Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas Hangover?

I feel like I'm still waiting for Christmas. Even though I know it didn't pass me by, I still feel like I wasn't completely present. I didn't hear enough Christmas music. I didn't enjoy enough Christmas lights and decorated houses. I didn't put up enough decorations in our own house. I didn't serve enough. I didn't feel Christmas this year.

I enjoyed my presents, I enjoyed giving the presents I gave and I chose very thoughtful ones for my loved ones and got very thoughtful ones in return. I got a lot of Christmas cards and season's greetings from friends.

But it's December 27th, and I feel like I'm still waiting for the big day.

It could be something as simple as the lack of weather. Two days before Christmas we had all our doors open because it was so dang warm. But that seemed to be a nation-wide problem. It was warm everywhere, unseasonably so.

Or maybe Christmas was just so good that it seems a bit unreal. Because it really was. Terrific. Great. Wonderful. I have a great family and a great family of choice that I spend the holidays with, and I am surrounded by love and affection.

Christmas was good, but I want to feel more, be more, do more. And I hate waiting for next year for that to happen, but when something only comes once a year, I have no other choice. So I will work up to that throughout the year by being more me, more present, more in the moment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I hate sewing. I know that for some people it is relaxing, but for me it is a huge stressor. I hate it so much, that I decided to sew Christmas gifts for work associates this year.

No, I don't think there's a correlation between my hatred of sewing and my feelings towards my coworkers. It just seemd like an easy present to make. It was, I didn't hate doing it, and everyone was impressed with it.

I made microwavable sacks -- the kind that you can buy in the mall for $20. You microwave it for a couple of minutes and the herby smell coupled with the moist heat from the grains is supposed to relax sore muscles, etc. Mine were made by filling flannel tubes I made with rice and some good smelling sachet stuff. And I used different material for different people -- a manly-man hunting-fishing pattern for the men, cutesy snowflakes for the women, and then some generic lavender and blue ones for .... well, there's not another gender, but just to use generically as gifts as needed.

The women were all thrilled with their gift. The upper boss was perplexed when I gave it to him, but probalby because he's not used to us underlings giving him gifts, and he was busy plus on the phone. I'm sure it was just a perplexing moment for me to be giving it to him.

My immediate supervisor, who is just weird towards me anyway, was especially weird about this. He's just on the upswing of a bad cold, so when I gave him his manly-man rice sock and told him what it was and how to use it, I suggested that he could start using it now for his cold. He said it would make his wife happy and he was just going to regift it to her and put it in her stocking.

He's so subtle, this guy. I offered to give him a blue one instead which offer he immediately accepted. Well, I reasoned, at least he's honest about what he's going to do with it.

When I got back from lunch, there was a card and package on my desk from him. This is a vast improvement over last year when I got nothing from him, and the year before he gave me somthing anonymously, so I could never really properly thank him for it.

This year, I was pleased to receive a $10 Coldstone gift certificate. That was in the card. Intrigued that there could be even more than that, I opened the package with some trepidation. It was a box of hazlenut biscotti.

I don't drink coffee, which he knows. I don't like biscotti, and I don't like hazlenut flavoring.

My new mission is to now find someone to whom I can regift his gift. Then we'll be even. And isn't that what the holidays are all about? We give so that we can receive so that we can regift.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

More and More Questions

I frequently don't understand people. Oh sure, sometimes I try to humor myself by telling me it's them, not me. That surely they're the less intelligent creatures because I see things in a clear, logical manner and others don't, or take their time getting there, or are just stupid (apparently) and don't get it. But lately I have been feeling more and more like a hand-drawn cartoon with a thought bubble coming out of my head: "I just .... don't get it," because almost every day I interact with someone and am left scratching my head in confusion.

The other day I went to go see Rent with some friends. Even though I never had the desire to see it in the theater, there were three main reasons I was interested in seeing it as a movie. 1.) The PG-13 rating led me to believe that it would be a little tamer than the stage version. 2.) I believe it's important to suport this genre of film so that more musicals will get made into film versions. 3.) I like the story of La Boheme, on which Rent is based.

I needn't have bothered. All three reasons were quickly counteracted by the grim reality of the film. 1.) The MPAA apparently feels it's okay for unaccompanied 13-year olds and guardian-accompanied under- 13-year olds to be exposed to movies about homosexuals, bi-sexuals, AIDS, excessive drug use and a really bad story. 2.) This wasn't a musical, no matter what anyone tells you. It was a rock opera, which is vastly different. Oh sure, there's singing and dancing, but it's not the same. There were no musical themes woven throughout acts, scenes or characters. The songs were forgettable and cheesy. They were performed well, but it still wasn't a musical. 3.) This is not the story of La Boheme. If there were an opera called La Hedonists, then this was based on that. This was the story not of starving artist trying to make their way in the world and establish names for themselves on artistic merit. It was the story of a bunch of friends who played the victim. If they had AIDS, it certainly wasn't because they chose to share heroin needles and have unsafe sex; it was because AIDS was thrust upon them because they were drug addicts and were gay. If they got evicted, it wasn't because they chose to ignore their landlord by not paying rent or getting a job so that they could pay rent; it was because their landlord was The Man and a meanie. Poor starving "artists." Oh, and none of them really were artists. Unless strip dancer at a girlie club counts as art. And unless having long-hair and toting a guitar but having no song-writing ability counts as art. Oh, and the college professor. Yes, there's art right there.

I hated it.

But this isn't about the film. It's about the situation of watching the film. Behind us was a family comprised of a stupid mother, a snoring father, and a 4-year old daughter. Yes, that's right. Four. Years old. At Rent. (Hence the "stupid mother" statement.) Besides all the other head-scratching induced questions of, "Why come to the movie if you're just going to sleep through it?" and "Why leave your cell phone on if it's just going to wake you up?" and "Why not go see a good ENT doctor to get that snore taken care of?", the daughter herself introduced the very good question in her best playground voice of, "Mommy, why are those two boys kissing each other?"

Only to be followed by more excellent question in my two-inch voice of, "'Mommy, why did you bring me to this movie?'"

Fortunately, the hilarity doesn't stop in my personal life. Work provides plenty of perplexing moments also. Today's gem is provided to you by my boss' boss who asked me to "pretty up" a flow chart and put it into Powerpoint. I did so and presented him with an electronic draft version. His response to my email: "Thanks. I'll socialize it with Joe (his boss) to get his perspective."

Huh? Does he realize this is an inanimate object? It can't really socialize. Not even a little bit. Does it have good manners? Does it require etiquette lessons? Will it be polite? I feel a bit protective of it, sending it out to the big harsh world of socialization. I hope it behaves itself.

At least it doesn't have to go see an awful movie with its parents. I'll protect it from that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dummies, Part II

The executive (I would call him the "dumb executive," but that would be redundant and repetitive) I spoke of below just sent an email about...oh, it doesn't matter what it was about. What matters is that it's yet another email from yet another dumb person that just riles me up, because he acts like he knows all the answers, but the only reason he knows anything about this particular subject is because the past four weeks of my work life have been spent trying to figure it out for idiots like him.

ANYway. I was laughing about it, because what else can you do? It doesn't help to get mad, frustrated or cry. I turned to the intern that sits outside of my office, and I said, "Riddle me this. Perhaps 12 years of working in this environment has made it so that I can't see answers as clearly as you may be able to, being new and eager and all that rot. Why is it that only dumb people seem to get promoted and get promoted quickly?"

She thought for about two seconds and said, "Because dumb people don't want anyone smarter than them working for them."

What a brilliant insight! And from a 21-year old, too.

I hope, though, that this doesn't mean that as I get older and more jaded I get dumber. This is why I don't want to get promoted or go into management -- I'm afraid of the mandatory labotomy.

I Just Don't Understand

There are many things I don't understand, and I'm the first to admit it. But one of the more confusing issues I have to deal with daily is executives.

Yes, executives. People who get paid many more times than I do, get more vacation, drive a company car and who are in charge of the financial well-being of the company I work for. It's scaaaaaaary.

Granted, not all of them are dumber than hair. But many of them say or do things that leave me scratching my head in confusion.

Here's today's sampler.

I just got an email from one of them at 11:20 asking me to reschedule a meeting today for 10:00 or 10:30.

Look, HG Wells, unless you've got a time machine handy, that's just not gonna work!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Driving Miss Laura

The drive to Utah from southern California can, I suppose, be made in leisure. I have never done it that way. Ten hours is little enough to be easy to do in one day, and long enough to want to do it all as soon as possible and reach your destination .... in just a few more....miles.

It has, on occassion, taken me longer than 10 hours to do, but only if the traffic between here and Vegas is bad. ("Bad" = filled with idiotic southern Californians who think that the rules of highway courtesy are the same as freeway driving. They're not. And you're crowding the road and making it unsafe for the sensible ones of us who took actual family trips in a station wagon with no air conditioning, in the years when an interstate meant that you had to go through every town because that's how it was built. The days when truckers owned the road and respecting their considerable size meant living to see another day. Go away, modern road-trippers.)

This time, I was determined to do it in less than the usual 10 hours. My mom was in the hospital. Again. Some more. And even though it had been happening so frequently over the summer, though intermittently, this time was different. This time my sister was hedging when I asked if this meant I should come, which meant I should come. This time, my brother was coming too.

So I left work, threw some clothes into a bag, grabbed all my toiletries, bade goodbye to the cats, and left. I didn't want to leave my cats. I seem to be doing an awful lot of saying goodbye this summer. Some of it is the good vacation-kind, and some was the bad see-you-on-the-other-side kind, but neither one is terribly fun. "Why can't we get all the people" (and cats) "together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone always leaves and then we have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I need more hellos." -- Snoopy.

As I drove, I thanked the traveling gods that it was early Friday yet, so the crazies hadn't all left for their weekly emmigration to the city of billion-watt store fronts, lost money and empty facades, so my traffic was good. Except for a little bit of rush hour traffic through Las Vegas, I was in good shape.

