I Dream of Foreign Places and Dog-Free Spaces

Someone – I don’t know who – pooped on the welcome mat. I discovered it early one morning while chasing my teenage son to the school bus with a wet mop as he’s not a morning person,

Don't let that face fool you - she's a walking toilet

Don’t let that face fool you – she’s a walking toilet

doesn’t shower enough, and thinks 16-year-old boys shouldn’t have to ride the school bus but, instead, should be driving a smoking hot sports car with booming speakers and teenaged girls taking up every spare inch of space.

But I digress.

As I was saying, someone pooped on the welcome mat, and I’m hoping it was the dog, but in this house with these kids and my particular breed of husband, everyone is a suspect.  Being an optimist, I realized things could be worse.  For one thing, a) it had hardened by the time I found it and b) I hadn’t fertilized the shrubs in a while.  So, finding lemons and making lemonade, I gave the mat a quick flip, tossed the little unwrapped gift under the hopefully hungry yew and called it a morning.  Extra cup of coffee, here I come.

I love that extra cup of coffee because it comes with a quiet house and sleeping pets and time to think.  It’s that blessed in-between time when all is still and it’s not yet time to report to the home office.  It’s my time to sit, to sip and to dream – dream about a cleaner house, thinner thighs, constipated pets and, more often than not, of foreign times in foreign lands with foreign people in a beautiful little space charmingly free of cat hair.

My heart belongs to Venice

My heart belongs to Venice

I’ve found such a place in the form of my dream Go with Oh apartment in that magical place known as Venice, Italy.  When my dreams take me away like a 747 flying high over my rolling Hoosier farmland, I still find it hard to believe such a place does, in fact, exist.  How could this place, this magical watery space, be real?

When I planned my first of hopefully many trips to Venice in the spring of 2012, I spent many a happy idle hour drooling over Go with Oh apartments in Venice.  Did I want to be near the Piazza San Marco?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

What wonders wait behind this open window?

Or was something overlooking the Rialto Bridge more my style? Or perhaps I should consider something half hidden away in the looming shadow of the Santa Maria de Miricoli with her pink laced marble walls and her gleaming dome? Maybe one of the outlying islands would be fun.

Decisions, decisions.

While I could have happily searched for Go with Oh apartments for an eternity, I eventually, found what I was looking for – a lovely two-bedroom, two bath beauty with multiple windows and balconies overlooking the San Severo River, with an actual terrace AND an actual fireplace in the kitchen and a wide entry hall just begging for weary travelers to enter, unwind and toss down their luggage.  Pinch me until I’m pink, I found heaven on earth!!!

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

My Go with Oh San Severo beauty

It was everything one could dream of.  One bedroom – MY bedroom – featured wooden parquet floors tread by who knows how many Venetian tradesmen.  A wooden desk sat between two windows overlooking the canal and a bridge – an actual Venetian bridge with its graceful arch and bobbing boats for neighbors.  I could easily imagine that desk and that bridge just waiting for me to show up with pen and paper to sit, stare and write.  Venetian glass chandeliers winked overhead.  Within the kitchen stood a wide open door to a terrace featuring who knows what kind of wonderful view outside.

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I could sit here and write forever, I think

I wanted to waltz into that kitchen, open that door and step outside to know –  really know – what was out there.  As long as it wasn’t a pooping puppy, I knew I would be thrilled!

And in real estate they say what matters is location, location, location and my Go with Oh San Severo beauty had that too. While everything in Venice is near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, this one was so tantalizingly close that I imagine I could stand on that balcony and hear the ghostly breath of long dead prisoners coming from the Bridge of Sighs. I imagined I could pick out the domes of St. Mark’s against the one-of-a-kind Venetian skyline and I knew I

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door...

I would give four dogs and five teenage tantrums to peak out that door…

would be able to hear the ringing bells of the piazza’s tower.

Sadly, however, like many a beautiful woman, my Go with Oh San Severo love had many suitors and she was unavailable to rent the week I needed her.

First the denial – no, how could that be??? Then, the heartbreak!

And then, I returned to my Go with Oh apartment list and found the next love of my life, Ca ‘Elena.  Think what you will, she was no rebound apartment and in September of 2012, I fell in love with her too.  In fact, my heart will always belong to my little Ca ‘Elena.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=0&babies=0

With that said, I WILL go back to Venice and I WILL take friends and family with me – but not the dog.  And I WILL begin a new love affair with the lovely Go with Oh San Severo beauty.  Until then, I will wash the clothes and pick up after the children and feed hard cheese and bananas to the dog in hopes of avoiding a

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark's in the nearby Piazza San Marco

I want to awaken in this bedroom to the bells of St. Mark’s in the nearby Piazza San Marco

repeat offense on the welcome mat.  I will clip my coupons and I will save my pennies and soon – hopefully very soon – I will be making plans and packing bags and sharpening pencils.

