Sunday, January 31, 2016

To Insurance or Not to Insurance

I'm sitting at my desk on the second floor of our home. A distinct rumbling starts at my feet. I feel it vibrate through the bottom of my chair and watch the computer screen shudder. I brace myself for what else might come.

It's distinctly an earthquake. Albeit a small one, the earth has shuddered. I sit and wait for aftershocks.

I text my closest neighbors. Did you feel the small earthquake?

My phone rings. I don't answer hello, but with a weary-excited "Did you feel it?"

"No. But I'm driving." Tammy thinks I'm crazy.

I text my friends on the other side of my house. Nikki responds, "Yes! I was wondering what that was."

I'm not crazy!

Within a few minutes another neighbor who didn't feel the quake sends me the link to in a neighboring town-25 miles away, a mountain away, was a 2.9 earthquake.

It's astounding to think of our vulnerability when the earth shakes and more especially if it really let lose. It's astounding to think I felt vibrations that shot under a mountain and reached the floor of my office.

I know mini earthquakes. Having lived in Los Angeles and San Diego, I've felt a few rumblers.  The uneasiness starts at one's feet, rattles upward and in milliseconds the bookshelves are shaking, and always when it stops, gratitude. After having grabbed the person next to me, my immediate thoughts were always the children. Where are they? Are they safe? Can I get to them quickly?

For Tony's last birthday, I gave him an unexpected present--a present I sense he didn't appreciate. I gave him a tent--but actually he couldn't appreciate it, because I told him to find the one he wanted and buy it. I know, I know.

Six months later our tent discourse is ongoing without any resolution. We don't agree on its use. If Tony ever gets around to buying his birthday present, he would expect to use and enjoy the investment, but my purpose is for it to stay in the garage and never use it unless....there were an earthquake.

But there's the nuisance factor: spending money that may not be necessary, the space it will take in the garage, and if we never use it, when the time comes, we may not know how to set it up.

The nuisance factor is the gamble factor. A gamble I usually take with rental cars when I don't get the high pressure $20 a day insurance on the car that costs only $25 to rent. I'm always relieved when I return the car unscathed and dent free. I don't gamble with the toaster oven warranties and the flight insurance either. We always wonder over full coverage on a new car, or earthquake and flood insurance on an old house. Or investing in a hand gun, or in extra food storage. It's the un-predictable future for which we'll be happy we have it, if it happens, and wasteful if it didn't.

After sending the earthquake-alert text to Tony too, I sent him another: Sure wish that tent was in the garage. The gamble factor seems too great for such terrible odds--out in the cold (37 degrees rain and snow tonight) without a home.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beat The Boys!

My mother gave me a sincere piece of advice when I was just a girl.

"Never beat boys," she said.

The unforeseen consequence of her advice was that I grew up with a strong desire to beat boys at everything!!

To hold back on skills and talents, just to let a boy win, wasn't sound or logic to a daughter with a competitive spirit and hours of tennis lessons. The wayward wisdom probably had its roots in an earlier century when my mother's mother's mother gave her the same advice and her mother's mother before passed the admonishment and so on and so on. Yet, this errant advice from a cadre of great great grandmothers, I am actually grateful for. It has served me well.

Until Santa delivered a pickle ball set to the Martinez household.

"You ready to play pickle ball?"

"I am."

"This time, I'm going to beat you."


Four undefeated games later, I played down my victory. But Tony couldn't get the loss off his mind. All that night and the next day, there were references to the pickle ball match. When I complained of soreness, when I explained that my arms felt like they'd been stitched to my shoulders, his sympathy was absent.

"Good," he said with a sweet smile.

"My mom was right. Never beat boys!" I conceded to her advice of ill repute. Better 50 years too late than never.

My grown-man husband couldn't let go of his 4-0 thrashing defeat, and he was haunting me. Maybe that piece of advice I once thought lousy came from smart, smart women who lost to avoid endless smack.

The next day at 3:15 p.m., after asking Tony if he'd like to walk with me, I got a return text. "Would you rather play pickle ball?"

"REVENGE" I returned, chuckling at his desire to take another beating.

"I"ll let you win again!" Smug.

Once at the gym, we set up the net efficiently. No time to be wasted. Rematch fever filled the gym.

First game: mine.
Second game: Tony's.
Third game: mine
Fourth game: mine.

I hadn't learned.

"You know I'll beat you eventually."

"Yes, I do. Because you'll start reading pickle ball strategy books; you'll start taking lessons; you'll hire a coach. And you won't let up until you win."

"I just have to start making you laugh on the court."

Like he did in tennis. Yes, and that is why we no longer play tennis.

It may be that the first time I beat him in pickle ball was in Mexico. Tony had consistently won until I got my old tennis mojo back, and I ended up beating him in the last match. I call it the great Mexican pickle ball curse.

This morning, my husband's sweet nature momentarily returned and he asked me if I was still sore.

"Yes, but it's the top of my back thighs that ache."

"Not as much as my pride," he replied.

My mother may have been right.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Money Is the Answer, Money is the Problem--Haiti #7

A marriage therapist once told my sister she'd much rather work with wealthy couples than poor couples. It wasn't because she knew she'd get paid, it was because rich people already knew their problems couldn't be solved with money. Poor people tended to believe that money could save their marriage when the therapist knew it couldn't.

One Haitian story proves that money can be more curse than help.

A family ran an orphanage in Haiti before the 2010 earthquake. When the earthquake hit, this one particular orphanage received extensive publicity in the United States. Over $500,000 was sent directly to the family. Haiti has a transparent coconut-vine and apparently everyone knew of the family's windfall. Their little boy was kidnapped. Several people came forward to extort money with empty promises of returning the child.

He was never found.

When I go to the grocery store, fill my tank with gas, go out to lunch, pay my bills, I find that money is extremely important. But over and over again we see that money alone doesn't solve problems. It is the people in charge of the money that solve the problems that can be solved with money. If the trusted recipient is corrupt, problems are never solved.

Billions of dollars went to Yasser Arafat to help the Palestinians. I was intensely disappointed when I learned his wife lived in Paris, in a hotel with a daily cost of over $15,000. Yasser's personal fortune before his death was estimated at 350 million to 7 billion. And how are the Palestinians doing? How much of that intended money actually went to education, housing and improving their lives? Would they still be launching rocks and rockets if the allocated money had actually been used as intended?

We've all heard and believed the old adage, "Money is the root of all evil," but I disagree. Money can be the root of all that is good: charity, education, nutrition, decent housing. I would say the love of money, more than the love of mankind--that is the root of all evil.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love At the Trevi

Why do happily married older women want their young single friends to find love too?

Trevi Fountain. The legend says if a visitor tosses a coin into the fountain, then he or she will return to Rome. Thirty-five years ago, I tossed a coin into the Trevi, and I have returned, therefore the legend must be true. With my faith riding high in legends, I decide to create my own legend for happily single, Ms. Laura.

