Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rodney's at home; or, ¿Dónde está Pedro the Chicken?

When six Filipinos knock on your door at 8 am asking to pick up your furniture, it's all good---you know it's delivery day! Sure enough, in less than 10 minutes, 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a den's worth of The World's Most Uncomfortable Loaner Furniture was in 2 pick-ups and driving down the road, and in less time than it took me to plug in the vacuum and do a quick once-over, a team of Jamaicans was at the door with 8 crates of HHG (that would be House Hold Goods).

(and yes, it's normal for Filipinos and Jamaicans to knock on your door to do a job---there are more Filipino and Jamaican Nationals here than Americans. They've been doing the manual labor jobs on the base for years---and at a small fraction of what Americans would make for the same job).

We took a look and thought, "that doesn't look like THAT much stuff." Then one of the deliverymen said, "By the way, we have six more crates at the warehouse."

The first eight crates. . . the goal is to have this much or less total for the next move.

So as we are waiting for the crates to unload, we keep waiting---and waiting---and waiting for the large rug that goes under all the den furniture. It's hard to arrange and rearrange furniture and boxes when you're trying to make room for a large rug. And you know the saying about a special rug:

Want to guess what was the very, very last thing unpacked out of 14 crates---14,000 lbs---of HHG? 

Yep, the rug. 


Anyway, we are STILL unpacking. Still haven't found the following: bedroom lamps (although I did find the shades), glass shelves for china cabinet (everything is sitting around it, waiting to be displayed), Gray's electric guitar, and Pedro, my white-trash, yard-art chicken made out of a 55 gallon drum from Mexico. If I ever find Pedro, I will make sure he gets a picture on the blog. 

I know they are here, because a)all the crates were nailed shut and sealed from Texas; and b) we still have 50 or so boxes of assorted sizes to unpack. 

I really thought we downsized before moving here. 

We have a long way to go on the road to minimalism. 

For instance---books. I still can't believe the amount of books we own. We got rid of so many---are these things multiplying while we are sleeping? I could start a bookstore in my house. But want to guess what was the first thing I set up? Before I set up the kitchen or bathrooms, made the beds, etc., I had to put my books up. And I'm a little obsessive over them---they have to be sorted by author, not alphabetically but by publication date, with non-fiction in one bookcase, fiction in the other (you'd think I'm a librarian or something). I don't expect many people to understand how happy my books make me (thankfully, my husband gets it---or at least tolerates it), but I feel best when I'm surrounded by them. I'm such a big nerd, I bought a ream of mylar and a bone tool years before library school was in my sights because I love my books that much. (And you, too, are a book nerd if you know what mylar and a bone tool are). My 1st CANADIAN edition of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (signed!) made it----if that sentence just gave you chill bumps, you are, indeed, one of my people. 

Just a fraction of the books, next to the infamous Dude Chair. 

Some things I have found that made me happy: Rodney, the stuffed squirrel (yes, a real taxidermied squirrel that is older than I am) that's been in my family for years (since there are no squirrels in Cuba, he may be the only one on the island);  lots of canned and dry goods you can't find at the Commissary (yay!); and my bottle tree (and accompanying box of bottles I carefully collected for a year---none were broken). 

The delivery man who brought the bottle tree to the back yard asked the husband what it was. As he tried to explain, the guy interrupted and said, "Ah, yes, we have these in Jamaica!" and asked if I put blue bottles on it. He so gets it!!! I could have hugged his neck. Nobody in Texas seemed to understand the mystique of the bottle tree. Bless their little Texan hearts. Mississippian Felder Rushing has a great website that will explain all things related to the bottle tree, if you are curious and uninformed. 

What do you want to bet mine isn't the only bottle tree in Cuba? Maybe Gitmo, but I know they probably exist elsewhere on the island. 

A few days ago, some of the deliverymen came by to pick up our empty, unpacked boxes. I came out and talked to a couple of them about their Christmas. Can you imagine working in another country, away from your friends and family, your favorite food, and your culture, missing holidays and birthdays and weddings and funerals, maybe for years? Americans here can take a hop back at least once a year to see family, usually with their work picking up the tab. These guys (and ladies---they are outnumbered, but Filipinas and Jamaican women do work here, too) work hard and send money back to support other family members, much like Mexicans do in Texas. And like the Mexicans, they do hard work for a paycheck no American would accept.  

