Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part III. ESCAPE
The next day, I woke up early, found a taxi, and went house shopping.
The driver’s name was Chiefy. He was a short, jolly Kittitian with a smile designed to win the trust of tourists.
“Most of the land in this spot was owned by a Russian gangster who couldn’t get citizenship anywhere in Europe,” he informed me as we swerved around a large green hill. Every time he spoke, he turned around to make eye contact, which would have been polite if it weren’t for the narrow lanes and tight turns of the coastal road.
“Except that hill right there,” he went on. “That’s owned by a Saudi Arabian criminal who stole his son from his ex-wife and brought him to America. He bought the property in exchange for a diplomatic passport, so he could safely get to the States and back to see his son.”
And so began a tour of the checkered past, promising future, and eccentric characters of the island that might one day be my home. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, St. Kitts was united with a neighboring island, Nevis, four centuries later to become the smallest country in the Americas and one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean.
Chiefy’s first stop was the Rawlins Plantation, where he introduced me to Kevin, the owner, a short Welsh man with buck teeth and shifty eyes. From there, Chiefy and I moved on to Calypso Bay, Half Moon Bay, a row of what looked like concrete railway containers in the infancy of their construction, and half a dozen other places—each owned by a character more peculiar than the last, most of them small-time operators with big dreams of striking it rich in real estate on the developing island. It was the Wild West, but with an ocean view.
The last place I looked at was St. Christopher Club, a small enclave of three-story white buildings on a narrow strip of land separating the Atlantic and Caribbean beaches.
“You know, of the last twenty-five units, sixteen sold to Americans and every one of them was in the citizenship program,” the co-owner, Victor Doche, a short, garrulous man with a Charlie Brown smile, said as he walked me through a newly built apartment.
“Is that normal?”
“No, it’s new.”
“Who bought them before?”
“Originally, it was because of Idi Amin.” I wasn’t sure what this meant—though I later learned he was referring to Amin’s expulsion of the entire Asian population of Uganda following a dream in which God told him to banish them. “Then it was Russians. A lot were very powerful people. Not all of them were in the Mafia, though. I bought my apartment back from a guy who was a general in the KGB.
“Now it’s all Americans,” he continued. “One family is here because they fear war with Iran. Another because they don’t want their children drafted. And another is here because they make money offshore and don’t want to bring it back through the U.S. and have it taxed.”
“Interesting.” So I wasn’t alone. I was part of a movement, an awakening, a disillusionment. The great American leaking pot. We were running away from war and death and taxes. If our instincts were right, we’d be rewarded with life. If they were wrong, we’d be stuck on one of the most beautiful islands I’d seen. There was no downside. Or so I thought at the time.
Victor was a similar seeker. He was born in Egypt, but, he explained, “as a Christian, I saw that things were getting bad for my people in the seventies and left.” He fled to Montreal, where he helped bring aerobics to the country with help from Jane Fonda. As he told his story, I was reminded of my silent pledge in Mrs. Kaufman’s class, and I realized that running doesn’t always mean hiding. Sometimes it means growing.
“The St. Kitts and Nevis passport is very good,” he continued. “Because the islands are part of the British Commonwealth, people use them as a backdoor entrance to Great Britain. I’m told that if you lose the passport in a foreign country and go to the British embassy, they’ll replace it with a British passport.”
So not only was I going to become a Kittitian, I was going to become a member of the British Commonwealth. Maybe I could get my coveted EU passport after all.
After looking at one of the apartments, a tranquil duplex with views of both coasts, I walked to the Atlantic beach a few yards away. The weather was warm, but not hot, with a mild breeze. It felt as if this were the temperature at which the human body was designed to live. The waves crashed white and warm against the shore. There wasn’t another person in sight. It was the antithesis of my life in cities up to that point.
I recalled the five criteria Spencer and I had selected as requirements for a second citizenship: credible passport, stable government, minimal tax liability, maximum two-year wait for a citizenship, and warm climate with beaches.
St. Kitts met every criterion.
I crossed the property, walked two hundred yards to the Caribbean coast, and ordered a rum punch at an open-air bar on the beach. The bar’s co-owner, it turned out, also lived at St. Christopher Club.
His name was Regan, and he told me that the prime minister of the island had a spare apartment in the complex. He also said there were plans to build a Ritz-Carlton next door, which would be good for property values.
A new life seemed to await me here, free of petty concerns and complications. The slow, laid-back pace alone would probably prolong my life. And if I ever got caught in the system, all I had to do was knock on the prime minister’s door with a bottle of wine and ask for advice. I couldn’t imagine a better oasis for a technological nomad.