Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Greatest Joy of My Life -- by Josh

Nine years ago, next week, I sat entranced by the most incredible woman I'd ever met. She impressed me in every possible way and I had fallen crazy in love with her.
I knew at that moment something I'd been long suspecting: if this girl were willing and ready, we could form a truly beautiful life together. Thank God, a few minutes later she told me that, yes, she would be my wife.
I have learned and experienced so much since then, most of it thanks to her. I've been shown what it looks like to be unconditionally loving, to be assertive yet peaceful, to strive for continual excellence, to selflessly serve even when exhausted, to imagine new designs of art and thought, to finish what is started, to pray and feel on a whole new level of intensity, to belly laugh at life's mishaps.
I got to witness all of this, thanks to her compassionate reply of, "Sure."
I cherish every moment that I am gifted to spend with this woman, but more than that I am grateful for the two little miracles she has brought into our life. They are so fortunate to have her to watch and learn from.
She still makes fun of the way I proposed, but hey, the results speak for themselves. Whatever I said worked, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I have her by my side and that she still hasn't tried to get away. I love you, dream woman, more than all the PBJs in the world, combined.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End Times

Disclaimer: My immense apologies if the topic of today’s blog post offends you. If it does, stop reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for another post, for that is not my intention. If you are, however, happy to read about my humble world-view and how I manage it in a place full of people who believe the world is ending, then read on. And I’ll be happy to discuss it with you in open, frank and kind conversation. Preferably cookies will be involved. With tea. Yes, I look forward to that.

"Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead." -Baha'u'llah

My sweet neighbor believes that the world is ending. Soon. Perhaps not “Mayan” soon (and, for the record, Mayan people are still living among us, so please stop saying that they aren’t), but soon nonetheless. Every time we make small talk, she’ll tell me how one sector of the city doesn’t have power today or so-n-so is ill or how someone got mugged in the capital and she saw it on the news. Sometimes she’ll mention murders if she doesn’t feel I’m fully appreciating the gravity of the situation. Then, she’ll grab my elbow, pull me close to her, intensify her gaze and in a lowered, this-is-really-serious-kind-of-voice say, “These are signs of the end of times!”
She’s terrified. And yet, I just can’t bring myself to tell her that Jesus didn’t even have electricity. You heard it here. Things are getting better, not worse.
There was rampant illness in Christ’s time. People were not only mugged, but regularly murdered right afterwards—especially if you were traveling. The status of women and children? Forgeddaboutit. And don’t get me started on education or healthcare. The wonders of dental hygiene even are relatively new to the world. How cool is floss?
I’m never sure what she wants from me. Especially since—brace yourself—I believe the world already ended. And since the beginning of time, it just keeps getting better. So, I always just shrug and change the topic to boiled bananas. Do you think she’d believe me if I said the world is getting better? Do you believe me?
Allow me to explain, but I’ll be brief so we still have an excuse for cookies and tea later.
First of all, for you statistics-loving people, all the data shows that the world, as a whole, really does keep getting better. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. And for the rest of you: Exhibit C.
I had a conversation with another EndofTimesAdvocate who pointed out the tragic earthquake in Haiti as a sign that the world was ending. Umm, there have always been earthquakes. And if the world was truly getting worse, why are there people in entirely different countries without a single connection to anyone directly affected by the quake, emotionally invested and concerned about what happened in Haiti? Or anything that happens in Haiti? Why do they even care? Because it just keeps getting better. Humans are actually cooler as an entire race. We’re more aware. We’re more sensitive, empathetic and caring for not only our next door neighbors, but humanity as a whole. How incredible is that?!

Two hundred years ago, if you explained to someone what the world is like now, you would have been institutionalized. Why? Because we're living in a whole new world. Believe it, buddy. That world is over. Done. History. Ended. No longer. So, they were all correct about the world ending. The details just got a bit embellished and somewhat scary. And they forgot to mention the part about it being a cycle which begins anew each time.
If you are sincerely interested in this particular aspect of Baha'u'llah's immense Revelation, please refer to the Kitab-i-Iqan which is an ocean of depth and beauty on the topic. I bet its even available as an e-book now. How's that for new world?
Otherwise, we can have that tea date.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Brushing Your Teeth With Oreos -- by Josh

