Tag Archives: Vomit. Whole Foods. And a mama’s broken heart.

Poop, Plumbing, and Picchu

The past three weeks have been challenging. Difficult even…filled with illness. Lots of change, adjustment, and unknowns. An acquaintance reeling from the loss of her sweet son. Deep, heart-longing for friends. Facing, explaining, and answering my Littles’ questions about the suffering across our world this week. An overabundance of poop –literally. A hair-coloring experience that went comically wrong by not only darkening my roots, but also two inches of skin around my hairline and all the fingers on my left hand. Permanently. (The upside being it reinforced that I am my mother’s daughter. Once, her hair turned purple. Another time it was pink. Yet another, it disintegrated when touched. And those are just a few of the episodes I personally witnessed.) And then there’s the ongoing emotional roller-coaster of traveling, and homeschooling our three kids.

But, we’re five days into the apartment where we’re staying for two months, which means we’re unpacked. Finally. And I go to sleep and wake up, every day, to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore below. And I feel my soul being fed. And feel strong enough to speak the truth, AND see the humor, in the last couple of weeks. And, I got a massage today (that right there is enough to return my optimism to overflowing).

Massage bliss. And, there was music to keep Peanut entertained too.

Last night, as we walked home with our groceries, G-man, who is seven, started us all recounting the many places we’ve stayed so far, during this year’s adventure. It was so varied. And hilarious. Places like;

“The apartment in Malaga where we spent New Year’s Eve, but our clocks were off by an hour and we missed it.”

“The hotel room where the ants took over.”

“The Dar in Fez that came with a cook who made fresh smoothies every morning, and we would guess if it was fruit (yum) or veggies (yuck), by the colors.”

“The airport hotel where they wouldn’t let us stay in one room and we had to upgrade to a fancy suite.”

“The hostel where Miss O threw up all over.”

“The overnight train from Madrid to Paris, where the boys shared a berth and the girls shared a berth. And no-one slept.”

As we went through every country, and all the places we slept (or didn’t sleep, depending), my heart filled with gratitude and awe at the last six-and-a-half months! I am living my dream. Dreamboat is living his dream.

We’re actually doing it. Together.

And introducing our kids to the world. Expanding their world-view, empathy, flexibility, and countless other great traits.

And taking a much-needed break from the often overwhelming routine of three-year-old Peanut’s care and therapies.

I am acutely aware of how fortunate, how very blessed we are, especially in light of the heartache and suffering in Boston, Afghanistan, Texas, and Bangalore this week. But, there are no rose-colored glasses allowed when traveling. With three little kids. For a year. So, here’s what the last few weeks have really looked like.

When we landed in Lima, after a couple of long flights where all three children insisted they weren’t tired, it was just after midnight. The pre-arranged, pre-paid taxi wasn’t there. All three children fell asleep and/or cried over the next half hour while we, and all our luggage, lumbered, exhausted, around the airport until we found wi-fi, looked up our new address, obtained local currency, and negotiated a new taxi and fare. And loaded all ten pieces of luggage into the van for the last leg of the night.

Our first ten days in Lima were booked in a small apartment. Which didn’t have sheets for all the beds. That was not a joyous middle-of-the-night arrival. It smelled strongly of mold. And within an hour of waking a short while later, to the double cacophony of pigeon calls echoing around the bathroom walls from the open window, and a piercing car alarm going off right outside our bedroom, we had plugged up TWO bathrooms. This was our introduction to the cultural norm that plumbing here is not made to accommodate toilet paper. (That lesson stuck – pun intended. Even with the kids.)

I have to mention that in the five weeks we’ve now been here, it hasn’t rained. Not once. So, we started out spending our time glorying in the outdoors. That first week we even surfed a couple of times. Yep, you can just call me ‘Surfer Girl’ now. Until one night, we played in the park after dinner, and I was ‘IT’ for a game of tag with the two older kids. Not wanting to be outdone by my kids, I chased them around every palm and bench, AND jumped over flower beds. As I triumphantly caught them, telling myself how young and fit I must look to passersby, I felt an old, unfortunately very familiar, searing pain. I had wrenched my lower back and inflamed two bulging disks. By the following day my back was in excruciating spasms and I was bedridden.

Dreamboat and the kids managed groceries and meals on their own for a few days. And then, things took a definite, downward turn. I was still bed-ridden. And bored. Very bored. (And maybe beginning to feel sorry for myself). Our lease was up on the moldy flat, and someone else was moving in eminently. FOUR other apartments fell through THE morning we had to move out. Dreamboat, who really, really, does not like to pack, packed up all ten pieces of luggage, and some bags of groceries, and moved us all to a hotel. Of course I tried to be helpful by providing suggestions from my bed. You’ll have to ask him whether or not the input was indeed helpful and how pleased he was, or wasn’t, with my efforts. I got a little suspicious as to his state of mind, when I looked up from popping muscle relaxants and trying to hold back the pain-induced tears during the short taxi ride, to notice it was me, all the kids, and nine pieces of luggage. Dreamboat had graciously hopped in a second taxi, with the one bag that wouldn’t fit.

Upon arrival at the hotel, a very sweet porter, seeing my obvious discomfort (isn’t that was doctors always call pain?), practically lifted me from the car and carried me to the elevator. I was so grateful, I think I tipped him in Euro’s, Soles, and Dollars (the next day, after I was lucid enough to find my purse).

