Friday, January 22

Que Hermoso

So Calvin, as you might imagine, draws a lot of attention when we are out in public here in Ecuador. He gets called precioso, hermoso, muneco, gordito, grandota, and other words I don't understand but are spoken with expressions of admiration. People most often comment on his eyes, just like in the states. But here I've noticed that a man or group of men is almost as likely to stop and fawn over him as a woman or group of women. It is rather endearing actually to see usually older men stop at the sight a cute baby and comment on his looks or his eyes.

Today I met some other gringos with babies and will hopefully be joining a gringo mom and baby play group. Score.

Monday, January 11

One Week in Cuenca

We have arrived finally in Cuenca, Ecuador. After more than a year of planning and preparing, we finally made it to this beautiful place on Earth.

Getting out the door wasn't easy. There was renting the house, packing and moving, driving two days to California, Christmas with the Morris clan, two flights with a baby and a harrowing drive through the foggy curved roads on the way to Ecuador. During all of this we encountered our first, second, third and fourth baby puking episodes, a Christmas morning trip to the ER, lots of antibiotics, fun times with family in beautiful southern California, a New Year's Celebration on an airplane of about 15 people, amazing view of a city ablaze with fireworks on our decent, and a great reunion with our family here in Ecuador. All in all, it was remarkably smooth considering that we were all sick for all or part of the two weeks leading up to our departure. I am so grateful we made it here safely and well.

We are living here with my brother, James, and his family of six, all packed into a big beautiful home. Cal is LOVING the attention from his cousins.

Things we are loving about Cuenca so far:

  • being near family
  • trying new food
  • the beautiful mountains surrounding the city
  • the cool wall graffiti around town
  • the public exercise equipment
  • our backyard with its flowers and hummingbirds
  • fresh and cheap produce
  • meeting interesting new friends
  • the pretty red rooftops in the city
  • lunch for $2.75
  • practicing our Spanish
  • being on a new adventure

Here are a few photos, for your viewing pleasure, taken on a bus tour we took of the city last Saturday. 

Thursday, May 16

Travel Snippets

Illness WhileTraveling 

      When you feel ill while traveling, there is an inner battle raging, physically and mentally.  You've come all this way to see what a place has to offer.  Look, you think to yourself, look at the way the bricks on the church are darker as they reach the top, whether and moss attacking what used to be the brighter red bricks from the base, almost like the church is reaching through hell to get to heaven.  Then you think, I wonder if there is a bathroom nearby, contemplating the time and distance you could endure until you get there. 
You think, walking here on this bridge with my husband is made all the sweeter because it is shackled with locks of lovers who walked here before attached to every curl and rod of the railing.  This is an experience we share together with these other couples who have stood right here and kissed as they tossed the key over the edge into the river where it joined all the other abandoned escape hatches.  Then you think, wasn't there a bench back there, I need a sit.  
You think, isn't that another church steeple a few streets down, let's go see it.  Then you think, Second thought, the hotel is just a few blocks the other way, I need a nap.
You think, We are in Germany.  Germany! We must have Haagan Daas ice cream.  Is Haagan Daas even from Germany?  I love Haagan Daas, close enough.  Then you think, That was a terrible idea, I need a bathroom.

Airport Cancellation Line

       Bonding happens in a rebooking line after your flight has been cancelled.  These people, too, have been thwarted in their journey to your relatively common destination.  I've never been in a war, but it feels to me like a war zone I have read about.  The two sides amassed at the front lines, one side scrambling and dashing to keep the other side, larger and grumpier, at bay.  Rumors and whispers fly around the ranks about other flights and airplane parts and times that things may or may not be happening. War stories are told of other cancelled flights and trials born in travel.  Some people brag about their full passports and the frequent flyer miles they have waiting for them back home while others rage silently at connections they will never make.  However in this war, those in the first wave stand a better chance than those way back in the ranks, seats on earlier flights dropping quickly. It really isn't that the airline company and workers have become your enemy but that the people in line with you become fellow warriors.  I mean what kind of enemy hands out Coke Light and pretzels to their foes in the midst of battle? 
Today in the cancellation line I stood next to a woman who lived in Germany but was headed home with her new Greek boyfriend to Oklahoma City.  They were going to miss their connection out of Chicago, as was I.  He was going to meet her family for the first time, a smile clear on his face. "I'm just happy to be going on vacation," he said.  She and I never would have met if we hadn't spent over an hour together in that rebooking line. We bonded because neither of us are the type to get angry or upset in these situations, but both of our mothers are.  We were both there, already waiting in the line when the official cancellation was announced and the entire waiting area rose in unison and walked toward the rebooking kiosk.  We defended our place in line together, holding ranks tightly when they removed those line divider things causing a lot of people to cut us in line.  We had some laughs, some grumbles and then it was my turn and I got my new flight information and that was it.  I walked away with nothing more than a quick good luck as it was now her turn on the front line.  


