Taking Liberties: Life & Love in Upper Middle Age

Friday, September 29, 2006

Saying "Goodbye" to Bali and "Hello" to Home

Sabbatical Letter #4 Bali and OrindaAugust 24, 2006
Dear ones,
This is my last pen-pal letter from Asia - actually sent from Orinda, where I am slowly, almost secretly, making the transition from global-traveler-with-spacious-life to North American homeowner, consumer and family member. Once again, Chuck met my plane and took me directly to Calistoga and then to our time-share cabin in the Sierras. If our reunion as a couple had occurred at the same time as my reunion with 3 ½ months of mail, deferred home maintenance, unpacking, photo development, social re-entry and the tsunami of hurry and worry that I am prey to, Chuck might easily have gotten the wrong impression. By spending time together first, our joy in seeing each other is clear to both of us. So too is my gratitude at being married to him at this stage of our lives.

Now, I will back up and describe my last month of travel in Asia. After Singapore and Vietnam, I returned to Bali and my "family" in the rice paddies of Penestanen. I never tired of hearing Putu Lia's sweet, excited voice announcing, "Mama Leah, Mama Leah!" Few things make me feel so special. It sometimes catches me by surprise when I remember that we do not even share a common language. No matter; Putu Lia and I share the language of play. Our games are mostly physical - clapping games, playing "which hand is it in?" tossing the inflatable globe in tricky patterns, playing with her puppy "Hugus," or taking photos while she dances and then showing her the pictures. Her skills at gesturing and pantomime are amazing, and mine aren't half-bad. Sometimes she chatters in Indonesian or Balinese - I'm not sure which - while I keep up a running patter in English. It's not really for the purpose of communication; it's just a habit. Even when their guest bungalow has not been available, I can still show up any time and Putu and her mother, Kadek, are at home and often her father, Ngoman, as well. As I explore each new part of the world, a pattern is gradually emerging. It seems I love being enveloped in a cozy, intimate, loving family without being the one who is always at home, shouldering the burdens of home maintenance responsibilities and daily domestic chores. Maybe with children launched, the "nest" outlives its usefulness - or at least its centrality - for some of the extroverts among us. After all, even birds vacate their nests once the fledglings are gone.

After a few slow and delicious days in the rice paddies, the Threshold Choir showed up in Ubud. This is a choir I joined five years ago that teaches members to sing at the bedsides of people who are dying. The choir's creator, Kate Munger, came to Bali two years ago and fell in love with the beauty of the island, the uniquely blended Animist-Buddhist-Hindu religion that infuses daily life, and the wise balance maintained by Balinese people between physical and spiritual life. She decided to offer a guided trip to Bali for interested choir members. So, three weeks before the end of my time in Asia, I joined 20 magnificent women for the perfect orientation to Bali. Our guides were Surya and Judy, a charming Balinese man married to an American woman. Surya is a skilled mask carver and dance performer; Judy has written and photographed a stunning book about Balinese masks. Both are immensely knowledgeable. For two weeks, our sweet group traveled and sang together. Best of all, we had such FUN together!

Here's an example. The Balinese celebrate every full moon with a special ceremony. (In Bali, there is something to celebrate approximately 19 days out of every month.) We made up our own full moon ceremony, singing all the moon songs we could think of in our hotel swimming pool at night under the stars and the full moon. It ultimately turned into a camp sing-along, my idea of pure bliss.

When visiting sacred temples and other tourist attractions, we discovered a gentle but effective way of interrupting the incessant harassment of eager hawkers. We'd burst into song. Our lyrics were "tidak mau" ("We don't want any.") The hawkers would stop short, step back and no longer viewing us as "prey", they'd observe us with interest and curiosity.

Kate thought our trip would be more meaningful if we participated in a service project. (This is classic Kate.) Judy works with a center for disabled adults, and she arranged for us to visit Senang Hati - "Happy Hearts"- every couple days to share our music and to begin learning theirs. The courageous and vibrant young people at Senang Hati quickly won our hearts. Polio, genetic defects, birth injuries and hereditary diseases have left these beautiful people severely impaired. Some have undeveloped limbs reminiscent of thalidomide poisoning, others have twisted, turned-under hands and feet, dwarf-like bodies, and quite a few are wheelchair ridden. Before the center opened, most had been totally isolated; some had never even left their homes. Now they are being taught computer skills, English, art and craft skills. Some among them are remarkably good painters and carvers. They thrive on the social contact and interaction at the center. The sight of two young men playing chess with their feet particularly moved me. I faced a personal challenge in getting past my initial squeamishness about deformity. But I was quickly won over by the genuineness and enthusiasm of their daily welcome. When a severely deformed hand was extended in greeting, I felt the warmth of the flesh and looked into a clear, direct and open gaze. That was all it took.

For most of the choir members, the highlight of our trip was taking the folks from Senang Hati snorkeling in the ocean for the first time. I t has been a longtime dream of Judy's - a dream born of the realization that these talented artists who paint vivid, colorful fish had never seen a live fish swimming in water. In spite of living on an island, they had never been on a boat and never been in the ocean. After practicing on one another in the hotel swimming pool, we were ready for the big event. Some of our group and their staff helped lower our new friends into the water from the boat. While in the ocean, they were supported by foam "noodles" and two choir members each. I wish you could have seen the radiance on Ayu's face, the woman I swam with, when she pulled her masked face up after seeing her first colorful fish. When the snorkelers grew tired, we lifted them back onto the boat in nylon hammocks. Afterwards, I asked Judy why in the world she'd chosen a group of estrogen-starved, muscularly weak, post-menopausal women to realize her dream of hauling these handicapped people onto boats and into the ocean. She replied simply, "You were the first ones who really seemed interested."

Leaving Bali to come home, I felt sad at first. Then I grew very excited at the prospect of being with Chuck again. As I walked through Ubud saying my good-byes, people thanked me for coming to Bali and helping this island get back on its feet after the terrorist bombings. "I feel safer here than at home," I replied. "So please tell your friends," they requested. (Consider yourselves told!) As I said farewell to the motor cycle drivers standing by the road offering transport, I realized with amusement that at one time or another, I'd had my arms around the waists of a good many of them, riding home on their cycles late at night.

