A Plea and a Prayer for the Voiceless and Vulnerable

Where do I even start? I am rendered speechless by some of what I see happening in the world right now. And not speechless in a good way.

I understand rationally that anger stems from fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty, which we have in spades currently. So I get to some degree that what we are seeing with regards to the virus, opening plans, and people flouting the very simple protocols for keeping everyone safe from wearing masks to maintaining their distance are symptomatic of that. I recently read an article from Psychology Today, in fact, entitled What Your Anger May Be Hiding that explains anger very rationally. Did you know that when someone is angry the brain releases a chemical that stimulates a numbing sensation while establishing a sense of security and control over a situation? I did not, but it explains so much.

I guess I thought and hoped we were more evolved than that and that we could recognize anger for what it is and modify our behavior. Clearly not. And that’s disappointing. Most disappointing of all is how there appears to be a cultural disregard for the most vulnerable people among us currently. If I hear one more time, “oh, yea, a lot of people have died but most of them were old” I am going to explode. WTF kind of attitude is that? Damn.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.” from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Anyway, I am rambling. I felt like I needed to acknowledge that because it’s been bugging me and making me sad. But I don’t want to focus on it. What I want to do is to say a prayer for the voiceless and vulnerable, for the elderly, our elders; for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia; for those in care homes; for those with other health vulnerabilities; for those in places like rural Guatemala and rural Madagascar and so many other places in the world (including the inner city and parts of rural America) that are disconnected from the regular news cycle so we don’t hear their plight – both because they don’t have a platform to tell it and because no one is listening. Amidst all the quiet of this time, it’s remarkable the cacophony we humans can stir up to distract ourselves and still not LISTEN.

I don’t want to dwell on this. I want to focus on the good stuff, the stories of hope and kindness where you would least expect to find them! It’s my whole mission here and really this is the stuff of grace and humanity that needs to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

In today’s episode, we have video footage of Girl Pioneers from the MAIA Impact School reporting from their homes in rural Guatemala on what life is like in quarantine for them, thanks to donated devices that have been distributed to the students and the MAIA Impact School’s on-going work to give these girls and their families a platform from which to be heard and seen.

You can read more about the students, their lives, and MAIA’s response to COVID @ https://www.maiaimpact.org/maias-response-covid19

More to come!

Each day is a blessing in whatever form it comes – don’t squander it!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Indigenous Woman Poem

 

 

Island Hopping – to Jamaica and Cuba!

Our tour of island nations continues, but this time we are traveling to the green-blue and warm waters of the Caribbean and the beautiful island nations of Jamaica and Cuba!!!

Map of Cuba and Jamaica

Cuba is a mysterious and alluring country. It is also mountainous, which I did not expect. In my mind for some reason I assumed it was flat. But it’s not. Not at all. From the Gulf of Mexico you can see it’s undulating, lush hillsides and somewhat imagine what it must look like within. Unique and beautiful historic architecture, brightly colored buildings, and old time cars that have been miraculously preserved and maintained define most people’s mental image of Cuba. If we have a notion of Cuba at all, it is these images from Havana that dominate. Today we are so lucky to be able to wander through Cuba in our imaginations thanks to photographer and creative Janice Kwan (follow her on Instagram @jwkwan and @kitrknits for more photos and other awesome creative work, including her gorgeous hand-knit pieces).

She has so many awesome images I didn’t even know where to start so I put together a slideshow. Check out the colors, the cobblestoned streets, the lighting, the purples and blues in the sky contrasted against those heavy, hovering clouds, Castro’s omnipresence. What do you see?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Outside of Havana, the Cuba is more rural. You can get a real taste for Cuba and some powerful visual descriptions and cultural (and revolutionary) understanding by reading Our Woman in Havana by Vicky Huddleston (a former U.S. diplomat to Cuba) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. 

Just south of Cuba is Jamaica. In fact Jamaica is very close to Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know how I missed it, but Guantanamo Bay is on the island of Cuba, just kind of fenced off from the rest of Cuba. I of course have heard of Guantanamo Bay, but it didn’t occur to me to think about exactly where it was. I was pretty surprised to discover it’s on Cuba of all places.

Anyway, a Jamaican friend sent me news from late March reporting that 144 Cuban health workers had arrived in Jamaica to help with the Coronavirus outbreak. This was his example of good news happening in his part of the world.

