Friday, May 27, 2011

Turn the Lights on, Please!

I quickly realized, in my first year, that losing electricity is a common occurrence. So yesterday, when I awoke to find the electricity off, I figured it was just another day here. This time I noticed it was different though, because I didn't hear our neighbor's generator but I went about my day.

Within two hours, my computer and phone batteries died and I was left with a very quiet day. No one could reach me and no technology to distract me. It was the first time I read a book in a day and started a second! The best part is that I kept praying, "Please turn the lights back on." I figured my "lesson" might be in patience or learning to be quiet. But it was too quiet for me or maybe I was just bored so every hour, I kept checking, "Maybe now."

As evening rolled in, I began to light candles and find the flashlights to be prepared for complete darkness in a few hours. I stepped outside to feed the dogs and noticed that the street light and the surrounding houses' lights were on. Hmmmm...that's odd.

When C came home, I mentioned the contrast of our house vs the others and he asked, "Did you pay the electricity?" Awkward silence....ummmm. We returned to our pitch black house and C worked by candlelight. In the morning, I woke up to the whirring of our car, he was using as a generator for his computer. I had to laugh at our primitive adventure and my prayers yesterday, "God, turn the lights on. What are you teaching me?" Only to hear, the main lesson...


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Full Blown Attack

Ok, so it's week two of the soccer games. I thought this time I would come prepared. No more flip-flops. Today, only closed-toed shoes. Literally, within seconds of stepping out of our car, this time, armed with two dogs, I was swarmed by the army. Both feet were instantly covered in ants. I couldn't believe it! I must have looked like I was walking on hot coals, as I hopped from foot to foot, whacking the little buggers.

I tried to sit down, attempting to have a "closer" view and this time see them coming. They seemed to leave me alone after they knew I was ready for them. I guess they lost interest, though they clearly left their mark...several. Even now, almost 8 hours later, the redness is increasing and itching intensifying.

However, I was quickly distracted as I was soon swarmed by little boys...and a few drunk men. Everyone was intrigued by Sam and Sophie. They draw quite the attention. "Se muerden?" No, they don't bite....well, only the bad kids. No, just kidding.

The best part was the boys wanted to help in any way they could. They ran to get the dogs water or offer their watermelon. What seemed like the whole neighborhood, offered to walk the dogs. C had to laugh as I would walk to the car and was followed by the remaining boys, who weren't being dragged around by the two dogs. Of course, I was grateful because they were getting more than enough exercise. They looked like sled dogs, pulling a swarm of children, with no sled or snow. :)

All in a normal day

I make at least a weekly trip to my favorite local grocery, La Colonia. However,on this trip, I was in the car talking to a friend. I look at the row of cars in front of me, only to see this. The best part is, it actually is his car. Though, I think that's the more surprising fact!

I went inside to grab my groceries, greeted by the security guard at the front entrance. When C went this past week, he picked up my favorite Carr crackers but as we dug in, with our usual cheese and cracker snack, we both practically spit the crackers out at the first bite. They tasted like stale fruit crackers. So I decided to wing it and attempt to return them, without a receipt. Keep in mind, there are no returns here...period. I was already out on a limb.

I approach the "Customer Service" desk and attempt to explain my situation. The employee said she would get her manager. The manager came and then told me to wait as she went to get paperwork. Again, it's as if I'm the local spectacle, as the employees slowly seem to gather at the desk, as if children curiously seeing their favorite Disney character, as they hide behind their parents' backs.

I wait and wait, and finally the first employee explains that I can go shop and then explain to the cashier that I am exchanging a box of crackers. As I collect my items, I carefully select my favorite crackers once again. While checking out, I see my favorite bagger. He is the one I met one of my first weeks here, before I knew that you were supposed to tip any bagger who helps you with your groceries to your car. I learned the hard way and had to return days later to repay him the deserved tip. Now, he is like my "adopted" grandfather. Every time I'm in the store, we greet each other with the usual hug and kiss on the cheek. As I wait for the cashier, we chat about health, work, etc, once again, drawing attention from employees and customers.