Because eventually I will sit at that bedroom desk and I will gaze at that bridge and I will write a line or two about what it means to travel and see the world.  I will make memories and take pictures and I will fall in love again with new spaces and places.  And, eventually, I will go home, but I will take with me a little of that watery, wonderful world that is Venice, Italy.

Here is a link to my future foreign Go with Oh San Severo home away from home.  I’ll share it with you now because I’m a nice person and I know I’m not the only middle-aged mom wrestling with crusty teenagers and pooping pets.

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy.  May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Hanging in a Venetian alley with my good friend, Candy. May another Go with Oh apartment be in our near future!

Think of it as my little gift to you – and you’re welcome!

But it does come with a caveat.  While I’m sharing it with you, remember one thing – I’ve got dibs on next September.

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_15447/?arrival=2014-03-23&departure=2014-03-30&zone=VEN&sid=&s_id=s_52667dd1aa381&PRODUCT_TYPE=apartments&adults=2&children=&babies=

With that said, get to Venice.  Everyone needs a little living, breathing slice of real world fantasy to hold on to.  Now excuse me. I have to go diaper the dog.

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Making friends in the Piazza San Marco

Robin Winzenread Fritz

Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part II)

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti

The sun rises over Jeremie, Haiti


Since traveling to Haiti, I’ve had several people mention to me how they hope to someday go on a similar trip. It’s exciting to see how contagious mission work and travel can be. My friend David planted a seed with me, and now I hope to plant similar seeds with others.

And as David gave me the low down on what to expect before we left, I feel it’s only appropriate to fertilize the seeds I’m planting with a little sage advice, keeping in mind that I am still very wet behind the ears in the mission-trip travel department. But every little bit helps, so if you to want to go out and do good works in Haiti too, here are some practical tips to pave the way.

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie - the "before" view

Our project at the Gebeau compound in Jeremie – the “before” view

Part II – The Details

Pack light and prepare to sweat – My teenage son likes to whisper “hoarder” in my ear whenever I try to repurpose anything so, as you can imagine, packing light is an ordeal for me. During my recent trip to Italy, I left a wake of herniated airport employees behind me. But I managed to dig down deep and pack only essentials for Haiti and – guess what? For once in my life, I actually packed too light.

I took a tiny bottle of liquid Tide with me so I could sponge things out every evening and wear some things twice. I SHOULD have taken some string to use as a clothesline too, so learn from my mistake. Also, what I hadn’t counted on was the reality of the work at hand. Our project consisted of cleaning out and refitting a barn for a future tractor delivery, and, by cleaning out, I mean we CLEANED IT OUT. Rats, big ass spiders, years of accumulated dirt, bird poop and oil, and coconut shells by the hundreds left us all grimy, gritty and gross. Additionally, we did it in 90 degree heat – which, by the way, is the cool season in Haiti. Come summer, it’s actually hotter.

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful - enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

Every day was hot, sunny and beautiful – enjoying the view of the Grand Anse River

So at the end of the day, I pretty much smelled like a camel, and my work clothes could stand up by themselves. All the sponging in the world couldn’t put a dent in the funk growing in my shoes by mid week and I actually lived in fear of running out of soap and shampoo. Come to think of it, my companions actually lived in fear of me running out of soap and shampoo too.

Don’t pack for vacation, pack for work and if it has sentimental meaning, leave it at home – As I knew I would be working on that barn before leaving, I packed work clothes, including my favorite old navy blue polo shirt. It’s not a great shirt nor is a good looking shirt, but as shirts go, it’s a favorite because it’s broken in and very comfortable. I’ve spent a lot of hours telecommuting in that shirt.

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw - no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

Mark cuts a ceiling brace with a handsaw – no power tools were on site because we had no electricity

But what I hadn’t counted on in Haiti was looking into the faces of so many people with so little. It made me seriously regret the state of my walk-in closet back home, so I let them pick me clean like a buzzard on road kill – and I would do it again in a heart beat. When workmen pointed to my gloves, I let them have the gloves, because they were working harder than me. When a little boy kept admiring his reflection in my aviator sunglasses, I let him have them, and he strutted around worthy of his new nickname, Rico Suave. When another young man came back with us to the guesthouse at the end of one day and asked if we had any clothes to spare, I gave him that polo shirt because it was the only thing I had not yet been worn or sweated in. By the end of the week I was also down a baseball cap, safety glasses, several magazines, a pen and a water bottle too. And I wish I had had more to give. Much as I loved that shirt, there’s plenty more in my closet where that came from.

