Sunday in Caracas

Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Something strange happens here on Sundays, people slow down.  It’s like they take a deep breath before the start of a new week or perhaps they have no energy from the week that has passed and just decide to go with it and relax.  This doesn’t mean they stay at home and don’t do anything, on the contrary.  It appears that everyone heads outdoors to spend time with family and friends.

View of the Avila from Parque El Este.

View of the Avila from Parque El Este.

Two fantastic places to do this are Parque El Este and the Avila National Park. Both, conveniently enough, are located in the city.  Because everyone has the same idea, there are some serious lines to get into and out of Parque El Este.  It’s a super crowded place on the weekend.  Every group imaginable is there from yoga, tai chi, some sword fighting group, I even saw a wellness group where people were laughing so hard it was contagious.  There are, of course, the walkers, the joggers, and basketball, volleyball and baseball players along with kids in strollers.  Everyone is trying to get the most of the fresh air and their one truly free day.

A wandering turtle.  I think it was lost.

Turtle

There are kiosks of toys for kids, people pressing fresh orange juice, or serving chicha ( a semi-thick rice drink, not to my liking), there are even canteens selling empanadas and taquenos (I’ll write more about those when I have pictures of the good stuff!).

A 2 foot long wandering iguana.

A 2 foot long wandering iguana.

Parque EL Este is not a zoo even though it has some crocs, lots of turtles, a couple of monkeys, a few otters, and the odd large iguana running around.  I particularly like watching the monkeys, but I love watching other people react, or not, to animals, especially children.  People connect to nature differently than how they connect with people.  In some ways it gives me hope.

Taking a sip of water.

Taking a sip of water.

I’m all about stopping and smelling the roses.  Seriously, I think Juan gets tired of me picking up random things like seeds, or fruit from a tree, or feeling the texture of bark on a tree.

Hura Crepitan seed.

Hura Crepitan seed.

Take the Hura Crepitan seed for example.  It stopped me in my tracks. It’s a big, hard seed which, when whole, kind of looks like a small brown pumpkin. Juan told me that people here make jewelry, key chains, or even art with them.

Can you spot the dolphin?

Can you spot the dolphin?

The tree is also referred to as the Dolphin tree because when you turn one part of the seed a certain way it looks like a dolphin.  I think I’m going to try and make something out of mine.  By the way, the trunk has thorns like a rose.  Crazy, right?

Hura Crepitan Jewelry

Hura Crepitan Jewelry
Picture courtesy of http://www.angelfire.com

Anyway, I like details; I like that I can think about shapes, forms, the how and the why of things.  It gets my mind working and it calms me down.  Nature is awesome!

Pink Bloom

Pink Bloom

After visiting Parque El Este we headed over to the Avila National Park for a little hike.  The Avila is the mountain range that dominates all of Caracas. It’s a large dark green curtain of a mountain.  It’s beautiful.

The beginning of our hike was, you guessed it, crowded.  People with dogs, bikes and kids crammed the entrance.  A few minutes later we were in our own little world.  We went off of the beaten track onto a small trail.

A whole lot of roots.

A whole lot of roots.

The silence was most welcoming.  It was hard to believe that solitude could be had in such a noisy city.  I love this mountain for this reason.  The air was pure, so clean.  Caracas, unfortunately has no real air quality control, so cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles pollute in such a careless way that it breaks my heart.  Huge black clouds of exhaust are everywhere.

Twisted trunk.

Twisted trunk.

Whenever we walk around for any length of time my nose and throat burn. It’s that bad.  So the Avila really is the lung of the city.  All I can say is thank god trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen!  If not, we’d all be dead from poisoning.

I call this the Pimple tree.

I call this the Pimple tree.

Walking through the Avila provided me with a great experience to discover new Nature.  I saw trees and leaves that I had never seen before.

I call this the Face tree.

I call this the Face tree.

It gave me a chance to unwind, be at peace and reconnect with the most basic of things: silence, light, shadows, chirping birds and the sound of water pushing its way through rocks.

A little nest.

A little nest.

All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. So if you ever find yourself in Caracas and need a break, head to the parks!

I love the contrast of the green and yellow of this grasshopper!

I love the contrast of the green and yellow of this grasshopper!

