Archive for December, 2015

Comfort

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

Comfort is a transient and mutable quality. One may find comfort in the most difficult circumstances. Kind words from a friend. A laugh with a stranger. The touch of a child’s hand. A memory of security. Comfort seems to boil up from one’s heart like a hot spring into a snowy morning.

 

Hot Springs

 

Today as I sit quietly in the living space of Casa Verde in Los Baños, Ecuador and contemplate the fact that we are leaving this beautiful place and I don’t know when I will return, I feel simultaneously joyful and sad. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been so comfortable here in this bed and breakfast style hotel. No roaches, no dishes to do, my mom by my side (who can either frustrate me or make me laugh until I cry), and quite a bit of fun (zip lining, swimming under a huge water fall, soaking in hot springs, exploring the Amazonian Basin). We had fun in the town of Los Baños also, which has a bit of a carnival feel. It reminds me of Seaside, OR, but bigger and more cosmopolitan, with better restaurants and more interesting architecture.

Yet, this strange combination of joy and sadness feels deeper than simply leaving comfort and fun. The sheer cliffs that jut vertically from the Pastaza River, with cinder block and corrugated metal roof homes perched precariously on the green hillside, offer a scene of simplicity nestled in grandeur. The view from the comfortable futon that overlooks flowers that attract hummingbirds and low-lying clouds on the cliffs is one that I could enjoy daily and always admire.

 

Houses perched on the green cliffs on the other side of the river from Casa Verde

Houses perched on the green cliffs on the other side of the river from Casa Verde

 

Hummingbirds love these flowers

Hummingbirds love these flowers

 

 

Indeed, the fact that this futon has cushions and that I can access WiFi brings me much satisfaction. The laughter that my mom has brought me (she’s funniest when she’s not even trying) and the sense of adulthood that my nephew brings me are experiences linked to our stay in Los Baños that cannot be recommended or peddled on Trip Advisor. The day spent with our guide, Oswaldo, visiting the gateway to the Amazon Forest, provided me with 12 hours of Spanish conversation and the opportunity to be the translator for my family and I found myself drifting to sleep last night with “palabras de español” in my head.

Indeed, while I may not return here for some time, I may continue to draw upon this experience for years to come. When the heat of the moment is scalding my heart, I can put myself in the cool deep pool under a 70 foot waterfall, swimming under and behind it with my family. When the stress of others is palpable, I can be back in the Baños de Agua Santa (hot springs) at the base of the Tungurahua Volcano and a 100+ foot waterfall, soaking with dozens of locals who look at me curiously, while we jump from scalding hot to freezing cold and tingling all over our bodies. When the world seems harsh and relentless I can be back on top of a hill side, resting in a hammock, having my hand painted with the orange stain from a seed, overlooking a river that rushes its way toward the Amazon River.

Comfort is elusive at times. It hides below the surface of my task-orientation. It waits to be invited, not wanting to interrupt the plans for pushing forward and facing challenges. Comfort becomes buried under the perception of discord. I’m grateful to have experienced joy and comfort these past few days. It will fuel me for a lifetime, when invited.

Give it to Me

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Yesterday, after spending 9 hours walking in the Montane Ecuadorian Forest, counting birds from 5:30 AM to 2:30 PM, Brady and I were napping. In my daze, I heard a car pull up in front of our house and turn off its engine. I’ve heard this before here and don’t think much of it anymore. The sounds outside often sound louder inside this wooden uninsulated house and I’ve come to accept that the idling cars and friendly voices are not here for us. This time, I was wrong. There was an enthusiastic knock on the door, tapping out a familiar rhythm that I’ve used on doors of friend’s houses in the US.

 

The Martin Families on a Road Less Traveled, Counting Birds

 

As I was alone upstairs in our room, I waited for Brady to answer (honestly, I didn’t know that he was napping as well). I heard him converse in broken Spanish, then call Brennan down. Shortly thereafter an excited and slightly frenzied Brady came up the 2 flights of stairs into our little bedroom and told me that the taxi driver from last weekend was at our door and he was returning Brennan’s iPhone that we thought we would never see again. I told Brady where to find my stashed cash and sent him down with $40 as a reward.

A moment passes. More excited and broken Spanish. My eyes are still closed, my body still resisting waking. Brady returns. He tells me that I must get up and get dressed, the taxi driver will not leave until he talks to me.

I throw on some clothes and toss my bird’s nest of a hair-do into a slightly tidier looking bun. When I make it down the creaky stairs, I see a man and a woman standing barely inside my front door. Indeed, it is the taxi driver from last weekend. I recall him telling me about his disabled daughter and how he had never been to Mindo and had hoped to bring her here someday. It appears that he came this weekend, returning the iPhone that Brennan had left behind in his cab (worth hundreds of dollars here, if not more), and bringing his wife along.

We chat for a bit and I listen to his story of finding the phone. He thought the phone was mine and when he learns it was my 11 year old son’s, there is a pregnant pause. I explain how it was a gift 2 years ago, that it was my mom’s old phone, that it doesn’t work as a phone, and my son uses it more as a tablet. I find myself compelled to explain how our privilege is hardly privilege but it feels a bit contrived.

