Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rain today, rain yesterday, rain tomorrow?

The rainy season has started. It was supposed to start on Monday the 7th of March, but it really started on Thursday, the 17th. Just kidding... I think. In any case, it has rained every day and every night for the past nine days or nights. Well, this is hard to explain. Some days it starts raining in the afternoon. So that would mean that it rained during the day. At other times it starts raining after dark, which makes it a night rain. But on those days that it started during the day and went on into the night, sometimes all night long, that would mean it was a rain that covered days and nights. Did I clear that up?
The mist or clouds rolled in and obscured the rising sun.
But as the sun gets higher in the sky, it heats up the cloud
and soon it will evaporate and become one with the others.

In the mornings, (but not every morning) when I go and sit to watch the sun come up, sometimes it is bright and sunny for about half an hour and then suddenly the clouds drift along and obliterate everything, making it look like a foggy day. Then there is a chill in the air and my tea tastes especially delightful. I wrap up in a small blanket and listen to the birds and wait for the clouds to lift.

According to my local observers, the rainy season this year is expected to last until June, possibly until July. It doesn't rain ALL the time, but enough that one expects to get rained upon at any point during the day.

Today I went with the village doctor to see a friend who has kittens. The idea was that I might be persuaded to take one. So I went and looked and am pondering the idea.

Afterwards, she had to stop and see a patient who was elderly and not doing well. I agreed to drive her to the home and wait. It turned out that the home was also the local bar and while I was waiting I was approached by the owner with a beer in hand wondering if I wanted a 'cervaza' (beer) while I sat there. He was eager to talk, but if I was having problems understanding Spanish with a sober conversationalist, I was totally challenged by one who was already drunk.

Feeling like the lad holding the reins of the horse and carriage while the doctor was making house calls, I patiently waited for her return, fending off the eager talker and noting that the rules of privacy (HIIPA) in the U.S. are not anything like what happens here. Everyone's health or issues are discussed throughout the town and it is expected that everyone knows pretty much everything about all the other people living here - local or otherwise.

That is NOT a walking leaf, it is an even larger version
of the same kind of BUG I presented awhile ago - I feel
that the rain is helping these critters to grow... or some-
thing is... if  you try to pluck them off to move them,
they grab onto you with a fierce and scary strength!!
There was a revival at the Catholic Church earlier in the week. Apparently there was also an exorcism in the middle of it, and some young woman was cleansed of the devils beleaguering her. When I went to get a pedicure at the 'salon,' this morning, the whole revival and the thrilling activities connected to it were being heatedly discussed, including by a young man in a POLICIA uniform who was getting a manicure. (Men do that here quite unashamedly.) I didn't understand everything that was being talked about, but the facial expressions clued me in that they didn't really like what was going on in the church.

We are about to enter the Holy Week; the sacred time before Easter morning. Everyone is getting more than a little anxious and the city is expected to be filled with tourists and escapees from other parts of Colombia. The choral group has suffered a few losses due to restaurant schedules but the few stalwart voices remaining (me being one of them) are pushing on to prepare for our concert during that week. Stay tuned for more exciting news from the northern Andes!

Friday, March 18, 2011

On BEING an artist

One thing I have learned from The Artist’s Way, referred to by those of us who are actively following that path as TAW, is that BEING an artist is given to everyone. It is a gift from the Creator, but not everyone wishes to unwrap the package and find out what is inside.
I have been a risk-taker most of my life. I have fallen in love, been married, had children (a huge risk, in my opinion), traveled to many places, been active in various sports and learned new languages. Many of my friends have given me nicknames to show their appreciation/awe/fear/jealousy of my adventures. More than once I have heard someone say, “I wish I could do what you are doing....
Anibal Moreno, an artist from Bogota, reminds me how
to stretch the canvas in preparation for putting my sketch
on it and making it into an oil painting. Anibal is also
my neighbor, living in the cottage on the property.
So it is with being creative and being an artist. It is about DOING it. It has nothing to do with whether one is gifted enough to be entitled to a particular creative act... because it is not enough to have the gift if the package is never opened.
There are a number of acquaintances I have made through MM and what a vibrant and creative bunch they all are! One has come up with a way to motivate people to raise funds and awareness about MM, another sends out endearing handmade ‘buddies,’ many know of the sensitive poetry that Susie has produced and made into a book, "A Power Within - Poems of Love," while others are sewing and knitting dervishes or advertising executives or pianists or playing the saxophone and so it goes. 
How can I be less creative when I have such shining examples before me? I am not sure if it was the threat of MM so close in my family that made me decide to take yet another leap into a new culture and to really focus my creative energies. But here I am, and here’s what I did this week: made cookies with local ingredients, had a ceramics class, got some oil painting instruction, had a Gestault session to free up my art spirit, wrote a poem in Spanish, went to a new theatre group gathering and took some more photographs. Oh, and discussed plans for the local chorus group to be re-activated.
This is the preliminary work. I think I will call it just
"Window," or in Spanish, "Ventana."
Being retired has its benefits, but there are pockets of time for any individual who wants to take the risk to open the package. Kids just naturally want to rip open the box to find out what is inside and try playing with it. When we ‘get more mature,’ we forget about how to play. I guess I’m just too curious and too willing to try something new... except for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, BK! I may have to get a little bit older before I want to try that.
The bowl on the left was my first one and I have since
removed some of the fingerprints on the one to the
right. Today I dipped them in colors! The ladies here
are also taking the class, but are much more advanced.
I recently wrote on a website for artists’ that fear is the biggest obstacle to success and being afraid to dream of success means one doesn’t dare have hope of overcoming the fear. Margaret recently wrote about the need for cancer patients to have hope...(scroll down the link to that title.) and my friend BK has written about hope as well. It is essential for life. And being creative is part of the energy that makes life worth living... for whatever time we have left, because no one knows when the Green Door will open for them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