My parents are coming to visit tomorrow and the question is foremost in my mind: When should the real clean-up begin?
According to the goddesses of Pinterest (this via my wife, because I would never just scroll through Pinterest, I swear), cleaning your house with children present is like brushing while eating Oreos.  I could not agree more.
Housework has taught me a number of lessons.  My first cleaning-related realization occurred back in Oregon, in the difficult days before we moved to this island paradise and finally bought a washing machine.  All of our laundry loads were taken care of either at the laundromat or one of our parents' homes, thus happening on a weekly basis when we had time.  I would take great pleasure in finally finishing the wash, marveling at the mountains of clean, categorized laundry.  Then, that night, the mirage would dissipate before my eyes as the bedtime routine unfolded and piece after piece of dirty clothes piled onto the floor.
"Ugh." That's all I could say, other than the edited portions. 
Eventually I realized that this was an opportunity for spiritual growth, the notion becoming clearer that EVERYTHING is ephemeral, nothing, no condition in this material world lasts forever and that our life is not a project to be finished but an evolving state of gradual improvement, with occasional plateaus, dips and stains.  I guess I had a lot of time to reflect during the spin cycle.
So it is that I've arrived at a potentially dangerous point in my house-cleaning philosophy:  Is it really worth it to clean so often if it's just going to get messed up again? 
Thus the Oreo brushing.  If I clean today, the house will just get lived in again and tomorrow it won't look like we've cleaned at all!
At this point, I have to think of my laundry epiphany. I don't want to wear dirty clothes, so I continue with this endless cycle (I've even written a song about it: "It is the laundry that never endsssss, and it goes on and on my friends!!!").  Whenever I put on clean undies and non-crusty socks, I know that continuing the wash cycle is well worth it, to both me and my less-offended guests.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Captain, My Captain

In the end, moments are all we have. Strung together, twinkling lights. Twisting story lines marked by bright spots. Some are planned. Some, spontaneous. Some thrust upon you, offering a few ticks of the clock to decide what to mold, create before its gone.
I just spoke to my grandpa for the last time. I am certain. He could barely summon the words, "I love you, I love you," as my father gently sponged drops of water into his shaking, open mouth. Josh and I chanted prayers with him, just as we've done every day since his birthday.
We know the day he decided to go. He told us in his no-nonsense kind of way. I love that about him. And like that, he changed. Up until that day, every single time I ever talked to Cap't on the phone, I'd say, "Goodbye." And he'd hang up. The conversation was over, after all. No need for formalities. He never withheld tender words or tokens of his immense affection. Sure was stingy with goodbyes though.
After that day he decided to go, however, he started saying goodbye on the phone. He'd linger afterwards and I couldn't hang up, stunned at his gift. Seconds would turn to minutes until I was sitting in the ornate, yellow chair next to his bed. I'd have time to float across a continent, walk past his plum tree, up to the always-open-door, past the paintings, hand-thrown bowls, mementos of his humanitarian globe-trotting, bright colors favored by my grandmother long since passed herself from that very room. And into his room, where he lie, waiting. I'd sit and wait with him until I had the courage to hang up.
Snap me back.
Because I'm still here. On my island. On an island.
Sometimes, in the middle of those bright spots, you recognize what they are, how they'll look to our future selves. You start grabbing, demanding--remember this! Take it all in and hold tight! Those exact words. The painting hanging behind him. My father's hand resting on his shoulder as he bent to kiss my Captain's forehead in my name. His far away look. And as he gives less and less to this physical world, we begin to hold on to eyebrow raises, slight lifts of his hand, a change in the cadence of his breathing. Because this is all we know, really. This world.
And whatever you believe about what is next for my Captain, it happens all the same. His life transforms; he lives elsewhere. In memories, in the things he's collected, in the fibers of ourselves that he transformed, in his patients the world around who now hear because of him, are linguists and musicians and joyous people given a life so vastly different. You were likely affected by this man in some way, too. If you've ever had surgery, or known someone who has, which used a microscope--that was my grandfather who first introduced its use. A true innovator with an immense love for humanity. He steered the ship for many. My Captain.
I believe his soul takes flight, lingers and soars. And its a time to rejoice:

"O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain."
I love you, Cap't.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Educational Standards, Bread, Beans and Breakfast

