A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about living abroad

Modern technology is great

For a small and very isolated community, St. Helena has a pretty good media service. Television arrived on the island in 1995, and offers 3 channels, though as yet no local programs. There are also 2 radio stations, which both broadcast 24/7 (though at night, Saint FM has no presenters and just uses plays a random selection of tunes whilst Radio St. Helena broadcasts the BBC World service). There are also two local newspapers, both produced weekly and published on Fridays, which are attached to the radio stations. Whilst the St. Helena Herald is pretty good, it can be a bit “safe” in its reporting, and - plus the fact I know the papers owner - so i prefer to read the Independent.

With a population of 4000, which obviously includes many family groups and people of all ages, the independent prints a staggering 1100copies a week. Put differently, if a paper in the UK printed as many papers, it would be about 17million, over five times the print run of the Sun, the UKs biggest current seller, and it would be the worlds largest circulation newspaper by a considerable of a good couple of million. In addition, both newspapers are available online, and the independent is free to download (except for Islanders in the first 3days) anywhere in the world.

Thus it was that whilst reading the 9th January issue and you can read it yourself if you so wish, i came across this ¼ page notice:

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And, really, in a way, that sums up St. Helena nicely. It's 2009 and somebody is looking for a Betamax player.

St. Helena is not the worlds most modern destination. It's isolation, and time and cost required to import anything mean that the latest fashions, crazes and technologies can be slow to reach the island. That isn't too say that everybody still uses cassette decks and betamax: DVD players (and rentals) are quite common, and there are a surprising number of MP3 players around, especially amongst the younger people.

But it means that older technologies survive in large chunks, and perhaps more significantly, there is not the “disposable” mind-frame that now exists throughout the West. Items which would have been thrown away years ago, happily survive here, often after having had numerous DIY fixes over time. Saints are, out of necessity, incredibly resourceful people who can come up with any number of imaginative ways of extending the lifespan of items, or new uses for otherwise redundant goods.

And though it can initially be very strange, it is very much like living in a time warp. But you rarely actually miss any of the “so called” modern-conveniences and technologies, and certainly have no need for them. Sure, some of the islanders – and, especially, expats – would like to feel they were more up to date, but they don't actually need them and St. Helena is brilliant for it. I really hope it stays that way. If for no other reason than that mobile phones are still entirely unknown, and for me now just a distant memory (or, occasionally, a glorified watch). This truly is a place worth visiting.

((and I will again apologise for the lack of updates in the last couple of months. I have been very busy, and also trying not to spend much time online when there is so much else to see and do here. I hope to have a few entries in the next week or two to catch up))

Posted by Gelli 11:36 Archived in St Helena Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Home is where the insects roam

As I sit here in pitch blackness pondering my surroundings, I make a small mental note: next time, idiot, remember where you left the torch! I had been merrily minding my own business one evening when after a couple of small spikes, the power died. After (eventually) finding the torch with nothing worse than a spilt cup of coffee, a stubbed toe and a loud squige-ing noise as I stepped on something which had previously been alive but now require a clean up operation, I decided to give in and go to the pub.

Chunks of Jamestown were blacked out, but it was very much at random. Some buildings seemed fine whilst others (and some street lights etc) were in complete darkness. Power outages are not, thankfully, a regular occurrence, but they do seem to be afflicted by events that seem trivial: It was reported that the outage had been caused by a bird flying into something it shouldn't have, and some insulation which had been attacked by an unknown animal over the course of few weeks. And with that, the Island descended to darkness.

With everything relying on small systems, slight maintenance can cause larger problems: Radio St. Helena, for example, the government owned of our two radio stations, went off air for 36hours due to 'essential maintenance', though at least we were warned in advance.

I am living in a small rented apartment, close to the centre of town, and perfect for my needs. It is traditionally arranged (for St. Helena) meaning that none of the rooms connect, so I have to go outside to go to the kitchen or bathroom. I have a patio area, and a nice bit of garden which seems a magnet for wildlife.

