Saturday, November 24, 2012

Adventures in Babysitting

Big Brother by Ian Service

The Kumquat has arrived, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Aphra Judith, at 9 pounds 2 ounces. She is no slouch.
Grandma here was asked to pick up some newborn diapers on the way to babysit the Humvee and the dog. It has been a while. When the Bean was a baby, I had a choice of, well, not much, in big, bulky packages that didn't hold much. Off to Walmart I went, and was met by a staggering array of sizes, absorbencies and Sesame Street pictures et al on the diapers. Shelves of the things, boxed, or wrapped in plastic. Pampers or Huggies. I had a headache after awhile, but settled on a pack of newborns, good for up to 10 pounds, and the next size up, good from 8 to 12 pounds. Figured I'd cover my bases. And the baby's butt.
Then I arrived at the house. My intention was to take the dog for a walk, as I thought she might not get a really decent one for a few days. Naturally, it was drizzling when I got there. And my key wouldn't work. I wiggled and jiggled (the key, not me), but the dang lock wouldn't turn. I could see poor Cricket eyeing me from the top of the stairs inside the house. No barking, just wagging her tail like crazy. Made me feel guilty as if I was teasing her trying to get in.
Plan B, I texted my daughter at the hospital. No problem, the neighbours have a key. I had already knocked on their door, as their car was home. But they weren't. Their dog was, though, another non barker, who just cocked his head, wagged his tail, and patiently waited for someone, me, to come in and play with him. My daughter gave me the entry combination to the front door, and I was greeted by this lovely German Shepherd with a toy, so we had a love in first. Which key? The square one, of course, so that left me with only ten keys. I grabbed them all, and left the dog, and tried every one of them in the Bean's door. Their Golden Retriever was again at the top of the stairs wagging her tail madly, waiting for Grandma to come in and play. Which Grandma couldn't do because not a single key worked.  So off for a second love in with the shepherd, and a few texts and phone calls later, it was decided I would pick up the car seat at the hospital, then pick up my Grandson from daycare, see the newest addition with him, then return home when the neighbours would be around to let us in. The neighbours must wonder about me. Having twice locked myself out of the same house, I have had to call upon them, to have long, tall Sean crawl through the kitchen window to let me in. Another time, well it's documented in "Adventures With Grandma", in case you need more bedtime stories.
So the visit with the baby and family went well, and the Humvee and I returned to their house, we knocked on Sean's door, who promptly picked up one of the keys I swear I had tried in the door at least three times, and with a minimal wiggling and jiggling of the key, let us in. My own key? Was a key from "a long time ago", according to my son in law.
I love my Humvee. That kid is a walking one man band. I wondered what to do with him well before the time came. I need  not have worried. He's happy with his toys, he's happy with the dog, he's happy running up and down the hallway, or jumping up on down on the spot , "I'm dancing!" "I'm running!" "Hi Grandma!" He provided me with entertainment, happily singing "S***! S***! S***!" to himself until I questioned him, then he squealed "Shirt! Grandma, I said shirt!"  I provided him with running commentary. And the occasional beating of drums and shaking of maracas. His poor Dad. By the time he came home to do a few things after the baby's birth, we had moved on to the cow bell. I swear I saw Heidi in the back yard. And dreamed of Quasimodo in my sleep.
The following morning I was doing dishes while drinking tea, and Dash taught me Anatomy 101. "Hi Grandma. Dash has a penis." By which point, my tea snorted through my nose.
We went to the park the day his parents were coming home with the Kumquat. We took the dog with us, due to her achingly melting, guilt inducing, big brown eyes The Humvee wanted to walk her. So he held the end, I held the leash somewhere in the middle, and my poor Goldie went on the slowest, most short leashed walk. Everyone was happy.
I love these ergonomically placed swings. No stooping to break your back while pushing, these swings were at the height of my waist. While exercising my biceps and triceps with the pushing, Mom and Dad and the Kumquat drove past on the road by the park, giving a honk. My little Dash was oblivious. So I told him Mom and Dad were home. "Don't want to see Mom. Don't want to see Dad. Don't want to see Aphra." I bargained with him for some extra pushes, but when a kid can only count to five, it means nothing. So eventually I had to extricate this child from a push friendly but removal hostile swing. Legs straight, body stiff, me thinking "Shirt!" in my mind. The swing came up with the kid. I had him and the swing slung over my shoulder. The more I wiggled and jiggled the swing and his legs, the more his tears turn into laughter. Eventually, I didn't fall on me arse, and I didn't drop him on his head. He didn't want to walk the dog, but then again, he didn't want to walk himself either. Still didn't want to see Mom, Dad, or Aphra. It was a long, slow walk up the pathway. We got to the road, his home is maybe ten houses away. I said, "Look, there's Daddy and Mommy's car in the driveway!" and before I could say jack rabbit, he was gone, running. And that's when poor Cricket decided she needed to poop. I will not win any Grandma of the year awards,  I am sure. I was yelling after this bumblebee buzzing up the road, but committed to the environment of someone else's front yard,  picking up Cricket's processings.  I huffed and puffed after the Humvee, who was trying to open the door. And a family was happily reunited, with the addition of the Kumquat. Grandma promises to take good care of her too.Time to go home! by Ian Service
If Mom will let her. Salud!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daniel Vales Diaz