A Lesson in Patience

Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.  ~Mac McCleary

You’ve heard me talk about it before, so it’s not the first and probably won’t be the last time I mention traffic. It’s a monster.  It’s a being all of its own.  I’ve tried describing the cars like marching ants, but most times they’re like the snakes on Medusa’s head.  Everybody is going in every imaginable direction, including the wrong one.  It really is a form of anarchy.

A pretty calm traffic day.

A pretty calm traffic day.

Although the horns blare, mostly as a form of warning from approaching motorcycles, people here really just go with the flow.  There isn’t road rage like you’d expect.  Tempers flare, mine included and I don’t even drive here, but drivers have learned not to take things personally and they let whatever has offended them pass.  This is a lesson I need to apply to my life.

There is never a great time to run errands here.  Pretty much every hour is rush hour.  I normally have to mentally prepare myself if I know we’ll be in the car all day.  It took us 1/2 an hour to get through 3 traffic lights on Monday.  Are you starting to understand my pain?

Today Juan and I went to try to look for a car to buy.  It’s a next to impossible feat.  Buying a used car is very expensive, almost 3 times the price of what you’d pay in Canada.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Can you imagine paying $14 000 for a 15 year old Chevy? I think not. Crazy, isn’t it? There are two main reasons for this: the price of gas is practically free (we pay about $0.26 for a tank) and there is a mafia that controls the market. People list cars, the mafia buys it, repairs it (they have their own mechanics) and then they inflate the price.  It’s frustrating as hell.

I know what you’re thinking, just go to a dealership and buy a new or used one there.  Here’s the thing: if you can find a dealership that actually has cars in it (hard to picture isn’t it, but we went by 5 or 6 today and not one had a car in it), you order a car (which takes up to a year to arrive), only to find out that what they have for you isn’t at all what you’ve ordered.  In this most common scenario you have one of two choices to make: buy the car or walk away and wait another year.  10 times out of 10, people buy a car they don’t even want.  It’s a serious problem on many, many levels.

car-dealer

Although it felt like it, we didn’t spend our entire day in the car.  We stopped by a fruit and veggie market to pick up some fresh herbs (which cost pennies) for tomorrow night’s pasta and then we went to a fruit stand to have some juice.  There I tried a fruit I have never heard of; it’s called nispero.  Nispero has the same skin color as a kiwi, without the fuzz.  The favor was sweet; almost like a pear and the texture was a bit grainy.  I liked it.  Juan tells me that people here make ice cream with it, now that I’d like to try.

Nispero, the strange little fruit.

Nispero, the strange little fruit.

A large bag of long cinnamon sticks at the market.

A large bag of long cinnamon sticks at the market.

I’m pretty big on giving myself rewards if I’ve had a great day (meaning my swearing wasn’t at full capacity).  Today’s reward was a plant.  We stopped by a florist and picked up the cutest little fern (not entirely sure that’s what it is) and some flowers for Juan’s mom. Plants make me happy.  Once we move to the island, our place will look like a jungle!

My reward

My reward

A small bouquet for Juan's mom.

A small bouquet for Juan’s mom.

My other reward for being patient today?  A Campari!  Salud

A Cornucopia of Fruit

Taste every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully.  Temperance is wickedness.  ~ Stephen Fry

I really was an explorer the first time I was here.  In fact, I still am.  There is food that I have never heard of or seen, never mind tasted.  Guanabana, is a good example of this.  Guanabana, known in English as sour sop, is reportedly the super cancer fighter of fruit.  Even the food that I’m well acquainted with tastes differently.  It’s all about freshness.  There is nothing as sweet as a mango from the tropics.  When food has to travel 3000 miles, something surely will be lacking.  Whether it be flavor, color or shelf life, the essentials are gone.

fruit-salad

A mountain of fruit salad.

Guanabana, it's on my list of fruit to try.

Guanabana (aka sour sop), it’s on my list of fruit to try.

For three years I kept hold of memories of a fresh juice kiosk in a mall here. I longed for this place like an old friend.  There would be times when I’d say to Juan, “Ah, remember the fruit juice place?  Remember the variety? I wish we could just have a……”  High on my list of priorities, we went a few days after I arrived.  I found out that the place is called Chucha.

Fresh fruit for batidos. Batidos are essentially smoothies.

Fresh fruit for batidos. Batidos are essentially smoothies.

The third best part (the first being freshness, the second being variety) of batidos, as they’re called here, is that they’re  super cheap.  The average price for a glass and a half  is around $2.50.  Trust me, if I lived closer to the mall, I’d go everyday just to try one of each.