I stopped in Mesquite for gas. Could've made it to St. George, I suppose, but didn't feel like pressing it. Besides, I wanted some travel snacks before I stopped for dinner in St. George. I loaded up on trail mix, Cheeto-s, bottled water and chocolate-covered pretzles. I put the bag on the floor in the front seat and didn't look at again until my drive home.

St. George, with its red rocks and canyons, loomed around the corner. Sonic beckoned. Diet limeade, Sonic-sized tots and a hamburger made dinner, with a peanut butter fudge sundae anticipated as dessert.

Twenty-one miles into Utah, I see a car go off the road. I immediately brake and pull over, especially since the other five or six cars in the nearby vicinity don't. I didn't see what happened, I just saw a car no longer attempting to stay between the lines, spin out and take out the road-side sign. A truck also stops. "Good, I think. Someone else can help give first aid. Those truckers -- they're the salt of the earth." That particular salt, however, stopped because he thought he caused the car to go off the road. Come to find out, he did, although it took the highway patrol officers looking at the damage on both vehicles to determine that and break the tie between the two drivers. I wasn't any help since I hadn't actually seen anything, my view being blocked by the 18-wheeler. I had just called 9-1-1 and stayed with everyone until UHP showed up.

And I looked at the stars. The sky is closer there. Part of it is the higher altitude I'm sure. And all of you scientists can tell me all about light pollution and smog down here ruining the view of those celestial bodies for me. But if it weren't for the smog, what would cover up that huge hole in the ozone? And the lights -- well, I could see the stars just fine even with the police flasher lights piercing the darkness. The milky way was indeed milky looking, and reminded me of something....Oh! My sundae! Officer, you don't mind if while I'm waiting for you to take my (non-) statement I just go and finish my dinner, do you? She didn't and I did. De-lish-us.

I'm now only about five hours away, and as I drive and listen to my audio book ("Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell"), I contemplate the miles falling away beneath me and who I'm missing out on seeing. Jill and Tonya in Hendersen. Allison in St. George. Another Jill in Hurricane. There are others, I'm sure, but those are the ones I think of just then. But I don't stop now for the same reason I never do and more. Besides having a mother in the hospital and a sister who needs support, I just want to get there.

At 11:05 local time, I take the 2nd Payson exit. I cruise through the hospital parking lot, but seeing that my brother is not there, drive the final two miles down the highway to my sister's house. It is 11:15 when I pull in.

I made it in just less than 10 hours. Could've made it in 9 if the wait at Sonic hadn't been so long and if that stupid trucker had given more room to that car's bumper and if I didn't have a bladder that only holds a certain amount of liquid before making demands.

The stars say hello.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The New Man In My Life

When a man has been in your life for 11 years, it's hard to think about moving on quickly.

I did it in two weeks.

Oh, don't get me wrong. It wasn't easy. I did some serious browsing on-line, looked at a lot of different pictures, interviewed many potential representatives. Once I found him, I knew he was the right one for me. There was a gleam of playfulness in his eyes, a come hither look, and an offer of many years of happiness to come. Of course, it hasn't all been roses. There has been a definite adjustment period. Like most men, he thought he would rule the roost. He made the mistake of thinking I was coming into his world, not he into mine.

After some false starts of learning where he can pee, where he can sleep, and what furniture he's allowed on, we've moved into the honeymoon phase. He runs to greet me when I get home, and wants to be hugged and kissed. He squirms a bit if I get any lipstick on him, but it's easily wiped off.

All in all, it's a great match.

Wait a minute. You thought this was all about a HUMAN male? Nah, not on your life. It's my new kitten, Dakota. Go to the photo gallery to see some pics of him when he was only a few weeks old.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


One of the things from my pre-summer list of things I was looking forward to was seeing "Wicked, the untold story of the witches of Oz."

I didn't read the book by Gregory Maguire, mostly because I had tried reading one of his other ones about Cinderella's step-sister and couldn't even get through the first 50 pages, which for me is saying quite a lot because I love to read, so it wasn't the story that intrigued me.

Oh, and it especially wasn't the story of "The Wizard of Oz" that I loved that made me excited to see it, because I hate that movie. Okay, maybe "hate" is strong. But "hated" works. When I was little and that would be the featured Sunday Night Family Movie on Easter Sunday or whatever, I could only get as far as the witch's castle because the flying monkeys freaked my tree. Really. Scared me. To death. Or at least scared me to not being able to sleep well. Just ask my sisters -- I'm sure they'll tell you all about it. Anyway, I don't know that I ever made it completely through the movie. The only time in recent, memorable history that I'd seen it completely all the way through was when I was in Chile. For some reason, it wasn't as scary in Spanish.

Speaking of the monkeys, three of my friends who I was going to go see it with first were sending an email back and forth while I was in Guatemala talking about the reviews the play was getting here in L.A. One of them said that someone she knew had gone to see it already and had this to say: "The sets are great, the music is great, the cast is great. [Laura, close your eyes]

She did say the flying monkeys are pretty scary. No one mention this to Laura..."

So you can see that I wasn't thrilled about the original story, or even the book the musical was based on.
But a couple of years ago I made one of the best music investments ever when I shelled out $17 for the soundtrack. A friend of ours had seen the pre-Broadway version in San Francisco and raved about how great it was. I didn't understand all the nuances of the story just from listening to the CD so I asked my friend to fill in the blanks for me. I was hooked. The music was beautiful, the lyrics creative, and the story intricate -- with the details it wove in from the original L. Frank Baum story to the current one.
I ended up seeing it three times this summer. I actually had tickets for a fourth night, but ended up selling those ones to a friend. I plan on seeing it again when it comes to the OC next summer. It is absolutely entrancing.

People more qualifed than I have gotten paid to write actual critical reviews of it, so I won't do that, but I did want to share some of my favorite words or lines from it that I wrote down because they were so enchanting.

"It's good to see me, isn't it?" (Glinda when she's descending from the sky in her bubble.

"You've been Galinda-fied." (Fiyero to Elphaba when he sees she's a victim of one of Glinda's makeover attempts.)

"You think I'm really stupid, don't you?"

"No, not REALLY stupid." (Fiyero and Elphaba.)

"He's been thinking, which worries me." (Glinda to Elphaba regarding Fiyero)

"I don't cause commotions, I am one." (Elphaba)

"I happen to be deeply shallow." (Fiyero)

"Excuse us just a tick-tock." (Glinda to her adoring public.)

(then a bit later:) "Wait just a clock tick."

"There's a goat on the lam!" (don't remember who says this, but it's hilarious.)

"We can't all come and go by bubble." (Elphaba to Glinda)

"And that poor little dog, Dodo!" (Glinda to Elphaba)

"Lemons and melons and pears."

"Oh, my." (Boq and Nessarose talking about what's in the punch.)

"I clash with everything." (Elphaba commenting on her green skin.)

And some fun, Glinda-fied words:



Definish chance.



Toss-toss. (what Glinda does to her hair to try and teach Elphaba how to be Pop-uuuu-laaaaaarrrr)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Homing Humans

I was reading today in the fabulous book, "Catwatching" by Desmond Morris a snippet about cats' homing devices. A German zoologist did an experiment where he crated several cats then drove them many miles outside of town using a very circuitous route, to a maze that he had constructed in a field. The entire maze was enclosed so that no natural light could enter to give navigation clues to the cats. The majority of the cats selected the passage which was pointing directly toward their home.

Other cat scientist people though there must be some sort of flaw in that method. So they performed more tests with US cats. They doped the cats, putting them into a deep sleep before the trip so that they couldn't retain any visual clues. Upon arrival they were allowed to wake up fully and then were put to a similar navigational test. Astonishingly, they knew their way home.

Morris goes on to say that it has since been discovered that may species, including human beings, "possess an extraordinary sensitivity to the earth's magnetic field which enables them (and us) to find the way home without visual clues. The experimental technique that clinched this was one in which powerful magnets were attached to the navigators. This disrupted their homing ability.

"We are still learning exactly how this homing mechanism works. It seems likely that iron particles occurring naturally in animal tissues are the vital clue, giving the homing individuals a built-in biological compass."

I am intrigued by the idea that humans have a built in homing mechanism based on iron particles that point to a specific place. It begs some questions. What home does your built-in mechanism point to? What magnets might disrupt your homing device and put you off-track? What does your personal compass use as its own North Star?

Many of you will see what obvious (to me, at least) parallels I can easily draw here, but I'll tell you what I hope my own homing mechanism is.

Though "beautiful downtown Burbank" is a wonderful place to live and the place I currently call "home," it is not my permanent home. Nor is Walnut Creek where I grew up. Humans move around a lot. No one stays in the same place for a lifetime. What, then, is "home?" For me, I define home as the place I came from originally and the place to which I hope to someday return permanently -- heaven. Whatever name you assign to it, to me, it means the permanent home of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

My compass can be a lot of different things -- a testimony of the divinity of the Savior, daily prayer, the scriptures, the guidance of the Holy Ghost -- essentially, anything that keeps my homing device pointed to heaven.

The strong magnetic forces that mess up my own personal compass, or the built-in ability to sense where the pathway to home is can be anything. Too numerous to name, says King Benjamin, and in today's world, are constant and omnipresent. They also change from day to day, depending on individual and circumstances.

Polaris, the guiding star by night that is constant and doesn't change position even as all the other nighttime constellations rotate and move, can be an obvious analogy to Christ. Always there, always beckoning, always guiding. I just have to be willing to look and be guided.

What home are you looking for? How will you get there? How do you know what path to take? How do you not get off course?

Sunday, September 25, 2005


The importance of friends in our lives I think cannot be defined succinctly, cannot fully be comprehended as to its importance in our lives, and as such, can be, I think, taken for granted. People much more talented and word-smithy than I have undertaken this topic and there are books and articles written on the topic that cover it much better than I ever could. Even as I write this, I know how woefully inadequate anything I write will be in comparison.

The blessing of a true friend is just that -- a blessing. There is something magical, and perhaps even a bit mystical that happens with friendship. Like the miracle of the Grinch's heart expanding within his chest with the gift of giving, friendship makes one heart feel better than it can on its own. Being listened to, heard and understood, and offering those gifts in kind makes a good person better. Carl Jung said it this way: "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."