My kids have no idea how lucky they are to be born where they will never have to leave their country to support an extended family doing a manual labor job. 

Gotta keep unpacking---tomorrow morning at 0700 (that's 7 am, OUCH!), a Filipino crew is coming to replace the A/C unit in our house. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It is what it is; or, Why Gitmo is (really) Not Cuba

You know the Princess and the Pea story?

I am the (anti) princess living on a really, really bad mattress/box springs. 

The Fred Flintstone/World's Most Uncomfortable Furniture is about to go back into the hands of housing (thank you! but no thanks!) and our stuff is coming tomorrow! 

This is how I am coping: 

Any of you who have had the bizarre experience of working with me knows one of my many, many, many weird obsessions is post-it notes. My post-it notes have post-it notes. They are on my monitor. They are on the wall above my desk. I like them in all shapes and sizes. And I am now living in a house covered with bright pink post-its. How else will the movers know where the Dude Chair goes? 

And in case you are wondering, I'm one of those horrible, mean women who won't allow a Lazy-Boy in her house, so the compromise is the Dude Chair---a big, honking leather arm chair and ottoman that takes up way more room than a Lazy-Boy. (Before you go feeling all sorry for the hubby, you should have seen the almost 20 blissful married years' worth of sporting equipment in our garage when we were weeding out things to move). 

We have SO much stuff coming---something like 15K lbs. That's just ridiculous. When you stay somewhere for 10 years, you start to nest. I have a feeling the thrift/charity store is going to get a whole new inventory by the end of the holidays. 

Cuban Club=Gitmo's Only Cuban Restaurant

Here's the thing about living in Cuba---we aren't living in Cuba. Technically, we're on the island of Cuba. But for this 45 square mile area, we are on American soil. Unlike any other foreign base, we do not have any contact with the locals. We cannot leave the base---ever. Yes, there is still an embargo, so as Americans on American soil, we cannot purchase Cuban products. This includes cigars. 

So why would we want to live here as civilians if we aren't getting much Cuban culture? In many ways, we still are. There is a Cuban restaurant---from what I hear, it's authentic food (and we like it). The history of an American base on a Communist island is complicated----Spanish American War, Cold War, now just waiting out the end of the Castro regime. We can listen to the Cuban propaganda any time we want on the radio, and get the other side of the story by reading dissidents' online accounts of life in Cuba today. I look out my front door at night, and lit up like a long string of Christmas lights, is the fenceline. Sometimes it's hard to believe that a very short distance away, there are people living an entirely different life than anything I've ever known.

Sometimes we read (or see on BBC World News) stories about Las Damas de Blanco---the Ladies in White---who protest daily in Havana for the release of their male relatives and friends imprisoned for political reasons. Many of those imprisoned were journalists, political activists, and librarians.

The women have been marching since 2003, every day, rain or shine. There were 75 men jailed, most for at least 20 years.

Ladies standing by their men, fighting for freedom of speech. What's not to love?

On a clear day, we can see the closest town, Caimanera---some of the prisoners are held there. I'm hoping their time goes quickly. I have a feeling it isn't.

Although many people associate Gitmo with "that place"---you know the one, that place I am not going to discuss because it has absolutely nothing to do with why I'm here----there is another mission here, too. Cubans seeking political asylum come through Gitmo. They are welcomed and helped through the process. Hopefully, they can prove they are escaping to here for political reasons and not just financial ones, so they can then move on to the mainland.

There are crazy things going on in Texas (Succession! Ignorant multi-term governor! People wanting teachers to wear guns!), but Cuba makes Texas look plumb normal with all its going ons. And part of the experience of living here isn't travel, or language, or even food, but the exposure to the "other"---what you sometimes can't see, but you know is right there.

Travel, food, and shopping can come later. I'm grateful for what I have---not just the tangible that I hope to mostly give away, once it finally gets here tomorrow, but everything else that I often take for granted.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mr. Post Man, Bring Me My Stuff; or, It's on the Barge. . . to Oman

Husband, tonight: "We have a new sport! Guess where your mail has been!"