"They say if you toss a coin over your shoulder and into Trevi Fountain while making a wish, the wish will come true," I tell her with a teasing smile, "Are you game?"

Ms. Laura is one of the most "game" people I know. She has known meddling women like me for years and so she smiles, giggles even, and gets ready to toss her coin. Since I'm determined to shake up her electromagnetic energy field with the magic of Trevi Fountain, we even document the moment with a measure of fanfare.

"Well, how do you feel?" I ask after she's tossed her coin

Ms. Laura doesn't feel any different. Yet.

But the next night, a man on a moped tries to entice her for a drink. Ms. Laura, a very smart woman with three college degrees in Political Science, Latin, and Dairy Science, doesn't fall for the old Italian on a moped invitation. In my opinion, she's waiting for something better, and it will come to pass since making a wish at Trevi Fountain.

It was 19 BC in the time of Agrippa the Emperor, that the source of pure water was found, and of course it was found by a virgin diviner. Such auspicious beginnings! It wasn't until 1732 that Pope Clement XII commissioned the building of Trevi Fountain, the largest and most stunning fountain in Rome. It took 30 years to complete and it is a Baroque masterpiece carved of mostly travertine and Carrara marble. The God of Ocean, Abundance and Health oversee the masterpiece fountain,  the pure water, the 3000 euro in coins it collects each day, and the tourists who throng the square for a little wishing magic.

Just the sound of so many gallons of water spilling off the marble and recirculating for another ride, infuses our souls with joy. I feel energetic, loving, and certain Ms. Laura's dreams will come true. But then again, I will never know what she actually wished for--perhaps she wished that women like myself would stop insisting that love is the remedy.

So why do us married older women hope for love for our single friends?  Perhaps one day, Ms. Laura will answer the question herself.

 The beloved, mysterious, and beautiful Ms. Laura at Trevi

Writing our wishes at a Trevi Fountain gelato shop over hot chocolate. Notice the wall above the bar--written wishes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where Are You God?

Two summers ago, while visiting Monaco, we entered the simple yet stunning Catholic church where Princess Grace was buried.

Upon entering, a nun approached us asking for a donation. She had the purest heart and when Tony handed her a small donation my heart ached in the kind of way that sends a message to the brain to start the tears.

As I walked at the edge of the church, I had a prayer in my heart and I asked, "God, are you here?" Again my heart clenched, my body filled with warmth and the tears flowed. It was a direct answer to my prayer. Yes, God was here.

I was excited to visit the Sistine chapel. The last restoration had  revitalized the colors to their original brilliance. Before entering, we were told silence was required. I looked forward to those silent, designated-too-few-minutes we were allowed. An estimated 28,000 people a day walk through the Sistine.

How I wanted to lay on the floor and gaze as long as I wanted; this was impossible and instead we were ushered through by what I perceived as cranky Italian guards. I was saddened too when so many people were not silent. Around the chapel were ledges for people to sit, but these were occupied. I wondered if it was okay to sit on a step well out of the way of moving traffic. I cautiously, slowly, sat.

"Stand!" one of the guards barked.

Before we entered the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, our guide gave us a short tutorial. Pope Julius, to whom she referred to as a bad pope, had commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. Michelangelo was against painting the ceiling because he was a sculptor. Considerable pressure comes when the pope asks--Michelangelo begrudgingly consented. Against his wishes, he spent four miserable years painting the ceiling.

I remembered the reverent atmosphere of Princess Grace's chapel and the question I asked. I once again asked, "God, are you here?"

This time the answer was as sure as it was in Monaco, yet this time the answer was, God is in one's heart.

How true I would understand the answer to be. I took the answer to mean that God was not in the Sistine chapel. But for some he was.

Later, students shared their sacred experiences of being in the Sistine. I had missed out. I hadn't allowed God to be in that chapel because I had focused on the crowd, the non-compliance to silence, the militant guards who needed to keep order.

What we allow to be in our heart, becomes that which surrounds us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Alone At Musei Capitolini

In a city of 2.9 million people living within 495 square miles, traveling within a tour group of 90 people including 50 boisterous teenagers, the word alone didn't exist. Wanting to enjoy and treasure the experience, I put alone on the back burner and loved every minute of my company and the people-packed ancient city.

Alone was waiting for me back home.

Or so I thought.

With one and a half hours left in Rome, assuming I would never return (because I didn't toss a coin in Trevi this time), I over-contemplated what to do. Within a small group of students and adults, there were several options: returning to Trevi fountain, exploring the streets, shopping, or visiting the Capitolini-a prized museum known for several famous statues.

My heart said museum, but I was hesitant to spend my last minutes among a museum crowd of people waiting their turn for a close-up. Fortunately, Susannah swayed us towards the Capitolini. Knowing time was a premium, I suggested we split up, and...

my unknown Roman dream came true: time alone in the museum.


It was 6:00 p.m. and perhaps the dark night, the cold, and a too-soon closing time, kept the crowd unexpectedly small. As I moved from room to room, I was alone. I chose a sculpture or painting and moved close, imagining its artist, its original purpose,  or the person for whom the work was commissioned. Within the inner bowels of the museum, I gloried in the space of the Palazzo de Conservatori apartments filled with 18th century frescoes, one of which depicted a favorite ancient story: Hanibal riding an elephant, driving his army to conquer the Roman Empire.

Oh if these walls could talk; but they actually did!

 Romulus and Remus, the fathers of Rome, raised by the she-wolf. The sculpture was first thought to have been cast by the Etruscans in the fifth century BC, but carbon dating has since proved it is a piece from the first century AD.
 I took the time to peruse this ancient stella and made an amusing discovery.
 This room was big enough for the four of us. The Burial of Saint Petronella, by Guercino. This painting was once requisitioned by French troops and hung in the Louvre but reclaimed and brought home in early 1800s.
 Jesus teaching in the temple.
Part of the small Egyptian collection. 359 BC from the temple of Isis

Indescribable artist abilities.

My alone time was such a treasure, but every time I overly-treasure a tangible good, or a measurable commodity, I think of a dear friend's theory about hell. She hypothesized that earthly possessions, hobbies, and habits we loved could become our hell. She used the example of golf or running--in healthy doses they each bring us joy, heath and vitality. If overdone, if we had to run or play golf 24 hours a day,  the sports would become a personal hell.

Mary's theory becomes a warning for balance. I try to imagine the entire trip all alone. 

After an hour and a half in the museum, I'm happy to greet my crowd of travelers, my friends, my students.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pizza, Parking and Popes

1. After too many nights of a plate of meat, potatoes and salad; after having a Greek salad with EVERY meal, we arrive in Rome and dine at our first pizza cafe! We watch the pizza men ball, punch, and roll out crusts. When the first pizza slides out of the oven, we're all shocked to see everyone is served their own pizza!! This must be a mistake--but it's not. I can't imagine that I'll eat a whole pizza. But I do! It's not one of those personal mini pizzas. It's a full size thin crusted, margarita pizza. The sauce is so rich, the cheese so creamy, the crust so perfectly crunchy and soft.

