Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Cruelest Month, or, Damn You, Germs

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
 Memory and desire, stirring
 Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering 
 Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers. 
~T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land" 

April is a cruel month for teachers.


It's the long stretch between spring break and graduation. It's that annual malady, when the few remaining seniors who haven't succumbed to Senioritis develop a serious case of it. Sometimes, other classes of students get a good case of Senioritis, as well.  For those of us on the island, it's April showers, which bring hordes of April buzzing, biting bugs.
It's the other sort of April bug. April means spring break here, celebrated by dozens of island inhabitants leading a mass exodus off our isolated community. Then they migrate back, bringing all sorts of mean and nasty illnesses, infections, infestations. This April is a cold that won't go away, and it's one of the most vile, vicious stomach bugs we've ever encountered.
Kid 2 is down for the count. In a paradoxical twist of fate, the smallest person in the house seems to be able to produce the most barf.

I'll be honest; one of my first thoughts when we moved here and I saw how very isolated we are, and how very limited our medical care is here, was what if someone brings an extremely contagious disease on island?  We carry extra insurance to be medi-vaced off island in case of an emergency, but it's really scary to realize the potential for a catastrophic event.

Forget the Zika virus or the Chikamauga virus; I'm talking more common things, like the flu or stomach viruses or tough strains of the cold. Or then again, maybe even something strange and rare and without a known cure. After all, we have people flying on island every week from all over the world. To live here, you must pass a physical screening. But what if they miss something? What if the US doctor doing the screening doesn't know what you contracted in Asia, Europe, Africa, or the Middle East?

I also would love to have faith that people exposed to such diseases off island and then feel the symptoms would be a dear love and decide to forgo the flight back, especially when they will also be exposing everyone on the Rotator or IBC flight. They should think of it as a self-imposed quarantine for the good of our little community. Plus a quarantine in the real world (the States) is much better than here, where you have limited, if any, access to basic medication to get well.

Good luck finding that Pedialyte when you get a stomach flu, or any type of cold medication for the majority of the year.

I do believe those people who do come back on island knowing they are bringing a contagious disease are the same people who load their sick kids down with Tylenol to avoid taking off a sick day. All of us in education have seen this, and yes, we do judge you when you bring your knowingly sick child to infect the rest of the class. Shame on you, especially in such a small community, where a class of only 12 kids total becomes a class of 3 or 4 if the contagious germs are spread just right.

So here's looking forward to May with its flowers and celebrations. Kid 2 is turning 18, and many of my friends' children are graduating high school or college. (Our kid's ceremony is in June). Here's to summer vacations and well-rested, lazy afternoons for my many overworked teacher friends and family members who are lucky enough to get it earlier than later. Here's to your kids running wild and emulating the GTMO feral child life.

Here's to good health. Here's to May, with a forward, wishful glance to June, and good riddance to April.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Island Hopping; or, A Quickie Vacation

We just got back from a quick weekend jaunt off GTMO for a mental health break/shopping spree. My wallet's a lot lighter, but my spirits are high (or at least until I go back to work on Monday).
Sign in shop window, St. Simons Island, GA

Things you take for granted while living in the US:

Can you imagine living in a place where you never, ever see a train? So seeing a train in Jacksonville made me feel absolutely giddy. It was like being a 5 year old again, counting trains and waiting for the caboose. (Am I the only one who misses cabooses?)

Conspiracy enthusiasts aside, most people never really think about them. Few flights and one small airport = few contrails. Some days we don't have flights at all. If you see a moving light in the sky at night here, it's a shooting star. You forget about all the traffic above you. And also. . .

Street traffic
Driving more than 35 mph. People smoking or talking on their phones or putting on lipstick while driving. Red lights (we don't have any). Multiple radio stations. People driving nice cars instead of hooptie GTMO specials. On the road is a strange and marvelous place once you've been in GTMO.

Screaming "Squirrel!" every time we saw one never got old, because we have the only squirrel in Cuba.

Dear god, the choices. Clothes, groceries, rental cars. Hotels, meals, menu items. None of the "I'm sorry, we are out of bread/cheese/lettuce/meat" craziness that may or may not ensue when ordering a meal here. More than one gas station, grocery store, clothes store. And book stores! I so miss book stores. I like to pick up a book, read the jacket, and thumb through the pages before buying it. You can't do that with Amazon online (and we don't really get books at our one store here).

Stranger Danger
We have lived in a very safe place the last 4 years. I am used to running at night, by myself, wearing headphones and my biggest safety concern is that a big, fat, slow banana rat will wander out onto the sidewalk and into my path. I park at the store with the car unlocked. I'm not sure where my house key is. The biggest safety difference is my now-10 year old has lived 1st-4th grades here and has no real sense of "stranger danger" anymore. I do believe Americans live in an overly sensationalized society, where most children are kidnapped by disgruntled parents, not strangers, but that doesn't sell news, so we are terrified of strangers. Unfortunately, living here means my son now wanders off in huge stores. He doesn't bat an eye when strangers ask him questions that in GTMO are innocent, but in the States, cause a parent to raise an eyebrow. We haven't had to worry about watching our wallets in crowds, making sure we don't leave valuables unattended, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The flip side is once you've lived in GTMO, you tend to let your kids wander around and play unfettered, leading to unwelcome and condescending stares from strangers and loved ones. How dare I let my child wander in the grocery store/neighborhood or let him go out with friends without a cell phone? But 1970s/1980s living is still possible, just not always in the US.

Also---there are a lot of people smoking in public in the US. And there are a lot of morbidly obese people. We don't have lots of overweight people in GTMO, especially compared to the US. Seriously, I feel like a fatty here and I'm right in the middle of my BMI. Being back in the US where everyone doesn't get up to do PT every morning and where the average age of residents is not somewhere in the 20s (and male) is a weird change. The husband even pointed out that being in public in the States, where there are people a lot older than in their 40s, tends to make you feel young again. If you are in your 40s (or older), you are OLD by GTMO standards.
Our spring break = St. Simons Island

So what do people who live on an island do for vacation?

We visited friends on another island, of course. This time it was St. Simons Island, GA. It's a gorgeous place and I highly recommend spending a day or a week there. We also went to Jacksonville for a day. We shopped. We ate out. We drove faster than 35 mph. The best part? Both kids had a lot of time to catch up with GTMO friends who now live in the States. And we got to visit with their parents, too. It was only Friday-Tuesday, but it felt like a month away (we definitely spent more money than we spend in a month here, but that's not really saying much). There was sushi, BBQ, Japanese food, and home grilled steaks. There was marveling at what most Americans take for granted. Target is sensory overload. You don't know how lucky you are to have so many choices at your grocery stores (including fresh produce). We bought sweaters and froze our butts off because it was below 75 degrees outside.

And now, we are at home-not home in Cuba-not Cuba until summer break. Planning boy 1's graduation and summer vacation is the focus of the next few weeks. Come July, we'll blast out for more reality checks, but in the meantime, I'm happy to be back on island time.
One happy boy