Finally, she returns and I ask her if she charged me for the new crackers. "No" she replied, but explained that I needed to wait for her supervisor. Another manager approached, shoving the new box in my hand, already opened, insisting that I try them before I leave the store. Reaching in, I soon tasted a very similar cracker to the first box. I asked what I should do. She said I could taste others but they would most likely be the same. I explained that they tasted like stale fruit, not crackers. The cashier then kindly pointed out to me that the box shows the crackers with cheese and strawberries on them.

Hmmm, well, then what can you do, right? Just another normal day at the grocery store.

Sneak Attack...Day 2

Yes, so you may be thinking, "Ah, ant bites! How bad can it be?" Sure, you are not alone. I've had my share of mosquito, spider, ant bites, etc. Though I must mention that I seem to be the target for all of them. There could be several people in a room and I will be the one covered in welts.

Ok, so that being said, I went to sleep last night, thinking "Ok, these bites itch but not a big deal." Then I woke up in the middle of the night, itching both feet like a mad woman. Even then, I thought it was just a maddening, wake-you-up-out-of-a-dead-sleep itch, only to wake up to two very swollen feet. Again, downplaying the situation, I try to spring out of bed. As my feet hit the ground, I find I can't bend my toes to actually walk. Instead, I waddle on my heels to the kitchen for my morning coffee...maybe that will help. Just need a distraction. Caffeine should do it.

I truly was the elephant in the room, C couldn't help staring at my two feet. "You have to DO something." "No, no, I'm fine. It will go away soon." But hours later, I noticed shortness of breath. "Surely, it will improve," I thought stubbornly. Nope. It's almost 5pm now.

C now is insisting I see a doctor. Even so, I'm still dragging my two swollen feet, "I'm F-IIIII-N-E!" Don't wish you could see your behavior from another's perspective? Ok, ok, I get it. I'll go. Fortunately, as we arrive to ER, there isn't a wait. If there was, I might be out the door again. A doctor introduces himself and C helps translate. Soon I'm escorted behind a nearby curtain. The doctor checks my breathing and quietly vanishes behind the curtain. A gruff nurse takes my blood pressure, yanking my arm to the right and left. She grunts and disappears. I wait. Not sure what else needs to be done. Can I just have the meds please?

Another nurse appears and points to the bed, mumbling something. C explains I need to lay down. Next thing, the nurse pulls out a huge needle. C has now vanished behind the curtain. COME ON! What is so special back there, people? Can we just finish this? Without explanation, she pinches my backside. Ok, phew, it's just a prick. Oh, oh, NO, wait!! ERRRGGHHH! There it is! The entire needle is now in my backside. Wonderful! I'm pretty sure this nurse just disappeared behind "the curtain" unannounced too, while leaving the needle in me.

Ah, finally, needle is out! Now I can disappear behind the curtain, like everyone else, and slip out the door, prescription in hand. Now, hopefully, if the army ants attack me again, at least I have this slip, so I can avoid the needle and the curtain.

Monday, May 16, 2011


I soak in the early morning breeze, knowing it will disappear shortly, absorbed by the scorching heat. The city is still quiet on this Sunday morning. Even so, wives, girlfriends, children, even the stray dogs come out of hiding to gather around the dirt soccer field.

The players stroll in one by one, stripping down between the trees to change into their uniforms. Even they seem groggy, yet at the same time, the town seems to come to life. Our team slowly begins to form, while the captain frantically collects IDs to finish filling out the team's paperwork for the ref. You can feel their excitement, as it has been months since some of them have played a game. Work and life seems to slip away and there is rarely time to take a minute to simply play. Not today. Everyone leaves their distractions off the field.

As the sun grows warmer, you can sense the energy and perseverance waning. Shouts of encouragement are heard across the field, though half-time is welcomed. I quickly offer water to the panting players coming off the field. I find it amusing as some reach for their cigarettes. Others massage their aching muscles and nurse their oozing blisters. It appears we are in a war zone. The whistle blows, battle resumes.

I can feel my tank top tan forming as my shoulders begin to burn. A man can see the discomfort arising and grabs a four sticks, throws them up in a square, whips out a tarp and forms a tent for those of us sitting on the bench. Pretty impressive. Who knew there would be a magic show as well? I think the other fans are amused at my Spanglish cheers or shouts of disappointment. I'm definitely a spectacle.