The next day, our options are beef stew, calamari or pizza. Pizza it is again! And again-- next afternoon's lunch, and the next day's dinner. I even order a mushroom pizza in the kosher/Italian/Jewish bistro. I wonder what's going to happen when I wake up on Tuesday morning (in America) and I don't feed my body a whole pizza for lunch or dinner. Will it adjust?

2. There are a million cars in Rome, 350,000 scooters, motorcycles and mopeds, and only 350,000 official parking places. That's why the cars are mini, and why we see them parked at all different angles. At least once in our lives, we've been tortured by the non-existent parking place or had it stolen from a fast-swerving, swindling driver. Tawanda! Imagine this challenge everyday.

3.We are visiting St. Paul's cathedral. This is supposedly where the ancient apostle is buried. Along the upper walls are paintings of all the Popes. Our most lovely guide tells us that Nostradamus predicted the world would end when there were no more spaces for the Popes in St. Pauls. Fortunately, there are 23 spaces left.

4. Unsure if asking about the supposed Pope Joan would be a cultural faux pas, I hesitate until I arrange the words as innocuously as possible. Our guide doesn't seem to be bothered at all and responds, "Yes, she was an intellect who slid into the position after the devastation of the black plague. There was no organization and so it was possible. Romans acknowledge her, but you will never find her portrait among the 267 Popes at St. Paul. Nor at the Vatican." And the same goes for the Popes in Avignon.

5. Mussolini's existence and destruction cannot be ignored while in Rome. We pass the Villa Torlonia and learn that Mussolini confiscated the villa from a prominent Jewish family. He also allowed Hitler to deport Roman Jews. There is some satisfaction to the Romans that the villa was built over the Jewish catacombs--underground graves. The very people he helped to destroy were buried underneath his residence without him ever knowing.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Not-Quite International Incident

Because of the recent attacks in Paris, when we reach a tourist site, the first thing of note is the military presence. Soldiers dressed in full battle uniform carry machine guns ready to shoot; it's strangely comforting and equally disconcerting.

 When boarding the ferry or the plane to return home, there are four passport checkpoints. We are scrutinized as if potential threats--This is the world to which we adapt.

So naturally, when Caleb, Elise and I are exploring and shopping in Florence, and when we pass under a huge Guess sign in a piazza, I take notice at the abandoned bags, yet I keep it to myself. A block away, it starts to bother me, and I mention that we need to check on those abandoned bags. Caleb, also on high alert, knows exactly what I'm talking about and wants to return too. We have a possible international incidence we can't ignore.

There is a family sitting at the table next to the stack of abandoned bags. We understand the bags could blow up any minute, but lives are at stake, and so we approach.

"Excuse me, are those bags yours?"

Fortunately, the father speaks English. He stands up, peers over his family and says, "That is dangerous." He moves about and inquires in Italian to the people in the piazza. A security guard tells him the bags belong to a homeless person who is inside the bookstore.

The possibility of our international incident shuts down faster than it took to imagine.

This is the world to which we adapt.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Gelato and the Way It Used To Be

Back in the United States, my schedule still a little jet-lag-skeewhumper, I awoke this morning at 1:40 a.m. and again at 5:00 a.m. The second awakening was accompanied by an intense craving for ice cream. I blame this craving on recent indulgences of Italian gelato. I actually prefer American ice cream, but there's something about "When in Rome, do as the Romans." Henceforth, it is requisite to indulge in gelato.

A fellow traveler had this advice: When in Italy, one must abide by two rules only. 1. Always walk everywhere. The purpose of this is to not miss a single gelato shop on one's journey. 2. Buy a gelato at every gelato shop unless each hand is already carrying a cup or cone of gelato.

From this admonishment, we see that gelato shops are-a-plenty today in Italy. During my last visit (years ago), I don't remember the two-gelato-shops-on-every-street. But then, a lot has changed.

One of the significant changes is the lack of open exploration of ancient sites. Wandering freely through the Acropolis, up and down the Parthenon steps and across the sacred ground was once allowed.

I asked our guide when it had changed. "The keep-out ropes only went up in the early 1980s." My memory was validated.

I also distinctly remember standing on the forum steps with a professor from Cambridge. He wasn't meant to be our guide, but there was a mess-up in schedules and the forum was guide-short, so somehow he stepped in for the most marvelous tour of my life which included walking on the forum steps. This time they were cordoned off.

Those were the days: the days before a madman took a hammer to Michelangelo's  Pieta; before the discovery that human breath left salt deposits on frescoes, before graffiti reached "art" status. Before ISIS made it its mission to destroy all of antiquity. The sad fact is that war has always threatened art, and architecture, and carried it home to the motherland. It is a different kind of madman today that threatens antiquity.

And so, a favorite long ago memory will always be when a gelato shop was a discovery and not just another gelato shop on every corner: A warm summer night while roaming through the dark streets of Florence, we came upon a bright piazza full of revelry. Most of the crowd stood around a shop, and I was told it was gelato. I'd never heard of gelato and after several days of traveling around Italy this was my first encounter. I probably chose three flavors (because the essence of habit is that we order the same number of gelato flavors), which were scooped into a small cup. Wow! I'd never tasted ice cream like that before. These were the days before Haagen Dazs and ice cream shops that only specialized in ice cream with fillers and artificial additives.

Over the years, more gelato shops opened to meet the demand. It was no longer "That one great gelato shop in Florence; tourists must now wade through a lot of mediocre gelato. Yet, we still comply in the overindulgence that follows us home and wakes us in the night.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lingo Studento

The week before leaving for Greece, we gather for some writing prep. The students write and when they finish I ask them to share. One student stands up and reads some beautiful thoughts, but he comes to a sentence I don't understand.  He begins "My jam is_____" but I don't hear the rest because my mind sticks on the unfamiliar use of the word "jam."

When the student finishes, I ask, "What does the word jam mean?"

The students all grin when I don't understand their secret society language. It takes a few humorous times for me to get what jam means. I smile at their creativity, their mutable language, and how they all claim membership in a club defined by language and which I am not a part.

When we arrive in Greece, I begin the journey at the back of the bus. Students are still insecure with relationships they have yet to develop, and a student asks me to sit by her. After a friendship develops with another girl her age, I move next to a young man I do not know very well; but he takes me into his confidence. "Mrs. Martinez, I need your advice. I like this girl, but I don't know whether I should pursue anything on this trip or if I should wait until we get home. What do you think?"

I dig deep. I want to say the right thing. I ask a few questions.

He says, "A few people came up to me and told me their bus had shipped us together."

Completely puzzled I ask, "What does shipped mean?"

He gives me that incredulous look that only teenagers are capable of when talking to a clueless adult.

"You know, shipped?"

I'm still staring blankly. "Oh you don't really know, do you," he says, and proceeds to explain that "It's like when our ships come in together. It's when people predict two people will be together."

