Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cold Days

There is a winter front finally moving in to our little New Mexico town.  The blustering wind and grey skies naturally take me back to the 'cold' days on my island.

Cold, in Luaniua, would come during the monsoon season, when clouds obscured the sky for weeks on end, and everything was dripping.  It would storm so hard, that rain would drive through the mat walls of our house, soaking the veranda.  Wind would whistle up through the louvered windows and the open slats of our floor.

Wetness was everywhere.  It clung to my bed sheets and pillow, it ran in little rivulets from the overflowing gutters of our house and the church just beyond.  All my clothing grew little black spots of mould, and the sour sweet smell of it was everywhere.

On these days, Mom would heat cans of soup on her Bunsen burner and we'd scarf it down, poured over steaming bowls of rice.  Occasionally, if it was a special day, she'd pull out a few packets of carefully hoarded hot chocolate, and pop up a handful of popcorn kernels. 

Sitting in my corner, lost in a favorite book, I would dip each salty white puff in the fragrant hot chocolate.  Eaten this way, a mug of the dark sweetness could last over an hour.  I would read and slowly eat, while the rain beat staccato overhead and little bursts of mist thrust occasionally at me through the louvres.  It was delightful to feel cold.  To hear the tempest outside but be safe inside, as if I was cheating Nature and she was raging back at me because of it.  Days like these would transport my soul back to America and the warm safety of our family home in the winter time.

But now, as the Northern wind shakes the pine tree behind my house, my heart flies back to the time of safety, simplicity, and popcorn dipped in hot chocolate.

The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows,
blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
and then start all over and do it again.
~from The Message

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ma Ling Madness

We were getting ready to get on the ship, headed from Luaniua into Honiara, the capital city and wonderland of running water (right in your house!), electricity, and shopping.  Mom and Dad had divvied up the remaining cans of food we had, because we wouldn't be back in the village for another few months, and they would go bad by then.  The night before the ship came, we had dinner at a local translator's house.  His wife served us rice, with cans of Ma Ling dumped on top, and hot, sweet tea. 

For the uninitiated, Ma Ling is the Asian equivalent of Spam ... but the meat's not as high quality.  As kids, the stuff was our filet mignon.  We'd eat it chopped up in Ramen noodles, fried, on top of rice, or stir-fried with pumpkin greens and onions.  Yum.  This particular night, we ate it island style, straight up with a side of rice.  After the meal, us kids played in the fragrant darkness, while the adults sat and talked in the glow of the kero lamps. 

Slowly, I began to feel something creeping up my stomach.  An invisible fist attached itself to my midsection, and over the course of the next half hour, began to squeeze ever more tightly.  I left my companions to lay on a mat just beyond the perimeter of light.  A few feet from me, my mom had checked out on another mat.  The vise continued to squeeze, and my stomach gave a horrible lurch. 

Something was said about a can of meat, which 'popped' when opened, and smelled a little different.  Guess who it had been served to?

I don't remember how they got us home.  All I remember about the rest of that night is darkness, and the feeling of my stomach being physically ripped out of my body.  Dad set my mom and I up in the veranda of our little hut, on coconut mats and a pillow covered in towels.  He placed a metal bowl by my head, which I was repeatedly sick into.  Anna would take it down to the ocean, empty it, and by the time she got back I had already filled another bowl.  It felt like somebody was playing string games with my intestines.  If felt like my midsection had been flattened by a steam roller.  It felt like I was ejecting the entire contents of my abdomen, organs included. 

Some time during the night, Father Nehemiah (our Anglican priest), came to our home with a chalice of holy water.  He prayed over us, anointed us with oil, then gave us the water to drink.  I didn't want to drink it.  My lips curled, my throat closed.  My stomach rose to meet my voice box.  I knew I was going to die that night.  Somehow, the priest and my father convinced me to put the cup to  my lips and receive just a sip of the blessed water.  It was the first time I had raised my body up all night.  I fell back on my pillow, stomach heaving, tears streaming.

I must have fallen asleep after that, because the next time I opened my eyes, the hopeful sun was greeting the greying sky.  Looking slowly around, I could see the scattered bowls, splatters of sick on the floor, soiled clothing and sheets crumpled against the mat walls.  My middle felt calm.  My whole body was wobbly and a little shaky.

I could hear children's voices shouting 'keva'a!' (ship) from the ocean side of the island, and closed my eyes again.  In another day, we would be boarding for the long, three day boat ride to Guadalcanal.  For now, I rested.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New! Netflix Movie Mondays

So I don't know if it's the growing up without a TV, or the 10 years of American pop culture that I missed while overseas, but I like to watch it.  A lot.  I admit it. 

We got rid of our satellite service a year ago when I discovered, and subscribed to Netflix.  We went from paying $80 a month, to $10.  Bonus!  Ever since then, I've been mining the infinite collection of movies, TV shows, and documentaries that Netflix has to offer, and have come across some really great ones.  So great, in fact, that I've decided to dedicate my Monday blog posts to movie reviews.  The reviews will be 1) from Netflix movies, and 2) from streaming Netflix movies (because most days I'm too impatient for the mail).

Without further ado, here is the movie I'm choosing for this, the first installment ...

