Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Two weeks before Christmas, there is a flyer attached to my door. How Charming! It is an advertisement for a Christmas-Parent-Day-Off. For one day only, a group of young women will babysit children so the parents can shop and wrap. For a minimal fee, the girls will entertain, feed and care for the little ones.

I recognize the name of one of the advertisers. She is in my Winterim Ecuador trip. I knew she had to pay for her excursion, I just didn't know this was one of her resources. I had previously heard she was selling chalk boards and cards. When I inquire of her further, I find she's been raising money for two years to participate in a travel winterim. Last year, Costa Rica was just out of her reach, but it gave her a fiscal head start for Ecuador.

I watch her close as she plays with children, as she flies across the sky in a harness, and wonder if earning her own money has intensified her experience.

I'm curious now and make inquiries through the other students. "Did anyone have to earn money for this trip?"

"Yes, I made and sold enchiladas. Two hundred."

"I had to pay half of my trip from the money I earn as a welder."

A welder? I had no idea the young man was an accomplished welder.

"I've been working in my grandfather's shop for years."

Another student launched a Go fund me.

Before we left, one student had written a check from her personal account. Her father stood proudly beside her. I later learned she also buys all her clothing and earned the money for this trip by working in her own home.

Only once have I heard complaints about the students who get to travel because they have the money, or rather they have parents with money. For many travelers, this is the case. But now I have seen this isn't always the case. However, I can't say the students who earned their way enjoyed the trip more--this would be an impossible measurement, yet in the sacrifice, there has to be a gain.

Last night, a passionate relative asked our family to watch the confirmation hearings for the Education Secretary. He pointed out Ms. DeVos ineptness and wanted us to contact our senators with our discontent. I certainly saw flaws, but I saw one response that hit home. When Bernie Sanders asks her if she will support his passion for free college education, she astutely reminds him, that there is no such thing as free. "Someone will have to pay."

That Ms. DeVos is fantastically wealthy also seemed to be a flaw, that she's never taken out a loan or managed loans.

Though I see the value for students earning their way to Ecuador, I could never say it qualified them more to enjoy the experience or to have a better experience. I hesitate to make the same claim or have the same requirements for the proposed Secretary of Education. I hope she is either denied or sustained based on her abilities to do the best job possible.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mrs. W's Little Miracle

There was this little closet. Locked and ignored. Possibly for years. Each time the orphanage received an extra bag of donations not immediately needed--trucks for Christmas, craft supplies, Christmas decorations, hair bands, stuffed animals—the bag got thrown into this closet. 

When Group B was assigned to cut the grass and weed the many flower beds, Mrs. W asked for an alternative project because of her weed and pollen allergies. 

“Well, there is this closet,” she was told.

It was the perfect storm for Mrs. W’s organizational skills, her gusto for completion, and a miserable forgotten chaotic closet. 

Without hesitation, she set to work.

I didn’t see the closet before hand, but I did see the students hauling bags and bags out of it. I saw one of our students washing a seven foot metal shelf, and other boys moving a wood cabinet. So many goods, they had to be moved to a conference room where the items took up every bench and table. I did see the dead mouse in the bottom of a laundry basket, I saw the many spiders rushing from opened boxes and bags. 

Gross. 

Mrs. W persisted.

Throughout the afternoon, I’d visit her in the conference room and marvel at the progress she was actually making. She’d sorted the goods into garbage sacks, into give-away boxes, piled up the keepers—and then sorted the keepers into designated categories. Before my group left for the city, Mrs. W was planning a trip to the grocery-hardware store where she planned to buy storage containers. 

It was dark when we returned to OSSO. I looked for Mrs. W and the first question was, “Did you finish?” Her face lit up in the way that Mrs. W’s face always lights up. 

“Yes, do you want to see it? It’s a thing of beauty.”

We hustled down to the closet. She turned on the light and it indeed was a thing of organization beauty and genius. Everything in its place~ a place for everything. 

But it wasn’t just about organized goods. There was more to the story as there always is.

“I spent so much time,” Mrs. W explains, “measuring, thinking out, planning , how I would stack, and as I stood in line waiting to purchase the storage bins, I started to worry about money—whether or not I’d have enough.  I had only brought cash and there was only $127.” 