I had to pause to weigh how opportunistic versus humanitarian this show of support was on Cuba’s part and to wrestle with the possibility of our differing perspectives on Cuba’s intent. Since I am U.S.-based, the Cuban government’s actions come laden with a dose of skepticism. What is opportunistic propaganda and what is solidarity and selflessness? I am going to guess that there is gray area, perhaps it’s a bit of both, and it depends who you ask. Of course I am not professing to the U.S. government’s innocence either, to be clear. Surely many good deeds are born of strategic as well as altruistic intent.

Cuba has been sending doctors on international medical missions primarily to poorer countries all over the world for years. Currently, in fact, it has about 37,000 workers in 67 different countries. They provide more health care personnel to the developing world than all of the G8 countries combined. This is partially propaganda, but it is also a major source of revenue for the Cuban government. The U.S. has called into question the labor conditions and pay of Cuban physicians, and as part of increasing sanctions the U.S. discourages other countries from hosting these Cuban medical missions (for more on that, click this link to an Associated Press article from April 3). That said, Cuban physicians are generally quite well-trained, well-liked, and well-received wherever they go.

In the case of COVID, Cuban doctors have been on the front line in Italy since mid-March. From a practical standpoint, they are experienced with this virus and ready to assist better than many in the western hemisphere. There are also A LOT of them. Did you know that Cuba has more doctors per capita than the U.S.? In fact, it is ranked third in the world for the number of doctors per capita (67.2 per 10,000 people according to the World Atlas). WHY are there so many doctors in Cuba, you ask? That results from half of the nation’s doctors fleeing during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and Fidel Castro subsequently promoting medical education as part of a national project to reconstitute their medical corps. Universal health care is also a defining feature of communist principles.

Of course, it’s possible that the training required to become a doctor in Cuba isn’t the same as in other countries, and that that is part of the explanation for the differential in numbers. But Cuba’s health care system is widely praised and life expectancy and infant mortality in Cuba are the same as in the U.S. (if you believe the Cuban government’s statistics, which they do not allow to be independently verified). It appears they are onto something there, but no matter how you slice it, for a virus that seems to require all hands on deck a surplus of well-trained physicians seems like a welcome bright spot on an otherwise gloomy horizon. Propaganda or not, well-trained medical personnel descending en masse to help a neighboring country that isn’t as well prepared to manage it is good news.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

 

 

Off to Jersey

Recently there’s been a proliferation of organizations working to feed the medical front line as they care for the overwhelming volume of sick patients. I came across one in Jersey and thought that would be a cool place to go visit so Feed Our Frontline and the lovely island of Jersey get the spotlight today.

No, not NEW Jersey. Jersey. The original Jerz. As in one of the Channel Islands. The other large Channel Island you might have heard of is Guernsey.

Feed Our Frontline provides meals to healthcare workers while also supporting local restaurants. They work with area hospitals to identify those with the greatest need. Meals can be purchased for individuals as well as their families. Service has been expanded to include the elderly and vulnerable individuals across the islands. A U.S.-based organization, Off Their Plate, is doing similar work, simultaneously feeding the front line while providing employment to hourly shift workers at restaurants.

Ever since I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which I highly recommend) I have been fascinated with these islands floating out in the English Channel in between France and England. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live on an island. Okay, I can imagine it, but I can’t imagine actually doing it myself.

So I think about these places and wonder what it must be like to live there in general, but specifically what it must have been like to live there when they were occupied by the Germans in World War II and now what it must be like to live there during a pandemic. I can’t decide if we all live on islands now or if that sensation of nowhere to run would be all the more intense on an island. I imagine that the impacts of a pandemic would be experienced exponentially on an island where there are more personal connections to families for generations, more limited supply lines coming from offshore, possibly more likelihood of the virus just being passed around and around (not sure, I am not an epidemiologist, just speculating).

A bit of history – both Jersey and Guernsey are closer to France than to England but speak English as their primary language (though a portion of the population does also still speak their own version of French (Jerriais or Guernesiais)). From what I understand, because it’s a little complicated, the islands are parliamentary representative democracies and British Crown dependencies. They are fairly self-run, doing their own thing in terms of governance and trade, but at the same time they are preparing for Brexit and are protected by the UK in terms of defense. It’s beyond the scope of my brain capacity at this exact moment to delve deeper into that. Maybe I will at another point in history when I am not interrupted every 5 minutes and then suddenly two days goes by between my last cohesive thought and my next one. Both islands use the British Pound for currency and have the same international calling code as the UK (44). They simultaneously have French influence so you can get your baguette and cafe and then run down the street for some fish and chips.

