Tag Archives: boundaries

Rising Above (or Not)

This is a series of posts about Belize that starts here.

This post will have a lot of photos from our hike up Victoria Peak, the second highest point in Belize.  First, we stood and looked at the map for about 20 minutes.

Our intermediate objective was a waterfall where we could swim, but it was listed under “strenuous” and Joan, with her arm in a sling, wasn’t up for that.

“It’s the only way to get to Victoria Peak,” said Mark.  “Maybe you can rest by the falls while the rest of us continue on.”  And that’s what we did.

I’ve done a lot of hiking and I was pretty confident that “strenuous” wouldn’t really be strenuous—that they just called it that for out-of-shape hiking newbies. And I was right; the trail was pretty flat, if uneven.

I stopped every few feet to take photos of the plant life.  These are the tiny ones.

Then there were the majestic trees, giant ferns, and braided vines.

Liz and Mike were talking loudly.  Every time I snapped a photo Liz would exclaim, “Good eye! Ah wouldna never seen that.  That’s something I never woulda seen.”

“Go on ahead, I’ll catch up,” I said.

“Oh no you don’t; we’ve got our eyes on you, baby!” Mike replied, with a guffaw that indicated he thought he was being funny.

There is a rule in hiking where the group should never let any member out of sight.  I was falling behind because I was taking so many pictures and because I wanted to hear the birds.  Mike and Liz were justified in keeping me in sight, but I wished they would stop blabbing.

“I wonder why we don’t hear any birds,” Mike boomed.

“I think if we’re quiet, we will,” I suggested.

That didn’t’ work.  They discussed how far it was to the peak and Liz used her pet phrase, “Close enough for government work,” twice.

In the van on the way to the park, Stan had told me about his last two years as a postal worker, learning new software that helped mail arrive from Point A to Point B anywhere in the continental US in two days. It’s amazing when you think about it.

I thought about all the government proposals I’ve worked on that funded rehabilitation for survivors of torture and war trauma. We work hard to be precise, even down to the GPS coordinates of the refugee camps.  But hey, maybe next time I would write, “Just give us the money and we’ll do a pretty good job—close enough for government work!”

We reached the waterfall and half of us stripped down to our swim suits and waded in.  The water was ice cold and refreshing. We frolicked until our sweat and sunscreen and bug spray washed downstream, then put our clothes back on over our wet suits and left Joan on a bench while we ascended to the peak.

The hike to Victoria Peak is not for sissies. It’s steep and long.  When we started, it was hot and humid and our swim suits under our clothes created a personal sauna effect.  Squads of biting insects attacked our ankles and legs.  We re-applied bug spray but that didn’t deter them.

The landscape changed from steamy, close-packed jungle to open, ferny woodland with pine trees.

As I staggered up the switchbacks, I caught sight of these tiny, iridescent cobalt berries.

Emily was breathing heavily.  She gave up and sat on a log to enjoy the view while we went on to the peak.

There was discussion of the 13 extra feet we would have had to hike to reach the highest peak in Belize.  Once more, Liz said, “Close enough for government work.”

I turned to Stan and asked, “As a government worker, weren’t you glad you could be sloppy?  I sure am!”  Stan gave a low laugh and edged away from us.  I knew Liz’s digs about government workers had bugged him too but he didn’t want to be drawn in.  Liz squirmed and pretended she hadn’t heard me.

I walked off; Stan took this photo of me with a telephoto lens, contemplating the view.

A Long Night

This is a series of posts about Belize that starts here.

The first night at Jungle Jeanie’s was a long one.  It was hot and humid.  Because our hut was in the jungle and not on the shore, there was no breeze.  My hair turned into a giant fuzzball.  My skin felt soft as a baby’s bottom, but there was no one to appreciate it.

This was also the night that Liz started to fart.  The first time, she did the thing that middle-aged women do—“Oops, sorry! Tee hee hee,” like they are embarrassed.  But then she kept farting and stopped apologizing or even acknowledging it.  I was sharing a small, stuffy loft with her.

I climbed over her and down the ladder to the bathroom all four of us would share for the next four nights.  I sat on the toilet trying to figure out where I could go to get some shut eye.  The hammocks on the beach looked tempting but what about the mosquitos?  Then I heard a thump, thump, thumping and Trudy pounded on the door.  It was no use, I couldn’t say, “I’ll be out in a minute,” since she couldn’t hear me.

I handed the loo over to her and sat in the dark at the table in the center of the room.  Except that it wasn’t dark.  “I’m watching Game of Thrones,” explained Emily from her bed, from which emanated the bright glow of her phone.

