Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What a morning! Before he left for work this morning, my wonderful husband went to my car and turned the heater on full blast so that I could use the remote starter an hour later when I had to leave for work.

When he came back into the house, he informed me that he had graciously thrown away my half-full bottle of San Pellegrino (Mineral water) I'd left in the car because it was frozen.

"But that was my cold drink for today," I protested.

"It's frozen. It will burst," he explained patiently.

"It's not full. It will thaw when I take it into the meeting."

"It will burst," he persisted. But bravely went dumpster-diving to retrieve my precious frozen bottle. (Yeah. He's a keeper.)

I race to the kitchen, put on a skillet with a bit of oil to fry an egg. I'm making my own breakfast burrito this morning since Mickey D's is the opposite direction from my meeting. Skillet heating, I head to the computer to print a report necessary for the meeting.

He comes back, "The kitchen is full of smoke."

Oh! I race back to the kitchen. He had pulled the skillet off the burner. I toss it in the sink. I grab a different skillet to try again. Pour a bit of oil, dash back to the computer.

"Your skillet is on high," he returns.

Dash back to the stove. Turn the burner down, add an egg. Back to the computer. More reports. I remote start the car.

Hubby exits for work.

Still more reports. Run back to the kitchen. The skillet is off the burner, the egg still raw on top. I flip the egg, put the skillet back on the burner, muttering only slightly, wondering who has removed the skillet. Did he have time to do that before he left?

Teresa comes in, "I loosened the egg for you. I didn't want it to overcook."

"Thanks," I respond, completely insincerely, vaguely hoping my voice doesn't betray my emotion. "It needs to be cooked solid to go on a tortilla." I put the skillet back on the burner. Again. She hovers.

Back to the computer for one more report. Pack the computer bag. Is there a worn spot in the carpet from all this back-and-forth? Probably.

In the kitchen, the egg is done. I remove the skillet and grab a tortilla and slap it on the burner. This time, I don't leave because tortillas cook in about 15 seconds on a hot burner. The tortilla isn't cooking.

"Cook, tortilla!"

Look up...the burner is off. "Oh, no. The burner is off."

Teresa responds, "I turned it off when I removed the egg."

"It needed to finish, and I have to cook the tortilla." I'm hoping that my voice is non-committal. I'm balancing on first one foot then the other, wishing I could hurry up the tortilla. Did I mention that I'm ADHD???

She hovers in the background while I finish. I roll the egg in the tortilla, wrap it in a paper towel, and head back to my office.

Five minutes to cook a tortilla. Grrrr. I grab my coat, frozen mineral water, towel wrapped burrito, bag full of reports and head out to my toasty warm car.

When is help too much?? Or, do I need a keeper????, my egg didn't look nearly this good. Poor thing!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Here are pictures of the house where we stayed. Looks like one section fared better than the others. That bottom picture is the clinic, (partly standing) and three floors of guest rooms and facilities above! All flat! The older cobblestone part withstood the quake better.

Lack of Infrastructure

So many scenes from the Haiti earthquake and the struggle to bring humanitarian aid to the hurting people bring back memories of my visits there. It is incomprehensible to the average American mind what lack of infrastructure means.

Lack of Infrastructure:
· No garbage pickup
· No mail delivery
· Sporadic electrical service
· More sporadic phone service
· Product shortages – milk, eggs
· Scarcity of clean water
· Understaffed Police Department
· Nearly non-existent Fire Department (I never once saw a fire truck or a fireman. Don’t know if they even had any)
· Lack of Hospitals – lack of supplies & staff in the hospitals
· Few clinics - understaffed and poorly supplied
· Weekly or Monthly clinics with lines of people
· No evidence of organization anywhere
· Roads are nearly impassable; no road signs; no street signs
· Shanties constructed randomly on mountainside
· Shanty Town near port worst I’ve seen anywhere

It was 2005. We stayed in a guest house of which the bottom floor was an orthopedic clinic. One evening we helped sort orthopedic limbs into bins: left leg, right foot, left arm, etc. Creative therapists would take these generic castoffs from American sources and customize them in large pizza ovens (also American castoffs) to soften the plastic or metal parts. Clinic was held once weekly. The line lasted all day with patients seated all over the lawn, patiently waiting for a limb to be examined, fitted or scheduled for fitting. Open sores were cleansed and bandaged. There were no antibiotics, no pain-killers, just the basic first-aid: alcohol, a dab of cream of some sort and a gauze bandage. Limbs were measured. The worker would search through a bin for an appropriate appendage, measure the work to be done, mark the orthopedic limb for pizza oven adjustment with advice to come back next week or next month. And that was an orthopedic clinic.

In Haiti, “Clinic” is an event, not a place. “Clinic” is held when there are doctors, nurses or therapists available. Groups of visiting medical professionals visit a small building and hold “clinic.” People lined up for blocks to have someone look at a goiter, a wound, a growth, a fever, a rash, etc.

In Chicago we joke about roads and potholes. In Haiti, it isn’t a joke. Two or three kilometers outside Port Au Prince the main road deteriorates to a few small patches of asphalt every hundred yards or so. The majority of the road is one pothole after another, some large enough to lose a car, all of them large enough to cause serious damage to the careless driver. I’m talking holes a yard wide and a foot or two deep. No exaggeration. There is no driving the roads at night. At all! Average speed on the road is about 15 miles an hour because now and then on a good stretch, it’s just a simple bumpy dirt road. Remember: This is PRE-earthquake. The road from the airport in Port Au Prince was asphalt with Chicago side-street-sized potholes: The kind of potholes that reporters like to show on the evening news to show that the “City-that-works” isn’t working. This was the BEST road in Port Au Prince, PRE-earthquake.