Not only can a good and true friend make you a better person, but the value comes in other immeasurable ways. You find a type of validation that you don't get with strangers, work associates or even good acquaintances. "In a friend you find a second self." (Isabelle Norton.)

Or the same sentiment is expressed this way: "True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's self, and in the next from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions." (Joseph Addison) We become people we cannot become on our own. Oh, I know I've already said that, but there truly is something wonderful that happens when you find someone with whom you can share your thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams. It really is as though by finding a second self, your own self enlarges and expands. You become more capable in goals and endeavors, and more able to help others.

The writers of South Park expressed the value of friendship this way: "I've learned that all a person has in life is family and friends. If you lose those, you have nothing, so friends are to be treasured more than anything else in the world." (Trey Parker and Matt Stone)

Can a high enough value ever be placed on friendship? Certainly not monetarily. And you can't measure or value spiritual and emotional growth, so perhaps that is why we struggle with expressing the importance of friends. It can't be expressed properly because it can't be valued in human, mortal terms of measurement. Only the soul truly knows the worth of a true friend.

I have been blessed in my life with many wonderful friends. Some have lasted for a shorter time than others, especially when I was younger and perhaps it was easier to take all of those for granted. In fact, as I've grown older, and (hopefully) matured, friends and the blessings they bring into my life become more precious and valued. When a friendship is lost, for whatever reason, it makes it that much more painful because I believe that I've reached a point in my life where no friendship is trivial. And understanding all that other stuff about being able to speak spirt-to-spirit and heart-to-heart in ways that only the soul understands and values makes it nearly unacceptable. And AND if a true friend really is a second self, losing a friend is like a kind of amputation. I don't want it. It hurts. It's a part of me that's lost, not just the other person. So when I've had no choice in the matter, well, that really bites.
There is a great scene in the movie "Beaches" with Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler. There has been a rift in their friendship for several years, and they finally have a moment where CC, Bette's character, is forcing Hillary (Barbara Hershey) to confront the fact that she has refused to speak to CC for many years.

Hillary:I don't even remember what it was I was mad about and I don't care. Whatever it was that you did, I forgive you.

CC Bloom: What I did? You and your lousy letters. Just to get one of them made me special even before I opened it. All your crappy stories, all your big dreams.

Hillary: I didn't know that.

CC Bloom: Well, what the hell did you know? Did you know how bad things were for me? No, because you wouldn't even open my letters. If you had even answered one, just one! Told me what a jerk I was, anything! But you didn't. You took your friendship away without even discussing it with me.
I know exactly how CC feels. Like her, I have specific ideas of what comprises a friendship. I believe there must be mutual respect, communication, and a certain amount of time invested. I know that events come and go, but friends can be constant, if that friendship is nurtured. Nurturing doesn't have to be a full-time job, but there is an investment required. With no investment, nothing can be earned. I don't believe that friendships are an even 50/50 split of time, just as with any relationship. With any relationship that matters, neither party will count the investment percentage. But both parties will emerge better people because of time that's been invested. And if there is no investment on one side, just like with CC and Hillary, a breaking point is reached, and the decision must be made to either make a clean break and move on, or resolve differences and move on.

I understand that friendships come and go. I know that sometimes you become friends with someone for brief moments for very specific reasons and that some of them aren't meant to last for this entire lifetime. I get all of that. But that doesn't lessen the hurt when one is taken away from me, by that friend, prematurely and without my permission.

It's hard to make an offering of friendship and have it rejected. But I know that I'd be willing to accept the friendship were it ever offered again. But I don't know that it will be. And that, more than anything, is what bites. I do not want to accept that it is totally over, but I fear it is. The problem is, that decision has been taken away from me, and I don't like that. But there's only so many times and ways I can continue to offer my friendship up before the comparable amount of rejection makes me unwilling to make one final offer. I want to make that one final offer, but I am human, and as such, despise rejection.

Perhaps it really doesn't matter that it's over if I take this last quote to heart: "Do not keep on with a mockery of friendship after the substance is gone - but part, while you can part friends. Bury the carcass of friendship: it is not worth embalming." -- William Hazlitt

To all my friends, past, future and present, thank you for all the lessons you've taught me, the love you've freely given, and the growth in me you've encouraged. I love you all. After all is said and done, the blessing in this can be the lesson to learn to forgive more easily in the midst of feeling wronged and misunderstood, and to not take anyone for granted, because you just don't know how long it will last.

I hope I can freely return the friendship to you that you have given me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In Memorium

Siren McNeil Pratt
17 May 1994 - 31 August 2005

Siren came to us as a teeny, tiny kitten. Our friend Denis was walking to work one day and found a baby kitten all by itself. There was no mama around, and a bit further on, Denis saw the body of another similar looking kitten. He asked at work if anyone wanted a kitten. Cim and I had just gotten Pouncer from a girl at work, and we figured a 3-month old kitten would be the perfect companion for a brand new baby kitten.

That baby kitten really was brand new. His eyes were just barely open, making him a little older than two weeks. They were a brilliant blue and beautiful. He was no bigger than the little bottle we were using to feed him. That first night was a challenge. He was miserable, could hardly keep any food down, and had diarrhea all night long.

Within a few hours, it was obvious what his name had to be. His meow rose and fell, sounding just like a miniature toy fire engine siren. And so he was christened. Siren.

After two sleepless nights, it was obvious we couldn't take care of him ourselves. We had a friend who worked at a vet's office. She took him there where he stayed for a few days and got all of his health issues taken care of. He was filthy, flea-ridden, and the insides of his ears were black, not because they were dirty or that was their natural color, but because they were filled with mites.

He came back home to us a few days later in great health and ready to be part of the family. Here's a rather blurry picture of him at a few weeks old.

Pouncer wasn't quite as ready to accept him as we were. They weren't as brotherly as we thought they should be. Well, they were brotherly in a sibling rivalary kind of way. I spent a lot of time on the patio with a hose squirting the two of them to get them off of each other.

Pouncer soon went on to greener, mice-filled pastures, leaving Siren as an only child. That only lasted for a short time before Roo came into the picture to be Siren's new brother, then a year later, Bagheera came along completing the family feline picture.

All three cats had their own distinct personalities and quirks. All three filled our house with a great amount of love, joy, laughter and peace.

Siren was definitely the king of the household. They were all lovable and snuggly, but Siren was most of all those things. He developed into a beautiful Himalayan looking cat, with dark brown fur on his back, face and paws, and a lighter tan fur on his belly, chest and upper legs. He looked like different coffee drinks -- some parts had just a little cream and sugar, and other parts were more milk than coffee. His fur was beautiful, long and silky. His meow was distinct, and retained the siren-like quality as he grew older. He was very vocal, especially when getting patted or rubbed on his tummy.

He grew to be about 20 pounds. More human than cat, he didn't realize he wasn't supposed to like french fries, or pumpkin innards at Halloween time, or pancake syrup or butter or cereal. If I was eating it, it was good enough for him. Well, except for the pumpkin innards. He came up with that one on his own.

One of his favorite positions to be in was on me when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. He would sit on my lap, then place his forelegs on either side of my body with his head in the middle of my chest. He appeared completely comfortable that way, and frankly, I loved it when he was feeling that snuggly. He loved having his chin scratched and belly patted. His meows would indicate otherwise, but as a long-haired Siamese, he was very vocally expressive.

He didn't limit himself to just me. He was an all-person cat. If someone came to the house, it must be because they were there to see Siren. He loved all people, especially the ones who were allergic to him or didn't want cat fur on them.

Several weeks ago, he got out of the house for about an hour. We don't know exactly what he got into or did, but when I went to go water the garden, I found that he was outside waiting to be let in. He immediately ran underneath the piano and stayed there for some time.

It wasn't until the following day when I was getting ready to leave for a week that I realized I hadn't really seen a lot of Siren lately. That was unusual for him, as he always makes his presence known. I looked for him and found him underneath the piano. His eyes were very red and almost swollen shut. Cinnamon agreed to take him to the vet the next morning.

The initial diagnosis was that he had gotten into something chemical and rubbed it across his eyes. The vet cleaned up his eyes, which caused the fur around his eyes to fall out, making him look like he was wearing a tan mask. They discovered that he had gotten both a staph and strep infection and was suffering from chemical burns around his eyes and a little bit on the inside of his mouth. He was put on antibiotics, given eye ointment, and sent home. We were reassured that though he had been in some pain, everything would be fine.

We tried to cling to that hope, even after it appeared that everything would not be fine. He started losing his fur, not just in small increments as happens in the summer after a particularly damp winter as we've had, but in large clumps. Running fingers through his fur would result in huge amounts coming off in your hand. He started eating less, becoming disinterested in food. Eventually, he lost all of the hair on his belly, chest and inside of his legs. It was apparent that the chemical burns were now impacting his skin, causing it be ineffective at doing what skin is supposed to do -- keep good stuff in and bad stuff out. His white blood cell counts continued to rise, even after higher and different dosages of antibiotics. His skin became red and inflamed. He stopped eating altogether after several more days. I force fed him for a couple of days, but he was growing weaker and weaker. He couldn't stand or walk very well, losing his balance frequently, and preferred to just stay in a corner of the house with his towels and stuffed dog, Buddy, for company.

I took him to the vet after three days of force-feeding him and after his white blood cell count had risen dramatically in just 5 days. They decided to keep him there with them, run an IV so he could get nourishment, and see how the filtered, clean-air environment there would help him. He stayed for four days and showed dramatic improvement. His skin was showing signs of healing, he was eating on his own and the infection appeared to be completely gone.

I took him home with me on Monday night. He wasn't inititially interested in food, but I figured that was just because he was getting used to being home again. But by Tuesday morning, I knew he had to go back to the vet's. He was still very wobbly on his feet, had a hard time even standing without help, and wasn't eating at all, although he was drinking plenty of water.

Linda and I spent some time with him in the morning, sharing the milk from our cereal with him -- the only food he did show an interest in.