     There are so many trees in Germany.  They are bright yellow green with springtime and dewy from the rain.  They line the streets and cover the hills and in the touristy areas of town the benches and light fixtures and brick walkways designs are designed around their trunks and limbs.  Granted, the place we live now is the steppe, devoid of almost any green living thing not artificially transplanted to the area, and with only a few of those.  We are thirsty for trees, for the cosiness of a forest that you can never feel on the steppe and today we drank to excess.  We found a path that led into the forest and listened to the sound of it.  In the forest the wind sounds like leaves.  In the steppe it sounds like squealing cracks in windows and doors.  We saw a deer and birds and beetles and small clovers popping up boldly in the middle of the walking path, like this year they may survive the shoes and hooves and paws and tires.  I hope they will.  

Fiesta of Forgotten Items

       It is usually someone else who tells me I've left something at their house.  They call or text and tell me they found my red toiletries bag in the bathroom or my charging cord by the computer or both.  That's what happened today.  We discussed the situation briefly, examining the contents of the bag mentally in order to assess our ability to do without the toothbrushes, the facial soap, the birth control pills.  We decided to have them overnight it to Denver where we could pick it up the next day and took off to stay at our cousins home close to the airport for an early flight the next day.  A quick stop at my aunts house on the way to meet their new dog and sit in their beautiful home was just enough time for us to get another text about my purse, left behind in the flurry of worrying about the red toiletries bag.  Another mental assessment: cough drops, ipad, passports.  We were leaving our own trail of breadcrumbs, apparently, luring us back to the homes of our friends and family.  A subconscious refusal to leave, perhaps.  Back down to pick up the bags and a change of plans, now with a very early morning to catch the train to the airport.  Another text at the airport about glasses left in the car and a "perfect fiesta" of leaving things.  Double check the glasses on my face, still there.  Hooray, I thought, I'm not the only one at the fiesta.  

Wednesday, April 17

Post Op

It has been 8 weeks since my operation now. I am not 100% recovered but I am 100% back to work and my normal activities (minus a few sit-ups at the gym).

The few weeks after the surgery I worked hard to pull myself out of a slump. I was feeling homesick, worried, and pain (obviously). Friends from work and church brought us meals, books and magazines, shows to watch on flash drives, and pillows. Those helped a lot. I watched seasons 2,3, and 4 of Parks and Recreation which helped with my spirits but occasionally caused me so much pain from laughing I had to turn it off and wait till I calmed down to continue. I tried not to think about work but then I just thought about home, and that was worse, so I thought a lot about work.

When I actually went back to work, three weeks after my operation, I was immediately pummeled with issues in my department, summative assessments, students mauling me for attention, and four shows of the musical production, Wizard of Oz, for which I was teaching students the songs and putting together and running the sound for the show. It was a really busy week to say the least and totally exhausting. Thankfully the next week was a holiday called Nauryz, a springtime celebration of the new year, so no school.

Now things have settled down at work again, back into the groove of things. The final term at our school also happens to be the shortest and they pack it with two summative assessment weeks meaning the time we actually teach is shortened further. It will be over before we know it. Hooray! Nothing is better for a teacher than the end of the school year, except maybe Diet Coke (which they don't have here making the end of the school year all the sweeter).

