Culture shock

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Not arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  That wasn’t the culture shock … it was returning back to Northern Virginia … to the United States … to the land of plenty.  A veteran of the Haiti ministry, Genevieve, gave me this first hand observation and she was right.  While this wasn’t my first trip to an impoverished country, it was my first trip to Haiti and to a situation far removed from my daily life.

Electricity.  Safe drinking water.  Running water.  Toilets.  Convenience stores.  Infrastructure.  Good roads.  Trash collection.  So much more … we have such an abundance of stuff above and beyond the  basic structure of life.  We take it for granted, we forget it’s there.

We passed people walking, riding horses or donkeys, people packed 3 or 4 on motorbikes, crammed a dozen or so into brightly painted trucks.  They balanced large buckets or bags on their head, some hands free, some steadied with one hand while holding the hand of a small child.

As we traveled further and further from Port-au-Prince, the shacks and huts thinned out.  Fewer vehicles jostled and jockeyed for progress on crowded dusty and garbage filled streets.  There was still a great deal of garbage and trash … and the road was still in fairly good condition, with a few washouts and boulders.  The countryside has been largely deforested … valued trees being cut down for cooking or turning into charcoal.  Here and there in the distance, a think spiral of smoke rose up.  Quarries shaved into the hillsides.  Footpaths crisscrossed into the distance.

This trip was a yearly visit by the Haitian ministry at St.Timothy’s Episcopal church in Herndon Virginia.  We support a church and school in Chapateau which is barely more than a collection of huts and shacks on the side of a mountain centered around the church and school.  There are no roads.  To get to Chapateau, one must travel by boat from Cange, and then up a steep and winding footpath.  It’s rough going but the people there do it because they have no choice.

Where we stayed in Cange, electricity came and went.  Sometimes there was running water, but often there wasn’t.  We learned quickly to adapt, to plug in when the power was on – to take showers when the water flowed.  But, we never once even thought of complaining … we were too humbled to even consider it.

I realize this piece is a little chaotic … it jumps around, like my thoughts and feelings.  I think about the kids who laughed and giggled as I took pictures of the chickens running through the schoolyard, of the young people who knew where we came from and how much we had, of how hard their lives were and how uncertain their futures.  As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, everything I need either readily at hand or a click away … it’s mentally dizzying.  One emotion barely forms when another shoves it aside.

Haitians are people, just like us.  They want what we want – education for their children, a good job for themselves, respect, acknowledgment, to be happy and productive.  We have so much in common, more so than can be counted as differences.

For more information, go to the following site:  Haitian ministry

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Instant family … two days later

So far, we’re all still alive!  The girls have eaten regular meals (albeit it from restaurants), and thanks to the farmer’s market, we have a quiche for this evening.  At the moment, the girls are spending the afternoon hanging out with some of the other exchange students.  I took advantage of the alone time to doze on the sofa while watching football.

They are very nice young ladies, pleasant and very interested in learning more about the real America.  This part, I’m anxiously eager to show them.  I want them to meet lots of “your average American” … from the venders at the farmer’s market to parishioners at church to people in the neighborhood.  I want the girls to see we’re all individuals, we’re not lockstep in line with the latest moronic presidential tweet.  Granted, I only know one trump supporter, but the world sees enough of the world presented through his myopic eyesight.  I want Luisa and Christina to meet real people, as many as possible, and to find out we all want the same things in life … to be happy, to prosper, to help others and – above all – peace.

Tomorrow we’re going to carve pumpkins and visit a nearby plantation.  Their presentation of life on a plantation has a special emphasis on the lives of the slaves and is very educational.

During the week, the girls will alternate between attending a local high school and taking trips into DC with the rest of their group.  We’ll finish out the visit with Homecoming weekend at the High School, with a parade, pep rally, football game and a dance.  That’s about as Americana as it gets!  Go Team!!

From 0 to teenagers in 60 seconds …

I’m getting ready to host two German high school students for a couple of weeks.  The girls, ages 15 and 17, arrive this evening and I’ve spent the day (so far) running around trying to get ready.   Trouble is, I don’t know how to get ready for teenagers!

Since I’m single, and have no children, this is unknown territory.  Sure, I’ve been around kids, I have three nieces and they’re all quite nice … but then I don’t live with them.  I don’t know the ins and outs of having teenage girls in the house.  What do they eat?  What do they do for fun?  Will they find me a boring old lady?

I’m used to fending for myself and that’s a full time job.  It’s one I arguably struggle with. Eating regular meals?  Ha!  For dinner the other night I had, in this order, ice cream, potato chips, and finally – a ham sandwich.  And now, I’m supposed to keep two teenagers fed for two weeks!

