*Edit: this was written about a week before it was published! Keeping original references to how long I’ve been here.
Hello from Christmas Island!
I’ve officially been here for over a week*. Things are good- I’m meeting people, cooking a lot, and snorkeling almost every day. Settling into my groove definitely took several days, and I want to document some of the things that were strange to me (and still are!) before I forget what it’s like to be new here (as if it were that easy, my future self says, scoffing).
In my continued attempt to share what an experience is like in a specific but non-overwhelming way, here is a non-comprehensive list of Things I Am Adjusting To Here:
An abundance of wild chickens
Not just adult chickens. Huge, colorful roosters, hens huddling flocks of tiny chirping chicks into the underbrush (and they are somehow always chirping). I’ve seen countless chickens that are only what I can describe as adolescent; they have none of the cute downiness of chicks but are significantly smaller than adults- basically miniature versions of full-sized chickens.
Wild chickens are everywhere- crossing the street, in the playgrounds, kicking up dust near the phosphate mines, in the parks by the sea, roaming everyone’s yard. Even when there’s no other person in sight, there are reliably a few chickens, and somehow that makes it harder to feel lonely.
Limited, unreliable wifi
One of the first things in my host’s welcome packet (a little laminated collection of maps, things to do, information about the house) that caught my eye was this.
“Please don’t download large files or stream as we have limited data”
After 5 hours of video calling within my first few days, I saw this and (terrified) clarified what “limited data” meant. We have 20gb a month. For a house of 3 people.
Time jump: just last night we found out that we (and by “we” I mean it was probably all me) used 35% of our data within the first 3 days of it resetting. I may or may not have shopped online for a few hours. But I thought I was doing so well! More on that in a sec*.
The reality is that I need the internet for certain things far more important than my own entertainment (email, recruiting, conducting e-interviews for the podcast, the whole deal). So the result is that, in order to preserve enough audio and video calling to keep me sane, I cut all streaming (bye Youtube 😥 ). I haven’t opened Netflix since I arrived. And yes, I’m being dramatic, and yes it’s only been a week, but lemme tell you, coming home after a physically exhausting day with not much to do and not being able to open up a nice relaxing episode of Friends really sucks.
I think I was (and still am) hopeful that this will push me to change my leisure habits. Maybe I’ll pick up a book for once, God forbid. But sometimes it’s just downright inconvenient. I’m actually currently composing this post in a Word doc, since we’re going through a “bad day” of unreliable and essentially useless wifi. I don’t think I’ve ever been forced to confront my internet usage habits as harshly as I have been in the past few days, laying on my bed in a towel, wanting nothing more than to browse memes on Instagram but being unable to do so. You don’t understand the number of times I tried and failed to post on my Snapchat story yesterday. It’s physically painful.
I don’t think I’ve ever been forced to confront my internet usage habits as harshly as I have been in the past few days, laying on my bed in a towel, wanting nothing more than to browse memes on Instagram but being unable to do so.
Anyway. Complaining aside, all that is to say, if I suddenly drop off mid-conversation on Messenger or something, it’s likely because the wifi decided it was done being functional for the day. Be warned.
*I’ve started waking up at 6am to do my online work, since 1am-7am is considered off-peak hours and has a much higher data cap. And yet we still used up 35%, despite my efforts. It’s rough out here.
Speaking of wanting to relax after an exhausting day:
A physically demanding daily routine
Christmas Island is certainly a small place, and the actual part of the island that is inhabited and used for things is even smaller. However, I don’t have a car. I live in Drumsite, a suburb at the top of the hill (the hill being pretty much Christmas Island itself). Going to the water, where “town” is, is straight (and sometimes steeply) downhill. My host has kindly let me borrow a bike while I’m here, so my daily routine involves biking (read: screaming furiously past houses as I press on the brakes) down to this long, narrow descent called Heritage Walk. Also known as “The Incline,” it used to be a conveyor system (or maybe a road?) for transporting phosphate uphill.
The Incline is steep enough and has enough stairs that I leave my bike once I enter it, and from the bottom of The Incline I walk to wherever I’m headed. Going downhill, this whole thing takes about 20 minutes. It’s the coming uphill that’s hard, especially if I’ve bought groceries in town. The first week I had my 70L backpack loaded with juice, frozen chicken, produce, shampoo, and swim fins, in addition to other grocery items, and I pretty much walked my bike the whole uphill way back. It took a full hour.
Now, there is something nice about this routine. I like that I’m sort of forced to exercise every day. I like that my view takes me past wild papaya trees and frenetic starlings and a consistently gorgeous view of the ocean from higher up in the suburbs. But it’s also strange experiencing, every day, that feeling of being so tired that your mind can’t think of anything else (@ you, uphill). Maybe it’s because I’m out of shape, but I consistently feel like the uphill bike push is just 45 minutes of constantly wanting to stop but knowing I shouldn’t. I’m used to being a bit scatterbrained, using my commute or in-between time to remember things I have to do or plan out the hours to come. But that isn’t the case here. When I’m coming home, all I can think about is cold pine-mango juice and deep-fried meat.
Speaking of which:
Sky-high produce prices
I don’t think there has been a day here where I haven’t dreamed of fresh apples or fried chicken on the uphill trudge home. There are both of those here- they’re just crazy expensive. Fresh apples are $8.50/kg. Chicken is $16/kg (despite the abundance of wild chickens, I know- apparently there’s no processing plant on the island. maybe I should start running around with a net). And meals at restaurants (based on what I’ve heard- I’ve been too scared to venture to the land of eating-out-by-yourself both because of social dynamics and prices) go for about $50 a meal on average.
A few things are reasonably priced. There’s a bakery on the island, so a loaf of fresh bread is about $4.10. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a carton of custard (the same size as my soy milk) is only $4.80; I’ve since been eating custard by the spoonful whenever my body craves something sweet and fatty. Judge me all you want- I’m just listening to my body’s demands.I haven’t seen fresh, actual milk in any grocery stores- I tried coconut and settled on soy (mostly because my body is HUNGRY FOR PROTEIN). Eggs are expensive too, but our chickens (my host has 7 lovely ones in a large pen in the yard) lay often enough that I don’t buy eggs. Although maybe I should- the eggs are quite small, and we get about 5 every 4-5 days. A handful of spring onions is $7. A third of a watermelon (sliced and covered in cling wrap) is about $8. Even boxed cake mix is like $6- it’s tragic.
Of course, produce prices being expensive on an island where fresh vegetables are shipped in bi-weekly by plane is no surprise. Most locals have their own gardens that supply fresh herbs and vegetables, and most people keep chickens like my host. I can eat eggplants and papayas until I keel over. Although, finding ripe papayas in the wild is surprisingly rare- there will be days when I walk past a nearly-ripe papaya on my way downhill, mentally noting to pick it up on the way up, and come back three hours later to find it open and ravaged by ants. Nature acts quickly, I guess.
In between the produce cravings, sweaty hikes home, and forced Netflix cleanse, I do feel like I’m living in a way that’s totally different from anything I’ve ever experienced. And yet somehow, the day-to-day moments don’t feel that strange. Of course I hang my clothes out to dry on a line fringed by banana leaves and wild chickens. Of course my backpack contains a snorkel and mask at all times. Of course it’s time to eat more custard from the carton.
I don’t know what this means, but it’s nice to have something that ought to be strange start to not feel strange. Not saying that I’m getting used to the lack of wifi, because believe me, I’m not (still typing heatedly in my Word doc, missing my Instagram memes). But I’m excited by the idea that the quirks of this place, chickens and all, will become un-strange enough that I take a part of them with me when I leave.