Announcing Adra Architecture

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Announcing Adra Architecture

Dwi cysgu dan ser yn y Sahara,
Ac aros ar 'nhraed drwy'r nos yn Prague.
Dwi 'di dawnsio ar fynydd hefo
ffrindiau newydd,
A deffro ar awyren wag.

"Does unman yn debyg i Adra",
medda' nhw wrtha fi.
Does unman yn debyg i Adra, na.
Ond mae Adra'n debyg iawn i chdi.

I've slept under stars in the Sahara,
And stayed up all night in Prague.
I've danced on a mountain top with new friends,
And woken up on an empty 'plane.

"There's no place like home",
is what they told me.
There's no place like home, no.
But Home is very much like you.

 

Adra, by Gwyneth Glyn


We're home!

Of course, the home we're returning to isn't the home we left nearly two years ago. We're in a new town, with a new house, and new ideas about what we want our life to be like now that our travels have ended.

One of those ideas resolves one of the biggest questions I've had since before we left: What would I do with my architecture career when I got back?

I have decided to start my own architecture practice, called Adra Architecture, offering a broad range of architectural services to residential, commercial, and healthcare clients in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. 

If you or anyone you know would like to talk to me about a potential project, please let me know at tim@adraarchitecture.com, 617-913-5906, or request a consultation through the contact form at www.adraarchitecture.com.

Anything you can do to help me grow my new business would be much appreciated!


I would not have decided to start my own practice if we hadn't taken this trip. Traveling with my family for two years has given me the perspective and confidence to take on this new endeavor. My hope is that my self-employment will help us to maintain the kind of control over our own destiny that has become increasingly difficult for us to relinquish. 

I have written a post on my Adra Architecture Blog that describes how I came to this decision, including the travel story that inspired the name "Adra." Enjoy!

What Does "Adra" Mean?

Adra Architecture as the name of my practice is more than just a foreign four-letter word...

 

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Our Travel Story... Via Podcast!

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Our Travel Story... Via Podcast!

Last week Family Adventure Podcast released an interview about our Abroad Life travel story. It is a fitting end to an amazing 22 month adventure. We couldn't be happier with this podcast. Take a moment to have a listen. We review the highs, lows, and budget friendly travel ideas that kept us going over the last 2 years. We also talk about plans for the future. Enjoy!


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Change is Coming

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Change is Coming

Tim and I have been busy in England. Tim's been working on a podcast with his brother, and also planning his new business (announcement coming soon!). Because of this he's spent less time writing about our travels, and more time following other passions. Although Tim tends to do most of the writing I wanted to jump in with some thoughts. 


We went to a barbecue party at a friends house a few weekends ago. Having last seen them over a year an a half ago, right at the start of our Abroad Life adventure they asked questions about our travels and it brought me back to the emotions I was experiencing when we last saw them. 

We had just “jumped” into our trip, ready and uncertain for what the future had in store. We had rough plans that weren’t finalized. 

Over the year our plans evolved into this:

Fall 2015: England, Switzerland, France, Portugal and Belgium.
Winter 2015: Maine, New Jersey, and Florida to visit family for the holidays.
Winter/Spring 2016: Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic
Summer 2016: Maine, then New Jersey, taking care of our pets while my own parents (current pet sitters) were traveling. Oh, and we bought a house.
Fall 2016: We moved into our new house in Maine, then got it set up for renters and ready for us to return this coming June.
Winter/Spring 2017: Based in England, with trips to Wales, Portugal, Italy, Malta, and Germany. 

My headspace a year and a half ago was much different than now. Tim quitting his job as an architect to be a “stay at home” dad while we traveled the world. Me packing up our house frantically over three months so that it would be ready for tenants to move in. I had moments of being terrified and uncertain. This life change seemed so massive and daring, and open ended. It also felt freeing at the same time. Open with possibilities, and endless adventures. The freedom made my heart leap with excitement. 

20 months later, with four weeks left of our travels, we have become accustomed to a lifestyle that is more fluid, learning lessons along the way. I again have conflicted emotions of excitement and terror of what our life will be when we return home.

I am excited to be going back to a new home, albeit one in need of renovations. I’m eager to get my hands dirty. I stay awake at night daydreaming about projects, and improvements; how I can change it, what I will prioritize.  

I also worry that we will easily fall back into a routine of too much structure, where every weekend is planned and every moment is booked. Free time is spent doing hard labor on the house, and not enough time is spent laying in the meadows, watching the boats drift by and staring at the clouds. 

I need to remind myself to leave our schedule open so that we can go places last minute. We want to enjoy our new community and not have every weekend filled with birthday parties, sports, and activities. 

We have found a balance during our travels that suits our family right now, and ultimately we need to find a balance when we return home that works for us. 

What I do know now is that if we mess up, changing our life won’t be as hard as it seemed two years ago. That decision was one of the best decisions we’ve made and I will be dreaming of our next trip the second my feet hit the ground. 

August 2015 - May 2017:

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The Unperfect Home

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The Unperfect Home

Note: I had written most of this post last fall before we left for England, and have finally wrapped it up. 

"It's perfect."

"But wouldn't it be nice to add some windows on this stairway wall?" Erin asked. 
"You wouldn't get that value back."
"But this wall faces south. It would bring in light all day."
"No, listen," he said, "It's perfect. You've done enough work. You need to stop renovating your house."
"I can stop anytime I want. Just one last little window wouldn't hurt..."
"You're out of control. It starts with one little window, then you'll want to put in skylights, and before you know it you're lofting your bedroom ceiling. I'm not going to enable you to do this. It's time to go cold turkey."
"Come on man, I NEED this!" Erin implored, itching her neck.
"Listen to yourself. This isn't you. Look, you're not alone. I know people who can help - contractors, interior decorators, architects -"
"My husband is an architect."
"I see... this may be harder than I thought. I think we need to have an intervention with both of you."
"I can't handle this," she stammered, "My hands are shaking. I need to go paint something."
"It's going to be okay. You can do this. But the first step is to admit you have a problem."


Our realtor was right. We have a problem. Erin and I are serial home renovators. 

Erin pores over glossy renovation photos in her Houzz app like a gambler watching cherries spin on a slot machine. Me walking into a home improvement store is like a crackhead walking into a crackstore. 

Ten years ago we bought a house that had been meticulously renovated, with all new drywall over the old horsehair plaster walls, new floors, new fixtures, and new finishes throughout. It was perfect.

Within three months we had painted every surface, changed half of the light fixtures, and torn down a wall, which wasn't easy with that new drywall over the old horsehair plaster. 

Then we tore down another wall to enlarge the bathroom. Then we dug a sump in the basement. Then we added the patio and planter. Then we dug a french drain in the basement. Then the gas fireplace. Then we patched the stone mortar in the basement. Then the first floor bathroom. Then we leveled the floor, relocated pipes, framed partitions, and finished the basement. 

We had a perfectly nice patch of grass in the back of the house. We tore it out and put down astroturf. When neighbors stop to ponder the bright green lawn emerging from the spring snowmelt, I tell them the trick is to seed it in the fall.

Now the house is perfect. It always has been. But we couldn't stop ourselves from trying to perfect it. 


The morning of Erin and my fourth wedding anniversary, I donned a Tyvek suit like I was about to walk into a plastic sheeted room with ET strapped to a gurney. I put on a respirator, goggles, and gloves. I armed myself with a plastic gun tethered to two tanks of nefarious chemicals, and began coating the stone foundation walls with an inch of sea green spray-foam insulation. 

It was a time-sensitive process. If I went too fast I wouldn't get enough coverage. If I stopped too long the nozzle would clog. If I didn't finish off the tanks that day, the hoses might seal up. Once I started I couldn't stop. 

I reached over the stone walls to seal the rim joists. I crouched under the stairs to fill behind the stringer. I squeezed myself into a crawlspace on my back, stretching my arm over my head as far as I could and pulling the trigger, hoping the formless goo was sticking to something in the darkness, as my goggles fogged and my mouth filled with noxious alkaline fumes. 

I stopped briefly to make Erin a card with two scraps of cardboard, painters tape, and a Sharpie marker that I found in the basement. 

That was how I spent our fourth wedding anniversary. 

I spent most weekends of Oliver's first year down in that basement - leveling the floor, framing metal studs, screwing in wood blocking, clipping nails protruding from the floorboards above with bolt cutters. 

That was how I spent my son's first year. 


The approach to perfection is an asymptotic curve with diminishing rewards for increasing effort. You have to do more and more to try to achieve the same high you got from your first renovation. 

These efforts come at a cost of time, money, lower back strain, and strained relationships with friends and family you cajoled into digging a trench in your basement, who no longer answer your phone calls for fear of being asked to help paint yet another room. 

The self-imposed pressure to perfect our home was one of the commitments we felt trapped by before we started our year of family travel. 

Traveling has been like a stay at a Betty Ford Clinic, weaning us off of our addiction to home renovations. Away from our house with few possessions, we had removed ourselves from the reinforcing stimuli that nurtured our habit. 

We still succumbed to urges to rearrange the furniture or reorganize kitchen cabinets in our temporary accommodations. Our three housesitting gigs gave us little dopamine fixes whenever minor maintenance items came up. 

But we finally hit rock bottom in Panama. Our house wasn't merely inconvenient. It was actively trying to kill us.

We had to let go and just live in the space as it was. Once we allowed ourselves to do this, we could begin to appreciate all that was good about it - the morning sunrises over the ocean, the afternoon naps in the hammock, the breezy evening dinners at our outdoor dining table watching pelicans glide by at eye level. 

Our house was far from perfect, but our days had many perfect moments. 


Now that we've returned to the new home in Maine we purchased in August, the pressure to renovate has resurfaced, especially since this house is far from perfect (have I mentioned the teal carpet?). 

Before we moved in, we made a list of all the projects we wanted to do over the next year. Since we're going to be traveling again to England this spring, we planned to have a contractor complete this work while we were out of the house. 

"We have to do the floors," I said, adding it to the list.  
"Definitely," Erin agreed, "but we should replace the kitchen cabinets first so we don't have to patch the floor in later."
"Yeah, and open up the wall between the kitchen and living room."
"Shouldn't we flip the coat closet around while we're doing that?"
"Of course," I said, "and what about the bathroom vanity?"
"It has to go," said Erin, "and the upstairs one too."
"Then we should redo that whole bathroom. And add a shower."
"If they're working up there, do we want to add the wall to split up the kids' room?"
"Oh, I just assumed we were doing that."
"And repainting all the rooms," Erin added. 
"Yes."
"And new lighting through the whole house."
"Uh-huh."
"So how much is all that?"

I estimated costs for each of these items and added it up. 

"Fifty thousand dollars," I declared. 

Erin thought for a minute. "That's a lot of money."
"How much will we have in our checking account after making the down payment at the closing?" I asked. 
"Five thousand dollars."
"And how much do we owe on our credit card?"
"Five thousand dollars."
"So we're broke."
"Yes."
"Huh."

I looked at the 3D computer model I had made of the house showing all of our planned improvements. I dragged my finger in a slow circle on the touchpad to spin it around.

"Well, we've got a lot of equity in our house in Somerville," I said, "we can probably get a home equity loan or cash-out refinance to borrow against the value of the house. It just depends on how much they appraise the house for. Hopefully we'll get the value back from our renovations."

"I knew it," Erin cursed. "I knew we should have added that window at the bottom of the stairs. It would have brought in all that southern light."

We stared at the numbers. 

"Well," Erin said, "if we're borrowing money, shouldn't we go ahead and finish the basement too?"


"Should we buy a couch?" Erin asked. 
"I don't know, it's a lot of money," I said, thinking it over. 
"I know, but don't you just kind of feel like we're camping in our own house?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because we've been sitting on camping chairs in our living room for the last six weeks."


Since we've rented our house in Somerville as a furnished unit, we had no furniture to move into our new house in Maine. We had resisted the urge to buy new furniture that would just have to be moved out during our planned renovations. Instead, we accepted generous donations of old furniture and kitchenware from friends and family for the four months we would be living in the house before traveling to England in January, when we planned to have a contractor complete the work. 

The upcoming England trip has put us on a home renovation hiatus. We've been living in limbo, knowing what we want to do with the house but powerless to do it. 

Like the other fifteen homes we've lived in over the past year, we've had to live in our new house as it is, adapting ourselves to the space rather than adapting the space to our vision of perfection. 

After a few months of this exercise in home alteration abstinence, something changed. 

"I can live with the kitchen for a while," Erin announced one evening as she was making dinner. 
"Really? I thought that was the first thing you wanted to renovate."
"We can't afford to put in a new kitchen right now."
"But we have to do the cabinets before the floors," I reasoned, eyeing the bubbling linoleum at her feet. 
"I know. I don't think we should do the floors either."
"Not do the floors... but... Erin... the carpet... the teal carpet..." I sputtered in disbelief. 
"It's not that bad," she asserted.
"It looks like the Little Mermaid threw up all over our living room!"
"The kids love playing on it, and I don't care if they make a mess on it. It's warm on your feet. Plus it keeps the whole house quiet."
I glanced at the two of them running and tackling each other, falling down laughing. 
"I guess it has its merits," I admitted reluctantly. 

"We just need to hold off on all of this," Erin said. "I don't want to take on more debt right now, not while I'm the only one working."
"You think what I do isn't work?"
"Stop it. Our cash is going to be tight while we're in England over the spring. I don't want to feel like we can't do anything while we're there because all of our money is tied up in a house we're not living in. We'll get to all of these projects eventually, but for now we have to just say no."


This has been a breakthrough of sorts, the realization that there is something to be gained by not trying to make our house perfect. There is virtue in having an unperfect home. 

Unperfect is not a word. Or rather, it's an imperfect word. It's intentionally imperfect. 

Imperfect suggests something that has an undesirable flaw. Unperfect implies something that is intentionally left imperfect. This requires acceptance, even appreciation, of its flaws.

We have accepted the house as it is, content to enjoy our time and money doing the things we really want to be doing with our lives, rather than working and spending to make a better container for a life we don't really want.

We've still succumbed to some of our renovation urges. We bought the couch. We put in a radon system. I've replaced doorknobs, light fixtures, smoke detectors, and a shower head and fenced in a portion of the yard. Erin found some new used kitchen appliances so that we no longer feel like we're cooking on the set of Family Ties

I came downstairs one morning to find that Erin had taped out the location of the island we eventually want to build in our kitchen. My first impulse was to chastise her. But then I realized that this was just a coping mechanism, not a relapse. It was a nicotine patch on the outdated linoleum floor. 

Recovery is a slow process. We'll get to all of our projects, eventually. Or maybe we won't.

The house is not perfect. It never will be. 

It's an unperfect home. And for us, right now, it's perfect. 

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The Way To Fly - Part 6

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The Way To Fly - Part 6

The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending
The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost
The Way To Fly - Part 3 - Why Not Travel?
The Way To Fly - Part 4 - Fulcrum
The Way To Fly - Part 5 - The Conflict

As we left Maine, we had hoped our story would end with our dream of building our own home. By the time we got to New Jersey, it had a new ending. 

PART 6: THE ENDING

I stepped out of the realtor's office with our returned deposit check in hand and got in the car with Erin and the kids to drive to New Jersey for our next two-month house sitting gig at Erin's parent's house, taking care of our own pets. 

We were leaving Maine, and with it our dream of building our home. There were no other well-located lots we could afford. We had walked through one other promising lot to find it was all wetlands. 

This dream of building a home seemed impossible before we left for our life abroad. But once we admitted it was possible, it seemed almost inevitable until it eventually fell through. 

This experience of traveling has changed us, and changed the way we think about the things we want. We are better able to articulate what we want, to challenge what we think we need, to commit quickly to big decisions, and to trust ourselves to see them through. We had decided a year ago to give everything up. What more did we have to lose?

So we didn't mourn the loss of our land deal for long as we hit the road for New Jersey. 

By the time we crossed the border into New Hampshire, we had gotten pre-approved for a home loan. Our realtor sent us a purchase and sale agreement as we passed into Connecticut. By the time we crossed the Tappan Zee bridge in New York, we had submitted a signed offer. 