There were times during the Asia portion of my trip when I wished I were home, away from the oppressive humidity and the scary seismic activity of the "Ring of Fire." I felt sorry to be missing the flowering of our spring and summer garden, the neighborhood swim club, family and friends. Sometimes I was simply bored, certain that other travelers knew how to make better use of their opportunities. However, by staying mostly in one place, I was able to experience the rhythm of life on Bali. People are outdoors and active much of the day; they are working, but with no rushing and with little stress. They always have time for other people. It is my hope that in my global travels I'm laying down enough "motor memory" of this saner, more satisfying rhythm so that my body will protest when I begin slipping back into frantic mode.

I'll be at home (or in Arizona doing Mama Care) until after Thanksgiving. Then I'll return to Latin America to resume studying Spanish. My new goal is to speak Spanish with the fluency of a five-year-old!
Love to all of you,Leah

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Letter #2 from Indonesia

June 17, 2006


Dear ones,

When I ended my last missive, my heart was still racing after surviving the Yogya earthquake. We learned that the quake was a 6.2 and had lasted 59 heart-stopping seconds. Try just saying, “Shake, shake, shake” for 59 seconds and you'll have some idea of our experience.) Chuck departed for the U.S. and I rested in Bali, trying to gather the courage to return to Java and help with disaster relief. My new friend, Janis, had told me, “Trust yourself; you’ll know when and if it’s time to return.” After a healing week in the warmth of a Balinese family, curiosity got the better of me and I resolved to go back to Yogyakarta.

It wasn’t as easy as you might think to connect with volunteer organizations in Java. I had no success in getting a response from the Red Cross, WHO or Unicef. Even the Bay Area Red Cross couldn’t make contact for me. I finally succeeded by using the “old girl network.” I remembered that a summer camp friend from 50 years ago had a career with the U.S. diplomatic service. I emailed her to explain my dilemma, she emailed a colleague at USAID, and within a matter of hours I was contacted by USAID and then by the Red Cross in Yogya.

Flying back to Yogya over Mt. Merapi, I felt crazy to be risking my life again. But I also knew I couldn’t happily hang out on a beach in Bali while there was so much suffering on Java. So I fearfully returned to the land of aftershocks and smoking volcanoes. I was invited to join a Red Cross psychosocial support team which had been reassigned from Aceh province (where they were doing tsunami relief) to assist the most severely damaged villages. I had already recruited a young woman to translate for me; she was a 24 year old Javanese volunteer I met on the tarmac in Bali. We spent the next 10 days together, 24/7. That in itself was an experience. We were assigned to the town of Klaten near the base of Mt. Merapi. The week before, the volcano had emitted white clouds of smoke; now it was belching huge black plumes of smoke high into the heavens. In Klaten, it seemed to be dusk all day long.

Although I remained afraid for my safety, I had an amazing and interesting time working with a team of 5 Indonesian mental health workers and being part of a close-knit disaster relief unit. We conducted activity groups for children in several villages where 90% of the houses had collapsed and where the schools had been damaged or destroyed. Whenever a particularly traumatized child or adult was identified, I was called over to offer counseling or support. In every case, the individual was dealing with the death of a family member. This included a mother struggling with guilt about not being able to save her five year old son and a twelve year old girl who had flashbacks from seeing her little cousin with his skull split open. With the aid of my translator, I also facilitated a support group for the women in one village and designed a training for teachers on helping their students manage trauma.

When I got back to Bali after volunteering in Java, I had the definite sense that I was was now entitled to hang out on the beach. The one I chose was Amed, a tranquil black-sand beach on the remote north-east coast of Bali. For three days I slept, snorkeled, read novels, ate meals, made music and sang, played with the local children, and enjoyed the company of other travelers. My favorite companions were two hilarious gay Dutch women on their honeymoon. They'd had a big legal wedding in Holland – complete with TWO white lace dresses. They were happy and matter-of-fact about being on their honeymoon. The curious Balinese would seem to grasp the concept, but then they would invariably end the conversation by asking, “And so where are your husbands?”

I yearned to stay longer at the beach, but my Indonesia visa was about to expire, so I needed to leave the country in order to re-enter it. (Please don't get me started on this bit of bureaucratic insanity...)

I flew to Singapore and, because hotels here are very expensive, I decided to go to a backpackers' hostel. When I first walked into the hostel late at night and saw the funky scene, I thought, “I'm too old for this.” By morning, I was delighted with my choice. For $16, I had a clean bunk bed in a quiet dorm with the best reading light of my whole trip. It had a clean bathroom with hot shower, air conditioning, free breakfast, Internet access, and a helpful young staff with information on just about everything! I befriended a female law student from Kansas and together we toured the city. Most interesting to me was the excellent museum at Changi Prison - where the Japanese kept their prisoners of war- with excellent displays describing the war in the Pacific. I was unaware that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Malaya, Hong Kong and the Philippines all on the same day. Talking to the British tourist next to me, I asked, “Why did Japan invade all these places?” “Oil,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I pressed him, incredulous.

“Very sure.”


(Read Thomas Hartmann's excellent Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight for a powerful overview of petroleum – past, present and future. It will help clarify this hot topic: “What's our oil doing under their sand,” etc.)

While waiting to return to Indonesia, I also went to Vietnam to see the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the American War Crimes Museum.) I've been told by many that Vietnam is a great tourist destination. I needed to bear witness to what we unleashed on that country before I could think about “vacationing” there. I don't have the space or the words to describe that museum. Here are three quick reactions: 1) War sucks! 2) Within even one lifetime, there is rapid turnover in who are considered the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys,” who are the victors and who the vanquished. I saw a remarkable photo of a Japanese guard at Changi prison handing over his sword to a (former) POW upon learning that Japan had capitulated. Now the Changi guard was to be a POW in his own prison. My week of travel and study in Asia gave me an eery sense of how quickly the wheel of fortune turns. (Think about the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Russians, the Chinese, and perhaps the Americans....) Finally, 3) There is a massive disconnect between the self-image of Americans (friendly, fair, helpful, defenders of freedom) and how America is seen by many in Asia (droppers of the atomic bomb, aggressive invaders of foreign countries, arrangers of CIA-backed military coups, and consumate corporate exploiters.)

Back in Bali I've been having a joyful time in the company of 20 music-loving women from various Bay Area Threshold Choirs. (The choirs are the inspiration of Kate Munger who has taught over 500 women a repertoire of songs that can be sung at the bedsides of ill or dying people.) Their tour has been brilliantly choreographed. An American-Balinese couple are our guides, sharing their knowledge of the culture, language, religious practices, art, customs and traditions. For a few days of their 3 week trip, I've joined them in singing, volunteering by exchanging songs and chants with a group of severely disabled Balinese, visiting temples, museums, attending dance performances, participating in sacred ceremonies. What a rich and satisfying experience!

