Monday, March 31, 2014

Anxiety Dreams; or, GeTMeOutta Here

Today's weather at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: high of 87º and cloudy, then rain, then low of 72º. Get me a jacket; I think I've acclimated!

I've been having awful anxiety dreams, sort of like those you get as a teacher before a year starts or when you are returning from a long winter break.

It's not the "I'm teaching and forgot my pants" variety of dream, but these do cause the same sort of panic. It's the, "I'm praying I'm getting off this island before someone realizes a mistake was made and I am stuck here for three more months" dream.

I officially have cabin fever and I HAVE to get away for a few days.

When we first moved here, people said, after six months, people go crazy. You gotta plan a trip off-island. I didn't realize at the time how absolutely, incredibly difficult that would be, or I would have paid better attention and starting planning then.

I am SO ready to get off this rock.

And getting off and back on is no easy task. It's a little more complicated traveling when you have orders, and even more so when you are flying on and off a military base.

We have to have our passports---not tourist passports, but our fancy "no-fee" ones. As an aside, the fee for processing the no-fee passports was $100 because Fort Hood wasn't able to process them. They couldn't process them because I didn't have orders yet. I didn't have orders because I didn't have my passports. So much for no-fee and welcome back to the world's largest bureaucracy!

Also, if you are making a move overseas with the government, if at all possible, avoid Ft. Hood. Drive one, two, six, or ten hours away. You will probably get everything done in one trip instead of the five or so it took us. They lost our moving paperwork; they didn't return phone calls; they tried to tell me that you can't bring family members to GTMO; it goes on and on. The entire experience made me happy that we were never stationed there.

So back to the passports---these passports can only be used for government travel, which is sort of a drag because you never actually get them stamped leaving or coming back. Remember: GTMO is USA-Cuba, not Cuba-Cuba.

It's so sad to have a passport that's been used but has no stamps in it. That's sort of the beauty of a passport, right? You can go back and look through your stamps and realize how much you've seen and how much more of this big world you still need to visit.

I requested our airline tickets back in January because I knew that the flight would fill early. It's Spring Break next week, yet the only flight during Spring Break week is that Friday. Go figure. So our options were: take 4 days off work and fly out tomorrow (Tuesday); take 1 day off work and fly out on Friday; or take 2 days off and leave Friday of Spring Break and come back on Tuesday of the following week.

Do you see how ridiculously inconvenient and nerve-racking it is to get off this island? Also, it costs a little over $2K just for round trip tickets to Jacksonville.

And nope, that's NOT first class.

Anywho, I have to make sure we have the passports and some paperwork saying we can come back on island, take an early ferry to the airport for weigh-in, and then wait for take-off.

You mean you don't have to sheepishly announce your weight to the ticket clerks and whomever is listening in line behind you when you check-in to fly?

You have to give your weight and the weight of your suitcases when you fly here. Since they won't cut off a pound (or more) of flesh, you will be leaving those bags, if necessary. Also you hope you don't get bumped because they need to weight allowance for mail or because troops are flying in/out on your plane. (Flight movements were the main reason we couldn't get out of here most of last summer using Space A travel).

I'm a nervous wreck and hoping all goes as planned. It's our second trip back in 18 months, and the first time was for only 10 days last summer. Four of those 10 days were spent traveling. It wasn't exactly a relaxing vacation, but I did get to see my little niece whom I had only seen once before our trip. I got to visit with my younger sister; got to hang out with my older niece (I am always partial to those older sisters); spent time talking to and getting to know my little cousins a little better, who were in elementary and middle school last time I saw them; and had some quality time with my big cousin Al who, next to my husband, sons, and father, is my most favorite guy in the world.

Hopefully this time next week we will be enjoying a nice, relaxing (ha!) vacation at Disney World. Never in my entire life have I been so ready to stand in line (wearing my air cast) for hours. Bring on the real world! I can't wait.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What I Am is What I Am; or, Diphthongs > Homophones

Today's weather in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: 86º ("feels like 91"). Just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Every day is Groundhog day in GTMO.

Unlike in the States, where you can do self-checkout and use the automated mail machines to buy your postage for the majority of your packages, here you HAVE to do the customs forms for every thing you mail larger than an envelope, which means you have to have a clerk take your package.  Afterwards, the mail goes out 1-2 times a week, depending on the rotator schedule, and then it finds its merry way to its intended recipients. Sometimes it ends up in exotic locations before it gets here, but it always seems to find its way out of here with no problems.

