Meet the Displaced U.S. Virgin Island Couple Living On $75,000
Emma and Ryan are a nomadic and madly in love couple who met nearly a decade ago on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Despite their fondness for a traveling lifestyle, the engaged pair were ready to set roots and get married on St. John — and then two Category 5 hurricanes hit. Hurricane Irma, which was followed by Hurricane Maria, left most of the U.S. Virgin Islands residents without running water, electricity, and Wi-Fi. The lack of internet access and damage from the storm has affected U.S. Virgin Islanders’ ability to work. What’s more, the storm damaged all three hospitals in the territory so badly that access to medicine is nearly impossible. Due to Ryan’s recent cancer diagnosis and Emma’s need for internet access for her job, the couple left the island for Florida. AskMen caught up with them to learn how to use the pillars of a relationship to stay strong through unimaginable natural disasters.
What industry do you both work in?
Emma: My job is all online. So I had to leave just because there’s no Wi-Fi and if I didn’t leave I would have lost my job. I work in hospitality, for a luxury club, and we lost a bunch of properties in the Caribbean in Hurricane Irma and Maria. Ryan is a chef, but he quit his job recently and was about to start working on boats, which he recently got his certificate for.
So did you leave St. John for Florida due to the financial stress of the hurricane as you’re unable to access Wi-Fi?
Emma: Yes, but also the big reason why we left, and we didn’t stay to help is that a week before Irma we found out that Ryan has cancer in his eye for the third time. A form of skin cancer. We had to get out of there because this medication he’s on needs to be on ice, and he couldn’t even get the medicine down there, let alone keep it on ice, because of the power. You need power to make ice.
I’m so sorry. And you’re engaged?
Ryan: We’ve been engaged for two and a half years now. That’s just how we roll. We were about to get married. We were making plans to get married, and this happened.
How did you two meet?
Emma: We met when I was on summer vacation in the Caribbean from my second year of college. I was waitressing at Lotus, the little sushi place, and he was doing his externship from college there. Within a month he quit his job there to work up in Massachusetts where I was going to college at the time.
When it comes to finances, do you keep them shared or separate, and do you make an effort to keep track of things or do you have a more casual attitude?
Ryan: It’s pretty casual.
Emma: I’ll give you a background story; I’ll never forget this. It was in 2011 where I said to Ryan, “So these are the bills we have to pay, here’s what’s going on this month. This is what I need.” He just looked at me and said, “I don’t want to hear about it anymore, I’ll just give you my paycheck, and you’ll do what needs to be done.” So it became my role to take care of the bills, and it’s just trust between us.
Where are you staying in Florida, and how did that affect finances?
Emma: We’re in an Airbnb right now, as we’re apartment hunting. We will live anywhere; that’s how we’ve always been. We will live where it’s convenient, and we will adapt, so, we’re used to doing that sort of thing. But I think it’s the first time where we felt displaced because we weren’t ready to move. We’ve lived in probably seven states in the past nine years. Every time we moved we were ready to move. But in this situation, it was just like they swept the rug out from under us and we weren’t ready. [St. John] was the first place where we were like…we’ll buy a home. We’ll buy a juicer and a blender. Everywhere else we were like, we’re good with the clothes on our backs.
In calmer times, if you were to splurge or buy a gift for one another, what would that be?
Ryan: Two days ago we decided to walk around this town, and we got some craft ice cream, but we’re not like, “Let’s go to a Michelin Star restaurant,” we’re like, “Let’s talk to the locals and find the best street food in this city.” I would say food. God, what do we splurge on?
Emma: Good weed. It actually really helps Ryan with his eye. This is the third time he’s had cancer, and it’s been three and a half years now. The first time the doctor said, “Don’t smoke weed,” and now she’s saying, “You know what, smoke weed. If it feels better, do it.” There’s nothing wrong with weed. If anything there’s something wrong with alcohol.
How do you split up car payments, debts, and food spending?
Emma: I manage the finances, but we both make the money to pay them. We rented a car when we got here. We did have a car in St. John; now it’s in my dad’s driveway. We left it specifically for protection [from looters] to make it look like someone is home. For food, the way we see it, is when we first got to Florida we were like, we went through a lot of crazy sh*t in the Caribbean. We ate a lot of [canned] soup, but we also ate well — my father had a grill on St. Thomas. We’ve been traveling back and forth between St. John and St. Thomas using our dinghy boat. We went to the grocery store and bought a piece of steak to eat and sat down to dinner together out on the balcony. We didn’t eat fantastically after the storm, but better than many. When we got to Florida, one night we said, “Let’s get some crab legs.” We’re not eating packaged ramen every day, but we’re not going over the top. I think that the biggest thing is that we’re not going out to eat. We’re doing very well compared to others.
Speaking of money, if people want to donate to U.S. Virgin Island hurricane relief, what organizations would you point them to?
Emma: Kenny Chesney has a home on St. John and has helped the island with his time and money in an effort to rebuild. I swear he was one of the first people there. You can send money to his organization, or St. John Rescue, or Rotary District 7020 which covers the following islands impacted by Hurricane Irma and Maria: Anguilla, BVI, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, USVI, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.