After learning about how the man had showed up at our door earlier, but we had not been home, about how they had spent time eating lunch waiting to return to our home, I then feel our privilege pressing against my bones. Maybe we should give them more than $40? Geez…. it probably seems like we’re rich… but we are on a budget here and honestly getting the phone back is not worth so much money to me. We give them some honey we brought from home, some packets of Emergen-C and some tea bags.

The married couple, whose wife looks much older than the husband, then tells me about their daughter who is in the car. They offer for us to meet her. “Yes, that’d be great” we exclaim. Remember, this is all happening in Spanish and I’m acutely aware of how I must sound like a 4 year old to them. The man, Fernando, goes and gets his daughter from the car. He carries her into our house.

She is big. She is an 11 year old girl. Her hand is twisted at the wrist. Her eyes barely focus. Her mouth is agape. Her spine is twisted and her head does not turn toward us. He turns her head toward us gently so we can meet her, though I’m not sure she’s aware of what is happening. We say our standard greetings and in an attempt at small talk, I ask he age. “¿Cuantos años tiene?” I ask. “Tiene once años”, Fernando replies. “El mismo edad de mi hijo”, I reply and all eyes turn to my 11 year old. He’s standing there with a Chicago bulls cap on his long brown hair. Healthy smile, shining eyes, strong body, iPhone in his hand. It’s no longer my privilege that is pushing on my bones, it’s now the weight of good fortune; my son is healthy and normal. He can wipe his own bottom. He can feed himself. He can walk. I want to give them more but I can’t give them a “normal” parenting experience.

 

Slightly Tortured Jai on the 9 Hour Bird Count

 

 

Our conversation turns to the difficulty of caring for their daughter. They have to do everything for her. The wife tells me that it’s all her who cares for the girl, then tosses a half-hearted “and him too” toward her husband. They show me some official card that Fernando removes from his wallet. It claims that the girl is “100% incapacitated” and I see something about certain lethality on the card. I commiserate with them. I exclaim, “entiendo. Es dificil por las manos, la mente y el corazón.” The woman and I both have teary eyes. I feel a shift in the energy of the our interaction. A bit more connection at the heart level.

They begin to ask me if I know of a “padrino” who can help them. This word, I’ve learned, can be “god father” or “sponsor”. They don’t have help. They don’t have a wheel chair. The girl doesn’t go to school. She’s getting too heavy to carry.

I explain that I don’t really know. I’ve only lived here a few weeks and will be leaving in a few more. I tell them about the Salem Center down the street from our house. It’s a German run organization that helps kids after school; kids who have disabilities (many kids with down-syndrome here, perhaps due to women having kids well into their older years). We recognize that this is not what they need. They live in Quito.

What is this pressure I’m feeling? The pressure of privilege? The pressure of good fortune? The struggle that exists between giving and receiving. Can I receive my good fortune with grace? Shall I give more than I think I can, knowing there is always enough? The whole exchange is laden with discomfort; the complexity of the joy of the gift and the possibility for future exchanges.

I’m resisting the urge to push them out, slam the door and say, “please leave! I cannot look at your pleading faces and your incapacitated daughter who was born to you the same year that my perfectly imperfect son was born to me!”

I want to say “take what you want, please, take anything, if it will relieve your burden”.

Instead I ask for his phone number and tell him I’ll hire him as a taxi driver should I ever need one in Quito, knowing perfectly well that his small sedan cannot accommodate my perfectly imperfect large family with 3 healthy children.

They drive away and Brady and I just look at each other with bewildered eyes and restless bodies. We talk with Brennan about the miracle of the returned iPhone and how there are many good people in this world.

The tension of giving and receiving is beginning to settle into my bones. The packages under our artificial tree are indicators of the season of gifts; yet, this concept of giving and receiving is slightly different and carries a unique weight.

This is the time of year where many people are thinking of giving and receiving. In the Western World, Christmas is most often celebrated with piles of gifts, so long as the pocketbook permits. Many folks also open their bank accounts to charities and local organizations. We Americans are known for many things, some more becoming than others, but one thing is universally accepted- we give a lot of money to organizations and causes worldwide.

 

Taking a Rest Around the Christmas Tree

 

 

The art of receiving is delicate. How much excitement and appreciation shall one demonstrate? What if one doesn’t want the gift; must one still be grateful? What shall one do with the gift that she doesn’t want? How must one feel when the gift seems too big, too extravagant? Is one indebted if the gift’s magnitude isn’t reciprocated?

Nonetheless, the art of giving is perhaps the most complicated. People give for complicated reasons. The act of giving makes one feel good. It affirms our identity as generous, caring and connected individuals. We feel like a good person when we give. Many of us give out of a sense of morality. We feel that we “ought to” tithe. Some of us are perfectly happy giving anonymously, though research has shown that we often gain more satisfaction from giving when it’s recognized.

The phenomenon of recognition is an interesting one. It’s a topic that often comes up with my coaching clients. People want to be recognized for their work. They want the appreciation and status that comes from recognition. This is one of the primary motivators in a workplace, and dare I say, in a family.

My coaching clients and I sometimes have conversations about the meaning of our work and the art of doing work simply for the sake of the work. Can we complete our work without expecting recognition? Can we still work diligently when we accept the impermanence of our work?

I had a neighbor for the first handful of years that I lived in my current house. She and her husband, both elderly and deaf, would holler at one another across the yard as they puttered around on their tractor and cared for their multiple acre yard, creating a Better Homes and Garden quality landscape. When they left, a younger couple with young adult children moved in.