When we got to the vet's, they immediately whisked him away so that he could get started on an IV again. The doctor was sure that in a clean-air environment Siren's skin would heal completely and he would eventually return to normal. We expressed concerns about not being able to afford another however many days of intensive care like that, and he said, "God's been good to us. We try to be good to the animals. This one's on us. Just make sure you do someone else a kindess when you can. Just don't let the money aspect worry you right now. We're going to take care of him and we're going to get him better."

I went yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, to visit Siren. He was yowling and crying when the vet tech was carrying him out to me, hooked up to his IV, but as soon as he was put on the table and saw that I was waiting for him, he calmed down and came straight to me.

I spent a fair amount of time with him last night, petting, holding, stroking him, and talking to him, letting him know that he was in the best place possible for him, and that even though he hated being there, it was just so they could get him well so he could return home. Every once in awhile he would put his head up and meow, a little more hoarse than usual, then put his head back into the crook of my arm, or against my body. He was purring and happy, or as happy as I think he could be under those conditions.

When I left, I really was hopeful that he would make a full recovery. I had had my doubts up until this point, and having already prepared myself three times for the eventuality of having to put him to sleep, the fact that the doctor was so confident that the skin could heal given the right environment, and that he wasn't willing to give up yet, gave me hope that I would have several more years with my little Siren.

This morning, the three of us went to go visit Siren before going into work. Per the doctor's request, I had brought a little treat of some chicken to give to him. We were laughing and joking in the waiting room. It came as a surprise, a shock, really, when the receptionist came back out and said that Siren hadn't made it through the night. I don't know if it was the shock of hearing it so bluntly, or if I really had known all along that he wouldn't make it that made it so easy for me to accept. Linda and Cim weren't convinced, though. They were sure she was talking about the wrong cat.

She wasn't. They brought us into a room so we could have some time to say some final goodbyes.

His little body wasn't his own, and thank goodness for that. The fur he had been so proud of was mostly all gone, burned off by whatever chemicals he had found that one night. He was skinny, having lost one third of his body weight in a little over a month. There was no more meow, no more happy purr.

He had fought a very good fight, a fight that nine out of ten cats would have given up on long before he did. I think he hung on so long just because we loved him so fiercely. Even at the end, even with the pain and discomfort he was enduring, he didn't want to disappoint us. I think it helped that all three of us, all three of his mamas, had told him at some point that it was okay to let go. We were all hopeful he would come home, but knew we couldn't be selfish any longer. At the end, it just wasn't a quality of life any longer for my baby Siren. He deserved better. He deserved the kind of happiness he's been bringing to so many of us for so many years. He deserves whatever great kitty reward it is that's waiting for him. I don't know if it's a field full of mice, or trees of birds to chase and watch, or an endless supply of french fries, milk and pumpkin innards, but whatever there is that's waiting for him, he deserves the very best.

Linda likes to think of him being with Heavenly Father today, sitting in that lap, looking up at him adoringly with blue eyes and purring happily. Cim envisions him running and playing with Pouncer, perhaps getting squirted with a hose just for old time's sake. If she were there, she'd wrassle him to the ground and play the "Aaaargh" game with him as only Cim could do with Siren.

Me? I don't know what kitty heaven is like, but I know that when I pass to the other side of the veil, Siren will be one of those beloved spirits waiting to greet me. I hope to be able to communicate heart to heart with him and thank him for many years of joy and happiness he's brought to me. I'm happy he's free of pain, has all his fur back, and has found a better place than these last five weeks of hell had been for him.

Thank you, Siren, for not only coming to my life, but entering my heart. A little piece of it died today with you, but I'm happy that you're happy and at peace.

Godspeed, Siren.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Guatemala Day Twelve

At least, I think this is day 12. I just counted back from the Thursday that I arrived and I came up with 12. Anyway, the important thing is that today was the last full day of work. Tomorrow is a "half day" (not sure exactly what that means) so that we can pack, get a tour of the German factory, then our going away party tomorrow night, and leave right after breakfast on Wednesday.

Today wasn't really even a full work day, at least for me. Well, not for anyone, really, but especially for me, as my stomach is still not behaving the way it should. I felt much better this morning and thought everything would be fine. UP at the field, though, I lasted until about 8:30. I came back down to use the facilities and was here until a little after 9:00. Back up, where the pit work was slow, and back down again by 10:30, this time for the day. I knew I should go to the lab, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I would feel fine, but as soon as I got up, my stomach would cramp up again.

Anyway, I feel fine, for the most part, but am still taking immodium. Lucky, lucky me. I don't anticipate a really heavy work day tomorrow, especially where in having to be careful what I eat, I'm not getting a lot of food, as I have to pick and choose what's placed in front of me.

Yesterday our day at Chichi was interesting. Jonathon used a phrase the other day to describe how he felt -- "Third world fatigue." I can certainly understand, as I believe I have experienced it, even for as short a time as I've been here.

Partly it's due to the amazing amounts of rain, and partly it's due to seeing the huge amounts of poverty and knowing that I'm not even making a drop in the bucket.

Our first stop at Chichi was the cathedral of Santo Tomas, which is a large catholic church that was built on the site of a Mayan altar when the conquistadores came in 1542 or whatever year it was. So now the Mayan people make their own little candle, flower and incense offerings on the steps of the chapel while Mass is being said inside.

We stopped in for Mass -- my first one ever. It was about what I'd expected, kind of long and boring.
We didn't get to see the procession of the 14 Mayan representatives or whatever it's called because I guess they don't do it every Sunday.

Then we had breakfast which took forever both to have the food delivered and to figure out the bill -- he split it for each of us, then had to make change for us, then we had to pay for Felino's after figuring out what his was split six ways. Then Felino and Jose stayed to watch the local futbol game while we went in search of a local tour guide to take us to Pascual Abaj.

I'm glad we hired a guide, because we learned things that we wouldn't have known had someone not been there to explain it to us. The walk up there was difficult -- a lot of switchbacks up a fairly steep hill. At one point we paused for a break, and I was sweating and out of breath. He looked at me and said, "You're chubby, huh? How much do you weigh?" I told him that was none of his business. But it seems that we foreigners are fair game for blunt questions. Today, one of my pit workers asked me how much money I make in the States. I told him I make just enough, not too much, to pay my rent and pay bills. One of the other men the other day asked me how much my digital camera cost me. I told him I couldn't remember. I just don't want to make myself a target of jealousy, or of wondering why I might be better of than these people.

Anyway, to Pascual Abaj. There is one main Mayan altar with a statue or monument that has been there for centuries. There are other little ones circling it, each one used for different things -- to ask for luck in business, luck in love, help for family, help for a good crop, whatever. Any offering that is made must be done by a shaman, brujo, or Mayan sacerdote/priest. If not done by a priest, it is invalid since only the priest has the authority to communicate with the gods on your behalf.

When a couple is to be married, they bring a rooster and a hen. All four, the bride, groom, rooster and hen, are made to drink a little bit of liquor, then after 5 minutes, the rooster and hen are killed and their blood mingled and sprinkled on the altar so that the man and woman's marriage will be successful. That sounded like the most gruesome one. The others all involve using candles, incense, honey, flowers, herbs and I don't remember what else. The candles are all different colors representing differing things: green = money, blue = luck for men? I think; black = protection against enemies, and I don't remember what else the other colors represented, but one for women/fertility, one for crops, etc.

To be chosen as a shaman, the parents bring their child to a shaman to be blessed shortly after it is born. That shaman then decides if that child is to be shaman. If he is, then at 10 he returns to the shaman for another blessing, at 15 he goes to live with a neighboring shaman to get properly trained, at 18 he must get married, and at 20 he can become a full-fledged shaman. People can bring their own shamans from their own village to do what needs to be done.

I asked our guide why they didn't mind that we get so close and are allowed to take pictures of what's going on -- he said it's because they realize that tourism is an important part of the economy, and they don't want people to get the wrong idea about them, so having the guides to explain things helps increase people's understanding. He also said that the people know that it's not the visitors' beliefs that cause the various ceremonies to work or not to work, but the faith of the worshippers that make them work.

The ceremonies are not done on a specific day of the week like Sunday or whatever, but are done according to the Mayan calendar. If it's a good day for the sun (man), moon (woman) and stars, then it's a good day to go to the altar.

It was very interesting, or educational or something. Michael was visibly uncomfortable with everything, and I was just trying to be objective and not let my own personal beliefs interfere with what I was learning.

I also asked if there were Mayan people who would do their thing up at the altar then go to the Catholic church and participate in worship services there. he said there absolutely are, but that 80% of the people in that city are religiously Mayan and 20% are Catholic. I asked him about the Evangelists, because it seems like I've seen more pentecostal churches than anything else around here, and he said that 10% are evangelists. (I didn't question his math). He also said that it varies from village to village -- some places are mostly Catholic, some are mostly Evangelical, etc. That one happens to be mostly Mayan because it was a place of refuge for the Mayan people during the Conquest.

We headed back down the hill, and he showed us some antique, authentic Mayan masks. That was when it started to absolutely pour, at about 12:00 noon. We waited it out for a few minutes, and when it lightened up a bit, made a run up the street, during which point it of course started raining again. We sought shelter under a roof of a store, waited another few minutes, then started up the hill back to town. The marketplace was flooded and what people were there were all fighting for the same dry spot of sidewalk. There was no way to stay dry, either from the rain or the streaming streets. We ran into Felino and decided to start heading back. We did find time to stop in a few stalls to do a bit more shopping, but haggling is just exhausting and only adds to the third world fatigue syndrome.

The trip home was exhausting -- the roads were more curvy and winding than on the way up, with lots of speed bumps, and I don't think anyone was really feeling very well. We did stop at a Texaco gas station that had a store called Parma -- some sort of dairy store. Felino promised they would have good ice cream there, and indeed they did. The three flavors to choose from were rum raisin, strawberry, and something called zapote. I've never heard of it, and I didn't know what it would taste like, but decided to be adventurous since i don't like rum raisin and I can have strawberry any other day. It was unlike anything I've ever tasted before -- perhaps a bit like carrot cake, or the tamarind juice that we've had here. Felino said it's a fruit that's large like a coconut but has a nut like an avocado, and is orange inside.
Today it started pouring at 11:30, which is early even for Chocola. It was accompanied by fog, which was a bit different. And then? It hasn't rained since. We even took a walk down to the football field to see two monuments down there, and it was a bit other-worldly feeling to be walking around Chocola in the afternoon and not have to worry about the rain.

