Sunday, July 27, 2008


Today I strolled from my apartment into the city center, a walk that takes over an hour. Along the way, I passed stands of horse-drawn carriages; a church filled with worshippers and live music; and a statue of a cow that stands precariously on the side of a wall, 25 feet in the air. The man pictured was sitting inside his car, playing his saxophone along with accompaniment from his car stereo. It was a scene that reminded me of old Europe. After I took this picture he wished God’s blessings upon me. That was thoughtful—I will need many blessings here. People I have met are lovely, but life truly feels like starting from scratch. My apartment has a zen-like feel with its lack of furniture; I cannot help but be reminded of the Buddhist monk I went to school with who had all of the college-issue furnishings removed from his dorm room. My employers have graciously provided me with a fridge, a table and four chairs, and a bed. Unlike the monk, I am not sleeping on a floor pallet!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Going Global

It is 10:45 in the evening and I am kept awake by the sounds of tabla and Indian pop singers streaming in through my Mexican hotel window. My travel guide bills Guadalajara as the largest “truly Mexican” city. Yet sushi restaurants and Starbucks joints abound. A building I passed today advertised yoga classes. I find myself pondering an age-old question: in the process of acquisition, do we lose ourselves?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Amy la famosa or You sweat a lot!

One of my dance teachers was a younger woman who lived with her mom. Both ladies were about ready to leave the island and were planning their upcoming moves around the globe. Spain and South America both held interest as the women were Spanish speakers. My teacher, Amy, looked at me one day and said, “Maya, if anyone asks you who taught you how to dance, will you tell them about me?”

I replied, “Of course! I’ll say Amy, la famosa, surely you’ve heard of her?”

For weeks, Amy told me that she wanted me to find salsa lessons and continue learning, even after I’d left Curacao. One day, she asked, “Do you know why I tell you that?”

I, of course, didn’t. I expected to hear her say that I was a prodigious student and that I held great promise. Instead she replied, “It’s because you sweat a lot! It means you are losing weight!”

Nothing like a sassy salsera to bring you back to reality.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bon dia!

Imagine entering a doctor’s office and greeting all of the patients in the waiting room. When people in Curacao enter a building, they wish everyone around them “bon dia,” or good day. No exchange is begun without the proper formalities and if you skip them, as Americans are wont to do, you are considered rude. Coming from the American culture of expedience, this custom sometimes struck me as labored and frustrating. I imagine that it originates from small town life, the old Curacao in which people knew the majority of others around them. While greeting people promotes friendliness and good manners, throughout my two years on the island I never quite got into the habit of saying hello to strangers that I had no real intentions of conversing with.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Appelsap means I'm sorry

Everywhere I live, I make it a point of trying to learn something of cultural pertinence. In India, I took Hindi classes, learned about history and culture, took yoga from an incredibly limber 80 year-old woman, and shadowed devout Hindu worshippers in their temple visits. In Turkey, I studied Turkish, sipped my way to familiarity with Turkish wine under the guidance of an unofficial sommelier, and concocted seven course feasts in a Turkish cooking class.

When I moved to Curacao, I thought I should learn Dutch. Then, I found that all I truly needed was rudimentary “menu Dutch.” (After all, one does need to eat!) All of the Dutch speakers I met in Curacao readily spoke English and, I will guiltily confess, the sound of Dutch held no allure for me. So I dropped that idea. Then I was constantly told or invited to take diving lessons. While this would have been an incredible way to explore the island environment, I simply couldn’t bring myself to cultivate such an expensive hobby. After a year of living in Curacao, I finally came to a decision. To compliment the island’s Latin flair, I needed to take salsa lessons. It took me another eight months to finally enroll.

After two lessons, I was told that every time I said “sorry,” I was obliged to bring apple juice for the instructors. It took me two more classes to get out of the habit. After that, I started making odd noises in place of apologies—to the amusement of my teachers. The unspoken implication of the apple juice rule—you are not allowed to make mistakes—was simply impossible. But I was all right with refraining from feeling guilty about mistakes. I was learning, no apologies required.

On the day of my last salsa class, I brought two liters of apple juice for the instructors, in delayed payment for my initial slip-ups. A new couple was there, beginning their first lesson. The woman kept apologizing for her mistakes and one of the teachers turned to me and commanded, “Maya, tell her what happens when you say ‘I’m sorry.’”

“Appelsap!” I declared in my menu Dutch and opened the refrigerator to drive the point home. The lady looked at me, confused.

“So, every time I apologize, I have to drink apple juice?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “not exactly…”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Grocery shopping

While I know this topic sounds a bit mundane, I've done quite a bit of grocery shopping lately and it is not the experience that many are accustomed to. One friend of mine here says that if she is having people for dinner, she plans three different menus because there is no way of telling what the stores will have in stock.

Last Wednesday, a friend invited me over for a barbecue. I asked her what I should bring, and she replied, "your homemade hummus!" I went to not one, but three grocery stores, in search of garbanzo beans. At the third grocery store, I was told that there were no more garbanzo beans anywhere on the island and that a new shipment would come in two days. Needless to say, there was no homemade hummus that night...

I have been hearing about a store that sells farm-grown produce for a while now. This Saturday, a friend and I decided to go check it out. The smell of the fresh fruits and vegetables had me quivering at the knees. I left with strawberries and a bag filled with tangerines. Later that day, I found pomelos at a local supermarket. Now my house is a veritable citrus haven!

Monday, August 13, 2007


Early Saturday morning, around 2:30, someone came over my landlords' gate and smashed the rear view window of my car. It was the most bizarre crime; whoever smashed it was not looking to steal anything. My landlords also had a small hole in one of their windows. I called the police to report the crime and they told me to dial 911.

"But," I stammered, "there's no emergency!" "There's no fire, no life and death situation--"

"I understand, maam," the lady replied. "Just call 911."

So I called. The police said they'd come to the house to examine the damage and file the report. Two hours later, they still hadn't arrived. My landlord volunteered to stay at home and wait for them, graciously freeing me to run errands around town. I called my insurance company today and was told that the policy I have does not cover me against damage to my own vehicle. Now I have an unanticipated $700 expense. The happy news is that the Toyota dealership can fix the window without having parts shipped in. I was told that the process can be completed in a day.

Never a dull moment in dushi Curaçao!