Tuesday, March 26

Happy New Year

Kazakhstan celebrates springtime.  They celebrate with larger than life decorated tulips outside of federal buildings.  They celebrate by setting up colorful yurts in various places around the city, some filled with nic-knacks and Kazakh art, others filled with food, and still others guarded with men dressed in Kazakh warrior outfits.  They celebrate by turning their national monument into a light show set to Russian-sounding orchestral music, including an arrangement of "Live and Let Die."  They celebrate by dancing in neon Kazakh costumes to peppy pop music with graceful anachronistic movements from a former time.  They celebrate with the accordion and the dombra.  They celebrate by reenacting a Kazakh style wedding in which the woman, dressed in a full white and gold ruffled dress and a tall pointed Kazakh hat looking lovely, is led around by her party of women and is wished poetic sounding blessings by other women with shawls over their heads, culminating in her standing behind a shear fabric, swaying and bowing to the music while members of our audience brought up bills and placed them in a basket in front of her to roaring applause, the whole ceremony feeling both familiar and new.  The men celebrate by wrestling, weightlifting and arm wrestling on platforms while the crowd watches.  

And what better to celebrate than the end of winter.  The end of layer upon layer of ice that we don't realize is stacking up until you see them using a jackhammer to break down through the 12 inches of it.  The pieces break off and show their layers, a heavy snow thick layer of white, a warm day causing an icy blue layer followed immediately by a thin dirty layer to keep people from falling, a map of the winter.  And then you can see the ground again and walk on it, something you didn't know you missed.  In Spring there is no longer the need to rush to and from your destination, you can wander over to look in a shop window or even just raise your head up to look around you rather than looking at the ground in front of you.  Some of the trees even have small buds braving the still very cold air.  It rains sometimes.  It's muddy all the time, but mud is new.  The temperature, although still below freezing, is 20-30 degrees warmer than they were a few weeks ago. 


The Kazakhs are right to celebrate the new year in Spring, it is a time for celebration.     

Tuesday, March 12

In the Hospital : Part 3 the operation

The rest of this story will be in the past tense, I didn't write in the hospital anymore after my operation so I am writing this after the fact.

Day 5

I told the doctors Sunday that I wanted to do the operation as soon as possible and they had sent in an anesthesiologist so I had a feeling it would be Monday.  I woke up and didn't eat anything, knowing the rules of surgery.  The bad part was that no one told the food ladies about the rule and they kept bringing in food for me.  One of the ladies who served food at the hospital is the most beautiful Kazakh woman I think I've seen.  She had a regal face with light freckles across her nose with small bright eyes and she always wore red lipstick and delicate Kazakh jewelry.  Seeing her was always a pleasure because she was just so lovely.

The first thing I was told was that the operation would be at ten.  I called Scott, since it was already nine and told him to hurry up and get over here.  I told him I wanted to wake up holding his hand.  He left class and rushed over only for us to discover that the operation had been  moved to the afternoon, around two o'clock.  Scott stayed with me and we read books as I got weaker and weaker from not eating or drinking and more and more worried.  At one point the surgeon came in and held her hands loosely over my body like she was holding gloves and said, "my hands are gold."  She was pretty hilarious, later in the week telling me I could only have pain medication if I walked to the nurses room to get it.  Two came and went, three, four, five, six...  We started to wonder if it would even happen that day and I cried to Scott that if it wasn't even going to happen I wouldn't survive another day without eating after not eating all day today.  We called Aigerim who assured us that the surgery would happen, but that they had several emergency surgeries that had put them off schedule.  Finally close to nine they came in for me and told me to get into my robe and follow them.  I was so frustrated with waiting that I wasn't really feeling nervous any more.  Although walking naked into the surgical room and being strapped to the table brought those feelings right back to the surface.  My anesthesiologist spoke a little English and I kept telling him I didn't want to remember anything, I wanted to go to sleep.  He kept asking me if they could do more things to me before I fell asleep, like putting in the catheter, I begged him to do it after I was asleep, I was so weak and weepy I feared too much pain and discomfort would make me pass out, and generally doctors don't seem to like it when you pass out.

They started giving me injections, I tried to breath without crying.  Lots of people telling me to calm down and not cry.  When they put the gas mask on my face I breathed deeply the air of freedom from the Kazakh operation room, wanting more than anything to make it all go away.

I woke up with a strong pain in my throat, the breathing tube stuck deeply down there.  I could not, at first, stay awake or move at all.  I recognized Aigerim who came up to me as I was opening my eyes and held my hand.  I tried with all my might to squeeze back so maybe they would take the tube out.  That is all I wanted.  They didn't because I wasn't actually able to squeeze her hand, all I could manage was a small shoulder shrug.  Then I threw up, a very painful experience, even before the anesthesia had worn off.  I fought to regain movement so they would take out the tube.  I moved my foot, I moved my finger, I think I made a noise, I moved my toes, I threw up again.