"Clever," I respond. "That's the second word you've all had to teach me."

"Does that bother you?"

His question takes me by surprise, and I have to think about where I'm at in life. "No it doesn't bother me. I know who I am and I like where I'm at. I'm not even supposed to be familiar with the secret language of teenagers. I love that language is elastic and playful."

But I do know how to ruin their secret language. Is all I need to do is start using "My jam," or "Lit!" or "Savage," or "Get wrecked!" and it will disappear faster than a rabbit with a gun shooting at his hind legs.

As the days pass, as new friendships solidify, another difference emerges: the back of the bus is now a student only zone. I've been relegated to the front of the bus where I've always belonged--with the people who speak my language.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Muddling of Charity Haiti #6

Years ago, I was the self appointed, project leader in my Honors Classical Civilization class. After studying the ancient world, the professor wanted us to make a contribution to the modern world. Part of our final was to Do unto others. The final exam coincided with Christmas. Perfect! 

We signed up for a sub-for-Santa project. We took our list, went to Mervyns and purchased clothing for our family. On the appointed night, we drove to the family's home. It was my plan (remember I was in charge of creating a charitable experience that would turn everyone's hearts toaster-oven warm), to knock on the door, be invited inside and feel the gratitude for all our benevolence. Dear us. One of my companions suggested it would be better to be anonymous. Oh no, I wanted to make sure the family had gift receipts and that we had human contact.

 Nothing terrible happened, but I had misjudged the real purpose of charity.

To give or not to give is a theme that frequently runs through my mind and writing. I have yet to solve the complicated algorithm of giving: when is it best to help and when it is best to step back? When am I really serving others and not myself?

On a Haitian street, a man sat working at a sewing machine. The machine predated the style my mom used when I was a child. It was hand operated since electricity in Haiti is sketchy. But at first I didn't think of the electricity and to myself, I planned, dreamed, and concocted how I could provide a new sewing machine and how it would increase his productivity and eventually improve his life. After a considerable amount of time devoted to planning his life, all unbeknownst to him, I realized I most likely wouldn't be improving his life at all.

My daughter informed me of a guest speaker in one of her classes who came to address charity and the needs of the poor. The organization had donated prenatal machinery to a hospital in a poverty stricken country. One year later, the organization returned to assess the first gift and found the machinery broken and unused. They had missed the mark. When they asked the people directly about their needs, they found that midwives, instead of incubators, would have much preferred sharp scissors to cut umbilical cords to reduce the infection from using other instruments. 

While in Haiti, we met with a man whose desire is to open an orphanage, but in visiting orphanages, visiting schools, and corresponding with charitable organizations, we came to a strong conclusion about orphanages in Haiti:

One of our greatest concerns is that orphanages are taking children from their families.  Parents cannot provide for their children, so naturally, they want the better care the orphanage provides. In the long term, Haiti's children need to be raised by their own parents--Haiti's strength will be increased when the family is the core. We need to help the family, the parents; this will only be accomplished if parents have decent work. Haitians are hard workers--this was apparent. We are working to find ways to bring cottage industries to women in Haiti. This is where we would prefer to put money with hopes of long term solutions and with hopes of building parents so they can provide and care for their children.

In the 1960s and 70s, the US welfare system implemented a plan that in the long term is blamed for the destruction and patriarchal strength of the African American family. A woman could receive more money if there wasn't a father in the home. 

In our striving to help others, we often muddle the meaning of help. True help is aiding others to help themselves. We must throw the rope into the pit but the person still has to climb themselves out.

And so I have hope, not only for others, but for myself too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pope Francis

We had five hours to explore the undiscovered in Rome; seven of us decided to start with the synagogue and the Jewish quarter. A small crowd waited at the front door and barricades were set up all around the synagogue's perimeter.

"The Pope is coming," we heard. We wouldn't be seeing the synagogue--not a problem nor a disappointment. Remember, we were flexible.

We were all hungry so we found a kosher restaurant. We came in from the cold and gathered around a table to share a meal. Some found in their first kosher experience they couldn't mix dairy and meat--no pepperoni pizzas for the teenagers.

As we sat in the warm restaurant, almost finished with our meal, we noticed a few people gathering around one of the barricades. We began to think about the possibility of actually seeing the Pope. It was a Sunday afternoon and what could be better than seeing the Pope while in Rome? Exactly.

We sent the four teenagers off while we waited for the bill. Once outside the wind had picked up. As we stood looking for our charges, we couldn't see them anywhere. I approached one of the police at the barricade and asked about the Pope.

"Coming at 4:00," we were told.

We spotted the kids! Behind the barricades! We marched up to the guards and the only requirement was a "pat down," with a metal detector wand. We were in and it was 20 minutes until we could see the Pope.

All through Italy, people ask about the time, or request someone's time with these two questions, "Is it German time or Italian time?" When an exact meeting time is important, the person is asked to attend in "ten German minutes."  Precision and promptness apparently do not reside in the Italian heart.

I sensed though, that the Pope would be punctual for his meeting at the synagogue. Twenty minutes in the cold was not much time.

As the minutes ticked by, the anticipation barometer rose. At ten minutes until 4:00, the plastic was torn off the royal blue carpets. Guards, police, and people of the synagogue moved a little faster, looked around a little bit more. Cameramen on top of scaffolding peered through their lenses.

And then he was there. A dear old man, in a long white robe, turned the corner with an unexpectedly small entourage.  He proceeded walking forward, stopped and raised his hand to greet us. A special moment indeed. Special to be around people who revered this man as the head of their church. Special to see a man who is trying to bring peace and spirituality to a troubled world.

The head Rabbi waited for him on the blue carpet. He and the Pope embraced and for a moment, all was right in the world. There was no possibility of a Holocaust, no crusades, no anti-semiticim, no anti-catholicism. The answer to "Am I my brother's keeper?" was a definite yes.

While walking away from that historic moment, excited and touched we were able to witness such an event, Nate reminded his son, and unintentionally me: "We all believe in the same things, the same God. We need to remember this more than the tiny differences that make us different religions."

We'd only had five hours to explore the undiscovered in Rome; but the undiscovered is more than ancient alleys, ruins and art. The best undiscovered may not be tangible and as we learned, it's impossible to predict. It's encounters with the unplanned-- being in the right place at the precise right moment without knowing what that moment will be. Serendipity requires openness. Intuitiveness  and flexibility are as important as a map. And if one is lucky, she may run into the Pope.

 Pope Francis on his way to build and restore one of the world's bridges.
Slade, Ben, Susanna, Annie and Isabella all waiting to see the Pope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Independent Women

I can't let go of the feelings I had at the nun's monastery: Santa Barbara, also known as the holy monastery of Rousanou, in Meteora.

Meteora means "middle of the sky," or suspended in the heavens.

Aside from the miracle of its existence, it is a place of incredible peace and devotion. The views are fantastic, the air is pure. That the monastery exists on a pillar of rock, seems to say, "Stand up and fight. Be unique, strong. Choose your existence."