In the ten days since then, there have been three additional moves (one where we’re still fighting to get our deposit back after a shower door shattered on Miss O), and a trip (with only one piece of luggage), that included taxi’s, buses, trains, planes, and hiking, to Machu Picchu. And we’ll just say that the hostel we stayed at in Cusco (the starting point to visit Machu Picchu), didn’t have any ‘stars’ anywhere near its name. And that the stains of Peanut throwing up all over the floor just blended with the previous marks. Those of you who know me, will be shocked by the very fact that I stayed in a hostel, as my idea of roughing it is a five-star hotel with only a shower. All five of us got various illnesses there. Whatever bugs we caught, mixed with 11,200ft of elevation, didn’t bode well for this family, or for the small supply of toilet paper, and towels, that came with the room.

The morning of our Machu Picchu trip, Dreamboat woke me as planned at 5:30am. But, he greeted me with the unplanned,

“I can’t do it. There’s no way I can make it.”

Miss O was also unable to get out of bed (or get far from the bathroom).

The doctor we called to come write our permission slips, required by the train company to reschedule, found a heart murmur on Dreamboat.

A HEART murmur.

Although we debated whether the arrhythmia was a scam, we took the doctor’s offered car ride (Yes. You read that correctly. The Dr. was also our taxi service, for a small, additional fee). He took us to a local hospital where he arranged to have a cardiologist ready and waiting to give Dreamboat an echocardiogram.

The efficiency and affordability of quality medical care was pleasantly surprising. In just over an hour we had paid a relatively small sum of US Dollars in cash, for exams from both of the doctors, the prescriptions, formal medical board notes excusing us from travel, and a copy of the reassuring EKG.

The next morning, all of us were well enough to go. (The other four had no choice really. We WERE going to make it to Machu Picchu. It’s been my dream for a long, long time.)

It was magical.

The train and bus rides through the valleys were relaxing, fun, and provided first-row seats to the breathtaking views. Machu Picchu itself was surreal. The preservation of its history is incomparable. The engineering is astounding. The reality of it slowly sunk in over the following days.

Miss O was so amazed by the lack of safety measures, that she kept asking if they ever allowed rentals of the historic site, for birthday climbing parties.

For the first time ever, Peanut tried to climb a rock. He couldn’t. But it was so precious to see him trying, wanting to be like his older siblings. And thank goodness he wasn’t able to, as neither Dreamboat nor I needed one more reason to have a heart attack as we watched the two older kids run and jump with only inches between a safe landing, and a fall of thousands of feet.

We flew back to Lima the following day, with our hearts, and camera card, full to overflowing. The visit has been wonderful content for a home-schooling unit on history, geography, culture and art!

And now, we’ve rejoined our luggage at a lovely eighth floor apartment, overlooking the sea. My back is strong enough that I’ve resumed some workouts, modified to be no-impact, of course. But I feel more balanced, just putting some focus and effort back on my health. We’ve unpacked, filled the kitchen with fresh groceries, overloaded the drains (but not the toilets) with sand from a trip to the beach, and are working our way through lists of more things to see and do.

And, come to find out, while I was out of commission, Dreamboat had started looking for a job again. To perhaps put an early end to this year of adventure. But, he isn’t anymore. Whew.

 

17 Comments

Filed under April 2013

Bullfight

I take back all the smugness.

I once thought, said, even wrote on this blog, that I am a ‘great parent’.

Because we did babies well.

Oh my. Our kidlets were just easy, easy babies. We never hit the “Terrible Two’s” (whoever coined that, just hadn’t yet had a 3-year-old, or a 7-year-old, or a 10-year-old). I may have had each baby sleeping through the night by two weeks, but that was before they could talk. Before they could voice their opinion and displeasure. Articulately. Loudly. With emotion.

Now, I am lost.

And I take it back. I am not a great parent. And, I offer my heartfelt apology, for even thinking it. And a small part of me envies my friends who have chosen not to have children. Or who are now empty-nesters.

It seems to me, through the advent of social media, that I see, and share, happy snippets of daily life. Quips. Inspirations.

But I don’t often see, or share, the moments in between. The stress. The frustration. The pain. This is one of those moments. It’s not pretty.

It’s definitely not FB-worthy.

I have realized recently (or maybe I’m just now facing reality) that as a mother, I am acquiring multiple personalities…

Sometimes I go flailing into the verbal fight they seem to crave. A moment later, I ignore their outburst and give them grace and time to recover. I beam with pride over a friend’s compliment at their manners, and repeat it to myself like a mantra for the next eight days. I dread the effort required to cajole them into a new, ‘fun’ adventure. I hold their little hands, teaching them how to hold a sharp knife and be my sous chef while we prepare dinner together. I am shocked at their selfishness. I am delighted by their generosity and thoughtfulness. I walk on ahead of a pouting child, heard-hearted, without looking back. I stop and retrace our steps, repeatedly, filled with fear, tears streaming down my cheeks, trying to find my precious, precious child. I endeavor to lead by example, and ask them to forgive me for my own poor choices. I reprimand. I praise. I revoke privileges and doll out consequences (they would liken this to the behavior of an evil troll) for their offending actions, while absorbing the ‘spears’ they hurl my way.

Sometimes, and lately it feels like much of the time, by the end of the day I feel like I’ve been in one of the local bullfights we’ve been learning about. And I’m the Toro. And, although I started out brave and fierce, I’ve got a dozen spears protruding from my sides, and I’m leaving a red trail as the life oozes out of me.

No competitors were physically harmed

And the spectators are cheering.

I go to bed to licking my wounds, wondering, reading, praying, looking for answers and wisdom for the following day.

And then I think about adoption. And how Dreamboat and I have talked for years about wanting to be a family for little ones that haven’t had a family. Dreaming of helping someone who has felt unloved, to know they are loved.