And when we arrived in New Jersey, we

JUMP!

found out that our offer had been accepted to purchase a house in Kittery, Maine.

Ten days earlier, when we had decided not to extend our land offer, we also decided to start looking for homes to purchase. We couldn't afford anything in Wells with vacation rental potential, so we started looking closer to Portsmouth, NH. We couldn't afford anything in Portsmouth (although we strongly considered a modular home park), so we looked at surrounding towns like Dover, Newmarket, and Durham. 

"What about Kittery?" suggested my sister, who we were staying with in Portsmouth for the week. 
"Is there anything there besides the outlets?" I asked. 
"Yes! There's a cute little downtown area, parks and beaches, and the schools are excellent."
She spent the last year teaching at the elementary school, so she should know.

Kittery is the first town in Maine directly across from Portsmouth, over the wide Piscataqua River where it empties into the ocean. Besides its outlet shopping, it's the home of a naval shipyard on the Piscataqua that is a major industry in the region. 

The need to house military families coming through the shipyard has generated some dense neighborhoods with small lots and modest houses, making them affordable despite their proximity to Portsmouth. This also creates a chronic shortage of rental housing, which means we could rent our house for a profit when we decide to move on again. 

Five days earlier, my sister drove me through Kittery to get the lay of the land.  

Four days earlier, Erin drove through on her way home from working in Boston. 

Three days earlier, Erin contacted a realtor to set up walkthroughs for four properties in Kittery. We weren't planning to buy anything but wanted to get familiar with the market so that we could keep our eye on it over the next year. 

One day earlier, we drove through Kittery together for the first time, before the walkthroughs. We saw the quaint downtown with its collection of restaurants and shops, looked at the schools, and admired the high-end homes along the waterfront. It felt like the kind of place we could see ourselves living. 

We walked into the first house expecting to find something wrong with it.

The location was superb, a half mile from downtown Kittery and less than a mile from downtown Portsmouth over the bridge. It was on a little less than a half acre of land, more than any other property in our low price range. It had a two-car garage and full-height unfinished walkout basement, giving it potential for adding space. 

We saw it as soon as we opened the front door. The carpet. Wall to wall. "Teal" didn't begin to describe its garish iridescence. That was the chink in the armor.

But if there was wood underneath, and as we walked through the house we didn't see any other major issues. There were things to be repaired and remodeled over time, but once the shockingly abhorrent carpet was removed we could live in it as is. 

The living room was surprisingly open for a house of its age, and with a few swings of a hammer we could open it up further to the kitchen. A long second floor bedroom could be divided in two, making it a three-bedroom house. The basement could eventually be converted to an office and guest bedroom, and possibly rented as an AirBNB unit separate from the house. 

The other three houses were in the dense neighborhood with the military housing units. They were cheaper than the first house, but after replacing roofs and furnaces and gutting bathrooms and kitchens, they would all cost about the same. 

One duplex was interesting for its rental income potential, but none of the houses had nearly as much to offer as the first house. It seemed like such an anomaly in our price range, and it seemed to have everything we wanted. 

As we made the decision that night to make an offer, our biggest concern was that we would like living in the house so much that we wouldn't ever want to move out. So much for our aspirations of building a rental property empire to replace our employment income while we spend the rest of our lives traveling. I guess I'll eventually have to go back to work.


We discussed our offer with our realtor on our way down to New Jersey the next day. The asking price was just above our desired price range, but had just been lowered $20,000 a few days earlier. It was priced to sell. The seller's realtor said two other parties were planning to make an offer. It would be off the market in a matter of days. 

We wanted to offer $10,000 below asking and let the seller negotiate up to $5,000 below. But with two other pending offers, we didn't want to leave $5,000 on the table and not get the house. 

So we made a full-price offer with no inspection. The house had been pre-inspected by a trusted company and we had reviewed the report. We didn't need to sell our house first, which made our offer more favorable than anyone who did.

The only way someone could beat our offer was to pay cash or offer more than the asking price. At our realtors recommendation, we made our offer expire at six o'clock that evening to avoid a bidding war.

When we arrived in New Jersey, we found out our offer had been accepted. 


We've spent the last two months sorting out details of the loan and insurance and starting to plan and budget our renovation projects, starting with carpet removal. 

We've also been finding more to like about Kittery. We can walk to a butcher, green grocer, and bakery. There are two yoga studios within walking distance. A nearby Indian restaurant is considered one of the top twenty in the country. The community recreation center offers numerous classes, kids activities, performances, and gym facilities at an annual cost that rivals the monthly cost of some other gyms. 

We think we'll have more amenities within walking distance than we did in the heart of Somerville. If that's not enough, we'll just bike over the bridge to downtown Portsmouth. 

Beyond these amenities, we're looking forward to becoming a part of this small town community. Despite the density of the town, there are less than 100 kids in each grade so we feel like we'll get to know everyone. We've heard that the whole town uses the rec center, making it a unique informal central meeting place that many towns lack. There are also events like a summer block party for the whole community to celebrate. 

This sense of community is something we've experienced while traveling in places like Portugal, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. It's something we've wanted to be a part of wherever we end up. We're hoping to find it as we start to build our new life in Maine.


We close on the house this evening. Tomorrow we'll drive a rental truck to Somerville to get some of our belongings out of storage, and tomorrow night we'll spend our first night in our new home. 

A year and ten days after we left our home, we finally have a place to come home to. 

That seems like as fitting an ending as any to this book of stories we've been writing over the past year. While we've enjoyed our spontaneity and are looking forward to more adventures in England this spring, it's nice to know now what the ending will be.

Because, after all,

JUMP!

I'm writing a book. 

 

The End.

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The Way To Fly - Part 5

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The Way To Fly - Part 5

Previous Posts:
The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending
The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost
The Way To Fly - Part 3 - Why Not Travel?
The Way To Fly - Part 4 - Fulcrum

With our six months in England sorted out, we just needed to find somewhere to go between September, when we finish housesitting for our own pets in Erin's parents' house in New Jersey, and January, when Oliver would start the school term in England.

That started to get more complicated, and a lot more expensive. 

PART 5: THE CONFLICT

Erin has a bad habit. She looks at real estate listings the way some people look at Twitter. 

This was the genesis of what motivated our trip in the first place. Before Erin conceived of traveling for a year, she had been watching the spring housing market in Somerville going parabolic. We got a real estate appraisal for our house and started looking for what might be our next house. 

We realized that we couldn't decide where we wanted to live. Our next house would likely become our long-term home where our kids would grow up. We liked Somerville, but weren't sure we wanted to raise our kids there, and we couldn't afford a larger house in that market. Affordability and school quality pushed us out to the suburbs, but that screwed up our commutes. Nothing we saw was inspiring us. 

What we really wanted - something we've always wanted - was to buy a piece of land to design and build a house. 

We looked but did not find much land on the market. It would also be a challenge to afford to build a house while paying to live in our current house. The fact that we wanted to keep our Somerville house as a rental property created problems for refinancing to tap into our equity. We couldn't see a way of turning our dream of building a home into reality. 

Our failed search for a new home suddenly made us feel trapped in our current home, wondering if we would ever move out of it. 

Then Erin realized that we didn't need a new home, we needed fifteen new homes, and off we went on our travels. 

But bad habits, and dreams, die hard. 

So, while we were in Puerto Rico in April, we

JUMP!

had an offer accepted on a 50'x100' plot of land in Wells, Maine.

Erin found the listing online at a price we could afford. Wells is the beach town where my parents live, so we knew it well. It has excellent schools, is next to picturesque Ogunquit with its strollable shops and restaurants, and is accessible to Boston via the Amtrak Downeaster train, or by bus from nearby Portsmouth, NH. 

The lot is walkable to some shops and restaurants and has good access to the seasonal trolley that goes down to the beaches a mile away. We could build a two- or three-bedroom house with a separate office for Erin that could double as a room to rent on AirBNB. In the summer we could rent the whole house out while traveling or visiting Erin's family in New Jersey. After a few years we could move on to another house, keeping it as a profitable vacation rental property. 

It is at the end of a small private lane with a neighboring house on one side and a 12 acre wooded lot at the other side and rear. It is unlikely that the wooded lot will ever be developed because its only access from our narrow lane does not allow it to be subdivided. 

Before making the offer we had laid out a test-fit floor plan to make sure we could fit the house we wanted. There was a 25 foot front zoning setback, and a required septic system at the back would reduce the buildable footprint to about 25' x 25'. This could give us a 1,200 SF house on two floors, a bit larger than our house in Somerville and the most we could afford to build.

We sent my sister and a friend to take pictures for us, mailed our $5,000 deposit, talked to the town about permitting and a zoning variance, talked to lenders about construction loans, and talked to contractors about costs and a construction schedule that would allow us to move into the house when we return from England in June 2017.


Our offer was contingent on an acceptable septic design, so we sent a septic engineer to the site to layout the septic system.

He sent me an email from the site saying the neighboring homeowner had staked his property line, and it didn't seem to match the rudimentary site plan from the realtor. He suggested we get the site professionally surveyed before doing a septic layout. He happened to find a marking pin on the site and gave me the name of the surveyor on the pin. 

I called the surveyor and left a message asking if he had a survey drawing he could send us. He emailed me saying the seller's ex-wife had hired him to survey the lot in 1999, but he couldn't send it to us without her authorization.

Ominously, the surveyor said he recalled a "serious issue" with the site.

What could this be? Wetlands? An easement? A fuel tank? Contamination? A Pet Sematary? 

The realtor dug up a copy of the survey drawing and sent it to us. Sure enough, the parallelogram site was skewed more than shown on the original site plan. The neighboring homeowner's stakes were probably correct.

But that wasn't the serious issue. There was a boundary line drawn diagonally across the site from one corner to the other, bisecting it in two. One half noted the seller's name, but the other half noted a different name - the owner of the adjacent 12 acre wooded lot. 

"Unfortunately you have found the right tree," the surveyor responded when I asked if I was barking up it. It was a boundary conflict that cut the site in half. 

From our house in the Dominican Republic, I started researching the deed history on the Registry of Deeds website. Sure enough, the seller's deed was written as a warranty deed for half of the site (meaning he could guarantee no one else owned it) and only a quitclaim deed for the conflicted half (meaning he could only relinquish his ownership claim, but could not guarantee that no one else had an ownership claim). This quitclaim had been written into the deed after the 1999 survey discovered the conflict. Before that there had been a warranty deed for the whole lot. 

I'd like to think that I would have discovered the boundary conflict when I reviewed the deed, but the reality is that if our septic guy hadn't found that marking pin on the site, we might have purchased a very expensive piece of worthless, unbuildable land. 

But we still wanted it. 


The conflict could be resolved if the seller got quitclaim deeds from his neighbor relinquishing their claim to the conflicted portion of the lot. He would have to pay them for this, unless their deed was somehow invalidated, but with our offer on the table he had money to offer them. 

I traced the deed history for both lots back to 1946, when the lots were subdivided from a larger parcel. Both deeds were written within six months of each other, so there shouldn't have been a conflict. 

I compared the written 1946 deed descriptions (i.e. northeasterly 60 feet to the old hickory tree) with a recorded 1976 survey for the 12 acre lot. It appeared that the intent was to create the seller's 50'x100' lot as it existed, but the neighbor's deed description mistakenly omitted one of the boundary lines, so that it didn't return to the starting point. The 1976 surveyor resolved this by simply drawing a diagonal line across the seller's property. 

"That's Maine for yah."

The seller's realtor had forwarded my findings to another local surveyor, whom I met with as soon as we got back to Maine in June. 
"But isn't there a problem with the neighbor's deed description? Couldn't that invalidate their claim?"
"Senior rights," he responded. "That deed was recorded first. Those boundaries get drawn before any later deeds. It's never perfect. Yah do your best to lay it out with watcha got."
"Is there any chance the Registry would have a recorded survey drawing of the 1946 subdivision that was used to generate the deed descriptions?"
"Nah," he answered with a grin, "yah won't find nothin' theyah. That's Maine for yah."

But that might not have mattered. The seller's realtor had talked with the neighbor and said they were amenable to resolving it. It was complicated by the fact that the neighbor's property was in an estate with five separate family members having interest. This would take more than a handshake, but there was a good amount of money on the table for a small slice of their large lot that was useless to either of them without a resolution. 

So we waited. Two weeks. Four weeks. Six. 

The week before our scheduled closing date of Friday July 15, we sent a note saying that we were still very interested in the property. However, without some indication of progress by that Friday we would withdraw our offer and submit a new offer for less money. 

Friday came and went. 

"I don't know what they're thinking," the seller's realtor said to me on Monday when I stopped in to pick up our refunded $5,000 deposit check. "Why not just cut a deal for that little corner?"

"I guess they don't like money," I said. 

"Well," he said, "That's Maine for yah."

 

To be continued...

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The Way To Fly - Part 4

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The Way To Fly - Part 4

Previous Posts:
The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending
The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost
The Way To Fly - Part 3 - Why Not Travel?

We will be living in England for six months to extend our travel experience while giving Oliver the opportunity to build friendships. But will it be that simple?

PART 4: FULCRUM

Once we had decided to live in Cambridge, England for six months during the next year, I started trying to find out if Oliver could attend school there. This seemed to be the easiest way for him to cut my apron strings and start building friendships with kids his age.

Oliver has another year of preschool before starting kindergarten in the U.S., but in England children as young as four start attending compulsory primary school. If we got there at the end of December, he could attend one and a half of the three school year terms, leaving at the mid-term break in May. 

The question was whether he could attend public school at no cost, or if we would have to pay for a private school. Erin's parents had inquired about this while in England and thought he could attend public school as a resident, but my initial research online suggested that he could not, since we were traveling on passports, not a longer term visa. Private school could cost over $10,000 for two terms, which would be a big blow to our annual budget.

But was it worth it?

"No," said Erin, "we are not spending ten thousand dollars!"

We were in the Dominican Republic, walking down our beach to the far point at its end for the first time in the month we had been there. Erin's parents were staying with us and playing with the kids further back on the beach. The topic had come up the night before without resolution, and the discussion had gotten heated.

"But I don't think he can get into public school," I said.
"Are you sure?"
"No, I'm not. Everything online is vague, but it does say that international students on short-term visits are not eligible."
"Then we can't put him in school," she replied, disheartened. "The math doesn't work with just my income. It just doesn't."
"But he needs to do something," I argued. "It's not fair for him to spend all his time babysitting Vera with me."
"Then find things to do with him! That's why you're doing this, isn't it? There are tons of things to do in Cambridge. You just have to figure it out, like every other stay-at-home mom does."
"Of course I can keep him busy, but library storytimes are not going to give him the kind of socialization he needs with kids his age."
"No, but you can meet the moms and set up playdates. It's up to you to make those connections to help him make friends."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"

"It's the school year. Every other four and five year old is required to be in school. They won't be at the library, or the museum, or the playground, and they won't be looking for playdates. They'll be in school. They'll have their school friends. Oliver will be playing with two- and three-year-olds like Vera, like he does now. If we want him to spend time with kids his age, he needs to be in school with them."

We had reached the end of the beach and stopped at the sharp point of sand clear of the backdrop of palm trees, a fulcrum between our familiar beach and another undiscovered arc of sand curving away from us on the other side.

"Then why are we going to England?" Erin said in desperation. "If you think he has to be in school, why don't we just go back to Somerville, put him back in preschool, put Vera back in daycare, and put you back to work so we can afford it? Why are we doing this?"

I looked back down the beach for Oliver and Vera, but we had come a long way and I couldn't see them. I looked back across the point, following the curve of the beach beyond to where it vanished at another point, the new boundary of the unknown.

Jump, I thought.

"Because this is what we want to do."

It was a self-affirmation as much as an answer.

"I'll call the school district on Monday and see what they can tell us." I offered. "Then at least we'll know. If it doesn't work out, then we can look into other programs, after-school activities, weekend sports, music classes, whatever. We can make it work."