Tonight we're treating the students to happy hour at Don Carlos's, the cantina, from 6:30 - 7:30, hoping that it won't break us too much if we run it up against dinner like that. Being as it's 5:58 now and I haven't showered since yesterday morning, I need to go do that, provided the water comes on at 6:00 as it should. If not, I don't know what I'll do.

One more day, One day more, ONE MORE DAY!!!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Guatemala Day Eleven

I've called this file day 11, but I really have no idea if it's 10, 11 or 12. I've lost track, as I appear to be counting down now to where I get to go home. That would be exactly one week from today, which is about all I'm sure of right now. That and the fact that I'm sure I want to go home. I was prepared for a rustic experience, but this truly is the 3rd world. By the way, if this is the 3rd world, and the US is the 1st world, what's the 2nd? Maybe it's someplace like Chile -- not quite as under-developed as a place Guatemala, but not the US, either.

As I write this, I am in my room at the Hotel Primavera in Panajachel, Guatemala. It sits on the main street of Pana, which I'm not sure really has a name. I am on the second floor, sitting in a window seat overlooking the busy one-way street filled with tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorcycles, the occasional car, and lots of pedestrians. There are, of course, vendor stalls filled with colorful wares, mostly textiles. I went out shopping with Dave, Mike and the other Dave. I got two blankets each for 200Q, some fabric for Anna that I hope comes close to what she wanted (115Q), a packet of 12 bracelets for 20Q, and a wonderful surprise for Wendy for 35Q. I really can't wait to give that one to her. It means I'm going home with my extra duffle bag being filled, but that's why I brought it.

Shopping is fun, kind of. You ask them how much something is and they quote you a price. You say it's too much, so they tell you to make an offer. You do so, but that's of course, too cheap, so they lower theirs a bit, and you try to stay firm, until some agreement is reached. Later on as I grew weary of that game, I would just walk out of the store if they wouldn't give me the price I wanted. That was the best method, I found. My last two purchases I was able to even pay less than what I had originally offered.
We were going to do a boat ride to some of the other villages here at Lake Atitlan, but got here at about lunch time, and where the winds rise in the afternoon, opted to just walk around and shop or do whatever here in Pana.

Of course one of the most glorious parts about this little R&R weekend is that I have my own room separate from Ceil. I also have a shower with hot water, where I have just finished standing underneath and getting truly clean, as well as shaving my legs. I even afforded myself the luxury of putting on some lotion afterwards, something that I haven't really bothered with except perhaps at night in Chocola, simply because it's just one more thing for the dirt to stick to up in the field. I also haven't had to use moisturizer once since I've been here as the humidity provides enough of its own.

Another benefit of getting away is that the electricity at our house in Chocola has not been working for a day now, and probably won't be even when we get back tomorrow. It makes it tough to get around when it's constantly dark with rain. Apparently some sort of tropical storm moved in and settled over Chocola as it didn't even stop raining at night last night. It was still dreary today when we left, and we had some rain all the way up here, as well as clouds that obscured what I'm sure is a marvelous view of the volcanoes and lake of Atitlan. It is now clearing up, so perhaps we'll have better views tomorrow on the way home.

Panajachel is a tourist area made famous by hippies and the drug culture of the 60s and 70s. Apparently if you wanted good, cheap drugs, this was the place to come. There is a lot of hostel/hospice type lodging for very cheap, and I have seen a fair amount of backpacking young (read, younger than me) people who look in serious need of baths and haircuts. We met a couple of lovely young ladies (boy, that makes me sound old!) who have been teachers in Costa Rica -- one for 3 years, the other for 1 -- who are here on vacation before heading back to the states next week. They anticipate some culture shock when they get back.

The thing that won't be very different from Chocola for tonight is the noise. Being right on the main street as I am, there is plenty of street noise, as well as the hotel noise of other guests and hotel workers, as these walls are not exactly soundproof. But there's a better energy here than there is in Chocola. Probably because at least here, although still poor and struggling for a living, at least they have the tourist industry to depend on.

In Chocola, they have just about nothing. Jonathon and the project is the biggest employer in town. He told us last night that Dona Maria once told him that God has forgotten them in Chocola. That's such a sad sentiment, but I can see how that conclusion could be arrived at when you've never known anything but farming to grow your own food and never having even one quetzal to spend on a treat for you or your family. It's a hard life all over, but is even more evident in a finca (farm community) like Chocola.
Last night's Guatemalan adventure included going to one of the 32 evangelical churches. yes, there are 32 evangelical churches and one Catholic church in Chocola. 95% of the town is evangelical. Victor, who works in the lab, invited us to attend with him. We told him we wouldn't be there on Sunday, and he said, "Oh, that's fine -- we meet also on Monday, Wednesday and Friday." We agreed to go with him. He promised a good experience, as it is the largest congregation in town, with an average attendance of 500-600. I must admit, I was a bit hesitant, but all in all, it was a lovely meeting. The people were gratified by the attendance of so many gringos, and made sure to recognize us as visitors. There were some games to get the congregation warmed up, then what was supposed to be a "short" message delivered by the pastor's wife, but which turned into 45 minutes, then some more games.

The message was pulled from Malachi 4:5-6 about the sealing power to be delivered by Elijah so that the hearts of the children would be turned to the fathers, and those of the fathers turned to the children, before the great and terrible day of the Lord. It was a bit different to hear it from the perspective of not the restored gospel. She did a very good job, though, of adapting it to Father's Day, which was yesterday here, and about how the fathers should treat their children better and with more love, patience and forgiveness so that family ties can be strengthened. She finished with Deuteronomy 6:6-9, with which I wasn't familiar, but had applicability with her sermon.

Then there were more games, including a potato sack race where they pulled Michael and Dave up to participate in. They were all impressed with the strong 2nd place showing Mike put in.

Afterwards, we chatted with the pastor and his wife for a bit -- well actually, Ceil and the others chatted with them with Ceil translating while I was introduced to a fair amount of children aged 9 - 12 or so by my new friend Jonathon. He had sat next to me during the meeting and kept asking me questions and telling me about his life and his friends' lives. He was a charming young man, and it was obvious that he was the envy of his friends as he was on a first-name basis with me and would introduce all his friends to me. I tried to talk to each one of them, and many of them would stare in wonder at me. I don't know why because I'm certainly not the first gringa to be there in Chocola, but perhaps I am the first one who has actually had occasion to talk with them individually.

Then it was back home to our dark house, in the rain, of course.

The bonus to the week is getting woken up at 1 and then again 2 in the morning with stomach cramps. Sure enough, it turned into diarrhea this morning, at which point I immediately popped some Immodium. The cramps have certainly calmed down, but I have since then taken 2 more Immodium. I am somewhat gratified to learn that Dave and Mike were also impacted in a similar manner, so at least it's not just me -- it has to be something that we ate last night, and I'm thinking it was the chow mein.

Tomorrow we're off to Chichicastenango to get a look at the Sunday market there, as well as hopefully catch a glimpse of the Mayan tribes' representatives in the main town square, or something like that. Not exactly sure of the details, but I'm sure I'll plenty to report on. I also am happy that I finished my main shopping today so that I can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds tomorrow, as well as concentrate on not getting pick-pocketed. I'm sure I'll still do some shopping, but the immediate need has passed. For now, I believe I will nap and read. Read and nap, whatever. I may even put on mascara tonight for the first time in 10 days!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Guatemala Day Eight

My Guatemalan adventure for the day was quite, well, adventurous, really.

We were working in the lab (“The lab's always open!”) when Margarita came up to where I was labeling shards and asked me if I know how to drive a car. She said that tomorrow is Jonathon's birthday and they wanted to surprise him with a something something something. All the people who have cars and know how to drive are all busy, so could I please drive them? I'd have to be stupid to say no to that chance. I haven't had an opportunity yet to drive in a foreign country. I asked if we were leaving right now, and she said she'd go check and let me know.

A couple of minutes later, I looked up and she was furiously beckoning me to hurry up, so I went outside where she was waiting with Victor and Diana. It was, of course, raining....hard. They all had ponchos, but I figured since I was driving, I wouldn't really need one. There was a good amount of open rain we had to run through to get to the car, though, and Margarita thoughtfully provided me with her poncho and she had a colorful piece of plastic to use for herself. We ran out to .... I still didn't know what car we were taking. Turned otu to be a cute white VW bug. Diana was furiously struggling to open the passenger side door. Victor and Margarita crammed in the back and I got in the driver's side. Diana handed me the keys and pointed to a padlock type thing like I used to have for my Jeep said, "Use that." So i put it in its appropriate slot and tried turning it, but the red light stayed lit, so I put it in the other way and tried turning that, and while it still wouldn't turn, the red l ight went off, so I took the lock thing out and turned on the ignition and it worked! They were all quite impressed with my skills.

To leave the compound we had to drive out a non-road composed soley of rocks and more rocks. It was not a smooth ride, nor did it get much better once we got on the paved road.

They directed me towards the green Catholic church, so I knew we were headed to Santo Tomas. It was raining quite hard and either there was no defroster or I couldn't find it, but either way, the windows were so fogged up I could hardly see. Diana thoughtfully acted as the automatic defroster, using her shirt to wipe off the condensation.

We have been told that Santo Tomas was within walking distance, and though I suppose that to be true, it's not a walk I would ever want to make. The road there is full of steep hills and steeper turns. There is no sidewalk to speak of. In the driving rain with fogged up windows and not having adjusted the seat so that I had to move up in the chair to reach the pedals, it wasn't exactly my best driving. Thankfully, the car shifted nicely and made me look good.