16 minutes

On March 11, from the time the earthquake struck (2:46 p.m.) until the tsunami raced at 800 kilometers per hour to hit the land  at 3:02 p.m., the Japanese people living near the coast had 16 minutes to act. The quake itself lasted several minutes, so right after it was over, the people on the water’s edge had to decide if there was a risk of a tsunami or not and if yes, get to higher ground. For the elderly, it was already an impossible task. Many people over 70 cannot walk quickly and in this case, they would have had to run quite a long distance from their coastal homes to someplace higher.

I had no idea it happened so quickly.

It takes 16 minutes for me to walk to the center of the little mountain town where I live. That’s also the length of time I need to take a shower, dry my hair and get dressed. If I had been living in one of those Japanese coastal towns, I probably would have held on for dear life when the earthquake struck and when it was over, if things were not in ruins around me, I might have stepped outside to see what was going on with the neighbors. I probably would have asked them if their power was out, since mine undoubtably was. Would I have thought I needed to evacuate? Not unless I had been trained that any quake over 6 was a potential tsunami event, but just two days before there had been one at 7.2 and there was no tsunami warning. And if the power was out, it is unlikely there would have been a radio or TV to give any notice. Even if I could have gotten to my car in time, most of the towns appear to have had at least a 10 minute drive to something higher. I would have perished, as so many did.

If there is a lesson here for me, it is that first of all, I will take earthquakes more seriously now, and more especially if I am somewhere close to an ocean. Secondly, I will continue to stay in good shape so if I have to move quickly in an emergency, I can do so.

Looking at the various YouTube videos and news reports, it is clear that even the reporters were unaware of how powerful and how rapidly the tsunami struck with the first wave - estimated to be at least 23 feet in height- only 16 minutes after the huge quake. An hour and 30 minutes afterwards the news reporter was saying, "You need to evacuate to higher ground now..."and "this situation is very fluid, changing minute by minute," a rather poor choice of words over the video of Sendai airport being inundated.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Global Community

Spring flowers in Arizona
Anyone who has faced the doctor with the dreaded announcement, "You have cancer," knows how life changes in an instant. 

And when on a walk a few days ago there was discussion about the earthquake in Japan, my first thought was, "Well, it doesn't really affect me."