"What about homeschoolers?" Erin said. "There are a lot of them in Cambridge. They must have a network you can get involved with, and they probably have a lot of planned activities."

"Yeah. That could work."

It could work. We turned around and walked back down the beach to return to Oliver and Vera. We could make it work.


As I had thought, the school district told me that international students cannot attend public school for short-term visits - of six weeks or less. We just need proof of residency for our longer stay to allow Oliver to be enrolled.

So come January, Oliver will be

JUMP!

donning his uniform for his first day of school in Cambridge, England. Tally-ho! 

To be continued...
 

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The Way To Fly - Part 3

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The Way To Fly - Part 3

Previous Posts:
The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending
The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost

We had decided not to return to our home in Somerville at the end of our first year of travel. Could we just keep traveling?

PART 3: WHY NOT TRAVEL?

In January, Oliver's preschool had asked us whether we wanted a slot for him and Vera this September (Oliver has one more year of pre-school before kindergarten). Around the same time, my former employer reached out to ask about my plans for the summer and fall since they were in hiring mode.

We knew we would have to make this decision sooner that we wanted. We ran through the same budget numbers and came to the same conclusion. Even if Oliver could get into the half-day free public preschool in Somerville, the combined childcare costs for him and Vera including after-school, summers, and vacations were comparable to what they would have been this past year. The numbers hadn't changed, nor had the logic.

So we

JUMP!

told them we weren't coming back. 

I was committing to being a stay-at-home dad for one more year. In order to afford this, we would have to rent our house out again, which would leave us homeless in September. 

But where else could we go? Could we just keep traveling?

While traveling, we were demonstrably doing better in every aspect of our life - our time, our money, our stress, our health, our family, our creativity - than we would have been if I had kept working.

Why stop?

For Oliver.

IMG_1974.jpg

One concern of mine, which has been a concern from the beginning, was Oliver's lack of socialization with kids his age who spoke English during our travels. During this past year, I had considered this to be a temporary sacrifice for the richness of his worldly experience and strengthening of our familial relationships. 

But if we spent another year traveling, this would not be temporary. Oliver had been a three and a half year old toddler when we left. After another year, he would be a five and a half year old boy. I couldn't shake a sense of self-indulgent guilt that for two of the most formative years of his life, he would have no friends. 

This was further complicated by Vera. When we left, she was fourteen months old. She was portable, took two long naps a day, and was happy to follow along with whatever Oliver was doing. During her naps I had plenty of time to engage with Oliver on crafts, reading, music, or imaginative play, in some synergistic combination of a preschool teacher, best buddy, and dad. When Vera was awake I could corral the two of them into the same activity and keep the party rolling.

That naturally began to change. Vera's stroller became a liability rather than an asset as she insisted on pushing it around rather than being pushed in it. She dropped her morning nap in December after we returned from Europe. She became increasingly independent and competitive with Oliver for toys and attention from Daddy. 

Now two years old, Vera is a force of nature, a destroyer of worlds, a whirlwind of perpetual motion, righteously self-determined and devilishly defiant to authority, to the extent I ever had any. She is the absence of ambiguity, white hot with sunshine or bitter cold as ice. She is radiant joy or darkest rage.

These are all qualities I greatly admire in other people's children. But, holy crap, do they wear me out. I might be able to build up a reserve of strength to last through the day if she would ever just let me sleep past six o'clock. This morning it was 4:56.

Gone are those halcyon days of extended engagement with Oliver. Now my morning is a marathon of appeasement, juggling each of their demands while trying to keep things in the house tidy and not broken. One minute they're thick as thieves and the next they're at each others' throats. My only hope of preserving any of our sanity is to get them out the door by 9 AM. 

This is the best part of the day. I take them to the playground, beach, hiking trail, library, or even just the grocery store. I can imagine this getting tedious for parents stuck in one place, but since we've been traveling there has always been someplace new to explore every day. I love finding new places with them and seeing the sense of discovery on their faces.

When Vera's nap time finally comes after lunch, I give Oliver his iPad and set to work picking up toys and cleaning the kitchen from breakfast and lunch. By the time I sit down with Oliver my eyes are rolling back in my head from utter exhaustion. 

"Don't sleep Daddy, play with me!" Oliver insists. 
"OK, I'm not sleeping," I lie. "What are you working on?"

He has a number of great games on his iPad, and I try to make his screen time a social activity for as long as I can stay awake. He builds 3D worlds, records music, creates artwork, and teaches himself Spanish, and we talk about everything he's doing. His favorite activity is dictating and typing emails to his cousins and grandparents. 

As enriching as this afternoon iPad time is for him, it's no substitute for the conversation, cooking, science experiments, hands-on play, and crafts we used to do when Vera took two naps. When I finally sit down with him in the afternoon I don't have the energy to engage with him the way I used to. 

I am the core of his social world, and even I can't be a good friend to him anymore. 


Oliver needed some structured activities, where he could play with other kids, learn from other adults, and focus on creative projects without Vera turning them into confetti.

This summer we enrolled him in a series of week-long half-day camps and other activities with his cousins in New Hampshire and New Jersey: Fairy Tale Camp, Bible Camp (not the same thing), Olympic Sports Camp, a gymnastics class, and swim lessons. He has been thriving in these activities. 

The highlight was his group performance at the end of Bible Camp, a youth revival complete with theatrical lighting and video screens. Oliver has seen all of his cousins performing in dance recitals and talent shows over the years, but has never performed himself.

When the chorus came, he screamed the lyrics and leapt dancing into the air, easily the most animated kid on the stage. He was a star. 

These are the kinds of experiences I can't give him while we're traveling. This is what he would be missing out on if we were to continue traveling around various foreign destinations month to month. I didn't think we could keep doing it. It wasn't fair to Oliver. 

Did this mean we would just have to rent a house somewhere near home for the year?

If this past year has taught us anything, it's that there's always another way, and it's usually a better way. 

So we

JUMP!

accepted a generous offer from Erin's parents to live in their second home in Cambridge, England for six months during the next year. 

This will allow us to settle down for a while while still satisfying our insatiable travel bug. We'll have a base of operations to continue exploring the UK and Europe, but also be able to get Oliver involved in activities with kids his age that he can get to know over several months. 

To be continued...

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The Way To Fly - Part 2

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The Way To Fly - Part 2

Previous Post: The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending

Some people think the way to fly is to flap your arms madly after you've jumped off a cliff. 

That's not the way to fly. 

The way to fly is to keep jumping.


PART 2: OPPORTUNITY COST

In April, we

JUMP!

listed our house to rent for one more year to a new tenant.

We got some immediate interest, and within a week had a rental application from what looked like an excellent potential tenant. While they scheduled a trip to see the house, we got another application from another great candidate who also wanted to see it. This was followed by two more promising inquiries which we held at bay until the first two could see the house. 

Apparently our house was underpriced.

The first two applicants both liked the house but, after visiting, realized it was too far from the universities each of them would be attending. In the meantime, the other two applicants lost interest and withdrew. A week went by with no inquiries.

Apparently our house was overpriced. 

Then we got another very interested applicant who wanted to sign a lease sight unseen. While we were reviewing their application, another new applicant reached out to schedule a walk through the next day.  

Apparently our house was priced just right. 

We signed a lease with that first applicant. The last applicant was disappointed they didn't get it, but Erin explained that the rental market these days is like the dating market. People who seem really interested just drop off the face of the earth, so we need to court multiple people at the same time. 

When we got back to Maine, my parents helped with the kids while Erin and I took three trips down to Massachusetts to get the house in tip-top condition for the new tenants. 

Our last trip was the day our tenants moved out. They had been absolutely ideal tenants and loved the house and the area, saying they were even considering retirement in Somerville! 


After a long day of cleaning, laundry, organizing, laundry, repairs, laundry, landscaping, laundry, and laundry, Erin and I walked up the street to decompress over dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood haunts. It felt like one of the many casual dinners out we had had here when we first moved in. 

"It is nice to be back in Somerville," I remarked as we sauntered back to the house formerly known as ours with the sun setting behind it. 

"Yeah, it's nice to be here - without kids," Erin replied. 


I didn't disagree. Those casual dinners out didn't happen anymore. They had to be pre-planned and scheduled with babysitters, and carried the psychic burden of an unnecessary expense in an annual budget that had long since been blown

The only reason we had eaten out at all the year before was that Erin's Christmas gift to me had been one dinner out a month, babysitter included. If only Vera could have given us the gift of sleeping past 5:30 AM the morning before so that we weren't falling asleep in our food. 

Like our longing for the sidewalk cafes in Europe, every new hipster hangout in Somerville taunted us, plaid-shirted men too young for beards as long as theirs dangling cans of double IPA in the darkened windows of dives we could never frequent regularly enough to become regulars. 

We loved that this was what Somerville was, but it no longer felt like what we were. I don't even like double IPA anymore. 

Somerville was no longer the land of opportunity it had been for us. Returning here would now have an opportunity cost. Our house was generating meaningful passive income as a rental property. The skyrocketing real estate market that had made this possible meant that we could no longer afford to buy or rent elsewhere in the city. We couldn't afford to live in our own house.

But that night, we slept in our own bed for the first time in almost a year, and the last time for the year to come. 

Our new tenants arrived the next morning. They've been there a few weeks now and so far seem to be happy with the house.

This is a good thing, because they signed a

JUMP!

two-year lease. 

We'll miss Somerville. Maybe we'll retire there.

 

To be continued...

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The Way To Fly - Part 1

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The Way To Fly - Part 1

Some people think the way to fly is to flap your arms madly after you've jumped off a cliff.

But that's just a controlled fall...


August 21, 2015 - Escaping the Labyrinth

PART 1: DAEDALUS DESCENDING

It's over. 

Our year of family travel started on August 21, 2015. Today marks the end of that year. 

Before we left I wrote about feeling like I had taken flight up out of the Labyrinth of our narrow life, flapping my arms madly, looking back down as an impartial observer of my own existence:

In the weeks since we decided to take a year off to travel, I've been having this out of body sensation, as if I'm looking down from above to watch myself navigate the maze of my daily life. I can see the path I'm following, and I can see where it ends. The way to end the fear is not to contain it or slay it, but to escape the Labyrinth altogether. 

That out of body sensation hasn't gone away. It's as if I'm writing a book where the character of Tim embarks on all of these adventures with his family, and my present life is just a matter of acting out the life of that character. I feel an obligation for our lives to live up to the excitement of our stories. 

To have a life worth remembering. 

But every book has an ending. This ending, the return to our narrow life, was my biggest fear before we left:

Perhaps the biggest thing we have to fear is returning to the Labyrinth of our narrow life a year from now. The fears we are leaving behind will still be there when we return, to pull us back deeper inside it. Hopefully our flight up and out of the Labyrinth will give us the perspective we need to better navigate it.

At the time this seemed like the best we could hope to achieve during this year. That we could be changed by our travels but that the maze we returned to could not be. 

That the ending of the book would return us to the beginning, the back cover bound inexorably to the front. 

That we would occasionally look back and say, "Remember that year we traveled the world? That was wild. At least we did that. I have to get the kids, what time will you be home from work?"

Screw that.


Some people think the way to fly is to flap your arms madly after you've jumped off a cliff. 

That's not the way to fly. 

The way to fly is to keep jumping. 

 

To be continued...

The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost

August 20, 2016 - Escaping the Amazing Maize Maze at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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Citizen of Nowhere: Abroad Life on Anarchitecture Podcast

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Citizen of Nowhere: Abroad Life on Anarchitecture Podcast

Want to get caught up on our year of travel, but can't find the time to read 7,000 word blog posts?

Want to hear the voices behind the stories?

Want to be indoctrinated in anarcho-libertarian political theory as applied to aspects of the built environment?

Bet you thought I'd never ask!

Our adventure has been featured in episode ana006 of Anarchitecture Podcast, a podcast that explores the built environment of a stateless society.

Subscribe to Anarchitecture Podcast to listen!
Subscribe on iTunes
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Listen on Anarchitecture Website

...the what what of a what what?

Anarchitecture considers issues related to the built environment from the perspective of anarchism, a political philosophy derived from the principal that the initiation of force by individuals and governments is morally wrong and counterproductive in practice. With a focus on buildings, cities, transportation, infrastructure, etc., Anarchitecture proposes non-aggressive, non-governmental alternatives to functions typically performed by governments.

The hosts of the show are an engineer living in Australia and his twin brother, an architect who until recently lived in Boston. The architect in particular has been very interested in our travels because... he is me. I am he. They are we.

My brother Joe and I started recording episodes almost a year and a half ago, and officially launched the podcast with five episodes in March of this year. It's been a fun project for us to collaborate and geek out on while living so far apart.

The tone of the podcast is intended to be provocative without being antagonistic. Neither left nor right, the focus is on ideas rather than politics, current events, or elections.

What does any of that have to do with our family's travels?

This episode, titled Citizen of Nowhere, discusses the concept of freedom of movement and freedom of travel, a fundamental human right that every government on the planet heavily restricts. Joe and I reflect on each of our travel experiences to question the ends and means of border controls and argue for the elimination of national borders. Like I said, provocative.

Here are some highlights from this episode:

Intro: World's Craziest Idea (Erin's podcasting debut!)

Tim's Abroad Life:

  • Why travel?
  • A Narrow Life – Struggling with careers, family life, and personal life
  • Crunching the Numbers
  • Housesitting
  • "No! I am not doing donkeys.”
  • Working Remotely
  • The worst thing about Obamacare (It's not what you think)
  • The pre-launch checklist – Three months to get everything done to leave
  • Where have we been?

Freedom of Movement (00:37:40)

  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Tourist or Traveler?
  • The 30% Rule of traveling with young kids
  • “If the water runs out, we’ll know which pipe at the side of the road to get it from.”
  • Empathy from experiencing environmental conditions that shape local culture
  • Unreliable infrastructure builds reliance on a strong community structure
  • Reasons to emigrate

Why governments restrict travel (The “Ends”) (00:55:10)

  • Are border controls effective?
  • Keeping out criminals
  • Preventing spread of disease
  • “These guys come on the plane in full biohazard suits”
  • Farm animals
  • Keeping out pests
  • Fruit Fly, Rabbits, Foxes, and Cane Toads
  • They’ll Take Our Jobs!
  • They Won’t Have Jobs!
  • They’ll Become Citizens and Vote!
  • They Won’t Become Citizens and Vote!
  • Molenbeek and the Brussels Lockdown
  • Refugee Crisis

How do Governments Restrict Movement? (The “Means”) (01:30:45)

  • Presumption of Guilt and Exclusion
  • Passports
  • Visas
  • Joe’s most difficult border crossing – Canada
  • Arbitrary quotas and green card lottery
  • Elements of built environment used as means of restricting movement
  • Ports of Entry – Airports, Seaports
  • Customs and Quarantine
  • “A suitcase full of dried fish”
  • Unofficial Ports of Entry – Borders
  • “Build a wall between the US and Canada"
  • Mobile Border Patrols

See the episode page on the Anarchitecture website for more show notes and links.
Click here for a summary of previous episodes.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this discussion in episode 007, with an original James Bond style theme song performed by someone familiar to many Abroad Life readers (it's not me)!

Subscribe to Anarchitecture Podcast to listen!
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Listen on Anarchitecture Website

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Mordedura

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Mordedura

I get knocked down

But I get up again

You are never gonna keep me down

Tubthumping
by Chumbawumba

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

My Favorite Things
by Rodgers and Hammerstein


We came to love the beaches and town of Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic during our five week stay, but our first week put us through the most daunting trial of our year of travel to date. 

There are many dogs on the beaches, some stray and some owned. The beach dogs are generally docile and used to people. Still, knowing how fickle dogs like our own Renzo can be, we generally keep our distance with the kids so that they don't get the dogs riled up.

On our third day here, Oliver, Vera, Erin's parents, and I were walking home on the beach. I was holding Oliver's hand and Erin's mom was carrying Vera. Near the end of our street, a couple of retirees were sitting on the beach with two small dogs and one larger dog. A friend of theirs on a moped had stopped to chat. We walked towards them, about ten to fifteen feet away as we turned up towards our street. 

