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My Inner Mermaid

Mermaid

When Rob and I boarded the Riviera to cruise the Caribbean, never in a million years could I have guessed that my inner mermaid would come to life. Of all things I chose to take drawing lessons while we sailed amongst the West Indies. The artist-in-residence, Noel Suarez, had studied ballet for years before an injury forced him to shift. While his instruction about drawing faces, still-lifes and landscapes was clear and encouraging, I found his understanding of human bodies most fascinating. Still it was all I could do to follow his directions during class when we drew a figure from the waist up. When I decided to veer off course and add the tail and scales of a mermaid (instead of copying the usual hips and legs), this drawing became easier for me to execute as well as my own creation.

During the second half of our voyage, Noel offered classes about adding color to our drawings—pastels, watercolors and acrylics. While at sea, I couldn’t bring myself to potentially ruin my masterpiece with globs of paint. The graphite was enough; I could continue erasing and improving her as long as I wanted.

I was amazed to study art while traveling. Heretofore this was not an experience on my bucket list. But I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Noel grew up in Cuba, thus is bilingual—Spanish/English. Of course, I would be drawn. Plus a gallery of fine paintings by Latin masters, even Picasso and many from Cuba, surrounded me on the walls of the ship. I carved time while on board to study the artwork with the help of audiophone descriptions. I was delighted to recognize how once again I had invited Spanish culture into my life.

Finally last night here at home, I unearthed an unopened watercolor kit that my Dad left amongst his things when he died. First I stretched out on the sofa to read the instructions, knowing someday I might doll up this sea-babe with watercolor hues, even use unorthodox markers and add glitter if I was so inclined. When I planned these trips months ago, I had no earthly idea they would include something as “civilized” as art lessons…that my instructor would be Latino…and especially that I would create this beauty and then make her public.

There are stranger things (making me quite curious to travel to Ecuador in less than a week.) Honestly I doubt I will ever settle myself enough to create in this way again. But as Noel predicted, I will always see more and differently. I will also go forward with infinitely more appreciation for the fine art and fine artists all around me.

Flow is a Choice

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Wow, I am one vigilant son of a gun! My old “friend,” The Cough, returned a week into my time in Jaco, Costa Rica. Since March when I gave up dairy, she had not visited me. But given the drastic change in temperature/environment/everything and with my crazy fears and endless analyses, she was alongside, actually inside, me yet again.

Of course I talked to myself, sometimes with impatient scolding. After I finally recognized a momentary appreciation of my vigilance, realizing how very much she has helped me all these long and glorious 63 years, I wanted to stroke and massage her slowly and tenderly.

Often especially during that first week away, I grieved. Well, first I judged. Why was the common language at this school English when what I needed/craved was total Spanish immersion? How could I be so close to Nicaragua but stuck here in touristy, party-central Jaco? And how could I protect myself and finish uninjured in this foreign place, lonely and alone? No wonder I was sick.

Gradually though I reminded myself of the careful discernment I had invited once I learned that my beloved school—Escuela Colibrí in Matagalpa, Nicaragua—had folded for the time being. I began searching and asking for recommendations. Our bishop and his family had visited a school on the Pacific Ocean in Jaco, Costa Rica. I decided to start my travels there. After all I felt brave enough to venture back to Costa Rica having traveled there twice before as a tourist. Besides Costa Rica borders Nicaragua. Maybe I would be able to see some of my friends or at least get a less censored version of what is going on there.

I can only begin to describe my fear and disappointment when I started coughing. Here I was living my dream with resources to pay my way and with a supportive husband (plus family and friends) available to help my 90-year-old mother as needed. Even so, I was falling to the curse of tightening. Lucky me, I have been at this business of being me long enough to have strategies for taming the mind. Once I acknowledged and named Vigilance as well as my sadness/sense of loss regarding Nicaragua, the tide began to turn. Other healing aids I used included:

Turned judging into noticing

Immediately I recognized English as the common language at The School of the World. Once I acknowledged that my work back home in Seattle involved both languages, I began to count the countries represented at the school during the three short weeks I was there—18 countries on 6 continents! I started listening more closely and was able to understand Spanish and English in scads of accents. Curiosity and delight got the upper hand!

Story-telling

One of the best decisions I made before traveling was to sign up to stay with a Costa Rican host family. Then when arriving, I made it crystal-clear to all that while I was at Ines’s, I wanted to use Spanish-only. Of course this was the family’s way plus they all knew some English (more than I found at my host home and on the streets in Nicaragua). What made this tricky was that another North American, William, was staying with the family when I first arrived. I was a bit of a snob with this 60-something surfing New Yorker, proclaiming only Spanish for me. In hindsight, I could have allowed more space for his deep wisdom–about Jaco, the school and this beautiful family we had both fortunately stumbled upon–to unfold in either or both languages. I am now grateful he was there at first, a good part of my transition to Jaco.

Many of the initial stories Ines shared with me were about William. For instance, his mountain-biking prowess led him to purchase an extra bike for himself while in Jaco and for the family in between his frequent visits. William’s Spanish is strong and I enjoyed his riotous laugh and chatter with the family.