As well as the inevitable mosquitoes - luckily in fairly small numbers so far at least - I am plagued by surprisingly vicious hordes of ants that I have to evict every couple of days and who seem to use my outside light as their own private death machine, feasting on the moths and other creatures that are attracted to it at night. There are a number of reasonably size cockroach type things that appear in evenings, and if I suddenly turn on my outside light, I can often see (and hear) some scuttling away: One who somehow ended up on his back on my porch was at least 20cm in length, whilst i spent 2 hours one night trying to find and evict a smaller (but still decent sized) one from my bedroom after he scuttled in when I went to the toilet. Fairly large and dopey bluebottles congregate around my kitchen in early evenings, whilst less than an hour ago I went into the bathroom and discovered a large-ish lizard on the wall. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised to see the other, but neither of us was expecting the other, that much is certain. Smaller lizards are also common in the evenings, and I have also been visited by a couple of long millipede type creatures of a type that are fascinating though previously unknown to me.

There are a number of cats around, including one inquisitive kitten that enjoys playing in my garden at night and climbing up to the balcony of the upstairs apartment. I like cats, but must admit to being slightly freaked by this particular one to begin with: late in most evenings i would hear fairly substantial rustlings outside in the garden, but could never see what it was - even if I tried to surprise it by suddenly illuminating the place. I had guessed it was a small mammal, and most likely a cat, but it seemed to be making allot of rustlings and sounded significantly bigger than it was. Whilst I know there are no bears on the island, my wonderful imagination had more or less concluded that the amount of noise made must have been a bear or more likely,a pair of them - or perhaps an angry elephant, who knows? - before I (happily) finally discovered one night that it was a kitten, when he decided to be sociable and pawed on my door a bit meowing to say hello.

During the day I watch the birds come and go, including 3 who I have come to recognise (one is easy, as he has no left foot, whilst one of the other 2 is a definite bully) and are have little enough fear of humans to come within half a metre or so of me, even when I am not being perfectly still. Indeed, they will happily wander into my bedroom or kitchen if i leave the door wide open (as I often do) and are not paying allot of attention. And at dusk there is an hour or so that I have always really liked, of utter mayhem, where you hear a vast cacophony of bird noises right across town as they all retreat back to their trees and nests for the night.

Being at home here is much more interesting here than in Sweden where apart from the damned mozzies, pretty much the only wildlife that would visit were drunk friends, acquaintances and friends of acquaintances, normally between the hours of 1.30 and 4am on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Posted by Gelli 07:46 Archived in St Helena Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Initial impression thing-a-me-jigs

semi-overcast

With apologies for the sudden delays in getting updates up. I have several ready to go, but am experiencing technical issues. Hope to start getting the rest posted soon-ish.

The strangest thing about this, I have realised, is that everybody speaks English. That might sound an odd comment I accept: it even took me a few days to realise it myself and then break it down. But it does actually kind of make sense. I am British, have been living abroad for some time, and have been lucky to spend a vast chunk of my life travelling both extensively and frequently. Yet despite large chunks of the world speaking English, with the exception of assorted trips to Ireland (which as I have always been there from/via the UK, I almost subconsciously class it as not being foreign, as there is no immediate jump) I have never been to any of them. Yes i've been to places where everybody speaks English (heck, I live in Scandinavia), or there are lots of native speakers around (such as travelling through Vietnam), or it's the official language (such as Pakistan), but in all of them there is a large amount of other languages being spoken/on signs that you see to give your senses at least some regular foreign input. Basically, I seem to have discovered that to me at least, subconsciously (yoikes. second time. This is very worrying) at least, travelling anywhere - especially when you have been travelling for two weeks - equals "foreign" and at at least semi exotic, as much as Belgium can ever really be semi exotic! That is not meant to sound a bad thing: I love the generic 'foreign' that I have used here, and have absolutely no plan, desire or wish to ever live in the UK ever again. Yet, for whatever reason, I just wasn't quite ready to travel so far and for so long just to hear everybody speak English. It sounds bizarre, and I really can't explain it, but on one level it has utterly confused me.

Now that I have been here a few days [OK, by the time it's gone online it is almost 4weeks, i'm sorry], and have had time to fully comprehend that, it's probably time for me to offer you some thoughts and observations of this wonderful and wacky island.

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This really is an innocent place!

I really should apologise for the delay in recent updates, for which I can partly blame a small technical issue on my front and then having to do some actual w*rk for a while, but is essentially due to the fact that i've been having far too much fun doing other thing, and meeting so many new relatives that sitting and typing is one of the last things I have been inclined to do.