My dear mom mailed my birthday package on November 13, with plenty of time to get here.

In theory, anyway.

I should mention that this same dear mom taught first grade for over 30 years (yes, she deserves sainthood), and has the most beautiful, perfect manuscript print you can imagine.

So how THIS happened, I have no clue.

Don't you hate when your mail ends up in Oman?

Yes, THAT Oman.  "MISSENT TO MUSCAT"=You've got mail. . . in Oman.

Because if you dim the lights, squint one eye, stand on your head, and drink a bottle of tequila, my mom's perfect "09593" zip code looks like "09893."

Or maybe somebody just got sloppy and threw it on the wrong truck---sort of like when your flight ends up in New Orleans and your luggage ends up in Salt Lake City.

Either way, my Zero bars that have seen who-knows how many countries are still going to be delicious.  They are an extinct species on Gitmo, and you have no idea how little things make you happy until you've gone completely without them for a while.

Then there was this mail incident the same day:

Some poor schmuck named Ian on the USS Winston Churchill is looking for his hockey magazine that somehow got placed inside my ripped up New York magazine cover (but no magazine!). It's was a six week old New York, but that's much better than what we get here.

Our well-meaning but woefully inadequate magazine collection at the NEX/Commissary is laughable. Right now, we have October issues on the stands. . . in December. So in gossip time, the People magazines at the checkout are ancient history. I don't understand---are the magazines being sent here 4th class mail? Are they coming on the slow boat from China? With all that extra space created by a lack of butter, bacon, eggs, sour cream, and white bread (latest thing we don't have), they could send a box of current magazines on the weekly supply barge. I'm yet to see anyone buying a two month old magazine, and since they don't recycle paper here---they burn it in a landfill---it's just causing pollution.

And if you are wondering why I don't just look at them online, you obviously haven't been paying attention. :)

Other than wonky mail, and lack of current magazines, and the slowest internet possible, life's been busy.

Our dance cards have been full.  I guess you can be a hermit here, but it would take real, REAL effort. Recently, neighbors forced me to come to their house to play poker. And by forced, I mean they repeatedly called the house and said, "Do we need to come over and drag your ass out of your house?" after I hemmed and hawed the first few times they called. People here are persistent that you get out of your casa and socialize (or exercise---that's what another neighbor does. He's my husband's personal "no excuses!" trainer. If you don't feel like going out for a run, fine---there's a ridge that needs hiking just down the road).

It's so easy to come home from work, throw down that garage door, and barely say "hi" to the neighbors. Here, you know everyone, and chances are, you are borrowing things from at least one of them because your stuff is forever in transit. I love seeing people up and down the street standing on the sidewalks or in driveways socializing with their neighbors. And I may seem like a sociable person, but my comfort zone is being alone (and quiet--a rarity with two sons). In many ways, I am still that awkward middle schooler with social anxiety issues. Being in a situation where I constantly have to socialize has been very, very good for me.

And now---on to taping up signs where I want our furniture to go. Yes, happy day!---we have furniture and everything else coming next Thursday! Happy (late) birthday and (early) Merry Christmas to me!

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Will Always Lub You; or, Crack is Whack

Things that make me happy.

1) Express shipment came today. Amongst the goods was a gigantic container of . . .

Legos that span two generations. Thinking about my husband as a little boy in Belgium and Germany, playing with some of these exact same pieces, makes me happy. They've lived in four countries now.

2) I love Communist Propaganda. You read that right. Every morning, one of the Cuban stations plays a very dramatic story about This Day in Cuban history. A lady reads the first part of the story, then sad music plays (violins! wailing violins!), followed by a squeaky-voiced child who reads the rest, and completed by a chorus of children re-telling the whole ordeal in musical form.  My Spanish isn't perfect, but I get the general idea. My favorite was the day they told the story of the "criminales" in Cuba. The criminals were the Spanish, of course, and the lady, the child, and the song told about how the Cubans got their independence from the horrible, no-good, filthy Spanish. (At least I think that's what they were saying. It IS propaganda, after all).

