Continued from last time
A big part of me yearned to return to London, but the recession was in full swing- and job opportunities were few and far between. And, as Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey: “If adventures won’t befall a young woman in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” So, heeding Austen’s advice, I headed east to Grand Cayman (pronounced kei-man) - a place of sugar white beaches and waters so clear that you can see every crevice and crustacean.
Any tour of the islands (there’s Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) is bound to include a visit to Seven Mile Beach – a stunning stretch of sand pictured on every postcard. Nonetheless for all its fame, SMB - as Caymanians call it - remains remarkably unspoiled and you can still stroll its length before breakfast, and barely see another soul.
A boat trip to Stingray City and Sandbar, a sandy shallow spot where you can meet the Cayman Islands’ most famous residents – southern stingrays – is another must do, for visitors and locals alike. On any given day, you’ll find hundreds of black, velvety stingrays doing what they have done for aeons: feeding and frollicking in the waves. As you enter the water, the stingrays will swim right into your arms – talk about mesmerising experiences!
Of course while the sand and sea (Cayman boasts some of the Caribbean’s best diving) is the biggest draw, there is life beyond the beach. From the Turtle Farm (Columbus saw so many sea turtles when he sailed through the region that he names the islands ‘Las Tortugas’), to the 65 acre Queen Elizabeth 11 Botanic Park (where you can get up close and personal with the endemic blue iguana) and the Disney-esque capital: George Town.
I shared a house with Sonja, a South African girl, and we lived next door to a young Scottish couple called Christine and Ross on one side and a British guy, Ben, and Canadian girl, Alison, on the other. Collectively we resided in a cul de sac that we affectionally nicknamed Wisteria Lane - the fictional street in the hit US TV show Desperate Housewives - because it looked so immaculate as to resemble something straight out of a glossy sitcom. My spacious room, complete with an ensuite, cost the same as the match-boxed sized ones I had rented in London but was world’s away - both literally and figuratively. Rather than overlooking skips and such, our blued hued house backed onto a communal pool - next to which our small group used to spend Saturdays toasting on a sun lounger, Bob Marley blaring, while quaffing cocktails we’d concocted in kitchens Martha Stewart would be envious of.
Slumbering in the sun, while the relatives I was waving to on Skype shivered through a London winter, I couldn’t help but feel slightly smug. In my initial desire, nay obsession, to return home once my time in the UAE had come to a close, I’d forgotten that life in London isn’t always appealing.
People in Cayman might not religiously read the Evening Standard on the commute home (or indeed endure any commute, so small is the island) but that doesn’t make them uninformed. Caymanians, I learned, have many interests - scuba diving, surfing, golf, church, raising chickens, catching up with family and friends over conch fritters - and would balk at paying half their monthly salary to live in a cold, concrete jungle.
Yet as idyllic as island life may sound, working in Cayman wasn’t quite the proverbial beach. I had been hired, in June 2008, by a small design company to help relaunch a real estate and luxury lifestyle magazine both on island and in luxe neighbours, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. However, thanks to a patience testing visa process and the small matter of a minor hurricane, by the time I finally arrived on island some five months later, the economic crisis in which the US and Europe was embroiled, had hit the Caribbean.
Consequently it was hardly the right moment to relaunch a magazine all about ostentation - and a tsunami of fear was sweeping the office, as the small team of staff (rightly) worried about redundancies. Subsequently save for a few friendly faces - thanks Aida and Tessa! - my new co-workers were less than welcoming. In particular two ladies, Claire and Kyle, went out of their way to make my working life as unpleasant as possible.
At this point in time, it’s all water under a bridge so I won’t waste space by waxing lyrical about the (many) underhand stunts Claire and Kyle pulled. However if I tell you that they’d deliberately change the time of important client-publisher meetings (without letting yours truly know), ‘blank’ me, both at industry events and within the office, refuse - even in week one - to invite me to join them for lunch, and criticise any copy I produced (I could have written a Pulitzer prize winning novel and they would still have ripped it to shreds) for starters, you’ll get the gist.
I recall crying down the computer to Diana - my best friend from Dubai - about the cold shoulder, my catty colleagues were giving me. Diana would, without fail, reply that it didn’t matter if I was about as popular as book by Gordon Brown, so long as Claire, Kyle and I could figure out a way to work together. But to me, a sensitive soul who needs to be liked, it mattered - big time.
Initially I found it ironic that a place as paradisiacal as Cayman could boast a village called ‘Hell’, but hell proved a fitting metaphor for my working life. Employees, like Tara, were tossed aside as the fiscal crisis worsened and, at the end of each month, those of us left would cross our fingers that the pay cheque would arrive - and then dash to the bank, and spend our lunch hour queuing to cash it. Friends and family back in London thought it archaic that my company still paid its employees by cheque in the 21st century. Those of us working there were just happy to be paid, full stop.
After six months I became the latest casualty, as the company sought to sure up its coffers. My reaction? Relief (financial implications not withstanding). I had been suffering from severe stomach problems as a result of work related stress and dreamed of leaving but was worried about where, in the midst of a recession, I would/could go. Now at least, I hada legitimate ‘out’. The down side? Caymanian law dictates that anyone not in employment has a fortnight to find work (which back in 2009 was mission impossible!) before being turfed off the island.
And so it was that I found myself hurriedly packing up my belongings and bidding goodbye to island life. I wasn’t alone however: my housemate, Sonja, and neighbours, Ben and Alison, were also made redundant from their respective jobs and forced to book a one way flight home, fast.