Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the spanish hogfish

Here's another Bermuda native fish that's too pretty to eat. It's the Spanish Hogfish. Not as interesting as the Parrotfish with its sex changing ways, but it holds up its own. What it doesn't make up for in genetic marvels, it makes up for in vibrancy.

Some facts about the hogfish: as a juvenile, it rids the ocean of parasites but abandons this diet in favour of crabs, mollusks & sea urchins as it matures. It lives among corals & are very conspicuous (well that one's a given considering its colour). The males spend half their time foraging than the females do, for they busy their lives with social interaction & mating. Well, there's a case of role reversal. The meat of the Spanish Hogfish is poisonous (which is interesting because I once saw a Bermudian fisherman skin & fillet one of these & all I could think was what a pity. It's too bad I didn't have my camera to take a before shot). But if the facts are not to be ignored, what's the lesson here? Leave the pretty fish alone. It's the dull ones that are safe to eat. Ok, so maybe there's one interesting fact about the Spanish Hogfish: the male defends his territory with groups of females backing him up. Talk about getting women to do the dirty work.

Friday, February 23, 2007

all aboard

Bermuda is an island steeped in religion. Its population still holds their traditional values very dear & most of them are very clear that marriage is a union between a man & a woman. I get the feeling that being gay is definitely frowned upon by the traditional lot over here, but perhaps tolerable as long as everyone's nice. But I could be wrong. I wanted to find out more & did manage to find one website for gays & lesbians in Bermuda, only to find out it was disabled.

Personally, I could not care less if one is gay or straight. Each to his own. Growing up, my parents never talked about gays or lesbians - nothing negative, nor positive was said. Perhaps, this enabled my brother & I to form our own liberal opinions as we got older. And the irony is that our family has always been staunch Roman Catholics. In any case, I am intrigued. I'd imagine there are quite a few gays & lesbians, locals & expats alike here on the island. For a local, what is it like growing up gay in Bermuda? For an expat, are they as open about their sexual orientation as they would be in their liberal home country? Do both feel that they perhaps have to be discreet while here on the island?

And speaking of, Rosie O'Donnell is coming to Bermuda on a cruise that she has exclusively chartered for gay & lesbian families. Rosie had a similar cruise chartered last year that headed for the Bahamas but when they docked, most of the 1,600 passengers stayed on board to avoid anti-gay protesters that gathered in light of their arrival. And so this year, the cruise is going to a private island in the Bahamas, but not before stopping off in Bermuda.

Now here's where it gets interesting.
I could not find the news article mentioning the charter today. I'd imagine it was taken down to diffuse any light that may have been brought to it yesterday, in the hope of staving off any conflicts or issues that may arise. Bermuda largely depends on tourism. Given its population's divided views, how will its traditional population react to this charter? Will Bermuda's population exhibit the same reaction as the Bahamian people did? Will they welcome Rosie & co. with quiet disapproval, because it's a family affair with kids on board while also a source of tourism income OR will they have something to say about it, before the ship even leaves NY?

And how will Rosie react to the negativity, if there is any? She has long been an advocate for the gay & lesbian community in America. She is very vocal about anything anti-gay, which is all fine & dandy but turning the simplest of comments made by others into an anti-gay slur is just not happening. She has managed to make issues where there were none on the basis of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Many of her fans have been turned off attributing it to her
arrogance. Well, this is Bermuda, where it's a whole different ball game, where being arrogant is definitely definitely frowned upon, but being gay just may be tolerated as long as you are nice (but I am still waiting for confirmation on this one - so what say you?).

Monday, February 19, 2007

shiver me timbers

We had yet another day of gale force winds & this one was unexpected. What is with this weather? Somehow, I don't remember it being like this last winter. I tell you, I practically got blown away walking around town today. It's probably the first time I've worn a toque in Bermuda too! But it's essential. Not only does it keep you warm, but prevents the mussing up of hair. I think the ladies can empathize with me on this one! Male or female, this kind of wind can whip your hair in so many different directions at once, that it could only leave you with a headache. People all around town were donning their toque's too, that & a cringing look plastered on their faces. You would think offices would have pity & let people go home or stay home in the first place.