Our tiny post office doesn't have an area where you can pick up boxes and forms ahead of time if it is closed---everything is within one small room, and it's not open very many hours in the week (and never on the weekends). So post office visits are always an event for me, usually requiring me to take off a half hour to hour of work.

A few months ago I ordered a DNA kit. This is not only for genealogical research, but to see if I am prone to a large list of genetic diseases. If you could find out if you had the gene for breast cancer, would you take a test? How about Alzheimer's? Especially if at least one person close to you has had each?

At first I was excited. But then, not so much. Do you see why I suddenly had second thoughts and let the kit sit in a drawer for several weeks?

But then the FDA decided that DNA companies cannot do what it called "health testing" anymore, and suddenly I realized that I may have waited too late. No problem---I got an email saying that because I bought my kit before the ruling, I would be eligible for the genetic component---but now there was a quick turn-around because there was a short deadline.

And this, folks, is how I ended up at the GTMO post office with my saliva in a box.

You don't think anything of mailing a vial of spit to a lab until you realize---oh my god, I have to fill out that crazy customs form. And I didn't even think about it until the guy called me to the counter.

He said, "What's in the box?" I was like, "Ummmmm, well, it's DNA."

*blank look on his face*

"It's a DNA kit. You know, I'm mailing a lab my DNA."

I don't know if you can technically mail your bodily fluids internationally, and especially from somewhere like this place, where every piece of mail is scrutinized more than most because we have the (dis)pleasure of housing "that place" a few miles from my casa. This is why I said "DNA" instead of "saliva."

The guy suddenly got really quiet, told me my forms were in order, and gave me a sympathetic smile.

I got to my car and then it hit me. Oh. My. Gobble.

This guy probably thinks I'm sending off a paternity test, Jerry Springer style.

I laughed hysterically all the way back to work. No, I don't need to find out who my mama's babydaddy is---all you have to do is look at my dad and see that he has marked me for life.

When I got an email saying, "Your results are in!" I was excited and very nervous.

The genetic news was exciting and a relief (no "bad" genes).

And interesting news: I knew I was mostly Western European from genealogical research I'd done on my own and with my husband's grandma, but this test broke it down to some specifics. There is also a database and people have contacted me because genetically, we are 2nd or 3rd cousins. People with exotic, foreign sounding last names. I haven't contacted any of them yet, but I am going to finally do it once I can really sit down and digest the info. Incidentally, this isn't easy when it takes each webpage five minutes to load.

The best part? Our youngest wants to look at "our DNA" every night. Here's a recent conversation:

Kid 2: Daddy, guess what? I am so excited I get to see my genes!
Hubby: Um, what?
Kid 2: My genes, dad, my genes. G-E-N-E-S genes, not blue jeans. It's a homophone.
Hubby: Um. . . okay. . .
Kid 2: If you think homophones are exciting, I should tell you about diphthongs.

Kid 2 is 8 years old, by the way. Good genes (not jeans) aside, his teacher is amazing and he has grown intellectually by leaps and bounds since we landed on this rock.

He wants me to go back over the results with him and he's loving looking at the map of ancestors. We are British/Scottish, French, German, Scandinavian, Northern African, and Western African. My mother's genome group is rare and carried primarily by Native Americans. (Because I only have X chromosomes, I can't find out my father's genome group unless he takes this test).

I am not, incidentally, Asian. Not even 0.01%. I can't believe after flinching my entire life when dozens and dozens of well-meaning but really, really culturally sheltered/ignorant people have asked me the racist question, "Are you a Chink?" (it's a racial epithet, people, and never, ever acceptable) that I am not even remotely Asian. However, I am still  fake Asian (it's a GTMO thing---so I can feel like part of the amazing group of women I've met here who are part or all Korean, Japanese, Filipina, or Chamorro, they tell people that I am Chinese).

And now, when someone asks that question I hate, "Where are you from?" I still don't have an answer. . . but I can with some authority tell you where my ancestors came from, and I guess that's a start.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Taking the Road Less Traveled; or, Hotel California, Part Deux

El tiempo hoy en Bahía de Guantánamo, Cuba: 85º y está un poquito nublado.

One of my friends calls this place Hotel California (as in, "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave").

And you know the opening lyrics. Here's my version, which really go well with a little bit of recent excitement in my life:

On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of [banana rat poo]
Rising up in the air
Up ahead in the distance
I saw a shimmering light (the stars!)
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim. . .
And then I busted by butt.

