Monthly Archives: October 2012

Raggedy Anne

One thing about growing up to American parents overseas is that you feel a disconnect to their stories in a way. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they are utterly delightful and coveted but when you don’t see those images in anything other that your visits there they have this essence of being supreme and sublime, that sought after and completely elusive golden apple.

However, one of the lucky things I did have were grandmothers that were excellent seamstresses. I don’t know which of my grandmothers made it for me, but I was given a gift of a set of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.

I had the tendency to anthropomorphize my dolls. They were a huge extended family with complex relationships and roles. My French dolls (understandably) served as the Adam and Eve and were the parents and the pair that would populate new lineages of dolls. My pre-colombian doll was the grandmother crone, the one with wisdom. Each doll had a specific role and duty.

Raggedy Ann and Andy were something quite special though. I believed them to be the dollified version of my aunt Anne and her then husband Dennis. SO, I called them Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Dennis.

Shortly after I was gifted the dolls my aunt and Dennis came to visit us in Ecuador. I remember going to the airport and seeing this absolutely stunning woman get off the plane with the most flaming ball of red hair. She was a hippie of the time, and was both stunning and shocking. I was delighted. She was exotic and wow did my doll of her just seem so tame when faced with the real deal.

I am sure that there was not much Anne knew to do with my brother and I at that time. But here was this artist with this mane of fiery hair that just awed me. I don’t recall much time with just her and I except for one time. I was sitting in our yard in our home in the then wonderfully quiet neighborhood of Mariscal and she was doing my portrait. I remember she wearing a ruana as Quito had a tendency to be colder that the southwest from which she had come.  And she looked so beautiful and as she put her pastels to paper I was so delighted that I was chosen as a subject. Only beautiful people were the object of paintings, right? Of course it turns out that I was a commission my mother had requested… but thankfully I learned that later and was able to believe that I was worthy of being an artists subject. We chatted a bit while she put my image to paper. I recall it as being a rather adult conversation all things considered.  The evenings during her visit I recall with a lot of laughter, like she and my mother enjoyed each other. I remember them coming by my school and just being so proud that my  beautiful aunt was there to pick me up… and thinking just how exotic and she was, how as she stood there next to my beautiful mother that there was hope that my gangly tall self would become beautiful like them.

My very own personal Mathematical Constant – 1

A Mathematical Constant, according to Wikipedia is “a special number, usually a real number, that is “significantly interesting in some way”. Constants arise in many different areas”.

I suppose that if there is something that reminds me on a daily basis just how lucky I am, it would be what I am referring to as my mathematical constant… My mother.

If there is something that has be a constant in my life it is my mother, an d if there is o be a true definition of her role in my life it is certainly that she is special, real and significantly interesting… and if you consider how I was raised she certainly arose in many different areas.  I can recall from a very young age just how beautiful I thought she was, what with her wavy dark hair, her tall frame and her brown eyes and then how I continued in that awe of her beauty as she moved from youthful beauty to one that included learned wisdom.

But how does one write appropriately about the gift of their own mother?

She has been a constant in my life. I have never really ever thought that she was not at my side… and that double negative comes from Spanish, it is good… deal with it, it is a part of one of her gifts and I lay that at her feet in a disgraceful misuse of English… in this case, I will let it stand as an homage to her facilitating my learning of languages.

I have such vivid memories of her through-out my life.. how I was convinced she was a model as I saw her go out one evening wearing a black velvet dress that was embroidered with gold… she was so stunning.

I remember once her taking me to go buy my uniform for the German school I attended. I was taller than your average child so perhaps there was something special about this. I remember going to this store that must have been a fabric store, which leads me to believe she was buying the correct fabric that my school required.. a houndstooth skirt or pant, a white button down shirt and a green sweater. So, I remember her going through this fabric and finding a bunch of hounds tooth and her buying u a bunch. Now, I don’t know if this following event is related but I do recall coming from school one day and being handed new uniform items. Now the skirts usually looked like this:

  But I was handed something like this:

And this:

I recall being taken aback by how much these items did not look like the ones the other students wore and being terribly worried and so she sat me down with the student manual where it described the dress code and seeing that indeed, there was no specification. as to how long or short a skirt was to be, or even that girls could or could not wear pants.