If you think because the disaster in Japan is too far away to affect you, think again. Perhaps like me, you don't realize how big the Japanese influence is in your life - from Sony TVs to Honda cars to cellphones. And this has all been impacted. What if your Honda needs a part? There are NO shipments leaving Japan now or for the foreseeable future. Businesses will not be operational for months and some will cease to exist, either because of the infrastructure, the contamination, or the loss of leadership/ownership.
But that is a small part of this huge event. Potentially even worse is the news that one or more nuclear reactors may be in various stages of meltdown. A nuclear disaster on top of two others - unimaginable. A quote from GreenPeace included this information about the use of Cesium-137 at the Fukushima plant: “Cesium-137 poses a significant health risk to anyone exposed. Cesium-137 has been one of the isotopes causing the greatest health impacts following the Chernobyl disaster, because it can remain in the environment and food chain for 300 years.”
Those who enjoy tuna fish, squid, and various other Japanese ingredients for sushi or mushrooms for eating can kiss all that goodbye if they are unable to stop the meltdown.
As a former Emergency Management council member for the Veteran’s Administration and the editor of their extensive documents on crises and ‘management’ of them, I can assure you it is an enormous challenge to deal with an earthquake of nearly 9.0. When a tsunami with waves exceeding 23 feet followed the quake, the first event was nearly dwarfed by the second. Now there is the crisis of nuclear explosions and the resulting radiation exposure.
There are hundreds of thousands of people begging for assistance, people who need to be evacuated from the reactor threat, and people who are having to continue to work at their jobs when their focus might be on a lost loved one. It is an Herculean task and they need help, but they are a proud people and there are political risks in accepting aid.
Japan will rise again, but it will be years. The mortality of those who have been injured will increase, not to mention those who were washed away by the tsunami. And even the Japanese government admits they are unsure of how many people have already been exposed to the radiation, or how many may eventually become exposed. Then there is the horrible psychological aspect of living in such a disastrous set of circumstances.
I worked with the Red Cross right after the Katrina hurricane in the Louisiana area, so I can assure you that the emotional impact of losing everything - which may include family and friends, a job, purpose - is a greater devastation than the immediate surroundings, but when the daily life is completely upended without even a way to tell which way to go, it takes a terrible toll. It was tough on the rescue workers, but even harder on those who were without water, food, clothing, warmth and a place to call home.
As I recently posted, I returned to my home in Florida to find it completely emptied due to the betrayal of a friend. This was a difficult situation to come to terms with, but I am grateful I didn’t experience what the Japanese are going through now. I remember only too well what Hurricane Katrina did and although the storm surge there was similar to a tsunami, the daily shaking by after-shocks was not a part of the equation in Louisiana. 
When you cannot identify the street you lived on, when your house has been obliterated, when everything that you worked for is gone, especially the precious memories of children growing up, when the silly things you accumulated and surrounded yourself with are washed away and you have only the clothes on your back, you grieve in a stunned state. You don’t even realize the depth of the loss immediately; you only know what made you feel your place in the world, your touchstone of identity, is missing.
I was there, trying to help feed and cloth and comfort people of all ages. And they would look at me as if to say, “You have no idea what I am going through.” And I didn’t - not at their level of anguish having survived a catastrophe. I was just a worker, a helper, who came in afterwards.
Why am I expressing this? Because we really are a global community, and we cannot ignore the fact that when our neighbors in Japan are struggling to deal with an awful calamity, we are going to be affected. Not just because we might not be able to get the parts for a car, or ink for printers, or new cellphones or some other product, but because the loss of that part of the world’s participation in our world will have consequences - not known yet - but in time we will see it and feel it.
And I offer up these words of consolation to my unknown Japanese friends - I am so, so sorry for your losses. I have been a witness to others who have suffered greatly and I know you have many, many months of recovery ahead of you. I cannot come to you to help, but I will be offering up my intentions and prayers on your behalf, and will do what I can in other ways to ease your pain.
Unfortunately the other disturbing aspect of the events of March 11 is that it is unclear just what can be done from such a great distance and I have had the distinctly unpleasant experience in the past of watching various scams unfolding in the name of “assistance.” The one group I am certain can provide effective aid is the Church of Latter Day Saints and while I am not a member, I know their reputation for delivery. Perhaps there is a church near you which you can contact for more information. Or possibly you have your own connection with a trustworthy group that is providing help. 

Or if your life circumstances don't allow you the resources to do more than pray or intend for the victims, the rescuers, those who are trying to solve the problems, then please do that. I’m just sayin’... we have to find ways to reach out to this suffering community.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ENOR-moth progress

Half an hour out of Bogota, we were still in the mountains and climbing
up into the clouds and mist, with over seven hours ahead of us due to road
conditions. It was a long, long ride after a long, long ride.
I’ve been back “in country” for really four days. I can’t count the first day since it was spent getting from the airport to the hotel and into bed, collapsing after an 11-hour bus ride from Jacksonville, FL to Ft. Lauderdale (and no sleep at all!), as it was the least expensive way to transport myself and my baggage to Spirit Airlines.
I chose Spirit this time because the fares were incredibly inexpensive. Guess what? Everything comes with a price... including cheap fares. They nickeled and dimed me nearly to death, charging me huge fees for even the first bag, and the final cost was pretty close to what it would have cost me to fly on Avianca or Delta with less hassle. Guess I won’t do that again soon.
Well, I won’t be doing it soon anyhow as I have my visa and can stay for up to a year now...depends on whether I go to Colorado this summer or not.
Gratefully I am back into my artistic mode, speaking Spanish daily and today I am off to a ceramic class that will last for about a month - free! As a resident I am entitled to take a variety of classes at the ‘taller’ at no cost... yippee!!!
Tomorrow or the next day I am starting an art project using oil paints, converting a sketch I made last year into a full-sized painting. All these efforts are geared toward my goal of having enough creative works to show something off by the end of my year here, to prove that my time was not wasted and to prove that I really am the artist I have always felt that I was.
This is also an ENORmoth (sorry) bug... measures at least
8 inches across and moves enough air by flapping about
that I confuse it with the more silent bats.
The trip from Bogota was mostly in the rain, as March began the rainy season here. It is mostly cloudy in Barichara with rain at night, sometimes very light and sometimes with more force. But the rivers are flooded and creating more problems after only a three-month hiatus from the desperate situation late last year.
My casa was dusty and strewn with leaves, spiders had moved back into residence and this is also the year of cicadas, which means they make very, VERY loud noises and sometimes come into the casa. So I have been kept busy sweeping and dusting and getting settled again. But this time I can really unpack as I do not have any deadline to dance to and it feels really wonderful to wake up to the sun and my new life here. 
This is one HUGE cicada, in my opinion. I think he is
considering using my art supplies.