Manquile and I have been living in Saipan for a year and a half now. Sometimes it feels like we just got here, and other times it feels like we've been here forever — time is very strange here, in the land of perpetual summer and very little seasonal variation. All in all, there are very few things that I really miss about the mainland US...but one thing I had never even considered a privilege is the ease we always had in finding decent places to live.
Housing here can be insanely, crazily cheap. The cheapest places I've seen are $150/month. Standard prices are closer to $400-650. When we found out how affordable all this was, we were ecstatic — this would be a welcome break from the $1,700/month place we had in California. Sadly, we soon found out it's not the cheap island dreamland we had envisioned. Sure, housing might be affordable, but you kind of get what you pay for. I'm not fancy, and I don't need some kind of done-up mansion, but the first place we moved into was full of roaches the size of Manquile's hand (thank goodness we very quickly got a feisty and bloodthirsty cat), shrews, giant geckos (which are cute but poop EVERYWHERE), huntsman spiders, and rats in the kitchen. There was no oven or microwave, so all we had to cook on was a stove — fried foods lost their appeal after about a week. I thought for a while that we had just landed in a particularly odd situation, but it turned out that most of our friends had to deal with a lot of the same issues.
We moved into a second house, and only stayed there for about 6 weeks. The tiny ovenless kitchen was rotting and roaches and ants were laying eggs in the wood, something was wrong with the foundation and every time it rained (5 times a day!) water would come flooding in from under the walls — often bringing in huntsman spiders, which my animals loved but I most certainly did not — and it turned out they basically had to tear the entire thing down and re-build from scratch. So we moved out.
A year ago today, we moved into the only place in which I would feel at home in years. Before leaving California, we lived in a city I hated and I was really depressed, and before that was a terrible roommate situation. Moving into this new island house was like a breath of fresh air. We have complete privacy, a huge yard for my dogs, avocado trees, a swimming pool, and it has a lot of light — something that is really important to me. It also came with a much higher rent than anything we had been paying, and the added surprise of a monthly $500 electricity bill, thanks to the swimming pool. But it was worth it. I have loved coming home every day. It's cozy, bug-free, open and inviting, and it's just...home. We hosted parties and wine nights, and invited our island family into our space as often as we can. This is the place where, for the first time, our family felt complete and like everything was working out the way it should.
Yesterday I found out that our landlords do not want to renew our lease. They live in Russia and are planning on spending a lot more time on the island, so they'd like to have their house to stay in. I don't blame them...but I'm really sad about it. I know it probably sounds silly to be so attached to a place, just after a year, but I haven't felt at home in too many places and certainly never this content. It's gonna be tough to find a place that makes us feel as good as this home does.
So tomorrow the search begins anew. I have 5 days to find an awesome, open, bug-and-rat-and-lizard-free, pet-friendly place that is affordable and that we can call home. It's gonna be hard, and it's definitely already stressful (I'm trying really hard not to think about the 5 days part, and am going to happy hour to bury my stress in wine instead of packing...yes, I'm super smart and put together, how could you tell?) and I am a bit apprehensive about our options. But I guess this is just part of the adventure we signed up for when we decided to move out here; living here is definitely worth dealing with the challenges. If I have to, I can make room in our home for a couple geckos. Even shrews are okay, they're cute little buggers and generally hang in the backyard waiting for scraps from the trash. But no huntsmen - or roaches.
(if you've read this far, thanks. a bit inane maybe but i got sad sitting at my desk thinking about leaving.)