Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Here and Now; or, Excitement, Irony, Tradition, Anticipation

First, some EXCITEMENT:
After several months, the Map of Lost Mail has another pin!
I still can't figure out why the mail sorting facility in Chicago thinks that 09593 is 09128, but it does make for an exciting trip for our mail (even while we are stuck here).

(Humor me, please. It's the little things that make me excited. . . )

And just like that, here's another pin for the Map of Lost Mail:
Mail travels in the past include Muscat, Oman; Madrid, Spain; Livorno, Italy; Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt;
Abu Nakhlah, Qatar; Sigonella, Sicily, Italy. 
And now we've added Stuttgart, Germany. My mail's been to three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), including two (Africa and Asia) I haven't been to---yet. 

At one point the envelope was soaking wet, as every bit of ink on it is smeared. It's a miracle it made it here at all. 

So that's the excitement. 

Here's the IRONY. 

I was shooting off my big mouth and venting about the overabundance of expensive items at our NEX (I'm a notorious tightwad, just ask my family) and mentioned a specific sort of purse last post

Unbeknownst to me, my hubby had made a kind gesture and picked me up a much-needed purse for Christmas. Want to guess what brand of purse? 

I love my new purse! Honest, I do! 
Of course, the hubby had bought it before my rant and he almost took it back---but thankfully didn't. I really do like it. 

Christmas is always a low-key affair. I've been feeling a little under the weather, so we didn't go to the beach for Christmas this year. We did, however, celebrate with lobster, our GTMO tradition. It was delicious and I have to say, fresh, Bay-caught lobster on the grill is a perfect way to spend a relaxing, low-key holiday. 
Local caught lobster---YUM
The last thing is ANTICIPATION.

I have to take some time off work (again---hopefully the last time this year) to take care of some medical issues. Unfortunately, that means I got to spend 6 hours today making lesson plans for the time I will miss when school returns (and I didn't come close to finishing). I just spent 6 frustrating hours trying to write lesson plans in a room with no air conditioning (it was HOT), 6 hours trying to get the internet and my CD burner and the Xerox machine and everything else to work, and finally gave up and decided to come home. This means more time with our notorious GTMO internet, which actually works much worse at home than at work.
Estimated time to upload a 3.1 MG file and convert it to a format I can use with my MacBook: 4 hours.
Estimated time to then download that file back to my computer: 3 hours.
SEVEN hours to do something that would literally take less than 5 minutes in the U.S.

I am in technology hell. With the lack of materials here (and no colleagues teaching the same five classes I teach to help out), I have no Plan B.

It's these frustrations that, quite frankly, have me hate living here. I cursed so much at work today (I was alone, thankfully) that I could make a sailor blush. Or a couple of thousand (I am, after all, living on a naval base). Living here is difficult at times and GTMO is truly a love-hate relationship for me most days. I love the students, I love my colleagues, I love my friends here, and I love the weather (most days),  but I don't love constantly beating my head against the wall with 1990s technology in a 2010s job, or the feeling of being professionally isolated.

So that leads to anticipation #2---hopefully an announcement in January of a transfer round that will give us some solid, non-rumor mill information. Hopefully I will have good news in a few weeks.

Send some good vibes this way if you can---I'm going in for surgery (again) tomorrow. Hopefully this will be the very last of it and I will finally feel well again. (And maybe a little less cantankerous and a little more Mary-Sunshine---you want to read more about the ocean and island life, and not how I may have actually punched a computer today, right?).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lists and More Lists; or, Archers Can't Complain

We are STILL waiting for any of the Christmas presents to make it here by Thursday.  Not a single thing I ordered (mostly in mid-November) for the kids or husband has made it yet. NOTHING. Seriously. . .

Instead of focusing on gifts, so far this holiday we've done that thing we always do, which is the "where do you want to go next" game. I honestly don't think it hurts at all to dream, and because I will probably have some say in where we go (or more precisely, where we don't want to go), we make mental lists and talk about all the overseas options.

We probably won't hear anything in January at the earliest, but in the meanwhile, Son 2 has decided against only Belgium, the mistaken land of Legos, for a more broad-based list of locations. Almost 2 years ago he created the "talk list," and now I present the "must have" list for any country:
Things we need for relocation
A) We need internet speed. That is anywhere else in the world but here, so that doesn't really narrow things down. I won't miss the shady phone/internet monopoly here in Cuba.