Whenever I’m in Bali, I return to Penestanen and the warmth of my Bali family. The sound of Putu Lia’s lilting voice, excitedly announcing “Mama Leah!” is the best music in the world. I intend to start a college savings account for her family when I get home. I had hoped these travels would help me identify a future “calling.” My heart seems to say I want to be a “global grandma.”

I get back to California on August 2nd. Among the things I look forward to with excitement are Chuck, our kids my friends, Moraga Valley Pool, my bicycle, WeightWatchers , western toilets and the blessing of low humidity.

Love to all,


Sabbatical Letter #3

July 10, 2006


The Balinese have very different beliefs about the causes of mental health problems from those of Western psychologists. In Bali, it is assumed that emotional difficulties stem from a disturbed relationship to the ancestors. Psychological healing comes about through repairing the problem in the relationship with the ancestors. Often this is done through trance work.

Before her departure for the U.S., the psychologist from Carmel who befriended me after the earthquake and settled me into a beautiful bungalow next to Putu Lia and her family, handed me a card with the picture of a brown berry of a man with a long white beard. “This man is an amazing healer,” Janis said. He's hard to get an appointment with, but why don’t you try.” Two weeks later, after my 10 days in Yogya, I flew home to Bali to keep my appointment with Ketut Arsana.

I walked into the peaceful compound at Ubud Bodyworks Centre and was greeted by a man with smooth brown skin, a warm twinkle, and a wrinkle-free face that belied his long white beard. “You look just like the man in the picture,” I quipped, holding up the card Janis had given me. I followed him up 3 flights of outside steps to what seemed like the very rooftop of Ubud. His treatment room looks out over a breathtaking view of rice paddies, temples, white herons and Ubud village with its lush canopy of tropical trees and verdant plantings.

Once inside, I explained to Ketut how I had just survived the Yogya earthquake.

“You were very lucky.”

“Yes, but I have always been so afraid of death that it interferes with my enjoyment of being alive.”

“That’s because you fight it,” he responded. “You just need to surrender. After all, this body is not yours. You must return it to the mother.”

“I know that with my mind, but not here.” I touched my heart and my belly.

“I’m not afraid of death,” he volunteered. “I have wanted to die at different times since I was 8 years old.” ( I immediately knew this man had lost his mother in childhood.)

On his treatment table, Ketut began a systematic tour of my body that was part exploration, part massage, part chiropractic adjustment, part acupressure – all with an extreme pressure that stopped just short of being painful. As he was working, I asked him, “Did your mother die when you were a child?”

“Yes, my mother and soon after, my grandfather, and then my older brother.”

I told Ketut that my mother’s biological mother had died shortly after giving birth to her, and then her father died just a couple years later. “I feel like I carry her fear inside me.”

“Yes, her spirit is connected with you.”

“Oh, she is not dead.”

“Her spirit is trying to connect with you,” he repeated.

“She’s 92 years old, but she is still I alive,” I corrected him once again.

“Not your mother,” he clarified. “HER mother.”

Oh! Taken aback with surprise, I wondered out loud. “She died of childbed fever when my mother was 8 days old. Do you suppose she knew she was dying?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Suddenly I was shivering with understanding. “Oh! Of course she would fight death. Of course she would be terrified. She would want desperately to live. To take care of her new baby girl and her 5 year old daughter.” I began to fill up with a heart-full of sadness. “Imagine the pain of knowing you are dying and you can’t prevent it, and you feel utterly responsible for these two babies and you can’t stay alive to protect them. Of course you would fight your death!

A huge quiet sadness was inside me, and ever so lightly, Ketut touched my third eye on my forehead, my heart, my belly. I was crying so softly and felt so perfectly held, that it didn’t matter whether sound and tears actually came out or not.

In that moment I understood that there is a vast difference between dying after a fulfilling life, with children launched, important dreams realized, and dying at age 29 with two young children – one a newborn.

“What was your grandmother’s name?” Ketut asked me.

“I don’t know. My mother’s adoptive parents preferred not to talk about it and my mother was careful never to ask. Her older sister may have told me once, years ago, but I’ve long since forgotten.”

“So, go home tonight and make an offering to her. Make an offering and she will come to you.”

Back in my room, I set up an alter. I placed flowers on it – fragrant frangipani flowers. I also put my bra on the altar – to honor the breasts and milk she would have given my mother if she could have lived. Putu Lia’s mother, Kadek, had made and given me a dainty necklace - a purple and black beaded pouch. I wrote a note to my forgotten grandmother. I told her that her baby girl had lived a long and satisfying life, she enjoyed a happy marriage, and had children who had children. I placed the note in the little pouch, buttoned it closed and set it on my altar.

That night, toward morning, I awoke knowing her name. “Clara.” I am almost sure that’s it. Now I speak to her by name – “Grandmother Clara.” Thanks to a healer in Bali, I retrieved a rejected part of our family history - a part that was disowned, almost like a secret. How strange to travel half way round the world to meet my grandmother and welcome her back to her rightful, honored place in our family. I hope that by remembering her, by understanding her emotions and her life experience, I can keep her in the family without having to BE her. I would like to honor her memory while being free to have my own emotions and my own life experiences.

Some of you will resonate to this story more than others. Simply know that it resonates profoundly for me.



Saturday, June 03, 2006

Friends in Bali

Photos of Bali and Yogya Earthquake

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bali and the Yogya Earthquake

Letter #1 from Asia

Letter #1 from Asia

May 30, 2006

Dear Sabbatical Penpals,

Even though I have already been in Indonesia for five weeks, I haven't written before now because I have been hot and sweaty, somewhat disappointed and a little grumpy. I waited to write until I had something interesting or exciting to relate. (Another reminder to be careful what you wish for, but more about that later...)

I am now happily situated in the village of Penestanan just outside Central Ubud. I am staying by myself in a gorgeous two-story Balinese-style house for which I pay $15/day. I awakened this morning and began my day with yoga and mediation in the spacious bed/sitting room which comprises the entire upper floor. It is a beautiful room with sliding glass walls on three sides. With the sliders open, the room seems to extend beyond the decks, through the cool morning air and into the rice paddies below. A Balinese farmer is working his field, alternately bending and then standing to gaze at his crop. I imagine him patiently bearing witness to the slow, steady progress of the rice's development.