The nun's monastery differs distinctly from the monk's. The immaculate stone floors, the dressed windows, the potted plants, the overall cleanliness; it had "the woman's touch."

A neat, tiny gift shop was tucked into one of the corners where the nuns sold their own marmalade, honey from their hives, olive oil, embroidered napkins, cosmetics and creams from bee royal jelly and hand rolled candles from beeswax.

The few nuns we encountered were old. Very old. And again we wondered, why did they choose a reclusive life on the top of a rock.

Susanna called it the ultimate woman's getaway.

She may be on to something.

They started living at the monastery in the early 1500s. They gave up marriage and children; but in the 1500s, perhaps the traditional expectations for a woman, were the difficult expectations. In a world where women had no say in their lives, the monastery may have meant freedom. Freedom to live a quiet life, to live a life of devotion, to be in control of their own lives. To be free of patriarchal control.

The only dependency on men would have been waiting for the priest to come and hold mass, my friend reminds me.  But I have a different take: "I bet they didn't wait."

Cheers to two (what I would consider), modern day independent women.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Praise Music

I was lying down in the back of the boat, tired after a day in the sun and swimming with turtles in the Galapagos Islands. We were only a half hour away from our destination, when a jarring thud hit the bottom of the boat. Shocked, I popped up to catch a quick glimpse of a whale fin flying into the air. A killer whale surfaced, then slid back into the sea.

The boat sputtered to a stop. Crew members climbed to the back of the boat and lifted both engines out of the water. One propeller was completely bent and rendered inoperable. The other was slightly damaged and the crew assessed it might be enough to get us to the island. The half hour trip turned into a tortuous three hour tour.

I layed back down and turned on my music. The Broadway recording of Les Miserables got me through the long boat ride. I listened to the whole score, "Bring Him Home," and "A Heart Full of Love," over and over again. The music saved me and to this day, I am grateful to Les Miserable for helping me to endure.

Today's bus ride is across the Italian boot from the coast of Ancona to the interior of Florence. The bus ride was preceded by an overnight ferry ride, and I was relieved when I heard the trip was only one hour. When I learn it takes over three hours, I despair. I remember the travel delay in the Galapagos; I remember how music kept me sane.

I pull out my iPhone, clip in my earphones and thumb through today's selection. This trip will be saved and remembered by the voice of Carole King, Cat Stevens and every other significant song from the 70s and 80s.

Praise music.

Late one night we gather into the piazza after exploring and indulging in another gelato. The hamburger, French fry place blasts out a Justin Bieber song, which our dancing girls all know by heart. The music, the dancing is contagious and very soon an Italian woman joins the party. It could have gone all night except the bus arrives and shuts it down.

It's our last night with Antonio, bus driver extraordinaire, and he decides to turn on and turn up the Italian radio station. Popular songs incite an impromptu bus chorus. We are dancing in our seats and most of the students who know the songs by heart belt the words, the emotion out together. It's another memorable moment created by the unmistakeable energy of music.

Praise the universality of music.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Traveler

As a traveler, it's always cool to find a place one did not know existed.

Such is a place called Meteora; it's beauty, its history and its significance to distant and latter-day monks and nuns is stunning.

After arriving in the village of Kalambaka on a dark night, after pulling curbside to a hotel described as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I woke in the morning and stepped outside on my balcony to a view of sandstone rock pillars scattered on the edge of the city. The pillars looked as if they'd been shaped, formed  by giant cyclops with play-doh, and placed amongst the landscape.

As our bus wound around the mountainous corners, more play-doh pillars came into view. And then the impossible--monasteries built at the very top of each pillar, blended brick and wood with rock. Among ten monasteries, each on its own rock-pillar, we were here to visit two: one for nuns and one for monks.

The question had been asked for centuries by Greeks and visitors alike--how did this happen? There has never been an answer, and for me, only one word comes to mind: tenacity.

Tenacity: not easily stopped or pulled apart: firm or strong
:continuing for a long time
:very determined to do something

The tenacity of men (I assume the endeavors didn't include women, but how wrong I may be), is what drove them to build an impossible structure on an impossible piece of land.

In the fifteenth century, these tenacious monks who sought peace and a place to dedicate their lives to God somehow decided to find an impenetrable place to do so. Was the persecution so horrible? Or was their devotion incomprehensibly deep? Did they want to prove their devotion to God. How long did the construction take?

To build the monastery on top of the rock, it first had to be climbed. Building material had to be lifted. Eventually, a staircase was built, but history tells us, it wasn't until 1922. Then each monk or nun had to make the near impossible climb to the top of the mountain. Many died trying. Perhaps this was a way to cement their devotion to God--once the commitment was made, there was no backing out.

And perhaps the men and women who dared to build, who dared to sacrifice the outside world made a discovery-as travelers, they didn't know their fortitude, or their tenacity existed. They tested the reach of their devotion to God. They dared to find a place they heretofore didn't know existed.

They inspire me as a traveler, as a sojourner on earth, to also find a place within I have yet to know exists.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Ten Dollar Memory

The last time I traveled in  Europe with a group of teenagers was when I was a teenager myself--with a limited income and limited fiscal maturity. Before I left, Mom took me to the bank and we exchanged $500 dollars into traveler’s checks. Euros didn't exist and each country required an exchange, an exchange rate, and resulted in an every diminishing cache of vacation money. My parents didn’t even use credit cards, so it was never an option for back-up security. Five weeks—five hundred dollars. It was more cash and more time than I’d ever dealt with. Could I make it last? 

With only a few days left in Italy, before returning home,  we took a hydrofoil to the Isle of Capri. After docking, we snaked up the side of the island on a double lane road in an oversized bus. The bus let us off at the top of a stairway that led down to the sea. I’d heard of the blue Grotto, but couldn’t comprehend a sea cave where I would swim, and from which would emerge one of the most enduring memories.

We sat in the rowboats of old Italian men who paddled with the swell of the sea into the famed blue grotto. The water was technicolor vibrant; I was swimming  in a Disney cartoon. Once inside, the warm Italian summer drove us into the water where we dove, splashed and swam to white coral sea shelves.

 When our time was up, we rowed back out of the cave and ascended a hundred steps. Waiting on a stair landing were two young men selling two conch shells. The price for one was $10; in my pocket was the last $10 I had. I calculated the few days left, the few meals left to buy, souvenirs yet to be seen, but none of it mattered. The conch shell, the pinnacle symbol of the Isle of Capri had to be mine. I was broke in a foreign country, and I never looked back or considered my sacrifice to the Gods of youthful irresponsibility.

Over the next few days, while stuck in airports with no money to buy food (along with several of my fellow travelers), we lived off the candy and cookies intended for family presents.

Almost 40 years later, I am in Italy; I am now an adult with a salary, a savings account, a home, and an impeccable credit score, but I am still traveling with my fifteen-year-old self. The mentality of limited money, the memory of going without, lingers. I keep reminding myself I can spend money even though I’m running out of euros. I am not without ATMs or a credit card with a chip. 