The first thing that has struck me is just how damned green this place is. On arrival, all you see is the foreboding rocky-ness of James Valley, and these stark valley sides are in part of my normal mental picture of the island: I knew that it was not all like this, but was still stunned by just how lush and green (of numerous different shades) that the island is. Admittedly even the locals say that it is unusually green due to it being a very wet winter, but even so. The Island is also supremely mountainous, with barely a level piece of ground anywhere at all, and again, i'm not sure that I had previously realised just how much up and down there was (as opposed to just ups).

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It really is a green island

Of course getting around island means basically using a car (bicycles are banned from many roads, especially downhill roads and those into Jamestown), and the roads here are fun. Almost all are not only single lane with passing places, but also supremely winding, often virtually enclose by huge plants and trees, and involving constant hairpins and steep inclines, many of which have 15-20%+ gradients. Driving here is fun though not so great for cars: Speed limits are low and the nature of the roads mean that using 3rd is a rarity, and 4th a virtual impossibility, whilst engines face allot of revving and first and second gears and clutches get knackered much quicker than they would anywhere else. The delights of having to reverse uphill in the pitch black of night, around a blind hairpin on a 20% slope and with a sheer drop to one side, in order to try and allow a truck to pass is something I could happily do without again!

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One of the three roads out of Jamestown, though the least well used. You can't really tell from this angle, but the top section - where the car is - is almost a 25% incline, and (below), one of the flatter roads on the Island, heading up out of town from lower Jamestown towards General Hospital and Ladder Hill

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The people are also stunningly friendly: to the casual and short term visitors of course, but once they realise you are one of them (and I haven't come across a single islander yet who isn't friends with at least one of my cousins and knows at least a few more), they open up even more. To somebody more used to European isolation, it is both heart warming and slightly unnerving. If you went up to a stranger on a high street in Europe and just started saying hello to everybody, people would start avoiding you as a weirdo, and chances are, you would be arrested not long afterwards. Here, the opposite is true. If you don't say hello to everybody, they consider you very strange indeed.

Having said all that, despite the fact it being so safe that people routinely leave their front doors unlocked and keys dangling in car ignitions, it is also a slightly dangerous place: Alcoholism is rife, and I have witnessed more fights and scuffles (almost all alcohol related) in my first couple of weeks - in evenings - than I have done in a long time. It is also, depressingly, surprisingly litter strewn. Even half way up mountains you will find litter, including the ubiquitous Namibian beer bottles. In somewhere so small and friendly, I find the constant litter very sad.

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But the Island really, really, really is green. And absolutely stunning.

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Parts of the town also have such an old colonial feel as to make you think you are living in a time warp: In some respects it still kind of feels and looks like the 1950s, whilst such fading memories of half-day Wednesday and Sundays where absolutely everything save churches and a pub are closed. Indeed on Sundays, Jamestown can almost look like a ghost town. The eclectic selections of music on the two local radio stations also work to add to that feeling. Both have announcements which can resemble BBC radio from years past, and include a hugely unpredictable and very odd selection of things, which make you realise just how small and close knit the community is: Would Mrs Smith of Levelwood please photo 1234 before 3pm to arrange to collect her laundry. If anybody is in the neighbourhood, could they tell Mr Jones that one of his goats is currently walking down the road towards St. Paul's. The Chairman would like to remind all [12] members that the annual meting of the association of bee keepers will be held tonight. The Rose & Crow would like to announce that it now has mauve coloured Dulux paint, curly-wurleys and dresses for girls aged 3-7 for sale. And so on. And then there is the music - whilst a surprisingly large range of genres and artists is played, there is also a huge underlying love of country music, especially older stuff, which to many outsiders (and I include myself here) is one of the most baffling things about the St. Helenian lifestyle.

But (ignoring the Country Music, which in such quantities is still a strange thing to me) all those things help make the Island what it is, and I truly love it. And perhaps most importantly - and I have checked this at every possible source - there is no Kiki here, and if for no other reason I will happily put up with all the country music required. So, who fancies some Conway Twitty?

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Above, this is the Castle, home to the St. Helenian government, and open to anybody that wants to wander in, whilst below, Main Street and the town centre on a Sunday, when there is virtually nobody about at all

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For some reason, I doubt you would see a sign similar to this on a shop on most High Streets in England any more. Oh, for more innocent times...

Posted by Gelli 09:34 Archived in St Helena Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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