Not just that … I’ll have to get them up in the morning!  Pack lunches and drive them to school!  It’s a coin toss some mornings to get myself up and out the door!  This is going to be quite an adventure.

Stay tuned!

A perfect Saturday

After listening to the absolute best radio program, “Wait, wait, don’t tell me” on NPR, I’m now ensconced on the sofa, watching that greatest of fall traditions, college football.  Granted, I’d be a little happier if FSU had stopped NC State on 4th and goal … thus setting the early score at 10-0 in favor the Wolfpack.

This is what I wait all summer for.  That moment when Chief Osceola rides out on Renegade, the horse rearing up to paw at the air, and thundering down as Osceola rams the flaming spear into midfield.

Goosebumps.

I yell enthusiastically, startling the dog who relocated to his bed in the kitchen.

My family is a big on watching sports, football, baseball, tennis … but, perhaps surprisingly, it’s the women who are parked in front of the television, remote control in hand and flipping between games.  Dad will watch but more often is happier to be in his workshop refinishing a table or turning a block of wood into a bowl through the magic of the lathe.

Do I just like bucking the trend?  Knocking holes in the stereotypical male fanbase?  Well, maybe a little – but it’s more than that.  It’s the (Woooo!  Sorry … FSU just landed a stunning pass for a first and goal) excitement of college rivalries … of ages old traditions. There’s a country music song I love about as much as I love college football – “The boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney.  Here are the lyrics, but google it and watch the video.  I dare you to deny the lump in your throat and the tear that comes to your eye.

When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass
I’m back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standing in the huddle, listening to the call
Fans going crazy for the boys of fall
They didn’t let just anybody in that club
Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood
To get to wear those game-day jerseys down the hall
The kings of the school, man, we’re the boys of fall
Well it’s turn to face the stars and stripes
It’s fighting back them butterflies
It’s call it in the air, alright
Yes sir, we want the ball
And it’s knocking heads and talking trash
It’s slinging mud and dirt and grass
It’s I got your number, I got your back
When your back’s against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall
In little towns like mine, that’s all they’ve got
Newspaper clippings fill the coffee shops
The old men will always think they know it all
Young girls will dream about the boys of fall
Well it’s turn and face the stars and stripes
It’s fighting back them butterflies
It’s call it in the air, alright
Yes sir, we want the ball
And it’s knocking heads and talking trash
It’s slinging mud and dirt and grass
It’s I got your number, I got your back
When your back’s against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall
Well it’s turn and face the stars and stripes
It’s fighting back them butterflies
It’s call it in the air, alright
Yes sir, we want the ball
And it’s knocking heads and talking trash
It’s slinging mud and dirt and grass
It’s I got your number, I got your back
When your back’s against the wall
You mess with one man, you got us all
The boys of fall
And FSU just scored!  Way to go, boys of fall!

My fear of flying …

Mine was never so bad as to cause me to avoid flying, but I would break out into a sweat just thinking about booking a flight!  Somehow, I was convinced my getting on the plane meant certain disaster, and – yes – I researched the odds of accidents and knew I was in more danger getting to the airport than being in the air.

Then one day, something miraculous happened … coming back from a Christmas trip to London with my parents, an angel who was on earth working at the British Airways counter, offered us seats in business class.

Picture it … you leisurely board first.  And with ample room to move around, and fewer people to dodge, you effortlessly find room for that carry-on luggage.  You ease into a nice roomy seat, and before you’ve had time to locate the emergency exits, a smiling flight attendant is offering you a glass of champagne.  It’s amazing how patient one can be after a bit of bubbly.  I didn’t care how long the plane took to get in the air as long as the legroom and champagne lasted.

And the delightful surprises kept coming!  Real food!  Real china plates with real metal silverware.  Real glassware and linen napkins.  I don’t eat so civilized at home!  Even the snacks were real – no piffy little bags of pretzels.

It was sublime … and I never wanted the flight to end.  It was the best part of the whole vacation, but – as with every highpoint – there’s a flip side.  The offer has never been repeated.  Now, I see the curtain from the other side and sigh wistfully.  Now, I know what I’m missing.

Now I’ve gone from a fear of flying to a fear of flying coach.

After the haircut…

Well … I did it.  After decades of long hair, and the battle cry, “I’ll die first” (a little dramatic, granted) whenever anyone asked me about the subject …

I cut my hair.

Eleven and a half inches.

Gone.