And so, in that act my mother taught me all about rebellious conformity. I would have been in fourth grade, so about I would have been about ten years old.  I wish that I had been able to keep that spirit of fashion sense though.  She was such a wonderful dresser and taught me about fabrics and what excellent sewing looked like… I can spot a non-couture pleat a mile a way based on her teachings.

Shatzy

Treasure (+ y)

That is what the word means, and in my prime Latin self I made it a diminutive and roll it off my tongue for a very special person. MY Schatzy!

In February 1999 I was back in the USA on a medical school sabbatical trying my best to avoid a volcanic eruption and failing economy. I managed to succeed. More than I even thought possible as I cried my way on to a “full” flight back to Arizona… except for that one space in First Class (that had sadly run out of champagne by the time I got on, yeah right…).

Within two weeks I would find a friend on-line. His handle was Tintin and he seemed delighted that I could recognize the name and that I was familiar with Asterix and Obelix. 

The family I had lived with in South America was Swiss. The father spoke German and he and his German speaking friends made fun of my feeble attempts to join them in their Germanic jocularity.

So, I proposed to my new friend, Tintin, that we exchange language lessons. He had mentioned being interested in learning Spanish. It sounded like a swell deal to me… I would return to South America with a lovely German language repertoire and he would reap the benefits of my native Spanish skills.

So, we arranged to meet. On Valentine’s day.  I recall thinking, as I was sitting across from him and heard him talk so lovingly about his family, that I would end up marrying this man. It was an interesting thought to cross my mind. This stranger, from a land far away. A land that I had not particularly cared when I had had a previous chance to visit… what with them being practically closed on a Sunday, to such an extent that I felt lucky that the train I had taken from Budapest had even graced us with a willingness to stop… even though I wanted so desperately to return to Hungary.

So here I was, in a Mexican restaurant, listening to this young man tell me about his life in Austria and Germany. Tell me the tale of how he found himself in Arizona and just completely accepting that I would, indeed, marry this man… even if he did not know it.

So, we began a courtship… two very different people enjoying each others company, being charmed by the others non-american peculiarities.

Three and a half months go by and I am standing in a friends back yard saying I do. To him. A Tintin that would become my Schatzy. That was over 14 years ago.

unsuspecting brushes with a darker underworld

Being born and growing up in a third world country has many blessings. More than I can even put words to. There is a gentleness… perhaps something in the air of a country that slows down when compared to places like the USA, a place that takes time to taste their lunches which can last for two hours and can still feel rushed, that will call grown women by a diminutive and it is appreciated and enjoyed, where hugs and kisses on the cheeks are typical and expected greetings.

But there is a dark underbelly in this part of the world. There is the drug trade and then human trafficking to name but just two. My mother had my brother and I share a room until I was 11 because she figured we were at a high enough risk of being kidnapped that if one of us were taken that the other would be there to scream and yell and that it was as good a chance as any at preventing this from happening. Some of our friends had body guards and armed drivers… the country, while gentle and beloved, has a very dark side.

When I was little there was a man I recall as Emil, came from the US somewhere, the north east I assume for some reason. A tiny diminutive man, especially by North American standards. I overheard adults talking about how he was found in a hotel room with his limbs cut off and a part of his anatomy was found in his mouth. I am guessing that he upset someone quite a bit, though that is all I can remember about him. He had a mean streak and the one time I recall meeting him I remember him saying cruel things to my brother and I. I am not even sure how he stopped in our lives and why I would have met him… other than to guess that Americans expatriates would somewhat seek each other out and both my parents were that so he must have sought them out. Little did he know that between them we lived more as a part of the culture than that what would be seen on average.

When I was older and had returned to the city that raised me to attend medical school, I took a side “under the table” kind of job at an internet cafe. It was a good arrangement. I worked there in exchange for time on the VOIP computers to call home and friends and was able to start a small business selling chocolate chip cookies that the homesick American customers would buy. It paid for my entertainment and bus rides. It remains one of my most favorite jobs.

However, it too had brushes with the dark side of human nature. The one thing that one notices is that countries have a season for travel. There will be times when you find you are dealing with more French (oh, those French), or Israelis, Brits, and Germans (which is to say anyone from any country that speaks German, and wears a particular kind of pants). There was a time in my days at the cafe that there was an unusual number of men from what I thought could be Turkey or the middle east… they looked almost Spanish, but not quite and most definitely did not speak the language. They would wait to use the VOIP for phone calls, and we would assist them. Often, they would sit drinking coffee and at a specific time would stand up and demand immediate usage of the internet phones. So, I would set up the account for them and allow them to make their calls. In retrospect, I can say that it seemed like they disappeared overnight… though that was how it usually went.