My heart is saddened today by the news that one of my beloved Mexican medical students whom I have been privileged to work with has died. At this moment, I don't know the cause. One can only imagine what his parents must be going through. If I could speak to to them, wrap my arms around them, give them what little consolation I could, this is what I would say:
None of us can come remotely close to feeling the cataclysmic loss that must be tearing your hearts at this moment. Not even those who have lost children before you, because they have not lost your Daniel. None of us can grieve to the extent that you will. He is your child, your son. Though the world has stood still, and is a little darker for this moment, and a very long moment it may well be, I can only tell you that our lives have been made brighter by the presence of your son in our world. That brings joy through my sorrow, through our sorrow, as we begin to grasp his loss, and try to sense the enormity of the pain you must be feeling.
Lt- Rt: Me, Daniel, Rene, Pato, Jorge, Arturo. My Boys.
We all enter this world, trying to leave our mark. Each and every one of us has felt that. To find purpose, to know that our days meant something, to someone. He was your world, but know too, that he left his mark on ours, that his short life was never in vain, that he was, and is, through memories that cannot, will not, be erased, a very happy part of our lives. We are privileged to have known him, and we will remain grateful to you that you shared this extraordinary young gentleman with us. May God bless you in all of your sorrow, and may He grant you joy through your tears, with the glorious memories, and the eternal love that you will bear, and that we, in some small way, will bear with you.
Love always.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

News From the South: Mission Impossible

It was pleasant to wake up to this each AM. Bocas Marina.
In my altruistic little world, I finally came upon a mission that truly made me wonder "What the hell am I doing?" Everything on the website of the organization seemed well suited to me, and I was told by the same organization how well suited I seemed for them. Neither of us could have been more wrong. And oh, I hate to be wrong about things that pertain to me.
Where shall I start? Well, I think I kept in pretty good contact with all involved, except I now know that the correspondence was sort of divied up. However, my dates and flight plans were all sent along, so someone would meet me at the Bocas airport.
Of course, leaving Panama City was an experience, as the plane was late by an hour and a half. Once I was staying in Bocas, I observed that the plane was always an hour and a half late. I could watch the planes coming in from my perch in the marina, cerveza firmly in hand. Everything in Bocas time, I guess. At any rate, I arrived in Bocas in the dark, in the pouring rain. And no one at the airport to meet me.

Poor embarrassed doggie!
I waited until the last passenger had been taxied away, then there was Antonio, an airport worker, and me, and still the dark, pouring rain. "No worries, Senora, I take care of you." I had to trust someone. In a brief moment of pre-mission sanity, I had printed off the mission package, which had the directions to the marina where the mission boat was parked. Okay. Moored. Docked. Whatever. Antonio grabbed me a cab, hoisted me and my belongings into it, and accompanied me to the water taxi dock. It was a long, dark alley, the kind you are told never to go down, even in your own home town. I nervously followed Antonio, and we came to the water taxi dock, where I and my bags were assisted into the covered taxi. Only when you are tooling through the water, the cover means diddly squat during a Caribbean rainstorm. For $2 USD, I was ferried to the Bocas marina, after a pit stop across the way to drop off another passenger. The driver put me out at the dinghy part of the dock, so we heaved my stuff out, I was wet, I was hungry, and a little cheesed off that I hadn't been met. But, thought I, the flight was delayed, maybe that's why no one was there. You see, I have this apprehension about arriving in places I don't know at night, maybe irrational. And as the water taxi took off, I realized that in my little huff of being scared and wet and hungry, that I had yet again, forgotten my backpack. Driver couldn't hear me for the buzz of the motor as he chugged into the middle of the rainy night. Have I mentioned that it was raining??? Made my way to the mission boat. Tossed my remaining bags and me on board. Dead silence. No one up top. I yelled down the stairs. Still nothing. Stomped around, yelled some more. Nothing. Left the boat, went to the marina cantina, still in the rain, where, thank the Lord, one lonely expat was sitting, trying to watch Sunday Night Football. Instead he was treated to Sunday Night Whine. Until his Missus came, with her computer and phone, and knew, thank goodness who to contact. Graciously, she sent the Mister to score me three cervezas, which I was ever so grateful for. You see, the cantina was closed, so barley sandwiches would be all my dinner consisted of that night. Missus, after a series of phonecalls, reached the Medical Director, who managed to reach someone on the boat. The Boat People had all been down in their rooms, either asleep or plugged into their electronic worlds. And I found out later, no one had been expecting a volunteer arrival for another couple of weeks, and certainly not me.