At the airport, I was startled at the lack of amenities. It reminded me of old movies of African airports in the 1940’s, although there WAS a conveyor-belt to bring out the luggage from behind plastic curtains that separated the passenger part of the airport from the working baggage handlers. I was relieved to see our host at the baggage carousel to greet us because I could tell we’d have been in trouble on our own. Unfortunately, I speak no Creole and about three words of French. Spanish doesn’t cut it in Port Au Prince. We waited for a couple of hours before it became evident that our bags hadn’t made the plane in Miami.

Our host never did find anyone official to confirm that; he did find a baggage handler willing to tell him that all the baggage from that particular plane had been offloaded and was on the carousel. Our baggage might make a later plane. Our host left us at the guest house with the promise of a phone call later that day. The phone call never came.

Twenty-four hours later, I began the attempt to make phone calls: to the host, to the airport, to the airlines. All to no avail. I received some sort of signal indicating no lines available. About then our host drove up in a pickup truck. He had also been unable to contact anyone, but recommended that we just go look. Happily we climbed aboard to go retrieve our bags.

At the airport, no one would let us in through the front door. Passengers only, they said. So our host led us around to the side of the airport. He banged loudly on a couple of solid metal doors before finding one ajar. Tentatively, we entered the terminal. Folks, this is the BACK of the airport. We just broke in; well, it was already broken, but we entered. There were a few employees about, but no one gave us a second glance. One Haitian man, one American man and four American women in the working part of the terminal and no one batted an eyelash. Live and let live seemed to be the policy. Our host found someone willing to talk and asked about unclaimed baggage. The man gestured in the direction of the largest pile of luggage I have ever seen in my life. I instantly regretted not bringing my camera. But how was I to know that it would be a Kodak moment?

Stunned, we eyed this enormous pile of luggage, roughly 30 feet in diameter and 10 feet tall. We’re supposed to search through this pile on the off chance that our baggage is there, I thought. We tentatively looked at the tags on bags around the edge. Then one of my cohorts spotted a red bag that was ours. The two men pulled it free from the pile. Yep. It was ours. Our host and the lone male in our group began looking through the pile. This was going to take forever. Our time on the employee side of the plastic curtain wasn’t going to end quickly or easily.

I directed the three women to a clear spot to one side with instructions to watch our bags. I have no idea why. They’d been sitting there unguarded for who knew how long, and we were hoping they were all there. What could happen in a few more minutes? But according to our culture, I distributed the jobs, one of which was “guarding” the baggage. Then I turned my attention to the pile. I climbed nearly to the top of this unsteady blog of “stuff” to retrieve yet another of our bags. Finally, someone had the idea to just organize them as we went. So we began our work as baggage handlers, setting suitcases in straight lines for future retrieval by their owners as we sorted our way through the pile. Two hours after breaking and entering the airport, we headed out with our luggage. Every piece of it.

I listen to the news and I remember. I remember what lack of infrastructure meant to us in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Delay is something that Haitians are accustomed to. When the devastation of the earthquake, the additional unavailability of medical attention, and the urgency of receiving medical treatment for wounds are added, my heart aches for the patient Haitians. They who are accustomed to so little, who are happy with small things, need help in a big time way, and no one can find a way around this infrastructure problem.

Who is capable of making deliveries to the neighborhoods? Who is organized enough to care for the elderly in nursing homes, for the newly-made orphans, for the wounded waiting for care? Who is available to hold classes for the children, to occupy young minds while the world around them is crumbling? My brain goes to the resources I know are there.

Haiti has no government left to fill the void; the United Nations has no organization left to pick up the slack. What are left are the churches. I know, there’s the whole problem of church and state. But what’s wrong with employing the churches to deliver aid to their neighborhoods during a time of crisis. It was Ghandi who said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Isn’t that Haiti, now? What better thing than to have a troop of local people entrusted with feeding their neighbors?

No infrastructure. None to speak of. But the churches are there. They are organized; they know where the hurting people are. Will somebody please empower these pastors to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to find medical help for the wounded? Please??

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fire on Elma Street

At first I stood there transfixed. The sight of a shell of a house with orange yellow flames leaping from what only a few minutes before had been windows or doors, tall pillars of flames where the roof line should have been, the scent of smoke all conspired to transport me to 1961. Not since then have I witnessed in person a house completely consumed in flames. The scene around me brought me back to reality and 2010. In 1961 there had been no neighbors gathered round, no firemen with silver reflective stripes on their backs, no firehoses soaking surrounding trees and houses, no fire engines or ambulances. There had been only our little family of four to fend for ourselves, to escape from the awful heat and orange flames.

And, oh, yeah. I even had a camera tonight. I've wished any number of times I'd had a camera that other night. My love of the visual extends even to recording my own story of tragedy.
So I snapped a few shots. Prayed for the people. Questioned a few people to assure myself that the occupants were safe.

And I walked the block home, thankful that it had only been one house, that everyone will survive. Sad that not one single thing is retrievable from the rubble.

I prayed for them because I knew that this evening would forever be a defining moment for that family, for those involved.

I knew that someday each might encounter a situation and remember 2010.

Full story of Elma Street explosion. Click here.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

*Adventure With Grandma*

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her
everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous, cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.

"Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it.
I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.

I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs.Pollock's grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out for recess
during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement.

I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.

"Yes, I"
replied shyly. "It's .... for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) and wrote on the package, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" -- Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on
his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering,
beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the tag tucked inside: $19.95.


He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.

This little story has been around for a few years. I checked around and couldn't find an author to whom to give credit. If you have a source, please advise. (It could be one of the stories in Canfield's "Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul". I don't have the book and checked for this title. He has an entire section of "Adventures with Grandma".) It's a possibility.

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