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint.  Plus, it's squeaky clean inside!

The barn now sporting a new roof, plaster, doors and paint. Plus, it’s squeaky clean inside!

So, in short, DO pack heavy and plan to share. Great things to take and share include work gloves, water bottles, t-shirts, soccer balls – which are practically a currency in Haiti, not to mention an instant party – hand pumps for those soccer balls, Crocs, flip flops, you name it. David brought with him a few old Army duffels jam packed with stuff, and it’s impossible not to feel moved when handing these things out. So cram those backpacks and share the wealth! It feels good.

Buying supplies at the Haitian "Home Depot" - don't worry, it's just paint

Buying supplies at the Haitian “Home Depot” – don’t worry, it’s just paint

Take change – Sometimes I pride myself on not being a total moron. More often, however, I’m kicking myself for being a complete idiot, and nothing was more idiotic than waiting until the last minute to hit the money mover prior to my trip. The end result was that I took mostly $20s.

How dumb could I be? In Haiti, people don’t make change, because they don’t HAVE change. Haitian workers will move mountains for $8 a day – we paid them $10 – so that puts those $20s in perspective. Plus, it’s not a shopping Mecca. Talented crafts people will come to you with really neat trinkets for sale, but they’re not expensive items, so you end up buying armloads of this stuff because you have a $20, not a $10 or a $5 or a $1 and – I repeat – they can’t make change. But it’s ok – the way I look at it, I stimulated the local economy.

In short, break those freaking $20s and take dollars, dollars, dollars. Who cares if you look like a stripper on payday? You won’t have them – or shouldn’t have them – when you get home anyway. Oh, and leave the credit cards and debit cards at home. You won’t need them either.

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

Many homes in Jeremie do not have access to running water

If it’s yellow, let it mellow… – and I think you know the rest of that little gem. Ok, here’s the reality of Haiti – few people have running water in their homes. While fresh water does seem to be plentiful – it pours out of the mountains – getting it some place useful, like in homes, seems to be a real problem. Even well-kept places like the Methodist guesthouse where we stayed in Jeremie which do have running water, still have issues. Water pumps in Haiti are few and far between, thus the majority of faucets and toilets are gravity-based.

What does this mean for you? It means don’t waste water and forget about water pressure. And as for hot water, don’t even think about it. Besides, it’s a hot country and you already smell like old cabbage so do you really need it? Nope! But do take sanitary wipes or antibacterial gel. It comes in pretty darn handy. And if you’re a germ-a-phobe, well, let’s just say you may have a few issues with Haiti. But if you’re a dirt-eating, nose-picking, wipe-your-hands-on-your shirt farm girl like me, you’re good to go.

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

Sometimes I smelled like a camel AND a sheep

With that said, keep these water-related ground rules in mind. When showering, get wet, turn off the water, then shampoo and soap up. Then rinse off and do it quick. I also found that if I sponged out a few things in the sink quickly before showering, I could let them soak in the sink while I showered and drain while I dried off and got dressed. Again, bring a clothesline too as you’ll need somewhere to hang your stuff overnight to dry.

Also, if you’re there for a week and you eat the same kind of diet we ate – goat, rice, beans, fish, and lots of fresh fruit – be prepared to poop. Why do I bring that up? Reminder – gravity-based water flow! If you must take a dump, do it downstairs if you’re in a two-story building. You’ll need the extra *umph* to get it down the pipes. Trust me, one such episode in the upstairs restroom took a rest stop somewhere along the way down and the end result wasn’t pretty. I’m just saying, you know. So snatch the pebble from my hand, grasshopper, and poop downstairs. One more thing – never put toilet paper in the actual toilet, no matter WHAT is on it. Toilet paper goes in the trash can beside the toilet – again, gravity-based water flow. It’s self-explanatory, really.

It gets dark early in Haiti

It gets dark early in Haiti

Don’t panic if the lights go out – When you’re in a strange country, and it’s a developing one at that, you may be slightly on edge when odd things happen, say, for instance, the power goes out at night. Don’t panic. Sure, in the States, power outages are fairly uncommon. But in Jeremie, that turned out to be an almost nightly occurrence. Once at dinner, we were all plunged into darkness, but what fun it was when everyone whipped out their cell phones and lit up the night!

