Top Bunk in Room 603
It’s 5:27am. I logged 2 hours and 58 minutes of sleep last night (thank you FitBit for keeping me honest). And while that revelation may have made you cringe, know this -- I consider those three hours to be a major victory in my ongoing battle with Zzzzzzzzzzs.
Let me get something out of the way early on. It’s hot here. Like really freaking hot. And I know you might be thinking, obviously it’s hot Lindsay. Where did you think you were going?
I’m going to pull back the curtain for you. My dad owned his own plumbing, heating and air conditioning company so the majority of my life has been surrounded by A/C and great water. Even when Jim put the timer on the water heater in 1997 after our French exchange student emptied the tank in one shower, those seven minutes were ah-mazing.
To lay it out nice and clear, I’ve lived a very extravagant life when it comes to utilities, ok?
I guess I should also start by telling you I’m living in a condemned middle school. If we are going to paint this picture, I want to make sure I do it right. It’s a condemned middle school, not far from the airport and when we pulled up at 6:30pm Monday night -- in the pitch black -- it felt exactly how I imagine The Walking Dead would have played out in the Caribbean.
It’s one of the those warm weather schools, where all of the buildings are connected by walkways. I imagine at one point in time it was very beautiful. The courtyards are filled with tropical vegetation, now overgrown and forgotten, and there are bright, colorful murals on the walls (the inspirational quotes are a little cheesy for my taste but I get it, not their target demographic). The cafeteria is now ground zero for everything All Hands & Hearts related. I’m currently sitting outside of it, waiting for someone with some authority to wake up and let me in so I can make some coffee.
The bedrooms are old classrooms. There are three of them, right in a row. Each room is packed, crowded from wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Many of the volunteers have been here for months so as the cycle of volunteers has continued, the veterans have wisely boxed out their only little corners of the room to the point where every inch of storage space is taken. Ten to twelve bunks, one right next to each other -- towels and sheets hung in between to provide a sliver of privacy.
Small pieces of plywood have been erected into dinky shelves to hold hairbrushes, first-aid kits. Frustrated with my own lack of storage options and battling a lovely case of heat-induced insomnia, I started planning my own plywood shelf -- right above my bed, where I can keep my giant bottle of bug spray and ear plugs. The motto seems to be: whatever you can do to make life seems easier here, go for it.
The classrooms-turned-bedrooms have fans. Still, the majority of the volunteers have tied up box fans to point directly at them while they are sleeping. And the sole generator is set up to run throughout the night to keep them all on. Now I get why. It is so hot here at night that after struggling to breathe normally, I got up to run my clothes under the water in the bathroom, put them on soaking wet and climbed back up into bed where I was able to fall asleep until they dried up again.
It was ungodly miserable.
Again, spoiled with great utilities my entire life (my boyfriend who grew up in a 100 year old house without air conditioning is no doubt rolling his eyes so hard at me right now).
So my mission today is find a fan, find some rope and rig up my own little cooling system in hopes I get some actual sleep tonight. There’s a K-Mart on the island and one of my bunkmates -- a woman from New York named Sue -- told me we can get them for $24. There’s also a hardware store in walking distance but we’ve been told not to walk anywhere alone so my options are somewhat limited (I’m also super excited to report that cat-calling is alive and well in St. Thomas and I’ve been told I should expect it every time I leave base).
Snark aside, this set up in incredible. What this team has been able to put together in 14 months blows my mind. For many here, it is comfortable. And that’s what I hope to find. Some comfort, a feeling of ease in what is without a doubt a full disruption to my normal, everyday life. Mosquito netting over beds, bathrooms without working lights, dish washing duties on the lawn where you use a garden hose to clean everything up. My one meal so far was amazing -- there is a chef onsite, a volunteer with actual training who welcomed me to base with a delicious salmon burger and apple walnut salad.
The softest pink is starting to peak up over the cafeteria, the roosters up and down the hill telling me it’s time to get going. No one else is awake yet. There is no coffee. But there is a cold shower calling my name.
**Editor’s Note: I was able to procure a box fan after a very poorly-timed trip to K-Mart during rush hour. Shocking no one, prices on the island are high.
No word yet on whether it will solve my sleeping woes but I’m hopeful.