Sunday, November 27, 2011

Week 2 of the Boat trip

Yesterday in Dakar, we found a small (100m) beach and ran around for a bit. We didn't need anything, so we just wandered around town until we decided to stay on the beach. It was a tiny beach, in between resorts and embassies, but about 20 people must have been living there. They were all young men, keeping themselves busy by training- running, doing squats, running through the water.

I wrote a post about the boat and visiting different places but it was very boring, so this is attempt #2 to share something about our trip.

One thought that's crossed my mind over the past week was this: if we're to have good days and bad days on the ship- same as anywhere else- wouldn't it be better to just be settling down in our place in Cape Town? I'm terrible in these transition times, but there's something to be said for trying to settle into the transition, with many of the bits of our lives removed.

What I mean is that usually, we have all these buffers in our day: work, cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, watching TV or movies, having access to internet, seeing friends and family. I appreciate those moments more now than I did before. They're not really buffers, are they? They're our lives. Sometimes they were reasons to be stressed or cross at Noah, sometimes they were the justification we weren't having discussions on the meaning of life. On the boat, we're still not having deep discussions on the meaning of life, and I still get cross at Noah. I do pray more, try as best I can to take the days as a gift (we saw hundreds of dolphins yesterday), and enjoy the fact that we don't have to cook or clean (though we're washing diapers), as much because it's temporary as anything else. We're working every day, and it lends some structure to our days. I'm trying to reframe my time with Noah as time to hang out, not my babysitting my own child, which seemed like a chore.

It's good to be-- more or less- just the three of us, but after the community of our last months in Boston, and our time in Milano, I have a renewed sense that our little family is not enough. In the busy-ness of life in Boston, I sometimes felt like I needed to be the Guardian of "family time", like if I didn't set up some good boundaries our unit would be swallowed up by different commitments. I remember that need, but it's more like a vague dream as, on this trip, it's just the three of us for what feels like a very long time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My First Non- English Medical Appointment

This is for friends working with refugee or immigrant clients, who, like me, may never have had a medical appointment across language.

I had my first non-English encounter with a doctor last week. We're traveling for 6 weeks, and after having trouble in previous pregnancies, I wanted to be extra sure to keep up prenatal visits, which happen about once a month until the third trimester. I speak Italian from having lived a summer as an au pair/maid/nanny in Sardegna ten years ago, but I've never studied it, so my skills are rudimentary. Not unlike a lot of refugee clients. A notable difference is that refugee clients in the U.S. are required to have interpreters, but there are still many cases where interpretation works poorly, if at all.

After working with refugees for about ten years, ten minutes with an Italian doctor helped me understand things that I had understood only theoretically up to that point. And I don't think it was the fault of the doctor, who was competent and kind, if a bit stressed.

I arrived in perfect time. We were caught off-guard when we were asked to leave the stroller outside for the sake of hygiene (Which immediately made us feel unhygienic. And won't it get stolen?) The doctor said that my appointment had been a half-hour earlier, and I tried to explain that I'd been told the wrong time. She said, "are you "xxxx"? No? Then you're 30 minutes late." It made me think of countless phone calls with health centers over client no shows and late arrivals.

At this point she started a detailed ob/gyn history. If the encounter had been in English, I'd have quickly explained that I was 16 weeks pregnant, and I just wanted to make sure the baby had a heartbeat. But it was in Italian. So we struggled through the date of my first period (ever), my history of birth control usage, my pregnancy histories, where I was born. Only then did we get to the point where I told her I was pregnant. There just wasn't an appropriate moment up to then, and my brain was working overtime remembering words and dates. Then on to giving the date of my last menstrual period, which doesn't reflect my due date. Explaining was too hard, so I just added a couple of weeks to my LMP, and let her do the rest.

She then asked me to take off my underwear and trousers. (I repeated, "underwear? really?" fearing I'd misunderstood and was going to shock her when I stripped) No sheet for modesty, no stepping out of the room. I understood what refugees might feel during an examination. In stirrups, there was no time to ask if Eug and Noah could join to see the Tiny Blob, who was clearly going to appear any minute on ultrasound. She did an internal exam (which isn't routine in U.S. midwifery care) and whipped out the ultrasound (which also isn't routine). I was super happy to see the Tiny Blob, who was bopping around everywhere. WIthout asking if I'd like to know, she told me she thought the baby was a girl. It was a moment I would have like to share with Eug, but it was a good moment, nevertheless.

And then, a minute and an "everything's good" later, I was dressing in front of her and she was asking if I had insurance. When I said "no", she launched into a description of a nearby free hospital (I was only in Milano one week). I understood why refugees didn't say anything about upcoming moves out of state. She was enthusiastic and trying to be helpful, and I felt irresponsible traveling so much while pregnant. And the thought flashed through my head: "if she books an appointment, I'll just not show up, and it's no big deal, they don't have a credit card number." Thankfully she didn't book the appointment.