Fun facts: Jersey has toads and snakes on it but Guernsey doesn’t. Victor Hugo spent many years in exile on both Jersey and Guernsey. And they also have a bit of a reputation for being tax havens, but let’s not dwell on that for the moment.

I have yet to make it to the Channel islands myself, but in 2016 I had a neat email encounter with a Guernsian who runs a robust shop on rue de L’Epinal in Forest, Guernsey, called Ounsworth Decor. If you know me, you’ll know why that caught my eye.

I had just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society again and this time did a little google search to learn more about the island. I reached out to the shop to ask about the shop’s history and the island itself and was delighted to receive a reply. From that, I learned that Guernsey is 30 square miles with a population of 63,000. Most “Guerns” originate in Normandy, France (though the founder of Ounsworth Decor came from Yorkshire, England).

They speak English with a Cornish/Australian accent. There is a local dialect called Guernesiais which was spoken by most islanders up until the first world war. There is a strong Breton (Brittany in France) connection. With regards to sport Guerns always support England but that doesn’t stop some from having a strong French connection. A lot of locals have property in France. Guernsey has their own football team (soccer), Guernsey FC, that play in the UK league.

All goods come to Guernsey from the UK and they use the Guernsey Pound on the island. It is however not valid in the UK, though the UK Pound is valid in Guernsey. Guernsey is was never part of the EU, though the UK was/is?

So, there you have it! A little window into an unfamiliar world. And, by the way, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is now a film. It’s filmed in Cornwall, England, but unless you live on Jersey or Guernsey you likely won’t know the difference.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hope is like a drop of honey quote

 

Song for the times

This one speaks for itself. The words are perfect for right now, even though the song was released in 1994! I remember it from then, but if you haven’t heard it before it’s timeless and super appropriate for now. The emphasis added by bolding is mine. Those lines get me every time. In 1994 and today. And, also, I am apparently old :-).

None of us will miss this storm. It’s raging all around us now. I’d love to know the end of this chapter, to avoid some of the tougher parts, to know how it’s going to turn out (and of course dreaming that it’s going to turn out okay). But we can’t know that. We are in this and we are in deep. Dive into the well of courage and inner-strength in your heart (dig a deeper well if you need to – moments like these, when we face adversity and are tested, force us to evolve and flex our resiliency muscles), love your neighbors and lift them up (all of them – remember we are ALL human and we are all in this together), and think about how we can do and be better on the other side. Hold on tight. This is one rickety old roller coaster and we are in for some shaking. But that’s where we need to go. And then we will move forward and move on. Changed. Wounded. But oddly stronger.

Woodsong by the Indigo Girls

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
My friends and I have had a tough time
Bruising our brains hard up against change
All the old dogs and the magician

Now I see we’re in the boat in two by twos
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to
Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
Was built by other than a greater hand
With a love that passes all out understanding
Watching closely over the journey

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside
Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
To get us where we are this far yeah

But the question drowns in it’s futility
And even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

The wood is tired and the wood is old
We’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Listen here.

Songwriters: EMILY ANN SALIERS

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
For non-commercial use only.
Data From: LyricFind

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hardy Chalk art2

Staying Put

To be fair, the U.S. is so big there’s no way I could get to all the stories in one little post. So, here’s more!

First, I finally finished my puzzle. So yeah! Small victories.

Second, the suddenly open access to culture and museums and places and worlds that were previously held at a distance to us mere mortals is one of the silver linings of this challenging time. Within days of our outer worlds shutting down, cultural opportunities proliferated.

Thanks to this, ummm, situation I went to my first opera at the MET. They have been allowing free streaming of their Live in HD performances. I have always been curious about this esteemed cultural institution, so this was an exciting opportunity to check out what it’s all about. Truth? Opera isn’t for me. But even an unsophisticated observer like me can appreciate the costumes, the voice ranges, and the talent required to combine singing like that with acting.

More up my alley, the Indigo Girls played a live show that we could all stream in our living rooms. And there were tears in my living room, I can tell you. It was such an unexpected portal into the broader world. Hearing the Indigo Girls transported me right out of here and now and into the past with a heaping dose of unexpected nostalgia.

Beyond the Indigo Girls and opera, talented professionals across many creative fields have generously opened their homes, studios, museums, and performance venues to entertain us. Children’s authors Jarrett Krosoczka and Mo Willems hold daily writing and drawing classes for children. Olaf from the movie Frozen is reading bedtime stories to children. Yoga and crossfit studios have gone digital. You can tour numerous museums, go to the zoo, or visit a national park. And of course there is @John Krasinski from the Office totally stealing my idea and creating the Some Good News (@somegoodnews) news program that ONLY FEATURES GOOD NEWS. What a novel idea. And of course he is hilarious and just slightly more famous than me so I support his effort.