She pauses. “The bill came to $126.90.”

Her biggest smile comes while explaining this moment of financial serendipity~~what I consider one of the many miracles always bestowed upon the person who selflessly creates her own little miracle.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Billion Dollar Industry

The director of To The Bone, Marti Noxon, spoke to the audience at the end of her Sundance film. "Remember," she said, "There is still a billion dollar industry trying to convince you to hate your body."

When To the Bone ended, it did so in the quintessential Sundance way--for me. The entire film was gripping. One of the closing scenes has me in tears, and when the screen goes dark and credits start to roll, I can't speak. I work through the summary of what I've just seen, work through the words that allow me to turn to my movie companion and say at least something. Even if it's just Wow.

To the Bone was a drama about anorexia nervosa and the rest of the Pandora's box of eating disorders--yet was it really? It was about family, about struggle, about love conquers all.

As we watch our protagonist Ellen struggle through this harrowing disease, I don't have much hope for her recovery. Ingesting food has become such a struggle, I believe it's impossible for her and her fellow in-patients to ever get well. I prepare for the film's tragic end.

But it's not what happened. Ellen (who's since become Eli), has an out of body experience where she sees her body with clarity, with divine eyes from a miraculous moment. Ah, so this movie is really saying that the only way to wellness from the prison of  body distortion is through divine intervention?

I like the idea, I believe the idea, but it's not necessarily a Hollywood motif.

The director again, brings clarity.

The story is her true and fictionalized version of her own struggle with an eating disorder that took over her life at age 14 and lasted until age 25. It was only when she was lying down and felt the last beats of her heart, and when she next found herself above her body looking clearly at its state, did she start the road to recovery. She returned to that body and stood before us having just shared her own tale, her own remarkable piece of art, her film.

She also reminds us, sadly, that eating disorders are on the rise and it is no longer an American women's problem. It is worldwide and affecting males as well as females.

Really, it shouldn't be such a surprise as I recall the debilitating words that have so stuck in my mind, "Remember," she said, "There is still a billion dollar industry trying to convince you to hate your body."


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Observations of a Storyteller


I was listenig to an interview with Lin Manuel Morales, the creator behind the Broadway super-hit Hamilton. As a writer, he suggested that one way to create writers is to put them in places of discomfort--not a viable option for a teacher! Fortunately he had another suggestion: make them observers.

My quest is to help students become better writers and storytellers, so yesterday, I invited one of my favorite storytellers to class, a fellow teacher whose stories I enjoy. I enjoy them mostly because she is so quick to laugh--not only at the things she says, but as she interacts with her audience (and sometimes that's me). It would give my students a chance to be critical observers of the art of storytelling. They came up with a list of storytelling strengths.

Here they are:

1. The storyteller was sequential and the audience could see the events coming.
2.  The storyteller gave her whole self, both physically and emotionally.
3.  The storyteller shared her culture--didn't shy away from who she was or what she had done in life.
4. She told her story so realistically--she was reliving it as she told it.
5. Yet, the other strength was "not too much emotion."
6. Great details!
7. His or her laugh was contagious.
8.  The storyteller involved the audience.
9. There was variation in volume and speed.
10.  The storyteller gave just the right amount of background needed for his/her scenes and characters.
11.  The storyteller masterfully used the story arch and tension.
12. Choice of tense-present or past, each one has a different impact on story.
13.  The storyteller tells the truth--honesty in story.
14. The storyteller created common ground between the story and the listeners.
15. The story flowed.
16.  The storyteller didn't hold back from laughing which was infectious-"We wanted to laugh too."
17. The story had a unique ending.
18.  The storyteller used his space well.
19. The storyteller broke the rules of the story arch.

We are all storytellers. Story is life. If you want people to listen, to remember, tell a story.

When listening to speakers, I often phase out during their rhetoric, but when they share a story, I pop to life. I learn best from stories. Stories park indelibly into a special place in my brain where they are recalled and retold in the most unexpected moments.

