Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Now

My dad and me in front of the Quonset Hut. That's George, my dog
I lived in a Tucson Quonset Hut when my father was going to college. As a toddler, I have no recollection of those days. But I remember the stories. My dad barely passed high school because he would only attend on test days. Although he aced the tests, attendance was important and this behavior caused considerable strife during his young academic years. Dad did things his way.

He joined the Marine Corps and fought in the war. He came home with a pocket full of savings and flipped a coin. Heads he would go to college, tails he would spend the entire savings in the New Orleans jazz clubs. After countless beers and music-filled nights, he came to California broke and found work in a plastics factory. Once again, he did things his way.  I think he needed that time to compartmentalize things he saw and did during the war; the things that haunted him throughout his lifetime.  

Within a short time he met my mother, who insisted he earn a college degree. That’s when we moved to Tucson, Arizona. He attended the University of Arizona. My dad attended the first class of each course to secure the syllabus and required book. He read the book in the first week, understood the concepts and staying true to his behavior in high school, he only attended class on test days. That way he could watch me and tutor the football players while my mother worked.

My mother never stopped declaring, “you are so much like your father”. In my mind there were no similarities. He was smart. He was a math person. Go figure…well he figured; I never got the hang of it. I’m right-brained. I had to work for my grades. He did things on his own time while I play by the rules.

My father died young, more than thirty years ago. Mom died in 2008. When my sister and I were going through the garage we came across his college diploma. It was mounted onto a wooden board where it hung at work and then, after retirement, in his home-office. This piece of wood represented a lot of work. What do you do with this type of artifact when someone dies? I’m not sure where it ended up. It’s too painful to think that it may be lying in a graveyard dump.

When I was in grad school, few understood the way I would attack a course. I attended the first class in anticipation of acquiring the syllabus and required books. Unlike my father, I attended every single class to ensure I understood the material. I completed a final draft of my course paper by the mid-term and would coast through the rest of the course. I took copious notes during class and just before the end of the course I reviewed my paper, read my notes and outlining key learning points, made appropriate changes. I was always the first done, always the first to present and never, NEVER one to stay up and write a paper the night before it was due. NEVER! I’m not a procrastinator. I like to have things done way before they need to be done. I played by the rules.

Before I left for Peace Corps, I was teaching at three different schools. I usually taught four nights a week. My syllabi were well detailed. I created a detailed class activity sheet for each class. Both were complete before the course began and handed out to students the first night. Many times, I power pointed the assigned books. I searched for appropriate current events and video material.

Each Sunday, I prepared for the week’s classes. I had a bag for each class where I could put appropriate materials, graded papers, books and anything else I would need for the class. The bags were lined up in order of the day of the week. Yes, my life was extremely organized.

There is a saying about time in Saint Lucia. People do things ‘just now’. That means it may get done in ten minutes, an hour, a few hours, or even days. Just now is getting things done on my own time. Since returning from my Peace Corps assignment in August, I have a lot of unstructured time. I will start teaching in January. It’s almost the end of November and I haven’t considered the syllabus. Thinking about the old me, this is quite uncharacteristic. I should have reported my decision on the book last Thursday. The university wants to know. I’m definitely lagging and having trouble getting away from my ‘just now’ time schedule. I’ve stopped playing by the rules.

As I said, my dad did things on his own time. Maybe I am finally living up to my mother’s declaration. Maybe I am like my father. Identifying the book should be a priority. The problem is that I bought a stand mixer this week and I’m more interested in learning to make a good pie crust today. Maybe I’ll listen to some jazz while I bake that pie.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I was stunned. I felt unable to move in those first few moments as I watched the towers crash down while people were trying to outrun the billowing cloud behind them. In the days that followed 9-11, people were patriotic, patient and quiet. A man I worked with was a former marine and a patriot. He ran communications at the company where I worked. He was behind his wooden mahogany desk, sitting in his black leather executive chair.  He was stiff, almost at attention while watching the television in his office. I remember one quiet sentence he uttered, “They are all patriotic now, but they will forget”.

