Friday, January 31, 2014

Gratitude; or, Wine, not Whine

Today's weather in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: 86º and windy

One of the pleasant surprises of living here is the number of friends and family who write or call and say, "If there is ANYTHING you need, anything, we will send it to you"---and they mean it.

It is rather overwhelming and humbling.

And it is a difficult question to ponder. Do I need anything? Yes and no.

After several months here, you learn to live without many creature comforts readily available in the US. I have managed to whittle my toiletries down to the bare basics. I once had 4 drawers and three cabinets full of hair and face stuff---most of it I never even used. It all fits in a shoe box now. We live somewhere with daily heat and humidity and with only one hair salon that does very, very basic hairstyles, so I have had ONE haircut in 14 months. Yes, one.  Since I quit getting those oh-so-attractive spiral perms in the 80s, I haven't spent more than 10 minutes in the morning fixing my hair, so this has really not crimped my (lack of) style in any way.

Can someone send me good hair genes? Or a hair stylist that can work with my bad hair?

You can't get some basic clothing items here. At first, I was delusional. If I tell myself I really don't need clothes I can't get here, then I can live without them. But who am I kidding? And when it's things like work shoes or a good bra, it's almost impossible to order the items online---some things you need to see in person or try on. I'm sitting and looking at a pair of shoes I'll probably never take the time off work to stand in line at the post office and fill out the customs form to return (after I find a box they will fit in), even if I paid quite a bit for them. Because time is money, too, and I am not a patient person most days.

So can someone send me a shoe store where I can try on shoes? Or patience to stand in line at the post office, which is only open 6-7 hours a day, five days a week?

How about large jalapeños, Texas pink grapefruit, or real milk? Fresh chicken or Sherry? Round steak? Brisket? A pork butt roast? None of those are available here (or if so, only 1-2 times since we've been here).

Or a bookstore? Or even a book section that has more than 20 titles that aren't mostly religious/inspirational titles?

Internet that doesn't take 24 hours to download a one hour television show I can't get on cable here (and only if the internet doesn't time out before it downloads)?

Pearl Light beer? A purse that isn't $100+? Something (or someone) that will kill the ever-present mold in my bathroom?

When people ask if they can get us anything, I am grateful, but have a hard time coming up with anything that isn't petty. The things we really want are things that can't be sent through the mail. We have managed to improvise pretty well here, and we have learned to do without what can't be improvised.

I will say I was completely ecstatic last week to get a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Lavendar Castille Soap in the mail (I've missed the Moral ABCs!). I've gotten some amazing and thoughtful care packages from friends and family since I've been here: Zero bars, great-smelling bubble bath, Turkish coffee, German chocolates, Café du Monde beignet mix, HEB brand borracho beans, Christmas cards from former students or college roommates, great novels, BACON!, grits, holiday decorations, plant bulbs and seeds, clothes for the kids, running gear, and more.

I am thankful for having so many thoughtful people in my life. If I don't get back to you when you've asked if I need something, please don't think it's because I'm not listening or that I don't appreciate the thought. I say this in all sincerity---just go enjoy a good home cooked meal with fresh ingredients, or a night out at a Chinese/Korean/Mexican/Italian restaurant, or spend an hour at a book store perusing the aisles without buying anything, or try on some shoes.  Know you can live without any of it, but enjoy every moment for me of all the small things I once took for granted.

One more thing---please don't think I'm wallowing in self-pity. I can quickly name things (other than thoughtful friends) to be thankful for. While the deep south has been experiencing Snowmageddon 2014, we've enjoyed gorgeous, sunny weather. We didn't have a run on (super homogenized) milk and bread! For the first time in my life, I've seen almost every Oscar nominated movie---for free, outdoors under the beautiful Cuban sky. My husband has the most killer flip-flop tan I've ever seen in my life. Even after stressful, bad, rotten, no-good weeks at work (we do have some of those here, too),  I can vent and then count on laughs over a glass or three of wine with some true-blue friends I know we'll stay in touch with long after Gitmo is in our past.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dives, Goals, and Map Pins; or, A Trifecta of GTMO Firsts

Today's weather in GTMO: high of 85º, partly cloudy, but mostly sunny

Some more GTMO firsts: 

I got to dive two new places this weekend as part of my final two classes for my Advanced Open Water certification. It only took 4 months from beginning to end to get the certification, thanks to sickness (ear infection), bad weather and poor diving conditions, and crazy weekend conflicts. 

The whole point of getting an advanced certification here is it opens up several dive locations that are restricted by the base to divers with a basic open certification. It was actually good to get a refresher on some skills---it was 21 years ago I got my original dive certification, and around 10 years ago that I took a refresher class (complete with a dive in Lake Travis, Austin----DIS-GUS-TING). 

I loved both dives. I did my deep dive (89') at The Slot. From the top is the best views of GTMO, in my opinion (the lighthouse and mountains in the background). You go down some steep stairs and through a little channel, then hang onto a rope for dear life as the current rips you towards an open space. Once there, we went to a wall that is very deep (hundreds---maybe thousands?---of feet deep in spots) and goes all the way to Honduras. It's kind of cool to think that it's part of the same wall that I dove on my honeymoon almost 21 years ago. 