This newer couple reassured me that the growing blackberry patch in the corner of our field, where it meets their yard, didn’t bother them. They informed me that they were letting their yard grow into a more natural setting. My dog was welcome to come over to their property anytime, they assured me, when I apologized for any unknown times she may have veered across the property lines.

Meanwhile, another neighbor or two mentioned to me how much the new neighbors had “let the yard go” and how the former owners would be “so disappointed” that all their work had gone to waste.

All our work goes to waste, I think to myself. Nothing is permanent. The earth eventually reclaims her land. The documents get erased, the buildings dilapidate, the businesses close, the learning is forgotten, the body dies, the language disappears. It’s all impermanent, mortal, fragile. Those who built longevity into their projects, like the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians, only left behind mysteries for future generations to speculate upon.

My neighbors worked in their yard because they loved the work. It passed their days. It gave them shared activity. It gave them purpose and meaning. A sense of fulfillment, and at times, recognition when company came and admired the beauty. If they worked solely for the recognition or the legacy, they were bound to be disappointed. No one else could understand the resources they poured into their yard, and no one else was going to maintain that level, either.

Likewise, when we create a project and devote our energies to a mission, we may expect it to last and to be admired. Yet, if this becomes a primary motivator, we are bound to be disappointed and discouraged. We must hold onto the beauty of the act for the sake of the act, not for the permanence of the outcome.

This parallels the act of giving. When we give, we must do so from the heart, for the pure experience of giving. When we expect a certain outcome, a joyous reaction, a reciprocated act, then we are too often disappointed and discouraged. Others will disappoint us. They will not appreciate the effort which was required. They will not mirror our intent nor will they reciprocate equally. That is not their responsibility as the receiver.

We contact my father and his wife, who are pastors of a Calvary Chapel in Seaside, to purchase a wheel chair for Fernando and his daughter. The church made the purchase and sent it to my mom, who will lug in across a continent to Quito when she flies here on Christmas. We hope this is not too big of a burden for her. We hope that we can get it delivered to her house in time, get it to the hotel in Quito, and get Fernando and his daughter and wife to be there at the right time on Saturday 12/26 to receive the gift. If we can pull this off, it will be amazing and awkward. Our privilege shines through the act of giving. It won’t be enough. At the same time it will be too much.

The act of giving and receiving is an art form. The frame and content vary; the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The art will be judged. Not colorful enough. Wrong frame. Strange. Not really art! Or, to be beholden! It stirs an emotion. Turns an empty space into a place with meaning. It will inspire.

We must hold up the sacredness of the act of giving and receiving for it’s simple act. Not for the outcome, or the recognition, or the longevity, or the reaction. This act is impermanent and fleeting; the process is flawed and imperfect.

Through it, we gain purpose, entertainment, connection. An alleviation of our isolation, a recognition of our caring. The act is perfectly imperfect.

When It’s Hard

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Last night I was having a conversation about hardship with a client and dear friend. In the past we’ve discussed whether struggle and suffering are necessary in life. This recent conversation included details on our respective hard situations. We talked about things like “how we show up” for the struggle and how we “witness” others whom we care for deeply as they also go through the hardship. It appeared that we had agreement that hardship may result in creativity and can foster a sense of humor, though hardship is not a requirement for these qualities.

As I was walking home from the cafe where I had the conversation (oh sweet Internet connectivity), I recalled an e-mail I received a few days ago from another friend. She asked me “will you come home earlier than you had planned?” My first reaction was: “of course not!” That fierce independence and tenacity that resides deep in my bones was speaking for me. Then a fleeting, “hmmm…. that’s an option” floated through my being.

This is hard. Living in a developing country, with three young kids, is a challenge on many fronts. Sometimes it’s very enjoyable and interesting and relaxing (it’s a break from the normal routine, after all). Other times it’s confusing, frustrating and lonely.

This morning Brennan found a worm in the mango he was eating. He was a trooper and ditched the worm then continued eating, only to find another one. Mango in the garbage.

I have to ask others to wash my clothes for me and ask repeatedly whether or not they’re done. We’re a family of five who packed one week of clothes and are living in a town with dirt streets and mud puddles. Assistance with laundry will be frequent and humbling.

I can’t understand what people say to me after I pose a question. My carefully selected words uttered well enough to be understood, only to be answered with an onslaught of unfamiliar sounds. I can understand my Spanish teacher, why can’t I understand you?!

I don’t know where to buy a newspaper. Stamps are incredibly expensive. I cannot receive mail.

There is no printed schedule for the bus system and it doesn’t come at the times that bus drivers tell you it will. I was told 4 PM by one conductor, 4:30 PM by another. Then I was told by another passenger, after waiting for 40 minutes for the 4 PM bus, that it wouldn’t come until 6. Then the bus arrived at 4:50. Thankfully.

People try to sell us things, even when we haven’t left our house. Yesterday, a hurried man with hallowed eyes and sunken cheeks tried to sell us the hammock out of his house for $5. I debated whether to buy it just to be kind. We said no thank you, but felt sort of strange.

Jai signed all the Christmas cards that we mailed with “sorry I can’t say anything…. too home sick”. Rubi is spending her own money to buy dog food to feed the nursing mama dog and her tiny puppy who have taken to hanging out in front of our house. Rubi was shocked when she saw another girl picking fleas off the dog.