In an instant, the two smaller dogs charged towards us barking, and the larger dog got the wrong message. Oliver turned into my leg and screamed in pain. I lifted him up and turned away from the dogs, who were retreating back to their owners. 

"Where does it hurt, Oliver?" I asked through his screams.
"My arm!" he cried, indicating his right arm.
I pulled back the short sleeve of his swim shirt and examined it. I didn't see any signs of a bite or bruise. 
"Do you think the doggy bit you or did it just scare you?" I asked.
"It feels like it bit my arm!"

The owners now had the dogs under control. They were French but the woman spoke English. "They never do this," she said, which is the dog-owner's equivalent of "I only had two drinks, officer." 
"Is he OK?" she asked with genuine concern.
"I think so," I said as Oliver's screams continued. "I don't think he was bitten, I think it just scared him." Oliver had recently had some episodes of overdramatic reactions, a skill he was honing from careful observations of his overdramatic little sister. 

We talked a bit more and they continued to apologize, then we headed home, with Oliver still screaming. About fifty feet down our road he caught his breath and said, "It feels like it's bleeding."

I put him down and looked again at his arm. There were no marks. His swim shirt was not ripped anywhere. I lifted up his shirt to look at his back. 

There on his right shoulder blade was an oval of bruises. At the top of the oval was a small cut. It was bleeding. 

We walked back to the beach and told the owner's about the bite.
"They have all their vaccines," the woman said immediately.
"Including rabies?" asked Erin's father.
"Yes," she responded definitively. He asked again and again she confirmed. 
They apologized again and we left to bring Oliver home to treat the bite.

We got home and told the story to Erin as we rinsed the bite, applied antiseptic cream, and gave him a band-aid. 

Then we started questioning the situation.

They said the dog was vaccinated, and based on their sincerity, we believed them. But rabies vaccines expire. Was its rabies shot up to date? 

The bite didn't rip his shirt. The saliva probably didn't make contact. But it's a swim shirt designed to let water through. Could the saliva have gotten through?

"Did you ask for their contact information?" Erin asked. She was on a mom's email list back home and had seen emails of mothers desperately seeking vaccine information from the owners of dogs who had bitten their children. 

We hadn't asked. Having come from the beach, none of us had phones or even pen and paper. Beyond that, I doubted that they would be able to provide vaccination documentation in a timely manner. If someone asked us for our dog's records, we would have to dig into a box in our garage back in Somerville. 

Should one of us go back and see if we can get their contact info? We discussed and thought that we had probably gotten as much information as we were going to get from them. Some time had passed, and they might not be there anymore. 

This was the biggest mistake we made.


DAY ZERO

That night we emailed Oliver's doctor and started researching rabies. The first priority was to determine if the dog is vaccinated. With or without vaccination, the dog should be quarantined for observation for ten days, in which time a rabid dog will die. 

If the dog has been vaccinated, the bite victim can wait these ten days to determine if vaccination is necessary. Without the dog, vaccination should start immediately. 

Vaccination is a series of five shots given on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28. However, since it takes time for the vaccine to be effective, a separate shot of rabies immunoglobulin should be given within 24 hours of the bite, or as soon as possible, to provide immediate protection. 

Without vaccination, symptoms can set in between fifteen days to a year after infection. Infection from bites on the hands, neck, or genitals can progress more rapidly than other bites. Once symptoms set in, it is no longer possible to get vaccinated. 

This means certain death. 

Oliver's doctor sent us information including brand names of vaccines, and the vaccine brands available in the US were different from those available outside the country. This meant that we may not be able to start a round of vaccines here and then finish them in the US. We did have time to get all five vaccinations here - if they were available. A friend of ours told us she works with an organization who recently had to evacuate three exchange students from the Dominican Republic because the proper rabies vaccines were not available anywhere in the country. They were given tetanus immunoglobulin instead of rabies immunoglobulin. 

If we could not get access to all five doses of the vaccine, or the rabies immunoglobulin shot, we would have to fly back to the States for treatment. 


DAY ONE

But even without flying back, vaccination would be a trying ordeal for Oliver. While we were concerned about the severity of the disease, we still thought it highly unlikely that he was infected. 

For him to be infected, the dog owners would have had to have lied or otherwise been wrong about its vaccination, and their dog would have had to have been recently bit by a rabid animal which the Owners didn't mention, and the dog's saliva would have had to have gotten through Oliver's shirt to the cut. This all seemed exceedingly unlikely. 

Our French property manager told us that the French people here take good care of their dogs and likely have all vaccinations. He had never heard of problems with rabies and said that there are even people who vaccinate and neuter the stray dogs on the beach. 

Before committing to vaccination, we decided to ask around for the dog owners on the beach. They had dogs and were talking to a friend, so they seemed like locals. They were sitting on the beach right at the end of our street rather than walking down the beach to a more desirable spot, so they might live in one of the developments on our dead end street. 

Each development had a security guard, so I explained the situation in Spanish to each of the guards and asked if they knew any French owners of two small dogs and one larger dog. Most of the developments did not allow pets. We asked at a nearby cafe frequented by French people, and asked a couple of dog owners on the beach. No luck. 

There was a veterinary clinic on our street, where we thought they might know the dogs or at least be able to tell us whether rabies was prevalent in this area. I took Oliver there that afternoon. The gated yard had a bell with a rope tied to the clapper which I pulled to ring once. Oliver thought that looked fun, so he grabbed the rope and swung it back and forth, making a racket. 

Two dogs in the yard ran over to the chain link gate barking, and the veterinarian came out of the building looking irritated. I explained the situation, now well-rehearsed, apparently too well. He responded in rapid-fire Spanish, incomprehensible to me over the barking of the dogs. I apologized and asked him to repeat himself. He looked more irritated. 

"Que hora ayer?"
He was bitten around five o'clock yesterday evening. 
"Ha ido al hospital?"
No, we had not gone to the hospital. 
"Vete al hospital!"
To the hospital?

"Si! Hoy, antes de las cinco de la tarde. Dentro de las veinticuatro horas de la mordedura."
By five o'clock, within twenty-four hours of the bite. 
"Si, vete ahora."


DAY TWO

There were two hospitals in Las Terrenas, one public and one private. From the parking lot, the public hospital looked like a concrete bunker from World War I. We turned around and drove to the private clinic, a relatively new and clean-looking facility. I explained the situation to a doctor in the lobby, and after making a phone call she told us to return in the morning to get the rabies vaccine.

Our English- and Spanish-speaking French property manager kindly accompanied us Wednesday morning to help translate. This proved unnecessary because the pediatrician, whom our property manger happened to know, spoke English reasonably well. 

While waiting for our appointment, a father came in with his nine or ten year old son. The doctor walked by and said, "They're here for the same reason!" 

They were from Switzerland, near Zurich, and the father spoke English. We felt like jetsetters as we sat in the Dominican Republic telling him about our recent travels to Zurich, and he told us about some of the traveling his family had done. Oliver showed the boy his red water bottle with the Swiss white cross that we had bought in Zurich after dropping his previous water bottle under a train. 

They had been to the clinic two days earlier for a dog bite and had received an immunoglobulin shot. But when they got home his wife read that it was a tetanus immunoglobulin shot, not rabies immunoglobulin. Since then he had been calling hospitals around the Dominican Republic and in Switzerland (where there is no rabies) to try to determine his son's course of treatment, since they were returning to Switzerland the following day.

It occurred to me that the only reason this clinic had the vaccine that day may have been because the Swiss boy had been there two days before, and they may have ordered his five doses at that time. Since he was leaving, they may have had extra doses on hand to start Oliver's vaccination. 

When the doctor was ready, Oliver went in first. I asked to see the vaccine label and verified that it was on the list Oliver's doctor had given us. I asked about the rabies immunoglobulin. He did not have it that day (I wasn't surprised that they didn't stock it). I asked if he could get it with his next vaccine dose on Saturday, and he said yes. This was a little longer than I would have liked to have waited, but I was relieved that he would be getting the proper treatment. 

As the doctor prepared the shot, Oliver got wise about what was going down. Erin and I hurriedly explained to him that doggies can have germs in their mouth, so we need to get medicine if they bite us to make sure we don't get sick. He got more agitated, and I hugged him while lifting him up to the exam table. The doctor had me hold his arm and gave a small injection in his shoulder.

Oliver screamed to high holy hell. Over and over. 

Erin tried to calm Oliver with promises of special treats from the French bakery after we left. I asked about the schedule for the follow-up shots, and the doctor said he thought there were three shots but needed to check this. I thought the standard schedule was five doses, but I had read about alternate vaccination schedules, especially if the first dose is delayed. I asked again if Oliver would get the rabies immunoglobulin on Saturday, and he said yes. 

As we left the office with Oliver in tears, the poor Swiss boy looked white as a ghost after hearing his screams.


DAY FOUR

Knowing that we were getting the appropriate treatment was a huge relief, after our initial concerns about unavailability of the vaccines on the island. This first week in the Dominican Republic, as in many of our other destinations, had been stressful to begin with as we sorted out getting money, food, bottled water, internet service, and transportation alternatives to our rental car. Oliver's rabies scare compounded this stress by a factor of ten. Now that we had a plan of action, we could start relaxing a bit.

Erin and I had planned to go out to dinner on Friday night while her parents stayed home with the kids. This was our first dinner out without the kids in the previous three months, since we had no babysitters while traveling. That morning Erin asked me to call the doctor to confirm the time for Oliver's second shot on Saturday, and to make sure they would have the vaccines and immunoglobulin (he had given us his cell phone number). The kids were going nuts so I got them out of the house and planned to call after lunch during Vera's nap.

That afternoon, his status on WhatsApp said he couldn't talk but could respond to texts. I sent him a text message confirming the time that Oliver should come for his vaccine and immunoglobulin shots. He responded an hour later and said he would see us tomorrow - but that they didn't have the immunoglobulin. 

My head exploded. I scraped my brains off the walls, shoved them back into my ears, and texted him back asking if it was possible to get rabies immunoglobulin anywhere in the Dominican Republic. No response. I asked what the full vaccine schedule would be. No response. 

I broke the news to Erin. She stopped working to allow me to use her computer to Skype with Oliver's primary care practice in Massachusetts. After getting bounced around to a few different people, I got a nurse who was knowledgeable about rabies treatment. She confirmed much of what we already knew about the required treatment and said that without being certain about the dog's vaccination status, the immunoglobulin was necessary. She said there was no way to ship it since it required cold storage and a proper chain of custody. The location of the bite on his shoulder made it unlikely that rabies would develop quickly compared to a bite on the neck or hands, but waiting until we returned to the States in a month was too long to risk going without it. If we couldn't get it here we would have to get a flight back for one shot. 

I started calling nearby hospitals to see if any had rabies immunoglobulin. Several had a circular phone answering system or dropped my call after I spoke to someone. I finally spoke with someone in an emergency department, but we had a hard time understanding each other. I eventually realized she was repeating "centro antirrabico," which I took to mean some kind of rabies specialty clinic. Some googling confirmed this and with some difficulty I found a phone number and address for the government-run Centro Antirrábico Nacional - in Santo Domingo, two and a half hours away.

It was now after five o'clock on a Friday and no one answered the phone, but the machine said they were open until noon on Saturday. I had to drive Erin's parents back to the airport in Santo Domingo on Saturday, drop off the rental car, meet a visiting friend at the airport, and take the bus back. I could conceivably take Oliver with me and get to the Centro Antirrabico before they closed at noon. 

We decided to go to the local clinic for Oliver's vaccine shot first thing in the morning and have the doctor call the Centro Antirrabico to ask when they were open and whether they had rabies immunoglobulin. 


Erin's parents took the kids up the street for pizza and she and I left for the dinner date we had waited three months for. We both felt sick to our stomachs.

"I asked you to call this morning," she said after a long silence as we walked down the beach toward town. 
"The kids were going nuts this morning, and WhatsApp said he wasn't available."
"How hard would it have been to send that text message earlier?"
"What difference would it have made?"
"I don't know, maybe you could have gone to the rabies place today. At least we could have figured it all out!"
"I'm going tomorrow anyway. We'll figure it out in the morning with the doctor."
"The doctor who doesn't know what he's doing."
"I don't know what he knows. It sounded like he understood when I asked twice about the immunoglobulin. Maybe he found out afterwards that he couldn't get it."
"Which is why you should have called this morning. I knew this was going to happen."
"Really? You knew? After the doctor told me twice that they would have it?"
"We knew there was a problem with getting it on this island. The doctor didn't even know the right vaccination schedule. I just knew, which is why I asked you to call this morning."

I started to respond but stopped myself. It's hard to remain indignant when you know you're wrong. 

"I feel sick. I can't eat," she said as we approached the restaurant. She stopped and sat on a bench facing the ocean. I silently agreed and sat on the other end. The sky turned blood orange as the sun settled into the sea.

"Three adults and no one thought to ask for their goddamn contact information," she said.

I took a breath. "We didn't know what we were dealing with. I knew nothing about rabies. We all talked about it, including you, and we all decided not to go back. It's done. This is where we're at. We can get to the rabies center. We'll figure it out in the morning with the doctor."
"Has he even confirmed the time? We have to be there at 8 AM if you're going to get to Santo Domingo before the rabies center closes at noon."

I pulled out my phone and looked back through the messages. My last message had asked if we could see him at 8 AM. He hadn't responded. 

At that moment the phone dinged in my hand and a text popped up saying only "Yes" to confirm the time. 
"It's him," I told Erin, "he can do eight o'clock."
It dinged again, this time saying "I'm going to give you all the informations."
I instantly responded asking if I should plan to bring Oliver to the Centro Antirrabico on Saturday.

He replied, "Yes."

"He says we should take him," I told Erin.
"He's on his phone now? Can you call him?"
"Yes, I'll try-"

My phone rang. It was the good doctor. 

I was seething but I listened while he talked. His tone was conciliatory and I had nothing to gain from berating him. Even if he wasn't familiar with rabies treatment, he spoke English and was the best advocate we had for getting it. He was trying to get it right.

He had talked to another specialist who had sorted out the vaccine schedule for him and recommended contacting the Centro Antirrabico about the immunoglobulin, but she had told him they could do the shot on Monday, not Saturday. We agreed to see him first thing and call the center from his office to find out if they would take us on Saturday.

We went to the restaurant, ordered our food, and tried to think of other things to talk about. 


DAY FIVE

In the morning we all loaded into our rental car with both kids, Erin's parents, and their luggage. Vera sat on Erin's lap, and Erin planned to take a taxi back with Vera while the rest of us went on to Santo Domingo. 

"I think that's them!" Erin's mom exclaimed as we passed an open-air French cafe on the way to the clinic. 
"Really?" 
"I think so, those people sitting at the cafe looked really familiar."

We had all been actively looking for the dog owners every day, up and down the beaches, in restaurants, and on every motoconcho that zipped past.

I took the next left to loop back around past the cafe. I slowed as we approached. 

The cafe was empty. 


Oliver screamed again for his shot, but I pacified him quickly with a new Paw Patrol game I had downloaded to my phone the night before to sweeten the pot. Ironic that his favorite cartoon was a show about dogs. 

The doctor called the Centro Antirrabico and spoke for a few minutes with someone, then hung up. 
"Do they have rabies immunoglobulin?" I asked him immediately.
"Yes. But I talked to the doctor. He says that because of the location of the bite, he does not need the immunoglobulin."
"That's wrong," I said, "he needs it."
"He says they cannot give the shot today, only on Monday."
"But they're open today?"
"Yes, until twelve o'clock."
"Please call them back and tell them we'll be there by eleven."

Erin's parents marvelled at the scenery as we drove up over the mountains along the coast, but I couldn't take my eyes off the road. I was driving faster than I should have been, swimming in anxiety as I rehearsed everything I would need to say in Spanish and tried to anticipate the responses.

We made it to the airport in under two hours and said our goodbyes to Erin's parents, then Oliver and I headed off to the Centro Antirrabico a half-hour away through the city. 