Without getting into too much pedagogical mumbo jumbo, I offer a small window into Dominican education. For simplicity's sake, let's compare education here vs. in the States vs. Finland with bread. Yes, bread.
The bread here is awful. It has no redeeming qualities on its own and is only eaten as a conduit for other foods. The best bakeries I've found on the island have standard-USA-grocery store bread (with the exception of bakeries in Terrenas where many, many French people live and incidentally, an awesome little school is there as well).
The good 'ol US of A offers up a wonderful variety of good, bad and exquisite breads which reflect the nation's immensity and diversity. I have tasted all of the above, and even in smaller towns tasty baked goods can be had quite easily.
I don't know anything about Finnish bread, but any bread I ever tried in the dozen-or-so European countries I've traveled to was delicious. Yes, every single country. #howtogain5poundsaweek So delicious, in fact, that when I returned to the States after living in Europe for just four months, I couldn't eat Stateside bread for an entire year. Just the memory of European bread disallowed my taste buds to accept anything less.
Now that I've made some seriously broad bread assumptions and shallow conclusions, let me simplify the educational standards for these places for kids, ages 5-6, in a similar fashion:
Dominican kindergarten standards
     Math: Know numbers 1-9. That's it. It's difficult to simplify the simplistic.
     Reading/Writing: Know the vowels. As Josh recently reflected, "What does knowing just the vowels give you? Caveman language. Oooo, aaaa-aaaa, oooooo. You know that very rich languages like Arabic don't use vowels? There is inference and context involved, of course--which makes it all the better. Consonants are really where its at if you're going to only cover a handful of letters. But why would you set the bar so low anyway?"
No wonder they run out of things to do an hour into the day and resort to Tom & Jerry marathons.
American kindergarten standards
     Math: Know numbers 1-100. This also includes some sequencing and other basic math skills like counting by fives and tens, simple addition and shape recognition.
     Reading/Writing: Know the entire alphabet, have emergent/basic reading and writing skills.
Finnish kindergarten standards
    Well, they don't go to school until they're seven, which is pretty awesome if you live in a place that is aware of childhood developmental needs. Once little Finnish boys & girls start school, the standards delve significantly deeper than basic understandings and knowledge. There is a clear focus on depth and higher order thinking skills. And my favorite: on the individual child and his or her needs. These people know what they're doing. And I bet they eat well while they're doing it.

Perhaps now you understand a bit where I'm coming from as an American educator in a Dominican system. When Zora, a kindergartner this year, brought home her homework for the first time, I was slightly confused. She had to trace three diagonal lines.
When we registered her, they did a pre-assessment where she successfully counted from 1-10, identified five shapes, eight colors and wrote her name. My child is not smart. She isn't dumb either. She is totally average.
And yet, had the teacher assessed her skills at the beginning of the school year, I shouldn't have seen homework practice involving tracing three short lines. So, I gave the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she hadn't had a chance to see what her students were capable of and differentiate appropriately. I told Zora to write her name on her assignment so the teacher could see that she was already producing letters--several leaps beyond the baby-steps of tracing lines. Surely, her next homework assignment would better reflect the level she should be working at.
What was the teacher's response? She pointed at Zora's carefully written name and said, "No me gusta. I don't like this." Zora came home in tears that day and refused to write anything (least of all her name) for at least three weeks. I was livid.
Not only is Zora entirely average, so am I. Coming from average makes it all that more frustrating looking at the current situation. I know there are vast oceans of capacity beyond my pedagogical know-how and yet, I feel like a big fish in a little pond here.

Long story short, we're continuing to homeschool--and still send her to school. We had a math lesson the other day over beans and breakfast. Despite her teacher's best efforts, she is counting to 100 by tens.
We often use wet erase markers on the oh-so-classy plastic tablecloth for lessons. 
Our little bean counted 100 beans.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Toast! To the Subtlety of Words and Love

I've been contemplating my interactions with others lately--mostly as relates to language. A couple weeks ago I had a conversation about the Bible with a parent at Max's school. He abruptly ended the conversation pointing his finger at me and saying very forcibly, "No! Because you don't know. You don't know." I realized in the moment that his refusal to continue the conversation, which was quite pleasant up until the last 6 minutes, had to do with simple word choice. I had referred to Biblical accounts as cuentos or "stories". This greatly upset him. I discovered, a bit late, that I was supposed to use the word historias, which also means "stories" in English. He left, red in the face, completely appalled.