Finally they took out the tube after throwing up a third time, and immediately I started trying to ask for Scott.  I didn't know where I was, but I was not in my room and Scott was not holding my hand.  I couldn't turn my head yet but every time the nurse came over to me I tried to say, "муж" (moozh), husband.  At first they didn't understand and just wiped my mouth and walked away.  Then I could turn my head and I looked at them at their desk trying to say it over and over again until finally they understood and laughed a little, breaking tender heart.  I think I must have said it so much that they finally called Aigerim who sent them Scott's number and they called him and put the phone up to my ear. I can't remember what he said but all I could do was moan in response.  I just wanted to go to him, I was so alone.

After what seemed like an eternity but must have been more like an hour, they wheeled me back to my room, me feeling every bump onto and off of elevators and across the uneven tiled floors you find everywhere in Kazakhstan.  Finally I got to hold Scott's hand.  I asked for water but they said not yet.  I asked Scott to wet a  napkin and wipe down my lips and tongue which were so unbearably dry and sticky and acidic.  Finally they let me drink.  It was very late by now and Scott, who had planned to leave, decided to sleep there and wake up with me every hour for a check up.  I wasn't sleeping and eventually they gave me another pain shot in the leg and I slept.

Day 6,7,8

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty bad.  Scott had to go to work, poor thing, on virtually no sleep and leaving me pathetic in my bed.  We had arranged for a woman from church to come and sit with me for a few hours until Scott could come back.  I think we kept her there longer than she had planned on but, oh, what a comfort she was to me.  I was rather frightened after Scott left, not having anyone to speak for me, alone in my room and no one to grab water for me or tell me it would be okay.  She was an angel, playing nurse, communicator, distraction and mom to me that morning.  I didn't look at my cut yet, but I asked her to and she said it looked good and told me how big it was.

I had a good friend from work come and visit me that day, too, before Scott got back to me, but they must have drugged me pretty good because I don't really remember what we talked about or how much we talked or how I felt even.

I do, however, remember when the nurses came and started pulling me out of bed.  It was pretty jarring and horrible since there was no explanation before hand, just, "you get up, you walk."  They made me walk around my room once and then let me get back in bed.

The next few days were basically boring and sort of painful as they mainly involved sitting, a sore throat and the terror of coughing, asking for pain shots, going for increasingly long walks around the gynecology ward, not being able to go to the bathroom number two despite my efforts.  Apparently your digestive system needs to "wake up" after surgery and mine was feeling very sleepy.  I read a book, I listened to half of another book, I slept, I watch the breaking news about Oscar Pistorius on CNN, the only English channel on the TV, I played stupid games on my iPad.

On the last day I took a shower, put on clothes other than the nasty robe I had lived in a for a few days.  I tried a lot to go number two, causing myself more pain, but I knew they wanted me to go before I could go home.  A few hours before they were to let me go home two nurses came in with cell phone dictionaries and told me, "You shit. You go toilet go shit."  They held up the phone to me to show me the word because at first I couldn't understand what they were saying.  I was crying already when they came in, sore and worried what they would do to me if I couldn't but that little exchange, hilarious as it is now, was just another example of how horrible communication was in this place.

They decided to give me an enema to solve the situation, and slowly, so slowly my body woke up with a lot of pain.  I have never been so proud and relieved after a poo in my life.  I know those of you who have had surgery know how that feels.

The surgeon came in to see me off.  Aigerim was there also to translate.  I asked her if there was anything I should or should not do.  She said no, I could do anything, swimming, sana, anything.  I asked her if there was anything I should or should not eat.  She said no.  I asked her if there was any pain medication I should take, she said no.  I asked her when I should go back to work.  She said, "вчера," yesterday.  These words brought me no comfort and, more disturbingly, left me with no expectation of my recovery process, how long it would be, how to take care of myself, how to know that things were alright.