And the selection continues.

And the selection continues.

The shelves are lined with, you guessed it, fruit.  You won’t find  powdered protein or wheat germ on the menu, just good old fashion fruit. And that’s just the way I like it.

One of my faves, passion fruit.

One of my faves, passion fruit.

Passion fruit juice.

Passion fruit juice.

My choice that day was mango.  It was absolutely divine!

My mango batido.  Yummy

My mango batido. Yummy

There are shortages of certain kinds of food in this country, but fruit isn’t one of them. There seems to be an abundant supply.

cocos

Chucha’s also has a sandwich counter and a full menu including empandas, fish and criollo (the national dish made of shredded beef, black beans, plantains, rice and arepas).  Stopping by Chucha’s is the highlight of my trip to the mall.  It’s kind of like my reward for having to fight the traffic and, of course, going to the mall in the first place.

How would you like to try this oven roasted ham sandwich?

How would you like to try this oven roasted ham sandwich?

Well, it’s definitely my intention to try as much tropical fruit (and various other forms of food) while I’m here.  Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know what I discover.

The Ants Go Marching……

I need the sea because it teaches me.  ~ Pablo Neruda

It was early morning on January 1st and we were packing our bags to go to the beach.  This was such a far cry last year when we were getting ready to fly out of Miami, hung-over.  Well, I was hung-over; Juan, on the other hand, being the designated driver, still had his wits about him. I don’t think I slept for 3 hours that night/day.  Alas, this is a new year.  I was still wiped from my trip from hell, but knowing that the beach was a few sweet hours away I was up to the task.

Globos de deseos.  Paper  wish balloons are lit on New Year's Eve.

Globos de deseos. Paper wish balloons are lit on New Year’s Eve and sent sailing into darkness.

Travel time is always taken into consideration here; there are no exceptions.  It is expected that you will wait in some kind of line, whether it be in a store, a bank or traffic. If by some miracle there is no line, a million questions arise as to why, or as to how long it will last.  This is what happened on our way out of town. It was smooth sailing.  Our reasoning was that people were just getting home from celebrating New Year’s or they weren’t out of bed yet.  Whatever it was, we appreciated the break.  Knowing that all good things must come to an end, the break was short lived.  A third of the way into a tunnel, the smooth  traffic flow became a parking lot.  The only reasonable explanation was an accident.  This didn’t come as a surprise.

A passing motorcyclist with Juan's reflection in the mirror.

A passing motorcyclist with Juan’s reflection in the mirror. See how close he is?!

Traveling by car in Venezuela is an extreme sport; one in which knowing the rules are a must.  The first time I was here I thought I was going to die 5 times over just from the airport to the condo.  I’m not sure how to really describe it.  A two lane road can quickly become 3 lanes for cars and 2 or 3 extra lanes for motorcycles.  Include a few vendors dodging the traffic and you have a kind of organized chaos.   Motorcycles, of course, have their own set of rules and an incredible sense of entitlement.  By entitlement I mean, if a car does not make way for an approaching motorcycle, the driver will be sure to damage your car just as a way of showing his “right”.  How does one know if a motorcycle is approaching? By the use of the horn, of course.  The cacophony of noise is startling. The speed in which they pass between cars is mind boggling. I’m always in a state of awe, shock and horror.

A less tense moment in traffic.

A less tense moment in traffic.

Traffic here is a living, breathing organism.  You can see the inhalations and the exhalations, the expansions and contractions.  Maybe a  better way of looking at it is by thinking of it as a colony of ants marching to its own beat. If something is in its way, the collective group makes way and when an ant misses a step or gets pushed to the side, accidents occur.  That’s just what happened in the tunnel.  The risks are high and the outcomes are never great.  We slowly crept by the scene and, sure enough, motorcycle parts were everywhere and the victims were pushed along the wall waiting for the ambulances to arrive.

A vendor on the highway. These are very poor people trying to eek out a living.

A vendor on the highway. These are very poor people trying to eek out a living.

Driving along the coast reminded me of driving near Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway.  The view was spectacular and never ending.  We were supposed to stay in a house of friend of a friend out in the country near Todasana.  It was described to us as “rustic”.  And rustic it was.  Getting there proved to be a challenge because parts of the road had been washed out during some recent rain. After one look at the place we decided not to stay overnight.  Instead, we’d to go to the beach and head to a friend’s condo after dinner.