These sort of interactions have happened in my native language as well. It's usually a combination of the two parties coming from entirely different places and with different intentions. Surely, you can relate on some level to this kind of misunderstanding, painful and common as they are. I hope, for the sake of unity, that you were able to detach from outcomes and discover a point of mutual understanding in these instances. As we all strive for this kind of sensitivity and love, I wanted to share my favorite poem with each of you.

The Language of There
by Roger White

"I mean to learn,
in the language of where I am going,
barely enough to ask for food and love."
--James Merrill

Yes. There, light will be our language,
a tongue without words for
perhaps, or arid, or futile,
though shadow be retained
that we may contrast the radiance.
Almost will no longer be a measure.

We will learn a hundred synonyms for certitude,
and love will have a thousand conjugations.
Ours will be the italicized vocabulary
of delectable astonishments.
The possessive case will play no part
in the grammar of joy and burgeoning,
infants will speak at birth, and only the ancients
will remember the obscenity of exile

There, laughter will be spelt in capitals,
sadness grow obsolete,
and negation be declared archaic.
Hell will be pronounced remoteness,
and vast tomes will be devoted
to the derivations of yes.
Where all is elation and surprise
exclamation points will fall into disuse.

There, food and affection will be ours for a smile,
and immortality for a fluent, knowing wink.
In time, our desire to speak will abandon us.
All that need be said the light will say. Yes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How I Wasted My Sunday or Here's Your Medal!

I get it. Or at least I think I do.
These little tests of my patience keep popping up. As you may know, life's patience rubric looks something like this:

You Can’t Even Pronounce Patience
You have reached enlightenment.
Daily Life
Attempting to boil water sends you over the edge.
You set water to boil and happily chop vegetables while you wait.
As the water begins to boil, you realize you’ve been contemplating the universe, watching each bubble slowly rise to the surface.
You don’t believe in meetings. They are a waste of time, every time.
You keep your cool through not one, not two, but three reschedulings of a morning meeting. Said meeting lasts two hours too long and you’re still chipper afterwards.
The meeting may never be over and that’s okay with you.
Honey, I love you, but I stopped listening 23 minutes ago.
Honey, can I take a short bathroom break from your intriguing story?
Honey, tell me more. Then can I hear about your daily phone conversation with your mother one more time?
You have a caffeine patch. Who has time for coffee?
You can wait without complaint for your coffee to arrive.
Your order never arrives. You decide you weren’t thirsty anyway and the universe is just helping you out.
*Disclaimer to any WOU affiliates: I totally learned way more in my master’s program than just stellar rubric writing. Your name is still mostly good.

My score, you ask? Well, I can pronounce patience. But I stumble. So, I'm working towards the middle column since I definitely connect with at least two of the first column's descriptions. Don't judge.
My patience stamina, if you will, has been gradually progressing over the last year or so (Okay, my nephew, baby Oliver has taken bigger steps than me). And what count for tests of patience in my book may summon looks of pity.

