Posts Tagged ‘Travel with children’

Play

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

The Galapagos Islands are a world of extremes. For any land animal to have survived here, it had to adapt to some seriously harsh climates, and do so only after having swam, drifted, or flown many hundreds of miles to arrive. The sea is teeming with life and it’s a fish eat fish world out there. Penguins swim effortlessly through the water to chase fish, giant manta rays scoop plankton by the pounds, and schools of shark populate every nook and cranny.

When we first arrived at the Galapagos, we were drenched in sweat and hard pressed to find a reasonably priced meal for a hungry family of five. We’d already paid $500 bucks just to step foot on the islands and $15 for the steamy 45 minute bus ride was just another indicator that we weren’t on the mainland anymore. By the time we arrived at our hotel, Semilla Verde, where we had certain expectations based on the price and those expectations were not met, we were wondering what in the world we were doing in the Galapagos.

Ah, sweet expectations there to disappoint again. Fortunately once I clarified what my expectations had been, the hotel quickly made some adjustments to accommodate us. However, this really seemed to anger the woman who ran the hotel (think giant house made into bed and breakfast). Through gritted teeth and forced smile she explained to me how I had been wrong in my expectations as she simultaneously changed things to please us. Now I’m one of those demanding, privileged and hard-to-please tourists. Guess I cannot escape myself no matter where I go. The air was heavy with heat and moisture and now all our hearts were heavy, too.

We quickly decided we needed to get out of there for some fun, and we visited Las Grietas, a giant crack that mixed sea water with rain water and offered a cool reprieve, though it was packed with people and populated by biting flies. The next day we had a good time at Tortuga Bay and acquired sun burns to prove it. After a couple days of being on the island, we started to look for a “last minute” cruise, notorious for good deals for the traveler with some flexibility. By very good fortune, we were able to get on a last minute cruise… literally the last 120 minutes possible…. as we found space on a first class yacht that was leaving the port in 2 hours.

The cruise itself will go down as one of the most memorable experiences of my family’s life. It was also a welcome reprieve to the heavy feeling hotel and the endless decisions that are made when traveling with emerging plans. Of course the food and the accommodations were spectacular in and of themselves.

However, the amenities will not be what we will remember. We will remember how we played. And it wasn’t the crew that reminded us. It was a sea lion.

It was off the coast of Rabida, with it’s red sand beach, that we encountered our first playful sea lion. It was a young one, as the mother had been with it prior to our arrival and she seemed to take the opportunity to let us entertain her cub while she got some other things done, because we didn’t see her again. A Galàpagoan play date.

The young sea lion swam circles around us, seeming to dare us to swim as deep and spin as gracefully as she. The children tried, plunging clumsily down 6 feet and floating to the surface to grab the much needed oxygen. The sea lion started to bite our flippers, gently grabbing the ends in her mouth and giving a tug. This incited squeals from Rubi, who was part startled and part delighted. We followed that sea lion for nearly an hour, seeing the different coral is showed us, and trying out our diving and spinning and upside-down swimming skills.

We returned to the boat exhilarated. That playful sea lion demonstrated to us what is meant by the commonly heard statement: “the wildlife are not afraid of humans on the Galapagos.”

It was off the coast of Santa Fe that another encounter with a playful sea lion reminded us of the power of this type of interaction. While snorkeling with a sea lion, Brady reached out to touch it (against his better judgement, as this is frowned upon in the Galapagos). The sea lion is an agile swimmer and dodged his attempt successfully in spite of the close proximity. It was 20 seconds later that the sea lion swooped up from under Brady in a spiral swimming motion, only to reach out her fin and touch Brady. “Ah-ha!”, she seemed to say. “I got you!”

Of course most humans love to interact with wildlife in this manner, and it is clear to us that these encounters were the highlights, even as we also saw blue-footed boobies diving into the water like bullets, sea turtles with their easy pace in the water, and sharks nonchalantly swimming past us with their distinctive swagger.

Yet, the power of play goes beyond that between a human and an animal. The power of play between humans is a phenomenon that can change one’s experience as well.

We were dining in a small restaurant very near our lovely hotel on Isabella where we would ultimately spend a week. The restaurant has black gravel floor and only a few tables. The woman waiting on us was juggling a fussy one-year-old by switching between carrying him and putting him in a playpen. Anyone who has raised children knows that the play pen works to contain a child, but never to entertain him. His fussiness escalated into yelling after being in the play pen, and though his pleas did not bother me, I empathized with the mom who was trying to work and I wanted to help. After all, those days are long gone for me and will likely only return if I ever have grandchildren.

I tentatively approached the playpen. My food had yet to arrive and the mom was in the kitchen cooking. What else did I have to do other than entertain this little boy? The play pen smelled sour, like spilled milk and soiled cloth. I approached the baby gingerly, knowing not to come on too strong to a little human who prefers his mother above all else. I showed him how my empty water bottle made sounds when I tapped it against the gatorade bottle in his pen. I picked up his stuffed animal and made it walk along the perimeter of the pen, making animal sounds, slowly moving to the child’s foot, where the stuffed animal bounced happily. The child began to grab for the empty water bottle and the stuffed animal. Victory! I’m in.