I don’t know what caused the outages or if they really do just shut off the power to the city after hours, but by morning it was always back on. Plus, as a country hovering just over the equator, the sun is up by 6:00 a.m. and down by 6:00 p.m. so you’re going to keep odd hours anyway. Nine in the evening seems almost like midnight, so you’ll probably already be in bed when it happens. Also, it’s much more quiet at night than at 5:00 in the morning anyway so sleep when the sleeping’s good. Dogs, birds, chickens, motorbikes, they all seem to start up early and often. You’ll appreciate hitting the sack early, trust me.

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Cristella put my hair in pigtails

Be prepared to be petted – If you’re a glow-in-the-dark white gal like me and have bushy fake blonde hair bordering on cocker spaniel, prepare to be petted, especially if there are any young Haitian girls anywhere in your immediate vicinity. We had the good fortune to spend some time with some adorable young people at the Gebeau orphanage and, as I quickly found out, long blonde hair is a Haitian orphan magnet. Plus, these sweet children will want to hold your hand, sit on your lap, hug you and walk with you and they will follow you like puppies. It melts your heart. So let them. Hug them, hold them, play with them, sing with them, walk with them. I did draw the line at having the mole on my arm twisted, but you’re free to set your own limits.

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Walking with school children on a mountain road above Jeremie

Eat what you can, when you can – Maybe goat’s not your thing or maybe you don’t like bones in your fish, but, regardless, when you get the chance to eat, eat. Why? Because you just don’t know when you’ll eat again. Sure, we packed lunches every day, but when you’re working with guys who are carrying five-pound buckets of rocks on their heads for a quarter-of a mile for hours and they have no lunch, you’ll give them yours. And you’ll give them your water or Pepsi or whatever else you have too. Otherwise, you’re a heartless creature so what the hell are you doing in Haiti anyway?

Workers hauling rock by hand

Workers hauling rock by hand

So when breakfast is placed before you, pig out. And when dinner lands in front of you, pig out again. Besides, the food is fabulous, the fruit is amazing, though I have to warn you – my new friend, Janet, may have another opinion when it comes to goat.

Be prepared to expand your comfort zone – When I first arrived in Jeremie, I didn’t know what to expect. We landed on a hardpan runaway in a small commuter plane, there was an armed guard waiting at the cinderblock airport, he had us get in the covered porch with barred windows and he shut us and our luggage in while we waited for our ride. Several men came and stared at us through the windows, watching us. I kept an eye on my bag. And at the time, I felt like a caged animal.

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

Looking at our ride through the porch bars of the Jeremie airport

On the ride to the guesthouse, we passed what appeared to me at the time to be squalor and debris. The road was gutted and pitted and in places broken pipes gushed water which further eroded the roads. People carried buckets on their heads and bananas and various other things. Thin cattle and goats were tied to the sides of the road. It was overwhelming and I was, at first, wondering what to expect. I felt small and somewhat vulnerable even within the safety of the truck cab hauling us to our destination. Hey, cut me some slack. It was my first visit to a developing country, ok.

But what a difference a week makes! As we drove through downtown Jeremie one day, it reminded me how in Venice, Italy, laws actually exist to PREVENT people from upgrading the exterior of their buildings. Thus, in Venice, moldering cracked walls are “fashionable.” In Jeremie, I first looked upon very similar walls as ugly. Why? Clearly I needed a new mindset. So, as the week progressed, what had first looked like rubble and squalor became reality. Jeremie is beautiful in her own colorful way.

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

Riding through downtown Jeremie on the way to work

And, as for the guard at the airport? Well, when we left, he was there again, but this time we stood outside with him, laughing and chatting. He asked me if this was my first trip to Haiti and so we talked about how I liked it and what I thought. He smiled and joked with me and let me take his picture. I forgot about my bag – if they wanted my camel smelling clothes, so be it – and I was happy and content and enjoying life. I hated to leave. And this time, I knew quite a few of those men and we joked and shook hands and hugged. By now, I knew them and I knew too that I would miss them.

Thus, by the time I left, I was at peace with Jeremie, and with Haiti. What a beautiful country and what an even more beautiful people. After a week of walking and working and swimming and taking motor-taxies and sitting at the Amberge Inn, visiting with new friends, etc., I felt my comfort level grow, expand and enlarge with each passing hour. And with it, my comfort level with Haiti and with the world at large expanded too – which, again, is just one of many reasons why I travel.