“I can’t believe how noisy Trudy is,” I remarked, listening to her clunking around in the bathroom.

“Oh yeah,” said Emily.  “People think deaf households are quiet, but they’re actually noisier than most because they aren’t getting feedback.  They’re always slamming doors, throwing things on the floor, and yelling.”  And farting with impunity, I thought.

She put down her phone and sat up.  We talked for a while, about how she went to Tanzania for college, met her future husband on the first day, and got engaged two days later.  “We’ve been married for 20 years and have four kids, so we had pretty good instincts.  Or we just got lucky.”  She and her family lived a few blocks from me in St. Paul.  They went back to Tanzania to visit his family every year.

Trudy came out of the bathroom and started signing.

“She’s pissed off about the bed,” Emily translated.  “It’s lumpy.  But she’s always pissed off or crabby about something.”

“Are you friends?” I asked.

“No!  We just met in Belize.  Wilderness Inquiry taps a pool of interpreters for these trips, and my number came up.  With Trudy it’s her way or the highway.  I don’t think I’d want to interpret for her on a regular basis.  Of course, she probably had to be hard and demanding to get anything in life.”

Trudy was sitting on the edge of her bed moaning and groaning, which I took to mean that her back hurt.  Liz was snoring up in the loft.

“She was put a home for deaf children in the 50s, when she was five,” Emily continued.   She signed to Trudy that she was telling me this.

Five.  How heartbreaking.

Trudy nodded and added in sign, “Yes, it wasn’t a nice place.  They were assholes to me.”

And yet, she had attended college, had a career, married, and had four children.  Her husband had also been an asshole.  She’d divorced five years earlier and had been traveling ever since.

After talking for an hour, I reluctantly climbed back up to the loft.  Finally, around 2am, we all settled down and slept.

Until 5am.  Today was a field trip to the Mayan village of Red Bank to see Scarlet Macaws.  It would involve kayaking and hiking and a picnic lunch by the river.

I waved as they all drove off.  “Watch out for crocodiles,” I whispered sweetly.

I was going to have a Day Off.  I was going to be alone!  I lay in a hammock and read a book, “The Trip to Echo Spring: On writing and drinking,” by an English journalist.  I took a bumpy ride on one of Jeanie’s broken down bicycles with no helmet, brakes, or gears, then napped.

Despite

Life has been throwing a lot my way lately, or at least throwing a lot at people I love.  I debated whether to write about it, then remembered that the tagline of this blog is “Living well despite what life throws at you.”

It’s one thing to live large when everything is going well, it’s quite another to keep embracing life when things are not so great.

My life is fine, aside from the new upstairs neighbor, who I suspect of making wine late at night (stomp, stomp, stomp!). I have spoken to him and it is better, but I have to wear ear plugs a couple nights a week.  I worry that the people who are renting my condo while I’m in the UK/Europe/Ethiopia this summer will be bothered.

Work has been a pressure cooker; this week I submitted almost $5 million worth of funding applications for projects in Iraq and Ethiopia.  The teams were dispersed around the globe, from Kurdistan to The Gambia, which has only 14% Internet penetration. I do get a buzz out of pulling everything together to meet deadlines, and then I collapse in exhaustion.

On to the people I love: Vince broke up with his girlfriend, and for some reason it hit me hard.  I was so happy that Vince had, for a while, a fun relationship that didn’t involve drugs or alcohol.  But I realized my reaction was partly about me.  A few weeks after I turned 40, my serious boyfriend dumped me.  I wondered if that was it—I would never meet anyone again.  After all, I was 40!  Vince will be 39 this year.  I have no idea if he feels like it’s over—I hope not—but I did.

The thing that’s really thrown me is hearing from Son #2 after a four-year silence.

I wrote a series of seven posts about Vince’s brother, who I gave up for adoption. I’ve never written about how I found him after many attempts and despite Catholic Charities’ best efforts to thwart us both.

I hesitated to write about this, but then—catatonic on the couch after all my proposals were done—I caught an episode of Call the Midwife that had an adoption storyline and I was reminded that the silence and shame that surrounds adoption has got to be broken.

Vince and I met him once, over 15 years ago.  We met at a restaurant; I can’t remember exactly when or where because it was so surreal.

His name was the same as one of my brothers, but I will call him by the name I gave him, Isaac.  He looked a lot like Vince but with different coloring.  I asked if I could give him a hug and he said, “Of course!” and hugged me for a long time.  Several hours of talking passed like seconds.  We hugged goodbye and pledged to stay in touch.

