Friday, June 18, 2010

Have suitcase, might travel

Dave and I do not travel well together.  We would NOT do well on Amazing Race.  Well, maybe we would do okay, but we would definitely end up divorced afterwards.  And I think it's not only important to know that, but it's also okay to admit it. 

When I say we don't travel well together, though, it's less about the arguements (and name-calling and crying and shouting) that would arise should we participate on Amazing Race, and more about the fact that together, we seem to have really bad luck at airports.  Yesterday, for example.  I started Wednesday out by making a list so we didn't forget anything.  I was very proud of myself for being so prepared and organized.  I wrote out all the notes to my maid, called and booked a taxi for 4am (well, I had someone who spoke much better Spanish than me do it- thanks Darryl!), and started packing.  When Dave came home, we packed the rest of our stuff and did all those little things that we usually put off until the morning before we go, and went to bed.  The alarm was set for 3am, taxi at 4am (even confirmed), airport by 4:30, flight at 7:15am- no problems, right?  Wrong.

First, the alarm went off.  But apparently at 3am, the radio station plays some delightfully quiet eveator music that no one can hear over the fan in their room.  So we woke up at 3:48am, with a giant curse word being the first thing out of my mouth.  We rushed around like crazy people, brushing teeth, scaring the dogs and generally resembling headless chickens.  The taxi was already outside so we practically threw ourselves out the door, sweating all the way.  I didn't get to hug my puppies goodbye (the maid is staying at our house with her kiddos all summer- they'll be fine) so I was a little sad.

But alas, we were on our way!  We made it to the airport in record time and it was practically deserted at 4:30am.  We filled out the endless exit/customs forms and made our way straight to an agent... only to be asked if Dave had filled out his form.  "What form?"  I asked in my cute little Southern accent which was emerging of its' own accord, knowing we were just hours from being home.  "The ESTA.  Online,"  the agent replies, kindly.  "Uh, no.  I didn't see anything anywhere that told me we needed to fill out something," I replied, still sweetly.  It was a bit of a lie, though.  At Christmas, a customs' agent in Miami had mentioned the form.  But he said it would be at least two years before it was required.  Dave sporadically mentioned filling it out since then, but he never did and I wasn't worried about it.  After all, we had two years.

Apparently not.  The guy says Dave can't fly into the US without filling out this form.  I asked, not-so-sweetly now, all traces of Southern-belle quickly fading, "Where can he do that?"  To which the agent replied, "I don't know.  We don't have internet here."  "You don't have internet here?"  I practically screamed, incredulous.  "In the airport?"  He looked slightly startled and said, "Oh, no we have the internet in the airport, just not up here.  But they won't let you down into the gates without a ticket."  Teeth barred, I asked as politely as was still possible, "So.What.Do.We.Do?"  To which we got the helpful response, "I dunno."  Thank you, helpful man.

I marched myself, my husband and our bags over to the security guy at the gates and told them our situation.  He had to ask someone else but eventually they agreed to escort Dave down to the gates to the internet cafe.  He was able to fill out the form and was back upstairs abotu 20 minutes later.  During this time, I was making very stunted conversation with a very nice black police (he wasn't black, but there are two types of police in Guate- the black-uniformed police tend to be a bit corrupt and scary; the green-uniformed police are nice and helpful).  But this one was young and cute and very patient with my limited Spanish.  We taught each other some phrases in our native languages and he asked if I had a sister and if she was beautiful.  I said yes.

Back up at the counter, the new agent asked for Dave's printout, proving that he had filled out the form.  Dave looked shocked saying that nothing on the page said he needed print anything out.  She said, "Sorry, he can't fly unless he proves he's filled it out."  I am, at this point, about to break down and cry.  Luckily, right then, her boss came over and said that it sometimes takes 24-48 hours for the form to show up in the system, so it was okay.  And she printed out our tickets, took our bags, and off we went.

If this were the first time something like this happened, I would not be so sure of our travel-demons.  But it's not the first time.  And unfortunately, it probably won't be the last.