Test of Patience, Exhibit A
When will this thing sprout already!? I'm fairly certain I started this avocado tree at least a month ago. Should it not be bearing fruit by now? I'd like some guacamole. Alas, its changes, much like my own, have been painfully subtle. With this in mind, I'm fairly certain that God has placed me on an intensive growth program which started Sunday. At 8:30 am.
That is the time I arrived with my male offspring to his Taekwondo fighting tournament. Of the 42 students who were told to be there at 8 am, Max was the 6th to arrive. I found a seat among the empty rows of chairs and opened up the book I'm currently reading (shameless shout out: Seven Years Between by Pamela McDavid), whilst others trickled in.
The Taekwondo teacher had said we "needed" these electronic feet protectors which counted successful kicks during a fight. One mother who's child didn't have any protective gear yet asked, "What is the most important to buy now?" The Taekwondo teacher did not tell her the arm or leg protectors. He did not say the helmet. He didn't mention the mouth guard. What was the most important? The thing they needed more than anything else? The electronic foot protectors. They cost US$70. Josh & I scoffed and chose not to buy into the hype. Sure enough, about 1/2 of the kids showed up with the required equipment and those of us who were unable/unwilling to pay went without (or borrowed a friend's pair). Isn't counting kicks what the judges are for?
The hours slowly passed. I made small talk with the Taekwondo mom crowd. They're like soccer moms with a splash of violent outbursts where they growl, "Give it to him!" then scream uncontrollably (I tried it. It wasn't really me.). Sometime about three hours in, while my son still sat patiently and I fidgeted in my chair, I realized that this tournament was entirely unorganized. The kind people in charge were pulling kids at random to fight. This meant that the more assertive kids (older ones) were the ones fighting all morning. As my thoughts slowly congealed into coherence, my bladder began to shout...
Not only did the toilet not flush (and hadn't for the whole morning from the looks of things), but there was no toilet paper, soap or water available in the bathroom. I lost it (but not out loud, thank goodness). How can someone expect players to be here with top-of-the-line equipment and then not even have basic essentials available to the participants?! I left in a hurry, bought water to wash my hands at the colmado and returned just as fast, since my son really could be fighting any moment. Hurry up and wait. I began to see potential illness everywhere knowing how many people had gone to the bathroom. It was hot since people were packed into the building and, well, we live near the equator. Hunger pangs sprouted in my belly (which means my 7 year old was likely "starving"). Four hours in and we were still sitting. Still waiting. Several children in the crowd were crying. I wanted to join them.
When Max was finally called to fight, it was 1:30 pm. I'd managed to sneak him a protein bar, but otherwise he hadn't eaten. He "fought" for 2 minutes without attempting a single kick and the kind of apathy that moans, "I waited five hours for this?" We were told that each participant would fight twice. The next time he was called, however, it was to receive a medal. A medal? For what?! Standing in the corner while another kid kicked him? This test was definitely designed for me. It had all the right elements: needless waiting around, children fighting, no soap, water or toilet paper, children crying, no food, expectations of grandeur and then the kicker: celebration of mediocrity. Except it was even less than mediocrity. It was straight up pathetic. Weak sauce, as you hipsters say. #ForCaitlin&Steph
The truly unfortunate thing about all of this is that I'm still ticked off about it, which means I did not pass my patience exam. Which we all know also means: another one is around the corner. Now if that avocado would just sprout already!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We're Staying. It's On a Mural.

Remember those people who live below us and bring us lunch every day? Check out what they had painted on their back patio wall the other day. #MushyHeart

 The kids, needless to say, think it's awesome.

Our neighbor, Don Ramon, hired this guy to paint a love mural.
We're on the second level, above them. Our back patio looks out onto theirs.
Zora can't believe her name is on someone's wall.

Guess we can't move out anytime soon. That looks pretty legit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Dangerous Walk Home

I just picked Zora up from school.
On my way there, I usually walk past the public high school. And I saw it. The reason people with means steer clear of that place. A group of youth up in arms, throwing trash and collecting tires to burn.
Zora's teacher handed me her backpack and said, "The people are talking. There will probably be a strike tomorrow. Listen for the news to see if we have school." I nodded, thinking, yeah, there'll be a strike. I just passed it on the way here!
I took an alternate route home, but apparently didn't make a wide enough circle around the trouble. Within a block of Zora's school, my eyes were burning. I told Zora to cover her face with her shirt and take shallow breaths. I joined with another group of nervous, quick walkers as we tried to find a safe street. People darted their eyes toward me, shaking their heads and pointing, "Don't go down there."
My throat began to burn. It felt like blisters were forming in my mouth, creeping down my throat to my lungs. I walked faster, as if drowning and rushing with all my might to the surface. I couldn't breathe. What were they burning? What were they doing to themselves in the name of protest?
As I was running away, fearing my child's health, the other part of me wanted to run towards them. What are you doing? You are a child harming yourself in hopes that it will somehow make your absent parents start to care. You are hurting the only people who care about you--yourself and those immediately around you. The people you're trying to send a message to are in another part of the city, another part of the country. They don't care. This is not the way that change happens. Not the kind of change you want. And yet, you continue your useless protest, making yourself dumber as you kill more brain cells and irreparably damage your lungs. And those of your neighbors. Your teachers. Your friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Drive-Thru Starbucks in My Neighborhood. No Joke.