I use the bathroom in the middle of the night only when necessary, after turning on all the lights, and while actively scanning my surroundings for large flying insects.

“Why are you doing this?” Some folks asked me before we left for rural Ecuador. It was a frequent question and I found myself falling into a script. An easy response that will give people the information they need. We heard the Spanish is very pure…. they’re on the dollar…. we have contacts there…. we want to go to a secure and stable yet affordable Spanish-speaking country.

We humans tend to need a story. Why am I feeling this way? Why do I want this? Why did that person behave that way? Why did this happen? Give me a story so I can make meaning. It’s not enough just to witness.

Our story, our reasons for coming here are myriad. Perspective. Adventure. Change. Learning. Growth. Bonding.

Our story, our reasons for staying are more complicated. One shall never quit. One shall do what she says she will. One shall stay strong and persevere. Emotions and experiences fluctuate. The hardship vacillates. Yet one shall stay focused. Success only comes after the goal has been achieved.

These are my stories. The meanings I attach to the why something happens, the why someone does something, the why of reality.

What other stories exist? This is a question I’ve been exploring with my coaching clients frequently. What else is there? What other options exist? Is it really just this or that, one or the other? When we think creatively, unattached to a specific outcome, what do we think of?

Hardship occurs when we attach ourselves to a certain outcome. Suffering is the result of human attachment to a certain way of being. Things can be easy and we can still have learning, growth, adventure, and bonding.

What opportunities exist from hardship? Indeed, creativity, growth and the development of a sense of humor. But what about flexibility? Must one become rigid within the hardship; fixated on the belief that if things aren’t hard then they are not working?

Today I am toying with the idea of cutting our stay here in rural Ecuador a bit short. We are all holding on with our heart strings for the visit from my mom and nephew. After that, we will still have 3 more weeks to live here. See above partial list of difficulties.

For what purpose shall we continue to stay here after 6 weeks? By then we will have participated in the culture in some ways, built some relationships, experienced school and had a generous helping of the way of life. So much beauty here and a reminder of how the majority of the world lives. Then what? Shall we persevere just for the sake of staying the path? Or shall we ask ourselves “what else is there?”.

Perseverance and doing what is hard cannot come from a place of “just suck it up.” When it comes from that place of resentment and shame, then it saps all prospect of creativity, humor and growth. It begins to have the flavor of bitterness and look like worms coming out of what once was sweet. Perseverance must come from a place of choice; a place of joy in the work. When that’s gone, then it’s time to look for a different story.

Strength in Numbers

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Humans are such social creatures. We rely on one another for meaning and purpose. Without the relief and tension of togetherness, we atrophy.

Many of us find creativity and solace in solitude; yet, this context has its limitations and we reach them quickly. We need the laughter, the disappointment, the play of friendship. We need the tension, the confusion, the righteousness of antagonism. We need partnership to alleviate the burden and companionship to eliminate the loneliness.

 

Jai and Dejanira make tortillas together

Jai and Dejanira make tortillas together

 

Brady, the master chef, oversees the tortilla production

Brady, the master chef, oversees the tortilla production

 

Right now Brennan and Rubi are playing a game of chess. After each one takes a turn on the board, they get a turn using my iPhone to What’s App message family and friends. Entertainment with purpose. Multi-tasking connection.

Outside my third floor bedroom window, there is a tree. The tree itself is nondescript and unimpressive. The life that inhabits it is worthy of longterm gazing. I first noticed a nest on a high branch as the mama bird landed there to feed her babies. The only way I knew that babies were in the nest was the fluffy feathers peeking over the top of the perfectly camouflaged nest. After gazing for sometime at the tree, I realized that many varieties of birds can be found hopping from branch to branch, and in the case of the hummingbird, dive bombing, then returning.

 

Hummingbird in action. This is our backyard.

Hummingbird in action. This is our backyard.

 

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Some of them are in pairs, some solo, some with babies and some without. They are all occupying the same tree. Some appear to always return the same branch, some seek variety.

 

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Stationary hummingbird

 

I wonder if they find comfort in one another’s presence. A sense of belonging. A sense of security. A routine and patterns that bring predictability to an otherwise chaotic world. Perhaps they rejoice in one another’s company, find inspiration in the varied flight and sound.

I wonder if the presence of the other birds is annoying to them. Too noisy. What strange songs the others sing! What odd manner in which they fetch their insects to eat!

Do they question why the other birds chose that branch? Criticize the manner in which they clean their beaks by rubbing it from side to side? Maybe they wish that just once, they could have the tree to themselves and then finally, all would be well.

Last night I attended a large community party. It was organized by a woman in Mindo named Marjorie. She organized a fundraiser with dancing, live music, a DJ and a bar. The proceeds go to help a woman named Sandra, and her son Uriel, who was diagnosed with leukemia.

 

Marjorie (the organizer of the event) took a pause long enough for a selfie.

Marjorie (the organizer of the event) took a pause long enough for a selfie.

 

The event was held in “la cancha”, the community center constructed solely from concrete. The “field” is concrete and the “bleachers” are concrete.  Outside it was raining, and probably 76 degrees. The high concrete walls prevented the humid air from moving. The smell of beer, cigarette smoke, cologne and damp bodies filled the air.