Not so thankfully, having to sit so far back made it difficult to work the brakes, to the point I really thought they weren't working very well. I said so out loud, and Diana said, "Shift into 2nd, then, and that'll make it easier." I looked at her and said, "If you don't know how to drive, how do you know that I should shift into second?" She said her dad has a VW and though she's learned to drive it, didn't feel comfortable enough to drive Carlos. I said, "But Carlos knows I'm driving this, right?" She shook her head no. "Well, then, did you just take the keys?" "Oh, no, he gave them to me when I said I would take care of the car as if it were my own."

Margarita contributed from the back, "But if we get stopped, you're just a gringa who only speaks English!" I allowed as how I could do that. But then she said that there aren't any police so we wouldn't get stopped anyway.

I asked them what we were looking for, and they said a bakery. I didn't know if they had a specific one in mind or not, so when I saw one, I pointed it out, and they said, "Stop! Stop!" But there wasn't really anyplace to stop, so I went around a few blocks and came at it the right way. They disappeared inside and came back out a couple of minutes later with some bread. I thought that was a bit odd, but okay. Whatever.

They said, Okay, now we have to find the cemetery. We asked some boys on a corner where the cemetery was, they pointed around the corner. We asked how many blocks it was, they said 2. We turned the corner, and started to laugh because it couldn't have been plainer that there was the cemetery at the end of the road. We turned left at the dead end (ha! I kill me!). I still didn't know what we were looking for, but then when Margarita saw a sign for Panaderia Sinai, which was the name of the other bakery we had just left. I parked two blocks down because there wasn't any where to back up or turn around. Margarita said, "If you want, you can wait in the car, but we'll probably be gone for awhile, so you might as well come."

I futzed with that padlock thing to get the red light to go back on, but couldn't figure out. Margarita said, "Beep, beep, okay, it's on, let's go," so off we went.

In the pouring rain.

Where I found out that the poncho Margarita had so thoughtfully leant me was not waterproof. I might as well not have even had it on for all the good it did me.

We went into the bakery and I stood a respectful distance back while they chatted at the lady. I understood that she didn't have any cakes and wouldn't have until tomorrow, but I couldn't figure out what else was going on. So off we went back to the car and piled back in.

The girls directed me around town in a confusing maze. I asked if the streets were one way, and they said they weren't, but I couldn't really figure out what we were doing. Come to find out, we were going right back to the bakery we had just left. The girls piled out, so I asked Victor what was going on. He said it was the same bakery, so I looked around, confused, pretty sure that we had just driven there so it couldn't be the same one. He explained that the other one was where they bake the cakes, but at the first one the first time, they had told us to go there because the cakes hadn't been delivered yet. At the second one, they said they had already delivered the cakes and didn't have any.

Margarita came out and said she was short 5Q and could Victor give her some money. He opened his wallet and carefully turned to a folded up, old bill. He said, "It's torn -- they probably wont' take it." Margarita said, "Sure they will, give it here," and went back inside. She came out a couple of minutes later and said they wouldn't take it, so I dug in my pocked for the 50Q bill I had with me.

They came out loaded with their cakes, and we started heading back out to Chocola. Diana said I was a very good driver, and I said she should see me back in California. She asked why, and I said, "Because I'm crazy!" She said, "But you're so calm! I can't believe that you're crazy." I started laughing and said, "You don't know me very well, then." She asked why that was and why I don't talk very much, and I said, "Because when Ceil's around, I don't have to talk -- she does it all for me. Every time I open my mouth to speak, she starts talking, so I never can." She sagely nodded, and said, "Yes, I can see that." Vindicated once again.

Then she asked me what I did for a living, and I said, "I work in computers, Kind of. What I do is very boring, though." She said, "Well you could stay here for awhile longer then and be an archeologist with us!" I allowed as how that might be fun, as long as I actually got to do some archeology that wasn't just sifting dirt of other manual, free labor. But it felt nice that they would acknowledge me in such a way, as one of them.

Anyway, we made it back to Chocola, only to see Jonathon walking up the road where we were driving. Getting out of the car, Diana piled the cake and something else under her poncho so he couldn't see what it was, and we piled into the kitchen to try and hide everything.

As I handed Carlos' keys back to Margarita, she said, "Muchas gracias, muy amable." And I laughed and said, "Oh, no. The pleasure was all mine. All mine." and it was. They're a fun group of kids.

It's still pouring and it's time to walk down to dinner. Well, time because Ceil says it's time, not because dinner will actually be ready yet or anything. The thought of this weekend getaway is what's keeping me going. I'm not excited about coming back to a full day of work on Monday, and Jonathon wasn't exactly thrilled when I reminded him that the schedule says we don't have afternoon tasks on Tuesday to allow us time to pack. He said, "You can pack on Tuesday night!" I said, "Ah, but that's what the Earthwatch schedule says too, so maybe for next year you can change it." He really does work us hard, or at least yell at us to work hard. This morning at 7:00 when we had barely gotten our eggs, he started hollering, "It's 7:00. Let's go!" So we hustled up and got up to the site for 7:20, even with a stop at the house for me to hang my laundry outside. It didn't matter, though, because the grad students don't get there until whenever they want, so there's nothing to do until they do. It's a strange dynamic. I've paid to come and be free labor for him. I'm enjoying myself more than I was five days ago, but I can say with certainty I'm not doing this again.

Anyway, dinner awaits. Ceil and Judy have just left and asked if I was coming, but I said I'd be down in a bit. I wasn't ready this morning, either, when they were to go to breakfast. Ceil hasn't said a lot to me today, and that's just fine. Either she's tired, or she's not as unable to read a room as I thought. Either way, this is a nice respite from her. I prefer hanging out with the students or with Mike and Dave. I know she's picked up on the fact that I'll go with them places, but it's not like she's exactly asking me to do stuff with her either. She prefers napping to socializing and being a know-it-all to listening, so....I just remove myself from her, and it works out okay. I really hope she's not planning on me sharing a room with her this weekend, because I'll essentially refuse. Politely, I hope, but I really want some space for awhile.

Okay, for reals now, dinner time.

Tomorrow's Friday! Yippee!!!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Guatemala Day Seven

Day seven? Can that really be possible? I guess so, considering that today's Wednesday, making it one week ago that I left the states. I can't believe there was ever a time I was excited that I was going to Guatemala for "two and a half weeks!" because now I am excited the other direction -- only one and half more weeks until I get to go home. Yes, I'm a bit homesick, which I didn't anticipate being, at least this much. Of course, it doesn't help any that I'm always dirty and wet. Even fresh out of the shower I'm not completely clean, though it's the closest I can get.

I've taken to hanging my wet clothes outside in the morning and coming down the hill at the noon break to take them in. They seem to be drying a bit faster, only taking two days instead of three to four.
Speaking of being clean, the schedule has an optional trip to Lake Atitlan listed for this Saturday, with another optional trip to Santo Tomas on Sunday. I figured out the "optional" part is because we have to pay for it -- the project doesn't. So we made arrangements with Felino, the driver that the project uses, to drive us to Lake Atitlan on Saturday, we'll do all the things there that you're supposed to, then we'll stay somewhere that night and the next morning, drive to Chichicastenango, since the Lake is on the way to Chichi. It'll save us a bit of money and a lot of time. Mike and I did the negotiating with Felino on the price since we were sitting in on Fede's lecture when he came. Ceil chose to not "desert" Fede when we left, even though you could tell she was ripped that she wasn't part of the translation and bargaining process. But Mike and I did just fine on our own, thank you very much, you big buttinski. After all, I do speak Spanish, remember? Anyway, for 1300 Q and food and a hotel room he'll drive us around for those two days.

I made my biggest purchase of the trip so far yesterday when I went to one of the public phone booths (a lady who runs a store has phones that you can use and she charges you accordingly) and called Linda who then conferenced in Cim. We spoke for 33 minutes, which at 2 Q a minute wasn't exactly cheap, but it sure was worth it. Linda was so excited when I called -- she got rid of whoever was on the other line and didn't take ay other calls the whole time we were talking. Wow! I told them all about my schedule and the rustic conditions here and how I'll smell like mildew when I get home, and they told me about the little kitten that Linda found on Sunday morning behind our shed. It'll be fun to see that little rascal when I get home. They've emailed me pictures too, but I don't know when I'll get to a computer with internet access before getting back to Guate (Guatemala City) next Wednesday.

The work schedule -- I've reached the half way point and feel like I can deal with everything. We're back a bit early from the field this afternoon, which is why i have time to write this right now, and we'll go to lunch at 3:00 in 20 minutes, then an afternoon in the lab, which is tedious, but at least it's dry.
Then a full day of work tomorrow and again on Friday, then we get the weekend off, then a full day on Monday, and then a half day on Tuesday so that we can pack Tuesday afternoon in preparation for leaving on Wednesday. Anxious to leave? Why yes, yes I am.

Today at the noon break, Michael, Chris and I met up with Judy so she could show us where La Ventana is, which is the local spot for brujeria (witchcraft) and fun stuff like that. Sadly, the river was a bit too high for me to feel comfortable crossing, but it was impressive even from below.

Okay, lunch beckons. Rather, Ceil who is the boss of everyone and every time says it's time to go. So, go I must. I really think she's one of the reasons I'm just not enjoying my time as fully as I should be. That and the torn rotator cuff, that is. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but this hard work really is killing me.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Guatemala Day Four

There is water everywhere. Wetness, dampness, not dry-ness, whatever you want to call it, is always surrounds you, even coming from inside of you as you sweat buckets. The body is what, 60% water or something like that? In a Guatemalan jungle day, my body is approximately only half that as it loses more than it takes in.

My concern about getting clothes that wick (wick wick wick) was completely unfounded. It's all fine and good to have, in theory, clothes that draw moisture from your body. In a dry climate, that would probably be nice, although in a dry climate, the sweat would evaporate quickly anyway, eliminating the need for clothes that wick. In a wet climate, you sweat, the air sweats, and you are your own constant little rain cloud -- emitting water and absorbing water. I picture myself as Eeyore with a little rain cloud following me around. Yep, that's me.