It didn’t’ happen.  Isaac’s adoptive mother was opposed to him meeting me, and he was already going behind her back.  But he and Vince continued to meet up and developed a bond; Vince wrote about it here.  It wasn’t a happy ending, but there’s hope now that Vince is in recovery.

Isaac sent me an email out of the blue about five years ago, with photos of his wife and kids.  My grandchildren, who I’ve never met.  His wife has the same name as my mother.

He said he would like for me to meet them, but then he disappeared again.  I didn’t pursue it him because I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

Isaac wrote to me again last month.

His wife has Multiple Sclerosis.  Severe, aggressive MS that affects her vision, speech, and mobility. He and I have been writing for about a month now, and I am hopeful we can stay in touch this time, but it’s stirring up a lot of regret, resentment, love, and hope.

Be Mine, Be Thine

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

On the heels of Valentine’s Day and the last story about my worst trip re-entry ever, and having arrived home late last night from a group trip to Central America, I’d like to wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day.

The composition of the group tour was typical of other such trips I’ve taken.  There were 10 of us plus the guide.  It was two married couples, three married people whose spouses hate the outdoors so they had come solo, and three single women.  I used to spend a lot more time wondering, “Why are so-and-so married and I’m not?” or wondering if I would meet a guy on one of these trips.  It could happen.  But all I could think of by the fourth or fifth day was “I want to be alone!”

I’ll write more about this trip once I’ve covered Spain, but for now I just wanted to repeat the theme I’ve written about annually on Valentine’s Day.

According to all the standardized tests I’ve taken, I am an extrovert.  I am sure that I’m not.  I get along well with people, I think.  I like meeting new people.  I like spending long blocks of time with certain people.  But when I am exhausted or stressed or just need to recharge, I want to be alone.  I think that’s the definition of an introvert.  Maybe because I’ve always worked in communications and development, I’ve learned to be comfortable being “on.”  But come Saturday, all I want is to hang out home alone.

Society has names for introverts: Loner, recluse, hermit, withdrawn, antisocial, wallflower, solitary, shy.

I am struggling to come up with a list of similar negative words for extroverts. The ones that come to mind are neutral or positive: Larger than life.  Life of the party.  Outgoing. Sociable.  Genial. Affable.

Think about it: The police catch a serial killer. The TV news interviews his next door neighbor. What does she always say? “He kept to himself.” As if that explains why he murdered people.

I happened to catch a TV show about eccentric people in Minnesota.  Apparently we are number one in that regard. They were interviewing the sister of Frank Johnson, maker of the world’s largest twine ball. When asked what she thought motivated her brother to undertake such an endeavor, her answer was, “Well you know, he never did marry.”

I never have married, but I’ve seen plenty of couples here and while traveling who look miserable together.  I just don’t buy society’s message that you have to be partnered to be fulfilled, happy, a valid person, whatever. It’s not that I’m opposed to it, I just don’t believe that being part of a couple fixes life’s problems. It’s like any other of life’s big choices—both being single and being partnered contain different trade offs.

I have often wondered if I could adjust to living with a partner.  I think I could; after all I’ve adjusted to living in other countries and had housemates and am in general an open-minded person who is comfortable with who I am.  I’m usually good at speaking up for what I want and don’t want, which seems like the basis of good communications.

Yadda yadda yadda.  Have a good Valentine’s Day with your sweetie, even if it’s your kid, or a friend, or your mom, or yourself.  Lord knows we can use all the love we can get in this angry world.

Finally, Dubai

This is the story of how I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai, part of a series that starts here.

Toni was very serious.  She was a teetotaler.  She didn’t get my sense of humor.  She was divorced and her kids were out on their own, so she was seeking.  She had grown up somewhere in the boondocks of western Canada and was fascinated by eastern traditions like meditation.  I was an on-again-off-again meditator but she was seriously devoted and would go on to live in an ashram in India and become a follower of some swami rami someone or other.  Like most Canadians, she made a point of telling people she was Canadian so they wouldn’t mistake her for an American.  Since I had fled the US, in part, to escape the George W. Bush era, I couldn’t really blame her.

When we arrived at our hotel I realized why the package had been so cheap.  When most people think of Dubai, they probably picture phantasmagorical hotels like these:

dubai burjhotel-dubai

Our hotel was in the old part of town and was a concrete bunker something like this except the windows were slits:

old-hotel

I suppose all that concrete kept out the heat, and in retrospect we were staying in a more authentic part of town, if anything about Dubai can be called authentic.