But everytime I open my wallet, I have the same feeling. My fifty euro is now two twenties and soon it will be one twenty, a ten, a five and some change. If I can just hold on for a few more days, I think, but it's really not necessary.

Over the years I have mostly discarded the trinkets of my youth, but I have always held on to the conch I bought with my last ten dollars. It has rested in boxes, on bookshelves and now owns a place on the mantel among other shells collected on seaside paths. But when I see the conch, polished by an Italian boatman, purchased impetuously by the side of a friend while running up the stairs on the Isle of Capri, the last ten dollars becomes the best ten dollars I've ever spent. 

Even if it haunts me 40 years later.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Critical Writing

I'm thinking about the honey I purchased from the nuns at Santa Barbara. As a beekeeper, I'm more interested in other people's honey, more especially the variety in taste which depends on the kind of pollen the bees collect. What kind of plants, or flowers do they collect from? 

If I love to cook, I would enjoy other's cooking even more. 

If I love to sew, I would appreciate the work of other sewers even more.

If I play an instrument, I would probably enjoy the symphony.

I turn to Spencer, a student, and say, "If we are writers, we enjoy other people's writings, right?"

Spencer agrees. He explains how he has become a diligent writer and in the process has started reading again. He enjoys reading for pleasure now.

The link between writing and reading is greater than I previously realized. Writing is more important than even I realized.

My passion to share my love of writing increases ten fold.

The discoveries continue and the discoveries fuel my love.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

15 Ways to be a Better Person in 2016--NYTimes: A Year's Worth of Tips

The New York Times is my go-to for serious news, so every once in a while, the unexpected humor is extremely enjoyable, even inspiring--inspiring enough to reinterpret my own "How To Be A Better Prrson in 2016."

The Times' text is in bold--my text is plain.

Ideas for improving your existence in the coming year.

1. Wear comfortable underwear: this admonishment falls desperately short of being sound. If only it were necessary to just wear comfortable underwear. The effects of comfy undy can be undermined in less time than it takes to say "tight thongs" three times. Comfy undy is pointless without comfy jeans, shirts, shoes, dresses, PJ's, and no more panty hose--ever! If one can get away with it, ditch the bra too. In my arrogant twenties, thirties, early forties, I used to shake my head at old women who didn't wear bras, but more and more I am the old woman ignoring the aesthetically disturbing effect of gravity and daring to go braless when wearing an XXXLarge sweatshirt.

2. Drink coffee-As a non coffee drinker, I would have to say, drink spinach, kale, and carrot juice infused with blueberries, apple, lemon, banana or ginger. I have been drinking swamp water, or pond scum, as one of my colleagues calls it as he's gagging, and I've added years to my life. It certainly counteracts the damage of sugar cookies, macadamia nut chocolates, and nutella crepes with ice cream, which I feel confident in indulging in because I drink swamp water.

3. Stare into the eyes of someone you love or want to love for exactly four minutes Tony and I haven't stared into each other's eyes in decades; but maybe we have stared at each other for a few seconds as I'm trying to gage which direction he will go next when he chases me around the kitchen island. That too only happens a few times a year when I'm eating the last brownie or have a spoon of his Haagen Dazs in my mouth.

What I have found is that staring into the eyes of a newborn baby is enchanting and would easily fulfill the directive for the four minute stare.

4. Don't ghost. I can't imagine after so many years of marriage---ghosting, yet I can't imagine ghosting anyone in a relationship. I do know it happens. Sad. Be brave and break up in person.

5. Be nice to babies. Especially on airplanes. Think how they feel.

6. Dress in a way that makes you feel powerful. Nothing makes me feel more powerful than pajama pants, sweatshirt and thick socks. I only wear this combination when I'm at home and my home is my kingdom! These are the days I have deliberately chosen to stay home and somehow that makes me feel more powerful than standing and speaking in front of a roomful of students or adults.

7. If you divorce, play nice. All the kudos in the world go to my sister who after divorcing amicably, stayed amicable. She even became good friends with each new girlfriend in her exe's life-- she knew the important role each one would have in her daughter's life. When their daughter graduated from high school she received an engraved bracelet: love mom and Dad.

8. Toss the cigarettes Amen! Just make sure it's not lit and thrown into a can of oil. Really, I am overwhelmed by the people who smoke in Europe. A European once told us that there is no education as to the danger of smoking. Young girls are especially targeted by the big tobacco companies. What a shame.

9. Get a pet. Never! A recent houseguest left a few doggy surprises in my home when she needed an emergency pad and we were traveling. My advice for a better new year is to go ahead and have a pet, but leave it home. Or sweep the house for mines.

10. Take on a seemingly impossible task-ONLY if it brings you joy and fuels your passion. (Wow that was a cliché)

11. If you would like to keep your marriage together, stick it out- funny the statement is preceded by "if."

12. Put sex first. Even before a good piece chocolate cake?

13. Make sure you are the boss of your own electronic devices. Funny thing. I've started leaving my phone in the car when I go to church or a friend's home or where I might be distracted and when I want to give my full attention.  I remember the day when people could only get in touch when a person was home. Why do we give everyone unlimited access to our lives?

14. Relish the phrase, "I'm too old for this." Indeed.

15. Be generous to those who have helped you. Aand more especially to those who cannot.
After a few disenchanting encounters with beggars, professional beggars, beggars who stop limping when they turn the corner, I decided to be more generous to those who work and often those who work at menial paying jobs.

My own tip for the year: Do not feel obligated to answer all those business emails. Every flight is followed up by an email Take our short survey request: Delta airline really cares how your last flight was. Well one time I told them. Did they care? No. It was a situation they could have rectified or responded to, but did they? No.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Susanna and I were the last ones to board--- the back of the caravan making sure no one was left behind, making sure no one left important documents, nor water bottles nor jackets. We pulled our suitcases across the asphalt towards the ferry--past the diesels waiting to drive aboard, passed by the Mercedes carrying a first class passenger who didn't have to walk through the dark, fight the crowds or fight to keep her possessions in tact.

We came upon Sam, still calm, though frantically searching for his ferry boarding pass. The hardened Greek face told him he couldn't board without it. I silently promised to stay by his side, even if it meant getting kicked off the boat with him. I wasn't going to leave him alone, no matter how I wanted to lay my head down at the midnight hour, no matter how I wanted out of the smoke filled port terminal.

I watched from the corner of my eye as the plank on which we boarded started to lift.

"Keep searching Sam; the door's about to close. They want to take off as bad as we do."

We went through his jacket, his backpack, his passport folder. Sam didn't have a ticket.

The plank was half way up. We were almost safe.

Sam explained how he once had that ticket.

"You must have a ticket to board," the hardened Greek voice spoke.

We showed the room key in his name. Surely that would help?

The plank was three quarters closed.

Our Italian guide stepped in. "He has a ticket, he obviously just lost it. His name is on the ship register."