With a few snips, my old life fell away and the new me looked back from the mirror.  A little dizzy with adrenaline and slightly breathless.  Maybe I over-react about things … but this wasn’t a simple or straightforward thing.  It was an outward sign of an inward (and ongoing) metamorphosis.  The last thing that had this big a change on my life was getting Lasik surgery.  After a lifetime of being chained to glasses … with recorded vision of 20/400 … chained was how I felt.  20/400, by the way, uncorrected is considered legally blind.

So getting surgery was akin to being liberated from a tight and restricting cocoon.  Life was divided into WG and AL … with glasses and after Lasik.  There was such liberation and freedom, I felt the whole world must have felt the emotional impact it had on me.  Lots of people are happy with glasses, and I wore them for almost 40 years.  They were a huge part of my identity.  I was the girl with long hair and glasses.

Bye Bye glasses.  And I felt a subtle shift in myself.

Many years (decades) later, bye bye hair.  And another subtle shift … where will this one lead?

The hair by the way, was shipped off to “Locks of Love”.  Who will it help?  I’ll never know, but that’s the way of change.  Like ripples in water, you never know what shores the expanding ripples will touch.

 

The science of taking a chance

Are we talking coin toss here?  Heads door A, tails door B?  That 50/50 kind of chance that’s taught in Statistics 101?  What do I mean by taking a chance?

Taking a chance, for me at least, depends on a seemingly impossible combination of down in the weeds analysis and leap before you look abandon.  I can slice and dice the facts until the cows come home, weigh the pros and cons, imagine path A vs B … and after all that, blindly make the jump.

We take chances every day, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, sometimes before we know what’s happening.

The summer 2011 provided all three at once.

I was face with the chance to move to Virginia where I’d been offered a job.  At the time, I was between contracts and therefore unemployed so it was a pretty one sided chance.  Even so, I hesitated.  This was going to mean change.  Big change.  This chance meant having to sell my house in Florida, pack up everything I owned, and say goodbye to everyone and everything I knew.  To leave the place where I’d lived and worked for 25 years for the big unknown.

This chance meant leaving all that was known and familiar.

It was simple and complicated at the same time.

To me it was as straightforward as being employed and the location was inconsequential.  Simultaneously, it was unimaginable.  Relocating was of such magnitude it was impossible to comprehend.

One website states the average US citizen moves approximately 11 times in their life.  At 50, I was long overdue and ought to have been on my 5th or 6th move.  Instead, this would be only my second.  I had lived in a total of two houses, my parents and my own – not counting endless college dorm rooms and cramped little apartments.  My nerves were focused on how I would do in my new job, not my new living situation.  It was simply too big to wrap my head around.

I said “yes” before the reality of my choice could set in.  I didn’t flip a coin, make up a list of pros and cons, or even sleep on it.

Maybe our decisions are better left to play out as they happen.   If we could truly comprehend the magnitude of the chances we’re faced with, would we take them?

Sometimes, after weighting all the facts and analyzing all possible outcomes, we just have to listen to our gut – say a prayer – and take a chance.

Facing facts

There’s a quote from “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, “Argue for your limitations and they are yours.”  Quotes like that can be both inspirational and maddening.

“Act your age”

There’s truth in facing facts, but sometimes creativity comes from flying in the face of them.  Sometimes discovery, sometimes inspiration … sometimes cracked ribs and a possibly lacerated spleen.

Quotes can inspire you. They can also get you into trouble.

“You’re only as old as you feel”

That’s the one that ended with my doctor saying, “You could have a lacerated spleen” and dashing me off to an emergency CAT scan.

Was I ignoring my limitations?  Was I acting my age or was I only as old as I felt?

Being a native Floridian, my winters were spent at the beach … snow was something of legend and I grew up only experiencing it twice.  A dusting, but – in Florida – a dusting was front page news.  So, after 50 some odd years, I was now in Northern Virginia and winters here were actual seasons!  There were ski resorts just a couple of hours away, and it wasn’t long before I was geared up and ready to go.

I knew nothing about skiing of any kind.  Not water, let alone snow.  It wasn’t long before mental enthusiasm met with physical reality and towards the end of my first afternoon skiing, I took what would be my most spectacular fall of the day.  I spun across the run, like one of those fidget spinners, eyes closed (how would seeing improve the situation?), hearing and feeling bits of gear being ripped away, the swishing crashing sounds of underbrush and finally the solid thud of hitting an immovable object.

Cautiously I opened my eyes, the blue sky of the open run replaced with green trees and a bit of fencing.   I didn’t feel any injury, just cold and wet from being half buried in snow.  On the drive home, my side began to ache.  I ignored it as simply sore muscles.  But after a week where the slightest movement resulted in significant pain, I finally saw a doctor.  He never said, “At your age…” but it was implied.  The two cracked ribs were not implied, they were quite real.  My spleen, thankfully, was fine.