B) Then there's the NEX size. I say scratch the NEX off the list permanently. Honestly, if I never, ever set foot in another NEX after leaving here it will make me happy. I'm tired of $250 purses, $40 flip flops, and other top-shelf stuff that does not impress me, especially when I'm trying to shop on a budget. I'm no mathematician, but you can buy 10 purses at TJ Maxx for what one Michael Kors purse costs, just sayin'. I'm more than ready to live off the economy somewhere else. I will also be happy to shop somewhere where I don't have small children (neighbors, students) screaming my name as I'm carrying a box of tampons in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other. 

So that doesn't really narrow it down, either. 

C) There is "animation camp." I don't know where he got that idea, but he's been talking about really wanting to go to an animation camp. Is there really such thing? And is it something you can do online? Because if you can do it via internet, that means anywhere but here.

D) Toys. It's almost Christmas and the entire no-mail situation has been more stressful than it should be because somehow, inexplicably, we have less toys for Christmas in the NEX than before. As far as we can tell, there were no Christmas toy shipments. We don't get the same sales circulars that you get from the NEX in the US; in fact, since we've moved here, the amount of toys and children's books has dwindled drastically. You don't need toys to be happy, I know, but it is frustrating when you go to a birthday party (and most kids here have parties where all the classmates attend) and you have to chose from the same 5 Lego sets we've had for a year now, for example. So I can see how Boy 2 would like a little variety.  Make them German or Japanese, and that's even better. 

That's the thing. I'm ready for variety. I am hoping for good news in January or so that I will be eligible to transfer (and then the real fun of figuring out where we can go is next). 

Also----is it a little ridiculous that a kid wants to live somewhere with toys or functioning internet? These are things we took for granted in the US, but it's crazy, bizarre, and strange that we live in a place where those things are extras. I'm hoping they are a good trade for some of his freedom, because he definitely won't have free reign of the neighborhood in any other country where we can live. 

My birthday was this week and it was a nice, quiet night at-home event with friends and family. One of my friends and I started talking about horoscopes and she told me that Sagittariuses (or is that "Sagittarians?" ) are the most optimistic of all signs (I looked it up later just to make sure. She's right. And we are the most adventurous. Go figure). I should also point out that we are half archer, half horse's ass. I've never been accused of being the former, but I've been called the latter more than once.
Basically, Archers are "blindly optimistic," which means I shouldn't complain. So on that note, here are some positives from the last week or so: 

Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork paid off and I got 2/3 of my last summer's travel expenses reimbursed, finally. Trust me, it's a big deal and a happy occasion (and I'm still going to resubmit, resubmit, resubmit for the other 1/3). 

Ticked off more items from my not-bucket list and went to the Cuban home to visit the special category residents (basically, those who stayed when the gate closed). They sang "happy birthday" to me in Spanish (2-3 versions, all at one time!) and it was the BEST rendition I've heard ever. I'll never forget that. 

Also: checked off that I went back to Ft. Conde.  A boat ride across the Bay and a trek through the jungle (okay, it's really not a jungle) and we were at an abandoned early 1900s fort.  I'll post more about that (with pics) later. 

Son 2 got to be in a second Christmas parade---this time, a boat parade. How fun! Another GTMO first! 

I am taking better care of my health. I had surgery last week and I'm having more before break ends. Not a great way to spend vacation, but if it's what it takes to make you feel better, it's worth it.

I am almost finished with what I hope is my last grad class for a while.  I was up to 1 am trying to get technology to work this morning and it verified my suspicions--- I would be an absolute sadist to ever assign any technology-based project to my students here. 

So far, vacation's been relaxing (and it really doesn't officially start until Monday). Here's to two weeks of adventuring and relaxing, celebrating and chilling out. Happy Winter Solstice to you! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Very GTMO Christmas Parade, again; or, Santa in the Tropics

A typical GTMO float decoration, and the moon rising in GTMO, with parade revelers waiting for floats
It's really hard to get into the Christmas mood when you live on a Caribbean island.

(And no, I'm not asking for sympathy, especially from my friends and family members living in the snowy, icy areas of the US right now).

It's just hard to get into the Christmas holiday season when it's hot outside. Decorations look a little odd against palm trees and blue skies.

The youngest got to participate in the GTMO parade for the second year in a row. He wasn't quite as excited as last year, but he had a great time. I guess once you've done something, the new has worn off and it's just not the same ever again.
Loving the full Cuban moon

But there was more of the same that I loved about our first Christmas parade here---kids pelting the revelers with candy as hard as they could throw, people ducking and dodging, and so many cute little faces. The best part is that after 2 years here, I knew most of those cute little faces, and I loved hearing them call my name (as I was moving like a ninja out of the way of flying Jolly Ranchers and mini Hershey's bars).