Is experiencing these cultural places virtually the same as seeing it, being there, experiencing it for real? No, of course not. But, does it break through isolation and provide access to worlds previously held at a distance, places that many would never have been able to experience at all? Well, yes, it does. And, boy, does it ever gives us all something to dream about, not to mention something to do!

I dream of one day going to every single place I profile during this virtual journey and hugging ALL the people, everywhere. Dreams help enormously right now. A little escapism never hurt anyone, right? Generous people giving of their talents to keep us all entertained at this time help tremendously. And, I want to note that I find this sudden turn toward the stalwarts of civilization – books, art, music, culture- fascinating. In the U.S. the arts often don’t get their fair shake. They are considered superfluous and perpetually underfunded. And, yet, when the shit hits the fan, look what anchors us all.

I’ll leave you with this. Truly, what the world needs now is love. And hope.

OH! And I forgot to recommend some good books for this part of the tour. Well, one of my favorites is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. A truly gorgeous book about pioneering in the American West. Or how about The Overstory by Richard Powers? Or The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah? Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance could also be interesting during this time to frame the political conundrum, to put it gently, the U.S. finds itself in. Those should keep you busy for a while.

Until next time.

Stay home, stay well.

You will be alright. WE will be alright.

Prayers to all of us during this season of Passover and Easter. Hopefully the tempest will pass over soon and we will all be finding re-birth and renewal in its wake.

Mais, oui! Paris is always a good idea

Whoops. A little trigger happy! I guess I needed to go to Paris sooner than planned :-)!

Even now, the City of Light beckons. The fruit grocer still mans his post, providing fresh produce to shoppers who leave their flats for essentials. Walks/outside time is limited to 30 minutes per day. Police fine those who flout these restrictions.

But the resolve, vivid color, and poetry of French life continues even in this adjusted, more limited world.

Here is an information sign from Paris: “I stay home, you stay home, he stays home, she stays home, and life will become beautiful again!”

France sign

In the evenings, neighbors across Paris open their windows and wave to each other. Everyone is craving connection and a reprieve from this feeling isolation (new phraseology to temper that sense of overwhelm from isolation is “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” but let’s be honest, call it what you will I’ve barely left my house in 3 weeks and I know it). Still, it helps to try to focus on the notion of remaining social while distant.

The other night my family sat around the dinner table and shared our rose (positive), thorn (negative), and bud (what we are looking forward to) for the day. We all said we were looking forward to when this quarantine period ends and the tsunami passes over. But I want to rephrase that so it’s more in the moment when we do that exercise again and ask instead, “what about this quarantine period will you miss when it’s over?”

What are you craving when you return to “normal”? What will you miss about these slow, quiet quarantine days?

France reads: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a very sweet trip down the Seine surrounded by books and a main character, Monsieur Perdu with a penchant for prescribing books for the hardships of life to mend hearts and souls. What do you think Monsieur Perdu would prescribe for today? Perdu means lost in French. Anyone else feeling a little perdu these days?

And a delicious French-ish movie is Chocolat (just the way it’s said makes my mouth water. Plus, I mean, chocolate is really one of the saving graces of these times.)

Merde!
This just seemed like a timely message

Next Stop – GUATEMALA!

Guatemala MapTouching down in Guatemala City, you’ll be surprised to see how modern the airport is. I was expecting it to be really rugged since Guatemala is a “developing country,” but it’s not – the airport anyway.

Oh, look! A mariachi band is waiting for us! You can see the glimmering floors, the drop ceiling and recessed lighting, the very modern arrivals area in the below video.

We are going to have a real adventure and take a chicken bus to a more rural part of Guatemala, mostly because I just love saying chicken bus and because, well, look at it! Chicken Bus2The chicken bus is a retired yellow school bus that migrated from the United States to Guatemala where it was given new life and transformed with wild paint, flashing lights, and blaring music into a means of public transportation. Pile on. No number of passengers is too many for the chicken bus! Did you take your dramamine? It’s a long, windy route to get where we are headed.

Notice as we leave Guatemala City heading West toward Solola and Lake Atitlan all of the U.S. influence here. Papa Gino’s, Starbucks, and Domino’s abound.

