Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 2 -Someone That I Used to Love

Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 2 -Someone That I Used to Love

I woke up this morning, with a headache and was nauseous, not sure if I slept or was awake in a bad dream. When I wrote my last blog post just 5 short days ago, I said that sooner or later, everyone would know someone…

After a few minutes of being awake, I remember why my mouth is dry, eyes a little swollen and I have a headache and am nauseous.  Little did I know, my someone would be someone I that used to love.

Like I said in my last post when I first heard about this virus, I never dreamed it would affect my life.  I was moving to Poland to start a new adventure…I was enjoying the company of family and friends in my hometown…I had nothing to worry about except keeping my luggage under the allowable weight.

Slowly this mysterious virus leaked over the borders of China and started appearing elsewhere, but still, I didn’t know anyone.  Not even after spending 4 years in China meeting and making 100’s of friends and Wuhan, China being ground zero…I still didn’t have a someone.

February…I arrive in Poland and go about setting up life in a new country.  A month goes by…I have a job, I have a flat, I hear stories from South Korea, Japan and soon Italy, but I still don’t know “someone”.  March 11, 2020…I am at my job at a company in Warsaw teaching English.  I learn the CEO of the company, who lives in Belgium, has tested positive for the coronavirus, now being called COVID 19.  Now I have a connection, but still not my someone.  Next thing I know, schools in Poland are closed and Poland is closing its borders.  People all over the world are questioning these drastic measures even as China is still battling the disease.  As most of Europe is starting to shut their borders and order social distancing to flatten the curve, people in the USA are still going to bars and restaurants, spring break has begun, the weather up north is still unpredictable but “Opening Day” is on the minds of sports fans and many think the rest of the world is over-reacting to this “the flu kills more people than this made in China virus” called COVID 19.  Next thing I know, my home state begins to close the non-essential businesses, but people still aren’t staying home. Then I find out my hometown has its first case of coronavirus.  Wow, I find out I know this person.  Not that many weeks ago, if you would have told me I would know someone that has coronavirus, I wouldn’t have believed it.  This “someone” was an acquaintance and not someone I knew well and this someone recovered and went home.  COVID 19, although it was the common conversation topic, I pushed it to the back burner again.  Other than the stay-at-home orders, working from home and restaurants closed to dining in, my life was still not really affected.

Then, late last week after I posted “Love in the Time of Coronavirus”,  I got that text message, “Wendy, call me about “Someone”, he is in the hospital with coronavirus”.  I sat and stared at that message for I don’t know how long before making the call.  Is this real?  I made the call…it was real.  “Someone” had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  In the hospital, fever, can’t breathe on his own, sedated, ventilator, the words kept running in circles in my head after I hung up the phone.  This was my someone, I knew him well, he was stubborn, he could fight this, he was sedated so the body could heal.  I shared the news with my family and a few close friends and went about day to day life which consisted of waking up, dressing, teaching English, eating, reading, all those things you do when you are on quarantine/stay at home orders.  You have a lot of time to think when you must shelter in place.  No matter the current situation between me and my someone, he was someone I used to love…did that love just go away? No!  I smiled as I reminisced about what used to be.  More than anything, I would never wish him any ill will and prayed for his recovery.

Several days went by and I received messages of no change and the body needs to heal.  Then, last night, the message that “someone” had taken a turn for the worse and his body was shutting down.  As of this writing, he is still with us, and I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of emotion.  Emotions that were more than I expected.  The thought of this outcome has been in the back of my mind but last night my emotions bubbled over, out of my control.  The good times all came pouring back.  The bad times I buried deep.  A reminder that in times like these, it’s the good memories that count.  It’s the fun times, the laughter, the trips, the meals, the friends we hung with, all the things that make me smile… that’s what I want to feel…that’s what I want to remember!  Because… He is, after all, someone I used to love!

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Friday morning, March 27, 2020…I have been in Warsaw Poland for 54 days. It’s cool, 50 Fahrenheit or 13 Celsius and it’s partly cloudy.  Some days I feel like I’m still in NE Ohio based on the weather.  Warren, Ohio sits at 41.23 N latitude and Warsaw sits at 52.22 N latitude making Warsaw part of the 52nd parallel along with Berlin, Amsterdam, Ipswich (north of London), Cork, Moosonee (Canada), and the remote Kiska Island (Alaska).  So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the weather, after all, Warsaw sits about 758 miles further north (each degree equals about 69 miles) than Warren, Ohio. I hope that means I can look forward to a pleasant summer.  From what I have read the average temperatures during June, July and August are about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with June being between 52 and 72.

wp-1585393343354945378074.jpg

The first time I was in Warsaw, was the beginning of November 2014 and only for 3 short days.  My first impression of the city was that it was cold.  I don’t mean cold as in outside temperature, although the temperature was frigid.  It seemed monochromatic, a city of greys, lacking a vibrancy, exactly what I thought an Eastern European country would be like.  Whatever that is…other than some warped vision probably placed in my mind’s eye from the media.    Poland has always been considered a part of Central Europe, up until post-World War II era, when because they were under the “sway” of Russia, they were considered “Eastern European”, but now they are back to Central Europe.  Regardless, I arrived the second time in Warsaw again in a cold, yes temperature-wise, and grey season.  This time, however, I had arrived to make Poland my home for the next year to year and a half.  Little did I know that on day 38 of my new life, the entire world was about to change.