Some dogs braved the crowd, standing in the middle of the dance floor as if they wished to find a partner. One very dark skinned boy stood on a 10 foot concrete post and danced, solo. There were about 150 or 200 people there by the end of the night. Hardly anyone looked at their phones. The vast majority of people danced. Much alcohol was consumed and I saw many familiar and friendly faces from the town of Mindo. The role of music, dance and alcohol were prominent.

When community comes together, it lightens the load. The money raised will help buy medication to save a boy’s life. Additionally, the people of the town feel supported. They have partnership in one another. I listened to one man talk about how he wished there were more people there (early in the night). He had bought all the beer and donated it to the “bar” at the event. By the end of the night he remarked that there were “mucha gente aqui!” I tried to explain the principle of abundance in Spanish. “¡Nunca no bastante! ¡Siempre suficiente!” I yelled over the treble saturated music. There was much sharing out of the same bottle. No importa. Poco a poco. Juntos.

 

Jai and a friend from school. Jai gave this boy the soccer ball, which prompted first surprise and confusion, then a big hug. Thank you to Kamlo Reid for giving us the soccer balls to distribute here.

Jai and a friend from school. Jai gave this boy the soccer ball, which prompted first surprise and confusion, then a big hug. Thank you to Kamlo Reid for giving us the soccer balls to distribute here.

 

GiGi Patiño spent her Saturday showing us around Quito and teaching us the bus system. Without her we never would have explored the big city so much!

GiGi Patiño spent her Saturday showing us around Quito and teaching us the bus system. Without her we never would have explored the big city so much!

 

If you’re interested in helping the Patiño family pay for Uriel’s treatments and recovery (he’s currently living in the hospital), please see the Go Fund Me page that Brady set up.

https://www.gofundme.com/3ker93v3

Coddling

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Last night Rubi came down with a fever and we put her to bed on an empty stomach (her choose) and a dose of baby tylenol (little 9 year old only weighs 60 pounds). Jai declared that he would not go to school without Rubi.

Better together

Better together

 

The night before, Jai had a great time cruising around Mindo with his local friends. At one point he sprinted into the house, declared “can’t talk, can’t listen”, and ran upstairs. His face was red, his hair damp with sweat. He had paused long enough only to slip his blue crocs off his socked feet. By the time he descended the stairs, we had extracted from him that the snack bar at the soccer field was open and his friends were buying snacks and he had every intent of buying one also.

Don't forget to grab your TP BEFORE you go into the toilet room, or you'll regret it.

Don’t forget to grab your TP BEFORE you go into the toilet room, or you’ll regret it.

This morning he was a different person. Tears. Refusal to eat. Moving at glacial speeds when it was time to brush his teeth. He insisted that he could not go to school without Rubi. My heart was torn. Part of me wants to tell him, “it’s okay, you don’t have to go.” Part of me wants to tell him, you have to do it, you must learn to do those things that you think you can’t. Part of me just wants to say, “forget it, everyone can quit school.” The part of me that focuses on responsibility and “doing the right thing” wins and we strong arm him into going to school. He goes on an empty stomach (his choose).

Jai showing his tough guy side. A real tough guy sits behind him. I see this (very old) man walking around Mindo in his fatigues. This evening he was also wearing a plastic cape.

Jai showing his tough guy side. A real tough guy sits behind him. I see this (very old) man walking around Mindo in his fatigues. This evening he was also wearing a plastic cape.

Jai has been spreading his money around Mindo quite consistently. He’s declared how happy he is that he’s “old enough to go shopping alone.” The town of Mindo is ran by the children. The children serve pizzas to tourists in their grandparents’ restaurants. The children lead their younger siblings around town, unaccompanied by an adult, even as the younger sibling is just learning to walk. The children ride bikes down the middle of the street and buy candy unencumbered. When the community boxing ring is not occupied by muscular men bouncing around in sweats, the children hang from the ropes and wrestle in the ring.

More creative architecture. A house on the river!

More creative architecture. A house on the river!

Last night, I saw a boy, barely 3, playing in the dark street, alone. He had what looked like a bone…. a round bone with the center hollowed out. He was pressing it into the dirt, trying to see what shapes he formed, then wiping them clean with a large brown leaf. His play was like my children’s play. We bought plastic shapes and pre-made play-doh dyed into different colors. We set them up at our kitchen table and videotaped their play as they pressed shapes and used a variety of little purchased tools to create. When they were done, I’d clean up their mess.

I love what the people do with wood and windows

I love what the people do with wood and windows

Are my children coddled? Are they made to do what is hard? Have we reached a middle ground? I cannot decide.

Insert photo of interesting architecture

Alas, it is Friday. This weekend marks our second week here. Tomorrow Brennan and I will travel by bus into Quito to do a bit of Christmas shopping and learn the bus system in a low pressure situation. Then Saturday night we will attend a community event to raise funds and show support to a local woman whose son was diagnosed with leukemia. I imagine his mom would like to coddle him.

Insert photo of river

When You Spend Time in the Streets

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

We’ve been in Mindo for 9 days now and we are starting to grow accustomed to the pace of life. We’ve been sleeping through the night and are moving into a routine. Brady and I have each had a chance to take an afternoon nap, as has this dog.