Everyone's complaining that it's too cold. Well, mostly the local folk & rightly so. Of course, it's too cold for them. I dare'nt complain, I told them. All I have to do is think about my folks back in Toronto & how it's still way below zero over there. Sometimes I wonder how I managed to get through 10 Toronto winters. Oh yes, the locals nod. You don't want to be in Toronto. Course not I say, that's why you won't catch me complaining about the temperature.
The only excuse I can make to family back home is: It's damp & so, it's a different kind of cold. But somehow they don't care to hear about it. It's not as cold as Toronto, is their retort. Well, what else can I say?

It doesn't take too long to get acclimatized to Bermuda's damp wintry weather. If you're thinking of leaving your winter gear behind, think again. We learned our lesson the hard way. No one told us to bring winter gear. You will need gloves, a scarf & a good waterproof windbreaker, especially if you're on a scooter. Oh! shiver me timbers. Don't laugh all you car owners. We still beat traffic & pass you by, all while staying toasty warm in our multitude of layers.

Friday, February 16, 2007

health benefits & you

As a Canadian, I am proud of our health care system. It's free & available to all immigrants & citizens & it's one of the best in the world. While prescription medications & dental benefits are excluded, it is covered via medical benefits provided by your employer. Premiums for these additional health benefits are not a significant cost for the employer & employee because of the nationalized coverage of basic health care. Some employers even cover all your premiums. Such was the level of care that we were used to in Canada.

When Hubby received his job offer from Bermuda, we made sure to negotiate that he & I would be covered for full health benefits with all premiums to be borne by his potential employer. We had no idea how much health benefit premiums cost in Bermuda but assumed that like everything that was reputed to be expensive on the island, this was too.

Here we are two years later, acutely aware of how expensive premiums are & how we lucked out in that department. We've learned that most companies cover half the monthly premiums for their employee & their spouses. Some just don't cover premiums for spouses at all. So, how expensive is it? Say about $300.00 a month. Yes, you read right. Thats about $3,600 a year & that's just for one person. A significant chunk of change, if you're not prepared for it. If you're lucky, your claims will be covered at 100%, for most insurance companies will only cover 50% to 80% of your claims. This again, depends on your future employer & how much more they are willing to shell out so their employees get the best deal.

The best advice I can offer for those of you looking to work on this island, is NEGOTIATE your health benefits coverage before you sign your contract. Don't be afraid that you're going to loose out on the job opportunity - you won't. Organizations here are aware of the amazing low cost health benefits that are available to Canadians in Canada & are willing to negotiate or acquiesce to your requests.
You've got nothing to loose by asking & you'd be surprised when they say yes.

Most insurance companies cover claims for dental work, prescriptions, etc done in your home land. They too, are aware of the top notch level of care you are used to, back home. You can even elect to have any required surgery performed in your home land, should you be unsure about Bermuda's surgical procedures. That & airfare would also be covered. For the rest, prescription eye wear is expensive in Bermuda, some places take up to 3 weeks to process, all because they order it from Toronto anyway (the irony never ends). Dentists are booked up on the island, especially the good ones, because there is a shortage of dentists in relation to Bermuda's population. So, you may want to schedule your semi annual visit to your dentist when you're back home. I know sitting in the dentist's chair is not necessarily what you want to be doing while you're on vacation, but you'll be better off in the long run.

Many a family member often ask us why we don't take time out to visit them when we're down in Toronto. Well, this is why - we're busy crossing things off our shopping lists & getting our teeth cleaned at the same time. It is because of this, my mantra & excuse for the past two years has been: It's never a vacation when we're in Toronto.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

customer service? don't bank on it.