What!? I live in a village, for most intents and purposes. And yet, there it was in all it's glory. On my way to drop off Zora from school one day, I saw it: a Drive-thru Starbucks. Super close to my house and, might I add, supremely conveniently located. Check this guy out.

Just outside Zora's school. Can you spot the coffee joint---errr, coffee guy?

He accepts both foot traffic and drive-thru customers.
But is still working up to being able to accept debit cards.

He even sells scones--err, hot dog buns--to go with your hot coffee!
He was happy to pose for the photograph and is eagerly awaiting your visit.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oh Yeah??? Well… Well… -- by Josh

I always find it frustrating to yell at someone in a language other than English.  Not because I’m yelling at someone, mind you, but because my lack of fluency hinders the scope of that anger from getting through. Angry words really need to roll off the tongue for maximum efficacy, and it's also helpful to have full command of insults so that just the right amount of sting is given without accidentally dropping a word that is too strong.
I found myself in just that type of situation today.  Zora and I were out taking care of some errands (which she said is her favorite thing to do, once she learned what the word "errand" means), which included a trip to the grocery store.
We did an overly-thorough job of shopping and headed out to the sidewalk to await a taxi. I'd already been asked for money once or twice before getting to the store, and upon leaving I was asked again.
"No, not today," I replied, despite the man's pushy persistence, and I moved our selves and our cart to a different part of the sidewalk.
I was, admittedly, already a bit grumpy when the old lady tried to get my attention.  She motioned for me to come to her but, as I was holding Zora’s hand and watching a cart full of groceries, I stayed put and asked her what she needed.  She kept motioning for me to come to her, and I kept telling her to just tell me what she needed.
This was all taking place in front of a huge line cued up, waiting to get into the bank inside the store.  The people in the line started to get impatient with me. “She can’t walk! Go to her!” they said, as though she were my own grandmother and I’d let her fall, and lay there on the sidewalk helplessly as I coldly ignored her.
I looked at them like the idiots they were, showing that I was kinda busy at the moment and that she could just use the same voice she’d used to get my attention in the first place to explain what she wanted.
Finally, a well-dressed man in the line went over to ask her, at which point she showed us the empty pill sleeve, meaning that she needed some pesos to get her medication.
This is nothing new and I have no problem helping out little old ladies, so I dug in my pocket for coins, pulled out a couple and handed them to Zora to give them to the lady.
As soon as Zora dropped the coins into her hand, the same man went over and very loudly asked her how much I’d given her.  “SIX PESOS?!? What are you going to do with six pesos???” he exclaimed.  He grabbed the money out of her hand and shoved it back into mine.
“What a jerk,” I thought, shocked by such a nosy, rude person.  I left it at that and continued our wait for the taxi. 
We waited and waited, and finally Zora asked me to let her give the lady some money again.  Now, I constantly get asked for change. CONSTANTLY.  It is no coincidence that Granny singled me out, despite the very long line stretching in front of her, full of Dominicans waiting to put money into the bank, most dressed much nicer than me.  And I would never claim to be anything but stingy, despite the fact that I always give to people who are obviously unable to work.  That being the case, I’m not going to toss around large amounts of money on a regular basis, for better or worse. I certainly could have given more and it wouldn't have hurt. However, it's also a reality that I am usually being watched and observed, and if people see me randomly giving out bills to people it warps their image of the kind of money I have and carry around.  
Anyhow, I found the rest of the coins in my pocket (including the tip I was going to give to the kid from the store who was supposedly getting me a taxi) and dropped them in Zora’s hand.  Zora repeated the drill, and when Old Lady Change Stealer did what I figured he would, I loudly intervened: “What’s it to you?" I asked him, continuing with: "It’s none of your damn business what my daughter just dropped in her hand, so butt out of it.”  I was pissed.
“I’m just checking to see that you gave her what you’re really able to give to her,” he replied.
“How dare you judge me,” I countered.  “I didn’t see you give her a cent.  What’d you give her? Huh? Tell me.  That’s right, all you’re handing out is your worthless opinion, so keep it to yourself.  Try some actions, not just your useless words.” (Fairness Note: Zora insists she saw him give her money, but it could have been one of her imaginary friends.)
It was also interesting to note that the lady did not allow him to take the money away from her the second time.  Is it possible that she agreed with me?
Anyway, the entire time I was trying to stifle the temptation to go general, to ask why on God’s green earth this sweet old lady has to BEG for her medication in the first place, why her society doesn’t provide that to her when there’s plenty of money around, like in the pockets of this guy who probably owns a business and pays his workers a wage that only the financially miraculous can scrape by on. Huh? Tell me that!
I chose not to go that route though, given persistent guilt about the last time I took similar actions in a Bulgarian sandwich shop (another blast from the past blog post?).  I calmed myself down, since he had shut his pie hole by then, and within a couple of minutes the taxi had shown up.  The checkout kid magically appeared to get the groceries in the trunk (unnecessarily) and was disappointed, I’m sure, to get no coins from me (strike 3 against the greedy gringo!).
It was over the next hour, of course, that some clearer thoughts entered my head.  Maybe that’s why I love the writing process so much.  I love the editing, the clarification, finding just the way I want to say something prior to saying it.
I thought about this strange expectation that I alone was responsible for giving this old woman a large sum for her medication, despite the fact that the next time I go out I’ll have several of the same requests.  I thought about the judgmentalism from the crowd and the detachment from their own responsibility towards this woman.
I also cannot help but wonder if that guy is a politician.  The way he did things reminds me of all the public works projects, no matter how small, that are plastered with the name of the politician who sponsored it.  It cracks me up, because it’s as though they’d used their own money to complete the project, whereas they simply managed to do their job.  It did not escape me that he didn’t express any interest at all in giving her money (if he indeed did so) until he’d had the chance to embarrass the American and make himself look high and mighty.