I don't always remember sage wisdom found in sentences, or talks or books. I forget the advice from gurus at the pulpit. Fleeting are the astounding words heard on the radio...but tell me a story, and I'll remember.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Story We Tell Ourselves

In the first grade, Mrs. Morgan assigned us to write a Christmas story, and she chose mine to read in front of the class. When she finished reading, I was very moved by my own words, but the class had a different reaction. A fellow first grader turned to her neighbor and said, "Her mother wrote that story."

In my childhood innocence, I didn't know how to respond, and I didn't. I wasn't crushed; I surged with quiet pride. My mother didn't write the story, and if they suspected otherwise, it must have been a darn good story. 

 A writer was born. This became my story.

When my daughter was in junior high, she would tell me she was getting a PHD. I'm not sure why it formed in her mind; perhaps it was her father's footsteps she wanted to dance in. Throughout her school years, this was the story she told herself, and one evening many years later, I sat at the top of an auditorium watching my daughter and her husband receive their PHD's.

Story has power. We share stories with other people, but the greatest story we tell is to ourselves. Often over and again. Hence, how important is that story we tell?

When our storytelling students were asked to write their personal story in just one line, these were the lines:

Anything is possible through hard work and happiness.
Somethings never change and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I am going to become everything.
Some things are necessary.
I'm a little fish in a big sea.
Sometimes, listening is enough.
I make, I experience.
I didn't ask to be a pillow, and yet here I am.
Laughter is my life-blood.


The great thing about story is it is something WE create.

And recreate.

And recreate.

If your story isn't working, if it isn't inspiring enough, if it doesn't give you the strength needed to pioneer through,...

Create a new story...then publish it in your heart.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Fountain of Youth

I wasn't going to miss the chance to swim in the Amazon.
Or delight in the company of teenagers
Or miss the diversity of culture,
Or be part of something bigger than myself (which is everything).

What does it take to continually live an enriched life? Especially when doubts about age, vigor and the ability to contribute are starting to creep in.  How do I keep from scaring myself into inactivity, and if I do, dealing with the consequences of old age?

The answer might be: scaring myself. To stop pushing myself, to reduce exercising, to not keep challenging myself by the mere company I keep--is a very scary thought.

Last night, I made the mistake of saying in Tony's company, that I felt old. It was the first day back to school after two month's break and it was a looooooong day. The lesson plan was just meh...the students were tired too.

Last winter, after skiing with older friends who never would have considered themselves old, I forbade Tony and myself from making old references, or complaining about getting old. So when I complained about feeling old, Tony put me in my place with a study about eighty year olds who were challenged to start thinking of themselves as seventy year olds. By just thinking they were younger, they became younger! Not in years, of course, but in actions, thoughts, and energy output.

At 6:19 a.m. this morning, trying to figure out a better lesson plan that won't leave me feeling meh...trying to feel awake and invigorated after a poor night's sleep, I'm trying, trying, not to feel, believe, or even entertain the possibility of oldness, and I do know the cure.

Since coming back from Ecuador, except for a short game of pickleball and shoveling the snow, I haven't exercised. My preference is outside and it's been too cold, too snowy. But I know what I have to do...a doctor once told me that people are always in search of the next fountain of youth--something miraculous, something complicated or facile, but the fountain of youth has always been and will always be, simply~~ exercise.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Time And Fruit

My teaching partner knows I'm still a little tender hearted from the time I spent with orphans in Ecuador. She also knows I'm home furiously preparing for the next five weeks, so her text reads, "How are you feeling today?"

"I'm still in my pajamas eating macadamia nuts interspersed with yellow cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting."

At 7:42 p.m., I was still in my pajamas, and had eaten a lot of cake.  I was in mourning and open rebellion against the snow (all day gloom), and my fruit options of only oranges and apples. For which I should have been grateful...but...

How I miss the fruit from Ecuador. The furry, the mucousy, the black dotted. Dragon fruit (or pita-hia--forgive my Spanish name guessing), rambuton, guavas, papaya. Easy snacks to grab and enjoy because like most people, when I'm hungry and busy- busy, I go for what's available. Hungry and busy-busy on the pajama day, I only found rice, cake, a little bit of curry, peppermint covered pretzels and macadamia nuts. My diet for the entire day and for which I felt sick.

In Ecuador, when I was hungry and busy-busy, I basked in the generosity of the equator fruit-growing weather. The massive fruit market was only a 15 minute taxi ride away and its wares were fruit heaven.