I have a poncho to protect me from the rain. Other than the fact that it smells slightly disturbingly like marijuana, it really doesn't do much to protect me from the rain as it just causes me to turn into a little steam bath. It protects my clothes somewhat, and definitely my shoulder and camera bags. Other than that, I think it's staying here for the next group.

The edifices here are surprisingly water tight. I wondered at that, as the rest of the living conditions seem so very rudimentary. But it's because they all have corrugated tin roofs. Not every building or house has windows or a proper door, but they all have tin roofs. It's a necessity. The roofs are layered as required so as to provide the maximum protection from the rain.

The women's facility is comprised of three separate buildings on one piece of property. The middle one that I am in is separated by a corridor from the back building, which isn't used except to hang clothes in or to get to the sink. The corridor is mostly covered by tin roofing. Many clothes get hung there to dry. Many clothes do not get dry because the rain comes in at slanting angles, or the clothesline acts as a conduit for the water.

The rain water does serve a nice function for the house, however -- it makes it easy to collect in large quantities in the large blue bucket so that the toilet, el sanitario, can be flushed when the town water supply is cut off.

The water is currently not running, at 6:35 p.m., despite our optimism at the regular schedule of 6 - 9 in the morning, and 6 to whenever at night. Perhaps it is because it's Sunday that the water's not on yet.
Too bad the person that left the toilet full of ugly brown poop didn't figure that out. I have a feeling it was Ceil, who I am beginning to attach a mental, "Shut up," to each time she opens her mouth to speak.
She knows all. She has a bad case of one-upmanship. She simply has to be better than everyone else, know more, have been more places, have experienced more, and repeat herself over and over, I guess in an attempt to be acknowledged. The problem is, the way she presents herself is so obnoxious that you really don't want to acknowledge her for fear it will merely encourage her to keep on talking. It's a vicious circle - if she doesn't get acknowledged, she keeps on talking anyway, repeating herself, following your around until she gains an audience, says what she needs to say, then finds something else to talk about. There is no talking above here, around her, or over her.

The greatest part about the tin roofs and the rain is that it sounds like being inside a snare drum, and is about as loud as that would be too. The best part about being inside a snare drum is that you can't hear Ceil. I shared that insight with Mike today, and he laughed heartily. He agreed also, and it felt good to know I’m not the only one quickly tiring of her.

Sadly, our facility has the padding of a wooden ceiling between us and the tin roof, so Ceil can still be heard. Hmmmmm, "ceiling," and "Ceil." Coincidence???? I think not. I must be really tired to try to turn this into a conspiracy theory!

I have started to getting accustomed to showering at night and simply washing my face and wetting my hair in the morning, because it seems foolish to get clean only to begin sweating and toiling in the mud an hour or so later. The water's not on right now, though, so I guess I'll wait until tomorrow, or maybe after dinner.

Yesterday morning I ached when I got out of bed. My neck, shoulder and arm muscles let me know that the sifting work the day before had not been an entirely pleasant experience. Starting the sifting labor again yesterday morning made my muscles scream. Luckily, Saturdays are short field work days, so we knocked that off at noon.

Then it was time to work in the lab. Though not physically demanding like lifting 30 pound buckets of dirt, pouring them onto the screen, and making repetitive shaking motions, it is still physically taxing in that it involves sitting in a chair and scrubbing pottery fragments, shards, with a toothbrush until clean. If scrubbing isn't your thing, you can sort through the dry shards and label them, which is also painstakingly hard as the writing and labeling process involves scrunching up your shoulders and neck so as to be able to concentrate and use fine motor skills.

Neither chore is desirable. Both are miserable in different ways. None of this is archeology like "Indiana Yones." But archeology it is.

You would not believe the clap of thunder I just heard and felt. "Clap" is not really the word for it. It's rolling only because you can feel it begin and end. If being in the rain under a tin roof is like being in a snare drum, then the thunder that accompanies it is like being inside the bass drum. A timpani. Or the grand bell of Notre Dame.

The lights are very respectful of the "relampagos," or thunder and lightning. Even though I am not by a window and cannot see the lightning, I know when it happens as the lights shut off for two or three seconds, then come back on at the same time the thunder hits. That's how close it all is.

When we were "down the hill" today at Takalik Abaj, it didn't rain until we were in the van coming back to Chocola. Even then, it didn't start raining so much as we entered the rain as we drew closer to Chocola. The closer we got, the more it rained, until the streets were running rivers of water. Then we knew we were in Chocola.

Guatemala, or perhaps it's Chocola, averages 5 meters, or a little over 15 feet of rainfall per year. Per YEAR!

We have, it seems like, gotten half of that in these four days alone.

Takalak Abaj was very fun and quite incredible. Chocola will be like that in another 30 years, since that's as long as it's taken them to excavate that location to date, and they've only been able to do 5% of that location, because the rest is privately owned.

The two sites are contemporary, so many times when they find something new at Chocola, they'll check at TA to see what it means. It was quite fascinating. When something is excavated that far, you can really begin to picture the ancient city and the people who lived there.

After only two days of very physical labor and feeling like I will not be able to adjust quickly enough to the work demands in conjunction with the climate and what it’s doing to my body, as well as feeling used as only a manual laborer and not really learning anything about archaeology yet, and as sore as my muscles are and my body is tired, I wonder, "What the heck am I doing here?"

But today was a good recharge day. I don't know how I'll feel about things tomorrow after working in the field. I think I need to ask Jonathon if I can work in the field until noon then go to the lab after that, because working in the field until 3:00 will kill me, I think. Or make me so miserable so as to not to want to be here.

I'm enjoying the dad/son team of Dave and Mike. Chris is fun, but very quiet. I like most of the students here too. Yesterday as we were working in the lab, Diana, Margarita, Tony and Victor started playing a game, that at first I didn't get because I didn't understand it was a game, but after listening to them, I caught on.

They labeled themselves as "Un limon y media limon" and "Dos limones y medios limones," up to four. One would start and say, "Un limon y medio limon llamando a cuatro limon y medio limones," and the Four Lemon person would have to say, "Cuatro limones y medio limon llamando a..." and would call someone else. If someone faltered or got tongue tied, they would cry, "Penitencia!" When they saw I was catching on, they assigned me to be Cinco Limon. I sucked. I could do it, but not as fast as they could, nor as gracefully, so I got tongue-tied early on. They tried to give me penitence, but I said, "I'm just a little gringa!" They laughed, and we went on.

Oh, one more note about Ceil before I forget. Today at Takalik Abaj, Juan Pablo was going to translate for us, but Jonathon had also said that Ceil could translate, since she knew Spanish. I said nothing, and Ceil said, "And Laura too!" Jonathon agreed, and asked us to do word-for-word translation so the others could catch the innuendos and discrepancies that the guide would probably throw out there about the Olmec influencing the Maya culture, etc. So today at the site, the guide started, but Juan Pablo wasn't with us quite yet. I started translating word for word. Ceil, of course and however, jumped all over it and started to translate, but in the middle of translating would interrupt to ask a question and would then leave off the rest of what he had originally said. I took to quietly speaking to Mike what he had really said. At one point I just stopped because it was stupid for me to try. Mike looked at me and I rolled my eyes. He said, "How ya doin’?" I said, "Oh, just fine! You??" He laughed and said, "She just really wants to me the alpha female, doesn't she?" I was gratified that I wasn't the only person to have noticed that. He said, "Oh, no," in a way that led me to believe this wasn't the first time he had thought of it, or possibly even discussed it with the others.

Okay, it's dinner time. I'm not going to wear my boots or shoes to dinner tonight as it is still pouring. I shall do it like a native, with poncho and flip-flops. Then a nice, cold shower awaits me when we get back. Then, more work tomorrow. Yippee.

Day 4 Continued

Coupla things I need to mention:

I saw a store front today with a crudely painted Mickey Mouse on it, thereby proving Cim's point that everyone everywhere knows Mickey Mouse. However, in my defense, this one was in San Antonio, about 7 km from Chocola.

Also in my defense, the literature about this trip led me to believe that the natives in this area didn't speak Spanish, only Quiche Maya. They ALL speak Spanish, and only 30% of them speak Quiche, or Kiche.

This morning I was washing out some socks and my shirt from yesterday, since our cleaning lady doesn't come on Sundays. As a side note, I didn't know we had a cleaning lady, and the first day after work, our little areas were completely picked up, everything off the floor, sleeping bags folded neatly, etc. It was then I found out that if you leave dirty clothes, she will wash them, all for the astronomical price of 75 Q, or about $10. That's for the whole 15 days -- we pay her at the end. It's like the shoemaker's elves.
Anyway, knowing she wasn't coming today, and it takes a couple of days at least for things to dry all the way (if such a thing is possible), I was washing my shirt and socks (another side note -- the first time I tried washing my underwear and some socks with my bio-degradable spiffy "camp suds," they never really got clean. There is a wonderful soap here that gets these clothes completely clean, with a little elbow grease on the built-in washboard in the concrete sink, and they smell good too! I was uncertain about the whole "let the cleaning lady do it" thing, but with that wonderful soap, they're cleaner than I could get them.) and Ceil comes up to the sink and sees me washing these clothes and says, "Oh, are you doing the laundry?" inferring that I was going to do her pile of nasty clothes that she had left out for the cleaning lady. I said, "No, I'm just doing some of my own (emphasis on MY OWN) since Mikaela isn't coming today."

"She isn't? Oh, well, I'll just leave these here for when she does," she drawled, leaving her pile of dirty clothes on the edge of the sink and pretty much in every one else's way.

Tonight at dinner I asked Jonathon about working in the field until 12 then the lab after that. He said I could, but discouraged against it saying that I should give it a couple of days and let my body adjust to it. I agreed to that, but said that I worry that I'm not pulling my weight, because these guys never take breaks, whereas I need breaks for them to move the dirt so it's a flat surface for me to stand on, so I can drink water, whatever. He said not to worry about it, just take the breaks as I need them.

Warning: The next section contains graphic bodily function information. Read at your own risk.