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

I avoided this documentary for a long time, even though Netflix considerately kept reminding me that I might like it, based on other movies I had showed interest in.  The synopsis read, "Hailing from Boone County, W. Va., mountain dancer Jesco White may be the most famous member of the White clan -- thanks to the 1991 documentary The Dancing Outlaw -- but he's hardly the most colorful. This film focuses on the rest of the brood."  Hmmm.  A film about a bunch of dancing Appalachian hillbillies?  Thanks, I'll pass. 

I decided to give it a try a few days ago, and boy, was I wrong.  I was hooked from the very first scene, an interview from Mamie White, second generation in a string of five shown in the documentary.  The Whites were revealed to be an extremely intelligent, extremely volatile clan who live by their own rules and an 'f you' attitude to the rest of society and the law.  The film followed the family for a year, recording the inevitable chaos and drama that flowed as a result of their dysfunctional, drug plagued lives.

Story lines include a granddaughter, Kirk White (third generation), who you meet in her initial interview, which she conducts in a pill induced haze. She relates in vivid detail how she stabbed her ex, while her 8 year old son does back flips on his bed, then cheerfully tells the camera that he will cut the man's balls off.  It is later revealed that Kirk is pregnant with the same man's baby, shows her snorting crushed up pills in the hospital after the baby's birth, and then follows her struggle to regain her daughter (who CPS took away).

Mousie White, Mamie's daughter, is released from prison and goes on a mission to find her cheating, deadbeat husband. With her teen daughter in tow, she finds him with his pregnant girlfriend, then takes him home with her, stopping twice on the way to pick up a case of beers, and to visit the pharmacy where they got married.

Jesco White (second generation) is a washed up local celebrity, deemed 'Appalacian Royalty' by some, famous for his unique style of tap dancing which he inherited from his father.  He "lost half my brain cells, but I don't know which one", sniffing gasoline for 10 years straight.  People say he can tell high octane from regular unleaded fuel just based on the smell.  With a tattoo of Elvis and Charles Manson on his back, Jesco lives to party, but has intense struggles with his inner demons. 

This film had me laughing at some parts over the sheer absurdity of the way these people live, and shaking my head at others over their blatant depravity, and the depths of darkness that dominates their every day lives.  It swings from humorous to saddening, an extremely raw look at how dysfunction, violence, and drug addiction can be passed on from one generation to the next.  Watch at your own risk, as it is very graphic and at times just plain raunchy.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Tradition. It's about repeating the same things over and over again, year after year. Pretty soon, these repetitious actions start to feel like an old, favorite sweater, or a childhood comfort blanket. Safe, secure, grounding.

For a month now, I've been focusing with the kids and Scott on celebrating the season. We've made a gingerbread house (from scratch, thank you very much), read a part of the Christmas story every night and acted it out with our Fisher Price nativity set, toured neighborhoods at night to see the lights, listened to favorite Christmas CD's over and over again. All this, to build up to 'The Day', a short 12 hour period that had better be joyous and perfect, because we anticipate it all year, darn it.

Now, the trash is overflowing with wrapping paper, the sink with dishes, there are pine needles stuck in the carpet, and I'm left pondering the frenetic month I've just spent. Part of me wonders, why did I work so hard to create all those memories and reinforce the traditions? The nice answers, of course, include, 'so that the kids will have fond memories of childhood', 'to make Christmas about more than just the gifts', 'to spend time together as a family.'

But if I'm really honest with myself? If I really examine it all closely? If I pull back the pretty nice things, what is beneath? Beneath, deep, deep beneath, it is fear. Fear of not connecting. Fear of losing time. Fear of knowing that nothing in life really ever stays the same, that there is no real stability.



It's my comfort blanket, this frantic memory making. It is a constant need to connect, to belong, to take a quick snapshot before it's all uprooted again. Somewhere in the middle of it all, I get so frantic to create the tradition, that all enjoyment and peace is taken out of it.

Case in point:

We had arranged to video chat with my parents during our present opening time, so that (again), we could be connected while apart. When it came time, I could not get my computer to work. My kids and husband were sitting there, waiting to enjoy the moment we'd all been anticipating, and all I could think about was suppressing the rising anxiety because I couldn't get my blasted computer to work.

How ridiculous! I was robbing my family of a beautiful moment, because I just couldn't let go. And live. In the moment.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beauty of a Woman

I saw it in a friend today. That deep, flowing river of strength unique to our sex. Her face was etched in lines of hurt and worry, I could almost physically see the mass of her burden pressing down on her. Her eyes pulled down, hiding behind protective lids. Everything about her drooped and blurred, as if she was a watercolor painting left out in the rain.

And yet, underneath it all, miraculously, I saw so clearly a deep current of strength flowing through her. It was beautiful. Abiding. Swift. Sure. Constant. I saw, and I understood the true beauty of woman.

What makes us beautiful is not really a Grecian profile. It is not bone structure, eye color, the curve of the neck or soft pearling ear. Woman's true beauty lies in the duplicity of emotion and strength.

We are feeling creatures. We filter our experiences, interactions and relationships through a tangled, interconnected web. Everything connects to our heart on some level. In a way, this makes us weak. Dependent. Easily swayed.

At the same time, women have a strength that is as deep and unchanging as the sea. The very thing that weakens us, our emotions, also gives us an under girding steadfastness. It is the strength of a mother who is up every hour during the night with a sick child. It is the strength of a wife holding it together for the sake of her man. It is the woman who miscarries her baby, but in the midst of it has love and attention for her living children. It is loving so fiercely that it is impossible to let go.

It is beautiful, this undercurrent of strength that flows from the breaking heart of a steadfast woman.