The hardened Greek face started to soften.

The door was almost shut tight.

The hardened Greek relented, "Okay, he must leave his passport and we will check it against the ship's registry. You may pick up your passport at the purser's office."

Phew. The ship was sealed. Sam's fate was sealed. He was going to Italy.

As we all walked down the hallway somewhat relieved, we all tried to make light of what appeared at least to be a momentary potential disaster. It was then that I remember the best travel advice I'd ever heard, "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."

An even better adventure when it's something that ALMOST goes wrong.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Matters That Matter

In the days before I left for Greece, I was so travel weary, I couldn't fully appreciate what lay ahead. I figured I'd been there before, and the only way I could enjoy the journey was through the eyes of  students--which I looked forward to-- in the same way when one takes their children to Disneyland--the adventure is not for the parents' own pleasure but for the parents to watch the delight in their child's eyes.

I assumed this is how I would experience Greece and Italy. I even volunteered to be the adult who, if needed, would sit at the hospital or stay at the hotel with a sick child, or stay behind in Athens if a student got lost. I was looking forward to a rest rather than tramping through ancient cities like a tourist. I worried about my capacity to keep up with jet lag.

I'm not as worn and weary as I had thought. I had misjudged the fighting spirit of life--of my life.

I knew it when we climbed up the first Roman, marble stairs of the Greek Acropolis. And when I resented Marco Polo for placing all his gun powder and weapons in the Parthenon and it blew the roof off. I knew it when I looked down on Mars Hill and saw Paul teaching the Athenians.

When I want to hear a foreigner's story, or sample five different pieces of baklava, or find a pomegranate in the open market, I still thirst for understanding, for adventure.

I knew I still had things to see, to enjoy, to learn when we reached the village of Meteora and the smell of apple wood permeated the city and delighted my senses. I knew it when I stepped out on the little balcony in the moist morning air and saw the rock formations in the distance.

I know it as I sit in the ferry lounge and watch the Ionian Sea roll and cap and I feel the helplessness of a sailor thrown overboard, or the fear in an overcrowded boat of Syrian refugees. I feel the wind at my face as if I were Odysseus searching for Ithaca.

But, the years have made a difference; the difference is: as important as seeing the museum treasures,  finding the leather gloves in the market, or ascending the stairs of St. Barbara Monastery, is taking care of the needs of a student in discomfort. There is an equal joy that comes from serving myself as well serving others.

It's as much a place of discovery as the geographical and historical wonders of the world.

The Acropolis doesn't care if I walk its ancient steps; a student who can depend on a teacher--does.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moments That Come Together Perfectly

After sixteen hours of flying time and very little sleep, after eating curry at noon in Amsterdam when it was 2:30 a.m back home, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night. Exhausted and hungry. We all seemed to endure until dinner time, and then my plan was to head back to the room, take a hot, hot shower, put on my new red Christmas jammies, and fall into a deep sleep. As I walked out of the dining room, I heard someone say, "You can see the parthenon!"

 The group grew from a few to many. We hauled up seven flights of stairs, through a corridor and into a closet stacked with old furniture. Through a dirty window,  students and a teacher got their first glimpse of ancient Greece.

The Acropolis beamed its light, its majesty, its almost incomprehensible history to a handful of teenagers from America. Ms. U asked, "What war was the parthenon built after?"

"The last Persian War."

Another student, "I can see Pericles giving his speech to the Athenians."

I waited my turn to maneuver through the tables stacked on top of each other. We couldn't believe there wasn't a patio, or at least big picture windows to view and gasp at the passage and preservation of time.

The next morning at 3:00 a.m., when I awoke and couldn't fall back to sleep for two hours and couldn't turn on the light because my roommate was asleep, all I could do was think. I realized the encounter between teacher, knowledge, and experience, had come together in one magical moment. My eyes filled with tears--for being a part of that moment.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I Really Didn't Need Those Italian Boots

The first night, I ran up the stairs of our Athens' Best Western, two-star hotel and passed a group of middle eastern looking people in the dining room. Later that night, on the first floor landing a group of Muslim women were gathered together.

I wonder if they're Syrian refugees?

If they are, I want to talk to them.

The next morning we were up early and on a bus headed towards the Acropolis, and the new Acropolis museum, then off to shop, a subway ride and back to dinner. After dinner, when I ran up the stairs, I saw the group had grown to include men and women. I stopped cold, knowing I had to talk to them. My friend and fellow teacher had already begun the conversation, and I jumped right in. I had to know their plight, their fears and hopes.

One man spoke English, and translated well, but there is one thing that transcends language; it is love. They knew that Laura, that myself, that Candace all felt love for them.

Over the next hour, they recounted their experience of crossing in a boat to a Grecian island: the crazy expense and sitting in a boat built for 15, but carrying 50. The translator explained the deplorable living conditions: no electricity, inadequate food, no infrastructure and no jobs. Plus he added, "The bombs." It was clear they feared for their lives and their children's lives.

We explained how we have watched their plight on the news, felt their anguish, hated the hate that made their country unlivable. One man explained how the religion of fervent Islam drives young men to kill. I explained that my religion taught that we should love everyone--that they were my brothers and sisters and that God loves all his children. They wanted us to know that in their group they were Muslims and Christians and they got along just fine. They asked us to pray for them, but I thought why not pray for them right then and there. Why not pray together as different people who faced different challenges, had different beliefs, but who were all God's children. They agreed, and I bowed my head. Before I started, the tears flowed.

"Dear Heavenly Father, God and Allah,..."

When the prayer ended, every single person embraced one another. I felt God's love for all of us,  and I hoped they felt his love.

When the encounter was over, I needed to put my money where my mouth was. I told our translator that I didn't have much money, but I wanted everyone to divide it up and share. I ran to my room, pulled out the euros that were going to buy my Italian boots.

Because who needs boots when I have a home, when I have a country.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mental Health Hope

According to my new friend and Psychologist, Erika, basic physical health needs aren't met in Port au Prince, let alone mental health. She came to Haiti three years ago to volunteer her services as a Psychology professor at a small university. Her intentions were to stay no more than a year, but it's almost been three. The needs were too great to leave.

I was curious about her services and asked about her work. She gave me an example of the help she gives. A woman with a seven month old Down Syndrome babu came to Erika for help. The woman's husband is abusive, and while pregnant, he kicked her stomach. When the baby was born, her family was angry that she took the abuse from her husband and blamed her for the baby's DS. The doctor was angry she didn't have the baby in a hospital where they wouldn't have let him live. The priest told her the baby was born with DS because of her sin, and the voodou priest told her someone had cast a spell on her.

Overwhelmed, I asked, "How did you help her?"

"Well, I couldn't debunk her culture, but I did tell her that DS was caused from a genetic anomaly and I gave her the name of another mother with a DS child so they could support one another."

Once a week Erika takes an on-the-back of a motorcycle taxi to a hospital to work with head trauma patients--many whose injuries came from a motorcycle taxi ride. She knows the danger, but she needs to help. She's compelled to help.