 Star fruit
 Guavas
 Dragon fruit 
 The inside of a dragon fruit

 Monkey brains or grenadier in Espanol, or a cousin of the Hawaiian lilikoi
 The outside
A fruit I have never before experienced. My favorite by far. Tangy, sweet. Some bites tasted like cherry-almond. How much better these were than the cake I ate today.
When I do have time:  baby Brussels sprouts in a Coronado farmer's market. 

Fortunately, the cake is gone, since my palette and health cannot take anymore abuse. It's been four days of rebellion against the common foods of the Northern Hemisphere and it has to end.

It did. Tuesday, I made up for my foibles with carrot juice, apples, salad, tofu, and pumpkin seeds. I'm even grateful.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dignified Protest

From the 1800s through the 1950s, many families heated their homes with coal.

As a little girl in the late 1960s, my grandmother's stove was still an old pot belly with a heavy cast iron door that I would open with curiosity. Inside was where she used to put the coal, or so I imagined.

Grandma Z was a strong woman. One of the greatest family fears would be to cross her ornery path. She was kind and loving until one crossed the thin line dividing the path of kind and loving from harsh and disappointed. From my child perspective, it didn't take much.

Once while visiting Grandma, Dad was driving us on 13th East. I was sitting in the backseat with Grandma. We stopped at a sign, when we looked to a little girl standing on a porch, who stuck her tongue out. She had no idea whom she'd offended.

Grandma made my dad turn back, so in her old age waddle, blinking eyes, and pointer finger shake, she could discipline the child. If I could have disappeared into the trunk, I would have, but I watched from the safety of the car, my grandmother reproving a stranger's child. I'm not sure how Grandma would have processed the past week's marches where women donned pussy-hats to protest the new president's rhetoric. Neither am I sure how she would have processed the language and actions of 21st century politics.

So, it is with delight, when my second cousin who is a family history buff, sends me a newspaper article from the 1950s, about my grandmother, I am intrigued. You go girl, I think when I see she petitioned the city council over the use of coal. The city had recently changed their environmental laws in an effort to clean up the winter air. My grandmother's timing was off, and she had just purchased her two tons of coal, when coal burning was banned. In her well-earned tendency to be frugal, having left all in Switzerland, after her brother worked as a painter to support their passage on a shipped that crossed the Atlantic during WWI, after having lived through the depression when payment for her husband's masonry might have been a chicken (for which she was grateful to have), Grandma couldn't endure the waste of two tons of coal.

The article falls short on information (the city council passed it on to another council), and I'm left to wonder if she used her coal or not. History and experience with those twitching eyes and wagging finger tell me she did.

Recently, after gathering with three of my cousins for lunch, after visiting our childhoods together, I got a different glimpse of my grandmother. I'd seen her as mean and recalled an experience of watching her haul my cousin (in company), across the backyard by her braid after she must have done something very naughty. My cousin didn't remember the incident and in contrast to my own memories, recalled a grandmother who was kind and loving.  I could however, recall one favorite incident of sitting on the couch while she read to me. I started to wonder if I was selecting certain incidences and allowing those harsher moments to form an unfair judgement of a woman who dearly loved her family.

 After reading her city council petition, I'm even rethinking the incident on the porch with the little girl...maybe reproving that child with sharpness was just what the disrespectful child needed.

Perhaps Grandmother, a hawk against injustice and social faux pas, had she lived in a different time, may even have joined the women's protest march, but never, never would she have knitted or worn a pussy hat.

In Peggy Noonan's January 20 WSJ commentary on the inauguration, she writes, There are many ways to show your respect for people and events, and one is to present yourself with elegance and dignity. True, but she missed a chance to make an even greater point: There are many ways to show your dis-respect for people and events, and one is to present yourself with elegance and dignity.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Post Travel Stories and Discovery

Tony is bombarded with our travel stories. Yet, the stories aren't typical reports of country, culture, or touring; our stories are about the special needs children with whom we spent our two weeks.