Months after this, I arrived at work for an early Saturday shift and my boss calls me over to show me a Florida newspaper (I do not recall which one) article about a recent international sting operation regarding human trafficking.  Apparently a multi-agency crack down had occurred that had brought down a group of people that were kidnapping girls and women in North American and was funneling them through Central and South America only to end up in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia was specifically named as I recall). The general time frame in the article matched the time frame we had experienced with those customers and so we assume that they were a part of that operation. We had met those faces of the men tasked with kidnapping and transporting these women far, far away from their homes.

This still makes me sick to recall.

I recall holding that newspaper in my hands. Thankful. Thankful that I am a tall awkward American who would not be picked up for something like this. Thankful for the Interpol office we knew was down the street though how we did since there was no sign was interesting. And then, I was so sad, very deeply sad that these girls and women had been taken so far away and put in to these awful situations. It was a very powerless feeling. How can this be right anywhere in the world? How can these lives become such a commodity to have such an intense system of capture and delivery.

I suppose it is with that experience in mind that I so fully support the efforts by The Association of Junior Leagues International to tackle things like Human Trafficking. The League I belong to will be working with other organizations to put on a community forum at the start of the new year about this issue. I am glad, it is about time that we made this more real. It has so many faces and so many aspects that this is such a huge story to tell.

q

Less concerned about being beautiful

I was walking with my son to the car after a community meeting when out of the blue this wise little not quite eight year old boy says “Some women need to be less concerned about being beautiful”.

I pondered this for a few steps and asked why he said that.

He said that some women only think about being beautiful but that they need to think about other things too. I asked him what kinds of things. He said “They need to think about being nice, and doing good things, things like that mommy”.

He had spent the whole day dealing with a pretty high fever, though completely in the absence of women who might provoke such an observation, meaning that I had not been near any women whose main concern was being beautiful.

I asked a few more questions. No, mommy was not a woman concerned about being beautiful, mommy was concerned about a lot of important things. He wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular. He just thought some women could be nicer and more helpful is all.

I walked to my car pondering this rather out of the blue statement of his.

Since he was born he has, more often than not, gone to board and community meetings with me. He learned how to crawl, really quickly crawl, at a board meeting… he made the transition from a rolling baby to a crawling one as I helped define a mission statement and chased him down the hallway.

When I was a new mom, I read the book Freakonomics. In it there was a discussion on raising readers and the suggestions based on some data that perhaps reading to your child was not as important as it was to model reading behavior. I figured if that was the truth, then modeling behavior was very important and at that point I must have made a mental mind note to make sure to impress upon him things that were important to me.

One thing I value very highly is service to the community (both the one in which I live and the ones I love) and with that in mind, I took him to everything with me. Many times to the disgusted looks of a few other women; you know the kind… the ones who see volunteering as a means to escape family obligations and have a chance to drink wine and complain about others. Thankfully, a few have been considerate to my doing this. It also helps that he is rather well behaved and does not mind sitting aside and playing on a computer.

What has really become the most important thing to me is that my son understands what it means to make things happen around him.  I know he understands that he is very lucky and I can see that he is starting to understand that he has a moral obligation to the community he lives in to try and make a difference. I know he is a child and this is pretty heavy stuff. But I don’t force him to handle this as if he were an adult. I allow him to come to these experiences as the child he is.

I am excited to see how he takes this knowledge as he grows up and develops his own passions.

Hula hoop champion of the world!!!!!

OK, of a third world country.  Same thing right?

When asked what about me might surprise people…

I answer with “I was an Ecuadorean Hula Hoop Champion”.

There was some contest at school and on a whim (or because hula hoops had become popular) I entered it. I was a lithe young girl and had some skill.

On the day of the contest I recall getting into a fight about my “invisible” twin sister with the person who would become my future step mother. I was seething. I was very angry when my turn to go out and hula hoop my heart out.

So, I went out… and hula hooped. I moved the hoop from my waist to my neck, to my leg, to my arm, and back again. I added hoops and though I don’t recall how many I was able to add, I do know that it was significant enough that I was awarded something. That something included the chance to show up on TV.

I recall my mom taking me down to the station, and standing with other fantastic and older hula hooping gods and feeling like I was on a Latin American version on a hula hoop American Bandstand.