The beach at Todasana.

The beach at Todasana.

People here take beaches for granted, much like Canadians take trees for granted. A so-so beach for a Venezuelan is a superb beach for me!  I’ve been waiting all year to hit the beach.  My desire to be in a teeny bikini, soaking up the sun and frolicking in the waves was granted.  I was the only one within our group who went swimming.  Why, because the waves were too high, and the wind a bit strong for my Venezuelan counterparts.  I don’t think any sane Canadian would have let those become deterrents. Todasana is a mini paradise.

A great place for reflection.

A great place for reflection.

I connect to the ocean, the salty air, and the sound of crashing waves.  Months of work and stress wash off of my skin.  My senses sharpen, almost like a kaleidoscope coming into focus and I eventually become calm.  I needed this to reflect on this past year, what I’ve learned and what I’ve gained.  All I can say is that it was well deserved and definitely worth the wait!

An Assault on My Senses…….

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.              ~Moslih Eddin Saadi

Flying into Venezuela is something to behold.  For some reason I forgot about its beauty.  Either that, or the last time we flew here was at night, and, therefore, we couldn’t have seen anything.  How do I describe the mountain ranges here?  Ummm, it’s like a huge green piece of paper was crumpled up into a ball and then laid flat in order to have been made into a gigantic fan.  Maybe it’s best to look at it like the folds of a long pleated skirt.  The deep green is contrasted with the blue sky and turquoise sea.  It’s breathtaking.  The closer you get to Caracas “the skirt” becomes speckled with color.  The color happens to be the barrios or slums. I had contradictory feelings when I saw that. It was beautiful and sad at the same time and then I thought of the contrasting monetary value of waterfront property.

One view of the Avila.

One view of the Avila.

Like most places in North America, waterfront property is worth millions (well at least in Vancouver), and here the poorest of people live precariously on the slopes with the most spectacular view.  You will learn soon enough that Venezuela is all about contradiction.  Now it would have been nice if I had actually taken a picture of this, but I forgot to whip my phone out.  I know, how absent minded, but in my defense I had been traveling for over 24 hours and I was wiped.

Driving from the airport to Caracas was something that I prepared for.  I knew I would be confronted with a view of one of the largest barrios in Caracas.  As soon as you come out of the dark tunnel into the light all you can see are shelters constructed of tin, brick and painted in all colors imaginable. I have to be honest with you; the first time I saw this I cried.  Having lived in Canada for most of my life and having traveled around Europe and North America I was accustomed to seeing homelessness, but I had never seen poverty on such a large scale.  Again, this is contradictory because Venezuela is an oil rich country.  One has to pause for thought.  How can a country as “rich” as this have millions upon millions of people living under the lowest of poverty lines?  I digress.  Arriving on a Sunday helped ease me into Caracas.  There wasn’t “much” traffic and traffic here means absolute chaos with a noise level that is incomparable to anything in Canada.  So, all was well.  We drove through a few neighborhoods and I was impressed with how much was familiar.

Barrios (slums), where are very large portion of the poor population live.

This isn’t the actual barrio I was talking about. This one is on the other side of Caracas, going east.

For some reason I didn’t feel as overwhelmed as I did the first time.  I saw some obvious changes, like timers for stop lights. These things are fantastic!  They allow drivers to know how time is left on the green light and how much time they need to wait on the red light.  Now they aren’t everywhere, but they’re situated where they are most needed.  I think other major cities in the world should adopt such a system.  I think it cuts down on the stress.

The street light timers.  What a perfect idea!

The street light timers. What a perfect idea!

One thing I noticed was the quality of the streets themselves.  I think Montreal had prepared me for the worst.  Anyone who has ever driven a car or ridden a bike in Montreal will know what I’m talking about.  The infrastructure there is atrocious and is inexcusable.  This, of course, is all due to years and years of blatant corruption.  Sadly (or happily, depending on which side you look at), the infrastructure in a “developing country” is a whole lot better.  Sure there are potholes, etc, but nothing like Montreal!