I awoke this morning to my usual routine. I went to the kitchen and poured water into the kettle that would be used to make coffee with my press. I filled the cat and dog’s water bowl and fed them their breakfast. Then I brushed my teeth and took a shower. When I returned to the kitchen, Barkley was studying every move I made. He knew it was time for our walk. I grabbed his leash and said, “OK, let’s go”. We slowly walked on the sidewalk and I maneuvered him around the freshly watered lawns. He’s a small dog and low to the ground. Walking through a puddle is sure to soak his entire underside.

I simmered a chicken the day before. Today, I would make chicken soup. When I returned from the walk, I made a list of things I needed to complete the soup; a can of tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, parsley, peppers and ravioli. I drove to the store and quickly gathered the things I needed and headed home. Upon returning home, I turned on the television and watched a few minutes of the news. I called a friend on the phone and talked for a few minutes.

I picked up the Los Angeles Times and read Joe Mozingo’s front page report on the situation in Haiti. His words are painted with descriptions that leave the reader feeling like they have had first-hand experience. The country was bracing for Hurricane Tomas while dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this year. Cholera has broken out. People are living in tents. Fortunately, they were spared the wrath of Tomas, but it did present an opportunity to remind people of the suffering the Haitians are experiencing in everyday life. As I read Joe’s article, I remembered my marine friend’s words, “they will forget”.

Castries before Hurricane Tomas
I turned on my computer and opened an email from one of my friends in Saint Lucia. They were not so lucky; Tomas wreaked havoc on the country which was my home for two years. It was before noon, but as I read the email I reflected on things most of us don’t consider in our daily lives. I turned on the water to take a hot shower, to brush my teeth, to fill the tea kettle. I picked up Barkley so he wouldn’t get wet from the freshly watered lawns.
Castries after Hurricane Tomas
Saint Lucia experienced a drought this summer. Pipes in homes were dry during many summer days. In an effort to conserve water, the government shut off the water supply in many areas of the country. Some were carrying buckets of water retrieved from a standpipe. I took my share of cold bucket baths. During Hurricane Tomas, the dam was damaged by a mudslide. The water supply is now in severe crises. People are collecting rainwater to drink. The government is warning people to boil the water they collect. Some do.

Once trees that provided food
I turned on my television knowing I had electricity and dialed my phone expecting service. I went to the store with a list of things I needed, knowing I would get every item on the list plus a couple of impulse buys. Many people are scrambling for supplies. Store shelves are empty and the fruit trees and crops they depend on to feed families are destroyed. The banana industry has been decimated. This is a developing country and the government doesn’t have a lot of money.

Roads sink into the earth
While I drive on well maintained roads, many roads in Saint Lucia are severely damaged. Some have sink holes. A few places could only be reached by boat. 

Shelterboxes provided by Rotary and flown in courtesy of Virgin Airlines
I woke in a warm bed this morning while many people in Saint Lucia are living in tents with outdoor showers and toilet facilities because their homes have been destroyed. One village is so badly damaged there is a question about whether or not anyone will be able to return.

I didn’t respond when I heard my marine friend whisper those words, “they will forget”. He wasn’t looking for a response, but I know what it would have been if he had asked.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disaster in Paradise

Saint Lucia, the tiny island I called home for two years, was hit hard by Hurricane Tomas last week.  It is difficult to be here and not know about some of my Peace Corps friends and the wonderful friends whose warmth and hospitality made me feel safe and sane.  The media, for some reason, has not focused on this tragedy.

Prime Minister Stephen King has declared a State of Emergency in Saint Lucia and said conservative estimates are around $100M EC.  At least seven lives have been lost, mostly in mudslides.  There is no electricity and water in many parts of the island.  Bridges have been destroyed and the road around the island has been compromised leaving entire areas without communication. 

The HTS Channel website has updates on the disaster in paradise.

Donations for Tomas victims: St. Lucia Red Cross, First Caribbean International Bank, Bridge St. Castries, A/C # 2645392 swift code FCIBLCLC - if you also need other codes are BOFAUS3N, ABA # 026009593