Monthly Archives: August 2015

Tropical Storm Erika

I have to admit that we were rather disappointed when Hurricane Danny dissipated and left our little island with nothing but a bit of rain (which for us Phoenix folks still seemed pretty exciting). Despite the summer time being rainy season, Sint Maarten/Saint Marten is in drought, as is much of the Caribbean. According to rumor, Puerto Rico has been rationing water for quite some time now. Besides, I’ve never been in a hurricane, and it sounded kind of exciting. And a category one didn’t seem like it would be too scary.

After Danny blew over (literally), we began to hear about Tropical Storm Erika. I assume many of you may have heard of Erika after the disastrous events of this week. To begin, let me assure you that here on Sint Maarten, we are OK. We were hardly touched by the storm. The worst damage, as far as I could tell, was to the sandy contours of our beach and to the palm trees, which lost a few coconuts. We pretty much just stayed inside during the afternoon and evening and let the rain pass.

Tropical Storm Erika on Sint Maarten
Tropical Storm Erika on Sint Maarten

Many people weren’t so lucky. According to CNN and other news media, the island of Dominica is recovering from a tragic encounter with Erika. Many people lost their homes and a few lost their lives or their loved ones. Please keep these families in prayer.

Erika is now headed to Cuba where it is expected to either dissipate or become a full-blown hurricane. Friends in Cuba and Florida, please stay safe! Our prayers are with you.

National Weather Service Hurricane Center on Erika

PS– If you have stories or photos of Erika, please share in the comments!

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What to Do for a Week in Sint Maarten

We have now been living in Sint Maarten for a week! We have a week yet to explore and enjoy before classes begin for Ben at American University of the Caribbean. We’re going on as many adventures as we can on our beautiful island home. Here are some of the fun things we have done. If you ever come to Sint Maarten, take some time to try a few of these!

1. Mullet Bay Beach

We love Mullet Bay Beach! I can’t believe we live just a short walk away. Mullet Bay has gorgeous fine white sand, warm clear water, and best of all, not too many people. There is even a little beach snack shack with umbrellas and chairs for rent.

Mullet bay Beach
Mullet bay Beach

2. Fort Louis

We took an excursion to the French side of the island last week. On the north side of the town of Marigot, there is a short hike to the ruins of an old French fort. I’m not sure if the best part is the view or the awesome vintage cannons.

Ft. St. Louis
Ft. Louis

3. Fishing

I’m not sure about the French side of the island, but on the Dutch side, one does not need a license to fish. And the fishing is good! We’ve done just about every type of fishing you can imagine. It’s fun, but the downside is that most fish aren’t edible. The majority potentially carry Ciguatera, an incredibly toxic virus that affects people quite badly. Fortunately, the little ones and the herbivores are generally clean. We made fish tacos last night. They were delicious.

Ben catches a barracuda. Can’t eat these, unfortunately.

4. Shopping

Both the French side and the Dutch side have great shopping. Most of it is pretty expensive, but what do you expect on an island? Our shopping has been limited to fishing equipment and groceries for the most part.

I'm not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I've always wanted to be a mermaid!
I’m not sure what exactly this is useful for, but I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid!

5. Snorkeling

The fish here are beautiful. There are few things more fascinating than watching tropical fish go about their little fish lives. The variety and color is amazing! So far, the coral we’ve seen is a bit drab, but the fish make up for it. The other day, I saw a scary huge barracuda and the biggest granddaddy spinefish I’ve ever seen!

One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot
One of three good watersports stores we discovered in Marigot

6. Casinos

I wouldn’t recommend the gambling, and a definitely wouldn’t recommend the bars. I’ve heard of the sketchy and dangerous things that happen in some of these bars. However, the casinos sometimes have pretty great food for a reasonable price at their restaurants! We ate at Thai Savanh’ in Stars Casino for Ben’s birthday. They have a nice patio for dining away from the smoke of the casino.

Thai Savanh'
Thai Savanh’

7. Hiking and Running

We went on Guana Bay hike with friends yesterday. We loved the views! There are so many little islands that you can see from this trail. This is just one of many hikes on the island. There are good opportunities for running, too, whether on the beach or the golf course.