As the game ends, still smiling, the guys limp off the field. Sometimes battle is worth the story. However, as I'm admiring their attitudes and energy, I had no preparation for the army that was attacking me. I looked down at my flip-flopped feet, only to find two tiny fire ants--one on each big toe. It burned. I never saw the sneak attack coming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dentists, Drills and a New Name

This week has been an eventful one! For starters, I finally made a long overdue dentist appointment. It's one thing to tackle the dreaded "to do" list in your home country, it's another to sit in a chair surrounded with unrecognizable objects and try to figure out what's going on in a different language. Let's just say, it's amusing. I think my favorite part was the mysterious drill that was smoking while inside my mouth. That can't be good. But it was! My teeth are sparkling now!

Today, my day started with dodging the usual drivers who don't check their mirrors or look over their shoulders while changing lanes. In arriving at the Embassy, I discovered parking is a dog-eat-dog approach, so I settled for a small private parking lot. The attendant said "30 per hour". "What? That's too expensive!! What about 20?", I offered, thinking I'd only be an hour. Since I had an 8:45am appointment, I would only be running inside and out to change my name on my passport. I printed out my form the night before and so I had a few extra minutes to run in and pose for a passport photo at the nearby photo studio. Surprisingly, they were very efficient, including the extra time the photographer took to ask me to tilt my head slightly. Yes, it took me back to the days of taking yearbook photos.

Of course, I left the sheet that confirmed my 8:45am appointment at home. Nevertheless, they allowed me in. I waited until 9:15 before they called my name. In approaching the window, I explained that I had made a mistake on the form and needed to print another one out. He responded saying that as of April, they removed computers and printers from the waiting area so I would need to find an internet cafe to print out a new form.

Heading back to photo studio, I found a pharmacy next door that allowed me to print out the form. Back in the Embassy, I had my corrected form but now had to take a number and wait at the end of the line. Imagine the DMV waiting room. Yes, end of the line. After the employee took all of my documents, I asked if the form would be acceptable since the Embassy logo was cut off from the printer at the pharmacy. After asking his supervisor, he returned shaking his head, saying I would have to return tomorrow.

It's 10:50 now. I wasn't about to give up after all the obstacles now. I made another dash for the pharmacy, explaining the situation, though not well. Because I ended up playing charades instead. Pretty funny, because when I thought of it, they know what they are doing. They see several "gringos" for this kind of thing. Fortunately, they didn't charge me this time.

Again, I walked back to the Embassy. Unfortunately, this was the fifth time I had to run the gauntlet of inappropriate taxi drivers. "Hey, how'd you get like that? Will you meet me this weekend? Que linda!" Ahhh! These are the times that it is easier to just make them think I only understand English.

Finally, at 11:00, I waved to the employee, letting him know I was back. Fortunately, he didn't make me get a number but at this point, most people had come and gone. Apparently, the office closes at 11:30 which explained why everyone had cleared out.

I waited until 11:30 for him to help me again. After a few minutes, he confirmed the paperwork, asked me to pay the fee at the next window and wait for him to call my name. I went to the window to pay, only to discover almost a 45% "service charge" that no one could explain to me.

When I went to sit down, I found that he had closed his window and left. What? So I asked the finance window where he went and they said he'd call my name. Still no one called my name. At 12, I finally went to ask another window what it was I was even waiting for and he said I needed to do an interview. I asked the woman in the interview room if she could help and I would need to wait a few minutes. At 12:10 I did my interview, she was really helpful in explaining what I needed to know in receiving a new passport and in 5 minutes I was out.

I went to my car, almost 4 hours later, but he let me leave paying 60 total. Though he did ask if I'd be coming back tomorrow to pay more.

Let's just say, the lesson learned is...always print TWO copies!

Rose-colored Glasses

Even though I'm not personally celebrating Mother's Day just yet, I decided to celebrate our neighbors who are moms...some old and some new! Instead of the Valentine tradition of cookies, I opted for flowers this time around. After running into one neighbor last month, she shared how her mom lives with them and she recently found out she has cancer. While delivering flowers to their house, I was surprised when her mother answered the door. I had never met her, much less seen her in the neighborhood. She peered sceptically through her tinted glasses, wondering who this "Americana" was at her front door. I explained, in broken Spanish, that the flowers were to honor her on this special holiday and that we are praying for her during this time. She started to well up with tears and grabbed me for the largest bear hug. I'm grateful for all moms!