A bit broken, but having a blast in Bermuda
What could I possibly do after Mexico? How would anything live up to that exhilarating experience? I had flown back to the UK after I left and spent a few weeks at my parents’ house in the village I had grown up in. After I’d slept solidly for a couple of weeks and then eaten them out of house and home, I started to plan my next chapter. I didn’t want to go back to working in TV in London, I still wanted adventure. But I didn’t want to backpack either, I wanted to live somewhere for a year like I had in Mexico, really get to know the place, maybe learn a few things.
As I mentioned in my Mexican blog, I was not a great teacher. I lacked the patience and selflessness. I researched places that would let someone with a British or Australian passport live for a year and found an advert looking for recruits to come and work in Bermuda as a secretary. In between terms at university I had temped as a secretary and knew how to touch type, perhaps I could do it for a year in Bermuda? Nothing ventured nothing gained. I applied and received an email shortly afterwards saying my secretarial visa had been approved - I was off to work in Bermuda! I didn’t know anything about the place other than triangles, but that was enough for me.
I arrived in January to discover that Bermuda is sub-tropical and bloody cold in winter. Made up of 181 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda is a beautiful, tiny piece of paradise which was at the time reliant on the offshore insurance industry and the huge expat community that worked in it for its capital. It felt like an island of two populations; the young American, Canadian, British and South African expats and the Bermudians who weren’t always very happy to host them. Quite understandably.
The agency had found me a room in a 70 year old couple’s house in one of the Main Island’s nine parishes, Hamilton. I can’t remember the couple’s names, or indeed much about him, but I have vivid memories of her and her hostile temperament. Let’s call her, Mrs. B.
I had a weekend to settle in before starting my first placement at an insurance company. Mrs. B’s house was beautiful, colonial with large manicured gardens. My room was in a separate wing to the couple’s and had a large 4 poster bed and a TV. I never spent any time in the living area as it was apparent from the get-go that I should stay out of her way.
Does anything make you feel more of a stranger than another country’s grocery store? I didn’t recognize any of the food so I left the store with a grocery bag full of okra, trying very hard to look like I knew where I was and what I was doing and undoubtedly failing at both.
A friend in London had connected me with one of his friend’s who lived in Bermuda, a journalist working for one of Bermuda’s two newspapers. I called him and we arranged to meet for a drink in the week. He also told me where I could buy a bicycle which is always an early purchase for me – explore a place without being reliant on public transport. If only I knew the price I’d eventually pay for my bargain bike.
So now I had okra and wheels. That night I sat up in my 4 poster bed under all the covers, freezing and eating the strange okra stew I’d cooked up hurriedly to get out of Mrs. B’s kitchen. Memories of Mexico, the beach and my friends made me question what on earth I was doing there.
The next morning I packed my office clothes into my backpack, got on my bicycle and cycled downhill into the city to start work. It was beautiful and just as I had pictured – UK colonial architecture painted in different pastel colours, all wrapped around a harbor dotted with sailing boats and yachts. I don’t remember much about the company other than the people being very lovely, some are still good friends today.
I met up with the journalist and he introduced me to his friends and soon the doubts about my move disappeared. Until the night of the accident.
I had heard about Bermuda’s theatre from one of the other British secretaries and went along on my lunch break to see if I could help out. I had dressed sets for TV shows and always wanted to dress the stage for plays. The advantage of living in a small country or town is that there are more opportunities and Bermuda’s theatre welcomed new potential talent. Membership was free and all they asked was that once a month you volunteered behind the bar. It was after my first shift a month or so later that I got on my bicycle to ride home, hit a pothole and flew over the top of my handlebars. I picked myself up not realizing the extent of my injuries and walked to a taxi rank not knowing the number for an ambulance.
The first taxi driver refused me as he didn’t want me to get blood on his taxi. I realized I was bleeding from a deep cut to my chin. I then also realized that the inside of my mouth felt strange, my teeth razor sharp. The second taxi driver took pity on me and drove me to the emergency room. They sewed up the gash on my chin, told me I had several broken teeth and also a broken jaw. My wrist was also sprained and I was covered in bruises.