 

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We have started official Spanish lessons. We hired Fernando from the school called Vida Verde, located in Quito. He’s doing a great job; he’s full of energy and actually has Brennan interested in learning Spanish. I’m surprised at how bad my Spanish is, and I continue to struggle to understand the children! However we always seem to have a few extra kids around. One girl in particular has picked up some English phrases from the public school here and the restaurant where she works, and she seems interested in learning. She followed me home last night after I chatted with her a bit on the street in front of her family’s restaurant.

 

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Brennan learning Spanish at our kitchen table

 

Jai and Rubi are settling into school. We’ve arranged for the them to leave after the first recess, which gives them about 3 hours of school every day. It’s really plenty for them. I enjoy walking up the hill toward their school every morning, alongside droves of children.

 

Rubi and Jai and their friend Hillary Patiño at the entrance of school

Rubi and Jai and their friend Hillary Patiño at the entrance of school

 

Brennan enjoys riding the rented bike around the streets of Mindo and true to his adventurous spirit he is looking for a path to “mountain bike”. There is a great little coffee and chocolate shop here where I bought a real Americano (the locals drink instant coffee) and a very delicious chocolate bar, and paid American prices. Maybe when my mom and nephew get here, we can do the chocolate tour!

 

The view down into Mindo from El Quetzal

The view down into Mindo from El Quetzal

 

Rubi is doing a great job of making friends. Her Spanish may be the best out of the family and the girls in the neighborhood are very interested in being friends with her. I have found that I am making some acquaintances as well. A woman down the street at Hostal Charrito allowed me to use her WiFi and the family at the Hostal Bosque de Mindo allowed the kids to swim in her pool.

 

Rubi playing with the girls across the street, who live at this hostel

Rubi playing with the girls across the street, who live at this hostel

 

As we anticipate the installation of WiFi, our challenge will be to continue reaching out to the community and avoid being too insular. It’s the people of Mindo that make this place feel like home, and the beautiful natural environment that makes Mindo feel like a place that we can thrive. The people are often out in the streets and on their front porches.

 

I love how this woman and her dog are both carrying their goods in plastic bags. 

 

Even as I sit here on this sidewalk cafe, writing this blog and using the WiFi here, I am stopped by a mom from Jai and Rubi’s school. We just paid $20 a child for a surprise gift during the Christmas program. The woman chatted with me for a while and scolded me (lightly) for hiring a Spanish teacher and instructed me to just speak Spanish with the people in the street. She says it’s free. I think she’s on to something.

What Emerges

Sunday, December 6th, 2015
The second floor of our 3 story house

The second floor of our 3 story house

 

When in doubt, throw a party. The people will laugh and dance and smile at one another’s joys. The children will wear face paint and run around outside playing. The girls will flirt with the boys. Food will be cooked and consumed generously and drink will flow freely. The wall flowers will bloom along the sidelines, revealing in the eye candy. Musicians will bring their art out into the world and will breathe new laugh into their magic.

Brennan buying a handmade necklace at the festival

Brennan buying a handmade necklace at the festival

 

This weekend Mindo is having a festival and the people brought out their wares and had booths full of colorful fabrics and gorgeous natural jewelry. We enjoyed the music and socializing, in a more causal manner, with the people of Mindo. A new friend (GiGi Patinño, sister of Nelly Patinño) brought me to the discoteca and we had fun circle dancing until midnight.  Then on Sunday she brought us to the waterfalls to swim.

 

Brady by the river

Brady by the river

 

It takes time for the image to emerge. At first it’s all backdrop and foreground. No details. But the more you observe, the more you begin to see the fine lines, curves and color. The more you breathe, the more you can smell the fragrances. The more you listen, the more you can hear the song.

 

I think this sign means, there's a trail here!

I think this sign means, there’s a trail here!

 

This weekend we are starting to see the rhythms of life and the character of the village in which we live. There is so much art inherent in the buildings that earlier just looked makeshift. There is so much earth in the people who earlier were just a sea of bodies. There is so much ingenuity and creativity embedded in the activities that earlier just seemed like simple play and necessary work.

 

That face is saying "this hike isn't easy!"

That face is saying “this hike isn’t easy!”

The natural environment is teeming with life and offers a lot of activity.

Rubi scaling down the cliff. This hike is not easy!

Rubi scaling down the cliff. This hike is not easy!

 

Brennan about to go down a water slide that ends with a 9 foot drop into the river. It's recommended that you slow yourself down during the descent using your hands.

Our Ecuadorian dog who we fed at the festival yesterday showed up miles up into the woods where the waterfalls are located

Our Ecuadorian dog who we fed at the festival yesterday showed up miles up into the woods where the waterfalls are located

Brennan about to go down a water slide that ends with a 9 foot drop into the river. It's recommended that you slow yourself down during the descent using your hands.

 

Swimming; A universal language

Swimming; A universal language

Whole

Friday, December 4th, 2015

Good moms don’t put their kids into bad schools. Good moms don’t throw their kids into the wolf den without protection. Good moms home school their kids so they grow up to be smart individuals who become doctors and scientists and artists. Good moms don’t feed their kids junk or let their kids fall.

I don’t know any good moms.