Outside the dirty bus window, you can watch the stunning Guatemala countryside whiz by as we navigate the chaotic and crowded roads at an uncomfortable clip. The weather is perennially spring-time – 75 degrees or so during the day, generally sunny, and 50’s at night. The countryside is lush and verdant, the bright pinks and yellows of tropical flowers adorning the roadside even in the most barren places. In the distance, Volcan del Fuego perpetually puffs wisps of smoke into the air. The smells of cooking, wood burning, and exhaust permeate the air. There is rarely a moment of quiet between the honking cars, chirping birds, and barking dogs.

Everywhere you look you will see women in their traditional dress, the traje. The Mayan culture remains strong, despite the Spanish colonial and American influences. The cultural customs of modesty and honoring the ancestors remain guiding pillars of life here, especially in rural communities. Twenty-one (21) different Mayan languages are still the primary languages used in Guatemala’s Mayan communities.

Which is where we run headlong into an issue with the Coronavirus. This virus has the potential to be a crisis on an epic scale in developing countries like Guatemala. The health system here was already one of the weakest in the hemisphere. All of the government information – and it is abundant (Guatemala has closed its borders and has been incredibly restrictive and proactive about isolating the virus) – is in Spanish.

Most rural communities here are remote, have no internet access, do not speak Spanish, and typically do not read or write. Radio remains the primary form of communication. Which is why it’s all the more stunning and impressive to see the MAIA Impact School, based in Solola, immediately begin to assess where their skills and relationships can be most helpful and take proactive action. In this space of limited resources, MAIA leads with ingenuity and heart.

As a school for rural, poor, indigenous girls run by indigenous women, MAIA works with some of the most vulnerable populations in this part of the world. MAIA has worked hard to build relationships with families and to gain the trust of community councils in the region they serve. Family engagement is an enormous part of each student’s education (as this video shows).

As soon as Coronavirus began creeping its way across the world, MAIA realized it was uniquely positioned to assist the rural villages and address some of the issues that the they will face. The first thing they did was to quickly compile home school packets for all of the students. Without access to the internet, this pause in school could prove to be a major setback for learners who already had substantial obstacles in their way. These home school materials aim to keep the girls connected to their MAIA community and persevering through this pause on the path toward their educational goals.

The second initiative they undertook was to begin to address the major information gap facing rural villages. They created videos that translate the government’s Spanish information into the Mayan languages of the rural villages and posted those videos on MAIA’s social media pages. The videos quickly became the most viewed and shared content on their pages ever. You can watch them here. Better, though, for the state of our souls currently, are the bloopers. They exude humanity and love and light even if you don’t understand the words.

MAIA continues to explore ways to reach the rural villages, but also is trying to figure out how best to report out from the villages to media outlets. The plight of rural villages will be profoundly difficult and there is a real risk that it will go unnoticed since there is no movement in or out of these places.

As we move along in our virtual travels and in our individual worlds, in this moment of profound quiet, how can we be proactive? How are we each uniquely positioned to make a meaningful difference, now and going forward? What’s next when we get through this period of “new normal”? Back to normal? Is that good enough?

I am wondering how we can galvanize this moment of extreme slowing down and re-evaluating to shepherd in a new paradigm; how we can look to a future that does things differently, more equitably, a world that engages more people more completely. MAIA models a different way of doing things, and a respectful and bold approach to change. This is our collective moment to rise up, not only to get through this social isolation but to fundamentally change business as usual.

You will be all right. WE will be all right. And, in fact, we can be better.

Stay well, stay home.

I am currently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

Specific reading to Guatemala:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” – Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala” – Daniel Wilkinson

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?” – Francisco Goldman

A Beauty that Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala” – W. George Lovell

When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep: This is a beautiful novel that will give you a sense of time, place, and history—all woven together into a compelling narrative that makes it endlessly readable.

Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings (Kindle Edition): If Maya history is your thing, then this is the definitive guide. It gives the backstory you need to fully enjoy the numerous Maya temples you’ll visit while traveling Central America.

A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya: Descend into the Mayan culture throughout Mexico, Belize and Guatemala in this travel narrative that dives deep into the regional culture, ancient Mayan beliefs about time, as well as a look at modern Mayan culture.

Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya: A fascinating tale chronicling the two men who traveled through the Yucatán and Central America in search of the Maya Kingdom, and brought this ancient civilization back to the world.