Before I jump into day 38 and a new normal for the world, let’s go back to the beginning.  As the new year of 2020 was beginning, word of a virus in China was just starting to get out.  On January 23rd and the Chinese New Year coming up, the world learned that the Chinese government had locked down Wuhan, source of the virus and a city of about 11 million people. A city with roughly the population of the entire state of Ohio.  This occurred 10 days before I was leaving for life in Poland.  The entire world looked on, often criticizing the Chinese government and the way of life of the Chinese people.  Everyone thought this was a “Chinese” problem and looked on with sometimes morbid curiosity and a lot of joke/meme-making about this “corona” virus.

wp-15853927903782145880272.jpg

China had the problem, not the USA, not Poland, not Italy, not South Korea, not Japan…just China.  Yes, China had the problem…UNTIL…the US, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and South Korea had cases by the end of January.  China’s numbers were snowballing, but even though the coronavirus, soon to be known as COVID 19, was now outside the borders of China…the world kept turning.  I got on a plane on February 2, 2020, and life outside of China was normal around the rest of the world.  China was still being criticized for the handling of the virus. They shut down the controversial “wet markets” with their exotic animal sales, more cities closed their borders, soon, the whole of China was CLOSED.  Other countries then began to close their borders to Chinese nationals.  Yet, the world kept turning and it was still “China’s” problem and my life in Poland began normally.

I arrived not knowing in what city I would be working or even what age group I would teach.  I rented a flat in Warsaw through Airbnb and began organizing my life to live in this country.  I had started the process on my work visa back at the beginning of December and was waiting for it to be approved so I could then get a PESEL (Tax ID number).  I had to also find a permanent flat because I needed a rental contract to file for the PESEL.  After that, I would need to get my residency permit which also meant I had to have a work contract.  Life in those first few weeks was very busy and although I followed information (mostly on Facebook) regarding the virus, I wasn’t remotely concerned about it affecting my life.

wp-15853935956571161657639.jpg

Bam, I had 3 jobs teaching Business English for 3 different companies in Warsaw.  I did some touristic stuff around the city.  I learned to use the public transportation system.  I hung out in Warsaw Old Town a few times.  I found a flat. I started work. I moved into my flat in the city center.  My work permit was approved.  I got my PESEL. I could walk to work. I found a beautiful fresh market across from my work.  What could go wrong?  COVID 19 won’t affect my life.

I was into my third week of teaching at a development company with headquarters in Belgium.  By now we were hearing that the virus had crossed the border of China.  It was in South Korea and was working its way through a cruise ship off the coast of Japan.  Stories of the virus in Italy were making the news.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem so far away.  As we started class on that Monday morning, I soon discovered this COVID 19 was indeed about to infringe on my life.  The CEO of this company (he lives in Belgium), had tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a business trip. Later, 2 more employees in Belgium also tested positive.  We were all questioning what this meant to us, here in Poland.  We quickly learned.

wp-1585393611457359436777.jpgOn Wednesday, March 11, it was announced that all schools in Poland would be closed beginning the following day until March 25th.  This would also change as schools are now closed through April 13th.  This too is subject to change.  It was also announced that at midnight on Saturday, March 14, 2020, Poland would close its borders.  There would-be no incoming or outgoing flights or trains.  Cars could cross at designated checkpoints and only Polish nationals and foreigners with work or residency permits would be allowed to enter the country.  Medical checks and quarantine orders were in place.  I was also notified that face to face English lessons would be cancelled and we would go remote.  At least I still had a job.  As the situation around the globe was changing rapidly, so was life in Poland.  Soon, all non-essential businesses were ordered to close.  Restaurants were closed to dine-in customers but could do carry-out and delivery.  “Social distancing” and “flatten the curve” were the new buzz words around the world.  Grocery stores were enforcing social distancing by allowing a certain number of customers in the store.

wp-158539224026443821470.jpg

Check out lines had people queueing up 1.5 meters apart.  Public transportation even had rules…1/2 capacity on seating.  Was all this necessary?  I have to be honest, I questioned what seemed to be extreme measures.  Sure, it was starting to happen around the world, but when it dramatically changes your lifestyle, all of sudden it is questionable.  Seriously though, how much is it affecting MY LIFE?  I am working.  I can get the essentials, groceries, toilet paper, alcohol, etc.  I have a roof over my head.  All those books I want to read, I have time.  Most importantly right now, I am healthy.  Socializing, I wasn’t missing.  I haven’t met a lot of people here and I have my almost daily online classes to chat with my students. My life wasn’t affected…or was it?

Activist, singer and journalist, Henry Rollins said, “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.”  I chose this as a topic of my English lessons during my first week of remote teaching.  Living abroad this has always been true for me.  Now, more than ever, I was seeing my country, land of the free and the home of the brave in a whole new light.

wp-1585393638276805847098.jpg

Signed in convention, September 17, 1787, and memorized in school, “We the people…establish this constitution for the United States of America.”  Our Declaration of Independence speaks of “…unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   Maybe living in a country that was once under a communist regime made it easier for the people of Poland to conform to this new normal.  Seeing the USA from afar, people not wanting to give up their freedoms, people still gathering, people in pursuit of happiness.  Then, my home state shuts down…schools closed, then restaurants and bars and next came the shopping centers, large gatherings were banned, people hoarded toilet paper.  I soon realized, this COVID 19 situation, this coronavirus was indeed affecting my life.  My friends were out of work.  I had friends make the difficult decision to close their businesses until this passes.  Friends who work in essential businesses are worried about being exposed to this virus.  Healthcare workers struggling with long hours and lack of equipment.  I know people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.  This isn’t a “China Problem” anymore.  It’s a global issue and sooner or later if it hasn’t already, will affect everyone’s life.