No mention of those other criminales, the ones of who took control of Guantanamo Bay a few years later and made it the oldest overseas US Navy Base. Hmmm.

The same station, a couple of weeks ago, was playing various Latin artists from all over the Spanish speaking world, and then, the announcer said this:
"Y ahora, Meeeese Whitney Houston, con 'I Will Always Lub You."
It's the first and only time I've heard American music on the Cuban radio station.

I lub it.

3) Speaking of Whitney "Crack is Whack!" Houston, she would approve of yet another thing I LOVE about Gitmo. When entering the NEX, you are greeted by this sign:

I really wish that once it got warm (over 60 degrees) in Texas, there was a way to enforce this rule there. Yes, for the entire state. It's so nice to be behind someone with a big behind, bending over to get (or, in the case of our Commissary, snatch) that last container of sour cream, that last stick of butter, or that last pack of bacon, and not have your eyes assaulted by Too Much Crack. We've all been there. Do you look away? Do you throw up a little in your mouth? Or are you so used to it, you don't notice anymore? So the moratorium on Too Much Crack is nice at Gitmo. It still doesn't mean that people don't cram themselves into too-tight yoga pants to do errands. You can't force people to have taste (or common sense). But at least it's a start. 

And before you think, "no freedom of expression!" on Gitmo, you should check out the high school kids with their crazy dyed hair, tattoos, and piercings. It's much less oppressive than most Texas schools. And amazingly, they do better on their standardized tests. Guess it's not too distracting after all. 

Go figure. 

4) Trying to live this motto . .

isn't always easy, but I'm trying. Especially after getting the first 750 lbs of household goods today ("Express Shipment," I'm thinking that's supposed to be an ironic title since it's taken almost 2 months to get here on the barge, instead of the 30 days via air as my orders state). In addition to our old stuff, got some new stuff today in the mail, including a case of Method Cucumber Cleaner today. Yep, a case of eight, that's EIGHT, beautiful bottles of household cleaner. It's been a long six-week wait from purchase to delivery, but I like what I like, and maybe Communist propaganda on the radio has infiltrated my brain, because I love cleaning my new house---but only with very specific cleaning products (most of which we don't have here). So I have a case of Method cleaner, a large bottle of Mrs. Myers Lavender Laundry Detergent (thanks to Amazon), and if Santa would send me a case of those eraser sponges, I'd be a happy cleaner.

And Tyler Durden isn't real, anywho, so who cares what he thinks.

5). G got his acoustic bass guitar early for Christmas. He's loving it. And I'm loving that I walked by his room today, and he was playing . . .
part of the soundtrack of my college years. And then I realized that he is only 3 1/2 years away from college and although that's a lifetime for a teenager, it's just a blink and a nod for me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Merry Christmas Parade! or, How I Survived a Drive-By Assault

The kids and I decided to go to the GTMO Christmas parade last weekend. It is small and cute, and because of a hellacious rainstorm, it was postponed a day. I'm expecting a marching band, some floats, maybe with a pretty girl or two waving from a convertible, and lots of cute little kids in costumes. 

Well, that's small town Mississippi parade style, but it's not small American town Cuba (small Cuban town America?) style. 

Let me try to break down the GTMO Christmas Parade experience for you. 

First, it was supposed to start at 5 pm (that's 1700), but we had to wait until colors, so it started at 5:30 because there was no way they were going to stop an entire parade. All cars (and walkers and talkers) are expected to drop everything and be silent until music plays for about a minute every day. Parades are no exception. 

Then, there was no marching band---they played at the lyceum afterwards. Instead, there were golf carts and Jeeps (the unofficial car of GTMO---there are 8 on my little street) blaring Christmas music. 

The hill above town lit up with a huge (artificial) tree and several lighted wire structures, and then it began. 

The first float had cute kids---maybe the boy scouts?---and a few called out to my youngest. Then *BAM *POW*SPLAT* the candy came out of nowhere and hit us. Hard. In the face.

I'm thinking, poor lad has nobody to practice throwing ball with him, he's so bad. What a pity. 

But then it happened again. And again. And again. 

And then I realized that the entire point of the GTMO Christmas Parade is that as a participant, you assault spectators with candy. 