The first thing I did was go to the bar and order a beer.  The two bartenders looked at each other sideways, clearly uncomfortable.  One disappeared, maybe to consult with a manager.  He came back and wordlessly opened a beer bottle, then wrapped it in a cloth napkin and slid it across the bar to me.  Message received: I was a whore and an alcoholic, possibly both.

Toni disapproved too, and after pointing out the maple leaf on her back pack to the bartenders, left to go to the room.  “I don’t drink alcohol,” she reminded me when I showed up with my beer wrapped in its shroud of shame.  “But if I did, I wouldn’t drink it here out of respect for their culture.”

“They sell beer here,” I said.  “So what you’re saying is that you respect their culture of treating women unequally.”

Toni harrumphed furiously and shot back, “I don’t know. I’m going to have some silent me time now.”

Our package included some free tours.  I had bought a beautiful scarf in the airport to drape around my head.  Not like a hijab, more like a glamorous, Audrey Hepburn-style nod to being in a Muslim country. I thought it advisable to leave my Star of David at home.

When I stepped outside, a wall of searing heat descended on me.  I started sweating profusely and the glamor wilted.

Toni made up and were picked up at the curb by a guy in a giant gas guzzling vehicle—the only kind allowed in Dubai, apparently.  He drove around and pointed out the sights.  It was mind boggling, as you would expect if you’ve seen photos of Dubai.  Then he took us to a “museum.”  I was excited to learn about the history and culture of the Emiratis.

The museum was gleaming and glitzy, with crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and sleek escalators that might have been designed by Lamborghini.  Strangely, the displays reminded me of shop windows in New York or London.  Wait.  They were shop windows. These weren’t historical artifacts or objects of art, they were items for sale.  All of them were labeled as originating in Iran or Egypt or other places that actually had cultural traditions, and nothing was going for less than $1,000.

Back at the hotel, I went to check my email at the computer kiosks in the lobby but Yahoo wouldn’t load.  What the hell?  I Googled “weather in Dubai” and a local site came up that claimed it was 85F.  That was weird.  I had checked Dubai weather in Dublin and had expected 110F today.

It didn’t take me as long as it had in Cuba the previous year to realize that the Internet was controlled by the government.  I was in for a six-day involuntary Internet sabbatical.

To be continued …

Cooper versus Cruiser

This is the latest in a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

Finally, I will shut up about my car, I promise.  I got to the garage, met Tracy, who was a woman, and after I paid the bill she flagged down a guy to lead me to my car.

“Honey,” she called out to him, “Will ya’ll show this here Miss Anne where her PT Cruiser is?”

PT Cruiser!?

Thankfully the guy got it.  “Ya’ll got a Mini Cooper, right? Ya’ll insulted she called it a PT Cruiser?” he laughed.

“I’ve never been so insulted!”

In my opinion, PT Cruisers are novelty cars for retired people who really want a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) but can’t admit it.  The PT Cruiser allows them to drive a giant gas-guzzling vehicle and pretend they’re quirky and eccentric.  Despite the fact that I was getting all-new spark plugs, I still affirm that the Mini is a finely-engineered vehicle.  And mine was nine years old, after all.

PT Cruiser

I raced back to the B&B, parked the car in front, and parked myself in the courtyard under the Kumquat tree with a book and a glass of wine. Molly texted to ask if I wanted them to come  join me.  “no enjoy yourselves and take your time.”  If there was something called a “sub-text,” I would have typed, “No!  Stay away!  I need to be alone!”

Courtyard-Bench-sm

This is how you know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  It’s not about whether you like people or parties or crowds, or have a lot of friends.  It’s about what you do to recharge when you’re drained. I’m an introvert, because as much as I love my friends and parties and crowds, I just want to be alone when I’ve been through a stressful experience.

So I sat under the Kumquat tree for hours.  I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha, and I hadn’t expected it to be so fascinating.  How accurate was it, I wondered? I would never dream of asking my sister-in-law Akiko, who has a PhD.  I think she would be horrified that I would think she knew anything about geishas.

-f-g-memoirs-of-a-geisha-31766513-500-233

Hours later, Lynn, Christine, and Molly strolled in and I was happy to see them.

“Why was I so stressed about a stupid car?” I wondered out loud.

“Because you didn’t know if you’d get here,” Christine said.

“You’re emotionally attached to it,” said Lynn. “I had a Mazda Miata convertible that was my baby.  When we moved to Scotland I finally sold her because I could only drive her once a year.  When they took her away I cried!”