"Why are we leaving the airport?" Oliver asked. He was looking forward to picking up our friend, and thought that was the only reason we were coming here. 
"Her plane hasn't landed yet. We have to go to an... office... to ask some people some questions."

I had no good explanation, but I didn't want to spook him, especially if he didn't end up getting the shot that day. This negotiation was going to be difficult enough without Oliver losing his cool. 


"Mordedura?" 
"Si."


The Centro Antirrabico Nacional was a nondescript facility set back in a small parking lot surrounded by chain-link fence in a bustling but otherwise unremarkable urban neighborhood. The security guard directed us to a narrow passage between two low-slung derelict concrete buildings. The dark hallways were empty and the building was quiet. The first room I looked in had a large desk at the front facing several rows of tightly packed plastic chairs, like a cramped classroom. The chairs were empty but there was a woman at the desk looking down at papers she was pushing around. I explained why we were there and she led us down the hallway. 

In the next room was another large desk with three people sitting around it chatting idly. The man on the right looked like facilities staff, the woman on the left was dressed like a nurse, and another woman in the center wore a collared shirt with an official-looking embroidered insignia. I assumed she was either a doctor or an administrator. She would be the decision-maker.

The other two didn't get up when I sat down. I was going to have to negotiate with not one, but three people. It would have helped if any of the three had known any English. 

I gave them the whole story, answering questions when they asked. Oliver had been bitten by an unowned stray dog on the beach, completely unprovoked. It ripped his shirt and drew blood. We couldn't find the dog and had no idea if it was vaccinated.

By now I knew the criteria for vaccination, so I might have taken a little artistic license with some of the details. 

I pulled up Oliver's shirt to show them the bite. Five days later the cut was healing nicely, which didn't help my case. 

The woman started telling me that immunoglobulin was not necessary due to the location of the bite. The vaccine would become effective before there was a significant risk of developing rabies symptoms from such a shallow bite on the shoulder. 

"Lo siento, no entiendo."

I knew what they were going to tell me before I walked into the room, but I pretended not to understand what they were saying whenever they told me something I didn't want to hear. They were very nice, and I was very polite, but this conversation was going to end with one of us getting fed up and capitulating, and that wasn't going to be me. 

His doctor in the United States says he has to have the immunoglobulin, I told them. 

Yes, but this is not the United States. The immunoglobulin is very expensive. We have different standards for when it is required. 

I understand, but if we can't get it here, his doctor wants us to fly back to the United States for treatment. 

Fly to the United States! That is not necessary. The vaccine is sufficient. 

But his doctor has told us it is not. He needs the immunoglobulin.  

And around and around. This went on for about twenty minutes, until at one point they stopped talking to me and conversed with each other. The woman said something to the man, and he got up and asked us to follow him.

He took us into another room and weighed Oliver on an old mechanical scale. He wrote the weight down on a piece of paper and brought it back to the woman, who scribbled some more notes on it. 

We cannot give you the vaccine today. Come back on Monday, ask for this doctor, and give him this paper. 

And they will give him the immunoglobulin?

Yes, on Monday.


We are staying in Las Terrenas. Is it possible to get it today?
For all I knew, they were just trying to get rid of me and hoping I wouldn't come back.  it was another five hours of travel to get something they probably had in a refrigerator in the next room, plus we would no longer have the rental car on Monday.

No, it is not possible today. Come back on Monday and he will get the immunoglobulin.

I didn't understand why they couldn't do it then, but it seemed like this was as good as it was going to get for today. Just getting to yes had made the trip worth the while. I took the paper and thanked them, then Oliver and I returned the rental car, picked up our friend at the airport, took a cab to the bus station, and got on a bus for the two hour ride back to Las Terrenas.


DAY SEVEN

"What about 'Oogie la boogie la'?"
"That's a good one."


We had decided to come clean with Oliver about the whole situation. He had to know why we were getting another rental car and going back to Santo Domingo. He hadn't handled the shots well when we surprised him with them, so maybe he would do better if he knew what to expect. He listened and understood, and while he wasn't happy about it, we told him that he would always get a special treat afterwards. Erin also told him that his cousin says silly words like "Oogie aagy ouchy" whenever he gets a shot to make it hurt less. 

"How about 'La moogie la boogie'?"
"That is definitely silly."
"Do you think that will work good?"
"Yes."

We spent a good part of the two-hour car ride through a thick morning fog trying to come up with the silliest sounding words we could think of. Oliver's words had taken on a decidedly Spanish flavor. 

The Centro Antirrabico was much busier than it had been on Saturday. I showed our golden ticket from Saturday to the first person we saw, who led us to an office with a young woman behind a desk pushing papers around. I gave her our paperwork with a brief explanation. I planned to give out as little information as possible, since anything else I told them at this point could only give them cause to deny the treatment we had been granted on Saturday.

Soon a jovial doctor came in and the young woman briefed him. He looked at the bite and the paperwork, including a letter we had gotten from Oliver's primary care provider in English and Spanish referencing World Health Organization recommendations requiring immunoglobulin. He led us and the woman out into the hallway and asked again about the date of the bite. He stopped in the middle of the hallway. 

"Siete dias," he said, "ah, no necesita la immunoglobulina!"
Not again. 
"No la necesita? Porque?"


He started explaining in Spanish but I struggled to keep up. He kept saying "anticuerpa," so I stopped him to look up the translation on my phone. It meant "antibodies." Then I understood. He was saying that the antibodies from the vaccine alone would be effective after seven days. It was Monday, and the bite had been the previous Monday. Oliver didn't need immunoglobulin. 

"Pero... su medico dice que..." I stammered. He had caught me off guard. 
"Tiene la vacuna, esta bien!" He said cheerfully. He thought he was helping us. He excused himself and stepped into his office to see another patient. 

I was reeling. Was I going to have to fight this fight all over again? For god's sake, we had been standing in this same hallway two days ago, well before this contrived seven day deadline, and they refused to give it to us. Had they known this would be the result when they told us to return on Monday?

I tried to think. He thought the antibodies from the vaccine were effective after seven days. From the vaccine. Wait a minute - 

The young woman had been studying our paperwork and figured it out before I did. She put up a finger for us to wait and hovered outside the doctor's door. When the doctor finished with his patient she walked up to his desk. I watched both of them looking intently at our paperwork while she talked. Then an expression of realization came over his face and he looked up at us.

"Cinco dias!" he yelled to us out the door. "La vacuna, solo cinco dias!"

Oliver had been bitten seven days prior, but he hadn't gotten the first dose of the vaccine until two days later. It had only been five days. By the doctor's own standard, he still needed the immunoglobulin. 


I quickly understood why the handful of people working on Saturday couldn't administer the immunoglobulin. There was an elaborate charade of bureaucracy that had to be satisfied before anyone could give us a shot. After completing some forms with the doctor, we were bounced back to the young woman's office, then to the room where I had faced the tribunal for more forms, then to a scale to weigh Oliver, then to the small clinical subwaiting area, then back out to the room I had thought was a classroom.

It wasn't a classroom, and today every seat was filled with people engaged in boisterous conversation. The same woman was sitting at the desk at the front of the room looking down at the papers she was pushing around like an apathetic middle school detention monitor. I gathered that the people were all trading war stories about why they were there.

This was the waiting room for people who had been bitten by dogs. 

Fortunately we did not have to wait, thanks to the hall pass I had gotten on Saturday. As the young woman who had been escorting us around spoke with the woman at the desk, I wondered how many of the people in this room would get immunoglobulin? How many would know to ask? How many would accept the doctors' advice that it was not needed?

The woman on Saturday had implied that there was scarcity of immunoglobulin here. Was Oliver, with his exceedingly minimal chance of actually having been infected with rabies, taking a dose away from someone in that room who had actually been bitten by a rabid animal? Did I care?

Of course I didn't. Oliver was not the one who socialized and nationalized their rabies treatment program, resulting in an inevitably underfunded system incentivized to reduce standards of care to cut costs. The scarcity was of their own making. If the Centro Antirrabico didn't have another dose for the next person who walked in the door, that was on them and their parent government, not me, and certainly not Oliver. 


"What about 'la munga la bunga'?"

We were seated in plastic chairs back in the small clinical subwaiting area. A brusque nurse sat across from us pushing papers around at a large desk, another nurse ran in and out fetching supplies, and a third was with another patient in the treatment space separated from us by a curtain.

The second nurse came back with a toothpaste-sized box, and I recognized the name as one of the immunoglobulin products on the list Oliver's primary care provider had given us. Behind her came the young woman who had been our escort, and the woman I had spoken with on Saturday, whom I now took to be a doctor. 

This was going to happen.

"What about 'la chunga la munga', Dad?"
"Ha! Those are the silliest words yet."

They brought us into the treatment space and sat Oliver on an exam table while I stood beside him. The doctor, three nurses, and young woman shuffled around the 8' by 10' space preparing the shot.

"Which arm are they going to do, Dad?"
"You got your shot in your left arm on Saturday, so I'll ask them to do your right arm today."

They pulled up his shorts and placed an ice pack on his thigh.

What the...

"Why did they put that on my leg?"
"Oh... I think they're going to give you the shot in your leg instead of your arm."
"Why?"
"This is a different kind of shot, it works better in your leg."

They removed the ice pack. Then they placed it on his other leg.

Oh. Crap.

"Why did they put that on that leg too?!"
"Oliver, I think they're going to give you a shot in both legs."
"Noooo!"

The young woman had been standing at the back of the room observing us and noticed Oliver tensing up. She stepped in between the nurses and directed me to sit in a plastic chair next to the exam table. She got Oliver down and sat him on my lap. I put my arms around him to calm him and hold him still. 

They removed the ice. This was it. The shot was ready.

Apparently they had run out of the kids' needles, because when the nurse turned around she was holding what looked like something they would use to inoculate a horse.

Oliver and I both stared at the needle as they turned towards him and brought it closer.

"What words are we gonna say, Daddy?"

I wished I knew. 

"I think 'la chunga la munga' is good. Let's say that. Ready?"
"Okay. La chunga la munga la chunga la munGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"La chunga la munga la chunga la munga -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"- la chunga la munga la chunga la munga -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

They had impaled his left thigh and slowly depressed half the vial of cold goo into his lean muscle. They removed it and shifted position.

"Oliver, now they're going to do your other -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"CHUMBAWUMBA CHUMBAWUMBA CHUMBAWUMBA -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

"That's it, Oliver, they're done! You did it! I'm so proud of -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"You're such a brave boy, I know that was hard to -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"It's okay buddy, we're all done and we're going to go home and see Mommy and have a special -"
"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
"I have a new Paw Patrol game on my phone for you."
"GAAA - What kind of game?"


After the shot the young woman brought us back to her office for observation to make sure Oliver didn't have a reaction to the shots. She sat down at her desk to push papers around. He played his new game on my phone. I sat still and breathed deeply.

I half expected someone to walk in with a bill, although I sure wasn't going to ask for one. The consultations and vaccinations at the private clinic had cost us a total of less than $300 USD, which didn't even hit the $500 deductible on our travel medical insurance. I had read that rabies immunoglobulin can cost at least $3,000 and possibly much more, but here this was a government service, for better or worse. I had gotten Oliver's treatment pre-approved by our travel medical insurance company so it should have been covered, but based on every experience I've ever had with health insurance claims, actually getting it reimbursed would be a hellish nightmare to rival the experience we had just been through. Free was much better. 

No bill came, and after fifteen minutes the young woman told us we could go home. I didn't know how to thank her enough. She had hovered over us through the whole process, correcting the doctor about the dates, guiding us through the maze of documentation, and calming Oliver before his shot. If only I had known the Spanish word for "angel."

On the way out the front door I saw the female doctor I had talked to on Saturday. I stopped and thanked her as sincerely as I could, which meant that I said "muchas" before "gracias." At the end of the day, this had been her decision. For all I know she may have bent the rules for us. Even in the midst of a cold and thoughtless system, good people can do good things. 

The next day Oliver got his third vaccine at the clinic in Las Terrenas. This time I told him about yet another new Paw Patrol game right before the shot. He hardly noticed the shot. For the fourth shot a week later, I didn't have to tell him anything. He was looking forward to his fifth shot two weeks after that. 


The morning fog had given way to a bright blue sky as we drove home from the Centro Antirrabico. This was my fifth trip on these roads, but I hadn't yet been able to take in the scenery. Our first trip from the airport had been at night; I was racked with nerves during my first drive to Santo Domingo; we took the bus back home that day; and this morning we had had the fog. 

I remembered passing a scenic overlook in the mountains about a half hour from Las Terrenas. I found it on the way back and pulled in.

"Why are we stopping?" Oliver asked.
"I want to show you something."

There is much to fear when we're traveling with our young family. When we travel to a place with deadly diseases and substandard health care, we are putting our children at elevated risk. Events like Oliver's rabies scare force us to question if we're making the right choices for our family. How do we justify taking such risk? What is there in this place that compels us to be here?

I wanted to show Oliver what all of this was for. That he had suffered for something that mattered. Why we were here. 

He wouldn't understand, but I needed him to see it. I needed to see it. 

I lifted him up and held him sitting in one arm. He wrapped his arm around me to hold on. We looked.

The red rock mountains, green with life, cascaded down thousands of feet to miles of untouched tropical coastline below, and beyond it the endless sapphire sea.

God, was it beautiful. 

 

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The Plagues of Las Terrenas - Dominican Republic Part 2

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The Plagues of Las Terrenas - Dominican Republic Part 2

The beaches and town of Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic proved to be our promised land, the carefree island escape that Erin had dreamed of when she first conceived of this year of travel.

But in our first week it seemed like we would not be able to enjoy this promised land until we suffered through our own version of the ten biblical plagues (the combination of natural disasters and fraternity pranks that the God of the Hebrews brought upon the Egyptians to convince them to release their Hebrew slaves, before their exodus to their promised land in Israel). 


Plague #1: Water turns to blood

There was some rust in the water that had been sitting in the water heater, so our first couple of loads of laundry got thoroughly stained with the reddish-brown water. I ended up throwing out two of my four tee-shirts at the end of our stay.

The water certainly did stink and we couldn't drink it. This was old hat to us after Panama, so no cause for concern. Chef Guillame gave us some tips for washing dishes (fill both sinks, add soap to one, and drop a capful of Clorox in both) and washing fruits and vegetables (a small amount of Clorox in a pot of bottled water, soak for two minutes, then rinse, per the label on the bottle). 


Plague #2: Frogs

"We have a situation in the pool house," Erin's mom declared one night as we were putting the kids to bed before Chef Guillame's meal. "There's a frog."

I flashed back to our honeymoon in Costa Rica when we had to get a frog out of our room. I went into the kitchen to get a tupperware container.

"What is zis?" Chef Guillame asked.
"Frog," I replied.
"What did you call me?!"
"A frog, there's a frog in their bedroom. I'm going to try to catch it in this."

He followed me out and we got to their room as Erin's father was stepping up onto the bed, holding the pool skimmer on a long pole. He pointed to a corner of the room where a three-inch long tree frog was sitting high on the wall. I positioned myself under it to try to catch it in the tupperware if it dropped.

He gently poked the skimmer at the frog. It shot off the wall and rocketed diagonally across the room onto the bed. It leapt again and I lost my visual of it. 

"It's on your leg!" Erin's mom yelled to her dad in alarm.
He shrieked and kicked, performing a bizarre primal dance on the bed with the skimmer pole.

I spotted the amphibian slowly making its way back up the wall in the same corner. I clapped the tupperware over it, pinching one of its legs. It bounced around the small container, then sat still, resigned to its fate. I slipped the cover under the container and sealed it. 

"Is OK, zis is not poisonous," Chef Guillame said. He was holding up his phone. "I wanted to film, but zis was too fast."

"Maybe you can cook the legs," I offered.

"No," he said, sounding disappointed, "zis is too small. Here we have big frogs..." holding his hands in the shape of a cantaloupe. 


Plague #3: Lice

We thought we had lice, or maybe fleas or bedbugs after Oliver awoke one morning covered in little red bites, which we were later told were from a kind of mini-mosquito. An exterminator came the next day, and shortly after we bought him a mosquito net. After that we all just got occasional mosquito bites. 