When I was discharged I got another taxi to Mrs. B’s. It was now the early hours of the morning and I didn’t want to wake her. I climbed into bed and cried, trying not to let my tongue touch any of the shards of teeth in my broken mouth.
At the time of my accident I had started at my 2nd work placement which was working for one of Bermuda’s best lawyers, which turned out to be a nice stroke of luck. When I went back to the hospital the day after the accident I discovered that dental work was not covered by my insurance. However, this tough saint of a lawyer quickly stepped in and within the day my dental work was going to be paid for, I didn’t have to go back to England. I don’t know why I didn’t want to go back to England and be looked after. I think back then I had more of a ‘bollocks to quitting’ kind of attitude. Actually, I’ve probably still got that, I just know now when it’s time to go home.
Anyway, they couldn’t start work on my teeth until my broken jaw had healed, so for weeks I just slurped my okra stew, unable to chew. All the broken teeth were at the back of my mouth, broken by the impact of my upper teeth slamming down on my lower teeth. To look at me you’d never know. The cut was on the bottom of my chin so you couldn’t really see the stitches unless you looked underneath. Everything may have been painful on the inside, but on the outside it was business as usual.
When my broken jaw had mended I started the long road to teeth recovery. Hours were spent in the dental chair over the following 9 months. I cycled – yep, I got back on the bike! – to physio every day to mend my wrist and fingers that had been bent the wrong way.
But other than all the healthcare, life was taking a turn for the better! I now had a close circle of friends from the newspaper and theatre and the weather was warming up. I didn’t want the Spanish I’d learnt from my time in Mexico to disappear so I found a Spanish night class at the local high school and rode there once a week. I also decided to learn sailing! God I had a lot of energy, why didn’t I just sleep? Spoken like a mum of young children.
So, every Thursday after work I went to the sailing club and learnt how to sail in a J24 racing keelboat. I had images of sipping chardonnay whilst sailing around bays, but in fact it was a terrifying lesson in how not to die at sea. My Uruguayan instructor had a very strict manner of shouting out orders like ‘tack’ and other nautical terms that would enable us to harness the wind, go as fast as possible and not capsize.
Just as the bruises had healed from the accident I was once again covered in them from being flung around the boat, grabbing onto anything for dear life. I remember him telling me to follow instructions otherwise I’d fall into the sea, and after a while I had a good mind to just jump in and get it over with, until he pointed out all the sharks. There were other things to look out for too, a girl from another class had lost her finger when a rope got wrapped around it. Apparently they managed to grab the finger before it fell in the water and race her back to shore for the hospital to sew it back on.
With all this excitement and now a big group of friends I needed to move out of Mrs. B’s. There was a house not far away that had always appealed. It looked like a strange, blue castle, built by someone with no taste. I loved it. The swimming pool out the front was like a moat and on one side of the house stood a turret. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a young Welsh rugby player who said the turret room was available to rent. I paid the deposit on the spot.
That house became the home to some of the most riotous parties I’ve ever seen. My Welsh flatmate’s rugby team, my sailing, theatre, newspaper and Spanish class friends came together to drink rum and be as piratical as possible.
The theatre was also starting to give me some interesting arty projects to get stuck into. I wrote a short play and was given the job of dressing the set for their latest production. In the UK I had a van and knew the prop houses, renting all the furniture and props I needed for whatever TV show I was working on. In Bermuda I had no van, no prop houses and no budget. I begged and borrowed from anyone who had a soft spot for the theatre, roping in all my friends to carry the props through the streets and into the stage door. Opening night was terrifying and exciting, just as it should be. My journalist friends wrote wonderful reviews, mainly because the play and actors were fantastic. We celebrated with a lock-in at the theatre and a party at the turret.
In London, as a sideline, I used to write restaurant and concert reviews for newspapers, so I started doing the same for the newspapers in Bermuda. I remember one particularly spectacular concert by the Beninese singer-songwriter, Angelique Kidjo, her voice the most uplifting and inspiring thing I’d ever heard.
By the end of the year my dental work had finally finished and it felt like the party was wrapping up too. I had made wonderful friends for life but all I could think about was getting back to Latin America. It was time for my next adventure. I flew back to London for a couple of weeks to see my family and then boarded a plane to Buenos Aires :)