 We tell him about Roman who would never smile, but always seemed to be plotting his escape. We tell him about the song Martin composed for the group and how Paloma felt when they gave him a standing ovation and he could hardly contain his delight. We tell Tony about the little girl we could have brought home and made our own~~little Dayana who when through with a task would say, "No mas," in her sweet little voice.

London's favorite was an autistic boy who walked and held tactile objects to his lips. He body slammed him twice but also gave him hugs.

I loved to read to Brian who could only respond with groans and a smile as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.

We all loved Sin-Nacho, as the tias called him. He couldn't sit and each day was placed on the mat where he left puddles of drool. Each of us, separately learned that Sin-Nacho would respond after we stroked his forehead or cheeks, with a smile.

Bless Tony for his patience. He understands that people have changed our world--not the barbecued guinea pig, the zip-lining, standing in the shadow of a volcano, nor the ice cream at Tutto Freedos. It's the people who impact our lives, for better or worse, and it is the better on which I want to focus, because it's the easiest life-impacting-road to take.

What possibly could make it easy? Simply...seeing the best in the people we encounter, associate with, and love. The simple demonstrations of trust, of I believe, of listening to the person. Looking him or her in the eye, noticing strengths, individuality, and qualities.

It has nothing to do with oneself and that is precisely what makes it so easy. Thinking of oneself is hard. We see our flaws, our longings that can never be met, we wish for that which cannot be fulfilled. We want to be in better places of spirituality and position. We find that we lack and want more. When self-absorbed, we are distracted from light and like a black hole, are sucked into darkness. We become aware of other's flaws and that we aren't being treated as well as we deserve. It's all very, very, hard business.

Choose the easy way. Turn towards the sun, the light, the happy. Turn towards others.

We were all so happy in Ecuador, in the orphanages, our energy and love turned towards the little ones who needed all we were capable of giving--and in the giving we were the happiest.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Travel...Until Something Goes Wrong


During a nine hour layover in Honolulu International, I logged 22,000 steps walking into the late night hours waiting for the red-eye.

On our last flight from San Diego, within a half hour of landing, we had to turn around and fly back to San Diego because of the fog. The flight was delayed until the next day...and then it was delayed two more times, finally took off, almost reached our destination, and almost had to turn around again.

My list of flight delays, cancellations, is longer than a child's Christmas wish list for Santa, yet I keep on traveling.

I am home from Ecuador, and this trip, like most adventures, had its trials; but this time, I encountered a problem like no other: a student without a passport.

An hour and a half before our buses were to take us to the airport, a student couldn't find her passport. Midway through our service, we'd asked students to check for their passports; I'm sure some of the students complied. In hindsight, we should have asked to SEE all the passports.

The flurry that followed is almost unimaginable. After tears, and a harsh realization of the student's predicament, Mrs. C, the volunteer director, and the student jumped in a taxi to make a police report, take new photos, and address the list of must-do's. We contacted the students parents with a list of requirements that included the notarizing of documents and overnight delivery service to the consulate in Quito.

I stayed back and communicated via email with the consulate, desperately trying to schedule an appointment and even trying to determine whether or not they were open the next day. Each email was greeted with an automated response saying they were closed on February 19th. The response emails included correspondence in broken English and impeccable English--the responder remained a mystery. In the end I simply begged for their help. With five minutes before departure, I shut the lid on my laptop, grabbed my suitcase, and ran for the student filled buses.

Mrs. C couldn't access the internet on her phone. My internet and phone communications included the travel agent who had to cancel and then reschedule the flight home, all of it delicately balanced on whether or not we could get a waiver for the day, whether or not the new passport would take a week or a day.

In the end, the passport was expedited~~I think. Twenty-four hours later, teacher and student were on the next flight to Miami.

My next assignment was to find out whether or not our travel insurance covered a stolen/lost passport. Interestingly, my credit card was the only one in the agent's files and I had to consent to its use. I took a quick deep breath and decided any costs would be worth getting our travelers home. "Yes, please use my credit card." We were on a humanitarian service trip. Why wouldn't that apply to our own situation?

Years ago, I watched a documentary about a traveler to Patagonia. A line from his travels has always stood out in my head, "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."