Cable Beach was the first place we swam when we moved here, and I really loved the bright coral and fish during my first dive there. It was shallow---only 30' for most of the dive---and the visibility was much better. I finished my Navigation class there. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I was much more nervous doing the compass work than doing the night dive. I am geographically impaired. I really, honestly have a hard time using a compass. Seriously---what sort of dummy can't figure out a compass? 

That would be me. . . 

And another first. I'm playing soccer, but instead of women's league, it's more like skills practice and pick-up games. Tonight I played co-ed---first time doing that since I was pregnant with boy #2 way back in 2005. Not only did my team win our fun game, but I scored a goal. Gooooool! Yes, I'm bragging. I'm the oldest (or next to oldest) person at every game, so I can brag a little. 

Lastly, the Map of Lost Mail has another pin to add, and the first of 2014. 

We are STILL getting a trickling in of Christmas presents. We got this very sad looking box last week: 

I'm not sure why it was rewrapped and resealed. Was it falling apart? Did someone get curious and decided to open it and take a peek? 

What I didn't realize until I started opening it was the sticker from yet another exciting destination for my Map of Lost Mail. Can you spot it? 

My mail has now been to Catania, Sicily! If you don't know anything about Catania, it is the second largest town in Sicily and sits in the shadows of Mt. Etna. No, I haven't been there---I just looked it up online. It is really gorgeous, if the Internet is to be believed. 

And now, here's my latest version of my mail map: Oman, Italy, Sicily, Spain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I haven't been to any of these places and would like to visit most. (I've never talked to anyone about visiting Oman, but if you have been and liked it, convince me to visit so I can say I want to go to all of these places). 

The Latest Version of the Map of Lost Mail

Friday, January 10, 2014

Six Degrees; or, Three if You're From Mississippi

Today in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 86º, partly cloudy. 

While winter has managed to ravage most of the U.S. for the last couple of weeks, things in GTMO are, well, sort of the same.

And by the same, I mean CRA-ZY.

Crazy seems to happen to me often. Bizarre, strange, unbelievable coincidences happen to me, and happen quite often.

It's going on a honeymoon to Honduras, being one of four people in a resort (including your new spouse), and finding out one of the other 2 people graduated from your college in Hattiesburg. Then meeting the resort owner, who grew up in Honduras with your optometrist---who now lives in Hattiesburg. While eating out with the owner, you find out that the civil engineer for the resort was the father of a friend---who naturally you met while in college in Hattiesburg.

It's sitting on the plane going to that honeymoon and realizing that you and your new husband, who had never met when you got the passports you are holding in your hands, are the owners of passports only a few numbers apart.

It's teaching a child in Colorado Springs, telling her that you like her unusual-sounding name, and once you get the story of her Nigerian father meeting her Mississippian mother at a very small college (Rust), you realize that her grandfather and your grandfather knew each other in the produce broker business in Crystal Springs. That grandfather made a point to drive down to Monticello to my father's business just to meet him. How charming is that?

And it's talking to the parent of a new student this week, and realizing that she, too, is from Crystal Springs, my grandfather's birthplace. And---get this---we have the same maiden name. I've only met a small handful of people with my maiden name who spell it the way I do----I'm definitely not a Smith or a Jones.

This lady also happens to have the same great-great-great-great-grandfather that I do.

I know what you are thinking. How the hell do you know who your gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather is? 

In the case of my family, it's really easy. This guy, let's call him Joe, outlived two wives and married three times. He had TWENTY ONE children by the three wives. So if someone around the Crystal Springs/Hopewell area has my last name, there is a really, really good chance that we are, in fact, related.

And that, folks, is how I found out that I have a relative (albeit a distant one) living in Cuba.

My Mississippi friends are probably thinking right now that this is not strange at all. The state has a little less than 3 million people. Two of my family lines immigrated to MS pre-Civil War, and one, pre-Revolutionary War. The family story goes that part of my family is Choctaw, so we maybe have been there forever. Many of my friends have the same family story. My family comes from several areas of the state, have people who have worked, lived, and gone to school all over, and chances are, if I meet anyone from my home state, within ten minutes, we will know at least 3 people in common.

I'm not kidding. It's just how it is when you grow up in Mississippi.

And chances are, being from Mississippi, word will get around before you see the person you share in common, as your new acquaintance's friend's cousin's neighbor's sister will tell them about it.

I sort of feel sorry for anyone who isn't from Mississippi, because you really don't know how fun it is to figure out how you know some of the same folks.

That, and you miss out on the great conversations about purple speckled butter beans, REAL tomatoes, catfish, and how those poor, poor damnyankees (anyone not from the deep south) butcher the town names Biloxi, Grenada, Gautier, Bogue Chitto, Kosciusko, Pass Christian, and my hometown, Monticello, just to name a few.