“It was five hundred and fifty bucks!” Molly chimed in.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, an unplanned $550 expense would have been a disaster.  I would have had to borrow money from my mother, or put it on a credit card.  I would have had to cut back on some other essential item, like food or cigarettes or beer.

Slowly, slowly, I’ve worked my way out of debt and into financial safety.  If I had worked for Wells Fargo this would have gone a lot faster, but I’ve always worked for charities.  Like I’ve written before, you can work for a nonprofit and have a good life, if you’re very, very careful about your spending.  Saving, even small amounts, is super important too, because the interest eventually piles on and one day you look at your balance and think, “Whoa!  How did it get so big!”  Of course it can go down, too, if you’re invested in the stock market, so don’t look at it when the market’s down, and whatever you do, don’t sell at the bottom.

Sorry, I go off on tangents, I know.

You may be wondering if New Orleans is an expensive destination, and I think the answer is no, if you can find reasonably-priced accommodation.  They’re still rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina, so there’s a housing shortage.  Plan way ahead, especially if you’re going during a festival.  If you can gather a group of friends together and split the cost four ways, it’s very affordable.  And more fun.

Car Talk

This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

If you love cemeteries like I do, you would love New Orleans.  Bodies are buried in above-ground crypts so the … whatever it is that oozes from decomposing bodies doesn’t seep into the groundwater.  Thanks to the heat, bodies decompose quickly and fresh ones can be added onto the pile in after only a year.

Lafayette Cemetery #1 is not to be confused with St. Louis Cemetery #1, where the voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried.  I visited that one my first time in New Orleans, and the two cemeteries look the same except that Lafayette is in the posh Garden District and St. Louis is in Treme, which as depicted in the hit HBO crime series.

The four of us split up and wandered around.  I was wondering over this rubber duckie-themed tomb when my phone rang and an androgynous voice asked for “Miss Anne.”

Rubber Duck Grave

“This here is Tracy,” s/he drawled, calling ya’ll bout your car.  It’s lookin’ real bad …”

The line went dead.  I hit redial.  The connection wouldn’t work. I wandered around for another 20 minutes, clutching my phone and willing it to ring.

When it finally did, Tracy laid it on me: “It needs all new spark plugs,” s/he said.

“How much?” I asked.

“A’m sorrah Miss Anne, but I hate to tell ya it’s gonna be ….” Click.

Lynn, trying to be helpful, said, “That’s what I thought all along!  Spark plugs—and now you know that your car has spark plugs!”

I don’t remember what I said but it wasn’t nice. She went silent.  By then we had “done” the cemetery and re-joined a walking tour of the Garden District, featuring the houses of Nicholas Cage and Sandra Bullock.  It was hot.  The phone kept ringing then going dead.  For an hour.

Finally, Tracy got through. “What?” I yelled.  “I can’t hear you!”  Other members of the tour were giving me dirty looks.  I finally got that it was going to cost me $800.  Since my worst case scenario had been that the car would be a total loss, this was actually a bit of a relief, but still not a welcome amount of money to have to lay out on vacation.  Or anytime.

“It’ll take fahv days to get the parts from the dealership in Baton Rouge,” Tracy informed me.

“Five days!  But I have to be in Minnesota on Wednesday!” I moaned.

“Unless ya’ll want to use generic parts, Miss Anne” s/he said.

“Of course I do!” I exclaimed.

“Then it’ll cost ya’ll $550.”  Now I felt like I was getting off easy.  It’s all relative.

After the walking tour we sought refuge from the heat in Starbucks.  I apologized to Lynn, and she accepted.  No drama.  I don’t know what she would say, but I wasn’t surprised that in 11 days spending 24 hours together, there wouldn’t be some disagreement.

We caught the Hop On Hop Off bus again and got off at the restaurant recommended by the guide.  I always figure these are the restaurants owned by the guide’s brother in law, but so what?  It was really good.  In no time Tracy called again to say my car was ready, and I left my pals standing on a street corner in the blazing sun to wait for the bus while I hailed a cab.

The cabbie’s English was not good, but that didn’t stop him from telling me that Tracy’s garage was “too many crooks, and too much expensive.”  He informed me that I should have asked him where to take my car.  Right.  If I could have gone back in time … I changed the subject.

“Where are you from?”

“Palestine,” he replied.

“I was in the Palestinian territories last year.”

He stared at me in the rear-view window.

“You are a Jewish!” he said.

“Ye…sss.” Was he going to take me to a remote spot in Treme, stab me, and dump my body in St. Louis Cemetery #1?

But instead he exclaimed, “We cousins!  You, me … Jew, Arab … we must try to get along!”