And then I wonder…How could I survive, inviting more bullfighters into this ring? What kind of mother could I be to more little ones? How could we be family, when right now, it’s more like a blood sport? What kind of life is that for a little one who has already suffered so much? When I don’t know what I’m doing with these three, how can I add more children?

I don’t think I can do it. I just don’t have the strength to live through it.

And, then, unbidden, a thought dares to come to mind. Only when I’m brave enough, bold enough, secure enough–I take a deep, courage-inducing, stabilizing breath, and ask myself one of the scariest questions (which I’d rather not face);

“was I like this?”

“Oh dear God. Did I do this to my parents?”

And once again, I am humbled….

 

When my littles were little, what was best for our family was easy—I don’t really think there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to get through babyhood—but what worked for us, felt right. But, none of my personalities can agree on what’s ‘right’ for us now.

At this moment, they’re all asleep.

Just thinking of them, without needing to take a peek, my heart is overflowing with love and joy. The joy is so overwhelming that it hurts. I remember only the good, amazing, kind, selfless choices they made today. I remember the feeling of my daughter throwing her arms around me, unbidden, without asking me to buy something. I remember my littlest one’s cries as I stepped out of sight (to steal a few solitary moments to soak in the beauty of Madrid’s skyline as the sun set). I remember my oldest son’s fascination with the art he saw at Museo Reina Sofia, and doing his best to replicate a Dali when he got home. I know I am blessed beyond measure. I am grateful for these little people I am entrusted to raise. I am honored to teach them to be all they’re intended to be. To pursue their greatest dreams. To live their best lives.

But, right now, I’m tired. It’s time to head off to bed.

I look forward to waking up…

…to willingly enter the bull ring again.

8 Comments

Filed under March 2013

Coward’s way out

This one was untitled, because I couldn’t bring myself to write down what I think it should be called. Because this post is about not liking one of my kids.

Gasp. I can’t breathe. I feel like I shouldn’t admit that to myself, let alone write it down and then post it!

I see and hear others gush about their lovely, smiling offspring. It’s not just others—my FB page is full of admiration for all my kidlets. Here’s a recent pic of them.

My kiddo’s, smiling for the camera

But, this morning, and for several days now, one of those cherubic smiles was missing. And, I was biting my tongue (really hard) to keep from nagging them, wishing for the clock to speed up so it would be time for them to head off to school. (Yes, the kids are attending local school while we’re in our little, Spanish village. That makes me sooo happy. Especially today!)

My irritation has been building with this child. I’ve not been enjoying time with them, mostly due to their lighting-speed launch from ‘normal’ to ANGRY. And, for being unkind to my other kidlets. Dreamboat and I have talked about what to do to make it stop. And our frustation. And our sadness.

I was just about to pull back a little emotionally, to allow some space between us, to try and hide from them how taxing I find time together. Because of course, that always works. Right?  Because when someone pulls away from me, without explanation, it always helps the situation improve. Right?

Then I read my little one’s letter home to a friend.

And my heart broke.

This tender child wrote that they’re lonely. Missing their friends. Struggling. Lost.

As I myself wrote just this week, “the people that are the strongest are usually the most sensitive.” The strength of my little one’s anger, is an attempt at a self-protective shield from the pain they’re feeling. I know that.

Or, I should have known that.

And, I know from friends telling me of their kids’ reactions to culture shock, and the many books I’ve read on the subject, that anger is one of the main responses to being in a new environment. It’s natural, normal, and healthy.

I knew that too. At least it my head.

This emotional reaction will help my kiddo work through their unease of being new, different, uncomfortable. They need to work through the pain and privilege of currently inhabiting both a local home, and a new, foreign ‘home’. To maintain their friendships and identity in their local home, but to establish new friendships and identity in their new, temporary home. Their reaction is a reminder of how important that work is, and what is at stake. And what they can gain from working through it.

What wonderful people, and friends, they will become if they can learn to overcome their feelings of unease, but remember what it’s like to be new. To be the foreigner. And to reach out to others, throughout their lives, who are also new and in need of friendship and support.

I should have been there, offering the support and understanding they need, drawing us closer. Pointing out gently the process they going through. Instead of taking the coward’s way out. Instead of withdrawing.

Yet here I was, about to distance myself from this child who needs me most. I wasn’t looking beyond the emotion, to see the root of the issue. To look for understanding. Instead, I allowed my buttons to get pushed (which my children are so very well-skilled at finding). I lost my clarity, blurred into oblivion behind my own emotional reaction.

I share this today, hoping you will avoid the mistakes I’m making, not only if you have kids, but with friends. With parents. With spouses. With partners.

Be bigger than me.

Be the gracious and understanding person I wish I’d been. Don’t withdraw. Don’t cause more pain.

If only I had said, “Sweetheart, you don’t seem yourself. Is something bothering you? Are you finding it difficult to settle in here? Would you like a date with me to have some special time together?”  I wish I had immeditely offered additional encouragement, supporting them while they figure out how to adapt and get their equilibrium back.

The good news is that I’ve not blown it completely. I have a chance to make it right.

And guess what?

I’m off to plan some special time tonight with my kiddo.

5 Comments

Filed under February 2013

My boyfriend is no girlfriend

This is a long one. I plannned to divide it in two, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, grab some coffee and settle in, or read it in parts. As you wish.

———-

Before I was ready to hit ‘publish’ on the previous post, I asked Dreamboat (my legally permanent boyfriend) to give me his input. His response: “I got bored half-way through.”

I laughed out loud. Love that man.

But, he’s no girlfriend.

And, he got me thinking.

One of the secrets to getting through the circus that is my life, as graciously as possible, is having and keeping friends. Good, wonderful friends.