Then, billing. The visit cost 95 Euros. We had budgeted the visit, though for slightly less money (asking about the extra 20 Euros was too difficult, but I felt uneasy), and handed it over. But they needed numbers: an Italian ID and a phone number. Which reminded me of Masshealth challenges. You don't have one? You must have one! And on and on, in circles. And "What do you do for a living?" "public health" "oh you're a doctor" "no I worked for government" "I don't think we have that here." Maybe that's how rice farmers feel when intake looks at them quizzically in the middle of a Massachusetts winter.

Finally, we left. And I understood what it meant to be a "difficult" client, and how disempowering that label feels, even in the nicest of clinics.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I am writing this on TextEdit, ready to copy and paste in seconds once I get online- internet is very expensive. So far we've visited Barcelona, where we got ice-cream, and today we're in Cadiz. We're not good at being tourists, but when you're in a place for just a couple of hours it's hard to be anything different. If I knew how to get to somewhere non-touristy in Cadiz or Tenerife (Spaniards, help), I would buy plates. We're praying that it won't rain, as is forecast. 

Leah, if you're reading, I forgot how to pick up and knit! We don't have enough internet to learn online, so I'm planning on just looking desperate and hoping one of the older ladies will take mercy on me.   

I have been thinking a lot about the strangeness of the cruise ship- guest quarters that carefully hide all signs of staff, and so on. I need to put these thoughts into words, as it's a very strange experience. We're doing very well, though.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sedona and Milano: Updates from our Travels

We've been going to bed the same time as Noah the past week (midnight) which hasn't left us much time for anything. Still, we've been having a really great time traveling.

Noah really enjoyed meeting his cousins (Nathanael and Lilly) and aunt (Sedona) in Sedona. We had a pretty relaxed time in Sedona, though it quickly became unexpectedly cold. 

You can see the snow on the mountains, and on the ground the snow has already melted. It's very unusual for Sedona to get snow so early- the cold was also quite unusual. 

Noah has been coping very well with travel, and even with not having any toys. We notice his appetite seems to disappear a bit right when we arrive in a new place, which means we have to be creative about how we feed him- avocado in the shower, yoghurt in the car seat (a bad idea). One of the first things we do in a new place is also try to find the grocery, so that we can get a few things for Noah. In general, he eats whatever we eat but we're flexible when that's not really working for him (or we're eating more junk than we'd like him to eat).


Noah discovered nutella on his very first day in Milan. He thinks it goes very well with everything, including clementine.

We're in Milano because it's very close (2 hours by train) to where we catch our boat (Genova), and it allowed us to have a reunion with my high school roommates, as well as my houseparents. We don't get to see each other very often.

Below, we're outside San Lorenzo, a church that was originally built in the 4th or 5th century. In Arizona, you feel very small because the mountains and canyons are the work of millions of years. In Milano, you feel very small because you see what people built over many, many centuries.

Sergio let Noah wear his La Dolce Vita sunglasses.

The Duomo in Milan was built over about 600 years.

Noah grounds us by just wanting to play with the pigeons. Forget the Duomo, give me a flock of dirty pigeons any day. 

Lia's parents and our hosts, Gigi and Guilianna, have been gracious hosts and have given Noah a lot of affection and attention.

Cars in Milano park ANYWHERE, and it's not unusual to hear honking and find that a car is on the pavement, trying to get you to hurry up so they can park. That said, cars are tiny and (I think) efficient. The ad above is for an electric car, the IOn. We liked the add because it's actually made of a living wall (grass and leaves).
 Noah got his first ice cream cone, and his first taste of GROM, really really good ice cream. GROM sells organic, local, in season ice-cream.

We visited Lia's workplace, which is in a very grand old building.  Kate let Noah borrow her ID and be a doctor for the day. And thus began their friendship.

Noah has been taking photos from his perspective. He took A LOT of photos of Ray. His vocabulary seems to suddenly expanding quickly: He's added the words "Ray", "Gigi", "Ciao" and "si" just this week.

It's been a bit tiring sometimes, and Noah has done a lot of sleeping on the road.

Noah is so happy to meet new people, and this is him after everyone left on Saturday night:

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers for us on our travels. I hope to have some more concrete-gardenery posts soon. We'll be on the road for about 3 more weeks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Updates on Vagabonding (because we just like that word)

We're Atlanta waiting to go to Milano tonight. Tiny blob appears to be growing, which is not surprising but seems to have caught me unexpectedly. In our spate of genius minimalism, I did not consider traveling with maternity clothes. Actually I did think about it, but seemed to remember that with Noah, I only started wearing maternity clothes at about 22 weeks. Then I chose to ignore my current pre-stretched out tummy muscles. So we'll see how long the rabbit pants fit...

