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Archive for February 26th, 2008

I remember years ago seeing a cartoon in my ex-husband’s Playboy that pictured a tarted up babe with the look of a pro chatting to another saying, “I’m thinking of moving to another town and starting all over as a virgin.”

Living on an island 1,000 miles from anywhere massive or densely populated, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people who think that sort of transmogrification is not only possible, but seamless and invisible.

I’ve written about this phenomenon before, using the same Playboy ref, actually … I just realized this when I looked up the link … but the topic deserves a re-visit.

Because Seychelles has to rank in the top three of the most beautiful places on the planet, and Number One when it’s tropical you’re talking, a lot of people dream of coming here. (Not so many Americans, actually, the bulk being geographically challenged and most having a hard time placing the Indian Ocean on a globe.)

Most are content with a holiday, or perhaps some stint working on contract for a couple of years, but there are a resolute few determined to come and to stay.

Some, of course, are lovely and genuine people who soon get over being impressed with themselves for finding the place … many have what must be a Columbus Complex or something, somehow figuring they’ve “discovered” Seychelles … and settle into the business of living.

They introduce themselves to their neighbors, feel their way around slowly, laugh at their ignorance and understand quickly that everyone here has seen it all before.

Others, however, run on different tracks and tend to assume that we’re all DYING to learn how to do things just like they were done in whatever country they’ve just rejected in favor of these islands, and that they are exactly the people to show us all how to do it; the “What you need here is ____” types that wonder how we got by without a ____ for all these years, not stopping to consider the likelihood that someone started a ____ a while back and it tanked within 6 months.

Another group has, from the beginning, no intention of having anything to do with the way of life that recently everyone lived fairly unanimously. Until a short time ago, the difference in day-to-day between the very rich and the very poor was very small, but that is changing. It’s no longer the case that when we’re out of butter, we’re all out of butter, as now there may be butter for those with something other than rupees in their pockets, and this is tempting for some wanting the beautiful beaches, but not the logistical consequences of tiny, mid-ocean island life.

(Imagine the carbon footprint of butter flown in on a private jet! Ewww. Messy.)

In discussing between those who belong in the country … it being home, and all … the ploys entry-hopeful newbies of the “not going to fit in well” group employ, there seem to be three main categories: those who try to buy their way in; those who try to lie their way in; and those who try to bully their way in. One method works … or doesn’t work, or works only for a little while, actually … about as well as another, and all are easily spotted.

When it does work, the spot-’em-a-mile-away-trying-to-shake-the-tourist-look-crowd can be almost as entertaining as annoying.

Usually the tales that come with new imports are merely amusing, although embarrassing, diversions for those of us who have seen it all before. From the maybe-German-wannabe-tango-dancer to the South African who was “advance man for multi-millionairs”, they manage to cadge a few free drinks and invitations to a couple of barbecues, but beyond that the damage they do is mainly self-inflicted.

Most often, these folks don’t last long. Once their stories run out and the level of phoniness has been firmly established, whatever benefit they were hoping to get out of life in Seychelles dissipates, so they move along to try it all on again somewhere else, probably adding fake tales of island conquests to their repertoire for the audience at the next stop.

There are those, however, who tough it out … most likely because they burned all other bridges before investing everything in a flashy dodge that didn’t fly … and spend the rest of their lives being reminded almost daily of what an ass they were when they came and suffering the resultant lack of trust and respect … if, that is, they don’t get kicked out like the Austrian who kept picking fights with everyone who disagreed with him and the Italian looking for “investors”.

Occasionally, however, reasons for reinvention are nefarious, and it can be difficult to establish which bullshitting new arrival is playing a game of ego-boosting Let’s Pretend, and who has motivations of a more sinister variety.

As the world gets smaller, Seychelles moves closer to the rest of it, and without the protection of thousands of miles of sea and the almost uniquely exclusive isolation we’ve enjoyed here for so long the ever-increasing population of the run-of-the-mill not-so-nice and downright slimy are more likely to find us.

It has been only recently that hard drugs have made it this far, and although the years of avoiding that horror were lovely, they have created a climate in which people have not been prepared for the onslaught. People with no idea of the dangers, having never seen the devastation that crawls in the wake of drug abuse, are just now waking up to the fact that cannabis and heroin are not interchangeable party drugs.

Although the country is racing to get up to speed, education and enforcement are struggling to catch up with the much faster process of dealing and using, so there are likely to be some who figure we have a good place here to set up base and provide illegal substances in the region.

Others have come here to hide, or live openly but avoid prosecution, and we have had our famous cases of fugitives from the law of other countries.

One of the many advantages of being a small nation 1,000 miles from anywhere is the ability the country has to control who is here. It’s virtually impossible to hide in Seychelles; a population that lived with one part-time TV station for years … still the case for those of us living off the beaten track … has learned the entertainment value of neighbor-watching, and since everyone is related to everyone, those that aren’t tend to stand out.

Since sneaking in and hunkering down without anyone noticing can’t really happen, the government is in a good position to decide on a person-by-person basis who gets to come, who gets to stay and who doesn’t. The agencies in charge of making such decisions have much to consider, and potential contributions to the overall good of Seychelles comes in way higher than providing a pretty view to someone who wants to hang out on an island … unless that pretty view comes at a price that makes it worth being considered a contribution on its own.

Although I am very much on the side of grasping firmly to a status quo that even I admit sees the development writing on the wall, it is a given that Seychelles is changing and that our little population of 85,000 cousins and second cousins and uncles-by-marriage is becoming more like other places where being related to the people you run into in town is more of an oddity than a daily happening.

New people are coming, and I can’t blame them for wanting to live here. (Heck, I want to live here, so why wouldn’t someone else?) But I do wish every one would be required to pass, in addition to an international criminal background check, some sort of orientation and an exam.

The orientation would include being handed a list of items, then told to go out and make the purchases.

Sample list:

Tweezers
14″ white shoe laces
tortillas (corn or flour)
mint jelly
tire patch kit
green curry paste
aspirin
chainsaw blade
The latest Harry Potter book
Bra: Size 36 or 38 D or DD or any size in yellow
A picture of St. Michael the Archangel in wellington boots.

Okay. The last one is a joke … those are everywhere.

And the test? Breaking out the JerkDetector and the BSometer would be a start.

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