Now whenever Vera hears one of us clap our hands, she asks "maquito?"


Plague #4: Flies

Flies joined us for every meal at our outdoor dining table, and cockroaches occasionally made appearances when eating out at the open-air restaurants. 

We bought an electric flyswatter and followed every meal with a round of sport hunting for flies. It's harder than you would think, but the electric pop when you finally get one is deeply satisfying. 

I tried it on a cockroach in our kitchen. It took about ten zaps before I could get it pinned on the floor. I laid the flyswatter over it and held the button, making a spectacular shower of sparks and legs until it finally gave up the ghost. 

Chef Guillame has had a snake in his shower. Twice. He says the snakes come to eat the cockroaches. Ever since he told us that, we started emptying the garbage, scrubbing the counters, and sweeping the floors every night.


Plague #5: Diseased Livestock

We didn't have livestock, but there was a malnourished stray mother cat and young kittens living under our pool deck. They were very shy at first, until Chef Guillame started feeding them fish scraps and shrimp heads. 

Erin and the kids fed them milk every day, and they soon allowed us to pet them and ran around us on our porch. Oliver named them Lutie, Sungry, and Mama Bickrey. 

Hopefully the homeowners wanted house cats, because they've got them now. 


Trouble in paradise

Plague #6: Boils

No boils, but Erin got a pretty good sunburn on a shoulder she missed with suntan lotion. Vera ended the month with a deep tan, peppered with white spots from bug bites she had scratched raw. 


Plague #7: Thunderstorm of hail and fire

We had some intense thunderstorms, although no hail and fire. When we drove up from the airport we marveled at some impressive lightning bolts over mountains in the distance, then cursed our luck as we arrived at those mountains and drove on windy roads through the center of the storm after the sun had set. 


Plague #8: Locusts

We haven't seen locusts, but Erin walked into the bathroom one morning to see this odious critter:

She ran to get a tupperware container and heroically dropped it over the three inch long beast, with a vase on top to hold it down. After she showed it to me, a Google search identified it as a Tailless Whipscorpion, also called a Giant Vinegaroon because it gives off an odor like vinegar. 

I spent fifteen minutes pacing back and forth from the bathroom to the patio, trying to figure out how to rid ourselves of it. Poisonous or not, I was not interested in engaging in direct combat with it. Lifting the container and stomping it seemed messy and risked its escape since I had no idea how fast it could move. Sliding the whole container out to the deck was difficult with the flooring transitions, and didn't immediately solve the problem of it not being dead. 

I found some insect spray in the laundry room. It wasn't roach and scorpion spray, but I thought it might do the trick. I shifted the Tupperware container to one side and sprayed the floor, then shifted it back and sprayed the other side. It raised it claws and tail at me when I bumped it with the container, but its fate was sealed. All we had to do was sit and wait for it to suffocate in its makeshift gas chamber. 

After an hour or so, it had flipped onto its back like a dying cockroach, but it's legs were still moving. I kept checking it throughout the day but it clung to life, antennae twitching as if there were some little bit of the world it still longed to sense in its final moments. I felt a shameful satisfaction in the apparent agony of its drawn-out demise. Before we went to bed that night I gave it another merciful dose of insect spray, and in the morning I scooped its motionless carcass up with a piece of cardboard and flushed it down the toilet. 

Chef Guillame told us that Tailless Whipscorpions on the island can grow to be twelve inches long. Like a freaking lobster. Nasty. Just... nasty. 


Plague #9: Darkness for three days

We didn't have continuous darkness for three days and nights, but the power did go out frequently. Again our lessons learned from Panama helped us, as Erin was able to continue working on battery power when needed using a cellular wifi hotspot device we purchased here.

On our last day, the power went out in the morning before our last load of laundry in the washer had gone through the spin cycle. After two hours of what turned out to be our longest outage, lasting nine-hours, we pulled the sopping clothes out of the washer to attempt to hang dry them. They hadn't fully dried by the evening, so we packed our suitcase with garbage bags full of wet clothes soaked with the stinky water. 


Plague #10: Death of the firstborn

This became a real fear during our stay. But that's another story...

Up next - Part 3 - Mordedura

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Promised Land - Dominican Republic Part 1

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Promised Land - Dominican Republic Part 1

"Turn it towards me a little."

The steady island breeze was whistling over the mouths of our beer bottles as we sat in hanging lounge chairs at our favorite drink shack on the beach. It was our favorite because it had a small plastic slide and rusting helicopter see-saw thing that entertained the kids while we relaxed with our musical beverages. 

"Is that better?" 
"Yeah, but it's a minor third," I said, raising my bottle. "One more sip should make it a major third."

We heard a scream just behind us, which turned into a long wail. Apparently the kids' physics experiment to determine how fast a coconut could roll down a slide had gone horribly wrong, yet in doing so had proved Erin's hypothesis that if they kept doing it someone would get hurt. I had warned them that if this were the result, we wouldn't go to the hospital until Mommy and Daddy finished their drinks.

"Are you hearing this?" Erin asked without turning around. 
"Yes," I said, "I'm still a little sharp. Let me take another sip."


This was our promised land, the carefree island escape Erin had dreamed of when she first conceived of taking this year off to travel.

In the Dominican Republic, we had arrived at the most beautiful beach in our last four months of beach-hopping, with gentle waves broken by a quarter-mile of coral reef just below the surface of the clear azure water. We could take two steps into the water and put our faces under with a mask on to see a dazzling array of tropical fish munching the sea grass that covered the coral. Oliver loved doing this with Erin. 

Locals with snorkels floated around the reefs, picking shellfish from the sea grass or catching dinner with a spear gun. Fishermen congregated on the beach at the end of the day, their small boats tethered to palm trees with long ropes across the sand. Some hauled dragnets onto the beach bouncing with large sardines.  

The white sand beach lined with tall palms stretched for miles in either direction, winding around points and into coves. One end terminated at a backdrop of a green hill with tropical vegetation spilling down to the sea, and more distant mountains beyond it. Along the horizon were four large rock formations, dubbed "Piedras Las Ballenas" for their whale-like appearance in the water. The other end of the beach made a sharp turn around a point, where an authentic-looking pirate galleon was moored just off the shore.


Behind the palms was a narrow road lined with small hotels, modest restaurants, and rental homes. There were no high-rise hotels, and not a cruise ship in sight. The road buzzed with mopeds, motorcycles, and four-wheel ATV's, the preferred modes of transportation around the town. 

This buzz intensified to a frenzy on the two main roads of our town of Las Terrenas, one leading to the beach and one away from it. Even a Boston driver like me was put on edge as mopeds zipped around the car, leapt out of driveways across the road, and drove the wrong way down the sidewalks. Despite the sense of danger, the energy of the traffic gave the whole place a palpable pulse, and after a while it appeared more like a tense rhythmic dance, like the knife fight in the music video for "Beat It."

We returned our rental car after the first week, opting for less risky and much cheaper taxi service. We couldn't walk twenty feet down the road without a "motoconcho" taxi driver beeping to ask if we wanted to hop on the back of his motorcycle - all four of us. While we had seen it done (mom on the backseat with son in her lap, baby in a back carrier, and dad on the handlebars), we opted for transport in an enclosed vehicle on four wheels. The fact that the kids weren't in their carseats for a ten minute cab ride made it enough of a thrill-ride for us.

The town of Las Terrenas has a satisfying mix of tourist amenities and authenticity of the local culture. We could walk to a cafe, but to get in the door we had to step off the sidewalk around a guy sitting on a five-gallon bucket dangling two large fresh-caught shrimp from his hand. Before turning into the supermarket parking lot, we passed an open-air butcher with a side of beef hanging over the sidewalk. A tourist shop selling wood-carved tchotchkes sits across the street from a wood-carver's shop with the impressive handmade goods the tchotchkes imitate. 

This authenticity unfortunately comes with some of the less desirable aspects of life in poorer Latin American countries (reminiscent of our experiences in Panama). The water is undrinkable; fruits and vegetables have to be washed with Clorox to kill parasites; flies and cockroaches may make appearances at dinners out; mosquitoes are feared to carry disease; stray animals are part of the scenery; and too much trash finds its way into the small river through town that drains to the ocean. It's difficult to go snorkeling without spotting the all-too-common plasticbagfish. Condo developments and resorts have security guards with rifles, suggesting concerns about crime, although we didn't see anything that gave us cause for concern. On the contrary, without fail, even Dominicanos with seemingly tough exteriors cracked wide smiles with one "Hola!" from Oliver and Vera.


As an under-the-radar travel destination and affordable place to retire, Las Terrenas has also become home to 5,000 French residents. This has infused the area with a bit of European flair, with palm-thatch roofed restaurants boasting the names of French chefs, boutique clothing shops, a French specialty grocer, and even an honest-to-goodness French boulangerie with sweet pastries and savory breads. Whenever I asked someone a question in broken Spanish, they would respond with a mix of Spanish, English, and French until they figured me out.

The property managers for our rental home were French, and they recommended the services of a good friend of theirs who quickly became our best friend. For the cost of a couple of nice meals out in Boston, we hired a French chef to come to our house every day for a week and cook for us and Erin's parents during their visit - appetizer, entree, and desserts, and usually enough leftovers for lunch the next day.

Each day, the tranquil afternoon air of Vera's nap time was ripped by the sudden roar of an engine that rapidly grew louder. The sound of wheels spitting gravel drew closer to us down the driveway to our house. A shadow flashed through the tropical plantings bordering our yard, then the vehicle careened around the gate into our driveway.

A tall, slender, shaven-headed man was haunched over the handlebars of a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle. As it skid to a stop in a cloud of dust, he leapt from it and walked toward us with a long arm outstretched for a handshake.

"Hallo," he spoke, "I am ze Chef Guillame."

The children were mesmerized. The women swooned. The men felt vague pangs of inadequacy.

He reached into a cooler strapped to the front of the four-wheeler and pulled out a long slender fish.

"Tonight I prepare for you... Barracuda!"
"Oooh, barracuda!" we sang.

As he settled into the kitchen, Oliver and Vera sat at the bar counter on the patio and watched him work through the pass-thru opening. He described each each ingredient as he cut it and passed them slivers to snack on. Oliver told him all about his day, to which he nodded and smiled, understanding none of it. English was his third language, after learning Spanish from cartoons when he moved here from France two years ago to live the life he wanted. 

After showing the barracuda's teeth to Oliver, he laid it on a large wooden cutting board, raised a blade and unhesitatingly severed it's head.

"HEAD OFF! HEAD OFF!!!" Vera shrieked with rapturous disbelief, and squealed and giggled as he surgically filleted the flesh from the skeleton.

Oliver stared quizzically, processing the stark reality that a member the delightful marine life he had snorkeled with in the ocean that morning was now being deprived of it's life, such that his own life might be sustained for just one more day.

"FISHY HEAD OFF!!!" Vera cheered.


The fact that we could justify hiring a French chef on our restrained budget is just the most outrageous example of the affordability of this place. Our house was a stunning four-bedroom, four-bath timber-framed palm-thatched villa with one of the bedrooms in a separate pool house. The dining table was on a large outdoor patio, which also had built-in couches and a bar open to the kitchen. We had a private pool in an enclosed yard that was immaculately landscaped with lush tropical plantings, thanks to the gardener / pool cleaner who came every morning. The housekeeper came Tuesdays and Fridays, with linen service on Fridays. Another guy came every day just to test the pool water. These luxury accommodations with a discounted monthly rate cost us a whopping $40 a night. 

It seemed like we could find someone willing to do any service we could think of at an affordable price.

After returning the rental car, we needed a way to swap out four 5-gallon water bottles. We pulled a piece of packing tape between each pair of empty bottles to make shoulder straps. This would allow me to carry them to the taxi stand at the end of our street with the kids in tow.

A security guard in a neighboring development laughed as we passed and waved us in. He phoned a friend, and in less than ten minutes a guy came around the corner pushing a wheelbarrow with two full water bottles. He dropped off the bottles and asked for just slightly more than the cost of the water itself, although I tipped him as well.

He took back our four empty bottles, but did not return right away with two more bottles as we had discussed. Soon an intense thunderstorm set in, and I hoped he wasn't trying to get back to us in the heavy rain. A while after the storm subsided I checked in with the security guard, who called again and told me his friend was on his way back over. By the time I got back around the corner, it started raining heavily again. I chuckled at the irony and gave up on it until the next day. 

Twenty minutes later I heard the roar of an engine coming down our dead-end lane. Sure enough, our water guy turned into our driveway on a motorcycle holding one water bottle on the seat behind him and another in his lap. He was thoroughly drenched. I ran out to meet him and take the bottles, with alternating exclamations of "Gracias!" and "Lo siento!" I directed him to drop the bottles in the driveway, but he insisted on carrying them up onto our porch. I humbly thanked him again and he rode off into the rain. 

As I walked the kids to the beach the next morning, I waved to the security guard, then saw his friend coming around the corner towards us. I cringed, and again apologized for sending him out in the rain. He laughed it off and told me to have his security guard friend call him the next time we needed water.


It wasn't all this easy from the start, though. In our first week it seemed like we would not be able to enjoy this promised land until we suffered through our own version of the ten biblical plagues...

Up next - Part 2 - The Plagues of Las Terrenas

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Eudaimonia

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Eudaimonia

The Daddy Mac: Warm it up, Kris.
The Mac Daddy: I'm about to.
The Daddy Mac: Warm it up, Kris.
The Mac Daddy: 'Cause that's what I was born to do.

"Warm It Up" by Kris Kross, 1992
 

I floated listlessly on the green translucent inflatable raft I had bought for four dollars at Walmart. My eyes were closed, but whenever I bumped into the sides of the pool I opened them to see the glare of the setting sun dancing through the waving fronds of palm trees, and beyond them the silhouetted peaks of El Yunque rainforest wrapped in clouds. 

My legs and arms dangled in the water of the Warm Pool, the name we had given it for being slightly warmer than the shady Lazy River Pool that wound past our apartment. We preferred the Warm Pool in the late afternoons to the Lazy River Pool, the Big Pool, the Grown-up Pool, or the Other Pool, although they each had their merits. 

I listened to the calming sound of water pouring into the pool from the adjacent lukewarm jacuzzi, where I could also hear Erin playing with the kids. She had had a long day, having to work until 4:00 before she could join us in the pool for a couple of hours before dinner. By that point she was happy to take over the kid-playing duties, and I was happy to relinquish them. So that I could float on the four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart in the Warm Pool. 

It was as relaxing as it sounds, or at least it should have been. With my body floating at rest, my mind grew restless, and I couldn't shake the thought:

Am I wasting my life?


It's not the first time the thought has surfaced. In fact, it's been an undercurrent through this whole experience. 

Part of our hope for this year of travel was to find a path to fulfillment in all dimensions of our lives - to recommit ourselves to each other as a family, to reconnect to the broader world through travel, and to redefine our sense of purpose for the rest of our lives. 

But as we approach the end of our third month in a sunny tropical clime by the beach, it's feeling less like a search for fulfillment and more like an escapist fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about it, but I can't help but wonder if I should have a purpose in life other than floating on a four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart. 

Any new age life hacking mindfulness career coach worth their salt will tell you that you need to find your purpose in life and work towards achieving that purpose. They've all found their purpose. It's to make you feel bad about not having a purpose and sell you their book to help you find and achieve it. 

Good for them and anyone they can help to find their purpose. I imagine that knowing your purpose in life can make a lot of decisions easier and grant you the ambition to take bigger risks with bigger rewards. 

But purpose can be a harsh mistress. Working to succeed at a single purpose can make you feel like everything else you do is an annoying distraction, taking you off the path of achieving your purpose. Depending on how narrowly your purpose is defined, this could mean that family, fun, and relaxation could be taking you away from what you were born to do. 

Someone with a purpose could never relax on a four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart, unless that was the thing they were born to do. 