Being so far away from home, and unable to speak the local language, makes me miss my friends, themselves scattered all over the globe, even more. I’ve spent a lot of time this last month thinking about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me.

It wasn’t always that way.

My first seventeen years were mostly lonely. Difficult. Painful.

Thank God for family – the people who become your first friends, and are stuck with you, while you figure out how to be a friend too.

I was watching “The Bachelor” today, when in one of the girls said in her cameo, “all of the girls are going to be so jealous of me.” She meant it. When asked what she has to offer the Bachelor, instead of talking about her unique qualities, she was thinking about the other girls. And how to make them jealous.

Why is that?

Why is it that girls are known for being intentionally mean to other girls? Why do we so often compete with each other instead of support and encourage each other?

It made me sad. (But, to Dreamboat’s huge embarrassment, the show, I find hilarious.  I think we should make a drinking game for every time someone cries. Or for every time there’s a kiss.)

But, back to my point. I think girls being mean stems from insecurity.

We think that deep down, we’re not good enough. (Not pretty enough. Not kind enough. Not lovable. You fill in your insecurity…)

For me, it’s more personal than watching a reality show on TV (well, VPN’d into a US IP address, and watched on my laptop with ear buds so as not to irritate Dreamboat unnecessarily. I save that for other times). I know what it looks and feels like first-hand.

Growing up on a ship limited my pool of friends. There were many wonderful people who lived on board for a short time, whom I loved. But then they left. And I felt like I was in constant mourning—saying goodbye to friend after friend, after friend.

Of the other families that lived on board long-term, like we did, there were two other girls my age (WHY is it that when you’re young, age makes SO much difference?). They were six months older than I was, and in the grade above. Not always, but most of the time, I was the odd-man out. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it got so ugly, that for a while we met weekly with our moms and were refereed by the school principal, to sort out our regular ‘misunderstandings’.

It was hurtful. And I blamed them.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was any less catty, or petty, or mean. I do know that I was insecure and trying to find my place.

What happened when I was twelve didn’t help. There was a boy whom I admired more than anyone else in school (as did most of the kids onboard) for his kindness, ability to have fun in any situation (and we were in some doozies in various countries), and athletic skill. We didn’t have much opportunity to play sports, but he seemed born an expert at them all. One Saturday morning, while he was talking in the hall outside my cabin, he was asked whom he thought was the prettiest girl onboard. After being badgered a bit, he answered, “Heidi. But, I’d NEVER date her.”

I could feel my insides shrivel up.

HIM saying it, made it so much worse. I was completely blindsided. For weeks it hurt, even to breathe.  You may think I should have been grateful for the compliment on my looks, but appearances you can’t help (at least not much at twelve). You’re born that way. But, I took what he said to mean that who I was—ME—wasn’t good enough.

Now, I can’t blame overhearing that conversation, and its impact on me, for all my insecurities. Or for my part in the cattiness with the other girls. But, it took me a long time to know that I’m beautiful inside.

When I was seventeen, the older two graduated, a new influx of long-term people moved onboard, and my world changed. Brightened. Friendships with other women blossomed. Especially with Susan. She helped turn the tide. It sounds like a weird womance (since ‘bromance’ is out there, we should have a word too, right?), but I remember when I first saw her. She became a loyal, fierce friend. In fact, a few miserable months into my first marriage, when I finally was able to whisper the painful mess I was in, I called Susan. We haven’t had much time together in these last many years (more years than I want to say), but the last three months in Guinea, while we were volunteering on the Africa Mercy, she was there too. We laughed, cried, laughed some more.

Here we are with another friend, who also meant the world to me. I wish she’d lived onboard more than those few months our senior year!

Here we are at Miss O’s birthday party a couple months ago. Susan showed up to do the set up and the entire cleanup.

Susan, and the many, many wonderful friends that have followed, yes, including friends I’ve grown to love and appreciate from those lonely years onboard, have been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort, support, and lots and lots of fun.

I don’t want to consider where I’d be without those feelings of being whole and known, sometimes, too close for comfort.

They’re from many different languages and cultures, with strongly opposing views and faiths. My Facebook newsfeed is an education in juxtapositions, which I find highly entertaining and also thought-provoking (that’s a good thing).These friends who help provide me with a sense of ‘home’, no matter where I am, are old and young. Many are ‘unique’ and ‘quirky’. I like them. I need them. I learn from them.

Yes, because I move around so much, home is not always a place. For me, home is an experience of belonging. To create that with new people, takes physical and emotional presence. It’s intentional. While I’ve watched some of my friends chose to emotionally distance themselves from the hurt of potential goodbyes, I’ve chosen the other path. To continually open myself to new people. To see them as adding to my life’s riches, and taking them with me as I go.

Staying close to those who are far away—yes, it’s painful. It means leaving pieces of my heart with people and places—requires nourishing and treasuring them when I no longer have the physical proximity. I keep them in my heart, wherever I may go.

Here’s my group of girls who joined a little ‘bon voyage’ party as we left Seattle.

If I could go back, and talk to my twelve-year-old-self, in an effort to avoid ‘the lonely years’, I’d start off with reprimanding her for being myopic. For being overly focused on myself. Selfish. (I know it’s the usual tween affliction and necessary to grow into an independent adult, but really, it’s soooo not attractive. Or helpful.) If she would just take the time to really look at others, she would see them absorbed in the same struggle to become their best selves. I would tell her that eventually, she would learn to turn her sensitivity outward. To be empathetic to others. To be a source of strength when they feel insecure and in need of encouragement. Then, I would tell her that the world is a big place. Without limitation. And that she should celebrate all her successes, AND her friends’ successes. That life is not a zero-sum-game (pulled from my ever-reducing vocabulary from global econ class). Our life is not reduced by the successes of others. There is no limitation and need to compete. If anything, my life now (and could have been true for my life at twelve) is enriched by others’ successes.  I would tell her that there is limitless satisfaction in being part of others blossoming. Sharing in their joy as they grow into their talents.