Guana Bay hike
Guana Bay hike

8. Surfing

Surfing in the storm
Surfing in the storm

Ben and his friend Matt bought a couple of surf boards today and took advantage of tropical storm Erika’s big waves. There aren’t too many days with good surfing, so today was lucky. Unfortunately, Ben ended up getting thrown onto a sea urchin, so right now he’s experiencing the bad side of the:

9. Wildlife

The flora and fauna here is awesome! Ben climbs coconut palms so we can have fresh coconut milk. There are a few fruit trees here, too. I’ve already mentioned the fish, and in addition to sea creatures, there are interesting land creatures, too, like the giant iguanas that sun themselves on the golf course.

Caribbean iguana
Caribbean iguana

Until next time!

Worst Shopping Trip Ever

It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny when I was in the middle of it. Our first full day in Sint Maarten did not include the beach, fresh seafood, or any of the things you probably thought I’d do as soon as possible. Instead, we spent pretty much the whole day on biggest shopping fail I’ve ever experienced.
One of the blessings of living in or complex is a little Chinese general store just a quick stroll down the hill. It has most of the things we needed to buy, including cups, canned food, and even plates (they say “love apple” on them, whatever that means, but hey, they’re plates). It also has a lot of things we don’t need, but were very entertained by– plastic cups with anime bears, and a set of tiny drawers with the same badly-translated Chinese poem on every drawer.
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We bought some of the things we needed, but we had heard that a discount store in Philipsburg, the capitol city, was having a killer closing sale. We didn’t know how to get there, so we asked our complex’s maintenance man where the bus station is. He offered to give us a ride to Maho, where buses leave more frequently. We gladly accepted his kind offer, and he actually drove us all the way to Philipsburg, so our bus ride to the end was short. Our first stop was Cost U Less, where things might cost you less on the island but definitely cost more than in the States. Let’s just say we won’t be buying cereal here. We bought a few things and moved on to the store with the sale, Save A Lot, and found decent prices for many of the things on our shopping list– sheets, comforters, couch cover, curtains, knives and block, pillows, doormat, etc. The selection wasn’t so great, but at least we got things we needed and liked.
Or so we thought.
We took a taxi home, because no bus would be able to take us and our bulky bags. We finally made it home, and began to unpack.
Our first problem was that the curtains I chose did not fit on the rod in our bedroom. The second problem was that they looked ridiculous in the living room. We despaired of our curtains and moved on to the bedding. We slept on my wrap-around skirts last night and used clothing-stuffed bags for our pillows, so you can imaging how happy we were to have sheets. One problem: they did not fit. The sheets said that they were for a full bed, but they were about a foot too short! We bought three sets, sadly. This also meant that the blanket we bought did not fit. The door mat didn’t work either– every time the door opens, it sweeps the mat to the side.
At this point I was feeling pretty discouraged. I flopped down on our half-sheeted bed and stared dejectedly at the ceiling. Ben walked in, carrying the box that held our new knife set. “Are you OK?” He asked. I said that I was frustrated because everything we made the trip for we couldn’t use. “It’s going to be OK,” he said, as he opened the box. He slid out the knife block  and, lo and behold, no knives. Just an empty block and the cutting board that came with it. We stared at it and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Ben shook his head and burst out laughing. I laughed, too. Sometimes, you just have to have a sense of humor.
We ended up using the bedspread as curtains, the top sheets as fitted sheets, and the doormat as a rug in the kitchen. We went shopping again today and found sheets that actually fit. I don’t really know what to do with an empty knife block or those silly curtains, but sometimes you just have to take things with a shrug and laugh a little. As Ben says, stuff like this comes with being a foreigner. You just have to make mistakes and learn. You just have to let those annoying things that are different from “home” roll off your back. It won’t always be easy to laugh at the things life throws at me, but at least I’m learning.
View from our apartment
View from our apartment

A One-Way Ticket

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Our last Arizona sunset

Today is the day! We were up until the wee hours last night packing our bags, and somehow spent almost the entire day today finishing our moving preparations. It’s hard to explain the emotions of moving away from home for the first time ever. Maybe that’s because it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Right now, I’m sitting at our gate with an hour to go until takeoff. I’ll have fourteen hours to process this huge change once we are in the air.

I’m excited but sad. I’m excited because I’ve been looking forward to an adventure in the great wide world for so long, but sad because of those I’m leaving behind. Someone recently asked me what God has been teaching me through this process. One of the biggest things He’s taught me is to place less value on the things I can buy and more value on the things I can’t. In other words, I’ve learned to appreciate people even more through this move. I’ve always been thankful for the people in my life, but now so more than ever. It’s been one of the most bittersweet lessons I’ve ever learned, because I’m now moving far away from those same people. There have been so many goodbyes this month. The hardest of them happened just ten minutes ago, when I said good-bye to my family at the entrance to airport security.