I haven't found a statement about travel that rings more true, and when I keep this in mind, I can more easily embrace the adventure. I laugh when the two boys skip off to get a hamburger without telling us and we've passed through security without them. I smile when one student leaves his $74 in the hotel room that is supposed to go towards paying for the room. I imagine the maid, having more need for the money than myself and wish her well in my heart. I'm willing to make a hundred yard dash to the re-booking counter when I hear our flight has been canceled; I'm good natured when my family must spend one night in Baltimore instead of our luxury rental on the beach.

This adventure is no different; when I see our left-behind student tomorrow, I will embrace her like I would my own child. Her mishap became our adventure and when it did she sealed her fate with ours--forever. We can't forget the sacrifices, the worry, the work that goes into those adventures and endears us to the people whom we shared those adventures.

A few months ago, I was asked to join next year's group in a humanitarian visit to Thailand. Will I go?

Bring on the adventure.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Just Human

Every time I pass the four girls' room, I laugh. With very little space, their bedroom is pure chaos--open suitcases where clothes, toiletries, and shoes are scattered like fall leaves on a sidewalk. Their beds are stacked on top of each other, there is no closet nor drawers. Clothes and towels are draped over the ends of the bunk beds.

Sometimes I even step into their bedroom just so I can laugh.

"That would have been me as a teenager, " I explain, so they don't think I am ridiculing them-- and I couldn't have blamed it only on the lack of space. I was always scattered, because time was too precious to bother with the mundane chore of neatness.

On the last morning reserved for packing and cleaning, I again walk past that room expecting it to have improved--it hasn't and again,  I laugh.

"I should take a picture," I call out, but then it occurs to me - why should I document the one weakness-the messiness- when there are so many strengths. But why even consider it a weakness? Can it just be what it is? It is what it is so why not let it be? Messiness in a room with no shelves drawers and two bunk beds. Why have different, improbable expectations?

The room is humorous. Funny. Nothing more, nothing less- a story of comraderie on a tight ship.

How much more important it is to distinguish, or to not distinguish between human frailty
and what is just another human factor that gives us character and distinguishes us from the rest of the pack. How much better to just enjoy the humanness of four teenage girls living in a tiny room for two weeks. How much better to enjoy the humanness of myself, of the people I love, of the students I teach, instead of seeing the faults and shortcomings--of simply being human.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Order

We are scheduled for an hour and 15 minute play time with the kids at HML orphanage. We leave at 6:00 p.m. after a rush and flurry of feeding children and trying to feed ourselves, and once in the heart of the city, we hit a traffic jam. We creep along the streets past bodegas, beauty shops, and shops that sell intimate apparel and display it in provocative ways.

We finally arrive at 6:52, which means we only have until 7:15 to spend quality time with a ton of children. We have been warned, even threatened that we must meet the nun at the front gate at exactly 7:15 or she will be furious! But how can we stay for only 20 minutes?

The two locked and guarded gates lead into a courtyard and then into another. The inner is a full size soccer court and small arena with all the orphanage buildings surrounding. Who could have imagined a compound so large could exist behind a tiny gate in the middle of a busy city, but it does, and we are swarmed by children who have been waiting for us to arrive.

6:57 They get right down to business. When we pull out jump ropes, the jumpers start jumping; the soccer game begins, the older girls ask to do hair on our teenage girls. It’s an explosion of bienvenidos and action.

I hold one end of the jump rope and spin it for the little guy in pajamas and tennis shoes who has embraced our company. “Uno, dos, tres,”- he misses. We start over and over. He never tires and finally reaches his goal of ochos.

It’s 7:12.

7:16.

I check in with Mrs. C, and she knows we need to go, but she is torn. A fifteen year old has timidly approached her. They recognized each other, having known each other ten years ago when she was the playmate of Mrs. C’s adopted children. Mrs. C is heartbroken. The little girl was never adopted. And now she wonders, and now she is haunted. Is this why she returned? How was this little girl after all these years left behind?

The lights on the court go out. We see an old, square faced nun hobble towards us. She is stern looking and clearly it’s the children’s bedtime, and we will not be allowed to infringe on the task and schedule of children’s bedtimes.

But sometimes, it is worth igniting the wrath of an old dear nun.

Mrs. C apologizes and explains the traffic jam and how we barely arrived with enough time to play. She is convinced the nun softened when she heard the story, but we are still ushered away.