The rest of us wallowing in the muck of uncertainty have a bigger problem, though. Someone with a purpose at least knows when they're doing some things right. The rest of us just do things and hope that something turns out right, like a broken clock that's right twice a day. 

We make ourselves busy, and make busyness our purpose. No one can fault you for not doing the right thing as long as you're doing something that needs doing. 


While we've greatly reduced the busyness of our lives during this trip, we've had plenty to keep us busy. During autumn in Europe we were in a new location every two weeks, planning our daily activities and ongoing travel. Back in the states over the winter, we crammed in doctor appointments, house maintenance, and other necessary errands, then filled the rest of the time enjoying our extended family. Then there was Panama. There was never a dull moment in Panama.

When we got to Puerto Rico in March, our first apartment had all the comforts and conveniences of a typical American home, and more. It had electricity. It had running water. It had electricity that was not connected to the running water. It had hot water. It had on-demand TV. It was spacious and sunny. It had an enormous playground and splash park across the street, along with a running track and soccer field. It was a mile from the beach, and a mile from the center of town. As if all of that wasn't convenient enough, it was built on top of a convenience store.

With our daily activities right out our front door and most of the rest of our travel for the year sorted out, we finally stopped being busy. We had finally realized the original intent of Erin's crazy idea that started this whole trip - we were on a Caribbean island and no longer exhausted. We finally had time on our hands.


The first thing we did was turn on the TV. Netflix didn't work in most places in Europe, and we were paying for internet data in Panama, so for the first time in months we could get caught up on movies and shows we had missed. We browsed through all the movie selections on Netflix, then said "Who are we kidding?" and binge-watched the last season of The Walking Dead. Then we found a spinoff called Fear the Walking Dead. Then we had to think of something else to do.

"I think I'm bored," Erin proclaimed after a few days of zombie withdrawal. 

She recalled a conversation she had had a year ago with our then-seven-year-old nephew, before we had conceived of this trip, while we were consumed with the busyness of our narrow life

At one point while we were visiting them, he whined, "I'm so bored."
Erin told him, "At some point in your life, you’ll realize that you are never bored and you will wish that you could be.”
She remembered feeling so tired when she said this to him. She had wished with every bone in her body that she could be bored again.

So now, here it was. She had gotten what she'd wished for. She was bored again.

We started going on some late afternoon excursions, to a snorkeling beach, a secluded waterfall, a beach with a shipwreck and caves, a town center with a playground and skate park, a ruined church with a newer church built around it, a restaurant with a spectacular sunset view.

"Have these daily adventures cured your boredom?" I asked her.
She thought a moment. "They've helped, but I still feel restless."
"Do you feel like they're just an escape from life, rather than fulfillment of it?"
"I guess so. I feel like I need a project to work on."
"You could do more writing for the blog."
"I don't want to stare at a screen any longer than I have to."
"Unless that screen is populated with zombies."
"Naturally. I think I need to do something with my hands."
"You used to like making jewelry."
"Yeah, I liked it, but I don't know if its the thing I want to do."

"That's it," I said in realization, "The problem isn't that you're bored, it's that you don't know what you want to do. We've finally stopped being busy, but that busyness was keeping you from having the time to discover your purpose - the thing that you were born to do. All of our adventures have helped us to broaden our thinking, which may help us to find purpose, but they've kept us busy too. In a way they've been a diversion to escape both aimless busyness and a pursuit of purpose at the same time. Or maybe that's wrong. Maybe the adventure is the purpose. Maybe purpose doesn't have to be one overarching narrative that governs the continuum of our actions for all of our years on this earth. Maybe we need to be grateful for those moments of adventure, of discovery, of freedom, of beauty, of love, whenever we find them, and accept those moments as the realization of our purpose, however fleeting. Maybe our purpose just needs to be a general sense of well-being, what the ancient Greeks would have called eudaimonia, so that in all of our actions we can seek to capitalize on the opportunities presented at any given moment, yet accept them as limited experiences that, once ended, allow us to be open to new experiences. If your boredom is a manifestation of a vague restless guilt over the inability to identify your sense of purpose, could this boredom be eradicated through a mere shift of perspective to one that accepts the idiosyncrasies of your present experience at any given moment as the fulfillment of self?"

She looked up from her phone. "Sorry, I wasn't listening. Someone just commented on our Instagram photo."
"Which one?"
"The one with the kids looking at a cat."
"Kids and a cat. That's Instagram gold."
"Yeah, and I used a filter to pop the color and fade out the edges."
"Classy. What was the comment?"
"OMG soooo cute!!!"
"Who wrote it?"
"I have no earthly idea."
"Then why do you care?"

"I don't," she said, tapping the Like button on the comment. A cascade of dings echoed from every electronic device in our apartment. "What were you asking me?"
"If your life had a purpose."

She sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just having a hard time being able to relax."

"Well," I said, "our next apartment has five swimming pools and a beach, and I saw some green translucent inflatable rafts at Walmart. I think they were only four dollars."

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The Music In Maelbeek

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The Music In Maelbeek

There is always music playing in the metro stations in Brussels. You hear it as you descend the escalator from the street, and it follows you through the pedestrian tunnels to the platform, from speakers concealed in the ceiling. It's only broken by the rush of an oncoming train, or occasionally by a lone accordion player crouched against the wall. 

The music I remember hearing was some kind of ambient electronica beat. It's almost unnoticeable until you find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder among strangers in silent anticipation of your train's arrival. 

The subway station we used during our November stay in Brussels was two stops outbound from Maelbeek. We rode through Maelbeek the few times we went to the city center before deciding to avoid public transportation during the city's lockdown, as local officials searched the city for the sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks (he was finally apprehended just four days ago).

When I first noticed the music, it was in this context of dull uncertain fear, and suspicion of everyone on the platform around us. The music cut through the tense silence between strangers. It gave a kind of uplifting peacefulness, with its reassurance that even in the most troubling times, there can be music.

We hope that the victims of this morning's attacks in Maelbeek and at the Brussels Airport found peace in their final moments, that those who were injured find it soon, and that it isn't long before the music in Maelbeek plays again. 

A beautiful sunrise at Brussels Airport

 

Note: Our friends who live in the area have let us know that they were unharmed.

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¡PANAMÁ! ...y cada día después

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¡PANAMÁ! ...y cada día después

Previous Posts:

¡PANAMÁ! Sábado y Domingo
¡PANAMÁ! Lunes
¡PANAMÁ! Martes
¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles
¡PANAMÁ! Jueves

 

...Y CADA DÍA DESPUÉS (...AND EVERY DAY AFTER)

So is the trouble with you Americans. You expect nothing bad ever to happen, when the rest of the world expects only bad to happen. And they’re not disappointed.
- Svetlana Kirilenko, The Sopranos, Season 4, Episode 12, 2002

The sun rose from the ocean and set beyond the pasture.
We had water, or we didn't.  
The tides ebbed and flowed.
The power went on and off.
The moon waxed and waned.
The internet ran out, and we reactivated it.
The winds blew and faded.
The water pump connections blew out, and were repaired.

We've had fully-functioning running water less than six full days during our month stay in Panama. When the city gives us water, the pump blows out. When the pump is fixed, the city stops giving us water, or we lose power to run the pump.

During this, our last week, we went eight days without a drop of water from the town. Beyond the fact that the area is in a drought, the owner found out that a turbine broke at the water plant and our water will be shut off until it is repaired. He has compensated us for our troubles and is working on a solution to provide water to his property when the town shuts it off.

I didn't get sick from the well water, and now we fill all our water bottles and milk jugs there whenever we go into town. Our visiting friends instructed us in the fine art of flushing a toilet with only one gallon of water, by chucking it directly into the bowl. Disgusting, but efficacious.

Occasionally we saw what looked like a water truck drive down the street. One day I flagged it down and asked if they could fill our tank. The truck only had a twenty foot hose, despite the fact that most people's tanks are in the back of their property, and the truck could carry more hose. A neighbor joked that this tells you everything you need to know about Panama.

Then we had a stroke of genius. We pulled the bags out of all the trash cans in the house and lined the cans up at the end of the driveway. The water truck showed up, laughed at us, and filled them all up. We've been flushing the toilets triumphantly ever since.


This tells you everything you need to know about Panama... almost.

Things aren't done right here. They're just done. It's an intricately woven web of dysfunctionality, from the pump, to the water truck, to the well water milk cartons, to the water plant turbine, and probably all the way back to the Canal.

But there's a logic to the absurdity. If you can't flush your toilets, you fill milk cartons with water. If there's no water in the tank, you don't bother to fix the pump. If your water truck isn't meant to go door to door, you only use a twenty foot hose. If there's a drought with no water to pump, you don't fix the water turbine. If you haven't had running water in a week, you do laundry in trash cans. If you don't know when your next shower will be, you grow a beard.

If the systems that your work depends upon are expected to fail, you don't invest as much time and energy into doing it right, especially if your efforts cost money that you don't have. You just do it, and fix it when it breaks. This becomes self-propagating throughout the infrastructure, escalating into the kind of systemic failures that prevented us from flushing our toilets. For us, it's a major inconvenience.

But the Panamanians seem to take it all in stride.

You can't be inconvenienced if you have no expectation of convenience to begin with. Instead, they have a scrappy resilience, adapting to adversity by hacking together whatever quick fix they can come up with using whatever is at hand, MacGyver style. When the system breaks again, they patch it back up and carry on.


In the middle of our stay a construction crew of three people showed up to an empty lot next door in a 1990's Toyota Tercel with a 50 gallon drum roped to the roof. They staked out a small footprint of a house. One worker walked into the neighboring pasture to get branches to hold up a corrugated metal roof, which served as their job trailer. They filled the 50 gallon drum with water when the truck came by. The next day they dug a shallow foundation trench with an adze and shovel. The following day they used a shovel to mix a pile of gravel with a pile of Portland cement and water, then dumped it bucket by bucket into the trench. They placed concrete blocks in this wet concrete footing. They transported a bundle of twenty-foot long bars of steel rebar in the back of an eight-foot long trailer, with the homeowner sitting on one end of the rebar to hold it in place while the other end dragged down the street making sparks. By the end of the week they had completed the masonry foundation.

No excavators. No concrete mixers. No concrete formwork. No porta-potty (I'm not sure how they dealt with that).

"Mucho trabajo," I said in conversation with one of the workers. To me, it looked like a lot of backbreaking work.
"Eh, asi-asi," he responded. Not so bad. He pointed across the street. "Playa bonita," he said. The beach was beautiful.

There's an ease with which Panamanians undertake their hardships. It often doesn't seem like an easy life, but for them, it's just life, and they get by.


What the twenty foot hose on the water truck doesn’t tell you about Panama is what makes it so much easier for the Panamanians to handle challenges that newcomers like us find maddening. They have something we don’t - each other.

The town we lived near was Las Tablas, a slightly larger version of the sleepy small town centers typical of Panama’s rural Azuero Peninsula. But for five days in February, Las Tablas comes alive with one of Panama’s wildest celebrations of Carnavales.

Our visiting friends wanted to witness the final night of the festival, and I joined them while Erin graciously remained home with the kids. We had seen some Carnavales festivities over the preceding days, with queens wearing colorful feathers (and not much else) dancing atop elaborate parade floats, followed by energetic horn bands pulled in trailers behind farm tractors. Revelers in skin-tight fluorescent clothes clamored around tanker trucks emblazoned with beer logos for swag being thrown down from above. They were just as likely to get a free T-shirt as they were to get blasted by a twenty-foot hose spraying water from the truck.

The truck full of water. The irony was not lost on us.

For the final night in Las Tablas, I expected a drunken mob scene of waterlogged twenty-somethings. But as we approached the town square on foot, it looked like we had missed the party. We walked down the middle of the empty street right into the square, past trash tumbleweeds, food stands hawking the days’ leftovers, and locals lingering in lawn chairs on the sidewalks.

We heard some faint drumming and singing from the other end of the square. A large flag was waving back and forth, and began to approach us as the music got louder. A crowd came behind the flagbearer, and an informal parade of dancers passed before us.

Girls twirled slowly, with flowery beaded hairpieces sparkling as their hands raised the sides of their hand-embroidered lace dresses. One in a more elaborate blue dress with a large pink pom-pom at the neckline appeared to be the Carnaval queen. Boys wearing white button-down shirts and tightly woven straw hats made half-turn steps with one hand raised toward their partner. Some looked almost as young as Vera, and their parents and grandparents followed along.

The dancers were followed by a circle of hand-drummers bouncing in rhythmic waves. It truly was a circle, with some drummers walking backwards. In the center was a woman singing a single line over and over, in a call and response with the crowd around her. The singing was punctuated by primal sounding calls by the men, perhaps akin to a wounded seagull.

When the parade had passed, we walked through the once again quiet square to the far corner to get a beer. The parade turned the corner and came back up the street towards us. The flagbearer gave a seagull cry and stopped the group where we were standing. He guided the Carnaval queen out of the crowd, where a woman reapplied her make-up. He handed off his flag and turned to a friend who produced a clear bottle and small plastic shot glasses out of a woven satchel. The flagbearer and his friend each took a shot, then he pulled out four more shot glasses and turned to us.

“Seco?” he offered.

Seco Herrerano may be my new favorite liquor. I had picked up a bottle the week before after seeing it promoted in the grocery store. A 70-proof clear liquor distilled from sugarcane, it is to Panama what tequila is to Mexico. Seco is relatively light tasting with a touch of sweetness, and the alcohol flavor all but vanishes when mixed with fruit juices (grapefruit and pineapple are preferred). Some even mix it with milk (not good) or coconut milk (even worse).

So I knew the answer to his question.
“Si, senor!”

We accepted the shot glasses, and the two of them each took another shot with us. Then the flagbearer took his flag back, gave a seagull cry, and circled back into the square with the crowd rallying behind him.

The dancers had stopped, but everyone milled about in our corner for a while. The drummers kept drumming, the singer kept singing, and soon there was a crowd of locals huddled around them, bouncing along with them and joining in the song. They all knew the words, and they seemed to all know each other. I couldn't help but be reminded of my family's famous Christmas singalongs with our friends and neighbors.

This wasn’t a performance for us, it was a celebration for themselves. It wasn’t a dramatic reenactment of some historical notion of their cultural identity, this was their culture. This was how they celebrated. This celebration wasn’t some temporary escape from an otherwise grueling existence, it was the necessary reinforcement of their most essential tool for thriving amidst the uncertain fortunes of this place. They were celebrating their community and these traditions that bound it together. They were celebrating each other.

I’ve never felt like such an outsider, yet so welcome at the same time.


The Carnaval queen posed for photographs with parade goers, while families and friends gathered for selfies. I watched one grandfather in his white shirt and woven hat as he stood behind his eight or nine-year-old granddaughter in her beaded hairpiece and embroidered dress while her grandmother took a picture.

He was beaming from ear to ear with pride, proud of his family, of this tradition, of this place. This place, where his granddaughter would grow up just as he did, just as his grandfather did before him.

Before the Canal. Before the cell phone towers. Before electricity. Before the water turbines and the water trucks and the water pumps. When buildings were built by men with just their hands. When boys carried jugs of water home from the well in a wheelbarrow. When ranchers on horseback drove their cattle down the highway. When farmers sold watermelons from trailers at the side of the road. When families gathered outdoors in the evenings and sang and danced in the streets for Carnavales.

They helped each other do what needed to be done. They did all of this then, as they do now. It was a simple, sometimes hard, sometimes joyous life. It was just life, and they got by.

On the surface, this traditional way of life appears anachronistic. But it is not antiquated. It’s timeless, adaptable, and resilient. Our modernity requires a dependence on an intricate infrastructure of soulless failsafe systems that grant us independence from everyone else. They cannot rely on these systems, so they need to be part of an interdependent community that can rally together in the face of adversity to scrap together a solution. 

If an earthquake struck tomorrow and took out the Canal and the water turbines and the cell phone towers and the power lines, I think these Panamanians would still get by. I'm not sure I can say the same for most of the rest of us.

But at least we'll know how to flush the toilet. And we'll do it triumphantly.

Hasta luego, Panama.