I would also tell her to start speaking her mind a LOT sooner. She has some great insights to give her friends, and the wisdom is wasted when she’s silent. Those truly worthy of her friendship want the wisdom. (Such a simple thing to say now, but if she could do it, she might sidestep that abusive first marriage).

Another life-lesson that has saved me in countless ways, and that Dreamboat and I taught in our management training workshop, is MRI—Most Respectful Interpretation—which basically means to think the best of people. Assume if someone’s acting strange, that unless they say otherwise, then the problem is with them (an issue at home, late night, work disappointment, etc.). Dale Carnegie, who coined the term, explains it much more eloquently, for a management setting. But, the basic principal is it’s not all about me. Don’t assume it is.

One of my dreams is to make a difference. For my life to count by being part of something bigger than myself. I got to do that in a really big way, by volunteering on a hospital ship. But, I also try to do that in small ways. Everyday. No matter where I am. Everyone needs relationship and intimacy. It’s beautiful to be known and loved.  And, as I give of my heart and my time to others, I receive in return the strength I need, to help keep my vision, passion and courage alive.

While Dreamboat is my lifetime friend (thank God for his honesty. I need it.) and I’ve lots of male friends whom I love, including my brothers…

One of my brothers may love me just a little bit less after posting this pic of him, but I just couldn’t resist.

 …sometimes a girl craves time with her girlfriends!

 

6 Comments

Filed under February 2013

God is great. God is good. Let us pray.

While I perused my book this afternoon, and soaked in the tub, ignoring the eighteen, yes EIGHTEEN, attempts to open or unlock the door, I was also mulling over whether to write this post, about some comparisons between Muslims and Christians, and how they challenged me.

You see I’m more comfortable with my public self being seen as funny and kind. And a bit shallow. I’m very new to blogging, and I’ve seen vitriolic comments on friends’ posts, where they voiced an opinion on something deeper than soapsuds. But, I can’t stop thinking about this, and this year is about doing what’s right and what my heart is telling me.

And, I took a vow of honestly when I started writing. So, here goes.

As you may know, we spent the first three months of our year ‘off’, volunteering in Guinea with Mercy Ships Then we went to Morocco, for the two weeks over Christmas. Both these impacted our family in countless ways, which I won’t go into now. Travel isn’t new to me—I’ve spent time in over sixty countries. But, I was continually surprised by Morocco. The people that I met, the countryside I observed, the customs that I learned–in fact, the entire experience was amazing. Inspirational.  (And, I’m still in awe of their abundant, delicious produce).

Morocco is a majority Muslim country. Their two main tenets or “wings” are: 1) love God, and 2) do good deeds to benefit yourself, your family, the community, and mankind.

They have a beautiful saying that ‘No bird can fly conveniently with only one wing or with one wing weaker than the other.’ And, a Muslim can’t be welcomed in Heaven unless he is keeping a good balance of the two Islam wings.

Because of my American passport (the whole ‘One Nation Under God’ thing), most Muslims associate me with ‘Christians’.  What may be news to you, is that includes all things “Hollywood”. Including your worst-nightmare-styled-cheap porn (as opposed to the quality, expensive variety. But, I digress). And, right-wing Teaparty politics. And, blowing up an occasional doctor who works at an abortion clinic.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that pornography and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Christianity, to much of the Muslim world.

(I know this is completely off-topic, and not at all important, but I’m dealing with my aging skin as well right now. I also find it fascinating, and sad, that the not-so-fine lines, are becoming a permanent part of my reflection in the mirror.)

I had all that knowledge in the back of my head upon arriving in Morocco, where Moulay, our ‘Guest Liaison’, asked me to not let the ‘call to prayer’ disturb us in the early mornings, but to be “overwhelmed by feelings of blessings and prayers for our good health”.

(Isn’t it crazy that we had a ‘Guest Liaison’? I know!  It sounds so fancy and sassy at the same time.) If you want someone to buy amazing, Moroccan treasures, and then ship them to you, let me know. Moulay’s your man.

And, as Moulay forewarned, each morning, and an additional four times throughout the day, the call to prayer is sung by each mosque’s Imam (leader), and amplified through their loudspeakers. Did you know there are mosques on most corners? At least one per block of every village, town, and city in Morocco? They’re hard to miss during the call to prayer, FIVE times a day. Especially when you’re warm and snuggled with your love under a duvet in the early morning. And when you’re trying to have a conversation, or keep a train of thought, during the other times throughout the day.  But, I guess that’s the point…

The sound wasn’t pleasant to me at first. It was foreign and a bit frightening. And, very off key. But, that may have been because I could hear six different Imam’s singing. And their timing was more than a little off. Not even One Direction would sound good with that many harmonies going on at one time. Or at close to the same time.

I found out the Imam’s are all saying, “God is great. God is good. Let us pray.” And pray, they do. Even in the really fancy, western mall, there’s a prayer room. So Muslims can take a break during their shopping, to stop and worship God.

Even more glaring than the call to prayer, were the cats and the beggars.