He returned to the US after my first week in Jaco, leaving fertile ground for us to continue getting to know each other while exchanging the short stories of our lives. Usually the tales included profound feeling elaborated by descriptive gestures and hand signals. Since one of the activities in my Spanish classes was watching “Las Chicas del Cable” (a television series produced in Madrid in Spanish…we watched with Spanish subtitles), I found myself well-primed to understand and tell the stories of our lives as mini-telenovelas.

I also shared Bridging (my book), having brought along three copies to give away. It was interesting to wait and find out who would be the recipients. Initially, one copy went to Ines and then one to Kristin, my 20-something Icelandic classmate who works at the school. She was delighted to finally read a book by “someone she knows” and mentioned how much my code-switching presentation fits with her experience of learning Spanish. Later when another student, Vicki, was relegated to the sofa after a surfing accident, I gave her  a copy of my book for company. What a flurry of conversation that caused between students, staff members and me.

In all of this, one thing I learned is that it is important for me to commit to one language and one only in any given conversation. My fluent son had suggested, “If you really what to get to know people, figure out the strongest language between you and use that one.” I am amazed at those folks who can interpret. But my Spanish is just not strong enough for much of that yet. This is a skill that will come only as much as needed. I was surprised that organizing the languages separately in my mind contributed to ease and flow rather than vice versa.

Tried and true physical practices – exercise, good food and modern medicine

Besides daily yoga, after Week One, Ines’s husband Erick resurrected an old bicycle for me so I could commute back and forth to school. Definitely easier for flow than the two or three round trips I had walked daily over the scant-mile between school and home during that first week. Even though I scared myself without a helmet for my giant kanoodle, I paid attention when I rode and I wore a reflective strip and my headlamp at night.

For the most part, I avoided dairy, sugar, red meat and alcohol. And (here’s another bonus of the home-stay), I ate at home. Ines used whole foods exclusively with lots of rice and veggies. I taught her my favorite Chilean word—lumami, meaning leftovers from the first three days of the week (the first two letters of lunes, martes and miercoles, Spanish for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) to be eaten on Thursday—when I made myself a lumami sandwich.

And when all else failed, I went to the pharmacy for drugs. This is always a good exercise for a language learner. Will my Spanish work in a real-life situation? What new vocabulary will I need? How does medicine work here, including cost, availability, etc.

Tried and true mental and spiritual practices – journaling, music, drawing, hypnosis, meditation, poetry, reading and more

I travel with several tools to assist reflection and quiet work and play alone: my trusty journal, iPod with guided meditations and hypnosis clips, meditative drawing book (see results below), a magazine or two and my phone. The phone has a terrific mix of popular Spanish tunes on it as well as Katia Cardenal’s “La Misa Campesina”—both of which encourage me to dance and laugh,  pray and cry. This time I also read several of Mary Oliver’s beautiful poems when my friends posted them after she died in mid-January. And I was able to pull up a favorite by Billy Collins—“Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House”—for those times at night when the chorus of dogs or steady cock crows almost drove me nuts.

I met my fear head on and tried surfing.

This is a long story. Suffice it to say that at the end of Week Two, I paid Christian (good name for instilling trust, eh?) to introduce me to this “radical sport” and play in the waves for an hour. I had really scared myself about this after seeing Vicki’s cracked head dripping blood and hearing about a novice-surfer-become-quadriplegic accident from one of my sisters. But gifts from William (the rash guard he had left with Ines) and hypo-allergenic zinc cream from a fellow student plus prayers from my prayer partner and jewel-friends at home, emboldened me. I had also visited the ocean in preparation, dipping my toes first, then journaling alongside, then body-surfing in the warm gentle swells at low tide. I was ready. And I knew I’d kick myself later if I went home surfless in this ideal location.

At one point during the lesson I stood for 10 seconds, then laughed for 60 at the edge of the sea. What a wonderful memory! And afterwards during Week Three, I was well and happy and a more-appreciative audience while watching the surf-analysis videos of the other students. Funny thing about getting on that horse, or surfboard, whatever really represents FEAR, that crippling demon. It’s a powerful antidote.

Church

Sundays are Sabbath for me. Almost always this includes church of some sort with others. When I got to Jaco, I learned that Ines and her family are Jehovah Witnesses. This is a community I knew nothing about except for the stereotype of door-knocking evangelists and the sign on the door of my first landlord that read “No, no, no, Jehovah Witnesses.” What I learned during my first two Sundays with the family at church is how deeply they study and live the Bible, Ines’s family at least, and how they welcome, include and train children. Church was a pleasure to enjoy with them, plus this activity provided a huge opportunity for me to listen to Spanish.

On the third Sunday, my Costa Rican family traveled to San Jose to participate in the annual conference with others of their faith so I had Sabbath to myself. What a gift! At first I considered how I could possibly get to Matagalpa. But when I let go of that possibility, I hunted down a liturgical denomination, finding I was hungry for the Eucharist.