 

 

Stealing the Show – in Spain

My son tells me that people usually stay two days on average in places they visit, that that’s a fact. I don’t know where he gets his info, but he’s a tween and he seems to know everything these days so I’ll go with it. Based on this sage advice, but erring on the side of that-seems-really-ambitious-because-no-one-will-be-fed-in-that-case, I will post a new location in our journey every three days until I run out of ideas or run out of steam. Follow my blog to have these little visits arrive directly into your email box.

I’ll warn you, fellow travelers, that when I travel I want to see it ALL (except if it involves a museum, in which I case I’ll wait for you outside unless it’s raining). I also do not travel in a linear fashion (that quote “all who wander are not lost” may or may not have been about me).

So, yep, while I excel at being efficient and organized, I also tend to be driven by my passion (and the cheapest plane fare). I can assure you that there are just a few places between Maui and Spain that require a stopover, but, for now, we just have to go to Spain because I have stories to share from there that just can’t wait. Everyone in between, if you have an empowering story that needs to be shared here, email it to me at misste259@gmail.com!

I have two stories from Spain and both fall into the category of “things are not always what they seem.” Such simple and beautiful displays of humanity.

First stop, Vigo, the largest fishing port in Europe and an industrial mainstay in the Spanish economy. It’s a city that’s a funny mix of industrial meets Roman architecture meets the seaside on the northwestern coast of Spain just north of Portugal.

An 80-something man named Hermann lives in Vigo. Here here is playing his harmonica from the window of his apartment. In the background you can hear voracious clapping. Is it for his music? I don’t want to spoil it. Watch and then read on…

View this post on Instagram

🎼 Hermann es octogenario y sufre alzheimer, pero no ha olvidado cómo tocar la armónica. Cuando la gente aplaude estos días a los sanitarios desde sus balcones, durante la cuarentena por el #coronavirus, él sale a tocar desde su ventana en Vigo y cree que todas esas personas le ovacionan. A esa sensación, la de sentir que está ante su público, él no ha llegado por una ocurrencia cualquiera. Se lo ha hecho creer así la persona que lo asiste, Tamara Sayar. “Pedazo concierto, eh, Hermann", "¿Ves? Te has puesto nervioso. Mucho público. Yo entiendo", le dice esta sanitaria en cada vídeo que graba de sus conciertos. Él sonríe, sigue soplando y al final bate sus propias palmas sobre la dulzaina, sumándose a la ovación. #covid_19 #covid19 #coronavirusespaña

A post shared by Agencia EFE (@efe_noticias) on

Quarantined in their homes, everywhere across Spain, every night at a designated time, people come to their windows or balconies and clap for the medical staff.

Imagine that. At the same time, all across the country, doctors and nurses are given a standing ovation. As they should be.

But where does Hermann fit in this? Hermann has Alzheimer’s, but has not forgotten how to play his harmonica. His caregiver says to him, “What a concert, Hermann! You got nervous. Such a big audience. I understand.”

Look at the delight on his face. I mean, what else is there to say? There is such beauty and love captured in this moment, both as we share this man’s wonder in his moment of stardom as well as the love of his caregiver, while on a national level we witness citizens come out in unison to honor the medical community. It leaves me speechless.

But, wait, that’s not all! We aren’t done here in Spain yet! Let’s jet way on over to the other side, sliding right off the eastern coast for a brief dip in the Mediterranean before we reach the island of Mallorca. The land here is mountainous, rocky, sandy, salty, and also stunningly beautiful. Plants and trees – and people – find ways to grow and thrive in the most surprising and challenging of places – and times. Olive groves abound. In the air is the faint smell of orange and lemon trees warming in the sun. Almonds are in bloom at this time of year, white flowers blossoming as far as the eye can see.

And on the streets, during this time of quarantine, the police are keeping an eye on things and making sure that everyone is safe and well:

In this case, the police came to entertain the children and cheer them up. That was not what I expected. And it warmed my heart.

This is a good time to remember how we sooth children when they have nightmares. We do not google the symptoms or entertain all the “what if” scenarios and fan the flames. Instead, we calm, we console, we give hugs, we reassure. That’s what we need to do for ourselves right now. All of us. Collectively. A big, compassionate hug. Because when you aren’t living a nightmare and stressing out completely, you can be strong and resilient, committed and compassionate. And that’s what we all need right now.

You will be all right. WE will be all right.

For books on or in Spain, you can always pick up Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Sun Also Rises. Based on some of my Facebook feeds, I wonder if I would do well to recommend regional wines as well ;-).