There are stray cats all over Morocco, (OK. So the 3 cities and a couple little villages I got to know). Not really many dogs to be found, as in other parts of the globe. But cats. Lots of cats. Miss O, who is 10, was all set to be dramatic and upset that the cats go hungry and are unloved. (Currently, her tears are saved for the imagined misfortunes of animals, and of course, if she feels slighted by me or Dreamboat.) But, NONE of the cats we saw in Morocco were skittish, worried of mistreatment. The cats there aren’t afraid of people.  None of them are scary skinny. All seemed fed and sleek. On NUMEROUS occasions, I saw people dropping off scraps for the neighborhood felines. As a result, and another one of my many side-notes, Morocco doesn’t seem to have a rodent problem. Anywhere.

You may not be interested in cat care, but our curiosity grew until the kids volunteered me to ask someone. I learned the second Muslim tenet applies to animals too. So, they’re treated WELL. And the same tenet spells out that it applies to all ‘mankind’. That’s why, when we were stopped at red lights, and there were beggars, the taxi drivers would roll down their windows, kiss the cheeks of whomever was asking for food or money, and hand some over. The first time it happened, I thought the beggar was a dear friend or relative of our taxi-man.

The locals didn’t shun the homeless. Or look the other way. In fact, people called out blessings to them, asked about their health, and prayed for them.

I was in awe. And kept looking for signs that it was just a mirage. But, as far as I could tell, Morocco is a country that reminds its people to pray five times a day, remembering that God is good and great. Whose inhabitants believe, and demonstrate, that beggars and strays are to be cared for, and who are kind and welcoming to people of other faiths—even the violent, pornography-loving kind (‘me’). And, it’s clean. Pristine. Without any apparent graffiti problems.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that terrorism and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Muslims, to much of the western world.

I’ve been around the block enough to know nothing is really that black and white. Or, that simple. Dear me. Not even my feelings for my precious kiddo’s, for whom I’d give my life, are that simple—they are children, after all.  And, there are ongoing Muslim riots in France. Last week was the terrible hostage crisis in Algeria, led by Muslims, where the death toll still isn’t final. And the killer in the Aurora mass shootings was a Christian. As was the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s all be inspired by Morocco to not just ‘talk our faith’ (whatever your faith may be). Let’s show it. Let’s make time to pray. Let’s do good deeds to benefit ourselves. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our friends and families. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our planet. And all mankind.  And I’m also saying that what looks different, can be frightening. But, if we look a little closer, we might see more similarities than differences.

My visit to Morocco is going to be the fodder of life-lessons to my kiddo’s and my inner-Heidi, for years to come. I’m going to remind us that we have choices to make as we live out our faith. And no matter what, we can do what’s right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said; “The time is always right to do what is right”.  I often forget this. I procrastinate. I justify.

Our time in Guinea was focused on helping those less fortunate. Which I loooooved. But, in many ways, I learned more, and was challenged more, and received more wisdom, from our ‘vacation’ to Morocco.

3 Comments

Filed under January 2013

Part 2 (the better part) of “Bad attitude”

There’s no question, I have been blessed with some of the best friends in the world. Truly.  Here’s a response I got this morning, to yesterday’s post:

——————-

I’ve been keeping up on your blog posts and loving how real and true you are.  A few thoughts to cheer you up:
1. The days are long but the years are short. You are making the most of these short years!
2. You are forming lasting, life-enhancing, incredible memories that will last a lifetime.
3. The kids are thriving – even in a foreign country!
4. You are still calling the husband Dreamboat.
5. Keep track of any movies you really want to see. I will rent/watch them all with you when you get back! Girls movie day/evening!
6. Your view is better than mine (and just about every other mom we know).
7. When we are uncomfortable and/or unhappy, it’s usually a time when we are to learn something meaningful.
8. Toothpaste is overrated.
9. I despise laundry. In any country. I do not like it on a boat. I do not like it with a goat. I do not like it, Sam-I-am.
10. Across oceans and time zones, someone is missing you dearly.

Enjoy your adventure!!  Too soon you will have all the Target and Costco amenities at your fingertips…..embrace the adventure that awaits you now, each and every morning.

—————

I feel loved. And reprimanded. And supported. And reminded of how very, very lucky I am. And now I have some of my equilibrium back.

Isn’t she amazing?

So, I’ve gone and done all the laundry. Hired a housekeeper to come over once a week and clean the floors. (Dreamboat and I had a lengthy ‘discussion’ about cleaning today. And a housekeeper was his recommendation. I think to keep me happy. Looove that man.) And made pizza and brownies for the kids tonight. And Dreamboat and I are going out for a drink after dinner.  And I’m going to start on a list of movies to watch with my friend–the anticipation of time with her will make watching them together, even sweeter!

I hope all of you are blessed to have friends just like her in your lives..

H

xoxo

1 Comment

Filed under January 2013

Bad attitude

So, I feel a bit badly about this post. It’s not happy and doesn’t sound like me. But, it is honest. It is where I am right now. Next week will be better, maybe even in a couple of days. Promise.

I know the phases of culture shock, and that settling in is just ahead. But, I can definitively state that the ‘honeymoon’ phase of living in the Spanish village of Gaucin is firmly behind me. Right now I’m stuck in ‘cranky’. Which is my nice word for it. Dreamboat and the kids may have other words to describe it.

Most of my friends think of this year of travel as a collection of amazing locales. And fabulous cuisines. And they’re right. I did too. But, you know who’s cooking and cleaning in each of those places? And doing laundry? And wiping dirty bottoms (not just my own)? Yep – me.

Right now, following my dreams looks a lot like being a housewife. Just with a change of location.

At this moment I’m in this little Andalucian village, perched in the mountains above the Mediterranean, and gazing over the spectacular views. It is even more picturesque than it sounds. Stunning. See…

View from my bedroom. Really.

View from my bedroom. Really.

