Thankfully not the Hell of Dante’s Inferno, where the woods are filled with wild beasts and fortune tellers are forced to walk with their heads on backwards, but rather Hell in Grand Cayman. Now some might consider the hordes of shorts-clad tourists disgorged from cruise ships in Georgetown as the modern-day equivalent of Hell, but the island really does have Hell.
For travellers interested in more than the gewgaws on sale at the wharf, a short bus ride to West Bay in the north west corner of the island will lead them directly to Hell. It doesn’t take long, either to get there, or to visit. Ten minutes is enough time to view the blackened calciferous rock, not much bigger than half a soccer pitch, and if so desired to purchase a postcard that will be franked ‘Hell’.
But I was in Grand Cayman for the opposite of Hell, and the quote from Inferno that entreats Dante to, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. We were there for a wedding, arguably the most hopeful day of a couple’s life.
For the expatriate, finding a suitable wedding venue can be tricky. “Aah,” I hear you mutter, “here we go again, the hard-done-by expat.” But think about it for a moment. The groom came from Scotland via Australia, the bride born in Singapore to English parents, with a stop in Scotland where unbeknownst to both they lived mere miles apart, to meet along the bayous of Houston, Texas. No matter where they chose to say their vows, someone would have to cross an ocean. So why not invite both sides of the family, not to mention friends, to spend a few days getting to know each other at a neutral place? It might be many years before the next family gathering.
We have known the bride since she was three, when we all lived in Singapore. She was an obdurate little girl with brooding brows but a quick smile, who has turned into a stunningly beautiful young woman; and her groom, resplendent in a kilt, whilst not brought up abroad has the sense of adventure and curiosity so needed for a life on the move. His parents, from a small town just west of Aberdeen, know and accept their son is likely to remain on the expatriate path.
That can be hard a truth to swallow. Knowing day-to-day contact will not be possible. Knowing future grandchildren will not be a part of their everyday life, but rather precious snatches of time throughout the years. It is something my parents-in-law had to face, and their attitude and willingness to accept a different style of grandparenting was one of the greatest gifts they gave me.
It is not always easy, the merging through marriage of a TCK to a non-TCK. We tend to be a restless breed, which is not to say we are unhappy in a place, but there is an element in our souls which unwittingly looks ahead to the next locale. I was fortunate, in that marrying a man met in Papua New Guinea gave an indication to the kind of life we would lead. Our daughter married a much-journeyed man from Trinidad; someone who understands her desire for adventure and who is able to adapt to changing situations. The bride, this last weekend in Grand Cayman, has chosen a similar groom, someone open to new experiences.
And that is what is so important for our TCKs, those who have a wandering soul though not a wandering heart. Finding a mate to share their life, someone who understands their desire to travel, and not just for a two-week vacation to a tropical island or a ski-resort, but to truly see the world, to be immersed in new cultures whilst retaining elements of their own. To be open to sudden changes in plans, when a proposed relocation to Venezuela turns into an actual relocation to Thailand. When a three-year posting becomes a twelve month stay, with a home newly moved into and boxes barely emptied.
So before your eyebrows raise in despair at the occasional moanings of an expat, think a little about the practicalities of such a life. Of the conundrum we force on our TCK children, not just about schooling, about constantly having to make new friends, about the regular and always tearful goodbyes, but about the choice of a life partner. Someone who will understand and accept their colourful counterpane background, made up of many countries and cultures.
If a prospective mate is unable to do that, then their life together could very well lead to Hell.