Monday, February 14, 2005

A reader sent some questions about Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a version sanitized of personal references.

Question: I am a former Peace Corps Volunteer in the Caribbean and happened across your web site and blog. Thank you for all that work. I want to go back and read more thoroughly many of your entries

Answer: Feel free to ask any sort of question. If I don't have an answer I'll tell you.

Q: My husband and I are considering purchasing a place in St. Vincent. Part of the reason is that we have three “almost draft age” children and don’t like what is happening in the US.

A: I didn't like being drafted and I'm not pleased with the administration myself. But neither have we given up our citizenship. We looked at several islands as places to retire too before we settled on St. Vincent. We figure if it can’t work on St. Vincent it won’t work anywhere.

Q: We are Christians, but find ourselves in a great minority as we do not support Pres. Bush.

A: You may find some Christians to fellowship with. I think there are some 54 varieties of evangelicals besides the Anglican state church, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Adventists and the Salvation Army.

Q: We are not rich. My husband works for a college and I tutor at our local high school.

A: We are living on Tiaa-Cref and Social Security and what’s left from a dissolved partnership and Sally’s inheritance.

Q: But we have enough equity in our home that we are thinking of buying an apartment building (3 apartments), renting 2 to locals and keeping one for ourselves or friends and family.

A: We bought a big house with most of the inheritance and partnership, converted it to three apartments, live in one half the year, rent out another at scale to a member of the Taiwanese agricultural advisory team, and our caretaker lives in the other rent free. The tenants pay their own electric, phone, internet and bottled gas. Our rent is low—most people pay more.

Q: My husband and I were Peace Corps Volunteers in Barbados and are interested in St. Vincent because tourism has apparently NOT taken over. My question to you is how risky would it be to purchase this apartment building in the New Montrose area considering we would not be there more than about once a year for awhile?

A: Risky in what sense? If you have tenants you are less likely to have burglars. But we live in Villa which is probably less druggy but more expensive than Montrose, so the theft from us is more of fruit and garden truck than the valuables that we don’t have anyway.

Q: Do you think we could get reliable folks to manage it for us?

A: That IS a problem. We have been here for some time and have people who we trust. It took us a few years to find the people we have. We lost a lot of stuff and Sally lost a lot of orchids and we lost a dog before we figured out who we couldn’t trust, and one of the worst was the friend of a peace corps volunteer. Even the people you can trust sometimes change after a couple of years. I have no idea what we’d do if we lost any of the people we have. You can hire honest and competent professional managers but they are expensive.

Q: I have gotten the names of some local folks from a former PCV who he says are reliable and who might be willing to manage it for us. (The internet is amazing, isn’t it?)

A: You better meet them yourself.

Q: How would we be received when we are there visiting?

A: It depends. We are pretty quiet and not particularly dogmatic and thus a lot of people think we are Canadian. As it happens many of our close friends are ex-pats (Canadian or Chinese) but Vincies are generally very friendly and those we know quite well are quite close.

But I would suggest that you come down for a couple of weeks and sense it for yourself. There isn’t any of the hostility that you find in Antigua, St. Kitts or Grenada, very little of the criminality that you find in urban Jamaica or Trinidad, hardly any racism (I only heard “Honkey go home” once and then it was said in a New York accent).

People have told me that people from other islands come to St. Vincent for vacation. There are people of all shades of tan to black (but only a few percent of melanin-deficient european stock) and there is a certain snobbery based on lightness of color, but the relation is more like that on francophone islands rather than the sharp black/white line you often find on anglophone islands. There are some new stores run by (India) indians carrying chinese goods so we are getting sophisticated on the micro level, but we are still pretty caribbean at the core. But it is best to spend a couple of weeks seeing for yourself.

I would suggest emailing Shirley Jones at the Paradise Inn (, telling her I suggested it, and see what she can do for you. She is fixing up another hotel out in Argyle but the Paradise has apartments that allow you to make your own breakfast and get the day started early. She may be able to talk about people who can manage a place. And if you can come down between October and May you can see how we manage.

Q: We would like to “give back” to the island in some way if we do purchase property there and eventually would like to spend part of the year there.

A: Don’t worry—for the first few years you will be contributing to the economy a lot more than you intended or wanted to, e.g. the real estate tax is cheap, but there is a 20% purchase tax for off-islanders. After you settle in you’ll find things to do.

Q: As PCV’s it didn’t take us long to be received by locals in Barbados, under these circumstances would we also eventually be befriended by locals?

A: People say the Vincies are the friendliest people in the Caribbean, and I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary. Just remember that you are in THEIR country and the way they do things may be the way that suits the climate and the environment. When the British tried to do ethnic cleansing on the Garifuna and shipped them off to Rowatan Island they were brought to the mainland by the Spanish colonists who were starving to death. Their agricultural methods didn't work in the tropics. The Garifuna taught them how to grow food to survive.

The Garifuna, or Black Caribs, are a people of mixed african/amerindian heritage who survived the attempted genocide of the colonial nations. We still have much to learn from them.


Anyone who has questions like that, or, for that matter, questions about any of my websites, should feel free to ask them. Worst that can happen is if I don't answer!

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?