Feeling the news

I decided to attend a very full Roman Catholic mass on that third Sunday. I understood most of the sermon and drank in the music. I heard more about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Panama and about the pilgrims from Jaco. This phenomenon had weighed on me every morning as we watched the news. On one side of Costa Rica, the beatings in Nicaragua played out as her people, my friends, again struggle for liberty. On the other side in Panama, people were experiencing peace and hope anticipating the visit of their religious leader.

Listing the Saints

All-in-all, I became well as I laughed and cried and came to know and value another dear family and culture as well as my own self in total again. Ten years ago as I was leaving Nicaragua for the first time, our guide/priest suggested we list all those heretofore strangers who had given of themselves to help us during the journey. Now I do this at the end of all my pilgrimages. For one, it encourages me to learn people’s names. I recognize the saintly and holy nature and value of their gifts and my practice. This time the list included 83 of us.

 

In conclusion (whew, finally!), I will be forever grateful. I know I will be as well as I allow and I have several ways to help myself heal.

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El Aliento

yoga with ale

(English translation follows.)

Por fin hemos acabado tres semanas de clases de yoga. Asistí todas y acabé sin lesiones. İGracias a Dios! Cada día de semana nosotros practicabamos con Alejandra, Roden o Katalina, todos sies pies (plus) de ella. Las tres maestras son hermosas y profesionales. Ellas tienen talento y sabiduría sobre nuestros cuerpos y sobre yoga. Antes de esta experiencia, he practicado yoga de vez en cuando por 10 años pero nunca más de una vez por semana y normalmente yoga muy suave. Aquí en Jaco, Costa Rica a la Escuela del Mundo, practicamos en un estudio abierto. Podemos ver las estrellas en las noches y escuchamos los pajaros al amenecer.

A veces, estaba muy difícil simplemente ir a clase porque fui la estudiante mayor por décadas y la menos flexible. Pero fui. Tenía algunos dolores durante las clase pero no después. Algunas poses fueron imposible para mí. Aun así una varación era posible. Y estoy más fuerte y flexible ahora, después 15 clases. Salgo de Costa Rica aprendido ambos más español y más yoga. Estoy muy agradecida.

 

The Breath

We have finally finished three weeks of yoga classes. I attended all and ended up without injuries. Thank God! Every day of the week we practiced with Alejandra, Roden or Katalina, all six feet (plus) of her. The three teachers are beautiful and professional. They have talent and wisdom about our bodies and about yoga. Before this experience, I had practiced yoga from time to time for 10 years but never more than once a week and usually gentle yoga. Here in Jaco, Costa Rica at the School of the World, we practice in an open studio. We can see the stars at night and listen to the birds at dawn.

Sometimes, it was very difficult to simply go to class because I was the oldest student by decades and the least flexible. But I went. I had some discomfort during class but not after. Some poses were impossible for me. Even so a variation was possible. And I am stronger and more flexible now, after 15 classes. I leave Costa Rica having learned both more Spanish and more yoga. I’m very grateful.

Una Amiga de Muerte

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¿Cómo una persona humilde como yo es tan afortunada que tenga dos hermanas de risas? La primera, la reina hermosa, Marlene, en Matalgalpa, Nicaragua. Y ahora Ines, la princesita dulce, aquí en Jaco, Costa Rica. Anoche reimos juntas como hienas locas. Nuestros estómogos sacudían y lágrimas corrían por nuestras caras. Ella me dijo la historia del nacimiento de su primero nieto, el precioso Thiago. Este cuento ha acordonado con la muerte, la invitada más triste y también inevitable. De hecho Ines se llama a sí misma “una amiga de muerte.”

¿Pues, cómo tan chistosa? Ines habló de su corazón muy rápido con gestos y expresiones. No tuve ningún momento para traducir en mi mente. Recordé telenovelas españoles pero esta vez fui una parte del muy grande teatro. Ahora un gato gime afuera de mi ventana. Recuerdo el fin de la historia, podría haber sido tan horrible. Pero la mamá vivía. Su bebé bonito también. Ellos se dumieron ahorita a lado de mi habitación, aquí en la casa de Inés. El milagro real y punto es lo que entendí. İDios mio! También tengo otra hermana debido a este fenómeno maravilloso de home-stay. Soy muy afortunada. İClaro que sí!

Mi Primera Post en Jaco

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8/1/2019 – Día cuarto en el balcón de Inés. Gracias a Dios por mi maestra Lyda me cambió a la clase más tarde en la mañana. Me lo disfruto especialmente ahora en la mañana en mi cama. Me preocupé anoche si me enfermo pero después mucho sueño, me siento bien ahora. La más importante cosa fue, “No te preocupes, Penélope.” İHay un comando, el tema de nuestra clase ayer! También, al desayuno escuché, “Tome, amor,” cuando Inés dió el plato de huevos en agua a Antonio. İQue tierno! Hay otra palabra nueva. La usa también para huevos tiernos, mi tipo favorito.