 

Sun setting over Gaucin

Sun setting over Gaucin

 

Calipha, 'our' donkey.

Calipha, ‘our’ donkey.

And I feel stuck. Trapped.  And I feel badly for feeling badly.

And I wonder why we’re here and how long I can last.

I look back on the three months in Guinea with longing. Not really wanting to go back to life on the Africa Mercy, but missing the constant knowledge that we were making an impact in the lives of others. And missing the challenges of life in Africa. Truly. (I am one of those crazy people that thrives with obstacles to overcome.)  And I miss lots of activity. And I miss my friends. (And I miss having a scale. Where’s the reward in eating well and exercising daily when I can’t know how much weight is melting away?)

And, I have to admit, I’m a city girl. In addition to a certain level of activity and availability, I’ve gotten accustomed to a high standard of coffee (my mom’s entirely to blame for that one – and I’m grateful to her), which our drip coffee maker does not live up to. And that last cup, five hours after the pot was initially brewed, is simply gross. No matter how much heavy cream I add.

The nearest movie theatre is an hour away, and without a car, it’s unlikely I’ll see a movie while we’re here. Funny thing is, I don’t really care about whether or not I see a movie, but being unable to see a movie is a different story. That makes it feel like it wasn’t my decision. Back to being trapped.

And Dreamboat is loving it here. Which is irritating. He’s reveling in the quiet. In the beauty. And the older kiddo’s have just started in the local school and are immersed in Spanish, just like we wanted.

First day of school

First day of school

And, apparently, not in need of future therapy for it. They’re happy and making friends.

I’m obviously not like them.

Part of the issue is that I miss having a job. I know. Crazy, right? But I’m more comfortable in my role as worker-person, than house-wife person. I’m trying not to be bored, to figure out my new role. I know it’s good for me. For us. But, really, so far, I don’t like it much.

But, I think I’m going to start looking for our next place in a larger town, with easier access to trains and buses. With, stores big enough to handle the pushchair (stroller) without knocking people out of the aisles like bowling pins. Which sell both toothpaste and veggies under one roof…to keep from having to constantly apologize to my family for my attitude. Which I’m going to change. My attitude, that is. I’m going to focus on my many, many blessings. And the view. And how lucky I am. And I’m going to learn to slow down and enjoy the quiet. And I’m going to speak up more and allow Dreamboat to give me the perspective that I need. To help me get balanced again. And I’m going to continue enjoying all the many, many cuddles and kisses with my Peanut. Whom, by the way, is also thriving.

And I’m reminding myself, that even though I’m worn out by details of everyday life, sometimes that’s where victories are won. I’m in the right place. For now.

9 Comments

Filed under January 2013

No answers here

 

While driving through Guinea in a car with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned on the sides, we were often stopped by police. Sometimes it was for medical advice. A couple of times it was to say thank you for helping a family member.

Usually, it was asking for money.

Twice, when riding with locals, the police weren’t very friendly. And could not be cajoled out of their demands. They took the car registration and drivers licenses of the people I was with. Until bribes were paid. My friends didn’t mind much. They were pleased to get their papers back without too much fuss or delay. The money was handed over happily, and the papers were returned with complete attitude adjustments that included a smile and respectful nod. (Wish it was that easy with my kids’ attitudes which frequently need adjustment.)

While the seeming injustice of this would have angered me in the past, I no longer see bribery as black and white. You see, I’ve learned some of the police are paid no salary. And all those I saw were on foot, without a squad car in sight. They pay for a uniform, and have some training to uphold the local law, but are expected to use their authority to make their living. My local friends knew this, and didn’t begrudge paying their part in the system to support the police officers, by giving them money to feed their families.

A western doctor friend of mine, carries cash with her each day, to pay the requested bribes she encounters.

There are some definite benefits to the system.  If you pay an officer, you can have the street outside your house closed at night, and heavily protected against possible vandals or intruders.  Or, for someone like me, who’s always in a hurry, I love that you can pay, a relatively small sum, to have the street of your choice changed to one-way, going the direction you prefer.  Of course that’s fun in theory (for me anyway), and while most of the time I found it hilarious in practice, it can be extremely dangerous. And the time I spent two hours completely immobilized in traffic as my one-way street ran head-on into three lanes of traffic coming at us from the opposite direction, it wasn’t so fun. And maybe not so smart either. But somebody was having a good time counting their money while cars, buses, semi-trucks, and motorcycles, inched their way out of that mess. Some did U-turns. Some, like the city bus, used their size, and the road shoulder, to just keep on coming, while we slowly got out of their way.

But, as we know, corruption isn’t always so harmless.

Guinea has a long history of allowing officials to loot its treasury. During the last years of ex-President Lansana Conte’s rule, employees of the treasury said they would regularly see the president’s convoy drive up to their building and leave with bags of cash.

Ok, I know that sounds fun.

But, so very wrong.

Guinea’s current president, Alpha Conde, with his zero tolerance for corruption, appointed Mrs. Boiro as Head of his Treasury. She launched an investigation into the recent loss of 13 million francs ($1.8 million) which went missing from the state coffers. While I was there, she was gunned down in her car, and killed, in what her colleagues describe as a brazen assassination aimed at silencing her.~ AP. Conakry, Guinea November 10, 2012.

Many locals feel that since Mrs. Boiro’s murder, Conakry is becoming more and more lawless. Some even wonder if Guinea might not be better off run by a strongman than a well-educated humanitarian–someone who is able to keep order with an iron fist.

I don’t know the answer to that. But even asking the question saddens me.