So, are you “only as old as you feel” or should there be an * at the end of that platitude?  Where’s the line between “young at heart” and the emergency room?  What should we seek adventure or play it safe?

If we believe too much in our age, we might miss out on new adventures or never discover a new activities.  However, if we throw too much caution to the wind – we might end up seriously injured, or worse.  We don’t bounce as easily or recover as quickly as time goes by.

Argue for your limitations and they are yours … just remember to argue both sides, for and against …

and don’t be afraid to act your age because you’re only as old as you feel!

Deceiver in chief

It is something to marvel at … the lies coming out of the white house and the absolute conviction with which they’re being delivered.  Imagine having a conversation with someone and you both look up at the sky about which they remark is a bright shade of pink.  100% dead sure of it when any other right thinking person, no matter which side of the aisle they live on, would argue the sky is blue.  You may not believe in climate change (although, how can you not?!) but you can agree the sky is blue.   You may not believe the Russians had anything to do with affecting the presidential election (although, again how can you not?!) but you can agree the sky is blue.

Yet there stands delusional don, and his clown car of a white house (more and more silliness keeps pouring out, as if from an infinite source) spouting absolute nonsense.  Trump claims to have certain people have called to heap praise upon him … these people, for the record, said they did no such thing.  And whatever he does, it’s the greatest in history … he’s the greatest speaker, the greatest deal maker, the greatest –fill in the blank- EVER.  I’ll happily fill in that blank with something he’s the greatest one of.

He keeps announcing the impending death of the Affordable Care Act … and then, gleefully, states “I was right” when even the “Skinny repeal” failed to pass and insurance industry experts expressed worry at the uncertain future.  Of course, he was right!  He was right in the same way a burglar, upon robbing a house, says “you failed to install a burglar alarm, so you got broken into.  I was right!”  He’s cutting the legs out from under the plan, and then claiming victory over its assumed failure.  That isn’t being right.  It’s stacking the deck and gloating over the outcome.

Every day, since the election, I’ve been a mess of anxiety and worry.  What will he do or say next?  What shady appointment, conversation, or email will stir the pot next?  What if the situation were reversed, and Hillary Clinton at the center of this insanity, what would happen?  I’ll tell you what would happen … the republicans would be handing out subpoenas like free samples in front of a new lunch stand.  There would be so many charges filed, hearings held, and calls for immediate impeachment flying around, it would be like a political hurricane was sweeping through.

It’s time to stand up to this insanity – republican, democratic, independent – whatever your political affiliation.  Insanity is insanity.  And in this case, it’s in sitting in the white house.

He’s the ultimate pot calling the kettle black.  “Investigate those people, nothing to see over here.”  “Do as I say, never mind what I’m doing.”, “it’s not my fault” … in other words … the buck stops wherever it’s convenient in order to avoid responsibility.  If it benefits him, he crows “look at me!” but if it doesn’t – well, blame anyone else.  The trump reality … for him it’s cherry picking what to believe … for us, it’s living with a temper-tantrum throwing child posing as president.

There’s a magnet on my refrigerator, “I love my country … it’s the government I’m afraid of”

Ain’t it the truth.

Shear indecision

I’m thinking of cutting my hair.  This isn’t a trivial “do I or don’t I” moment as I’ve had long hair for most of my life.  The last time it was cut in the true sense of the word (I don’t count trims or anything where the length is at least mid-back) was approximately 1973.  And that time wasn’t my idea.  My mother, having threatened that if I didn’t take better care of my long locks, she would have them cut to a manageable style.  I didn’t and she did.  The horror of that moment, of the scissors slicing through my hair, has stayed with me to such a firm degree that I avoided the hairdressers for decades and trimmed the ends myself or (oddly enough) only trusted my mother to trim them.  Guess I figured that seeing the trauma I went through, she would be reluctant to repeat the experience and thus would trim cautiously.

As the years passed, and my hair grew, I took great pride in it.  It was long and thick and set me apart from the crowd.  I was “the girl with the long hair”.  Of course, not all the comments were positive – one time on the school bus, as we were going home and I had my ever-present sketchbook and other art supplies, some girl made the comment, “Long hair and glasses, you’re either smart or an artist.”

Where do we find our identity?  Why does so much of it seem to be ruled by external devices – how we look, what we do, where we live.  We are so many things, only a small fraction of which are outside ourselves – yet, it’s so easy to get lost in those outside things.  We don’t realize we’re doing it until one of those things is gone and we’re no longer the one who lives in that house or has that job.  We’re no longer who we thought we were.

Who will I be when I’m not “the girl with the long hair”?