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     The past few weeks have been so wonderful. We have been absolutely showered by love from friends and family. We’ve had so many encouraging notes and words given to us, so many gifts, so much generosity. My parents opened their home to us when our lease expired at the end of July. Our church gave us a special send-off prayer and blessing. Even one of the little girls in our Sunday school class brought me homemade jewelry on our last day of teaching. We’ve also had so many fun things to do. I’ve loved our “Arizona Adventures,” exploring points of interest around the state. I’ve loved our babysitting jobs for kids from the school I worked at last year. I haven’t loved the heat, but I did use that to my advantage (My sister and I baked cookies on the dashboard of my car last week).

The next few weeks will be wonderful, too. We have a week and a half before Ben’s classes start, and we have a whole island to explore– Spanish ruins, beaches, surfing, new food. I have lots of plans, but hardly any idea of what to expect! You know how you plan so much for Christmas that you hardly remember that December 26 exists? That’s how I feel right now. I’ve come to the culmination, to the end of my knowledge, and now I don’t know what comes next! I suppose that’s part of the adventure. I’ll find out what comes next when our plane touches down. Until then…

Moving to American University of the Carribbean To-Do List

BEN

Preparing for American University of the Caribbean has been a long process. Here’s  look into our to-do list since applying to AUC:

  1. Fill out application paperwork and write essays
  2. Pay application fee
  3. Receive interview invitation
  4. Celebrate!
  5. Plan interview date
  6. Be thankful you spent months studying and preparing for interviews
  7. Drive to Los Angeles. Go to Disneyland.
  8. Dress sharp and be sharp during interview
  9. Receive acceptance call
  10. Celebrate again!
  11. Send various completed forms to the school
  12. Research St. Maarten
  13. Get vaccinations
  14. Apply for scholarships
  15. Find housing
  16. Book flight
  17. Turn in notice of vacancy to apartment complex
  18. Find baggage
  19. Get rid of anything we don’t need
  20. Pack up the rest
  21. Get international insurance
  22. Dentist and doctor appointments
  23. Arrange for student loans
  24. Receive scholarship offer
  25. Accept scholarship offer
  26. Celebrate!
  27. Clean apartment
  28. Move out
  29. Move in with my parents
  30. Get rid of more stuff
  31. Make trips to donation centers
  32. Sell stuff
  33. Finish projects and tie up loose ends
  34. Explore as much of Arizona as possible
  35. Babysit, house sit, and freelance when opportunities arise
  36. Find online work for me
  37. Go shopping for anything we need
  38. Buy medical equipment
  39. Buy used things from AUC students on the online classifieds so we can set up house on the island
  40. Set up bank account we can use internationally
  41. Download digital textbooks
  42. Say goodbye to friends
  43. Have goodbye parties
  44. Decide finally what we are actually taking
  45. Pack bags
  46. Sell car
  47. Say goodbye to family
  48. Drive to the airport
  49. Fly away

Saying Goodbye

Copyright Benjamin Johnson

I don’t like goodbyes. Does anyone? This summer has been a summer of good-byes. My first good-byes were to the kids at the private school where I worked. I am going to miss them so much! I cried the night before my last day. Then I said good-bye to dozens of friends and acquaintances when I graduated. Half my class packed up and moved back home. My next good-bye was to my friend when I helped her move to Payson. I may or may not see her again before I move. I visited friends in Williams and family in Flagstaff in July and said good-bye. Three weeks ago, I said good-bye first to a friend moving home to Nevada and then to a couple who were very close to us and lived a few meters away. Last weekend, our friends threw us a goodbye party and we said good-bye to more friends. There are many more good-byes to come. As I’ve reflected on these good-byes, I’ve realized a few things. First, good-byes don’t have to be forever. In eternity, I’ll see many of these people again. In this life, there are many opportunities to reconnect. Thank goodness for modern transport and technology! We can Skype anyone at any time who is virtually anywhere in the world. I can text message some people and email everyone else. My friends can casually see what I’m up to on my blog or on our Facebook page. We can fly to see people and they can fly to see us. When I moved from Flagstaff as a child, I was sad to leave my best friend. But do you know what? We still talk, fifteen years later.  So really, it’s not good-bye. It’s just “see you later.”

Moving Out!