Realistically, I wonder what the motivation is for those in power in Guinea, and many countries like it, to usher in change, and progress. What would motivate them to share power and wealth downward? To get rid of the corruption? There is a level of society that lives above the law, that has huge wealth and power, and access to education, medical care, and luxuries that I can only dream of. Where is the benefit to them?

Corruption isn’t bad for those on the top and middle of the chain. It’s impossible for the man on the bottom of the chain. When the local dockworker earns $1/day, and has to bribe the dock security at the beginning AND end of each day, then it’s impossible for him to earn a living. To get ahead. It’s those at the bottom of the chain that feel helpless. Who wait for someone or something to deliver them.

While the situation in Guinea has no easy answers, I’m not without hope. When I first visited neighboring Ghana in 1991, driving across the border into the country was like crossing over into a barren and ruined land. But, now they are the success story of the region, with development and infrastructure, and stability.

So, I’m not giving up.

As Bono says, “If you want to turn the world right side up, it’s going to take your whole life.”

This is a journey, right?

At this season of reflections and resolutions, what are you committing your life to? Where is your journey taking you? Take a look at what your actions are saying.

Join me in committing to make choices that will help turn the world ‘right side up’. To help bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Please.

*I must give credit to Susan Parker, for blatantly plagiarizing her account of Mrs. Boiro’s murder, and the inspiring verse I used in the close above. They’re taken from her column in this month’s Navigator on the Africa Mercy. See, corruption really is rampant. I’m going to have to start with some serious housekeeping in my own life.

 

Comments Off

Filed under January 2013

What exactly, are we teaching the kids?

We went to poverty stricken Guinea, in West Africa. To teach the kids to have a heart for those less fortunate. Then we went to Morocco. Here, the little kids, and many adults, have learned to holler in French,

“Give me money!”

You should see my kids’ faces as I walk on by. Or, answer “Non”.

Or, even worse, dare to ask them, “Pourquois (why)?”

My kids look at me as though they’ve never seen before…Then the questions start…

Now they’re not sure whether we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, or, shun them. While giving disapproving stares. Not quite sure where to go from here. It’s not the conundrum I was expecting to face. I’ve explained that the local children we’ve seen here are healthy and well. And that it would be offensive if we were back home in Seattle, and asked obvious tourists walking through the city, to fork over money to us. I think I just gave them their next fundraising idea.

Not sure the message is clear to them yet.

Or to me.

 

1 Comment

Filed under December 2012

Warriors

Some say we’re crazy. Some say we’re brave.

We’re probably a mix of both.

But really, we’re battling for our children’s hearts, souls, attention, innocence, education and memories. And we’re doing it through travel.

The dream of taking a year ‘off’ to travel and volunteer in global development has been brewing for many years. And is driven by numerous factors, all of which seem to come back to the Little’s. Our kiddo’s. These little people we’ve been trusted to grow.

I don’t want to hope I raise children who are kind, grateful, and honest. I want to model it. I want to require it. I want them to be impacted so deeply by the people, sights, experiences, smells and sounds of this year, that they have no choice but to respond with overflowing love. Because that’s what love is, right?

Life isn’t easy. And we decided to start this year in Guinea, whereby the location of a child’s birth dictates, if they survive, that their life will be difficult. I want my children to not expect life to be fair, but to be deeply grateful for all the little things they previously took for granted. I can already tell you my G-ster will forever be grateful every time he turns on the tap and has clean, abundant, warm, water.

Life is filled with beauty and joy, and I want to teach the kiddo’s to always look for them. To see and appreciate them.  To relish the pleasure of seeing a mamma when her baby girl comes out of surgery with her cleft repaired, and is no longer a ‘devil-child’. To stop and enjoy the majesty of a sunset over the horizon. To sit and linger over a family dinner, savoring every bite and moment.

No matter where we live, we are surrounded by those less fortunate. There are endless ways to help, if we only look. I am modeling for my kids, in big ways and small, that having a heart for others is good. And, being driven to find a way to make a difference, is great. I want one of the major take-aways for this year, lodged deep down inside each of them so they can never forget, to be an expectation that it’s their job to love their neighbor. Tangibly.

‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and ‘The American Dream’ don’t provide meaning. Being involved in something bigger than ourselves does. I want our kids to see that quitting our jobs at the height of our earning potential (so ‘they’ say), getting rid of the house, and the cars, and the stuff, in order to experience the world, has been the bigger dream for us. Because, we as a family, value experience and learning above possessions. That nonconformity and the courage to follow our dreams have already delivered us a lifetime of meaning, and life lessons, and joy. And we’re only three months in!

Life can be scary and overwhelming. But having, and keeping, quality friends is one of the secrets to getting through graciously. Miss O is one of those private girls, who before we left, shared her deepest thoughts and hopes with only one girl. And Dreamboat and I want her to open up to us. To allow us in as trusted friends. And for the boys too. We want to spend the quality time with each child, available to them, focused on them, getting to know them, so that they know and trust us. And share their thoughts and hearts with us. Even when they’re grown. But, especially, when they’re teenagers.

I want to teach the kids to delight in their accomplishments. To mark their triumphs, knowing that they’re fleeting. To participate with us as we extravagantly ‘waste’ money we’ve saved.

Most of all, deep down and without doubt, I want each child to know that we treasure them. That our love for them means we have taken this year to focus on them.

Many people plan and work towards traveling when they retire. We decided to make time now, while our kids are still at home, and Dreamboat and I are in great health, to introduce the world to them. To open their eyes and hearts, and instill in them a curiosity for learning. Even if it means not retiring.

So, people may look past us, unaware. But we’re warriors. Fighting for our kids. For their futures. For our legacy.

5 Comments

Filed under December 2012