A silly game of peek-a-boo brought on smiles, and that near-laughter of a baby that makes adults act super silly in their attempt to get the prize. The boy picked up soggy crackers from the crevices of the damp blankets in the pen, and I made chomping and “yum-yum” sounds on his behalf. His interest in his gatorade bottle peaked and after seeking permission from his mom, “¿eso es para beber?”, I gave him a couple of swallows. Jack pot! That cold sugary drink hit his mouth and we were instant friends.

My food arrived and I returned to join my family and the atmosphere in the restaurant had shifted, at least for me and the boy. The mom was smiling and the boy was no longer crying. My family seemed relieved that the approach to the pack-and-play had been a success and not an embarrassing mom-flop.

The magic of the playful encounter was yet to show itself, though. At the end of the evening, as we left the restaurant, the boy blew me kisses with his mom’s aid, as she moved his hand from mouth to air with the word “besos, besos” in a sing-song tone. I blew kisses, too.

The next day we saw the family on the sand streets of Isabella, standing on the corner next to the shops that board up for most of the heat of the day. I said “¡mi amigo!” and the family smiled broadly and began encouraging “besos”. We blew kisses to one another in passing.

That evening when we returned to the restaurant (hey, why mess with it when you got something good…), we were welcomed enthusiastically by the woman who was working. Though she was not “the mom”, and “the boy” was not there, she seemed to know us as she beamed at us. After dinner, she even gave us free desert! Oreo ice creams all around. And dinner that night was substantially cheaper than the previous two nights had been.

That playful encounter between me and the child may or may not have been the catalyst to a lighter atmosphere in a dimly lit restaurant, or a smaller bill on a very expensive island. It certainly was fun, regardless of the outcome.

A few days ago as I was sitting on the patio of La Casita De La Playa, the hotel we will hate to leave this afternoon, I watched Frigates play with a piece of plastic. The way they swooped about in the air, tossing it from one to the other, reminded me of the Frigates I had seen flying behind our cruise yacht, fighting over a fish one had caught. But this was not a fish! This was clearly a piece of blue plastic. Surely they must know this was not a fish. Yet they approached the actions just as they did when it was a catch. Playing? They must be playing.

This morning as Brady and I took a morning jog along the sweltering hot 4 KM stretch of white sand beaches sprinkled with lava rock and iguanas, we saw a Pelican swoop down so low to the water that his wing touched the surface. I’ve seen Pelicans fly close to the water, then dive down in a clumsy plop and come up to swallow their catch whole. It’s entertaining to me, and a lot of effort for them. This was different. This pelican didn’t dive and didn’t appear to be looking around, he was simply flying along with another pelican, close to the water, close enough to just skim the surface of the shallow glassy ocean water with his feather. Playing? He must be playing.

The Galapagos have taught us a lot. We have learned how life has adapted in marvelous and shocking ways to this hostile land environment. We have learned how the islands are sinking back into the ocean even as volcanic activity creates new islands. We have learned not to trust taxi drivers with the purchase of boat tickets and how to find affordable food to eat in a town that gets monthly boat shipments from a mainland 100s of miles away. Perhaps the lingering lesson that we will carry forward with us is the power of play. Playfulness is connection. It’s laughter, it’s wonder, it’s spontaneity and it’s risk. It’s a force of life, as important as working and eating.

 

**** I’ll try to post a blog full of photos soon. It’s very hard just to get this text uploaded right now!

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.

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.

 

IMG_3877

 

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.

 

IMG_3887

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.

 

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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.

“Cock-A-Doodle-DOOOO!” And other ways to fall asleep

Monday, November 30th, 2015

You know how it’s hard to sleep in a new environment? Remember my previous post where I talked about how anxiety wants to sleep with me at night? Also, have you ever tried to sleep in a rural Latin American country? Yup, all that last night.

Our first night in Quito was fun. Our hotel room was styled in posh 80s decor and we loved it. We played a bit of soccer and tested out the pool.

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Our hotel in Quito, with wooden goal posts. Hosteria Gardenia

 

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The evacuation route out of the hotel in Quito is over the brick wall with the broken glass lining the top

We had arranged for a driver to take us on the journey from Quito to Mindo and he arrived promptly. We started the journey with a stop at a Super Mercado charging American-sized prices and that was busier than Nature’s in Portland on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. After buying some staples like rice, beans, pasta and mayo, we added some avocado flower honey, Ecuadorian coffee, and a very large papaya. Part comfort items from home, part “hey, we’re in Ecuador!”.