Finally, I decided that a good tack would have been to point something out.  To offer to educate this man, who was acting rather maleducado, with a cultural and academic lesson.  In many countries, people pay their taxes and those bits make up a large bunch, and when that money is used correctly it allows every senior citizen full health coverage.   Now, at least 40 people walked past this woman, and every one of them knew exactly what she needed without her having to ask.  If each person had given her 6 pesos, that would be 240 pesos. In that situation, she’d have plenty for her medication.  I can only hope that the disgust I stirred up in those folks inspired a few to help her out sufficiently.
Anyway, the point is that it’s not supposed to be on just a few people, but rather on everyone to chip in a little to create a system to take care of the weak or unable in society. 
Another option, of course, would be to conscientiously elect leaders who ensure that tax money (and there's no shortage of taxes here!) is used for the well-being of all.  I'm just saying.
Until we come together to do just that, both Old Lady Change Stealer and myself are in the same camp: wrong, and simply unhelpful.  There was a silver lining to all of this. After I'd vented to Rebecca about the confrontation, Zora came out of her room with a handful of change. "Next time we go out, I want to give this to a poor person," she told us.  Now, if we can just help her, Max and all the other kids in children's classes to think a little more systematically about this, we might avoid being in Grandma's shoes when that time comes.

**(I understand that there are pharmaceutical dispensaries for the poor here, but apparently only a few medications are available at a time, though in large quantities)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Vacation in the USA (that's what good Americans do, anyway)

I was recently in the great country to the north for reasons I have decided not to share here. Maybe its age. I just want this one for myself. I want to savor it and not share with anyone or have to go through a reflection-draft-revise-edit-publish-areyousure? process, carefully choosing my words as I do with some of my more personal posts. The reasons and outcomes will remain raw and perfect this way, untouched. Thank you for understanding.
That said--all my stories unavailable for sharing, having been tucked away for safe keeping--I do still have some wonder to share with you from my last two weeks abroad.
An unexpected joy blossomed in me during that trip which I am more than happy to share with you. The world needs more happy-happy-joy-joy, after all.
Bits of inner monologue during my first two days back in the USA went something like this:
Ooooh! Warm water to wash my hands. Yes! In the shower too!
Man, this lettuce is delish.
Look at them all stand in a line!
Wow, I'd forgotten how much better the bread is here.
It's so nice to drive a car. And by myself! And at night!
The power hasn't gone out yet. This is awesome.
I just ran four different errands in under two hours. What do people do with all of their extra time?!
I know the names of all the plants, the trees, the roads and the towns. Cool.
Dance like nobody is watching. No, really, they aren't. Dang, I love the anonymity here.
And, quite frequently:
Good grief, it's cold here! But I sure do love wearing these boots and not sweating profusely.