I feel like I have finally arrived in Bali.

My trip began with the five-day “Quest for Global Healing” conference. In spite of the huge effort and dedication of the conference planners, I found the experience sadly disappointing. The expressed goal of the conference was to inspire us to concrete action in terms of global activism. I had hoped for lots of meaningful networking. The conference organizers arranged Balinese artistic extravaganzas and lined up a heavy hitting list of speakers and presenters. These included Desmond Tutu, two additional Nobel laureats, the former President of Indonesia, the Minister of Labor for Bhutan, Lynne Twist (author of The Soul of Money) and others. However, I experienced it as too much “performance,” too much talk, and not enough structure to support direct action. In addition, the conference pushed a vulnerable hot button of mine. Sandwiched between the inspiring Lynne Twist (who was my roommate and is more gorgeous than anyone our age has a right to be) and Desmond Tutu whose private villa faced our balcony, I felt like the child addressed in the Jewish Haiku that goes, “Would just one Nobel Prize be too much to ask?...” As the conference progressed, my own efforts to make a difference increasingly felt puny and irrelevant.

On a positive note, the Global Healing conference was a transformative experience for Shahla, whom I invited to join me in Bali. Eighty young people from around the world came together for an eight-day, overlapping conference. Their event began three days before ours and by the time the “oldsters” showed up, this group had bonded with an intensity and vitality that was a joy to behold. Shahla got to know youth leaders from around the globe and to recognize that she can hold her own with the best of them.

Following the conference, I made good on a long-time promise to Shahla. We both share a love of Indonesian batiks, and for years I've suggested we someday go on a “shopping trip” to Bali. Well, we finallly did it, and it was sweet.

The day of Shahla's departure, Chuck arrived for a two week visit. I was delighted to be traveling in the company of my adventuresome mate. We toured craft villages on Bali, and we rode bicycle through the countryside. We went to Lombok and enjoyed a few days of diving off the Gilli Islands. Then we headed for Java to see Borobodur Temple and visit the capitol of the batik art industry in Yogykarta.

And that's where we were on the morning of May 27th, when the killer quake hit Yogykarta. WE ARE OKAY! We are also grateful for rebar and a well-constructed hotel. Here is what happened.

I was sleeping in Chuck's arms (we had gotten stuck with twin beds that night, but I had come into his bed about an hour before the earthquake hit at 5:54AM). I awoke sleepily to a strong rocking – quite different from the sharp jolt of California quakes which usually wake me into a terrified alertness. Chuck tightened his arms around me and I squeezed those arms as the rocking escalated. I was still emerging from sleep and struggling to orient myself. “I'm not at home... not in Bali... Java... Yogyakarta... Mt. Merapi about to erupt... often preceded by earthquakes... we're on the bottom floor of a two-story hotel with heavy tile roof!” By now, the quake was increasing steadily in intensity. As it continued on and on and on, I dared to look up at the ceiling. I realized there was a limit to what the building could withstand, and I assessed that we were reaching that limit. I could feel Chuck’s heart pounding against my back. Silently, we clung to each other.

I remember the Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, saying, “We all know we are going to die. We just don’t believe it.” In that interminable minute, I believed it. And along with fear, I felt a cold stunned surprise. “So this is when my life ends. Now.” I wasn't terrified, just caught by surprise. (I suppose if the upper story had collapsed on us, I would have become terrified.) And then the shaking stopped.

“Get in the space between the beds if it starts again,” I told Chuck. “Okay, let’s push them apart now,” he suggested. I reached out a leg from Chuck’s embrace and pushed the other bed away. The next quake was milder and shorter. By now we heard voices outside, so we scrambled into our clothes and went into the hotel courtyard. (I put on the batik dress I'd come to Yogya to shop for, quipping that if this were to be the last day of my life, I wanted to get some wear out of my new dress.) Outside the hotel we discovered that the building across the street was a pile of rubble, and we saw that numerous walls and buildings around us were damaged or destroyed. That was when we realized how very serious this quake had been.

Later on I would tell Chuck, “The way you were holding me when the earthquake hit was just perfect. We took that earthquake like one body. For me that’s as good as it gets.” Chuck looked at me mischievously and responded, “Did the earth move for you too?” If there is anything sexier than a mate who can make you laugh and holds onto you during a crisis, I haven’t heard about it.

Chuck had wisely suggested that we leave immediately for the airport even though our flight back to Bali wasn't for 6 hours. Traffic was jammed to a standstill because people were terrified of another tsunami and were racing to get to higher ground. Entire families squeezed onto motor scooters and pedestrians scrambled onto pick-up trucks. Our taxi driver used skill, ingenuity and determination to get us to the Yogya airport. Seeing the damage along the way, I was reminded that “economic inequity” isn't just about who gets a bicycle and who gets a Mercedes. It's also about who gets a rebar-reinforced house/ hotel and who gets dead!

Once at the Yogya airport, we learned it had been shut down. Chuck needed to be in Bali for his return flight to California the next morning, so we arranged with the taxi man to transport us an additional 1 ½ hours to the Solo airport. It was only in conversing about the demolished village of Bantul, that our driver quietly mentioned this was his village. “Is your family alright?” we asked with alarm. “Yes, my son called on his cell phone. They are okay, but my home was destroyed.” We were amazed by this man's dignity and reserve.

Resuming our lives, Chuck back in California and me in the rice paddies of Penestanan, we both discovered that – not immediately, but two days later – we felt strangely exhausted. For me, I suspect it is the energy required to once again turn the believing in my own personal death back into just knowing. Gradually it is transforming into simply a harrowing and a dramatic story.

I hear Putu Lea laughing and chattering outside my lovely house. I know she is waiting for me to come out and play with her. Putu is the 4 ½ year old child of the neighbor family who take care of this house. Yesterday she shadowed me for most of the morning, playing catch with my inflatable globe, daintily sharing fruit salad off my plate, proudly singing “Happy Birthday” in English, drawing while I wrote this sabbatical letter, and coming along when her dad took me to buy groceries on his motor scooter.

So it's time for me to go out and play!