As I am finishing this up on Saturday morning in Warsaw, Poland, I am thinking about when this ends and I have faith that it will.  Will we as a global community have learned anything?  The world has already changed because of it.  So many negatives have come from this, I can only hope somehow the world becomes a better place. That families reconnect, that people are kinder, that businesses come back stronger and that “We are the World”…

“There comes a time

When we heed a certain call

When the world must come together as one

There are people dying

Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life

The greatest gift of all

We can’t go on

Pretending day by day

That someone, somewhere soon make a change

We’re all a part of God’s great big family

And the truth, you know, love is all we need”

As I sit here, I am truly blessed to have so many friends around the globe. Today, I am thinking of each one of you.  My friends in China, you flattened the curve and life is returning to normal.  My friends in Bali, my hope for you is that tourism will return and your homestays will once again be filled.  My friends throughout Europe…stay strong!  Most of all my friends and family in the USA, I think of you every day!  Soon we will be talking about life before and life after coronavirus.  Life will never be the same and we will adjust to the new normal.  I love you all!  Take care and stay well!

A Love Story

A Love Story

When I was in the States this past holiday season, I moved into my condo. As you are opening boxes of things you haven’t seen in 4 years, some even longer as you had packed them up when your mom died nearly 20 years prior, you get caught up in memories.  I opened a box and I found some papers clipped together with a magazine page from the June 2000 Ladies Home Journal.  It was an essay contest called “Our Life Stories”.

wp-15828818776202137898090.jpg

Attached to the clipping was a cover letter and my essay, which I never submitted.   As today is the 20th anniversary of her death and, like then, a leap year, I have decided to post it on my blog. It is not a story of travel, but it does tell a story that has inspired the journey of my life.  I have changed very little from the original essay…here’s my story…

Every woman, indeed, has a great story to tell and mine begins with a girl in the flower of her youth, my mother – Jeannine Marvin. 20 years ago, I said, farewell to her for the last time.  Upon her passage, the past blossomed before me.  I found letters…these encapsulating jewels of cherished joys, startling discoveries and romantic moments.  These letters reveal a girl and a boy eternally in love.

The greatest and saddest moments often occur simultaneously…without warning…without ceremony.  Like the whiplash effect of a car accident, good precedes bad just as light ends darkness.  On Monday, February 28, 2000, at age 60, I lost my mother to primary sclerosing cholangitis while waiting for a liver transplant.  PSC is a rare liver condition which also claimed the life of Walter Peyton.  My mother never drank, smoked and rarely ate red meat.  Recently, it is believed the underlying cause of the disease is linked to autoimmunity.  For nine valiant years, she fought the disease, seemingly – at times to defeat this ailment by unyielding faith and perseverance.  Her will to live inspired me.  Her love of life humbled me.  In her struggle, I saw the girl my father must have seen long ago when the flowers of her youth had begun to bloom.

Her passage devastated me.  Her reunion with my father – Dale, whom I’d lost on July 9, 1997, however, enchanted me.  True love endures.

wp-1582881992148259388612.jpg

Destined lovers.  If two people were ever fated to spend their lives together, it was my mother and father.  They met in storybook fashion.  He was the handsome soldier stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and she was the naïve, captivating beauty working in a dry-cleaning business, Marvin’s Cleaners, in Warren, Ohio, when the owner mentions she should meet his son when he returns home.  My mother wasn’t interested in meeting some soldier stationed some great distance away.  Her dance card was already full of local fellas.  Why meet another fella?

Fate intervened.  My mother’s insistence melted.  They met and eventually married on October 15, 1960.  Happily ever after didn’t quite follow that day, but the Cuban Missile Crisis did.  My dad was recalled to active duty.  Great and sad moments simultaneously occurred.

Fort Meade, in the state of Maryland, courtesy of Uncle Sam became my dad’s new home.  My mother would join him some months later and they set up house in Glen Burnie, Maryland.  Life was again perfect.  They had each other.  Uncommon love nestled them into the grandeur of life.  Their perfect love endured, but such loves are often tested.

On January 13, 1962, a knock on the door beckoned the horrific.  A man in uniform greeted my mother telling her Dale had been in a serious jeep accident.  While on maneuvers, he was in the back, the jeep driver fell asleep.  They went over an embankment; the radio equipment went into his head.  With 36 facial fractures among his injuries, they didn’t expect him to survive.  This tragic news was made all the more catastrophic by an unspoken pregnancy.  My mother had to face the possibility of losing her husband and raising a child alone.  She stayed by his bedside, unable and unwilling to leave.  She willed my dad to come out of his coma, whispering of a life growing inside her.  Their love endured.  He awakened.  2 days after I was born on August 11, 1962, he received a medical discharge from the US Army and they returned to life in Warren, Ohio.

My brother and I lived a dream in our youth.  Our home reflected my parents’ love.  It was a place of congregation, where neighborhood kids met, and parents socialized.  Our vacations were picturesque…snapshots of wood-grained station wagons driving down lush countrysides.  My brother and I played little league.  We raced in soapbox derbies.  Laughter filled our home and lives.

Fast forward to 1996.  My dad was diagnosed with bone cancer.  A year later he died.  Jeannine endured long nights.  She had been a comfort to my dad, then she comforted my brother and me.  She prevailed, despite having been previously diagnosed with the rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.  She prevailed and comforted until Christmas 1999.

My mother and I had an extraordinary Christmas Day.  She awakened and told me of a dream where my father wanted to know if she was happy? If we were happy?  Christmas was grand.  The next day she started feeling ill.  It is my belief, my father spoke to her heart in that dream, that he reassured her of his love and devotion, and it was alright to yield.  Her struggle against the vicious attacks of sclerosing cholangitis had been long and trying.  I believe my dad told my mom; it was time.

Her liver disease raged.  In a days’ time, upon her insistence, I was in Florida and she ended up being rushed to the hospital.  She spent the next two months in and out of the Cleveland Clinic.  The wait for a liver transplant was now a nervous race against time.  It was a race destined for loss.