Overlooking the river that runs through Mindo

Overlooking the river that runs through Mindo

Bad moms push their kids too far. They push their kids to go too far outside their comfort zone. Bad moms expect too much of their kids. They put them into difficult situations and expect them to sink or swim. Bad moms care more about success than happiness, more about achievement than contentedness. Bad moms care what other people think more than what their kids think.

I don’t know any bad moms.

Good countries spay and neuter their dogs. They have equality between genders. The kids are respected, as are the elders. In good countries peace and love is the law of the land. The people who work are able to provide for themselves and their families. In good countries the children learn multiple languages and are open-minded and accepting toward difference.

I don’t know any good countries.

The street where our home is located

The street where our home is located

In bad countries children are picked up by one arm when they cry. Bad countries allow chemicals to wash into their rivers and they don’t have clean water to drink. Bad countries turn a blind eye to violence and addiction. Loyalty to the institution is more important than curiosity.

I don’t know any bad countries.

All I know is mixtures. Multiple elements mixed together- not quite merging- they can be separated out to their individual components.Some ugly and some beautiful. Some desired and some repulsive. I am like every bad mom and good mom. My country is like every good country and bad country. It’s the only option if we are to be whole.

 

IMG_3814

What I Don’t Say

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

She’s whispering her name, twirling the loops on her too heavy coat. No one can hear her. Why doesn’t she speak up? Let them hear your voice my daughter. It’s a smart and kind voice and the world needs to hear it. She has stopped talking now and no one can tell if she is done or if she even started. Soon after, the class begins to applaud. Oh my god, they are clapping for my children. Tears spring up from deep inside my heart. The introductions are over, they are sitting in their desk in a row, and it’s time for Brady and me to walk away. I look at the director and all I say is “mi corazon” with my hand to my heart and her eyes look teary too.

Outside our home on first day of school. Not in uniform yet, but dressed as close as possible.

Outside our home on first day of school. Not in uniform yet, but dressed as close as possible.

I am a little girl again, going to another new school. There is a sea of unfamiliar faces and I put my head down on my desk and suck my thumb. The little boy sitting across my table tells me he can see me and he knows I am sucking my thumb like a baby. I was wishing to be invisible, to disappear into the wooden table, the laminate floor, down into the dark of the earth where it’s cool and quiet.

Now I am a woman. I am delivering my children to a catholic school in a small town in Ecuador, where almost no one speaks English. They are walking bravely, following my lead; we’re all pretending to be courageous. I tap into our shared U.S. history. Young black children being marched into white schools during the days of desegregation. Old white people yelling at them to go away. Police feebly protecting them. Their innocent faces steeled against an angry community and hundreds of years of unbelievable violence and oppression. I call upon the spirit and incredible strength of those children. I see their faces and I know if they could do that, then my kids can certainly do this.

We prepared for school and I say too many things. Here is a water bottle with filtered water. Here is a baggie with baby wipes so you can clean yourself when you use the toilet. Use them on your hands too if there is no running water. Here is a dollar so you can buy a snack. If you can’t figure out how to do it, then please take this granola bar that I bought at Trader Joe’s in Oregon. Take this soccer ball and give it to your teacher as a gift. I think what you are wearing is fine; I know it’s not the uniform, but we only found out less than 24 hours ago that you could start school today. If you need to go to the bathroom, say “Puedo usar el baño” and since you don’t know any adults’ names call them “señor” and “señora”. You can always say “no entiendo” when you don’t understand something. Remember, if kids laugh, it’s because they are nervous and excited too, it doesn’t always mean they are laughing AT you. I am proud of you.

Breakfast at 6 AM on first day of Ecuadorian school.

Breakfast at 6 AM on first day of Ecuadorian school.

What I don’t say is that I couldn’t sleep last night because anxiety took up too much space in my bed. Doubt was wrestling with my sleep muscle and one is certainly more practiced performing in new environments than the other. What I don’t say is how much I had to let go of control last night, actively feeling my powerlessness and consciously surrendering to the world. I sat in the visceral awareness that I have no option but to trust that there is a plan in place that I did not write and that there is a good steward of this plan. What I don’t say is that my love for my kids is the marrow in my bones.

Children pave the way for us. They open their hearts to the world and show us how.

The school. Each building houses a classroom or two.

The school. Each building houses a classroom or two.

 

School Grounds

School Grounds

I Am About to Fall Off the Edge of the Earth

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

I am standing in the middle of the earth and feel that I am going to fall off the edge. There’s something about walking up to the brink of an entirely uncertain situation and peering out toward the experience that makes a person weak in the knees and queasy in the gut.

The view from my bedroom window this morning

The view from my bedroom window this morning

Today we visited the school here in Mindo. We walked amongst many children in uniforms, hustling up hill toward the gated entrance to the school. After asking permission from the guard, we entered the grounds composed of concrete buildings with pictures of the pope painted on the outside walls. We were here to learn about enrolling the kids in school.

The first man we spoke with had a warm expression and tidy appearance and he welcomed us into a large and simply furnished room. We explained our situation and asked for admission for the children. He seemed surprised, though interested and willing. He then brought in a woman, who looked quite stunned and hesitant. We mentioned our Ecuadorian friend and Mindo-contact, Nelly Patiño, hoping that the ground work she had laid for us via e-mail a few months earlier may clear the way. After we explained our intention and they figured out what grades the children, we were told that indeed, the children could attend school there. Yes! We’re in!