Haiti's forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

Haiti’s forests are teeming with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, almonds, mangos, etc.

So, when you take your first mission trip – and you know you will – expect at first to be unsettled, but keep an open mind. Plan and prepare, but be flexible. Open your heart. Smile. Relax. Work hard. Wash often. Eat hearty. Reset your benchmarks for life. And enjoy. If you get the opportunity to go to Jeremie, Haiti, you should. You’ll never be the same.

Happy travels!

– Robin Winzenread Fritz

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba - it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us.  Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

Taking off into the wild blue yonder with young David Duba – it was the first trip to Haiti for both of us. Our leader, Big Dave, is a pro at this.

I want to Go with Oh to Venice – The Remix Tour

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

As Leah and Lola made their way across Europe courtsey of Go with Oh, I followed their adventures with amusement.  Who doesn’t love a good girls’ road trip, especially when it includes five European cities over four weeks, not to mention trains and planes, wine and pasta, feather boas and flamenco dancers?  It was a veritable arm-chair traveler’s dream!

 But even as I lived vicariously through their daily exploits and even as I daydreamed about a possible Go with Oh month-long trek of my own some day, I’m practical enough to know that – by necessity – my own such adventure would have a somewhat different theme.  For want of a better term, let’s call this fantasy trip the Fritz Family Foray into Europe.

 My dream plan is simple enough – a week in Dublin and London with my Anglophile loving daughter Jackie for some mother-daughter bonding time, followed by a week in Rome and Venice with my 15-year-old son Jordan, where I hope to introduce him to some real Italian culture – with the emphasis being on REAL.  As I’ve already covered why Dublin with my daughter is on the list, it’s high time to explain why oh why I want to take my baby boy to Venice. 

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

For starters, that boy needs some perspective.  While looking over pictures of my friends-only trip to Venice, he actually said in all seriousness, “Oh, I’ve been there,” all the while pointing to the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco.  “I climbed up that dome,” he said matter-of-factly as if he had actually “climbed” the basillica.  “See that bridge?” he declared, “I jumped off of that,” pointing to the Rialto.

A weary world traveler, is he?  Not exactly.

The Piazza San Marco as "reimagined" by the video game, Assassin's Creed

The Piazza San Marco as “reimagined” by the video game, Assassin’s Creed

Of course, my xBox-bleeding teenage boy was referring to his video game, Assassin’s Creed, one version of which takes part in Venice and allows players to crawl over every dome, bell tower and bridge re-imagined by the game’s designers in all their gorgeous glory.  He knows of the Piazza and the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but, unfortunately, we’re talking in CG graphics detail only. 

 As a mother, I desperately feel the need to point out to him the difference.  While the graphics in Assassin’s Creed are good – very good, in fact – nothing takes the place of actually BEING in Venice.  Good graphics or not, the experience isn’t even close.  Actually being IN Venice is a tactile experience which should include, in no short order, the following:

–  hearing the bells toll throughout the city upon the hour, any hour;

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

–  reaching out your hand in the Piazza San Marco toward a cloud of forward pigeons who promptly swarm you for food and get a bit familiar in the process;

–  getting oh so deliciously lost on a daily basis and not caring if you ever find your way back;

– smelling that ever present hint of salt water every where;

– discovering the uniqueness of Venice’s highly socialized dog population:

– discovering hidden treasures like a Knights Templar cross cut into street pavers, tiny doors, building bolts and Flavia’s costume shop, and;

One of Venice's hidden treasures - a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

One of Venice’s hidden treasures – a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

–  making wonderful new friends.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Additionally, as a picky, picky child, Jordan practically lives on butter, pasta and cheese.  We often joke that he’ll some day own a store called ‘Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!” so naturally, his place is in Italy.  He once asked me to bring home a gigantic wheel of parmesan, but since I couldn’t fit it in my carry-on luggage, it seems like a shopping trip in Venice is in order too.  It’s time he try lugging home his own 30-pound wheel of cheese.

Lastly, having been to Venice recently with friends, I find that I desperately need to go back, especially given the city’s recent flood.  I want to make sure that things are still as magical and as different as we experienced before.  Plus, there’s still so much to see.  As we crawled through the city at a snail’s pace – seriously, there is SO much to see – we only scratched the surface.  Naively, before we left, we actually thought we could see every square inch of this modest sized city in the course of a week.  Little did we realize that our average daily pace would turn out to be two blocks an hour.  It’s THAT different.