About a week after her death, I was going through her things.  I found two small cedar boxes, which contained letters my dad had written to her, while he was in the army and her letters to him which he had also saved. These precious professions of love were the most beautiful letters I had ever read.  My brother and I were so completely moved by the innocence of their love.  We read them with a voracious curiosity, devouring and delighting with each revelation.

In this time of sorrow, we had found joy.  I did not then need to say farewell to my mother, nor did I say goodbye to my dad, as their love eternally lives in these nearly 100 letters and in their love of life which I now seek in my journeys.

Today, as I am travelling the world fulfilling my dreams and my brother is fulfilling his by developing our hometown and having restored a magnificent historical theatre, I know they are looking down and guiding our way with pride and joy.

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Homesickness – a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

Wanderlust – the wish to travel far away and to many different places.

wp-15816941829821840519781.jpg

Growing up in small-town, Warren, Ohio, one of my favorite things about summer was church camp.  Every year that I was of age to attend, my parents put my suitcase in the car and off we went to Seneca Hills Bible Camp located somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was only about an hour or so from Warren, but it seemed far away.  They would drop me off, help me find my cabin and I was ready to say goodbye.  There were never any teary eyes that didn’t want to stay, those showed up at the end of the week when I didn’t want to leave to go back home.  Not because I didn’t love my family, friends or home, but because I just loved going places and experiencing things.  I can still remember the way the woods smelled first thing in the morning, damp with dew and a chill in the mountain air.

wp-1581715573739266650536.jpg
Aunt Jackie and Dee in Florida

When I was older and could drive, I had an aunt, Jackie, who would call me out of the blue on say a Wednesday evening and ask if I could drive her to Florida on Friday. If I was available or could make myself available, I almost always said, “yes”.  What adventures we had.  She was a bit eccentric in choosing our accommodations, a certain city, a certain floor, things had to be just so, but what fun.  When we arrived at our destination, it was usually 2 days on the road, I might stay a day or two or a week or sometimes she put me right back on a plane home.  I loved these journeys as they were always an adventure.  Even the time she wanted me to drive her to Texas.  We stopped and enjoyed Nashville on our way there.  We arrived late in the evening in Pilot Point, Texas, our destination.  We visited a bit with our relatives we were staying with and then went to bed.  When I woke up in the morning, Aunt Jackie told me she changed her mind and wanted to go back to Warren.  So, we got in the car a few hours later and headed back to Warren, Ohio.  No, I wasn’t upset, it was Jackie and just part of the journey.  My dad used to say, “always expect the unexpected”.  Maybe those crazy trips with Aunt Jackie helped mould me into my current solo travelling self.  I have learned to not let disrupted travel plans upset me and I can usually quickly adjust to just about anything thrown my way.

Once when I was living in Paris, I decided to take a trip to the countryside by train.  I got off at the wrong stop.  I decided to walk to the village, after all, it was only a 3 km walk…WRONG…it was 8 km (I didn’t put on my glasses and the 8 looked like a 3).  Oh well, it was flippin’ hot, I didn’t have any water, but I got to see some beautiful French countryside and got a little exercise.  When I arrived in the village and found a bistro, I remember thinking it was the best glass of wine and meal I had ever tasted.  Not really, but, if you can make the best out of a bad situation, you will be much happier and if you don’t, nobody is miserable but you.

I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years travelling.  Not just travelling, but also living abroad mostly on the other side of the world, 10,000 km (6700 miles) from home.  In the beginning, I would return to Warren, Ohio for a couple weeks every 6 months, then it turned into a year, and most recently, a year and half….I have just left Warren, after being home for the longest period in over 5 years.  I spent 2.5 months in my hometown.  It was great seeing family, friends and making new friends. As you are going through a whirlwind of activities, meeting for coffee, doing lunch or dinner, going to events, visiting people’s homes or just out shopping, the one thing you always hear is, “I missed you”!  The natural response without even thinking is, “I missed you too”. Then, it’s on to the questions, “how was Bali?”, “do you miss, China?”, “how do you like your place?”, “are you glad to be back?”, etc.  You get the idea.  Being it was also around the holidays and the opening of my brother and sister-in-law’s theatre, the Robins, it was a constant flow of events.  It was a never-ending cycle of crazy, mad chaotic, fun. But truth be known, as February was drawing near, I was ready to leave.  Ready to get on with my nomadic lifestyle.

 

February 2, 2020 rolls around.  After what was at least a weeklong send-off, I boarded a plane and am now in Warsaw Poland.  I plan to be here, there, everywhere, probably Bali too, for at least the next year and a half, maybe longer.  Two nights ago, I had a video chat with a group of girlfriends playing trivia at the bar of Jacked Restaurant in Warren.  The place was packed and hard to hear at times, but the phone got passed around and all the I love you; I miss you’s were said. Near the end of the video chat, someone asked, “don’t you miss us and wish you were here”?  Well, a couple of seconds passed, I didn’t answer, and my friend Teri said, “look at that face, that tells it all”.  All I could do was shrug my shoulders and give a half of a smile.  I chatted with a few more people and we ended the call.

wp-1581715944290582593982.jpg

For the last two days I have been thinking about that question and my response, or should I say, non-response.  Was it snobbish?  Does it seem like I don’t like life in Warren/America and the rest of the world is much better?  No…I know my friends know me better than that. They know I love to travel and it is what I want to do currently.  I am living my dream. But, am I being honest when I say, “I miss you too”? Now I want the chance to explain my non-response.