Our experiences of working while traveling has been good. The main challenge is that we're never fully "off"- perhaps like students. But we're never fully "on" either- we're able to do whatever makes the most sense for the day.

Noah really enjoyed hanging out with his 7 year old aunt, Sedona, and his half-cousins Nathanael (13) and Lilly (11) and their mom, Kim. He learned some serious ballet moves, which he then brought home to our hotel. Spinning like a maniac, mainly.

We had put off closing our U.S. bank accounts and credit cards that we didn't have leeway to take care of in Boston (given that checks were still clearing and final bills needed paying), saying we would close them in Sedona. We didn't. Which is the type of thing I stress about. Will our money descend into the void? Are we failing at being responsible adults? Then it occurred to me that we have all the money we need to pay our bills, so this would be something to revel in and enjoy. If we're charged $10 for having our bank accounts open for a month after my direct deposit ended, it's possible that we will, in fact, survive.

Traveling has its share of stressors, and I'm learning to let them take up just a moment, because thinking about things like packing and checking out of a hotel and getting on a plane can balloon to fill my whole day. The key has been to let those things be small tasks that are just a part of the day.

This is our last day in the U.S. for the foreseeable future (which we tried to explain at the check-in counter when we explained our lack of return flight: "Oh, ok, you're taking a ship to South Africa? Well, how are you getting back from there?" Repeat.) and it's anticlimactic because we've already said goodbye to our friends, who we miss dearly. Instead, I desperately want some time to catch up on Parks and Recreation, Fringe and Modern Family before we leave the U.S. Zone of Hulu (our internet in Sedona was painfully slow and the last weeks in Boston too busy). Noah has other plans, which probably consist of healthier ways to spend the afternoon.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Living Ideals (and Compromise) on the Road

Eug and I have never traveled for an extended period before, and while 6 weeks still really isn't very long, it's long enough when one is without an apartment or house, without a car or a permanent address. I wrote earlier about how I have to balance competing ideals at different stages in our lives, and I wanted to share how this balance is working on the road.

The carbon footprint of air travel (I haven't included Noah as he doesn't take his own seat just yet)
  • Boston-Myrtle Beach-Boston 1,328lbs for two people (family trip with Eug's mom and brother)
  • Boston-Phoenix one way 1,300lbs for two people (trip to visit Eug's dad)
  • Boston-Atlanta one way 1,028lbs for two people (on the way home to SA)
  • Atlanta-Milano one way 2,474lbs for two people (on the way home to SA)
  • As compared to about 15,000lbs driving our car for year
The carbon footprint of air travel is huge- it equals about 7 months of using our car. My sense on this is that I would prefer to give up a car- perhaps permanently- and continue to see friends and family occasionally- than the reverse. So that's what we're trying. I sense that navigating the complexities of living across several continents must mean air travel, at least for us.

I'd go so far as to say that God will cover the carbon- which may sound cooky to those of you in a different spiritual place- but what I mean is that, in a world where we are already using way, way too many resources, change has to be both by action (reducing our footprint and learning to be radical) and by grace. We'll try to balance visits and other types of communication.

The ideal of family and friends lands higher that our ideal of total sustainability.

Whew, with that out of the way, I'll move on to some other things we're trying to do on the road to stay true to some of our ideals.

We're driving a hired compact car here in Sedona, and the fuel efficiency is pretty good. The main uses for the car were driving from Phoenix, driving to and from the Grand Canyon, and driving back to Phoenix this coming Sunday.

We brought Noah's car seat along, which is inconvenient but saves money and resources. We'll be using our car seat all the way to South Africa, and then it'll hopefully have a good few years left in it there. We have the stroller and Ergo and are walking around where we can.

Food & Accommodation
Here in Sedona, we're staying in a timeshare unit that has a small kitchen. I'm going to look at costs below, but here I'm going to say that staying at a place with a kitchen is great, particularly if you have a small child. We're able to prepare food here, and we don't have to get crazy baby single serving stuff, as we might have to if we were in a hotel.

When we left Boston, we brought a bunch of fruit and snacks for us and Noah, and I made a real effort to make sure we ate them (apples and oranges and pears and avocados need to be eaten pretty quickly if they're being banged around a lot). This helped us last until we could make it to the grocery store.

There are two kinds of food related waste when we're staying in a place a very short time: packaging waste (it's also much harder to recycle) and food waste. After some missteps on previous trips, I've discovered that planning really simple meals and having a plan for each fruit or vegetable really stops both food waste and packaging waste. If the grocery is accessible, it's easier just to keep going back. Even pasta is usually too complicated, because you end up with leftovers that quickly get crusty in the fridge. So we're doing panini, yoghurt and fruit this week for all the meals we're not eating with family.