Much love,


P.S. Please write; getting your emails is the highlight of my day. There will be photos on my blogsite as soon as I learn how to transfer them. www.leahfisher.blogspot.com

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Final Posting from Guatemala; I'm on my way home

Sabbatical letter # 6
February 23, 2006

The Highlights:
The book project is finished;
Staring, scaring and speaking Spanish;
I’m on my way home!

Dear Friends,
I am winding up 2 ½ months in Guatemala and writing what will be my last letter to you from Latin America.

The challenge of completing “Mi Historia de la Tormenta Stan,” the Spanish version of Gil Kliman’s disaster mental health workbook, has been pretty much my full time focus for the last seven weeks. Thank you, thank you to the many people who responded to my request for monetary help with this project. Your astounding enthusiasm and generosity enabled me to move steadily through the tasks of production – recruiting and then paying an artist, a typist, and a photocopy service – instead of getting stalled (as so often happens) waiting for NGO boards and committees to meet and negotiate funding decisions. Now that there is a finished product (being praised for being culturally sensitive, timely and relevant,) it should be easy to get funding for more copies and wider distribution.

The book is quite wonderful. It has a coloring book section with gorgeous line drawings depicting people in traditional Mayan clothing and scenes from the event. These include pictures of Lake Atitlan with its majestic volcanoes, the mudslides, the emergency shelters, the drama of families separated and reunited, and a final hopeful drawing of the corn growing back and children at play. Everyone who sees the book is charmed by the illustrations.

Although the project was a lot of work, it provided a wonderful way to meet other volunteers and community members, to make some friends and participate in the life of Santiago Atitlan. Still, there were days when I was sick of crumbling concrete and protruding rebar, barking dogs, smoky fires, and pickup trucks roaring down unpaved roads whipping dusty uproar into eyes, hair and clothing. What a tease to be incarcerated in this ugly town just out of sight of one of the world’s most exquisitely beautiful lakes. Without the tether of this project, I’d have been long gone.

At a certain point, I realized that I was getting the blues. I figured out that I was pining for physical beauty and vigorous exercise. So, I invited Lettie and Luis, my Antigua “family,” to be my guests for the weekend at the beautiful Posada Santiago Hotel. This is a rustic stone hotel and restaurant located at the far end of town, run by an American couple and equipped with swimming pool, canoes, stone sauna and a Jacuzzi right on the lakefront. Luis had his first experience of swimming and I got to witness him falling in love with my favorite sport. (“Dona Leah, this is buenissima!”) I also discovered that the hotel has a low cost dormitory and so I moved into the Posada for my last week. I met a fellow traveler, a woman named Leslie who is about my age, and we would get together each evening for sunset soaks in the Jacuzzi and to share an entrée at dinner. I continued to visit my host family on a daily basis, but my move was the right medicine. With more exercise and surrounded by natural beauty, I immediately got happy again.

Once the book was finished, Guatemalans kept remarking how quickly I had completed it. I could only look at them quizzically. It reminded me of how people describe someone having “an easy birth.” (It’s only easy when you’re not the one doing it!)

Finishing up the project included getting copies to community leaders, thanking those who helped with various aspects, and cultivating a sense of ownership by others in the community. This last was a challenge given my rudimentary Spanish. But I’ve been refining the art of simple and vivid expression. To the coalition of mental health workers in town I explained that to write the book was half the work; the other half was to bring it to the children. I told this mostly female group that I was now ready to birth the book (the delightful Spanish phrase for giving birth is “dar la luz” which means “to give the light”). “But this baby needs a midwife and it needs parents to take care of it. I hope this group can please, please, be the midwife and the parents.” And indeed, the mental health coalition willingly agreed to adopt the task of workbook testing and distribution.

I invited 20 people to a thank-you and farewell lunch at the Posada’s lakefront restaurant built of stone and wood and glass. Hot-off-the press copies of the book were at each place. Someone showed up with an uninvited guest - the Minister for Education for the entire region! He was wildly enthusiastic about the book; he addressed me and made a long, long speech (which I pretended to understand) to the effect that there was a great need for such materials, nothing like it existed and – once tested - he intended for every teacher to get a copy. Obviously, I am very happy. Thank you for your part in helping me pull it off.

Along with hard work, there have been some amusing moments, most of them variations on the theme of linguistic and cultural unfamiliarity and clumsiness. You’ve probably heard the term “Spanglish.” Because there is no Spanish school in Santiago, Leslie and I began practicing our Spanish together. I remarked to her that although I could communicate successfully, I certainly mangled the Spanish language. That’s when we decided what we are speaking should be called “Manglish.”

Lest you imagine that I underestimate my abilities, I’ll provide an example. I was at the photocopy tienda, a storefront that opens onto the street. I needed to order 20 copies of the workbook, choose card stock for the cover, select binding, and negotiate payment and pick-up. It took a while to make myself understood, but the Mayan salesgirl and I were both patient and eventually we worked it out. It wasn’t until I turned to leave that I noticed a line of about 6 junior high school kids behind me, silently doubled over laughing. I asked them candidly, “Does my Spanish sound pretty funny to you?” Giggling, they acknowledged, “Yes.” I laughed and told them, “The worst part is that I am trying SO hard to do it right!” They thought this was hilarious.

In Santiago Atitlan, foreigners are still somewhat of a novelty. (Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Many foreign visitors arrive by boat each day to walk up and down the one shopping street that runs from the boat launch to the central square. Then they return to the boats and depart.) Outside of that area we are still somewhat of a novelty. Many people just say “buenas dias” and it’s no big deal. Children and adolescents often stare at us and giggle. Other children, in an instantaneous and sadly Pavlovian reaction to a white face, thrust out their hands and beg “Quetzal?” (This is the Guatemalan currency.) But the most disturbing responses have come from toddlers of about 18 months to two years of age. I was playing around with a bunch of young kids when a little girl started crying intensely. I asked someone what had happened to her and I was informed with some embarrassment, “She’s frightened of you.” Another day, I was working with the typist and I leaned out his window to take a break. I was making silly faces for a group of children across the street when a boy of about 18 months burst into tears. This time I didn’t have to ask what the problem was. As a person who adores babies and toddlers, it is quite an experience for me to be the object of terror to small children.