The first time I left for an extended period, I went to Paris, France for nearly 7 months.  Honestly, I didn’t miss anything while I was there.  It was a dream come true.  I didn’t miss any foods from home, I didn’t miss my stuff, I didn’t miss my family or friends.  I do think social media had a lot to do with it on my first extended trip.  Facebook whore that I am, my life was and is pretty much an open book.  The other thing, my family and friends knew this was what I needed at exactly this time in my life.  They also knew I had an end date, a date when I would return for what everyone thought was long term.  I arrived back in Warren, Ohio and discovered more than anything I missed the adventure of living abroad.  I seriously missed being gone and soon made plans to move to China.  Again, this had an end date.  My visa was only good for 6 months and I had to leave China whether I wanted to or not.  I returned to the USA and immediately got another visa.  This time good for 10 years and I returned to China without a return ticket.  Although I would return for a brief visit after 1 year. During that first 6 months and the 3.5 years that followed, I thought I missed things, especially cheese.  I quickly learned that I could live without these things.  The things I was seeing, doing, eating, experiencing far outweighed what I thought I was missing.  I also realized that some of my feelings were really FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  Missing out on family and friend’s life events.  Missing that wedding, that “special” birthday, that funeral, that birth…but the more I thought about those things the more I knew that my family and friends understood that I could still love them without being geographically near.  They know I share in their joys and sorrows. They know I am a text, a Facebook post, an Instagram picture or a video chat away.

I don’t think I have ever felt homesick.  The closest I may have been to homesick was when I broke my back.  But even then, that was probably better described as feeling helpless not homesick as I had to have a caregiver assist me with everyday simple tasks.  Yes, I have a bad case of wanderlust.  I have met so many beautiful people along my journey, I must honestly say, I will miss many of them.  That is because I know I will never see them again and they have taken a piece of my heart.  So, friends and family, when I say, “I miss you, too”, I am being honest, but I miss you in a different way than I miss those I will never see again.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but not always in our home environment.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but my wish is that I could see you and share with you the geographical and cultural situation I happen to be in at the time.  I know this isn’t possible for everyone and I hope you understand when maybe I don’t answer that question, “don’t you wish you were here”.  Maybe that’s why I always say my theme song is “I Wish You Were Here”.  Because I really do wish you were here. Thank you all for being a part of my journey, I love you.

I’m going to end with a quote from Hannah Arendt.  “Loving life is easy when you are abroad.  Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than any other time.”

wp-1581716019391247165059.jpg

Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

After leaving China and before I returned to Warren, Ohio for the holidays and most importantly the Grand Re-Opening of the Robins Theatre, I knew I wanted to first travel to Vietnam and then on to Bali, Indonesia.  Having been to Bali twice previously, I wanted to spend an extended period on this trip.  But what would I do for nearly 4 months?  Yes, I had friends coming to visit me!  Yes, there is a lot to see.  Yes, I wanted to take a side trip to Singapore.  Yes, I had my Kenari House family, but I felt like I wanted to “do something” while I was there.

Okay, so what kind of “something” can I do?  GTS…. Google That Shit!  But first, I knew I better check immigration laws.  A work visa was out of the question, but a social visa was a possibility and an extended stay visa even more doable.  After more research on the social visa, being that I was living in BFE China, I would need to travel to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and most likely need to spend 5 to 7 days.  As an American citizen living abroad, the task was a bit more difficult than applying in my home country. I would have to find a sponsor in Bali, they would have to write a letter and then I had all the hoops to jump through.  Since I didn’t have “something” to do yet, finding a sponsor was, well, not likely.  A little more GTS and I learned how to go about an extended stay visa.  As a US citizen, I had 30 days visa-free without a fee.  I found out that upon arrival if I paid $35 for a visa on arrival, I could extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office in Denpasar. The free visa cannot be extended.  This would mean I had to make 3 trips to the immigration office and more hoops, but, if I used a visa agency in Ubud, for a fee, of course, they would jump all the hoops and my visa would be extended for another 30 days.  Since I also wanted to go to Singapore for a weekend, I just had to go before my 60 days were up. Then because I had left the country, when I returned to Bali, I could go through the whole cycle again and easy peasy, I had my 120 days in Bali.  Just for the record and if anyone is interested for future travel to Bali, it is 120 days, not 4 months.  They count days, so if a month has 31 and you leave Bali on that 31st  or 61st day, you will be fined 1,000,000 rupiahs for overstaying your visa.  It is 1,000,000 rupiahs fine for each day you overstay.  Yes, they check because I know people who had to pay the fine.  They don’t take immigration lightly in Indonesia.

Now I knew how I could stay for 120 days, but I still didn’t have “something” to do, it was back to GTS.  Since I had spent the past 4 years teaching English, I started with teaching opportunities.  Of course, without a work visa, I would have to volunteer my time.  That is how I found Yayasan Widya Guna in Bedulu, Bali.  It was a mere 15 minutes down the road, by car or scooter, from Kenari House.

Yayasan Widya Guna is an Indonesian non-profit organization whose focus is their children’s learning center.  It serves Balinese children who come from unfortunate situations.  They have taken in orphans and provided them with food, shelter and an education.  They support children with all ranges of physical and/or mental disabilities, including but not limited to; downs, autism and cerebral palsy. They also offer English lessons to the village children after their regular school day is over, free of charge.  Their mission is to: Educate the underprivileged Balinese children to be independent and bring them a better future with their own knowledge, culture and skills.  I decided I had found my “something”.   I contacted the Yayasan and they welcomed me to volunteer and sent me all the information to get started.  I decided I would give them 6 weeks of my stay in Bali.  This left me plenty of time to entertain my guests, visit Singapore and just enjoy Bali.