Bermuda's debit card structure is similar to the US, both unlike Canada. In Canada, no matter which bank you're with, you can use your debit card at any of the millions of retailers that accept Interac. This is because all banks are nationalized & are thus efficient to offer this service. In America, the privatized banks are not about to spend exorbitant amounts of money to achieve this efficient payment structure. So like the American banks, my Bermudian bank issues me a debit card, which while has the VISA insignia on it, is not a credit but rather known by another name, the Visa Check Card. This would not be so confusing if America followed the Queen's English, for the card would be appropriately known as the Visa Cheque Card (It took me a while to figure out why they called it the VISA Check Card). Regardless of the way it's spelled, the danger with this type of card, however, is due to the direct link to your bank account, fraudulent activity is something you don't want occurring with your account.

A couple of months ago, I whipped out my card to pay for something at the drug store. It's been declined, they say. I was surprised because it couldn't have been lack of funds. I called anyway to check & sure enough everything was dandy. I figured it must have been the drugstore's system. But I couple of days later, I ran into the same problem at the grocery store. This was getting mighty annoying. I eventually went in to the bank & get a new card ordered. No explanation was given as to why the old one kept declining. Even more annoying.

Well, then came the news that a couple of months ago, a US based company, TJX Co. was hacked into.
The hacker stole customer information including their credit card info from the stores that TJX owned - stores that were in the US & Canada. Then it dawned on me that I did shop at exactly one of those stores in Georgia during our trip in June. OK, so the bank decided to play it safe & cancel my card. Smart proactive move! But you'd think they'd have given me a heads up, you know a customary call to say: Mam, we're going to have to cancel your card & reissue you a new one due to the security breach. I received no such call. But then that's how it is with the banks on the island. Customer service is a whole new ball game & perhaps the concept of Customer Service is lost on the representatives. Somehow, it's too much for them to pick up the phone to contact a customer to let them know what's transpiring with regards to his/her own account. I guess we're left to our own devices when it comes to banking & trying to get access to our own money.

Monday, February 12, 2007

got milk?

Bermuda is not agriculturally self sustainable. A common misconception is that since it's a tropical locale, exotic fruits are in abundance. After you get the once over of the island, you will notice that most of the land is taken up by housing. It is a very small island after all. Of course, there are areas owned by farmers but it's not nearly enough to feed the entire 60,000+ population. Banana trees, however, are in abundance & the bananas here are huge - definitely different from the imported Chiquita. We pass certain farm plots during our daily commute to work & anything from butternut squash to cherry tomatoes are grown at any given time. Most of Bermuda's produce is imported & transported via the sea. It can be very annoying when some produce arrives a bit wilted due to the summer heat, yet the exorbitant prices are not marked down at the grocery store. That also largely depends on which grocery store you go to. In any case, I prefer my produce to wilt after I've bought it, not before!

But what about the staples, like milk for example - If some produce has freshness issues, how does Bermuda handle milk? Well, this island does produce it's own courtesy of its very own cows. When we first got here on the island we noticed that milk was priced a tad unreasonable to what were used to - that little carton on the left there - that will run you a little over four bucks. Quite pricey because in Toronto, I could get a two litre bag of milk for the same chump change. But every thing is relative in Bermuda. We are used to the prices by now & it's not so much of a shocker anymore. There's four different types of milk one can buy, each variation is colour coded. The least messed with is the blue carton. The other variations have a certain amount of fat or powdered milk added to it. Powdered milk is also available because lets face it - there's not enough cows to produce for all of Bermuda. Needless to say, we have switched to the Blues just because we feel it's better for us. And if you're looking for a expiry date, it's a little hard to find. But it's there. Since milk is produced every week, it's just the day thats indented on the top of the carton. That's the expiry date not the number of the carton as some may think. For the new comers, this mark is lost & meaningless until someone kindly points it out & what it stands for.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

where have all the parents gone ?