See you next time…off to another Spanish-speaking country next, but this one a former colony. Hasta luego! Stay well, stay home.Bilingual versus an idiot

 

 

Time to Put On Our Rally Caps!

I am overwhelmed. I am going to put that straight out in front. This is one helluva time and I think I have experienced every emotion under the sun (or rain) in the past 9 days. Has it been 9 days? Who knows. What day is it? Does it really matter?

Let’s start where we should all be starting, especially these days: with a big deep breath.

BreatheAlways, always start here. Breathe.

Cherish every single deep, easy breath you have. I notice and value those long, slow exhales and rejuvenating inhales now more than ever. Breathing deep and clear is a gift. Enjoy every single one.

Another gift: how much the notion of putting your own oxygen mask on first resonates in this moment. I certainly pray that no one needs an actual oxygen mask anytime soon, but also hope that this metaphorical one will provide sustenance and inspiration during these uncertain times. OlafTune in when you need hope, solidarity, or just something to do! I am no FDR, but hopefully you’ll find reassurance in this modern day fireside chat and Olaf-like warm (virtual) hug.

As I was saying, this last week was something else. I found myself embracing the moment (or trying to) while grieving for the sudden rupture in our lives. One moment I was riding the tide of enthusiasm and I-can-do-this, the next I was crashing headlong into I-am-not-a-circus-performer and I need some serious me-time. I am despondent over the impact on the economy, small businesses and those who are financially insecure or otherwise vulnerable. I have dug myself emotionally into a hole and climbed back out again, struggling at times, on multiple occasions. I have reckoned with my mortality and what we need to do to get our affairs in order – just in case – while attempting to keep my kids content, reassured, and in some semblance of a routine. Did I mention me-time? I don’t understand quite how it happened, but while I go nowhere I simultaneously have less time and way more to do.

What I have learned, once again and in spades, is that I cannot be all things to all people all the time. First and foremost in this current iteration of life, I am not a teacher, and certainly not of math. All hail teachers! I’ve always wondered how they do it, and daily I accept more fully that it’s a calling and it’s not mine. But I totally get this equation, and this is what I really want to talk about:

Anxiety = Uncertainty * Powerlessness

My intrepid and wise friend, Nicole, of Sailor’s Sweet Life, shared that with me and encouraged me to find ways to empower myself to combat that sense of powerlessness.

As I go about my days here, cleaning and cooking and doing obscene amounts of laundry and dishes and teaching and loving and trying to work and wanting to write and also wanting to run away (flee instinct firmly intact), I have been reflecting on that notion of empowerment and what empowers me. And I realized that I feel most empowered when I am engaging with and learning about other people and how they see and experience life. If I have a calling, connecting with people from all over the world and then connecting them to each other is possibly it. I love to discover what makes us similar, how we are different, to hear their stories and learn more about their lives.

In this odd moment in history, we are all connected perhaps more than ever. And we are all existing and navigating this moment in our own ways, with our own perspectives. Never has the broader world been so inaccessible yet so connected. Instead of feeling grounded and trapped, I have decided to embark on an adventure of connection and imagination.

So, fasten your seat belts and put your tray table up because we are going to travel together, virtually, all around the globe. My upcoming blog posts will feature the brilliant, simple, proactive, compassionate, empowering acts of humanity, humility, kindness, beauty, and wonder that I have seen unfolding during this unusual and uncertain time. I’ll try to tie our travels to a good book recommendation related to that destination, as reading is one of life’s simplest and most wonderful of pleasures (IMO!). Please share with me stories from your corner of the world, too!

And, remember, in an emergency oxygen masks will automatically drop down from the overhead compartment. To start the flow of oxygen, take a deep breath and then continue to breathe normally. Although nothing really changes, oxygen is flowing and you will feel so much better. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.

And we are off! Next stop: MAUI and the Merwin Conservancy! Pack Moloka’i by Alan Brennert for this journey. Or The Folding Cliffs by The Merwin Conservancy’s W.S. Merwin himself!

Molokai Map

This is our hour to rise up. This is the time to love our neighbors as ourselves (from a safe distance). We need to act, as one – now – to save lives and to avoid totally preventable loss and suffering. Never before has it been possible to do so much for so many with the simple act of staying home. It’s simple, and it’s also so hard. I get that. But it’s completely necessary. Let’s do this. Rally! Rally! Rally #flattenthecurve #stayhome #cometravel(virtually)withme #putyourownoxygenmaskonfirst #whatsparksjoyismysanity #permissiontobehuman

 

 

 

A Clean Sweep – and a Win for the Power of Hope, Resiliency, and Perseverance

Dear Readers,

Let me start by saying thank you for reading! I am so grateful for your interest and your time. I certainly have days, sometimes full strings of days, where I can’t read beyond the news headlines let alone a deep dive into a blog post. So, thank you for setting aside time to read on! As I have mentioned before, I also have days in which I wonder what’s the point, does it really matter, is anybody out there? But then I hear from readers who tell me that what I wrote changed how they felt and, well, that is the very definition of making a difference.