(If you made it this far, I'm curious what you think of my writing style?  Could you leave a little comment or two, maybe telling me if I give enough detail or too little?  Does the story make sense?  Did you skim?  What could I do to make it better?  Any editorial feedback is appreciated!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So long, farewell...

In high school, I was friends with a girl named Melody.  She was my best friend for a very brief period in ninth grade.  Not only was she smart and beautiful, she had this voice- it was amazing!  I loved listening to her sing in choir and was kind of jealous because she was in the mixed choir that school year which was usually reserved for eleventh and twelfth graders.  I was only in the women's choir- anyone could be in that.

The best part about Melody, though, was her love for Dax.  Because I loved Matt.  And they were friends.  The four of us were in geometry together (Aaahhh!  Freshmen in a sophomore class!).  Melody and I nicknamed them Barney and... oh, I can't remember!  I don't even remember which one was Barney.  But we nicknamed them because we were constantly passing notes back and forth about those two boys and we thought it best if we didn't write their actual names, just in case. 

Melody and I went to a lot of Dax's soccer games.  He was good and I remember thinking he had cute legs.  Matt didn't play but he was always at the games, too, so it was a win-win situation.  It's a lot easier to stare, whisper and giggle about boys you love at a soccer game than in geometry class.  Neither of us understood soccer, but that didn't stop us from begging to go to every home game that some parent or another would take us to.

Early in the school year, a few months after our friendship started, Melody told me she had a secret.  But she couldn't tell me for a couple of months.  Oh, the things that ran through my mind!  Did she know that Matt did like me?  Well, why couldn't she tell me?  Were she and Dax secretly dating?  No, she couldn't even talk to him.  Most of my speculations on this secret centered around boys.  For months, I begged and pleaded with her to tell me the secret.  I would wait a few days and then ask, "Can you tell me yet?" and then wait a few days more and ask again each time she said no.  It was killing me!

Finally, sometime in the spring, she told me her secret.  She and her family were moving away.  Her dad, a minister of music, had gotten a job in a church down South.  They would move that summer.  Melody would be gone.

I remember her being excited about this- telling me this secret as if it weren't the worst thing in the world.  Meanwhile, I was crushed.  In my anger and hurt, all I could do was push Melody away.  I didn't even realize I was doing it until years later.  We still hung out, but I was always mean to her.  I was snippy and sassy and got angry with her for no reason.  At one point, I think I went a couple of days without even talking to her.  That sweet girl, though, she kept coming around.  I doubt she realized what I was doing or why, but she didn't give up on me.  She was my friend, right on until the day she left. 

After she moved, pre-email, we wrote letters to each other for a long time.  I still have them somewhere... maybe.  Melody was enjoying her new life and making new friends.  I was making friends, too.  She asked about Dax and Matt occassionally and told me about boys she met.  I told her when I started dating Eddie and what plays I was doing.  Eventually, we both went to college.  She got married and invited me to the wedding.  My sister and I drove all the way to Jasper, GA just to say hey and give her a hug.  Then we drove all the way back.  I kind of wanted to tell her I was sorry for how I treated her.  Her wedding probably wasn't the right time to do that, though, so I didn't.

We're friends now on Facebook, but we haven't talked much.  She's married with a couple of kiddos.  I live in Guatemala.  I don't know what we'd have in common now.

Why am I thinking about this?  Because the goodbyes have started here and it always makes me a little sad.  I'm glad I can handle myself better, not push people away because they're leaving.  But being a grown-up doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.  Facebook and email do...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If you haven't been there...

Before January, I didn't know what to say to a friend who lost a loved one.  My grandmother died a few years back, but she was bed-ridden and couldn't talk anymore.  I don't know for sure if she was suffering, but even if she wasn't suffering physically, what kind of life is that?  Of course I'm sad that she died but she was also released into God's arms and can run and walk and sing again if she wants.  My cousin died- he was young and vibrant and that hurt a lot.  But he was "only my cousin" so a lot of people just didn't understand the pain and tears that came with his death.  Friends just didn't mention it.  I also lived in different country with people who never knew him, so it was easy for them to mumble, "sorry" and move on with their day.  But when Mom died- well, the outpouring of sympathy was amazing.  I didn't know she was so loved and it was good to hear.

