My life here is so different from the Netherlands. First, of course, for obvious reasons, like the weather, our lush rainforest, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables from farm to table.
The main reason however is, because I am different here. It feels like home here, like I have never felt in the Netherlands. A long time ago, someone told me I am a black woman who happens to have a white skin. And you know, that is precisely how I feel. Society accepts my body type here, where it is not really accepted in the Netherlands, especially not in the financial world where I worked for years. And please remember this is my view and how I perceive it, but if you did not wear high heels, was wearing a size 0, you basically did not count.
Life in Dominica is not easier, but it is definitely simpler. And, more importantly, it suits me. Without trying, I fit in. I mean, I do stand out because of my very fair skin and blond hair. The many compliments on my appearance I consider to be an ego boost for sure.
In my upcoming book called “Unboxable”, I talk about this subject. You can read the back cover here. I always felt I needed to use my pleasant girl strategy to make people like me, almost erasing who I truly am. For example, I used to wear black clothes, even though I love bright colors. When I moved here, I could finally take off my proverbial itchy cardigan and be me.
The many differences between Dominica and the Netherlands.
After 4.5 years of living here, I see many differences between Dominica and the Netherlands. Let me tell you about a few that amaze me, and other times they annoy me.
One significant difference is that people greet each other in the street, whether they know you or not. I traveled on the same bus to work for 10 years in the Netherlands, and sometimes even the bus driver couldn’t bring himself to say good morning at 7am.
After my month of contemplating if I should stay in Dominica, yes or no, I started working as a volunteer at a small preschool. Read my Blog if you want to know more about the places I have lived since moving here. I walked to work every day, downhill in the morning and uphill around 1pm, the hottest time of the day. That hill is steep, and at first, it took me several stops to make it to the top. Often, there was someone to cheer me on, telling me, you can do it, sister. And lo and behold, after about 3 to 4 weeks, I could walk up without stopping. And l was losing weight at the same time.
Do not worry, this will not be a story about stamp-collecting, even though you absolutely can collect Dominican stamps, of course, because they are beautiful.
No, there are other ways Dominica uses stamps, other than for postage or philately. Here on our beautiful island, stamps are a form of payment, often connected to government services.
Work permit renewal.
Every year I have to renew my work permit and connected residency. As the Netherlands does not allow us to have dual nationality, I am refraining from applying for citizenship. I will eventually apply to become a permanent resident in a few years from now.
Renewing my work permit is quite a journey. First, I get my passport pictures taken and buy stamps as payment for my police record. You can only pay with stamps, as cash is not allowed. Once you have paid and the clerk has written down your information, you hand over two pictures and collect your record the next day, a beautiful handwritten document with a stamp on it.
The next stop is the immigration department; bring your passport, prior work permits, application form filled out, employer letter, and of course, your proof of good behavior. If the officer agrees that everything is in order, you go to the treasury department to pay the first fee. And three weeks later, your work permit is ready. The entire process can be annoying.
What happens next?
This is not the end of the journey, though. The next stop is the Inland Revenue Division, where you have to pay another fee. For the interview with the passport officer you bring the receipt and the confirmation letter. And then, and only then, you finally get the much-anticipated proof in your passport.
As this process takes at least four weeks, you have to make sure you plan this carefully and in time. This year I received my 3rd permit; therefore, in 2024, I will be able to start the process of applying for permanent residency.
Stamps validate a letter.
At some point in time, my employer authorized me to collect government cheques. For the authorization letter to be valid, I had to buy a 25-cent stamp and present the letter with the stamp on it to the Treasury department.
This week I cancelled the car insurance for vehicles that we sold. All the necessary documents were lost in moving office several times, so I filled in an affidavit to state what happened. Once the commissioner signed the affidavit in the courthouse, it was validated with, yes, you guessed it, stamps.
One bouillon cube, please.
Communities in Dominica are small; even the capital Roseau only has about 13,000 inhabitants. Hence there are a lot of small corner shops to accommodate everyone living in these communities. The major supermarkets are in Roseau, but not everyone gets to shop there. Selling items per piece is a brilliant way of still making a sale, for sure in these economically trying times.
I often see bouillon cubes, instant coffee sticks, and sometimes even cigarettes sold one at a time. I simply love the fact that this solution works for both the customer and the shop.
A trip down memory lane.
Sometimes I enjoy roaming around in a shop to see what is for sale. You never know, I might find fun things for my program. Or interesting finds I never ever expected to see in Dominica. Read my Breadfruit House Blog here about the importance of offering materials in good condition. And new finds are always welcome.
And on one of those days, I saw something I did not know still existed, a box of carbon paper. And not only that, you could actually buy just one sheet. I am not sure how you would carry that home, to be honest. Imagine being able to buy one or two sheets. I honestly don’t recall the price; It cannot be much, though.
Carbon paper is still in use in many offices, for example because a lot of receipts here are still handwritten. At this point, I do have to make a confession; I have a small project where I will need it myself in the future. Let me tell you about that next time.
From the Nature Island,