Imagine: if in our daily lives we are confronted with feelings of “what’s the point?”, “it’s bigger than me,” “I couldn’t possibly make a difference,” what must it be like as an indigenous girl in rural Guatemala, where from any early age you are taught that you have no worth and where everything you experience tells you that you are an afterthought? Worse, as you get older, the tide pushes ever harder against you because of cultural norms and systemic racism, poverty, limited and inadequate educational options, no professional network, the wrong last name. How many times must these women feel hopeless and powerless in the face of forces much bigger than them?

But then someone with a bold and completely audacious vision steps in and begins to construct the building blocks to change all that by educating one girl, one family at a time. And guess what? OH MY GOSH, it is working! MAIA set out ten years ago with a mission to unlock and maximize the potential of young women to lead transformational change. And the MAIA Girl Pioneers are doing it!

The most recent proof of that? On Wednesday night three Girl Pioneers competed in the final round of a national competition called Ella Impacta (She Impacts). The contest, sponsored by the international organization Vital Voices, focused on giving young women a stage to share their social impact visions. Contestants came from across Guatemala, including the elite private schools and universities. Over the past few months, the contestants received mentorship and training on how to design and present projects. On Wednesday night they each made their final “pitch” to a panel of judges.

MAIA Girl Pioneers won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place! 

MAIA Contest Winners and XocoMAIA
MAIA Contestants with their Mentor and XocoMAIA (Guatemala City) Supporters

Remember, in Guatemala, the average Maya teenage girl obtains only 3.5 years of education. Only 10 percent of indigenous girls in rural Guatemala are enrolled in secondary school, and fewer than one percent continue on to university. Add to those disturbing statistics that even when families do invest in the promise of education, the substandard quality of Guatemalan schools fails them. According to the Guatemalan Ministry of Education only 10 percent of high school graduates meet international standards of literacy, and only 9 percent reach the standards of math comprehension.

Given all of those statistics, it’s incredible that these girls are even at the table. But a clean sweep of the competition?!?!? These pioneers are no longer in the shadows. They are striving forward, proving out a model for change. The formula: bold, audacious, committed action towards a vision; building robust partnerships within the community and beyond, from mentors to the XocoMAIA supporters in Guatemala City to Guatemalan and U.S. donors; living a growth mindset, perseverance and resiliency daily. You want an example of grit? MAIA and the Girl Pioneers live it every single day.

So, what were the projects that these pioneering young women put forth?

The first place winner, a 10th grader named Claudia Marisol, designed a project called Huertos Familiares (Family Orchards) to address malnutrition in her village by growing diverse fruits and vegetables locally. This project builds on her experience with the MAIA garden plot that was jumpstarted by the school’s 2019 Zayed Sustainability Prize award. Claudia received $1,000 as seed money to launch her initiative and will travel to New York City for the next stage of the competition.

The second place winner, Norma Alicia, pitched a pre-school called Paso A Paso (Step By Step) for her community to give kids a running start into elementary school. She won $500 to begin her project.

The third place winner, Rosa Angelica, proposed a social entrepreneurship project to augment the opportunities for female artisanal crafters in her community.

MAIA Students with US Ambassador
(Left to Right:) MAIA Mentor Silvia, MAIA Student Rosa Angelica, U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga, MAIA Student Claudia Marisol, and MAIA Student Norma Alicia

What’s the point? This, this right here. The problem is too big? It is big, and there are lots of big problems. You couldn’t possibly make a difference? Start by making a difference one person at a time. A small kindness, a shared story, an honest vulnerability, an unexpected smile to a stranger, a hug and gentle reassurance to an Alzheimer’s patient, even if they won’t remember.

Dive in! Too many too big problems means there is ample opportunity to create meaningful change and make an impact in someone’s life. It’s amazing what people can do with hope, a path, resources, and support. And, if you are very lucky, one day you get the chance to watch them soar. Today is my lucky day. Congratulations to all of the students and staff at MAIA Impact School! Abrazos fuertes a todos!MAIA Logo