Friday was my maternal grandmother's birthday. I miss her dearly. She would have been 83. She was a no nonsense sassy kind of woman, not afraid to tell you like it is, even if you were the Queen of England. But generally grandmothers are like that. If they don't already have it, they take on an air of attitude that becomes more apparent once they gain the grandmother title. The rest of the world has to just politely concede to whatever they say. But that's what makes grandmothers fun. Besides they're the only ones that can still order your parents around & that's got to count for something.

Over the past few years, Africa has witnessed an unprecedented change in population due
to the onset of AIDS & its widespread annihilation. Africa's children are finding themselves orphaned & it has left grandmothers as the only adults around & in charge. There is no one save for their grandmothers to whom they look to for their daily upbringing. Most of these grandmothers are well into their 70's, some even in their 80's. Barely able to take care of themselves, they have had to be the cornerstone for their grandchildren, some shouldering the responsibility of as many as eight children at a time, almost all under the age of 10. Unable to work, these grandmothers have had to find means of ensuring their brood are somewhat fed, if they can even manage that. Add to that they have also had to learn to administer medication to those of their grandchildren who are HIV positive. These African grandmothers are showing resilience, defying stereotypes & surprising those skeptics who are quick to stick to the old adage - the old uneducated African grandmothers know nothing about new modern medicines & will never learn on how to administer required doses. The grandma's sure showed them. For Africa's orphaned, their grandmothers are their only hope of surviving into adulthood.

For the most part, Bermuda's grandmothers are not your typical average. Most are not old enough to be grandmothers. They certainly don't look it. But yet here they are - a good 20 to 30 years from retirement, employed full time & some taking on an important responsibility - raising or helping raise their grandchildren. It's a different scenario when compared to Africa. In Bermuda, the parents are alive & well but are unable to support themselves or their new offspring because they are in their teens. They have nowhere to turn & grow to be increasingly dependent on their mothers, if not both parents. But this is not typical of most non-nuclear families in Bermuda, rather just a percentage. But for that small percentage, it's an extraordinary added responsibility & sacrifice that these grandmothers are undertaking. It's no surprise really - If you don't expect a mother to turn her back on her child, what would make a grandmother be so different? The next time you cross paths with a middle aged Bermudian woman, keep in mind that as young as she may look, she just may be a grandmother - raising & supporting two generations at the same time.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

do you speak american ?

The English language is being butchered. Some of you may not care but if you're going to learn a language, wouldn't you want to learn it right? No slang because that can come later once the language is mastered. The reason the English language is going to hell? Well, I am sorry my American friends, but I have to blame this one on your country. There is quite the distinction between American English & should I say, the Queen's English. It is quite ironic, since the first American settlers were British. Some time between the Revolution & the now, the language structure has broken down.

I grew up with the Queen's English in the Middle East & in India & couldn't fathom why Americans spelled certain words like this: colour is spelled color, labour (labor), cheque (check), behaviour (behavior) and so on. I bet you some of my American friends reading this may not be aware that there even exists a distinction. Even as I type this, the American words pass the spell check, but all my Brit words are underlined in the big red.
I always have to switch my default from English US to English UK & it's something I aim to do before using any program involving words. I think it's safe to assume Bill Gates learned American English. Thank goodness Canada follows the Queen's English. You won't find words like color, labor or check in our Canadian dictionary. Thank you very much! We may acknowledge the American variation due to the close proximity with America but that's as far as we'll venture. It was only after moving to Canada that the American misspellings were demystified - America spells their words phonetically (spelling words like they sound) & now that that's explained, my high school English language teachers in the Middle East are in the know. If they read this, that is.