Bless those nuns who are willing to do the work others have shirked, who keep order when others fall short.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Wheelchair Highway

One of the never ending and enjoyable tasks is taking the children for walks. The large OSSO compound is encircled by a pathway that serves as a wheelchair highway. Most of the children seem to love the walks. For some the enjoyment is obvious. When one of my students runs up the path with her child, my child points and softly grunts. She wants to go fast too. When I do, she laughs. Those laughs are what we live for.

On one particular afternoon, I am pushing Lucy, a child who is most content when taken for walks.  She is in her late teens and is the largest child with the heaviest chair.  The wheelchair highway starts at the bottom of a significant mini-hill. Chug chug, I can do it, I can do it. After three short loops around the compound, I find myself again, at the bottom of the sloping path, and ....I feel like Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, after angering the Gods is doomed to push a large large boulder up a hill. When he reaches the top, it rolls downward, where he once again pushes the boulder to the top of the hill. His life is in a perpetual state of struggle.



It sounds incredibly miserable, unless one examines the perspective of Albert Camus the French philosopher, who believes in that moment before Sisyphus begins again, he has a moment of hope. A hope so strong that it allows him to continue his drudgery. That moment of hope is a critical key to all mankind.

As I stand at the bottom of the hill with Lucy, my hope, and more especially my gratitude, includes that I have the strength to do this again, and again...that I have working arms and legs, and I've had this privilege my entire life. My hope is that this is a growing experience not only for me, but for the students I am responsible for. In that moment when I gather the strength to go up that hill, I call upon a strength I'm not always aware of, to complete the task. I am strengthening my compassionate muscles.

The myth of Sisyphus isn't only a story about a trickster king who angered the finicky Greek Gods who then condemned him to futile and hopeless labor. It's about the continual cycle of pushing wheelchairs up hills or putting in another load of laundry, or filling the car with gas. Camus' interpretation encourages us to pause in those moments of routine and recognize the kernel of hope hidden within every mundane task, and that life itself, in its endless routine, is about hope.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roosters in Kauai

"How did you sleep?" My roommate asks.

"I slept well until the first rooster crowed." Which was probably 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.

"But it's okay, because it's South America," I add.

Yet, I remember one Christmas in Kauai when the roosters started crowing way before the sun came up.  I also tell my roommate about the Kauai roosters.

Uh oh.

She'll be going to Hawaii in the summer --first time.

"What islands?" I ask.

Oahu and Kauai.

I try to backtrack. "I'm sure they're not everywhere, but if they are, you'll be fine because that's what we do, right? We adapt, make do, suck it up, and choose happiness in the  in difficult circumstances."

She heartily agrees because no one knows better. She's a four year cancer survivor.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Al Fresco

Two shifts back to back. On Tuesday there will be three. The few hours can seem longer especially when there are not enough children per volunteer. Or at the orphans' bedtime-- especially difficult at T Orphanage. The children throw shoes, hide under beds, refuse to brush teeth. Roles reverse at bedtime--we are the vulnerable and preyed upon.

Bedtime was always the worst at my house too. The rituals, the delays, the "Just one more book," please. Little children sneaking down the stairs once we'd started the movie. Yes, I should have enjoyed it more, but as a parent, I was just as vulnerable as I am now. Children are tricky little beasts.

So while we are traveling to El Maiz restaurant, past our dinner time, while I wait cramped on the last bench in the back of a van to make sure they can feed a group of ten, I feel overwhelmed, pooped out, done. Finit.

I distract myself from the pity party by texting Deb, and bless my soul, I am a whiner. No more humanitarian trips!  Too hard.

Deb returns the lament. She just spent a day with seventh graders in credit recovery.

The conversation continues in the same tone until I climb out of the van and walk a short distance on a misty, warm night, in Ecuador.

The restaurant is lovely, especially when we are seated on the covered patio. The tables are for four, but we ask to push them together. Finally, we are seated as one big happy family at the end of a day in which we have given our all.