Stats entry office. Not too shabby!
I did not meet the Medical Director for a couple of days. First time was a handshake when I returned on my own after a clinic. The next time was at a clinic. All the days in between, while I was ready to give my heart and soul and work for the people of the area, all I can say is I felt useless. The clinics were being organized and run by non medical volunteers who had been there longer than I had, and were much younger than me.What they were missing, and what I was missing, was Fearless Leader, in the form of the Medical Director, who would be apparent for clinics, but otherwise was off doing other things for the organization, everything but directing. A huge insult to me was the use of the word "hand holding'' as in "He wants the volunteers to know that there is no hand holding." I am sure if you had looked out your windows at that moment, dear readers, that you could have seen what looked like a volcanic eruption from that area in the world, anywhere in the world you are living. No one holds these hands. No one. Maybe someone should someday, but that is another story, another context. Of course I kept my cool. I was told to the tell the Medical Director my concerns. Gladly. If I could find him.
And so it went for my 12 days. I saw the Medical Director a couple of times, had a private meeting scheduled after a general meeting, which, if I hadn't reminded him (the private meeting), might never have happened. I saw maybe 20 patients during my 12 days, and then I did something that was at first devastating to me, yet the best decision possible for me. I questioned myself, the validity of what I was doing, what I was expecting, and what was expected of me, and then, I bailed.
Beauty is skin deep, but ugly is that turkey (chick).
We were supposed to go into the Panamanian interior, and we water taxied to the mainland, a bus ride and a 3-5 hour hike into the hills would have had us to our destination. However, Panamanian politics being what it is, there was a road blockade enroute, so the multi day clinic was deferred until the following day. By this point, I had already changed my flight out of Bocas to Costa Rica to leave the weekend right after the clinic as I didn't want to spend another free weekend in Bocas. Now they were going to stay in the interior until Saturday, they would have to hire a guide to take me back down to the road, put me on the bus to Almirante, and then I would catch the water taxi back to Bocas Town. Along the way, the impromptu/recurring road blockades threatened to interrupt my journey back. Although the blockades were not the fault of the mission group, the writing was loud and clear on the Timeline of my life. The following day, the group left again. I, however, left the mission boat, and stayed in a hotel in Bocas Town, so I would not miss my changed again flight to San Jose the following day, and yes, I do know the way to San Jose, the San Jose I like, anyway. The flight was late, it was pouring rain, but never was I so glad to see a sign with my name on it. Andre, a driver I had during my previous visit to Costa Rica, was there with a smile.
Stairs to exam room. I did not fall off.
Of course, not all was bad. I still met an amazing group of people who had as little direction as I did. They just didn't have as loud a mouth as I did. In their own way, they are doing the best they can. In particular, my one translator for the clinic in Valle Escondido, a little town of stilted wooden homes with palapa rooftops, was an absolute joy to work with, he brought so much sunshine to that day, having to translate the art of self breast exams to one of my patients. He enjoyed challenging his Spanish, and it was one of the few days I felt that I had accomplished anything.
And then, there was the resident volunteer, a diamond in the rough, who got my backpack for me, intact, the morning after I had lost it. The computer had been sitting outside the pack itself, between the mesh that separates the backpack from my back in order to cool things off, so important for an impending Grandma. It came back as well.
So this is not my usual funny stuff, and I apolgize. I had to think, maybe I was not worthy of this mission. Or maybe the mission might not have been worthy of me. In the end, I cannot help everyone, poor or otherwise. Lip service is superficial. Actions speak. And while bailing was an action I am not particularly proud of, it spoke my mind more than any of my words had so far, although I fear that those silent words spoken by that action were not heard, again. And now, I will continue to help others, with a light and happy heart.
Why I keep doing what I do.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Every Cloud...

