Welcome back to the Small Countries Outpost, our attempt at giving a human face to the issues that disproportionately affect small countries. In the last few posts, we highlighted social, governmental and economic issues as we see them as farmers and entrepreneurs on the small island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. For this post, my business partner Keane and I wanted to share some of the more pervasive realities we have experienced with small-island living. Fasten your seat belts: Today we tell our tale of trying to fix our truck and deliver produce. We just might build a shed and share some lessons along the way.
Fixing our truck
Our driver Eddie (pictured here with me and Keane) delivers Standard Hydro’s produce daily around the island, and the headlights on our truck were broken. In the United States, if you need your car fixed, you take it to a mechanic and pick it up when it is done. Here? Not so much. Before you can even make the repair (yourself), you need to find the parts. After going to three auto supply stores, our last hope, we were told, was a man named Charlie, who would have the parts we needed.
Navigating around the island is not as simple as plugging an address into Google Maps. GPS doesn’t work very well to negotiate the island roads because most businesses are not listed online, and street addresses are more relative. We have to ask people for directions along the way, and most addresses are described using local landmarks.
To find Charlie, after asking at a few corner shops, the best directions were, “He’s down past the church on the right, but don’t go past the pink and white building—that’s the white building with pink shutters, not the pink building with white shutters. If you do go past it, you’ll need to turn around at the cemetery—just don’t go in the first entrance, it’s a dead end—and come up one block by the government office—headquarters, not inland revenue—because this street is a one-way, so if you’re in a car you’ll have to come up the other way.” While this is very different to how we find places in the States, these directions eventually got us there. A half-hour later, we finally made it to Charlie’s (who operated out of a store named Jophil’s, of course) only to discover he had no more headlights.
“The pink and white building – that’s the white building with pink shutters, not the pink building with white shutters.”
Charlie could order the parts that we needed, and it would take two weeks to receive them. Our solution in the meantime? Complete all the deliveries before nightfall until the truck is safe to drive in the dark. We needed to contact Eddie to let him know all this. Eddie does not text much because pay-as-you-go charges rack up fast, and most people do not use smart phones, so email does not get the job done. Keane and I noticed that we got so used to “paper trails” to confirm every aspect of our daily lives that we had to re-train ourselves to rely on good old-fashioned phone calls and face-to-face interactions. It turns out, they get the job done too.
Building a Shed
As we have grown our business, we have tried to source everything locally. If we were in the U.S. and needed to build a shed, we would just jump into our car and drive to the local hardware store for the materials and tools we would need. In St. Kitts, we visited two of the three major hardware stores, and three of the five mom-and-pop shops for the shed parts. One was out of cement mix for the floor, another only had half of the needed lumber, and the rest carried an assortment that could be used as most of the needed remaining items. Calling up contractor friends and using old scraps helped us complete the job from there. We were lucky that for this project, we did not need to order something from the States, which is costly and takes time. We also had most of the tools we needed, or could borrow them, but that process would be another labor of love if we didn’t have them.
Compared to previous posts where we talk about big-picture issues like nutrition, smallholder farming and the role of government, this update might come across as an airing of grievances or an ode to Home Depot. In reviewing previous posts, though, we realized that there was a very human element missing about the spirit of small-country living.
We have learned that completing projects and tasks in St. Kitts requires a tremendous amount of planning, follow-through, long hours and, ultimately, a do-it-yourself mentality. It took us a while to learn how valuable this DIY skill is, and we’re perfecting it as we go.
More than that, we learned to keep it simple. Legwork and person-to-person conversation solves problems much faster than Googling, texting and emailing. Now, the most high-tech we get is tracking information in a spreadsheet or sharing a document on Google Drive (mostly between the two of us). We cannot speak for people in all small countries, or even for everyone in St. Kitts. But we learned these values of hard work, creativity and connecting personally from our Kittitian friends and neighbors. For two entrepreneurs in their mid-twenties, we feel these are invaluable to our future development, and an important part of the small-country story.