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia's shop

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia’s shop

So now, I want to go back, bringing my 15-year-old son along with me in what can best be described as the “remix tour.”  I can only imagine at this point what it would be like for him to actually stand in the Piazza San Marco without his computer and online friends.  As he is a curious, smart and personable young man, I know he’s going to love it. 

Or else he’s grounded.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  

http://www.gowithoh.com/

 And enter the competition.  Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out Go with Oh badgein it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

 http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

 By Robin Fritz

The bell towers sound magical... even the leaning ones.

The bell towers sound magical… even the leaning ones.

 

Prepping, Packing and Pre-Poop Planning

Palm trees - not Christmas trees - are hogging my imagination these days

Palm trees – not Christmas trees – are hogging my imagination these days

My typhoid shot is on backorder.  Now, Christmas and backorders go together like red hair and freckles, but one doesn’t normally expect it in third-world pharmaceuticals, partly because one doesn’t normally ORDER third-world pharmaceuticals.  But my doctor has to pre-order my upcoming typhoid shot as there isn’t much call for regular typhoid boosters in Milroy, Indiana, thus the resulting backorder.  Who knew?

I’m hoping this backorder of typhoid is a result of low demand, but the pessimist in me likes to whisper in my ear at night and say, ha, ha, ha, you fool, it’s just the contrary!  Demand is high and Typhoid Marys are a dime a dozen in Haiti!  But as I am my father’s daughter, I chase down the pessimist in me and beat her into submission with grandiose plans to buy duty-free alcohol in massive quantities.  Rum balls anyone?

I'm making a list and checking it twice... because now it's includes rum

I’m making a list and checking it twice… because now it includes rum

On the heels of my recent foray into Europe, I find packing and planning for a trip to a third-world country to be a great study in contrasts.  Venice and London required no inoculations.  As for Haiti, I’m already up by four shots and have two boosters to go, plus – hopefully – my typhoid vaccine, and I get to take malaria medicine in the process.  I’m also starting my low-dose introduction to Imodium too as my sister regaled me over Thanksgiving with tales of my brother-in-law’s diarrhea (hey, thanks Renee!) brought on by HIS malaria medicine taken prior to his dive trip to Honduras.  So I’m working on building a tolerance now because who wants to be stuck on a plane with Montezuma’s Revenge?  Or, since I’m Haiti bound, let’s call it the Papa Doc Trots.

... don't cry... don't cry... *sniff* ... don't cry... who am I kidding?  WAAAAA!!!

… don’t cry… don’t cry… *sniff* … don’t cry… who am I kidding? WAAAAA!!!

When the good Doctor Lake told me I needed Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, tetanus and recommended typhoid, I listened, because the good Doctor Lake has been to Haiti before and knows where of she speaks.  As a doctor, she’s been exposed to patients with typhoid and, given the risk factor, why not get the shot, she advised.  She also prepped a flu shot for me at which point I said, “Oh, I rarely get the flu.”  Her response?

“Robin,” she said, “it’s not for you.  It’s for them.”

Now there’s a thought.  Inoculations, she went on to explain, aren’t just for me, but for the many native people I will come in contact with while in Haiti.  While I may have the immune system of an elephant (and the thighs too), I can still be a carrier, and the last thing I want to do while on a mission trip is expose people with depressed tolerances and lack of ready access to medical care to something I fight off like skinny jeans.  It’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered.  So, naturally, I got the flu shot.

Fearless leaders says pack light.....

Fearless leader says pack light…..

The other great study in contrasts between planning for Haiti as opposed to western Europe is the packing itself.  I’m going down there to do construction work which isn’t as funny as it sounds because my father was a plumber who had two girls years before he had two boys.  The end result was that he treated us like boys for years, thus Renee and I can both swing a hammer, drive a tractor and – if the need calls for it – pee standing up.  I didn’t say it was pretty.

I'm dreaming of a sandy Christmas

I’m dreaming of a sandy Christmas

Back to my point.  Whereas my packing plan for Italy was to look polished, cosmopolitan and well-traveled (aka – not necessarily like someone whose closet resembles the clearance bin at Walmart which is closer to reality), my packing plan for Haiti fits in nicely with my telecommuting wardrobe.  I’m packing my oldest clothes.  I’m taking only one dress and it’s for church.  Out goes the jewelry and in go the work gloves and safety glasses.  And I’m trying to find bug spray and I’m praying my sunscreen hasn’t expired.  That can be hard to find in the winter, I’ve discovered.