Every less than stellar experience always has a silver lining. Because of this journey, I:
1. Strengthened my quads and my biceps. Getting on and off a big sailboat is no easy feat for this Grandma. Depending on the tide, the boat would be much higher than the steps on the dock beside it. This would necessitate heaving the backpack and other assorted odds and ends onto the deck, then the usual wonderment of how the hell I was going to get on, usually followed by an amazed I never knew my knee could touch my chin. Followed by a plea for help, as in,  how do I get out of this position? Since I was usually the first one back to the boat, there were usually enough f-sharps and grunts and groans that would put the stockyards to shame. But I never fell in the water. Some days the boat would adjust itself away from the dock, making getting on or off impossible. Generally, there would be a nimble tall young skinny volunteer just waiting to help me. In that case, they would get off the boat in mountain goat-like like fashion by jumping onto the dock, or sometimes in their best Flying Wallenda fashion, by walking the rope that secured the boat to the dock at the back. Yeah, I could just see myself doing that. Not. then they would haul on the rope and move that sucker ever so slowly closer to the dock, so that Grandma here could make a bathroom run. Even in the pouring rain. While the mission might have been a bust for me, I must say that the young volunteers looked after me well. But so it came to pass that I had to get off the boat in the middle of the night, and also had to get on by myself because there was no one to whine at. And so to get off, I crouched down on the crunchy knees and hauled on that rope to get her closer to the dock. However, I learned, I had to be absolutely ready to fly off, because if I wasn't, the boat would float back out of reach for these legs in a few seconds. So pull and jump. It took me a few tries. Getting back on was easier, unless I had to fold me knee to my chin. But hey, I did it.
My bed, and my foot, for perspective. I had to climb here too.
Then of course, there was going up and down to the bedrooms, which were kind of like miniature coffins. The stairs are made for graceful gazelles, complete with the lovely long legs and spring in their steps. Not for lumbering hippos who just seem to crash through everything. Each step was about 2 feet tall, okay, so I am exaggerating, but they were steep. As the boat was in the state of (constant) refurbishment, there were no rails or grips, so I would just pop out on deck like a jack in the box, using my arms to support the rest of me on the deck floor to haul me arse up the stairs. And yes it did get easier with time.
2. Learned to play Mexican Train Dominoes. While sitting in my usual spot at the marina, cerveza in hand, one of the local boat women asked me to join them in the usual Sunday round of Mexican Train Dominoes. I politely declined, having learned to play whatever style of dominoes I knew at the hands of some Brazilians and Panamanians. With them, you are the hero if you make the right move, but woe to you if you make the wrong move. Brought out the fiery temper in my various playing partners. I was then told I was going to play. I said maybe I would watch. "No, you are playing." And so I did, and had a great time No slapping of tiles. No yelling in Spanish or Portuguese. And I am hooked.
3. Saw the kindness and honesty, however it was purloined, of strangers. See previous post where I got my backpack back.
Happy milker, happy goat.
4. Milked a goat. When I bailed, I headed to Costa Rica. I was flying home through there anyway, just rearranged the dates so I could spend a few nights. One of my impromptu excursions took me to the farm of the owner of the tour company whose driver I employed. He asked me if I wanted to milk a goat. Now there's a thing you do on vacation. Everyone wants to zip line in Costa Rica. but milking a goat, well that is an original, and certainly a first for me. And since I am afraid of heights, milking a goat just seemed to be the right thing to do. And I was highly amused, especially when the goat jumped off the milking ramp and weaved in and out of the barn and fences, dog in hot pursuit, owner in hot pursuit of the dog. The goat was corralled, the dog banished, and I went on to milk the goat without any complaint from the goat. I'm still smiling. I could swear the goat was smiling too.
5. Witnessed faith, yet again. People expressing their faith and hope in the Basilica in Cartago, walking down the main aisle on their knees. Scores. I look back at our secular world, the more we have, the more we curse God for what we don't have. And here was this beautiful, humble expression of faith, on a Sunday afternoon with no particular importance attached to it. And I was humbled again.
6. Learned I can now run. I had planned the flight home well, three hours in between flights at Miami, I could get my bags, throw them under the line, go through security, and have a nice leisurely dinner at a nice restaurant. Oh come on now, only in my dreams. My flight was 1 hour late leaving Costa Rica. Then the boarding gate malfunctioned in Miami, so we had to be reassigned, and then taxied to, a new gate. Bueno. That took almost another hour. While we were told we were waiting for the reassignment, the noise emanating from below the plane indicated that the removal of luggage was well under way. That was what we were waiting for. It was the gate that was the farthest away from Passport Control. Multiple signs pointing up into the clouds for the SkyTrain. I think I proved to myself that I am capable of running a 5K, because instead of the train, that is what I did, and beat them - the dumb train - to Passport Control. I entered on the American side of things just as the train began spitting out its contents at the visitors' side. I became an honorary American once again, to the amusement of the Immigration Guy. Passed down to get my luggage, which was already on the floor, threw it to some guy who high fived me at my show of heaving strength, sprinted over to security at Terminal E, where I was told the line up would be shorter, then flew through the terminals with a quick pit stop to pick up a sandwich and key lime pie for the plane. My flight was already boarding, early, I might add, when I arrived there a little breathless. And that is how it all went. Salud!
Head up, eyes in front. This is what was in front :)