What is not good to hear is people sympathizing or offering advice.  Here's the thing- if you haven't been there, just say, "I'm sorry for your loss.  You and your family is in my prayers."  If you're not the praying-kind, you can substitute "thoughts" for "prayers"... which in my mind are essentially the same because if you're "thinking" of me, you're probably hoping that my pain and sadness will ease or that I'll be strong enough to deal with this loss... and who are you talking to when you hope for these things...?  Hmmmm...?

I digress.  Sometimes people just need to talk and they need a sympathetic ear.  Sometimes, they want you to understand their pain.  Sometimes they want prayers.  Usually, unless they ask for advice, they don't want it.  And you don't need to feel pressured to give it.  You don't need to feel pressured to tell them a story of something 'sort of like that' that happened to you or your cousin or your mother's uncle's sister's friend.  Just listen.  Don't tell me 'it'll get better,' or 'stop thinking about it,' or 'it's all God's plan.'  Because I don't need to hear that.  I need a "poor baby," or "Gosh, that must be hard," or, "I'm praying for you."  That's all.

Because if you haven't been there, you don't understand.  And if you don't understand, your "advice" only hurts me. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

How's that go?

What's that saying about old and new friends?  "Keep the old but..."?  I can't remember.  But I do know that the end of the year is one of the hardest times for teachers in international schools.  Personally, I always seem to make a new friend right before they move away.  I'm not sure why this happens.  In China, I became friends with Amy- we started hanging out almost every weekend for the last month she was there.  She and her now husband were moving to Warsaw that next year.  Unfortunately, we discovered too late that we had a lot in common and could really talk and laugh about a variety of subjects.  It didn't hurt that her then fiance and my husband were friends... but we had just never really connected before it was time for her to go.

Here in Guate, I've recently discovered another new friend... but she's leaving too!  She and her husband are going back to the States in like two days and I'm quite torn up about it.  The hardest part is that the people who are leaving are always excited- who wouldn't be?  I was super excited to leave Shanghai and it kept me from being too sad at the friends I was leaving behind. It's always like that- the end, if you're staying, is sad.  If you're leaving, it's exciting.  But the good thing is that, come August, the ones who stayed behind get to be excited again with all the new people that arrive.  The air is not only vibrating with the freshness of a new school year, but there are new friends to be made.

That segues me nicely into my next topic- international teachers and drinking.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately because it's happening A LOT lately.  End of the year parties, birthday parties, regular ol' Friday afternoons... it seems like all we do is drink!  When I first started teaching overseas, someone asked me," So what are you running from?"  I was confused and said so.  He said, "We're all running from something in this business.  It's just the nature of the beast."  And I've thought about that a lot.  It's probably true- if you ask anyone why they teach overseas, they've usually got a pretty good story.  If I am being honest, I was running, though I didn't know it at the time.  When I got offered the job in the DR, I was in a bad relationship, working in a restaurant, wreaking havoc on Shannon's life, and generally being miserable.  I myself was drinking too much, sleeping too much, and not really caring what happened next.  So yeah, I was running.  And running lends itself to 'forgetting' or 'dealing.'  And a lot of forgetting and dealing makes people drink.

I can have fun without drinking.  I prefer to have fun without drinking because 1. I like remembering how much fun I was having; 2. I don't like remembering that I said something stupid or talked too much (which I do, drunk or not); 3. I like feeling like I will make it home alive.  But others, good people, people I really like and would love to spend more time with, can't, it seems, have fun without drinking.  And some of them like to drink A LOT.  And I don't particularly like to be around them when they're that drunk- demons come out.

Which brings me to my point- it's sometimes hard for me to make friends in this circuit because I'm not into partying and bars.  I find parties where people just get hammered and fall over to be a bit boring... and I feel a bit old for it.  But that's me.  I am accepting that I am 90 before my time- I like to knit, have a glass of wine or two with dinner, and be able to have conversations with people.

But that doesn't mean that I don't want to be friends with the people who party.  I swear, I really do like them.  It just seems like we don't have that much to talk about... whether or not we're all slurring...