I spent the end of July and all of August at Kenari House.  It was during August that my guests from the USA came to join me at Kenari House and discover Bali.  On Sunday, September 1, 2019, I left Kenari House and moved to Ketut Sadia Homestay which is a 2-minute walk from the Yayasan.  Ketut Sadia is the founder of the school.  He encourages volunteers to use his homestay.  Just like at Kenari House, I paid for a room in the homestay.  By using the homestay of the school, the monies you pay for accommodation directly support the school.  Also, in exchange for your volunteer time, the homestay provides 3 meals a day at no additional cost.

I was the only volunteer at the homestay when I arrived.  This is because many of the volunteers leave the area and explore Bali and the surrounding islands on the weekends.  Our volunteer hours were Monday – Thursday and from 10 am until noon and from 1 to 3 pm, unless you were teaching English to the Village kids then you worked from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.  I spent 1 week of my 6 teaching the English class.  Finishing at 3 or 4 on a Thursday makes for a nice long weekend.  Being it was my 3rd time in Bali and I would have 6 weeks free after my volunteering time, I often chose to stay in Bedulu and enjoy the solitude of the weekends.  By Sunday evening, most of the volunteers had returned from their adventures.  We had “kids” from the Netherlands, Germany, China and Australia when I arrived.  I say “kids” because they were all mostly between 21 and 25 years old.  There is a constant turnover of volunteers at the Yayasan.  Some come for 1 week, some 2, others 3 to 6 months.  I met a lot of great people during my 6 weeks and became good friends with several of those “kids”.  I also learned as we sat around and chatted that first evening that many of the volunteers were students and this was fulfilling an internship requirement, many of them in Physiotherapy.  They also filled me in on the ins and outs of a typical day and a bit about some of the students.

I’m not sure if it was because of my age or I just got lucky, but the rooms at the homestay were all doubles or triples.  I had my room to myself for the entire 6 weeks.  In the mornings, I was usually the first one up…ha…imagine that…me who loves to sleep.  Well, it wasn’t exactly the wee hours of the morning.  Breakfast was served at 9 and we didn’t have to be at the Yayasan until 10.  So, I was usually on my porch around 8:30 so I could sip my coffee and get ready for the day.

Day 1…. I walk to the Yayasan with the other volunteers at about 9:55. It really is no more than a 5-minute walk.  The kiddos (students) immediately noticed a new face…me!  I was bombarded with hugs and “what’s your name”? By now it was time to get started with our day.  Every day begins with 30 minutes of meditation.  WOW!  I can’t tell you how great this was.  I honestly think it made a difference in not only the kids but the volunteers as well.

IMG_20190903_100010
Morning Meditation

After meditation, its time to head to the classroom.  I was assigned to what I later found out they called “the zoo”.  It was the largest and most active class.  Each class has a local Balinese teacher and then us volunteers.  The number of volunteers changes from week to week.  All I can say is by 12:00, I was exhausted.  Not only day 1, but every day after also.  From 10:30 until noon Monday-Thursday is spent in the classroom with a 15-minute snack break about 11:15. While the classroom sessions are going on, some of the children are also receiving physical therapy.

IMG_20190903_104108
The “zoo” with a few missing

Many of the children receive therapy every day.  Along with the volunteers who are doing their internship, the Yayasan also has Balinese therapists on staff. We also had 2 deaf children that were learning sign language.

IMG_20190902_121728
Monday Lung – Nasi Goreng

 

After the morning session, we headed to the homestay for lunch and a much-needed rest.  As a side-note, the other “younger” volunteers got worn-out too. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging working with these children.  But more than anything, it was very rewarding. The morning sessions rarely changed, but afternoons were different every day.  Monday afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts.  Often making things to sell in the small gift shop.

IMG_20190903_140611
Music Class

 

Tuesday afternoons were music.  A Balinese volunteer brings a keyboard and some rhythm instruments, and the afternoon is spent singing, dancing and having fun.  I think it is the kid’s favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are yoga.  Again, a volunteer comes to the Yayasan, the kids get the yoga mats and practice yoga.  After 1 hour of yoga, the last hour is spent dancing.  The volunteers don’t work on Fridays, but Fridays are when the local teachers help them learn traditional Balinese dances.

IMG_20191010_133940
Yoga

 

They also have several older students at the Yayasan.  They prepare the morning snacks; they assist with preparing lunch and spend time working in the garden.  The Yayasan has a large garden a few minutes’ walk from the property.  Here they grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the preparation of the meals.  There are also many fruit trees; papaya, banana, mango, guava and avocado on the property.  Everything grown is used at the school or at the homestay.  After I left, I found out they were going to open a café so the students could learn not only to prepare food but wait on customers and take money.  They want to teach the students to be as self-sufficient as possible. The older students are also responsible for the daily offerings that are an important part of Balinese culture.  One of the older boys also taught me how to make incense sticks which they sell in their gift shop.

You will often see parents hanging out at the Yayasan.  They assist with clean-up and general maintenance of the property along with any other needed tasks.  I really felt like part of a big extended family during my volunteer time.  It was hard not to get attached to some of the kids, parents and staff, and I must admit, I had a couple favorites.  It was a wonderful, rewarding experience and I’m glad I found my “something to do” for 6 weeks of my time in Bali.

I’m going to end with two sayings that were painted on the outside of two of the buildings:

We are all from the same seed, growing to the same sun.  Together our love will color the world.

Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.

