Thursday, April 2, 2015


Right after your plane lands in Turks and Caicos, it slows down and turns around and drives back to the tiny airport. There are just a few gates, and quiet planes sit idly here and there, glinting in the Caribbean sun. Yours will be met by fellows in shorts with those drivable stairs, by and by, and when the doors open and you descend to the tarmac, the air will be hot and humid and the sun will make you squint. Inside, you’ll line up at immigration, in any lane but the far left one, for this one is saved for Belongers.
Airport, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

The big man ahead of us in that immigration line is pissed about how slowly and carefully the agent is reading and stamping everyone’s passport. He turns and grumbles to us about it. We’ve come from New York with him, so we understand his pointed complaints. “The smaller the country,” he says, “the bigger the STAMP.”

In the taxi from the airport (an ordinary Ford Club Wagon with the steering wheel on the left as it would be in an American car), the driver speaks only slightly accented English. They take dollars, and use the same electric plugs as we do, but they drive on the other side of the road, anyway, just so you know there’s something slightly hinky about the whole place. The driver tells us to go to the Fish Fry on Thursday, and, “Don’t buy your wine at the hotel. They’ll charge you $80 to $100 for a bottle and you can get it at the IGA for $20.”

As he pulls up to our hotel, the driver tells the other couple who have to wait while we were dropped off, “Keep your eyes peeled. There are often celebrities here.”

He goes around the back of the van for our suitcases. As I slide out the door, I muse aloud, “How do you know we aren’t celebrities?”

The next day we go to the IGA, in another cab. Everyone in Turks and Caicos brags about the IGA, like it’s a point of pride. It’s a nice store. It resembles a grocery store in the U.S. in every way, being filled with food shipped from the states, with the bonus of Jamaican hot sauces and proper British candy. There is a guard standing just inside the automatic doors, and a taxi pickup lane out front.

Loaded with groceries, we wait 20 minutes past the time we had agreed on, so our relief is real when our cab driver returns in that tiny, spotless dark blue Toyota, with the fat tassel hanging from the rear-view mirror and a hardback copy of Sue Grafton’s “W is for Wasted” on the floor next to him. He gestures us into the minivan, whispers an apology, and resumes his animated phone conversation in Haitian Creole. The conversation continues until we are back at the hotel.

I never stop thinking about not being a belonger the whole time I am in Turks and Caicos. I haven’t yet stopped wondering about it. Where am I a belonger at all?

We sit on the beach every day, in the shade of an umbrella. I swim in the ocean. I finish a book and start another. We go to the Fish Fry.

The water is even more turquoise in person

On every trip, there is a day of reckoning. The last day. If you oversleep, like I do, you have to be woken and told it’s time to pack. I pack like a child, shoving everything into my suitcase without any regard for what’s clean and what’s dirty, or whether I will get home with sand from my shoes in my sun hat, or if the sweatshirt will be easy to reach when we land in New York.

It’s going to be a long, awkward day. We have to be out by 11, but our flight isn’t until 4. We try to eat up the last of our fruit. We leave our computers plugged in until the last possible minutes, as if we believe we have to suck every last bit of charge from the walls. It is dangerous work, with the fruit. It’s all underripe and overpriced, and the knives are flimsy and not sharp enough.

My husband is folding all his clothes neatly, including his dirty clothes, and even his running clothes. But I go in the bathroom and discover his toiletries are still out. “Your toiletries are still out,” I call to him.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he says.

I find he is still sitting at the kitchen table. He’s found an online review of the local airport, where the planes land and turn around and slink up to the terminal so  another waiting plane can land. “It says get there two or three hours early,” he says. “There is someone here who says it’s the slowest airport they’ve ever been too, including the developing world.”

So we will go early.

It’s not a big airport. Security seems so slow we wonder if it's shut down, with a long zig-zag of lanes on the right, packed with immobile clumps of sagging people. We see that on the left is a shorter lane. No one is checking tickets or IDs at either lane, nor are they directing people into one lane or the other, so we pick the shorter line.

My husband breezes through the x-ray ahead of me. I have a uniformed guy appear from nowhere, walk over, pick up my quart-sized plastic bag of liquid toiletries, turn the bag over in his hand, remove first one and then the other of two small bottles of expensive sunscreen and say, “You can’t take these.”

Now, if I had been in Pittsburgh, I might have asked why and offered an argument. I had come in with them, after all. But I am in a small Caribbean country, and my goal is to get home without unnecessary trauma. I say nothing about the sunscreen as the agent pockets the bottles.

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