly it is one of the smallest ones that bites, while the big tarantulas and wolf spiders don’t really bother us. Still, if you are scared of spiders, you may regularly go through some difficult moments running into them, since you’re living in their territories on our tropical island. And the termites…well, they just eat your house, that’s all.
  7. The Dogs: they are everywhere. They go around without a leash or even a collar. Most of them are friendly, up to a point where they will follow you everywhere, which can get you in trouble when you want to walk into a store or a restaurant or into your own house. They will bark at night, pull over your trash can, and dig gigantic holes in your yard, searching for crabs. Some of them are mean and bite or kill your kitten. They are present in most restaurants, since all foreign restaurant owners have adopted a few dogs. That’s another thing on this island: you cannot avoid having to adopt a couple of dogs. So if dogs are not your favourite pet, don’t come and live here, because they are in your face all the time!!!
  8. The Aquifer: little islands have small aquifers, that usually get replenished just by rain water. Population growth and a few dry years may make your tropical paradise much less inhabitable. Salinization of ground water, contamination with sewage and chemicals, or just downright depletion can all contribute to an unsustainable situation. Do you want to live in a place where they have to ship in your daily water?
  9. Trash: the last one on the long list of “natural” reasons why you may consider not wanting to live on a tropical island. What will you do with your trash? We don’t have a trash pick up system, and there is no central garbage dump. Burning is bad for the atmosphere, and some of the plastic will leach into the soil. Burying will affect the water quality. Unless you are one of those reduce/reuse/recycle experts, you will spend a fortune shipping your trash off the island. 
  10. The Limited Availability of Basic Stuff: the other end of that trash problem: your consumption patterns. There are a whole lot of things you cannot get on a little tropical island, although with the growth of tourism that is definitely improving. Basic foods, yes. But don’t go looking for anything whole-grain or fancy. Limited fresh produce, the rest canned and very expensive (and a lot of trash afterwards!). Forget broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms, sprouts, berries or kiwis. All non-food products are of the cheapest and worst quality and will fall apart or stop functioning in no time, creating a lot of unwanted trash. A few clothes and shoes are available, and a couple of cans of paint and some hardware. Oh, and everything is up to three times more expensive than on the mainland, due to all the transport involved to get it here. Mostly, you have to get everything yourself on the mainland, which involves either a lot of travelling or having a lot of reliable connections in the capital that can organise the shopping for you. You may feel you are living in constant lack, if you try to hold on to consumption patterns that you had before you arrived. 
  11. Lack of proper healthcare/dental care/etc.: a small health centre provides very basic care,  but cannot handle real emergencies that go beyond a few stitches. Then you have to get onto that same open panga (or hire a private one that won’t leave until the gas has been paid) to get off the island and from there on a flight to the capital to get to a good hospital. If you have a condition that may require emergency health assistance you don’t want to live on a little tropical island. Also, if you can’t handle toothaches or walking around with a broken tooth for a few weeks/months until you travel to the mainland, consider another location to settle.
  12. Communications: we have cell phone service and internet too, but it is spotty to say the least, and sometimes it just does not work at all. A few people relying on internet for their work get up at 3am to get the full bandwidth. If you cannot live without 24/7 wifi, a little tropical island may not be your place to dwell.
  13. Limited things to do: small islands offer a limited amount of things to do to fill your days with: swimming, diving, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, massage and some short hikes, but that is about it. A book or a game, and maybe some gardening around your own house. Ah, of course, I forgot that one: you will be forever working on the maintenance of your property, since the salt air eats up all hardware, paint and even cement. OK, you won’t get bored then. 
  14. Temptations: remote little islands can also be “paradise” in a different way: they usually offer easy access to large amounts of cheap drinks and drugs. The visiting tourists are here to have good time, so they will be partying a lot, and it is easy to join them every night (or day). If you are trying to get away from a life of addictive habits, this particular side of our little paradise may be detrimental for your health and well-being. 
  15. The Tourists: funny, isn’t it: you came here as a tourist, but once you live here for a while, you sometimes wish they would all disappear, with their OFF-smell, their trash, their drunken loudness, and their endless FAQ’s. (FAQ’s: an unexpected downside of living on a little tropical island. I will write about that in another post. If you cannot handle repetitive curious questions, a small touristy island is not your dwelling of choice). When they like the island as much as you do, they might stay and buy a property right next to yours and open a bar there. So far for living in paradise. But they also bring good atmosphere, help out in the community, clean beaches and maybe make your money, so focus on liking them, if you can. Otherwise: don’t come live in paradise, it’s full of tourists!
  16. The Local Community: apart from tourists, your tropical paradise island will be full of two types of very different people living there: locals and foreigners (I refuse to call them ex-pats. I think that is a politically incorrect name. When people from rich countries go and live in a developing country they call themselves expats, but when people from poor countries move into the rich countries, they are called (illegal) immigrants or at best foreigners, but never expats. What is the difference?). The local community has its own way of doing things, organising things, their own set of rules and regulations, habits and traditions. They have no reason to let go of all that, just because you decided to start living on their island. The foreigners already living on the island will give you a false sense of “home”, which might make you believe that things are being (or getting) done in similar ways to what you were used to before you moved to paradise. Burst your bubble: everything is done differently here: from buying land to building a house to organising transport to hiring workers to doing laundry to handling trash or getting married. If you cannot let go of your western ideas of how things should be done, you’re up for a tough time in paradise. 
  17. Self-Confrontation: moving to a small remote island confronts you with yourself in many ways. You thought your life was going to be perfect because you were moving to paradise. But then things turn out anything but perfect. Possibly you will start blaming it on all of the above points: the weather, the bugs, the people, lack of communications, the stuff you are missing…… But what it all boils down to is that you’re having a hard time because you are resisting all sorts of changes in your life, because you cannot let go of certain habits, ideas, comforts and because you want to keep up the idea that life on a tropical island is perfect, because that’s the dream they have been selling you all your life.   

    Let me get this straight: this whole list is not a complaint about how miserable life is on our little island. It’s a reality check. If you already start cringing just reading about these inconveniences,  you better let go of the dream of living a paradisiacal life on a little tropical island. I have written this all with a smile on my face, because I’ve learned to love and deal with all of the above. Next week I will rewrite this list, and show you that it’s not the fault of all the above points that your paradise isn’t so perfect……