The long move has begun! Our lease ended on the last day of July, so we have been living at my parents’ house for about a week. It’s been a fun week, and a huge blessing to spend time with them before we go. Moving out of our apartment was bittersweet. I am excited to go and take the next step toward the Caribbean, medical school, and Africa, but at the same time it was hard to leave our home. Our first home together will always be a special place to me. I could hardly think of leaving it for the last couple weeks we lived there. What made it much easier to go was the packing disaster, the endless sorting, and the cleaning. Especially cleaning the roof of the oven. Yikes.

Before:

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After:
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We couldn’t have a yard sale because my parents’ HOA only allows yard sales on two designated Saturdays each year. The only exception is if someone dies, and naturally we had no volunteers, so we decided to sell most of our stuff on Facebook. We sold almost everything! Thank you to everyone who bought something from us. We sold all our furniture, half our books, and most of everything else. Happily, my parents gave us two cabinets in the garage to store things like our dishes, our cookware, bedding, etc. I used to be so sentimental when it came to things. As a child, I rarely threw away anything that could be used in the future. I’m still a little sentimental– I keep gifts, I keep letters, I keep cards, and I keep photos. But when it comes to other stuff, I realize that if I am going to move overseas and be rather mobile for the next ten or perhaps even twenty years of my life, I can’t get attached to much. That’s how it goes when you’re an expat.

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Even with that attitude, I found that we still have so much stuff! I think I’ve sorted through the same stuff seven times, and I have to admit that I’m getting tired of seeing the same things over and over. (I’ve had fantasies of lighting it all on fire.) Everything that is not packed right now has to consolidate into four suitcases and four carryons. Three of the four suitcases are already packed. Good thing I like puzzles.

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Ben made a very delightful discovery last week. American University of the Caribbean has a classifieds page on Facebook. I’ve already claimed almost everything we need for our household! We’ll pick it all up and pay for it when we land. It’s a great way to save money. I think everything will be between $200-$300. We just dissolved our first home. Soon, we’ll be starting over again.

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Love Where You Live

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Love where you live. No matter where you live, learn to love it. When I was a kid, we moved from Flagstaff to Phoenix, and I spent a lot of time wishing we were back in Flagstaff, in the country, in the mountains. It took me a long time to learn to love where I lived. Too long. When I finally decided to stop looking North and start looking around me, do you know what I learned? Glendale is considered the best US city for taking walks. Greenbelts, winding paths to duck ponds and play grounds– that is hard to beat. I learned that Phoenix is one of the most diverse cities in the States with a great number of different people groups, many refugee communities, and immigrants from around the world. This means wonderful opportunities to meet people with interesting stories, valuable insights, and the smorgasbord of worldviews and experiences. You can attend a church in any language. You can shop at a supermarket specially designed to reflect the tastes of any continent. You can take classes in any language. You can eat at a restaurant with authentic food from any country in the world. Every subculture lives here; every opportunity for learning, entertainment, or community service exists here. And let us not forget to mention the mountains! You have not experienced Phoenix until you have climbed our mountains. I read yesterday that Phoenix has the best urban hiking anywhere in the country. In the western Valley, you can hike Deem Hills, Thunderbird Mountain Park, or, if you don’t mind the drive, the White Tanks. In the East, the Superstition Mountains offer endless trails and hide the gem that is the Salt River. In the South, South Mountain rises high above the horizon. And central Phoenix, of course contains my personal favorites– Camelback, Piestewa, Shadow Mountain, Dreamy Draw, North Mountain, and the beautiful Phoenix Mountain Preserve trails. “Mount Wasabi” is a Phoenix Mountain Preserve peak that was just three-quarters of a mile from ACU and from our apartment. We spent a lot of time running and hiking there. Phoenix has a lot of indoor points of interest, too. The Science Center, the Musical Instrument Museum, the pro sports facilities, the art galleries, and so much more. And our sunsets! But I digress.

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I loved living in the country. I loved living in the suburbs, once I learned to. And when I moved to central Phoenix, I loved living there, too. And wherever we go from here, I’ll learn to love it there. No matter where you go, there is something wonderful about where you live. I encourage you, don’t let your location get you down. You’ll never be happy if you can’t learn to love where you live. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” He wasn’t taking about superpowers. He was talking about contentment. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Vs. 11-14). What is the secret of being content in whatever situation you are in? Allowing God to give you the strength to be OK with wherever you are. Spend time with Him daily in prayer and in your Bible. So if you’re struggling with where you live, don’t look behind you to where you used to be or pine for some future place. Instead, look around and find the beauty in your hometown and look above you to find your strength and contentment in the Lord.

Photos copyright Breana Johnson