Why I Came Home

Why I Came Home

I am sitting in my temporary home in Ursus district of Warsaw Poland, having just spent 2.5 months back home in Warren, Ohio after leaving Bali, Indonesia in mid-November.  Why?  Simple…my brother, Mark and my sister-in-law, Lori.  Did I come home to see them for the holidays?  Not really, as I hadn’t spent the holidays in the USA in 7 years.  I came because they had turned a dream into a reality.  The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…..closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening January 9, 2020.  It was re-opening because Mark, Lori and a crew of dedicated workers spent 2 years restoring it to its original glory.  Although he had developed other areas of our downtown, the Robins Theatre was the crown jewel of his vision.  Mark and I had always been close growing up.  He will always be my best friend.  Lori and I worked together for years at the local YMCA and that’s how she met Mark.  There was no way I was going to miss sharing this evening with them.

How do you begin to describe the most amazing evening of your life? I keep an album of quotes. One I look at frequently is “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!” I’ve had some pretty amazing moments/days/nights. I have sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight with who I thought was the love of my life, my bff and her hubby.  I have overnighted on Mount Everest Base Camp where I witnessed the most glorious sunset. I’ve dined at the Captain’s Table on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.  I’ve walked the same path the Dalai Lama walked in the Potala Palace in Tibet. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the DMZ between North and South Korea.  I’ve stood at the Gate to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang, Bali and have seen the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin in Xi’an, China.  In 2002, I watched the funeral procession of the Queen Mum in London.  I’ve ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert, had an “elephant massage” in Thailand, visited Angkor Wat and exhumed, cleaned and prepared a body for cremation.  The list could go on, but right now nothing can top January 9, 2020.

Mark is a structural engineer by trade.  A little over 2 years ago he purchased the Robins Theatre in our hometown, Warren, Ohio.  Prior to that, he had developed several other properties in the downtown area, including 10 condos and some restaurants.  But the Robins Theatre would be the star, the House That Mark (and Lori) Built.  Living in China for those 2 years, I was always excited when he sent me updates, photos and news articles about the Robins.  It seemed all of Trumbull County was getting excited.  I was too.  It was also bittersweet, as the 2 people, our mom and dad, who would be most proud, where no longer with us.

I arrived on November 15, 2019, and my life was a whirlwind of activity.  With a 13-hour time difference from Bali to Ohio, I only slept about 2 hours that first night/morning.  I know Mark is an early riser and would be at the theatre as time was getting close to the “soft opening”

wp-1581287488448439805479.jpg

Sure enough, I found him in coveralls and a bandana at 6:30 am working on last-minute details for the December 7th trial run.  I was “blown away” is an understatement.  From a paint peeling, broken down, dilapidated building, to the hidden gem it was…..it was breathtaking!.  The “soft opening” took place with a few minor glitches, but it had NE Ohio buzzing about January 9, 2020.  The theatre also held 2 Christmas Eve Services which were attended by nearly 2000 people.  The city couldn’t wait for the Grand Re-Opening.

The big night is getting close, the grand piano has been delivered and is centre stage.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark sits at the piano and begins to play.  A talent no one knew he had.  He had studied with a woman who had trained students for the Metropolitan Opera, Audrey Benedict.  I wouldn’t write this here except a video of Mark playing got out to the news.  He studied under her for 11 years.  At the age of 12, she enrolled him in a 4-year course from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago.  Between the ages of 10 and 16, he won four local, three district, three state and 2 national piano titles.  He also won a Beethoven, Bach and Sonatina national piano guild title in each category.  But the stage January 9th was not about him.

January 9, 2020, finally arrives with headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and 3 local musicians with National Fame, Dana Morgan, Cheryl Warfield and Dennis Drummond.  But they would have to wait…wait until the true stars were introduced.  First, I need to backtrack.  The night was like the Oscars.  The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles.  The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players.  It was a black-tie night and I was in my gown.  I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most.  At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me.  He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry.  This is the night he has been waiting for.  He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”.  The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.

The theatre is buzzing, people are oohing and ahhing and I know my brother is behind the curtain.  He told me as he stood back there, the pride he felt was unparalleled in his time on this earth.  He walked out to a standing ovation.

The theatre was at capacity (1350) and they all stood for him, but as he soon told them, not for him but for every single person who had a hand in the restoration.  He then, one by one introduced his tuxedo-clad crew.  They walked head held high and proud across the stage as he introduced each one and told what their part in the restoration was.  Then, he asked if everyone liked the chandelier and all the bling in the theatre.  Hands clapped and patrons yelled yes as he introduced the person responsible, the “person near and dear to his heart”, his wife, Lori.  It truly was a night to remember and the best night of my life, so far!

 

wp-15809052588422128954048.jpg

wp-15812853194821344694764.jpg

Goodbye, 2019! Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

Goodbye, 2019!  Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

It’s twelve o’clock noon, December 31, 2019. I don’t make resolutions for the new year. I try every day to live my best life. I do, however, like to take time to reflect on the past year and how blessed I have been, to focus on the beautiful people who have crossed my path, the adventures I have had, the places I have visited and really be thankful for all of these things.

fb_img_1577805439609334077692.jpg
Surin Beach, Phuket, Thailand ~ VW Bar

2019 was a great year for me! In January, I travelled to Surin Beach, Phuket Thailand. I was fortunate to find a wonderful family to stay with at Muchshima House. They welcomed me to their homestay and in the short time, I was there, became part of the family. They drove me to the beach in the morning, taught me to make traditional Thai dishes, my favorite being green Thai curry. They took me to the local night market to sample more traditional foods. It was the perfect start to 2019 and to leave my broken back of 2018 behind me.

February I celebrated my last Chinese New Year in the country I had called home for 4 years. Celebrating CNY in China is an experience I won’t soon forget. I loved the 4 years I lived in China. I am fortunate to have travelled more of the country than most people who live there. Although, I never really mastered the language. A language based on tones I couldn’t hear. I learned to speak the basics, numbers, directions and food but found learning to read the 汉字 (han zi) or Chinese characters a bit easier. I knew this would be my last Chinese New Year in the Middle Kingdom as I had begun the process of obtaining a work visa for Poland. Yes, I am going back to Europe to live for a while. I had always planned to stay somewhere in SE Asia, most likely Vietnam, when I left China, but Poland just fell into my lap and I decided why not?!