It's like a Haitian version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" only with burros instead of tiny dogs

It’s like a Haitian version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” only with burros instead of tiny dogs

I’m also trying to figure out which Bible to take as it’s on the packing list sent to us by our fearless leader, David Duba.  David has supplied us with helpful packing lists, insurance forms and itineraries which come to my email inbox like early Christmas presents.  His online enthusiasm is infectious – but not in a typhoid kind of way – and rather than dreaming about putting up Christmas lights while the snow falls, I find myself daydreaming about swaying palm trees, dirt roads, and colorful local people leading burros around tiny towns.  It’s hard not to, you know?

I don't think this will fit in my carry on

I don’t think this will fit in my carry on

On that list is the Bible and now I have a decision to make.  Bibles aren’t small and David said pack light.  Of course the huge old family standard that my dad bought when we were kids is out.  It’s the size of a small VW Beetle, though the pictures are really pretty.  On the flip side, I still have my itty, bitty little vinyl-clad green version given to every elementary school child in Indiana during the 1970s, but it’s the New Testament only and, if I take it, I’ll also have to take a pair of reading glasses fit for Mr. Magoo.  Decisions, decisions.

God bless us, every one

God bless us, every one

But don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.  December 12th will be here before I know it and my backpack will be ready.  My camera batteries will be fresh and my spirits will be high.  Christmas isn’t about buying, wrapping and eating so much as it is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and ultimate sacrifice.  It seems most fitting to honor that gift by giving to others, and I don’t mean with cheese logs.  I’m ready to tote that barge, lift that bale and swing that hammer – though, trust me.  I wasn’t kidding about the rum.

Cheers to all.  And God bless.

Haiti for the Holidays

Taking a stroll down a street in Jeremie, Haiti

It’s Cyber Monday and it’s following closely on the heels of a record breaking Black Friday.  In Indiana alone, it has been estimated that the average household spent nearly $450 over the weekend.  After several years of economic doubt, it seems as if the country is exploding with pent-up consumerism that can no longer be denied.

But as Monday rapidly draws to a close, I have yet to spend a dime.  Call me a bad American, but I didn’t stimulate the economy.

I am, however, thinking about shoes – old shoes, worn shoes, used shoes, small shoes, shoes for children who have none to call their own.  If all goes according to plan, this time next month I will be back from a mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti where I will have helped several kind-hearted souls share gently used shoes with children who give the term “less fortunate” a new meaning.

The runway in Jeremie, Haiti awaiting the arrival of our commuter plane

It will be my first trip to Haiti and I fully anticipate having my expectations for what constitutes an acceptable lifestyle reset by what I will see – which, by the way, is one of many reasons why I travel. 

Case in point – my recent week in Venice taught me that my definition of “old” needed to be rethought.  In a country where a large well maintained building like the RCA Dome can come and go in less than 35 years says something about our expectations and priorities.  Venice makes do with 300, 500, even 1,000 year-old buildings held together by giant bolts and screws, and where snaps, crackles and pops are a way of life.  We freak out when doors won’t latch and ceilings crack.

When I left for Venice, I was actively looking for a new car to replace my 11-year-old Jeep.  The air conditioning doesn’t work, the ceiling fabric is starting to give, the radio light only comes on when it rains, it’s pushing 190K miles and, by most American standards, it’s old and I’m overdue.

But after Venice, I came back with a new appreciation for keeping what works and making the best of the situation.  At the hospital in Venice we watched orderlies moving an elderly woman in an old wooden wheelchair that looked like it predated the Titanic.  But guess what?  It worked!  It looked to be well maintained.  And I bet it was paid for.

When I returned home, I stopped looking.  My pretty red Jeep may be well seasoned like me, but it gets me where I need to go, so why give up on it now?  In this country, we give up on things too early and often for the wrong reasons.  I know of someone who once got rid of a perfectly good washing machine because it wouldn’t match her new dryer which she bought when the old one stopped working.  Am I the only one who finds that odd? 

Map of the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. We’ll be working on the auto shop using our carpentry skills.

So I’m packing for Haiti, but I’m planning to have my expectations reset again.  I don’t know how yet – that still remains to be seen.  But I know that this trip will be an adventure and an experience and an eye opener.  That it comes on the heels of Christmas isn’t lost on me either for it is this time of the year when our desire for new toys grows to its most fevered pitch.

The local school has invited us to attend the children’s Christmas program.  I am excited beyond words.  I know that in the streets of Haiti I will see poverty, especially near Port au Prince.  I’m hoping it’s not as bleak as my imagination believes it to be.  But I’m also praying that in that little school in Jeremie I will also see hope and joy and happiness too – in short, things that come from family and friends and not from catalogs and websites and big-box retail stores.  That too remains to be seen.  More details on my trip and my fellow explorers to come soon, but for now, it’s enough to ponder the adventure.