It turns out that the challenge of getting accustomed to foreign faces cuts both ways. In my early weeks in Santiago Atitlan, I continued to embarrass myself by confusing one Mayan individual with another. For example, I warmly thanked one of the mental health workers for having invited me along to a training session for midwives. She gave me a blank look and then graciously accepted my thanks. A few minutes later, in walked the mental health worker who had actually taken me to the training session. I kept calling Lucia, one of the social workers, “Angelica,” until she finally told me, “I don’t know anyone named Angelica.” This sort of thing happened repeatedly and was fairly mortifying until an event helped put it into a fresh and refreshing perspective.

The youngest of the four children in my host family is Diana. She is 26 years old, the only one who speaks English and she lives in Guatemala City. One weekend she came to Santiago Atitlan to visit her family. Coming into the cozy kitchen and seeing me for the first time, she warmly greeted me with, “Hello, Katie.” (Katie is the Peace Corps volunteer who also lives with my host family.) What made this funny is that Katie is a towering 5’10” and very blond. She has a loud booming voice and the strong, sturdy body of a college athlete. Suddenly I got it, that to them we gringos all look alike. Diana’s faux pas helped me relax and forgive myself until, little by little, I was able to identify people in town and keep them straight.

Now, as I prepare to leave Guatemala, I’m on hugging terms with a good number of these people. I am savoring warm, heart-felt goodbyes. At my thank-you fiesta I told my guests that I had come to Central America with three desires. One was to learn Spanish; the second was to find out if I had any skills that could be of service outside the US; and the third was to discover if I could feel safe and happy traveling alone.

In the past four months, I’ve learned some Spanish. I have been of service. And I’ve discovered that “traveling alone” is an odd misnomer. “Alone” may be the right name for the anxious moment before getting on a plane for an unfamiliar destination. But the past four months have been anything but lonely. I have been content and happy and I feel fully alive.

Chuck will meet me at the airport and we will go directly to Calistoga for three days of warm water and reunion before I return to face the music of homeowner hassles and four months of mail. I’ll be back home by February 27th.

See you soon!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Guatemala: Partners, Projects & Parasites

Sabbatical Letter #5: Guatemala
January 8, 2006-01-08

The highlights:
Two delightful weeks with Chuck;
Sunrise at the Mayan ruins of Tikal;
Globo-futbal with Luis;
Getting started on my service project.

The lowlights:
Amoebas, bacteria, & “dolor de estomago”;
Missing the ocean, warm water and “Pura Vida”;
Guatemala makes me SAD!

Dear Sabbatical Penpals,
I´ve had a bitch of a time getting motivated to write from Guatemala. As you know from my last letter of December 17 (on my blog at http//www.leahfisher.blogspot.com, in case you haven´t received it…), I left Playa Samara and Costa Rica with some reluctance. At first I was occupied with getting relocated in Guatemala, then over the holidays I was sweetly engrossed with my two week reunion with Chuck, and throughout much of the time, I didn’t feel very well.

I arrived in Antigua a few days before Chuck's arrival. He had arranged for me to be picked up at the airport and driven to Quinta de las Flores, an exquisite and very romantic colonial estate with a multitude of fountains, gardens and spacious rooms decorated with Guatemalan textiles and furnishings. It was ethnic elegant and quite a change from my budget student-traveler's accommodations before and after.

I returned with the same shuttle driver from Antigua to meet Chuck at the airport in Guatemala City. I made a sign like the ones shuttle drivers hold up so arriving passengers can identify them. Only mine said "Carlitos Fisher," and I drew big hearts all over it. I stood in line with all the other shuttle drivers, holding my sign high above my head. I was rewarded with a fantastic grin when Chuck spotted me. Our reunion was delightful. (Like a tasteful movie, the picture fades out here.... no details.)

Chuck and I travel well and happily together. I loved showing him favorite places from my Guatemala travels of 35 years ago - Lake Atitlan and the Sunday market at Chichicastenango. In addition, we explored new places together. In Tikal we got up at 5AM to hike and climb a pyramid in the dark. From the top of the pyramid we listened to birds and howler monkeys waking up, and through swirling clouds of mist, we witnessed an unforgettable jungle sunrise.

When I got felled by “Monteczuma's revenge” in Chichicastenango, Chuck graciously scuttled other plans and we hunkered down in a hotel until I recovered. He alternated between taking short excursions on his own and returning to the room to read aloud from The Kite Runner. Looking back, this was perhaps the sweetest part of his visit for me.

I´ve now had three different intestinal infections in the past month. The first time, I ate a bad seafood soup in Costa Rica. (My kosher relatives are entitled to an “I told you so.”) The second and third times, I don´t even know what got me. But by now I know as soon as the churning begins in my stomach, that I am in for 3 days of hell. Antibiotics eventually knocked out the first two bouts, but after the second episode I continued to feel moderately miserable for two weeks. I was finally diagnosed with amoebas and got the appropriate medicine.

So, while I have not been a very happy camper, I certainly have been properly enraged and politicized! I am now a “mujer with a mission.” I am committed to the cause of clean drinking water as a basic human right. On a day when I was still feeling lousy, Chuck climbed a volcano near Antigua. On the hike, he met and invited to dinner the CDC´s Chief for Foodborne and Diarhheal Diseases. (Now, how is that for a hero husband?!) Anyway, this physican explained that an important reason the Mayan people are so small is because, from the moment babies are weaned, they are subjected to one parasite or bacterial infection after another. Hence, during their formative years they suffer cramps and diarrhea and fail to get the nutritional benefit from their food. I can hardly bear to imagine a tiny child repeatedly experiencing the pain I went through. It makes me immensely proud that our Mischa has chosen environmental engineering and specifically water chemistry for his profession. Anything he can do to help make potable water more accessible and affordable in the developing world will be a blessing.

It took me a surprisingly long time to get happy in Guatemala. Along with not feeling well, there were other contributing factors. I adored being with Chuck. Nevertheless, it took effort to transition out of solo-travel-mode to be part of a couple again, and then it was even more difficult to transition back into solo-travel-mode after such a delicious visit with my husband. Traveling around Guatemala as a tourist turned out to be a holding action; I couldn’t really settle into Guatemala until I resumed Spanish classes and began working on a project. However, the largest and subtlest factor was something about Guatemala itself. This is a gorgeous country with breathtaking volcanoes and lakes, with gentle people and vibrant, colorful clothing and textiles. Yet, there is a pervading sadness here which I absorbed without initially being clear that it was coming from outside and not from inside. I felt sad and I missed the joyfulness of Costa Ricans and the playfulness of my language school.