We don't use the tiny little bottles of toiletries, but we do use the soap bars.

All these things are really tiny, but in the same way that I hope for grace to cover some of the impact of our air travel, I hope that grace can expand the really tiny things we're doing to reduce our waste on the road.

Traveling is not really frugal, but there are ways to make it a lot more so.

Our flights are all bought with points from getting credit cards, which we cancel before they charge the annual fee. We make sure we comply with whatever they need us to do to get the full number of points.

Our hotel in Boston was also paid for with points (breakfast included), our hotel in Phoenix cost about $40 (breakfast included), and our current hotel costs about $80/night with tax, and no breakfast. In Milan, we'll be staying with friends.

The boat costs about $58/night for Eug and I, with food included. That said, the cost of the boat ride is actually less than flying one way to South Africa, and much less than paying for rent  and food somewhere and a one-way ticket to South Africa. So if you're immigrating to South Africa, do it in November and travel by boat. All things considered, I consider our boat trip totally free.

We also have a daily food/other budget of between $15 and $50/day, depending on where we're staying. 

Both Eug and I are working on the road, which means we could actually stay right here, where we're staying in a hotel and getting food rather hapharzardly, indefinitely. Theoretically we each need to work between 1 and 2 hours a day (my rate is about half of Eug's) to just stay in this hotel forever with a hired car. Which we don't want to do, but it shows that even a little work can go a long way for long term travel, as we're staying in an expensive place in an expensive country.

Another major source of waste on the road is diapering, because it's harder to cloth diaper without a washing machine. Our friends gave us their supply of G-Diapers, and we're using cloth inserts at the moment, meaning that there is very little waste. They're working well for us now, but we also have disposable inserts to use (and theoretically flush) when we don't have access to a bathtub or sun to dry the inserts.

I'm not sure if the post really has a cohesive point, but I guess I'm excited that we can travel for 6 weeks, see family and friends, and end up in South Africa, all without dipping into savings or creating massive amounts of waste. It takes quite a lot of planning, but it can be done.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grand Canyon

It was very cold! And very majestic. 

This picture was taken without any zoom. Is it a fat squirrel or something else?

Noah enjoyed some of the driving.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sedona and Boundaries

We've been in three hotels in three days- Boston-Phoenix and now, Sedona. As Eug's dad is unexpectedly away, we're going to visit the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

The flight to Phoenix was unexpectedly bad for Noah, and I think I got my very first migraine- at least that is what it seemed to have been. I have new sympathy for my dad, who suffers from migraines. I thought I was going to die and I even asked Eug if I was having a stroke. He went through the stroke F.A.S.T. song I taught him ("Does their FACE look a little bit uneven, does one ARM droop down? Does their SPEECH sound a little bit funny, then it's TIME, time to call 911". It's a good song.) and he determined that I was not, in fact, having a stroke.

The next twenty-hours have been much, much better.  As I emerge from the blur that was work and then packing, I've been thinking about things like child-raising and my appearance (two separate things). I realized I've been wearing my rabbit pants way to much (they are pants with a large rabbit sewn on the leg), and that I've not been very firm with Noah. These are symptoms of the problem of a rushed life.

With the rabbit pants, there's not much I can do since they're one of only 3 pants. And they're very comfortable. I will, however, try to brush my hair more and even exercise.

With Noah, I feel as though he's suffered from our busy-ness. I wasn't really able to talk to him or think about deep things like how he's doing. I've realized how much we were in survival mode, where Noah causing us lack of sleep or tiredness just reinforced that we were victims, and life was just barely manageable. It wasn't conceivable that we could actually do anything about the things that make parenting painful, or help him to navigate the rather crazy stage he is in.

But now there's quiet, he's getting really close to the 18 month mark, and I've been rethinking discipline and childhood a little. I subconsciously considered bad behavior to be stuff that was willfully wrong or inherently evil and so on. Or the failure of a child to get in line with a  parent's wishes. Now I feel as though it's all about me. Yes. For example, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the fact that Noah runs without ceasing, usually away from me. I love it about him. But there are times when running after him is not something I can handle. So I've been trying out being firm and loving about "hold on to the side of the stroller while you walk, otherwise I have to keep you in the stroller, ok?" and Noah understands and even responds. When he doesn't, I put him in the stroller and that's fine too. At the end of the day, I don't feel like a slave, and we can hang out together and I can do some things he likes without feeling as though I have to, to keep the 1.5 year old mafia boss happy.

On the other hand, stealing is probably a fairly simple one, but I just felt tremendous love when Noah (standing with his dad, who was ordering) took my favorite Naked juice out of the Starbucks fridge and bolted towards me (seated) with more joy on his face than you can imagine. Don't worry, we didn't steal it. But who can resist a baby stealing drinks for his mom? A better mom than I.