Exhausted from the drama and energy spent that day, we left the hospital, paying the bill since our insurance company refused, claiming my condition was "chronical."  I wanted to go home.  Not home to my apartment in Astana, home to the States, home to my mom and step-mom to make me soup and wait on me and make everything okay.  But Scott took me home to the apartment, laid in bed with me for a while as I cried a little and fell asleep.  He was so happy to have me home, I could see that, but I was a little sad to still be in Kazakhstan after finally escaping the Kazakh hospital.

Sunday, March 3

In the Hospital : Part II

Day 3

Today I woke up and felt great.  Almost all of the pain from the week before was gone, only the knowledge of an upcoming surgery loomed. About 9:45 they came in and told me they were required by my insurance to give me private room so I was moving, and my new room had a tv and a mini fridge: luxury.  I was sad to leave my sweet roommate but she would also have her own room and I some space to relax. 

But as soon as I made a phone call to this man, the day sped up dramatically.  He works with a few of my friends from church and also manages 6 hospitals in Astana, considered to be the best, although not the newest.  Within a few hours of calling him I was in a new hospital where more of the doctors and nurses speak English and where I had his fluently-English speaking assistant, Aigerim, to look out for me each day and communicate with the surgeons for me.  An angel.

Moving was quite the ordeal, by now we had been overwhelmed with love and food and books and decorations from friends at church and home.  I called Scott to bring a suitcase and some bags to carry all the stuff I had accumulated and really wanted to keep, such a comfort and a blessing.  My church group especially came together quickly and efficiently.  I had dinner, decorations, books and magazines, calming oils, water, snacks and a bright orange cup brought to me last night by one family and others were shuttling Scott back and forth and bringing other snacks and treats and tonight I had more dinner from another family and more promised later in the week.  I really am so blessed and cared for.  Thank you all, you know who you are! 

So back to the hospital switch.  The strangest/hardest part of the move was the part when staff at the first hospital found out I was moving.  They were not happy, to say the least.  I had strange department chiefs and hospital chiefs coming to my room and calling me on the phone, telling me how very competent and skilled their doctors were.  This all happening while I was taking three VERY painful shots into the bum.  I am still bruised, nearly three weeks later from those three shots.  Suddenly this hospital had lots of English speakers one of which bent over me while I was sitting on a chair by the wall, one hand on the back of my chair one on the table nearby, and told me, in no uncertain terms, “you will have your operation here.”  Not a pleasant moment, but the one in which I decided that most certainly would not be having my operation there.  They were telling me that they had spoken to Mr. Alibek and he wanted me to stay, but when I suggested calling him myself to confirm, they quickly changed their story.  Somehow lying to me was the last straw and riding away from the first hospital in the car he had called for me, Aigerim chatting away to us in English in the front seat, was as safe and secure as I had felt since the whole thing started. 

When we got to the new hospital it looked a little shabbier but more chipper, with a few more potted plants and a few butterflies stuck to the wall.  We went through the check-in process which was quick but I was exhausted from the day's experiences.  I didn't have time to lay down before the gynecologist wanted to examine me and Aigerim was still there to translate so we did, it was more gentle and she took time to use the translator to explain to me her thoughts, the processes that would happen to me and it was all a great comfort.  Then we asked if Scott could stay with me and they said he could.  The best news of all.  

An hour later I met Mr. Ken Alibek, the savior of the day.  He was a dear, roundish man with a kind smile and a great handshake.  He grabs your hand with one hand then puts the other over the top as if to say I will take care of you.   I got two more butt shots, 5 in total.  SO PAINFUL!  Then Scott and I pushed the hospital beds together and I talked to him till I was deliriously tired, just because it was so nice to have someone I love to talk to and hold my hand.  

Day 4

As was explained to me yesterday.  Today I woke up, gave a urinalisis, and two seringes full of blood all before I had really woken up.  I think they may have given me a sleepy drug last night because I was really really tired this morning.  

Scott and I spent a lot of time today just sitting together.  He read to me from my book till I feel back asleep, I got two more butt shots, very very painful again.  Scott got internet connection for me so I can Skype with my parents tonight, can't wait for that.  My new hospital room is a little smaller and a little older.  No table and smaller wardrobes but here I have a microwave, a tv, a fridge and Scott, most of the time.  These things make me so happy.  I have privacy and a quieter atmosephere although still they like to change the trash in the bathroom at 5am.  What is up with that!?