The only thing I don't need a break for is to pee. In normal life, I drink enough water to need to pee every hour, practically. Here, I pee when I get up, providing the water is turned on. If not, I wait until we go to breakfast and use the facilities at the big house. I pee once before going to the field, and hope for more too, so I don't have to worry about that, then pee at 3:00 when we get back. If there's water, that is. I'm just sweating everything out, apparently.

Yesterday, after about 2 hours of dirt sifting, I looked down at my legs and saw that they were attractively sweating in such a way as to make it look like I peed my pants. This is not a job for the vain, which I am, but I just can't be worried about how I look out here, or else I'd go crazy.

This concludes the “too much information, thanks for sharing all about your bodily functions, Laura” portion of this program. Back to your regularly scheduled journal entry.

Tonight, even though it's still pouring (at 9:30), when we got back from dinner, I took my cold shower. I psyched myself up for it by reminding myself how hot I had been at Takalik Abaj, inhaled deeply, and got under the faucet, all the way, instead of just dunking my head and doing it little by little like I've been doing. It was a wonderful shower. So wonderful, in fact, that I even prayed to the shower gods a bit and relished the cool water. I feel so refreshed today.

So today was good. I'm clean, I'm actually (mostly) dry, I'm making friends, using Spanish, and working my butt off. In Guatemala, it doesn't get much better than that!

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Guatemala Day Two

The roosters here are very ambitious. 4:00 a.m. is a bit early fro my taste, especially when there is not a hint of sunlight anywhere, but who am I to argue with the Guatemalan roosters?

Did you know that when someone is celebrating a birthday here, they not only do it on the anniversary of that person's birth, but at the same hour and minute that that person was born. Even if it is at 4:30 a.m. And they like doing it with firecrackers. Even if it is 4:30. In the morning. Before sunrise. But not before the roosters. At least the roosters had helped prepare me in the waking up process so I didn't die of shock when those firecrackers went off. Crazy roosters. Crazy Guatemalans.

At 5:30, Bossy David came by to tell us he needed out of the gate and it was locked, and why weren't we up yet since breakfast was at 6:00??? Judy's alarm went off while he was chatting at us through the window. I went to go take a shower, but there was no water yet. So I wet my hair and washed my face and off we went to breakfast. Only to find out that it wasn't going to be served until 6:30. Ay ay ay.

All night I dreamt that the water would come on so that I could go to the bathroom in peace, without worrying that I was only adding to the already full toilet bowl. Every time someone got up in the night to use the toilet, I waited for the flushing noise to follow the very loud, echo-y sound of urine in a non-water filled toilet bowl. Every time i was disappointed. I hadn't gone to the bathroom since yesterday afternoon when we arrived. This no-water thing kind of freaks me out.

What's even worse than not being able to flush, though, is having to throw the used toilet paper in the wastebasket to the side of the toilet. The only thing that makes that tolerable is that I'm not the one who has to clean that up. Because, ew.

They caution us from using words or phrases like, "primitive," or "underdeveloped," or whatever else might cast a negative light on this society when describing someplace that's not the United States. On the Amazing Race, one of the racers said when entering Jamaica or some such country, "Ah, there's that 3rd world country smell," and while some thought that was a not very PC thing to say, it is true that there is a certain odor that I have found in common between here and Chile, the only other 3rd world country I have visited. It's the smell of wood cook stoves, sometimes coal ones, of diesel engines polluting the air, of stray dogs urinating wherever they want, of mud, of rain, of litter. It is sad, but it's true. And I guess it's only sad to those of us who have experienced, who take for granted how very rich our lives are in the States.

Everyone, the workers that I spoke to today, when they found out I was from California, would all immediately say, "Los Angeles?" Needless to say, they all want to go to the States. Especially Los Angeles. They brag of an uncle or older brother or cousin who is already there. Their eyes light up as they dream of the work that they could have there. They ask me if there is work there, if there's a lot of work, and I answer the most middle of the road answer I can, “There's work where ever you want there to be work. I know people who don't want to work, so they don't, but if you want to work, you will.” They nod agreement. These people want work. They crave work. They work hard -- never even stopping for a sit-down break or to drink water, while I am wondering if I can take one more step because of the altitude, the humidity, and the fact that I'm quickly becoming dehydrated. I admire their work ethics.
This is a cooperative village and farm. The villagers own property, but they share the farmland, or something like that. They earn maybe $1000 USD a year. A Pepsi at a local kiosk/tienda costs maybe 3 quetzals, or about 50 cents. When you're trying to feed a family on $1000 a year, 50 cents for a soft drink is an extravagant luxury.

I worked hard today too, but I am not accustomed to this climate yet. Even more, I am not mentally prepared for the dirt that quickly turns muddy when mixed with my own sweat on my new yellow t-shirt, my arms, my new cargo pants from The Gap. There is not one inch of my body that is dry. And it's all my sweat. I knew it would be hot. I knew there would be dirt. I knew I would be in the dirt. But the reality when it happens is more than the imagination can fathom that first day.

Tomorrow may be better. I started getting tired I think more from thinking about how I was going to wash clothes, how I was going to have enough clean clothes for the trip, and what I was going to leave behind because everything was sure to be caked in mud and dirt by the end of this two weeks.
At noon we broke for a half hour lunch. For us who are fed by the project, it's really a water and bread break. For the workers from the village, this is really lunch.

Forty-five minutes later we resume work. I am working one of the sifting trays. Javier brings two buckets of dirt at a time from our designated excavation hole. He pours the buckets onto the tray and I move the tray back and forth to get rid of the dirt. It's very rich soil. They get 5 meters of rain here a year, which is all soaked into the soil very easily, as it is volcanic by nature. Then I have to bend over the tray to try and determine which dirt-covered clumps are shards, which are rocks, and which are still clumps of dirt and need to be broken up. Obsidian is the hardest to spot because it is small. It helps when the sun glints off it, provided it's not too earth-encrusted.

Another forty-five minutes into this activity, the sun is beating down on me so hard that I am losing what feels like gallons of sweat. Between buckets, I retreat to the shade trees. I take off my long-sleeved shirt, despite the dire warnings of the biting caterpillars. It is then I notice how very wet I am. I wish it would hurry up and rain so we wouldn't have to work anymore.

Rene, the assistant PI (principle investigator), sees my dilemma and tells some men to construct a black plastic tarp over my sifter to provide some shade. Despite my pessimism that a large black plastic sheet will cool me down, it works surprisingly well.

It makes it harder to see any obsidian bits, however. Javier dutifully helps me sort through the clumps after I shake the sifter. He has a very good eye and sees obsidian I wouldn't be able to. He also finds what looks like may have been a spigot to a jar. It is exciting to be the first people to see these artifacts as they come out of the earth, some 1500 years after their makers created them.

At 2:00, like clockwork, the thunder begins rumbling in the distance. The mounds of dirt at my station are no longer flat and I begin to feel hot spots on my toes from having to stand at weird angles to manage the tray. I pray the rain will come soon so that we can knock off work for the day.

At 2:40, they begin packing up, saying the rain is coming. At 2:45, I hear it hitting the leaves above me, but the canopy is sufficient for the time being to allow time to don a poncho. By 2:50 we are walking back to town. By 2:55, I am wondering why I bothered wearing shoes as I am soaked completely through, with an inch of water in my boots. I know now that these are staying behind. There are rivers where there had been no water earlier in the day. It is still very warm, but very wet. There is no difference now between my sweat and the rain.

Our big meal is at 3:00. I was hoping for time to shower and get clean, but it is not to be. Jonathon Kaplan, the PI, has finally arrived and wants to meet with us volunteers. He asks who's the most tired and I immediately raise my hand. Dave comments that for someone who’s as tired as I claim to be, I still have surprisingly fast reflexes. I chuckle, but very tiredly, as it was a miracle I was even able to raise my hand. “Tired” doesn’t really begin to describe how I feel. “Exhausted” is a bit better, but I don’t know that there’s one word that describes how I really feel: muscle-sore, dirt and mud-encrusted, soaking wet, foot-sore, discouraged, doubting, and wondering what the heck I’ve gotten myself into.

I go upstairs to the balcony to meet with Jonathon. He reviews the application and paperwork I sent in, and we have a nice chat about why I'm there, what I hope to gain, etc. He's a nice, personable man. He's generous to put up with amateur volunteers, especially one like me who is there for more selfish reasons that volunteering for a non-profit organization, although I try to not make that last part very evident. I see after these two days of work, though, that there’s more to it than just his generous nature; he gets manual labor for free and a little bit of extra money to help fund things. Probably not much, but we certainly don’t cost him anything. He assures me that we are an important part of what he’s doing and trying to accomplish. I tell him that I hope to be able to do more than just sift dirt, and he nicely sidesteps that request by telling me it’s a privilege to be among the first person to see and handle artifacts that are 1500 years old. While I know that, I do hope that this experience is more than this hard physical labor. I marvel at his ability to neatly avoid issues like that while making me feel like I’ve been listened to and understood.

Fede, or Federico, then has lab work for us to do -- that of washing the shards from the pits found earlier. It sounds easy, but like all of archeology, it is tedious, back-breaking work. At least my clothes are drying out. On my body. I hope I don't get mildew. At least, they WERE drying out until I splashed water on my thighs while refilling our wash bucket.

I have a nice conversation with Chris and why he's there. In the course of the conversation, he wants to know how I learned Spanish, so I tell him about my mission. He says he has a Book of Mormon that he wants to read this summer. He says, though, that he has a hard time accepting Jesus Christ as a divine being, so we talk a little bit about faith vs. intellectualism and the how the two work together, but how one will only take you so far before needing to rely on the other. I like him a lot. Cim would have a huge crush on him if she were here.

I finally get my shower at 7:15. It's freezing cold, but at least I'm clean. I also wash out my socks from today, and other various underclothing. There is a woman here who cleans our rooms who will also do some laundry for us. For a fee, but still. I plan on leaving today's shirt and pants for her.

Then a light dinner of "espageti," black beans (of course), tortillas (of course,) and fried bananas. It's delicious. It's now 9:15, the parties are just beginning out on the street, but I think that tonight I'll be able to sleep through them.