And that I was to return to the TV station another day…. and that I never did. I, apparently, forfeited my hula hoop crown to some nameless person…

My memories are so fuzzy about this event now. So, I stick with my statement that I was an Ecuadorean hula hoop champ.

And I hula up to that!

Thoughts on meeting new people

Over at Ze Frank’s A Show he talked about how he teaches his interns to get to the meat of a story.

It has some very good advice.

 William the Intern is making a video about meeting people for the first time.

So Ze put out a mission to his viewers:

Don’t give him advice. Instead tell him what you feel like when you meet people for the first time . Show him how specific you can be about your experience. What you fear, what you hope for, what it feel like.

Maybe you will help him find words. 

Here is my answer.

My biggest fear, when I meet someone new or in a room with people I have meet briefly but never spoken to is that I will end up talking about myself too much.

If I talk too much, then I worry that I will reveal too much.

If I reveal too much, then I worry they will judge me and find me lacking.

The main thing people focus on when they meet me is learning that I am a bullfighters daughter (I find it hard to avoid getting asked this question, though I suppose I could lie but that seems like an extra disingenuous thing to do when you meet someone new). 

Once that gets revealed, they tend to dominate our introduction by asking questions about that.

Once they ask a lot of questions about that, I am often (enough that I worry it will happen again and again and again) subject to a lengthy castigation of animal cruelty…

I have been spit on and called disgusting and this is about what my father chose, not me.

So, I tend to avoid meeting new people… because I don’t want to get asked the questions that leads me to answering some question about something my father does.

I don’t know that I provided any clarity for William the Intern, but at the end of the “mission” I realized this was a story.

NICU

I am not sure what got me to thinking about this today. I had just dropped off Squink at school and I was driving to work, NPR was on talking about the presidential race and more fighting somewhere. I was driving past where I went to high school and…

BAM

The image of Squink’s oxygen mask landed right smack in the middle of my thought.

And I was left feeling powerless.

Again.

I revisit Squink’s stay in the NICU about once a year.  It always happens like this; I am going on with my life when something, anything, will provoke the BAM and an image will jump into my head.

There are many. they all look alike in a way. I think it is because there was very poor light in the NICU, with the exception of his glowing bili-blanket that cast a ghostly neon glow over things. It might be of him wearing protective eye covers, or with a needle in his head, the feeding tube in his nose, the APAP covering his face.

It is interesting that when that BAM image happens, that my whole body just goes back to those days and I feel helpless and scared. Even if I can see him right in front of me as a delightful seven year old, running and jumping,  laughing, and astounding me with his wisdom… I feel the same way I felt those first few weeks of his life when I thought that maybe if I held my breath that he would be able to begin breathing on his own.

If I am home when the BAM happens. I pull out a box of things I saved from that experience.His oxygen mask, so tiny and little, the heart monitor stickers that let us know how strong his heart was beating, the oxygen sensor that let us know if he was breathing enough, his little itty bitty hospital issue hat, or the eye covers he had to protect his eyes from the bili-light. I even have a piece of his feeding tube and the two stitched up strings that saved his life among his ultra sounds and, thankfully, his discharge papers.

I also saved a lot of things that did not fit in that box, things that were these gestures from strangers that still bring tears to my eyes.

Squink was in NICU over Christmas. Special items knit and sewn by church groups were handed to us on a regular basis. I treasure each and every one of those items. Some are made well, with beautiful straight stitches and evenly knit blankets. Others, are made as if the maker felt like they had to make sure that a blanket was available immediately, seams showing, awkwardly placed prints…. That doesn’t matter though. I treasure each and every one of all of those blankets and hats. I picture groups of women sitting at home or in a group at their church; talking and laughing while they made these items that my son would some day use. That blanket that would cover his incubator, that hat that helped keep the needle stay put… In my mind these are the same women that fill craft bazaars at churches with their hand made goods. So, I seek them out. As I walk the tables with their wares on display I ask if they also help out hospitals with their goods and if say that they do, I buy something from them. I tell them that I am grateful. And that the unknown faces behinds each of those items I have saved in my armoire come from a woman like them and that this the only way I know to show my gratitude.

the dead and the most humble 13 cents of my life

I love day of the dead festivities.


However, I have a tough time adapting to the ones we have here in Arizona. They are fun and everything… but they just aren’t the exact same dia de los muertos rituals I experienced growing up.