The stories and laughs, begin to flow. The discussions that follow fill my heart with gratitude. The ambiance, the company, the country...the tasks. Outside, al fresco, the day is rescued.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Face of God

Today I read in one of the quiet rooms. Quiet, because the children are non responsive. Sinad's body is so twisted he can't sit in a chair, so he lays on a mat and scoots around with great exertion. He has a feeding tube. Brian is limited to his chair; he is covered by a blanket and only his gnarly hands and arms are exposed.

Jorge groans and scoots on bent and shriveled legs, but the past few mornings he's been in a kind of slumber. Lewis walks around in his own world, but at least he can walk around. He doesn't communicate unless I count the time when he took my hand and kissed it.

Reading to the children requires faith. Faith and hope that in spite of not understanding the language, they will hear the cadence, the rhythm, and beauty. Least of all, that they may comprehend I am trying to bring variety and a slice of attention to their day. Faith requires action usually without consequence. We serve God with hope that God exists. We pray with faith he is listening, and how often we pray with faith that we will be answered.

One of Jesus' eight beatitudes is: Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. I've always thought this was about me and about a quest to see the literal face of God--whether in this life or death, I am unsure, and there is no promise. It depended on me becoming as pure hearted as possible; but to see the face of God would require a pure heartedness I feel incapable of becoming. But I now have a different take on seeing the face of God~~as we strive to become more pure hearted, we see the face of God in the children of God. In the faces of the quiet.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Marvel

Seven young adults and children, who can’t walk, use their hands, or even language. Their bodies are twisted, stiff, and must be strapped or tied into wheelchairs. Two of the seven have limited language skills that can only be understood by the familiar and the schooled. In addition, we have five little ones. An autistic boy who, the previous day, spent three hours looking through the water of a glass bottle; a boy without speech who is prone to wander; a partly deaf child who must use a walker; a ten year old whose birthday we are celebrating, and a sweet little three year old.

We are their caretakers for this adventure: Six adults and eight students.

The bus arrives and each person in his wheelchair, one by one, is pulled up to the bus. We unstrap each child. Kiersten bear hugs a torso and a volunteer carries legs. We lift him or her into a place on the bus—five seats across and five rows deep. In between, a little child, a volunteer is sent to sit on the bus. There are no working seatbelts in this country, and children are lapped when small enough. Our destination is the special needs park, a half hour away. I'm excited, though apprehensive  for this experience.

A truck will transport the wheelchairs. The older gentlemen watch as I do, as we unload and load, in absolute awe and amusement. First, that we would even dare try. Second, that we would execute such a plan. Third, that we actually do. That the men are able to stack all the wheelchairs into a small truck bed is a marvel too. Yet another South American marvel.

When we are almost there…the rain begins.  Besides the obvious risks already, getting caught in a rainstorm is one we cannot  take. There is no possible way to fulfill the task of fast in the special needs traveling team. A diversion is planned: the Mall Del Rio.

Oh…instant disappointment, but we carry on.  No other choice exists.  The whole process of moving special needs people starts over again.


When we roll into the mall, Lucy is my charge. At the orphanage, she frequently breaks into wails and spasms when she wants to be pushed around the compound. Her sport is pushing against anything solid, including the volunteers who are willing to hold her legs and help her move back and forth, back and forth. Today, She is content in her new surroundings.

How strange it is to be on the other side. All my life, I have been the observer when special needs groups have moved about--at the bus stop, in the grocery store, in the mall. It has always been an oddity, as they navigate the tasks I take for granted. But now, I am the one who is conscious of the stares, at the looks of kindness and even pity. How I wonder if our children are aware, and hope they don't recognize what I can. 

When our visit is over, we again wait beside the bus, wait for our turn. Each child is loaded. It is still a marvel.

The rain is coming down hard when we reach the orphanage, and the process takes on a greater sense of urgency. These children could be soaked in seconds without he capability to run for shelter, pull of wet clothes and grab a towel. They will be at the mercy of a volunteer who will struggle to make them comfortable. I stand with an umbrella hoping to protect Kiersten, the volunteer, and the wheelchair bound child. I still marvel at the process, but as we execute the same plan for the fourth time, I am more confident. After all, this is the last time and we are home. 

We walk away with few words to describe what happened, but we have learned what we can accomplish with focus, team work, and a goal to bring variety and fun to a group of kids who can't bring it to themselves. We walk away with joy.