About half the time I run, I run alone. As a female, it took me a while to feel completely safe running at night alone here, because we ladies have a fear ingrained against taking stupid risks. And running alone at night is a stupid risk I rarely took until I moved here. I still use common sense---reflective gear, well traveled routes, and honestly, we are in such an isolated place where everyone here has had a background check, I feel comfortable as a female running alone at night (and unlike anywhere else I've lived, I don't freak out a little when a man I don't know is running towards me in the dark). This past week, I was so incredibly bored with the same route I've run for 15 months or so, I took a turn into a neighborhood I usually don't run in. It was, literally, the road less traveled. This is supposed to be a good thing, right?

There is a long stretch in this neighborhood that is very dark---no street lights---and although the moon is super bright here, as are the stars (no light pollution), it was really too dark for me to be running this particular stretch at night without a light.

But I did anyway.

I did think, "Wouldn't it be awful if a banana rat ran in front of me" (it has happened---more than once---and I almost tripped on it). What I didn't think was, "Wouldn't it be awful if a car came down the road, and I ran to the shoulder, but there really wasn't a shoulder."

There was no shoulder.

There was a 2 foot drop off.

Skinned, bruised, and bloody, I limped the short distance (1 mile or so) home, and my oldest was in awe over the blood covering my leg and my blood-soaked sock from my skinned up knee. Then I look down at my other leg and realized that I had a huge bulge on the side of my ankle. And I realized what I thought was dirt was just chunks of dead flesh peeling off my knee.


The ER trip was fine---I've had to go before, and as always, the staff is very efficient and friendly. They got me cleaned up and told me I couldn't get stitches (not enough skin) and the Xrays showed no break, just a sprain. They sent me home with crutches and medicine and directions on how to take care of my injuries, and followed up with a phone call the next day to see how I am doing.

Back up a few days before "the incident." I got a Fit Bit. No, I'm not going to be one of those people who gives you a blow by blow of how many steps or miles or calories or sets of stairs I go through in a day. I will just say this---if you think librarians live sedentary lives, you need to hang out with one for a day. Especially one who doesn't have an assistant (and has to split time between two campuses---a ridiculous expectation, but it is what it is). I love when people say, "Oh! You are a librarian! You must love your job! You get to sit and read all day!" and I want to ask, "Um, when was the last time you were actually in a library?" I don't know any librarians who get to actually read on the job, even those librarians with only one library to maintain and an assistant or two. I hit my 10K step goal before I get home every day. Living in a 2 storey house (yes, that's how you spell "storey"), I go up and down the steps a minimum of 20 times a day (I have proof now!). I am hoping it's building my legs and glutes and not blowing out my knees.

Having a Fit Bit just proves what I've suspected all alone---I am fidgety and hate to stay still. I remember when a study came out a few years back that said fidgety people are much, much, much more apt to be lean and less to be obese than people who don't fidget. So there! I don't feel bad about my inability to stay still; I am wired to burn calories all day long, so please don't make me stop.

And now. . . I am in pain. But the worst part? I have to be still. I can't run up and down the stairs 20 times in a day. I missed the Dr. Seuss Fun Run. I can't move around the house cooking, doing a load of laundry, picking up the den, and catching up on email all at the same time, like I do every evening when I come home (and if it's M-W-F, watering the yard, too). I am not a  television viewer. I watch 2-3 shows a year, and having to stay in bed, foot elevated, looking at t.v. is killing me. THIS IS BORING. I can't concentrate enough to read (it's the pain). I tried getting out this weekend for a while, ran a few errands and went to the Mardi Gras parade, and then spent a fun evening with our fun neighbors (even if one of them made fun of my new, singular "cankle").

But now, I am sort of  hurting and know tomorrow will be even worse (I seem to hurt more every morning instead of less). And I am really wishing I were the sitting and watching type, not the fidgeting and moving around type. I have no idea how I'm going to do my job that has me doing 10K+ steps a day when I can barely do ten. I won't be able to run or exercise for weeks, and I'm stuck in a stupid boot (and stupid crutches---I need a remedial crash course on using them, because I am evidently too stupid to use stupid crutches).

Did I mention I'm cranky??

(I am cranky).

So taking the road less traveled sometimes isn't the best plan. From now on I'm use my instincts more, take stupid risks less. I still can't believe I literally plunged into the dark unknown.

My pity party is coming to a close, and now I'm thinking of the first place I'll run and the first day I'll be back to well over 10K steps once I have healed my ankle and my knee. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really, REALLY miss running, and that same old stretch of Sherman doesn't seem quite so boring now that I can't get out there and run on it.