By Kimberly Nicole
Did St. Lucia break any heat records that day? I can’t remember, but I do remember being hot and dehydrated and sunburned. My friends and I were at Street Jam for the night, but the heat had not gone to bed with the sun. The humidity seemed to always be competing with the temperature. If the day was 89 degrees, the humidity had to best it and be at 91 percent.
We had spent the whole day at Laborie Beach under the shade of a coconut tree drinking from its fruit while joking, reading, snacking, and the like. I went swimming a few times fully exposed to the sun, thus explaining the dehydration and sunburn. Whatever punishments the sun saw fit to administer were worthwhile to spend some time among my fellow Americans. Weekends with my fellow Americans were an emotional haven where we could drink cheap beer without judgement and relate to each other. We lived too far apart to meet after work during the week, and it wasn’t safe for us to be on the beach alone. We would spend enough hours on the beach together during the weekends to get us through the weekdays.
We were spread throughout St. Lucia as literacy volunteers during the work week. I had doubts about the efficacy of my work on the island. My job was to facilitate teacher training which was ironic since many of the teachers I was supposed to be training were just as educated and had been teaching for far longer than my laughable two years. The irony was not lost on the local teachers. To add insult to their injury, they viewed me as a white girl even though I am of mixed race, and wasn’t it just like the United States to send a bunch of young, ignorant, white people to tell black people how to do their jobs? One teacher commented that maybe the United States needed Lucian volunteers to teach their children how to not shoot up schools. St. Lucia had never known a school shooting within its borders and so hardly looked to the United States as a model for how they should run their public school system.
I felt like I was wasting my potential on that island. The locals tolerated my presence and in truth, I didn’t love being there either. Should I quit my two-year contract but go somewhere I could be of value? Or should I fulfill my contract but waste two years of my life? I agonized over the decision to leave.
That particular Friday was a holiday so we were able to spend it at the beach and then go to Street Jam. Street Jam happened every Friday night in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. It was like your neighborhood block party but Caribbean style. Mothers were there with all their baby daddies. They brought their kids who would sell you weed and pick your pocket. The music was great and blared over one giant speaker. Tourists and locals all crammed together on the dance floor drinking rum. The whole party happened in the middle of the street.
A vendor eyed my sunburn as she sold me aloe and said, “What go in sweet to de goats mouth come sour out de otta side.” This Caribbean saying was about life choices and could be applied to any number of situations including my sunburn which apparently looked that bad even in the dark. It meant that not everything that is good to you is good for you. Grass tastes sweet to a goat but is quite different on the way out. The sun feels nice but it will burn you and then give you cancer.
Street Jam was packed that night only adding to the heat. Vendors were selling grilled meats and hundreds of sweaty bodies were grinding on the dance floor. I felt faint after my first rum punch. When the noise began to fade away, I knew I had to change my surroundings or I would pass out in the middle of the street.
Fainting was nothing new to me. God gave to me the fainting goat as a spirit animal because he hates me. I have had vasovagal syncope episodes my whole life. The doctor told me there was nothing to be done about these episodes after a multitude of tests. He said syncope wasn’t normal but that it wasn’t abnormal either. He thought I’d grow out of it, but I never did, and now I just had to cope with the episodes. This one was surely brought on by the heat, dehydration, and rum.
I bought a bottle of water and excused myself to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet lid for a few minutes with my head between my legs making sure to breathe. The cramped bathroom was even hotter than outside, but at least I could take the time to compose and hydrate myself. The problem with my fainting in public was that I often seized while unconscious even though I wasn’t having a seizure. An episode looked worse than it was causing an undue amount of panic.
I collected myself in the bathroom and went back out to join the party. I danced a little with my friends but the noise again began to fade along with my surroundings. My vision blacks out before I faint so I knew I had better find somewhere to sit with my head between my legs again. Not wanting to worry anyone, I said I’d be right back and went to sit down alone in case I died. This is dramatic but fainting does feel like what I imagine dying feels like, and I guess that I am the type that wants to be alone when I die, like a dog.
Dogs have it the worst on St Lucia. They’re security systems not pets. It’s common knowledge on the island that your dog must be chained its whole life and beaten often. Sometimes, a regular beating results in death. I once saw a man pour boiling water on his dog. Stray dogs have a better life than kept dogs on St. Lucia, though, I did once see a stray dog eating another dead stray dog.
There was an empty block of concrete right outside the dance floor that I sat on with my head between my knees. I thought I might be okay and waited for the feeling of nausea to pass. It was just so hot.
I think I’m drowning but it’s just water being splashed on my face. My friend is standing over me which means I must be lying on my back. She’s screaming something but my hearing hasn’t returned yet. I look to my left and see the concrete block where I was sitting. Whoever was splashing my face with water has stopped. I feel clammy. I must have fainted.
My friends are pooling their money to see if there’s enough to get me home in a taxi. The music is still blaring, the crowd still dancing, and people are walking around me mildly annoyed that I’m sitting in their path. I reach for my purse to add my money to the pot and realize that someone has stolen my purse off my unconscious body. “Te ya chouw la,” someone said to me in patois which means something like, “move your ass.” And move my ass I did, right off that island.
Kimberly Nicole is an American living in Hong Kong who is often mistaken for a Canadian. She has lived in three countries and visited many more. She posts her travel photos on occasion to Instagram at @k1m_b3rlee.