(Photo credits – David Duba)

Warm Murano Memories to Melt a Cold Winter’s Night

My Venus di Milo impression

The days are short and the cold is hard.  Winter is coming to Indiana.  And for now, I’m fine with that, for the upcoming holidays always seem more festive and child like when the promise of snow lingers in the air.

But when the Thanksgiving turkey is a delicious memory and the torn Christmas wrapping paper is sitting on the curb with the other trash, the charms of winter will begin to fade and with it my enthusiasm for snow, cold and ice.

When that time finally does come, however, I’ll be prepared for I have my built-in memories stored in my collective conscious and that of my travel buddies of a blessedly sunny and warm day strolling the glowing streets of Murano, Italy.  Plus, if I close my eyes just so and raise my face up toward my dining room ceiling fan with the lights a blazing, I can almost pretend I’m basking in that magical Italian light.

Murano is a miniature Venetian feast for the eyes.  Go there.  See it.  Linger.  You’ll never be the same.

A view from the vaporetto to Murano.  We got off at the stop for the Museo Vetrario (the glass museum) on the Fondamenta Giustinian, but it was tempting to stay on aboard for a longer ride.

Lingering on the Fondamenta Giustinian, enjoying the boat parking on the San Donato canal.  Bellisimo!  Or however the heck you spell that….

Murano’s Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato along side the San Donato canal.  Could the sky possibly be any bluer?

It was home to my Venus di Milo impression.  It took a crowbar to pry me out of my niche.

Shopping for mosaic tile – so many beautiful colors!  I picked out several  blue and green glass tiles that reminded me of the Venetian laguna.  My buddy Candy is going to make me a piece of jewelry with them.  How wonderful is that!

We stumbled upon this lovely hidden courtyard and, naturally, there was laundry on the line.  When I came home, I hugged my clothesline.  Now, I appreciate it even more.  Can you believe some American neighborhoods actually BAN clotheslines in their covenants? 

This is Murano’s version of the little red wagon.

Peering inside the door of a working glass factory.  That chandelier puts my dining room ceiling fan to shame.

View of a side canal.  See that large red awning in the middle distance?  That’s where I enjoyed a wonderful lunch with great friends and an amazing view.

My lunch time view – I could get use to this!

Great bridge, don’t you think? 

Candy and I have a moment

Chasing that Italian light

Mosaic Mary – isn’t she gorgeous?  She lights up the place too.

See that ochre yellow building in the center with the single room at the top left center?  I could live there and paint and be happy for years, I do believe.

The lighthouse at the tip of Murano.  I would have loved to have climbed this for the view but, sadly, it was closed.  Maybe next time.

I fell in love with these contrasting colors, the soft buff of the building against the bright red of the boat.  So lovely.

So many memorable views.  I hope to capture some of these on canvas during the cold winter months in Indiana, but they’ll never come close to what I see in my mind’s eye.  But won’t it be fun to try!

 

These pictures don’t even come close to really capturing it.  To really get a sense of what this light “feels” like, you have to smell the salty ocean air and feel the warmth of the sun radiating on your back.  Then, you’ll know that Italian light.  But savor it.  It’s far to fleeting….

 

 

Venice – Great Place to Visit, No Place for a Zombie Apocalypse

There’s nothing quite like a long alley with multiple darkened crevasses along the way to get the old heart rate up…

Halloween is over.  The candy has been eaten, the jack-o-lanterns smashed, the scary decorations taken down. 

I hope there isn’t a hole in the ceiling any where…

What few pumpkins escaped carving now begin the morbid count down to their ultimate demise as Thanksgiving dinner pumpkin pies.   Tis the season.

Vino, pasta and zombies anyone?

But should you get the urge to revisit this spookiest of holidays before next October 31st rolls around, may I suggest an alternative?

Kind of makes you wonder what’s around the curve. I hope it’s not a dead end…

 Take a night time stroll through the darkened streets of Venice proper. 

I wonder what’s under the water…

 While she is relatively safe from a human perspective, her dark nooks and even deeper crannies make one thing abundantly clear.

Only vertically challenged ghouls need apply to haunt these nooks and crannies. Zombie pigeons anyone?

 This is no place to be during a zombie apocalypse…

In reality, the scariest thing that actually might happen in Venice is a drunken tumble into a canal. But don’t judge me…

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