Since I too am compelled to help, I ask her what the clinic's greatest needs are. "If I could have one thing, it would be a car so me and my staff could get to all the places we need to be."

My mind fills with all of the recent encounters with Haitian cars. First of all, there are no emission inspections. To walk near a car crowded street is near asphyxiation. Most of the cars are dented, old and junk yard wanna-be's. But they keep on chugging with the help of road side card tables set up with oil, gas, and a few tools.

"How much would a car cost?"

"For a car we could mostly depend on, it would cost $5000."

Our friend Yann has borrowed his friends car for the trip to the orphanage. It's relatively new, at least compared to the almost entire fleet of Haitian vehicles--but a door doesn't open, the glove box won't close and one of the side mirrors was yanked off. His friend bought it new, but in order to release it from the port, he had to pay a series of taxes and bribes that totaled $6000. It's why Erika would be happy with a $5000 semi-dependable car.

Check out Erika's work: or the facebook page: Espere Community Counseling Center.

Espere is the French word for HOPE.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Miscalculations of Vulnerability H#5

I was sitting in a lounge chair as close to the water as the surf would allow. The wind had kicked up, and the water was choppy; the waves got higher and rougher. No one was in the water, so when a woman holding a baby walked close to the surf, I kept my eye on her. She stepped into the water. A wave lapped at her ankles. She took a few more steps. Behind her, another woman kept calling to her. She didn't want her to go in, but the woman holding the baby moved deeper. She bent over and dipped the baby in. Another step and she was waist high. She turned her back to the waves.

The woman holding the baby was in a precarious position. An unexpected wave came over her back, but the baby was protected by her big ball of hair.

I looked around. It appeared it was just the woman in the water and her friend calling from the shore. I went on red alert. The woman with the baby was in danger.

She realized it too and started moving slowly out of the water. The first wave hit and she stammered but held her ground; but the second wave came before she was steady, and down she went. As the wave held her under, her arms shot upward to keep the baby from immersion.

I ran for the water; I had to save that baby. If the surf had pulled her out of her mother's arms, if she had gotten one gulp and her lungs had filled with salt water...

The father beat me there. He lifted the baby to safety and helped the mother to her feet.

Thankfully, I wasn't needed. I turned and walked back to my lounge chair, now aware of the entire beach watching the drama unfold.

I was shaking. My adrenaline was fast-pumping.

I begrudged the woman who'd put her baby in danger.

I watched her around the table with her family and friends. Color drained from her face, she too was probably shaking. The baby was fine, but it might take the mother awhile.

When Tony came back from lunch, I couldn't talk about it. It wasn't until evening when I recounted the incident.

I understand stupid mistakes--I've made my share, but I still wonder how she could have miscalculated with a babe in arms.

She miscalculated her vulnerability. If this was the case, then I am a hypocrite for my criticism of the mom, because life is a series of vulnerability calculations. For the most part, we calculate right, and we are safe; but there are those human moments when we don't, and I too have been saved by providence, by someone standing by who saw the danger when I didn't.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why We Are In Haiti H#4

We came to Haiti with no contacts, no appointments, and no specific agenda. We knew not one person. I just had a strong feeling we needed to go.  I knew we were to stay in Port au Prince (in spite of everyone telling us not to--which contrary to our actions is really good advice).

Within five days, we had met several people who would introduce us to ideas, to charities, to children and adults who had dreams for Haiti, who had suffered at the hands of Haiti. And we had our own encounters and experiences that definitely molded our outlook and influenced our plans.

I have listed the people, the encounters that influenced and will influence the outcome of our adventure. From this list, I will write about each experience or insight, its expected outcome and as time passes, will share the outcomes: success or failure.

The Haiti Chapters List:

1. My gratitude to Raquel and her cousin Darnel who graciously gave us our first and only crash course to survival in Haiti.

2. While still in South Carolina, we met Woody, a former military man who'd served in "Operation Restore Democracy," who warned us about the adult corruption in Haiti.

3. Our first contact in Port au Prince was a Marriott front desk man named Moroni; he asked us to come to dinner to meet his friend. The first step, the first serendipity, the first miracle.

4. Our second contact came while sitting in the hotel restaurant. Dave, a Haitian born American citizen, started the conversation. He'd served in the military and like Woody, had also come to Haiti in 1996 as part of the "Operation Restore Democracy." He'd seen starving children and had to give back. He was in Port au Prince the same time as us to disburse monies for children he was helping to take care of and also to distribute toys for Christmas. He asked us to come along with hope that we would help with his foundation: Spare-A Coin 2savechildren.

5. Saturday night, we met Moroni's fiancee--the third reason we needed to come to Port au Prince. There are no mental health services, and she is almost single-handedly doing it all.

4. Saturday night, we also met Yann. He, among everyone else we met, also has an amazing story. He is in the very beginning thoughts of building a school in Haiti.

6. Sunday, we visited one of the poorest areas with Dave. I was swarmed by ten beautiful children who held me tight. The things we learned from this visit have been crucial to the ideas developing in our ultimate plan. This was our first glimpse that charity can also cripple.

7. Sunday late afternoon, Yann took us to one of the most benevolent places on earth, an orphanage  supported by two Canadian families where the children have the best academic and spiritual development possible. Twenty-one children live on a mountain house above Port au Prince. They are given piano lessons, dance lessons and if they exhibit a certain talent, the talent is nurtured. There are after school tutors, a cook, a bus driver and a "Mother," Evylyn. Green houses grow fresh vegetables. The children were happy, healthy and down-right adorable. It is a house of order and discipline. When we finished our dinner in the guest house, I brought up the dishes and the children who were on kitchen clean-up jumped right in and washed the dishes. With a smile.

8. On our flight home, the man sitting in front of me was reading Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. When I asked him about the book, he recommended it highly. He has been in Haiti to assess whether their charity work is benefitting in the long term. I learned he is the president of Hope for Haiti's Children; he gave me his card and invited me to learn what he has learned.

There now....I have my list and will write about each one. I will start the Haiti chapters with a short story of tragedy and triumph. It is the perfect example of charity that starts small with a measurable outcome--charity that lifts and doesn't enslave.

Almost 20 years ago, a Mormon missionary leaves a Book of Mormon with a twelve year old boy. In the book he writes his name and email. At the time, the boy didn't know what an email address was. He holds on to the book.

The boy's father dies and his mother cannot afford to keep him in school. She adopts out three of her children and sends the boy to apprentice as an iron worker. But the promise of a trade turns into an abusive job as a house boy. As the boy grows, he escapes, returns home, which coincides with the introduction of the internet to Haiti. A friend takes him to an internet cafe and helps him open an email account. He sends an email to the former missionary. When the FM learns of the boy's turn of events, he pays for his schooling. The boy is now a man with a good job and he is about to start online college through an American university. The FM also sends the boy's three younger siblings to school and starts a foundation which now pays the school tuition for 30 Haitian children.