I was really bothered my first year (and second) that slow and unreliable mail service meant presents didn't get here on time. However, with our sights set at paring down what we have, and the selected variety of what we have here at our one and only store, we may have one of our smallest Christmas's yet, gift-wise. (And to our family in the US, so sorry but I am STILL mailing the Christmas/Hanukkah gifts. Happy New Year's, maybe?)

Less shopping choices means less impulse buying of junk the kids won't use six months from now. Depending on online shopping with painfully slow mail service means less buying online.

(I'm trying to be calm. In reality, not a SINGLE THING I have ordered online has made it, and some things were ordered over a month ago).

And beautiful, summer-like weather in the dead of winter means I find myself in early December going, "Oops, I did it again!" and forgot to order those presents back in October.

Instead of worrying about presents, I'm exciting thinking about our new Cuban Christmas traditions: local caught lobster and a day at the beach.

And what's a better present than that?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Buddhist Fortune; or, Wealth and Health

Ten years ago this month, my sister and I met in NYC for my 35th birthday. It was fun, with trips to museums and theatres, shopping and eating, and the kind of sister-time you enjoy once you are adults and really like each other. I loved New York City in winter and with the very cold weather (it was -10º a couple of days), found myself huddled up next to total strangers, waiting for the newly refurbished MoMA to open. So much for New Yorkers being completely standoffish. . .

A few places stood out over others. One was the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, important to the Mike Nichols' film version of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, the beautiful and powerful play about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. I love the final scene where the characters speak of the symbolism of this angel, and to see her in real life was, well, a happy and moving experience.

The second place with a big emotional impact was the former site of the World Trade Center. It was, of course, heart-wrenching. What I did find surrounding that gigantic scar were little glimpses of hope. Only a block or so away, we found a little surprise, a tiny Buddhist temple. Inside from the cold we encountered hundreds of little shrines for those who perished during 9/11, covering every surface in the space. We both gave a donation and got a "fortune." 

Mine said: "Probability of Success: Excellent.  Ne'er worry about your wealth, But take good care of your health. In time you will be matured, And have your future secured." 

When I found the tiny scroll hidden away in a jewelry box, I honestly had no recollection of what my "fortune" said. The tiny shrines with faces of 9/11 victims always have been what I remembered about that place. Today it was the words that affected me. 

I am not very superstitious and not a big believer in fortunes or horoscopes. But to look at it as a solid piece of advice, it really is something that today means more to me than 10 years ago. 

In ten years, our monetary wealth has changed and been at times on various ends of two extremes. With moving here, we have given up many of our material possessions, and every day I wake up with the goal of downsizing just a little bit more. We still have so much "stuff," so much more than we need to live a comfortable life, but I feel that in ten years, I have learned to care less about the things that surround me (and concern myself more with the people who surround me). 

I do worry less about our economic situation today than 10 years ago, when we were considering having another child (we would have #2 a little less than a year after that NYC trip). As we are aging, health is, of course, a great concern. 

There are innumerable reasons that we moved here, and honestly, we can look back 2+ years later and figure out that subconsciously, there were probably more reasons than we realized at the time. Since August, I have taken on a new role at school (not necessarily my choice), and with that has come a lot more stress, many more hours away from my family, and much less free time to do stress-relieving activities such as exercising and art. To get away from a life like that was probably the number one reason I considered moving here, yet I am finding myself back in the 60 hour work week grind. It's frustrating as hell, and I find it affects my health, as well. 

I have decided to work on what I can control. I can't control that I work in a death-by-meeting setting (thus the need to spend 8-10 hours at work on the weekends), but I can work on improving my health. I am trying to eat better, and I am making a vow to not work 10 hour days, three or four days in a row, ever again. I haven't been to an exercise class since I sprained my ankle in April, and I need to gradually get back into a more active life. (I've tried easing back into running again twice, but I think I am out of running indefinitely). I am taking care of some health issues that have nagged me since I moved here. If that means I have to take time off of work, so be it---I can only be more productive and happier once I am healthier. 

So the tiny little scroll that served as a souvenir to a very moving, very rewarding birthday trip now serves as a reminder that I need to stop, slow down, and take better care of myself. 

After all, what good is wealth if your health is so poor, you can't enjoy it?