Let me fast forward to say that I’m now quite content and I am enjoying not one, but two very fulfilling life-styles, one in the city of Antigua and one in the Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

After Chuck left Guatemala, I checked out of Quinta de las Flores and feeling rather fragile and forlorn, I carried my backpack and carefully rolled my suitcase along the cobblestones to a hostel I had noticed about two blocks from our hotel.

Boy, did I land on my feet! I had planned on staying for just a night or two, but the hostel was so immaculate and beautiful, the bed was so comfortable and I made such a warm connection with the manager, Lettie - a single mother - and her 9 year old son, Luis, that I ended up staying with them the whole time I was in Antigua.

Here’s how my friendship with Luis began. He joined me the first night in the upstairs lounge, and started making action figures out of modeling clay. I asked if I could join him in working with the clay. I started by making a Christmas tree. My first attempt looked like a dinosaur. My second attempt was more successful. I noticed that Luis had made a clever little sword and hilt for his action figure. I gestured to ask if he’d like to have a duel and he replied, “Small or large?” We agreed on large, and after we crafted big old swords, we danced around the large sitting room, thrusting and parrying and circling the furniture. Soon, both swords looked a lot like bananas and we ended up breathless and laughing. Luis is a delightful child, imaginative and energetic, able to get excited without escalating or getting out of control. Next we moved on to “pistolas” and had a shoot-out which grew more technical when Luis made us each 4 clay bullets. The noise from the thud of wounded bodies crashing to the floor brought Lettie upstairs. She sat in an overstuffed chair which was kind of at the center of the shoot-out and smiled warmly, even while clay balls hit the walls and left oily imprints on her immaculate windows. When I was worn out from diving behind sofas or dying a miserable death on the hardwood floor, I suggested reading a kids’ book I’d brought from home. Herman the Helper was a favorite children’s book in our family and I thought to bring it along when I realized that, like the little octopus Herman, I too like being helpful. Luis is learning English in 3rd grade and was eager to read with me. First we looked at the illustrations together and I explained the story to him in my dreadful Spanish. Then I read it in English. And finally, Luis read it with me in English. On another evening, I brought out the plastic inflatable globe I’d brought along, and I helped Luis locate Guatemala and California. (“Mama, Guatemala is small!”) Guatemalans adore the game of soccer (futbal) and “globo-futbal” became a regular evening activity for us in the upstairs lounge. I was tickled by a compliment I received from Dona Lettie. I was playing globo-futball with Luis one night, when the hostel’s owner called on the phone. She asked, “What’s that racket upstairs?” and Lettie explained that Luis and I were playing. Afterwards, she asked me how old I was. I told her I was about to turn 62. Now, it annoys me when people say I don’t look my age, since obviously this is what my age looks like. But I was utterly delighted when Lettie replied with astonishment, “You certainly don’t act your age!”

My life in Antigua consists of breakfast and dinner with Lettie and Luis, language classes, salsa classes, and visits to the internet cafe. Antigua is a small colonial city, with upscale restaurants, expensive jewelry stores, interesting architecture and to-die-for dulcerias (sweets shops.) That’s one life. The other is in Santiago Atitlan, where my volunteer project takes place. Let me explain.

About the time Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans, Hurricane Stan took its toll on Guatemala. Coming at the end of the rainy season as it did, the ground was already thoroughly saturated and the steep slopes of the volcanoes were especially vulnerable to mudslides and collapse. Four days of rain around the area of Lake Atitlan washed out the main bridge connecting the pueblos around the lake with the rest of the world and led to countless deslaves (mudslides). It culminated in a killer mudslide in the middle of the night which literally buried 3 pueblitos around Santiago Atitlan. I read the news about this with great sadness, having previously visited and loved the area around Lake Atitlan.

Shortly before I left for my travels, Chuck mentioned to me that his colleague Gil Kliman, whose specialty is preventive mental health with children, had developed a workbook to help the children traumatized by Katrina. What is unique about this workbook is that it is designed to be filled out collaboratively with a caring, involved adult. I called Dr. Kliman and proposed that I translate the workbook into Spanish and make it available to the children of Lake Atitlan. He has agreed, pending his approval of the finished product.

This project is unfolding in the most amazing way. First I discovered that the owner of the hostel in Antigua, who lives in Guatemala City, was human resources director for Save the Children. She informed me they had a program in Santiago Atitlan and gave me contacts there. While traveling with Chuck, we ran into a Peace Corps volunteer who was friends with another volunteer in Santiago Atitlan. That volunteer knew a Mayan family I could live with and introduced me to other disaster workers in the community. The most amazing stroke of luck was that, just as I arrived in Santiago Atitlan, the half dozen mental health workers who serve that community decided to meet in order to coordinate their efforts. So, I have been a participant in the “Comision por la Salud Mental de Santiago Atitlan.” since its inception. For a few weeks, I commuted back and forth between Antigua and the Lake (a 6 hour shuttle each way), spending a week in each place and sometimes even going back and forth during the week for meetings. In Antigua, I would attend Spanish school and work with my teachers on the Spanish translation of the workbook. In Santiago Atitlan, I’ve distributed handwritten copies to the mental health people to review it for language, length, content and cultural sensitivity. I’ve also networked with as many organizations as possible - government, community, NGO’s - to help insure “buy in” and implementation of the workbook once it’s completed. It has been a wonderful way to get to know people in the community, and they are supportive and enthusiastic. This includes the guy at the photocopy shop, the guy who sells paper, the guy at the internet cafe, the other psychologists, the home visitors in the shelter, and my family in Santiago Atitlan. (Part of why this has been so easy is the high regard Central Americans have for professionals from the US. Whatever they think of our politics or whatever resentment they have for our fabulous wealth relative to theirs, they respect our ability to get things done. This opens doors which enable us to, in fact, get things done. It’s a heady experience to hit so little bureaucracy, to be so warmly accepted and assisted. Of course, I’ve been told that any dealings with the government are a totally different matter – an exercise in futility.) More about that later.