First of all I grew up calling it dia de los difuntos… which stylistically translates more into the day of the deceased rather than the day of the dead. Which in my Andean native cheekiness just sounds more reverent and polite… though, in all honesty I don’t really prefer calling it one over the other.  The effect and sentiment is the same.

The general idea is that at this time of year, the veil between life on this earth and life in the “other world” is at its thinnest and that there is a chance for us to visit with loved ones that happen to be on the side opposite which we currently reside in.

I love the smells and colors and sentiments that seem to prevail during this time of the year. 

Where i grew up there are two principal items in terms of food. One is something called pan de guagua and the other is chicha morada. The pan de guagua is “baby bread” or “child bread” and they are bread rolls fashioned to look like bundled babies with colored sugar icing on them. The shape reminds me a lot of the pre-colombian dolls from that part of the world so I like to imagine it is a pretty ancient holdover that managed to survive those pesky conquistadores. The other, chicha morada, is a thick berry based juice-like drink. I have had it warm and I have had it cold. Its base is black berries, blue berries and cinnamon. In Ecuador there are a many other ingredients that one uses to create the beverage, my favorite of those being something called ishpingo. 

The last time I lived in Ecuador I talked the gardener/guard into helping me figure out how to make chicha morada. He arranged for me to go with him to the local street market to buy the items I needed. He walked me from stall to blanket to basket pointing out each item I would need asking about each deal he could get for me for the items, bargaining on my behalf in a rare form of quick Spanish. I certainly could have handled this myself, but there was just something about his demeanor and like he was so proud to be showing this semi-gringa the chicha morada ropes. When we went to buy the ishpingo, he became livid. He was violently angry and pulled me aside to tell me that I should go home because they refused to go down in price and they were charging me way too much. When I asked him the amounts in question it resulted in what would be a .03 cent difference. I am still so touched by how he needed my relationship with the Ecuador he knew to be fair, at least financially. This kind of event happened a few other times, once on the bus when I was charged about 10 cents more and the whole bus was about to mutiny and every other passenger yelled at the fee collector that he looked scared and gave me the change. I have been humbled by a collective 13 cents. It remains with me to this day.

but I digress.

So, we purchased everything and went back and I must have made what is equivalent to 30 gallons of the stuff. I have never been patient with thickening agents added in to food and it got to the point where I had such a thick slop of chicha morada that I had to water it down with more juice.

I returned the kindness by teaching the gardener how to make chocolate chip cookies. I used to make and sell them to tourist hangouts to make money, but would feed left overs to my family and the all servants.

And I confess, it is still hard for me to use the word servants in English… somehow it makes more sense to me that I was waited upon when I am thinking in Spanish.



Zun

Zun.

It was what I called my maternal grandmother. It was what many people called her. It was given to her by her husband, the man I call Grandpa Honey.

No one knows what Zun means. My grandfather, as far as I know, never provided an origin story of how he came to give it to her.

I have never thought to consider it to be anything other than that which encompassed her very nature. The name Zun fit her. She had plenty of other nicknames; Jackie was one I heard her called that was based on her maiden name and was used by those who grew up with her.

She was pretty wonderful as a grandmother. She saw fun and adventure everywhere. She traveled well, she enjoyed people, she was bright, and curious and was a wonderful seamstress. She had a joie d’vivre that was pretty catching.

Much of my life has her at its center.

She visited us regularly when my parents lived overseas. She gave me a doll once, and she had made all of her clothes and even the shoes. They were beautiful doll clothes that I played with until they were shreds of the grandeur they were.

One of the things that I most strongly associate with her is a set of sheets she had. The closest I can come to find are the one pictured below, but that is not it. Her sheets had a dark blue background.  I loved those sheets.

We lived with her after my parents separated and my mother brought my brother and I to the USA. I was terribly homesick for the country I grew up in most, I missed so many things. Those sheets helped soothe those feelings. I would lie in bed with Zun and watch television. She had a king size bed which felt huge to my little body and I would stretch out and put my fingers out flat and I would imagine I was back in the jungles that I was able to visit often. It was as if the caricature ferns on the sheets transformed into the real ones. The big leaves I used to pretend to be an elephant with  would magically appear in my hand as if just pulled off the plants that were pictured on the sheets.

The irony is that I did not live in the jungle, though we were able to visit often.

Those sheets reminded me of my old home as I was trying ever so desperately to get used to my new one.