I was asked to write the kids’ names and ages on a piece of blank paper and I handed it over. I was told to drop them off promptly by 7 and return to get them at 12:30. As we walked away from the school, one of my children was in tears and the other two had lumps in their throats. I may have floated my way out of there; floating like a rafter on swift moving water without a paddle, not floating on endorphins.

Slightly dazed, we walked to the store that would hopefully sell us the requisite uniforms, but it was closed. We asked for information from a woman who was sweeping the street in front of a building nearby. She was 5’0”, had almost no top teeth, and was wearing a t-shirt with the pope’s picture. She was genuinely happy to meet us and though we didn’t learn much about why the store was closed, we did learn that she used to live in Loja, she is scared to swim in the river here during the winter, and she thinks my kids are going to have stories of Mindo to share when they return home.  I only caught 40% of what she said, and I laughed heartily when she laughed (which was often). I think she is a wise woman and she certainly put a smile on my face.

We took a pit stop for a coke. Not eco-tourism, but instant energy.

We took a pit stop for a coke. Not eco-tourism, but instant energy.

Once there was no more task before us to occupy our minds, we had no choice but to return to the angst of tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow my children walk along the precipice between security and danger. Tomorrow they walk into a school where they know no one and don’t speak the language. The anxiety settles back in like a rock in my tummy and a leak in my heart.

I decided to take a walk and as I passed by a hostal where I had used the WiFi the previous nigh, my phone beeps. It’s a message from our friend Nelly who grew up in Mindo. She’s asking how things are going. Sweetness starts to trickle back into my bones. I share a bit of my anxiety with her and she reassures me and gives me the phone number to Molly, who lives in Mindo, speaks English, and whose daughter attends the school. I then read a What’s App message from my friend CJ, who lives as a foreigner in Switzerland. She is reminding me to keep in touch with my original intent, and to take things one day at a time. The leak in my heart is being repaired through friendship; through a sense of connection that is spanning enormous distance.

I returned home and called Molly, who was once American but has lived in Ecuador for 16 years and birthed both her daughters here. She agrees to host us at her place, a beautiful hotel called Casa Divina, and welcomes us to come for a visit around 3 PM. Her daughter, Davina, is in the same grade that Brennan will be in and I am hopeful that some connection may be ignited, that Brennan will feel slightly less alone tomorrow.

The family then heads out for a stroll through Mindo. The kids are lobbying hard to rent bicycles at the local rental shop and we’ll pay heftily for long term access, but at this point I’m willing to crack the wallet wide for their happiness.

The bicycle rental shop was closed, so instead we head toward the local pharmacy located up the street from the closed uniform shop. I want to ask for information about where to purchase uniforms. The woman working there has a round face, salt-and-pepper hair, and a playful smile. We watch her measure a girl for a skirt that looks much like a school uniform. After much pieced together Spanish, Q and A, and exploration, we leave her store with three pencils, three notebooks, three pencil sharpeners, and a plan to return tomorrow to buy each of the kids one version of the uniform that they need; grey sweat pants and a grey sweat shirt. The rock in my belly has dissolved by her helpful hand. Her genuine interest in helping us, and her patience with my Spanish and need to reiterate each point to ensure I understand, are a balm for my nervous system.

Finally, we end our afternoon by riding in the back of a pick-up truck, our taxi, up to Casa Divina to meet Molly and her family. The pick-up takes us over a surreal crystal clear river and past bamboo wider than my thigh. We motor up a gentle hill, past bamboo huts and hikers taking photos of tropical flowers. Once we arrive at the meticulously clean Casa Divina, we are welcomed and offered coffee. Molly attended the U of O and her niece is visiting from Portland. Ah, my people.

Resisting the urge to immediately log onto their WiFi, of which we are deprived of in our current living situation, we settle into the soft seating and soak in the tranquil surroundings viewed through the enormous windows in the otherwise wide-plank wooden room. Molly is a tall and centered woman, perhaps wary of entertaining travelers, yet warm and generous with information. Her adolescent daughter offers some obligatory information about the routine of school, then stays on her tablet the majority of our visit, laughing generously at funny moments of the conversation she otherwise does not seem to be paying attention to. Molly’s husband is a native-Mindo-man, a naturalist guide, and his sense of humor puts us at ease. He encourages Brennan to just bring a book with him to school, since it will be boring to listen to a lecture in a language one doesn’t understand. Molly and her family are so kind, they offer us a sense of being connected to something bigger here in Mindo. We leave feeling curious and connected; our motivation restored.

As I write this it is dark again in Mindo. The rain is coming down on the corrugated metal roof and it occurs to Brady and me that it is the perfect white noise by which to fall asleep. The thunder is rolling with a gentle might over the hills and the lightning is periodically flooding my room, reminding me that we are always connected to something bigger than our own individual lives.

Today we have walked on the edge of the world even while firmly planted on its ecuador. Though we started the day early with a sense of impending disaster, as the day progressed we were reminded of the kindness and gentleness of the world. The balm of generosity; not of material goods but of hand, heart and mind. The storm that has rolled into the hills of Mindo is but a metaphor of our day. The soothing nature of rain mixed together with the thrill and risk of thunder and lightning. Today I am almost fell off the edge of the earth, but the people of the earth offered their gifts to keep me grounded here, if just for today.