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¡PANAMÁ! Jueves

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¡PANAMÁ! Jueves

Panama Beach Day

Thursday morning I took the kids to the beach while Erin worked. I gave them and myself an extended outdoor shower with the water that was now finally working, thanks to Jaime's midnight piping repair.

A few hours later Robert came upstairs and said they had no water. I felt guilty, thinking we must have drained the tank with our showers. We went back behind the house to check the tank.

The ground around the pump was all wet. Jaime's midnight piping repair had blown apart. The repair appeared to have involved a plastic shopping bag. Jaime may have been a good contractor, but a plumber he was not.

All of the water in the tank had been pumped out onto the ground before the low level float switch turned the pump off. The much maligned pump was laying on its side, not running. It had finally given up the ghost.

I unplugged the pump and emailed a photo to the owner.


"La agua es bueno?" I asked, grammatically incorrectly.

Our neighbors had said it was the only water they drank. Still, there's something about getting drinking water for your children from an unmarked pipe sticking out of the ground at the side of the road in a Central American country that gives you pause.

panama well

Oliver and I were standing at the roadside where we had seen cars stopped on our first day here. There was a small truck filling up a water tank from a large outlet on the pipe, and another car filling up containers in the trunk from a cut off garden hose attached to a spigot on the pipe.

The man filling the containers stopped to answer me.
"Si, si, la agua es muy buena!"
He said it was "potable" (the same word as in English) and enthusiastically communicated in a combination of Spanish words and hand gestures that it was a deep well with a "pompa" (a word I knew well by now), and that it was "chlorificado."

In the back of his car he had a few five-gallon water bottles, several one-gallon water bottles, 32-ounce water bottles, two-liter Coke bottles, and a gallon milk carton, all to be filled with well water. How absurd, I thought, to live here and do this all the time, yet he's resorted to filling Coke bottles, milk cartons, and every other random container he could scrounge up. Why not just get one more five-gallon bottle?

Seeing my single five-gallon water bottle in one hand and four-year-old son in the other, he crimped his hose to stop the flow and offered it to me. I had Oliver hold the top of the bottle while I filled it, then handed the hose back and said gracias.

Until then, we had been exchanging four five-gallon bottles at the grocery store for our drinking, dish, and hand-washing water. It was $3.50 for each refill. Our toilet tank took four gallons to refill after each flush when the water wasn't working. We needed a lot more water on the cheap.

Thus, the well. It would be fine for toilet water. It would be even better if we could drink it. But could we?

Only one way to find out. When we got home, I poured a tall glass and steeled my stomach for combat.


panama stories from the beach

"Bienvenidos a Panama!" I called down from our porch.

The homeowner had just arrived from the United States. We were his first renters in this newly renovated unit, so he had scheduled this trip to the property during our stay. We had been corresponding regularly about the water problems and a few other things, and he shared our exasperation as he was trying to resolve them remotely from the U.S.

I went down to meet him. He walked slowly up the driveway, looking like a dog who'd been beat.

He didn't greet me, just said flatly, "No more problems with the pump?"
"Oh," I said, not able to restrain myself from smiling, "you didn't get my email."

He opened my email on his phone, saw the photo, shook his head, turned around, and left.

He came back later with a friend to work on the pump. We ran into him that night as we were leaving a local restaurant where a group of expats gathered on Friday nights.

"The pump's fixed," he said, "but I've heard that with Carnavales starting tonight, the city may shut off the water supply."

Carnavales lasted five days. We had three friends arriving the next day to stay with us for the week. Six people sharing one non-functioning toilet, with no shower or laundry machine.

There would be no triumphant flushing of the toilet tonight. And to think, the power outages hadn't even started yet.


I cleaned up the kitchen before we went to bed. The kids had finished a gallon milk container which I crushed up and threw in the garbage can.

Then I pulled it back out. It was a gallon. It had a handle. It had a wide mouth with a screw top.

I put my lips onto the mouth and blew to reinflate it to its original shape. I put it with our other empty bottles to take to the well.

 

Terminará mañana...

¡PANAMÁ! Sábado y Domingo
¡PANAMÁ! Lunes
¡PANAMÁ! Martes
¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles
¡PANAMÁ! Jueves
¡PANAMÁ! ...y cada día después

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¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles

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¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles

The contractors were back working on the apartment downstairs. This probably came as a surprise to the tenants downstairs, who had arrived unexpectedly the night before, and probably thought they were being robbed when they woke up to hear Spanish voices in their apartment first thing in the morning.

Jaime, the lead contractor, came upstairs to tell us the washing machine had been hooked up downstairs. He showed Erin around to the back entrance at the laundry room and she put our first load of laundry in five days into the washing machine.

The cold water hose was hooked up to a spigot above a utility sink. There was no hot water hose. There was no hot water spigot. There was no hot water heater. There was no hot water.

Erin turned the spigot. Water sprayed from the hose connection. She fussed with the screw connection a bit, then came up to have me take a look at it.

I fussed with the screw connection until the spray was mostly directed into the sink, and placed a piece of plastic packaging on the sink to deflect one errant stream from the plaster wall. I started the washing machine and stood watching it for a few minutes to make sure nothing exploded.

The door to the downstairs apartment opened and a woman about my age poked her head out.

"Hi," she said, "I'm Lynn. This has been such a nightmare."

I almost laughed, but restrained myself. They had running water last night when they arrived. What else could have gone wrong?

"It all started at the airport. The rental car company charged us double the cost of the car for some mandatory insurance coverage."

I smiled knowingly.

"Then I went to the bathroom and got jumped by five people. They held me down and took one of my bags that had a bunch of cash in it. We had planned to get a hotel, but I was so upset that I just wanted to get here, so we left at 11 PM and drove through the night. But we drove the wrong way out of the airport and got halfway to Colombia before turning around and driving all the way back here. We got in at five in the morning and went to bed. Then I woke up two hours later to hear Spanish voices in our apartment and thought I was getting robbed again."

I wasn't smiling anymore. "My god," I said, "How horrifying! Are you alright?"

"I'm still really shaken up. I think they broke my foot when they robbed me."
"Oh," I said, "Did they use a watermelon?"
"No... What?"
"Nothing. Never mind. It would just break into pieces."
"Well... how has your trip been going so far?" she asked.
"Fine. Great. No real problems," I lied, eying the water still spraying from the washing machine hose. "You're going to love Panama."


We did two loads of laundry and took outdoor showers after playing on the beach. Before we finished rinsing the kids, the water shut off. Lynn opened a window and said their shower had just stopped working.

"You know, we've had some issues with the water pump," I told her. "I'll check it."

I opened the tank. The contractors had added a low water level float switch that would shut off the pump when the tank was near empty. The wire had gotten hung up on the high water level float at the top of the tank. I unhooked it and the pump started running again.

I knew it was a simple fix!

A couple of hours later Lynn's husband Robert asked me to show him the pump and tank so he could keep an eye on the water level. I took him back behind the house.

Water was gushing from the PVC pipe connections leading from the pump to the house. The new connections the contractors had made when they recharged the compressed air on Monday had failed.

The contractors had left for the day. Not only that, but Jaime, the lead contractor, was leaving for another city the next day for the week of Carnavales. I unplugged the pump so it wouldn't drain the tank and emailed a photo of it to the owner.

For the fourth night out of five we couldn't flush the toilet.


I was almost asleep around 10:45 that night when I thought I heard a voice outside. There were other houses around us so that wasn't too unusual. What was unusual was what I heard the voice say.

"Hello, hello!"

Not hola. Hello.

I laid there a minute, then poked my head up to peek out the window.

There was an SUV parked in the road outside our driveway gate, half obscured behind a tree. I didn't see anyone, just the car. From what I could see, the gate appeared to be closed and locked.

Then I remembered my email to the Owner. It's Jaime, the contractor, I thought. He must be coming to fix the water pump.

Then I thought again. It was almost 11:00 at night. Jaime was supposed to have left town already. We had been coping with the water for four days, so my email to the owner hadn't been urgent enough to warrant stealth plumbing in the middle of the night.  I doubted you could even get that kind of service in Panama.

I picked up my phone. There was a response from the Owner that I hadn't seen. It said Jaime was going to send a plumber in the morning.

In the morning. That wasn't Jaime at the end of our driveway.

"Hello, hello?"
I heard it again. English words in a Spanish accent. They knew there were English speakers in this house.

My mind started racing. Was someone trying to break into our house, targeting American tourists? Lynn had reported her airport robbery in our town that day. Was a crooked cop coming to shake them down? Most horrifying of all, was someone coming to steal water out of our tank?

I peeked out the window again. A flashlight was coming up our driveway towards the back of the house, where the stair up to our apartment was.

"Erin, wake up, there's someone on our property."
"What?" she said, dazed.
"Someone's on the property. There's a car in the road and a flashlight in the driveway."

Vera's room was closest to the door. I had to get her first. Erin could get Oliver. We could get onto the front porch and lock the outside door. If we unhooked one side of the hammock it might be long enough to climb down to the ground and -

"It's Jaime," Erin said, still half asleep, "He's coming to fix the water pump."
"I don't think so, we got an email saying-"
"It's Jaime," she said, looking out the window. "That's his car."
"Are you sure? Go talk to him."
"It's him. I don't speak Spanish. You go talk to him," she said, laying back down and putting her eye mask on.

I wasn't convinced. I threw on clothes and went to the back door, looking around the apartment for blunt objects to weaponize. I listened for a minute, then opened it and peeked out.

A light flashed up at me from the water tank behind the house, blinding me for a second. They were stealing the water -

"Hello!" said Jaime. The light was a head lamp. He was using it to see the pump he was fixing.

"Hola, Jaime," I said, relieved. He kept the light on me, waiting for me to say something else. I didn't actually have anything to say, and I don't actually speak much Spanish anyway.

"Buscas la photo?" I said.
"Si! Si!" He replied. He had gotten my photo. He took the light off me to look back at his work. Our conversation had ended.

"Buenas noches," I said, and went back inside. Twenty minutes later I heard our toilet tank filling, and shortly after the car pulled away. I flushed the toilet triumphantly and went back to bed, finally able to rest.

I imagined Lynn and Robert must have thought they were getting robbed again. 

 

Continuará mañana...

¡PANAMÁ! Sábado y Domingo
¡PANAMÁ! Lunes
¡PANAMÁ! Martes
¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles
¡PANAMÁ! Jueves
¡PANAMÁ! ...y cada día después

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¡PANAMÁ! Martes

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¡PANAMÁ! Martes

Previous Posts:
¡PANAMÁ! Sábado y Domingo

¡PANAMÁ! Lunes

 

MARTES (TUESDAY)

The contractors came back Tuesday morning, apparently with an electrician. By the afternoon they reported that the pump electrical issue was fixed, by which they meant they had plugged the same extension cord into a different outlet downstairs. We had running water again and our shower was no longer a form of capital punishment. Things were looking up.

That morning we drove into town to bring Erin to her office. Because of her concerns about internet access at the apartment, the owner had arranged for her to work at Jose's computer store as a backup plan. Tuesday was the test run for this arrangement.

We dropped Erin off and I introduced her to Jose in my broken Spanish.
"I speak English," he responded.
He pointed Erin to a folding chair in front of a full bookshelf in the messy one-room office. She set up her laptop on a corner of the shelf and I left with the kids for the cell phone store.

The only thing worse than trying to sort out cell phone plans in Spanish is trying to sort out cell phone plans in Spanish while supervising two kids under the age of five. Luckily, I had snacks and found a salesperson who spoke decent English.

He figured it all out and set me up with one sim card for the apartment's wifi device that we could recharge with 6GB packages for $15, allowing us to keep our phone numbers. After three temper tantrums, an overturned chair, and a pile of crumbs on the floor, I left feeling like a hero.

The kids and I picked up a few groceries and I checked in with Erin. She had originally planned to be at the office until late afternoon, but was now considering leaving early, thanks to my triumph at the cell phone store.

Earlier that morning Jose had asked her when she was planning to leave.
"I was thinking around four o'clock?" she said.
"No," said Jose.
"Oh. Well, when would be a good time for you?"
"One," said Jose.

I picked her up by noon. She realized that whatever arrangements had been made for her to work at Jose's computer store, it was clear that Jose was not interested in having a coworker. She would not be going back.  

She got in the car and said, "I feel like I just got dumped by someone I didn't want to be dating."


That afternoon I took the kids down to the beach, and Erin came down to meet us when she finished her work.

The beach was long, flat, and relatively clean, except for the occasional bottle or spare tire. Interesting shells were everywhere, which kept the kids entertained on the long walk down to the waves at low tide. We started playing in the waves next to some rocks.

"GAAAHH!" Oliver exclaimed, and bolted back out of the water.
"CRAB!"

I looked where he had been standing. Through the clear water between the waves I saw a gray crab the size of my foot on the sand, not moving but definitely alive. I told Oliver that it was afraid of us and didn't want to hurt us, but we moved to the other side of the rocks to leave it in peace. And also because it wasn't afraid of us and wanted to hurt us.

I stood with Vera in the shallow waves while Erin swam a bit deeper with Oliver.
"Ow," Erin said, "I think I just got stung by a jellyfish."
"Are you sure? Touch it again," I said.
Then Oliver stood up in the water, holding his hand out. "My finger feels funny," he said, walking towards us.
"What does it feel like?" Erin asked. "Is it a scrape? Or does it sting, or feel tingly?"
"It stings a little," he said.
"Yeah, OK. Well, I think Mommy just got a little sting from a jellyfish, so maybe the jellyfish gave you a little-"

"GAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" Vera screamed, elevating out of the water. Erin grabbed her up and ran out of the waves with Oliver and me in close pursuit.

"It's all over her!" Erin shouted in distress. "I can feel it stinging me!"
"What do we do? Should I pee on her?" I said helpfully.
"Do not pee on your daughter! Look, her hand is all swollen!"

Erin sat in a tide pool and tried to rinse her, but Vera resisted, still screaming. Erin scooped her back up and hustled the quarter mile across the beach back to our house. By the time we got back Vera had settled down. Erin stripped Vera's float and swimsuit off while I googled "Should I pee on a jellyfish sting?"

Her left hand and forearm were red and swollen with visible lines where the tentacles had struck her exposed skin. With her suit off, we could see welts from stings that went through her swim shirt from her left ribs down to her hip.

"Vinegar," I declared, looking at my phone. Saltwater helps too, but we were off the beach. Pee, not so much, nor Windex, which had been my other suggestion. Fresh water makes it worse. We later read that you should scrape the nematocysts out of the skin with a credit card as soon as possible.  

Erin had made a vinegar and water mix in a spray bottle for house cleaning the day before, so we sprayed it liberally on Vera's stings. She liked it, although it seemed like the stinging had already run its course by then.

Then Oliver had us spray his finger.


With the water now working, we all took showers, had dinner, flushed the toilet, and went to bed.

I got up around 11 PM to go to the bathroom, flush the toilet (because I could), and grab a bottle of water from the kitchen.

I turned on the kitchen light.

"GAAAHH!" I exclaimed.

I don't like bugs. I'm not gonna lie. When we get a spider or centipede in our house, I make a catcher's mitt out of paper towels to squash it. When a bee buzzes past my ear, I hit the deck. When a fly circles my food, I grab it with chopsticks.

But this was a bug I fortunately had never had the displeasure of meeting.

"La cucaracha," I muttered in disgust.

The large cockroach was at the base of the cupboard just below the sink, munching contentedly on some morsel of food. I put on both of my sneakers (yes, both), made a catcher's mitt out of paper towels, and steeled myself for combat.

I crept to within a step from it, then lunged at the vile beast with my sneakered foot. I thought I felt it beneath my toe, but when I stepped back it had vanished back under the cabinet from whence it came.

Defeated, I sprayed the base of the cabinet with vinegar and went back to bed.

 

Continuará mañana...

¡PANAMÁ! Sábado y Domingo
¡PANAMÁ! Lunes
¡PANAMÁ! Martes
¡PANAMÁ! Miércoles
¡PANAMÁ! Jueves
¡PANAMÁ! ...y cada día después

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