Which means that, conversely, you run like hell when you see someone with a handful of candy looking in your direction. 

Three points for the middle aged mom with a ponytail. Two points for the first grader sitting on the curb. Five points for the high schooler who is rolling around on the ground in hysterics. 

The kids and I went into the street between floats (all three of them) to get candy, and realized the folks in golf carts were trying to MOW US DOWN. You know those hideous inflatable snowmen? A driver had one of those on top, and she was zooming by so fast, it was bouncing 180 degrees. 

I'm not sure why we thought it was all so funny, but the kids and I laughed and laughed until we cried. I got pinged in the face, shoulders, and chest with THREE bags of candy total. There were also some potato chips, Hawaiian leis, and Mardi Gras beads thrown in the mix. 

The kids were pulling candy out of their clothes when we got home. Having lived through dozens and dozens of Mardi Gras parades didn't prepare me for the sheer volume of stuff that got thrown at us. 

Not TO us, but AT us.

Man, those beads especially hurt. 

The much older folks next to us weren't spared, either. One of them was crawling around on all fours getting candy, and precious little children were assaulting her, too. 

Did I mention this happened in only 10 minutes? It was the shortest parade I've ever seen in my life. And quite honestly, the funnest. 

(Just as some of you would object to the Gitmo parade being a real parade, some of you would object to "funnest" being a real word. I'm here to tell you that they both, in this instance, are very real). 

And now, the part of the program I like to call, "Things You Only Hear in Gitmo." 

1. Mommy! Mommy! It's 5:25 am! We still have power! Mommy! Mommy! It's 5:45 am! We still have power! Mommy! Mommy! It's 5:55 am! We still. . . oh oops, there goes the power!---heard on Saturday, the day of our scheduled six hour power outage for some sort of "grid repair." When you don't pay for electricity, you really can't complain. And yes, H is still keeping farmer's hours and is up at the crack of dawn. 

2. Yes, I know the commissary has been out of cream cheese for weeks, but I'll buy or barter for some.---entry in last week's roster. We've also been out of eggs, butter, sour cream, and bacon (whaaa!) for almost the entire last month. 

3. I'm becoming a hoarder. My daughter squealed in delight at sausage patties, and next thing I know, we've caused a mini riot in the frozen food section as everyone was grabbing what was left. ---coworker discussing the grocery shortage in this place. 

4. You know, there was a six foot boa slithering across your front yard a couple of weeks before you moved in. --- a neighbor, to us. Yikes! 

5. You need to dump that toad. Damn things will kill your dogs. ---neighbor telling me to get rid of the evidently poisonous toad that's taken up with the plumeria. 

6. You still living on Fred Flintstone furniture? --- lender furniture supplied to every single newcomer by housing, which is rattan furniture from the Philippines and the most uncomfortable furniture I've ever sat on. Also---heard at least 5 times----You know, if you get several boxes and flatten them, put them under the cushions, that Fred Flintstone furniture is almost comfortable. 

7. After six months, people go crazy. You gotta plan a trip off-island.---advice given, almost verbatim, from at least 5 people since we got here. 

8. Yeah. . . that. . . it's on the barge. ---my furniture, my clothes, the essential grocery items we never seem to have, you name it. 

9. We are surrounded by fish, and there are chickens running all over the place, yet you can't get fresh fish, poultry, or eggs in this place.---wise words spoken by a coworker. Can someone explain???? 

10. Oh. My. God. Did you get caught in that traffic jam? I bet I waited five minutes before I could get on Sherman Ave. ----heard often, usually after a movie lets out or on payday at the NEX. 

11.Mom! Stop speeding! You're going to get a ticket! ---my kids screaming at me from the backseat as I'm going 30 mph. Do you know how difficult it is to drive only 25 mph everywhere you go???

12. Oh yeah, I think the mail is only running Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday now. Oh wait, that's right, maybe it's just Tuesday and Thursday. Or maybe just Tuesday. ----our bizarre mail schedule which changes weekly. Does anyone know when the post office is really open or when mail runs here? 

and my favorite

13. Let's go to the beach! ----365 days of fun in the sun. Can I tell you how much I love living in the Caribbean????