You'd think that Bermuda can't possibly go wrong in this department because it is a British territory. And like all commonwealth countries the Queen's English rules. Well, not here. I am sorry to say that while Bermuda should be following the Queen's English, it doesn't. It follows America. Worse yet the American English language is broken down further. I was shocked to learn that potato is spelled potatoe. Now that's definitely underlined in red. And it also makes me squeamish. Unfortunately, I imagine a toe in potato when I see it spelled in that manner. Yes, I know & I am sorry for the image. But I should not be the one apologizing. I think it's the system & the teachers that should be apologizing to the children of today. Bermuda's Ministry of Education needs to take a hard look at its English language & grammar curriculum because they're not following the Queen's English, as they should. Bermuda prides itself on doing many things English, so why not this?
For if the teachers are confused & misguided about the English language then what hope is there?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Pit bulls are a dog breed that is fast becoming banned in countries over the world. In 2005 Toronto joined the ban on pit bulls due to an ever increasing attacks on children & other dogs. No new pits are to be allowed & any existing pits have to be muzzled when out in public. Because of the attacks & the ban everyone, including me, had a certain perception that pits were dangerous. Never mind that pit owners protested the ban stating that it's not the dog to be blamed but the owner. If the owner presents him/herself as an authoritative figure, with a firm but gentle & kind hand, pits will not turn out to be so aggressive. The growing attacks are by those dogs who have been conditioned to be watch dogs for their owners, conducive to an aggressive environment. Yeah right! That's what I thought until I met Mya.

Mya (pronounced Maya) was a 8 week old pit that we met about 2 months into our stay here in Bermuda. She was presented to MsStopYourNoise's son as a gift. When I first saw her I thought she was the most adorable thing until I found out she was a pit bull. And then I was wary. One weekend I was on the patio, gabbing away on the phone with LadyBug when out of nowhere Mya came charging toward me. I have never been so scared. I yelled on the phone: I gotta go! I have a pit charging at me. But Mya was all play & no bite. She was a pup after all. A pup that could jump up to your face. Over the period of the year, Mya grew to be our best friend. She'd escape from upstairs & make a bee line to our apartment, sit right outside our sliding door & wait. Wait for us to come out & play.

She was never allowed to be walked & I could never understand why until I was told that pits are banned in Bermuda. Some Bermudians are possessive about their belongings/ property & prefer pits as their breed of choice to guard their property. For the most part, these watch dogs are trained to be aggressive. That kind of behaviour eventually led into attacks which prompted the ban.
Since the ban has gone into affect, no new pits are allowed on the island. But Mya was recently bred on the island & clearly she was illegal & I am sure pits are continued to be bred. Yet for all the wrong reasons. No one knows where Mya came from, so don't anyone come knocking down my door asking.

But, I never thought I'd be training a pit. In a few minutes, we were able to get Mya to sit on cue (bribed with food of course). An amazing feat for Mya because she would never sit still. She was very loyal & friendly towards both Hubby & me. When we eventually started taking her for walks, we'd often get stopped. You see Mya was not only beautiful, she was also one of those rare ones. She had those albino eyes & she was a 'red nose all American white pit'. Or so strangers would tell me. I'd deny it & say she was a mixed breed - that's what I was told to say. But they knew better. They'd smile & nod their heads at the fact she was what she was. But she was my walking buddy & our walks were quite effective. Looking back, I now know that it is really dependent on the owner & how they raise their pits. It is all about being authoritative but kind & portraying that vibe, which dogs can apparently read. Sure, they have some amount of aggressiveness in them but you take them for walks, make them run to tire them out & which slaps the aggressiveness out of them.

Mya was eventually given away once MsStopYourNoise's son went away to college. We still miss her though. Every so often we see a pit like her head out the window,
whizzing by in a car, & we pause & wonder: Was that Mya?

Monday, February 05, 2007

to be or not to be

We exist in a global village, one that is made smaller & more accessible through internet existence. If you are a first generation citizen then you probably have many friends & relatives you keep in touch with from your country of origin or birth. If you're an expat then you're definitely one to work that email & get up to date on the all ongoings of your hometown. Your email contact list probably hosts a plethora of people you keep in touch at your leisure - even if your mode of communication is via forwards.