You see, dear reader, I jumped right in. I fully basked in being somewhere where I knew what was going on--and most of the time. I was climbing Maslow's Hierarchy like Tenzing Norgay. And friends would say things like, "I wish I could do what you're doing!" I never managed a coherent, thoughtful response to this, but always thought first, Then why don't you? (because I believe people should chase after their passions) and a close second, But your life is so wonderful here! (because your life really is wonderful there).
I had left the island where I had been feeling helpless as of late. My son was being bullied at school with no end in sight. The power started going out more frequently and I was no longer finding gratitude for the forced breaks, but frustration. My daughter had abandoned her creative and sometimes disturbing drawings for the same picture of a house with a sun and flowers over and over again like a brainwashed robot. I was struggling to manage the responsibilities of a new job which required me to be online (which requires electricity) with all the household-kid stuff and finding more and more that I wasn't in a place where it is possible to fulfill those responsibilities to my personal standards. And it kept raining on the damn laundry. At least my husband was still cheerful and really, really good looking.

Then, sometime in the middle of day 3, it hit me. But it wasn't a cliche ton of bricks, it was more like a cliche fire kindling within, making itself known, gently. Without any painful burning sensations. This is why people vacation, but never live where they vacation. It's just really, really nice to visit. Everything I care about and am passionate about is on the island. I love it here. I really do. I want to spend as much time here as I can possibly manage--and not in a vacation kind of way (even though I talk about the warm, breezy hammock on my back patio a smidge too much). And, true to form, after about day 10, like all of my "vacations", I was ready to go home again. I missed it. Life at home is just enormously more exciting to me and pregnant with the kind of potential that gives me heart palpitations which make the other stuff worth it for me. By day 14, I was aching to go home, but so grateful for everyone I'd spent time with and all I had done. I felt like a new woman. That's what vacation does, right?

So for my good 'ol USA dwellers, here is a helpful vacation comparison chart if you're not completely convinced yet:

Me on Vacation*
You on Vacation
(forgive the broad sweep of assumptions)

I appreciate all the familiar flora & fauna. “Pine trees! Lush (wet) grass! Deer!”
You post pics of lizards you find on a daily stroll, and are surprised by the enormity of the palms
“Driving here is a total breeze. I almost forget I’m driving. Wow, that’s dangerous.”
“Driving here is insane. I’m constantly worried about my safety. Wow, this is dangerous!”
“Ah, all the music is so familiar. I can sing along to all these songs.”
“The music makes me want to dance. I have no idea what the lyrics are saying.”
I eat out more often than at home.
You eat out more often than at home.
I visit family, old friends and run in to people I know everywhere I go.
You make new friends, likely temporary ones and enjoy seeing all new faces.
I enjoy the anonymity of looking like I belong to that place.
You enjoy being different, or settle in to being just another tourist, depending on your particular vacation style.
“Everything is splendidly organized here. And people dutifully wait in lines!”
“Everything is a bit chaotic, but I really dig this carefree approach!”
Clean lettuce, apples, strawberries, tasty bread and a culture of flavored drinks: bubble tea, coffee, intense smoothies are all such a nice change.
Mangoes, pineapples, avocados, papaya and other tropical delights are consumed in copious amounts. After all, this stuff just doesn’t grow back home.
I gain 3 pounds in two weeks.
You gain 3 pounds in two weeks.
I eagerly return home, gratitude on my lips, vowing to go back again someday. “What a wonderful vacation!”
You eagerly return home, grateful for a splendid vacation. “What a rockin’ vacation!”

*The titles, coincidentally, are interchangeable with You at Home, Me at Home.

Okay, one little story from the trip:
The kids and I almost missed our New York to Santiago flight because we got pulled aside in security and questioned rather intensely. A particular item in Max's carry-on seriously concerned them. They ran it through a couple scanners, consulted other security gurus, made us wait anxiously while they went to a back room with it, swabbed it in front of us, and interrogated away. While I was slightly amused, Max understood how they could be concerned about an item of such power and import: his Harry Potter replica wand.