Not many people who say they will come visit you in a foreign land actually do. Well, in March and for the second time, my friend Debbie, who in 2017 came to meet me and we travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, came to see me in China. We hung out in Beijing and where believe it or not practically had the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China all to ourselves. After a couple of days in Beijing, we flew to Seoul, South Korea for a whirlwind tour including the DMZ. Back in China, we headed to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors before returning to Dong’e, the town in which I was living.

April was a quiet month and life in Dong’e consisted of tutoring my kids in English, eating noodles, aka Lanzhou LaMian and getting my $5 per hour massages. I needed some downtime because after a broken back caused me to cancel a trip to Paris in September of 2018, May was the month I would meet my cousins and my friend Teri in Paris. We did most of the typical Paris tourist stuff since it was Bob and Sally’s first time, but then we took a couple days for some mad fun in Amsterdam, a first for the cousins and also Teri. Then it was back to Paris for a few more days. This trip also let me add country number 37 to my list as I scheduled my flight for a long layover in Qatar so I could take some time in the capital city of Doha. My second time in the Middle East and for the second time I arrived during Ramadan. It was still a most amazing experience as a friend from the states had a friend who’s daughter was living in Doha, so she was my tour guide.

June…time to wrap up life in China. It was a bittersweet month filled with dinner invites and farewell parties. I had spent two and a half years living in Dong’e whereas I only spent 6 months in the other cities I had lived in. My China life had been good to me, but it was time to move on. You don’t realize how much you accumulate in that amount of time. Decisions, decisions, decisions…what to keep, what to leave behind. My plan was to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam on my way to 4 months in Bali. I can only travel with what I can carry so that meant I shipped 6 boxes of “stuff” including all my “winter” clothes back to the USA and 1 box of school supplies, books, etc. to Bali. Microwave, toaster oven, air fryer, more clothes and shoes, all had to stay behind in China. Luckily for me, when Chinese people get together for a meal/party, it is always a feast, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure I got to eat all my favorite foods before I left. Saying goodbye to my students and their families was difficult and lots of tears were shed. They had become my family. After all the goodbyes had been said and the tears wiped dry, it was time to move full steam ahead to Vietnam.

I started off in Saigon, which it is still called by the locals, although its official name is Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed in the guesthouse I have stayed several times. It is right around the corner from my favorite pho shop. Yes, I ate pho, every.single.day! It is my crack. Then, I wanted to travel to HoiAn. I’m not sure why I thought taking a 24 hour bus would be fun, but I bought my tickets and off I went. The bus had sleeper seats, but being old, chubby and having had a broken back it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. Not to mention the only restroom breaks were whenever the bus decided to stop. No matter, I arrived in HoiAn around 6 am. I messaged my host at my homestay who met me at the bus stop. Since my room wouldn’t be available until around noon, he took me to his sister’s home so I could shower and rest until my room was ready. I loved HoiAn and decided to cancel my return bus ticket, stay a few more days and then fly back to Saigon. I planned to visit a friend I had met in 2016 but she had moved to Singapore. My time in Vietnam was winding down…next stop Bali, Indonesia.

There is nothing like stepping off the plane in Denpasar, Bali. I’ve always described it as a feast for the senses. My driver met me at the airport and off we went to Kenari House and my Balinese Family. Remember my friend Debbie who came to visit me in China in March? Well, she and her husband and another couple travelled to Bali in mid-August to spend 10 days with me at Kenari House. It was an amazing time.

Come September, it was time for me to move to another homestay as I was going to spend 6 weeks volunteering at a school for special needs children. I worked with so many amazing people and met the beautiful children and their families at Yayasan Widya Guna School in Bedulu, Bali, an experience that touched my heart and soul.

img_20191010_1458161758762148.jpg
Yayasan Widya Guna School for Special Needs

I also took a long weekend mid-September and flew to Singapore I was happy I was able to visit my friend from Vietnam. After 6 weeks at the school, I returned to my Balinese family at Kenari House. Bali has stolen my soul and my Kenari House family is my family. I will return as soon as I can. Loving my Bali life, I still hadn’t purchased a ticket back to the USA. Finally, at the beginning of November, I made a plan…..

After 53 hours, missed flights, Visa problems, cancelled flights and long layovers, my Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia home 9964.3 miles behind me, I arrived home in Warren, Ohio, USA. For the first time in 7 years, I would be returning to my hometown for the holidays and more importantly for the Grand Re-Opening of my brother’s historical theatre. I have gotten comfortable spending Christmas abroad including 4 years in a communist country, predominantly Buddhist and therefore does not celebrate Christmas….China. My first Christmas abroad, I spent in Paris, France. The next year I was also in Paris, but on Christmas Eve I decided to catch a train and spend it in Amsterdam. My Christmas’ in China brought me some of my most memorable experiences, but there is something about coming home and spending time with family and friends. Not that I didn’t have friends abroad, but those are friends for a season and most I will probably never see again. When you come back to your roots, the ties that bind are tight. The most beautiful thing is being able to pick up right where you left off as if not a day has passed.

So what’s it really like coming home for the holidays? It’s complicated, it’s hard, it’s chaotic and it’s wonderful!

Goodbye, 2019, you have been good to me! Hello, 2020! I can’t wait to experience whatever you have in store for me! From a flag, I saw in Bali and my mantra for 2020, “Free your spirit and dance with life!”

img_20191230_0714481784910274.jpg