My mom's cousin passed away this weekend. He would often send us all forwards - some scary, some funny, some with adult content for us adults. Last night, as I was going through my email contacts list, I came across his name & the stark realization hit me - I won't be emailing him anymore. I am sure the rest of the family & his friends who had him on their list will soon undergo the same realization. I feel like it's almost too cruel to delete his name of my contact list. Sort of like I'd be erasing him forever. Seems silly, doesn't it?

I still have the name of one of my high school friends in my contact list, who passed away five years ago. Everyone so often as I skim through my contacts, I come across his name & am reminded of the funny person he was. Bit of a troublemaker really. But you see if I didn't have his name on there I'd remember him less often.

Friday, February 02, 2007

are you brave enough?

One of the most surprising & perhaps inconveniencing things about Bermuda is the non existence of car rentals as a mode of transportation for visitors. That rule has been implemented for good measure & reason. Sure it's a right pain for when you have multiple visitors, & have to shuttle them around in a cab or take the public transportation, but that's the rule. At one point, years ago, car rentals were in existence. But that caused an onslaught of traffic accidents as visitors (mostly Canadian & American) were not used to driving on the left hand side of the road. If you've got no traffic ahead of you as a constant reminder on which side of the road to stay on, it's just a force of habit that you would resume to driving on the right hand side. Which is the wrong side. Bermuda's round-a-bouts did not help either & probably contributed to the confusion. All these accidents could have only translated into increased red tape for the traffic police & increased car repair costs for the rental companies. To give you an idea of how expensive parts & labour is in Bermuda: SharkBoy & LadyBug's apartment move last year somehow entailed a broken window of the car they borrowed. Quote to get it fixed? $1,200.00 Absolutely asinine!

The demise of car rentals for visitors meant added business & stable employment for Bermuda's cab drivers. Scooter/Moped rentals, however, stayed but it's not as safe as it seems for the first timers. Many that opt to get on these are not necessarily ready or nearly as confident, for most have never been on a scooter before. We heard some horrendous tales of tragic scooter accidents involving visitors when we first arrived on the island. But the tales were of years past & there have been no accidents involving visitors since our arrival. And while the tales were horrifying to hear it was more to make us aware. Whether you're a visitor or a resident, the safest rule when it comes to renting a scooter is to not be a
Speedy Gonzales ♫.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

adios amigo

SharkBoy is leaving the island on the weekend. But I'm sure he'll be back - he sort of grew up here some so he's always got a home to come vacation at. We met up yesterday to bid our temporary adieus & he regaled us with more of his shark stories during dinner. Every time we meet him, he's got more shark catches under his belt to brag about. Now for the most part Bermuda does not see sharks in its waters. While Nurse sharks are common in Bermuda's waters they are not carnivorous - so nothing to worry about there. But one of his most recent catches was a Caribbean reef shark, the kind that feasts on meat. Big problem there.

First of all I was told that sharks don't enter Bermuda shores on account of the reefs surrounding the island. And I was feeling pretty good about going in the water. But then a few months later when SharkBoy caught his first shark, I'm told they manage to sneak in over the reefs when the tide is high. But no worries, they're only here to breed during the full moon & normally go back to where they came from. Still feeling pretty good. Until yesterday's Caribbean catch.
And there's only one place he goes where he knows they'll be just around the rocks from John Smith's Beach. A beach that we frequent due to its close proximity to our home & because it's not as crowded like the ever popular Horseshoe Bay. It's a good thing I'm wary when I'm in the water at John Smith's or I'd have likely made my way around the rocks to where the sharks may or may not be. I am not about to take that chance.

Anyway, I'm sure SharkBoy is going to miss his quota of shark catches, what with all the excitement that follows. Fighting the shark for at least half hour at a time during the reeling in, the sore muscles, losing a swanky cell phone in the process. All good stuff. There are no sharks where he's going & besides the climate is too cold to warrant any shark sightings.