The contrasts between Antigua and Santiago Atitlan are dramatic. Antigua is a city of Ladinos (people primarily of Spanish descent). Santiago Atitlan is a Mayan pueblo. The people of Santiago Atitlan wear the vivid traditional indigenous clothing and speak Tzutujil, one of 22 Mayan dialects. Spanish is their second language and many of the women do not speak Spanish at all. My family in Santiago Atitlan consists of two middle aged sisters, their elderly parents (who turned out to be the same age as me…) and a total of 3 foreign boarders – a Peace Corps volunteer from the US, a midwife from Germany, and myself. The entrance to the house is a little tienda, from which they sell junk food, soda pop, pan dulce (the slightly sweet, freshly baked rolls that will be my undoing), and “choco-bananos”- bananas frozen on a stick and then dipped in hot milk chocolate. In addition to minding the tienda, the two sisters embroider huipiles, the traditional blouses worn by Mayan women. Lolita does exquisite hand embroidery, while Chonita sits at a humming sewing machine and turns out incredibly intricate tropical birds and flowers. Every morning, I awaken to the rhythmic music of Mama Mercedes slapping her palms together as she makes tortillas and cooks them on a large piece of metal over a wood fire. I love coming into the toasty warm kitchen (which is about the size of a suburban bathroom). I tease Mercedes about “la musica de las tortillas” and I massage her left shoulder which is always sore. Although our lives are very different, we have a lot of fun together. Lolita and Chonita expressed a wish to learn a little English and I taught them how to say, “Hi, Honey, I’m home” and “Bye, Honey.” We get a chance to practice every time I leave for the day and return. At sundown, small children troupe into the tienda clutching coins for a choco-banano or a bag of chips. Morning and evening, the streets fill with smoke from the fires on which women cook their food. I wash my laundry in the outdoor cement sink and hang it on a line to dry in the courtyard. When I slip on my nightshirt at bedtime, instead of smelling like fresh air and sunshine, it always smells like a campfire! When I have to pee at night, it means putting on my shoes to stumble outside in the dark to the courtyard bathroom which all of us share. Yet, when my Spanish teacher from Antigua looked at photos of this family (in which I tower over the three Mayan women), she pointed out their leather shoes, the metal griddle on their wood-burning stove, and she informed me that I am living with an upper middle class Mayan family.

The poverty and oppression among the Mayan population in Guatemala is staggering. This oppression extends back to the Conquistadors and was viciously reinforced during the 36 year civil war which officially ended in 1997. The war was essentially between the Ladino government, the army and the wealthy landowners on the one hand and the Maya campesinos on the other. The book, I Rigoberta Menchu, tells the story of this history of oppression in searing detail. Here is a quote from her book: “What hurts Indians most is that our costumes are considered beautiful, but it’s as if the person wearing it didn’t exist.”

Santiago Atitlan suffered hideously during the war. Long ignored by the Guatemalan government, they made the strategic error of asking for and receiving development assistance from Cuba. Embarrassed in its relationship to the US, the Guatemalan government sent in the army which occupied the pueblo for 11 years, terrorizing the people until an unprovoked massacre of children brought international protest and the army finally withdrew. In certain respects, however, Santiago Atitlan is typical of other Mayan pueblos. One gets the impression that half the population is under age 5. Until they are about 2 ½, babies live attached to their mothers like little kangaroos. The mother hoists her baby onto her back, then she bends far forward, tosses a woven shawl over the baby and ties it onto her back. Alternatively, she drapes the shawl like a sling and carries the child on her front. All day long, while the mother is working or walking in the street, the child quietly rides along, sucking on the exposed breast and using it like a pacifier.
Mothers of babies have milk in their breasts, but some mothers of toddlers did not actually appear to have milk. I’m unclear whether this extended period of suckling is a way of keeping the child quiet, or an effort at birth control, or simply a way to protect their youngest children from the ground and food borne diseases. As a form of birth control, it’s obviously not been very effective. Eight and ten children are not uncommon among the poorest families. Once the child climbs down from the mothers’ breast, (perhaps superseded by another baby), life becomes very different. Dusty and dirty, very young children run freely in the street. With luck, they may be carried around by an older sibling, often a child of 5 or 6. Otherwise, they play near their home, pretty much unsupervised.

Beyond the poverty, beyond the overpopulation, is a pervasive sense of quiet resignation.
And the resignation is not limited to the Maya. Here are two examples of things that left me filled with indignation, but merely brought sighs and shrugs from Guatemaltecos.

Supposedly, the civil war has been over for 8 years. The military, while currently having nothing to do, has retained its power and continues to draw salaries, sucking up vast amounts of the country’s revenue. President Berger is far better than his predecessor, by he is not about to cross swords with the military. So in spite of 8 years of peace, little progress has been made in health care, sanitation, infrastructure, social services or education. Education is supposedly free; however families must pay for books and uniforms. (Uniforms?!) As a result, many poor families are unable to send their children to school, thus guaranteeing those children a future of poverty.

This other example left me speechless with outrage. Apparently flooding from Hurricane Stan destroyed crops in many parts of the country. As a result, there is widespread hunger and malnutrition at this time in Guatemala. I personally observed a small child near Santiago Atitlan with the telltale pregnant-looking belly and reddish hair. After the hurricane, millions and millions and millions of dollars were donated to the Guatemalan government by other countries, including Japan, Argentina, the U.S., Germany, and Holland among others. Yet somehow all the donated money has mysteriously disappeared. The government says it has no money for relief. Those among my mental health colleagues who work for government agencies have not been paid in four months. Interestingly, those contributions made directly to NGO’s (non-government organizations) are reaching the affected populations. The contributions made to the government seem to end up in the pockets of government officials.

No one here is particularly surprised. No one here thinks much can be done about it. (People who make waves have an unpleasant habit of ending up disappeared or dead.) When I see the stranglehold the wealthy have on the poor and oppressed, I feel doubly sad knowing that Guatemala did succeed in electing a progressive president in the 1950’s only to have him overthrown by our CIA.

I will have finished translating the workbook by early next week. A well known artist in Santiago Atitlan has agreed to do the illustrations for it. At this point we need funds to pay the artist and to make photocopies of the book once Gil Kliman has approved it. If any of you would care to participate in this project, here’s how you can help. Write a tax deductible check to CPHC (Children’s Psychological Health Center.) Even a $10 contribution can make a difference in this country. Please mail it to Chuck at 108 Ardith Drive, Orinda, CA 94563. He will let me know how much I have to work with, and I will indeed get to work.

I will be coming home from this leg of my journey in exactly a month. If I am lucky enough to finish the book project in time, I hope to head for a warm river or ocean for a few days and do some swimming. Meanwhile, I send my love,

Tuesday, December 13, 2005