We arrived in Mindo after a very curvy 4,000 foot descent. After a brief driving tour of the “village” full of homes with corrugated metal roofs and partly paved, partly gravel streets, we were taken to our house and shown the inside. It’s made entirely of concrete, wide plank wood and tile. The wood-pane windows don’t have screens and there is an open air ceiling in the bathroom. The home is three stories. The third story has three bedrooms, two that are locked to us and one that is open. There is a small landing area at the top of the staircase and I’m hoping to improvise an office there. The second floor has three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small sitting area, with a long and narrow balcony overlooking the street. The first floor is all kitchen, dining room, and bathroom. A very tidy and tropical postage stamp back yard is just off the back door on the first floor.

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Rubi and Jai in front of our home in Mindo

After spending a couple hours settling into our new home, we walked the equivalent of a city block to the main street that runs through Mindo. We observed what might be a typical Sunday evening on the main street of Mindo. Tourists with large backpacks sat at sidewalk tables, drinking cold beer. Ecuadorians sat on plastic chairs and play cards on top of plastic table cloths. Carts loaded with penny candies populated the sidewalks, next to slabs of meat that hang near a grill sizzling small chunks. Jai bought Chicklet gum for a nickel and a man bought a single cigarette for a quarter and lit it with a lighter tied to the cart next to the caramels.

Once darkness fell I was eager to get everyone into bed. I felt totally out of it; a combination of being hurled through space in a large metal item for 48 hours and two nights of sleep in unfamiliar surroundings. While helping the kids wash their face and brush their teeth, I pretended not to be disturbed by Brady fetching a shoe and moving furniture around in our upstairs room in an attempt to eliminate some invader in the space where we were about to sleep.

7:30 PM. We read a bit of a bed time story and tucked everyone into bed. Brady and I crawled into bed shortly thereafter. Did I mention we took the 3rd floor bedroom? Apparently we thought the stuffiest room was the best option for the adults.

We proceeded to lie in bed and listen to people talking loudly, dogs barking, music playing, engines roaring past, and enthusiastic cheering from what must be a local soccer game. I greeted my nightly guest “anxiety” and told her she is welcome to stay, since she’s so insistent, but that we’d also have to host my special guest “reassurance”. Anxiety and reassurance conversed about whether or not we’d last any length of time here, whether or not we were welcome here, whether or not this was a good idea.

9:00 PM. Foot steps up the creaky wooden spiral staircase. “Mommy, I can’t fall asleep”. Brady got up and offered a homeopathic nerve tonic. Everyone back in bed.

 

Looking out the window on the third floor of our home

Looking out the window on the third floor of our home

9:45 PM. I’m up. I can’t just lie in bed trying to sleep any longer. It’s loud and my room is flooded with light from the street lamps. I head down the creaky spiral stair case. Before I reach the bottom, Jai and Rubi are walking out of their room with messy hair and darting eyes. “We can’t sleep” Rubi says. “This is painful!” Jai says.

We all head downstairs and drink tea, have a dose of Kava tincture, and snack on walnuts and bananas with peanut butter. Not long after, Brennan joins us. “What are you guys doing?” he asks with a partly amused smile. “We can’t sleep so we’re eating and drinking tea”, we reply and he joins us. We watch a couple of roaches crawl in and out of my rolled up yoga mat leans up against the kitchen wall. I pretend not to care and make jokes about roaches in asana while Rubi stands on a chair.

10:30 PM. Everyone is back in bed. We should be able to sleep now. Kava ingested, bellies fed, roaches witnessed.

11:00 PM. A child climbs the stairs, announcing his ascent via the sound of wood from the first step. It’s Brennan and his amusement has melted into dismay. “I can’t fall asleep”, he utters again with a shaky voice. “I know baby, I can’t either. You can read in bed for a while” I offer. “Okay” he says and climbs back down the steps. Then I hear more children up. Jai and Rubi must be using the bathroom again.

Who am I kidding? I’m not going to fall asleep anytime soon. All the neighborhood dogs are still barking, some cats must be competing for territory somewhere, and children are still playing in the distance.

11:15 PM. I head back down the stairs. “Do you all want me to read to you?” I ask and all three kids seemed relieved at the offer. We crawl into Brennan’s bed, all four of us fitting in a double, and I proceed to read an (O.B.O.B.) book about an 11 year Sudanese refugee, fleeing the civil war in the 80s. The plight of the main character makes our situation appear comfy and privileged.

11:45 PM. Everyone back in their beds again.

12:00 AM. Jai and Rubi are back in my room. They can’t fall asleep. I offer the small bed  in our room, located next to the bed Brady and I are sharing. They eagerly take up position in that bed. Brady, who has been sleeping fairly well through all this, heads downstairs. He sends Brennan up to sleep in our room also and he takes post in a 2nd floor bedroom.

12:15 AM. All three kids and myself are snug in our warm and damp beds. A quiet is slowly lowering over the barrios outside. We lay still for a moment, anticipating sleep.

“Cock-a-doodle-doooo!” we hear. Then “cock-a-doodle-doooo!” reverberates across the small town.

A hearty laughter then swept across our warm, damp, flooded with street-lamp light bedroom and we giggle and chuckle at the impossibility of the situation.

It seems that laugh was the sleeping medicine we needed. By 12:30 AM we were all asleep.