The heat!  I forgot to mention how warm it has been. You would think I would have mentioned this first considering how much I complain about being cold.  I went from –30 degrees to +30 in 24 hours.  My body is adjusting well.  It likes the non-tense position that it stays in for 6 months out of the year.  My vitamin D levels have been topped up and I have some color in my face.  It’s like a rebirth!!

kim-jungle.1

Before I go, I need to talk about food.  It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?  The freshness of food here is out of this world.  We had red snapper for our New Year’s dinner and it was so good.  I can’t emphasis this through words.  I savored every last bite.  The avocados look like they’ve been given some sort of growth hormone, but no; they just naturally grow to this size.  The plantains are as sweet as sugar and last, but not least are the passion fruit or parchitas. Not only are they super cheap, but they have to be at least 4 times the size of what we import in Canada.  I’ve been spoiled.   Juan’s mom makes the best jugo de parchita (passion fruit juice) and I’ve had a glass of it every morning!

lunch-collage

Remind me to tell you about the beach…….

Happy Birthday

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. ~                                William Shakespeare

Yesterday my mom was released from the hospital.  It was extra special for her because it was her birthday, but it was an absolute joyous occasion for my family because three weeks ago we didn’t know if she’d live to see this day.

She came home with quiet fanfare. No one greeted her at the house except my parents’ dog Chelsea.  She started barking, whining, and running around in circles at first sight through the curtains.  Once inside, she continued and used the furniture as an obstacle course, running around for the next 5 minutes.  After all of the hoopla, the dog pretty much ignored her for the rest of the day.  Maybe it was her way of telling my mom that she felt abandoned.  I thought it was strange. But isn’t it funny how people say cats are moody?  Huh.

My mom opened gifts and answered phone calls, ate some lunch and eventually had a nap.  I really enjoyed watching her live this day.  She was happy to be in her own surroundings and took pleasure in wearing her clothes (as opposed to the baby blue open back hospital gown), eating food she likes to eat, being able to open the fridge and drink whatever she wanted, and sit in her favorite chair to channel surf.  She was genuinely content.

On the drive home she said, “It’s funny the simple things we miss when we don’t see them” and my dad asked what kind of thing was she referring to and her reply was “traffic”. It sounded funny, but she was right.  Something as simple as the regular route home, the familiarity of it all, is something we can miss.

I can’t even imagine what this birthday would have been like if she hadn’t had such a great team of doctors, nurses and staff. My mind can’t even fathom what we would miss if she were gone. I am so grateful and so happy that she’s alive and at home.

I think this will go down as one of the best birthdays ever!

mom

Happy Birthday

Compassion

Compassion is a verb  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The past few weeks have been terribly difficult on my family and me.  I was confronted with a lot of raw emotions and feelings.  Seeing my mother hooked up to machines, mumbling incoherently, being unconscious, and having no awareness of her surroundings did that for me.

My emotions were high and low.  I was angry, relieved, hopeful, confused, elated, frustrated and thankful. When something changed in her, something also changed in me. My feelings were aligned with her progress or little setbacks.

I spent many hours by her bedside and got to know the hospital staff (the doctors, nurses, nurses’ aides etc) quite well.  The one thing they all had in common was compassion.  Day after day, night after night they gave my mother dignity even when she felt she never had any.  They were never condescending and always had a kind word to say to her.

I wholeheartedly agree with Thich Nhat Hanh. Compassion is action, action of the heart.

I thought sometimes that I was being tested.  I know, how self centered, right?  There were two particularly difficult days where she was driving me crazy.  She was stronger at this point, but wasn’t of her own mind and was suffering from so many things, including days of nausea and vomiting. Incredibly uncomfortable, she became combative and argumentative and I became bossy.  There was a point where I started to cry.  I was overwhelmed, tired and at a loss as to what to do with her.  As I was trying to pull myself together, the word compassion kept floating in front of my eyes.  I took several deep breaths and told myself that was what she needed.  I, on the other hand, really needed a stiff drink and a good night’s sleep.  All joking aside, I gave her a big kiss and a hug and said good night.  I’d like to tell you that everything was great after that, but I’d be lying.  I felt so guilty that I cried myself to sleep.

The next day I armed myself with the memory of the “floating compassion” and vowed to try and keep everything in perspective.  I offered her a heartfelt apology and she gracefully accepted it, even though she said she had no memory of the previous day, or maybe she did and was just being compassionate.

greg-sil

My nephew visiting my mom.

Sisterly Love

There is no other relationship in the world quite like the one shared by sisters. ~ Unknown

Sisters, where does one begin to describe the relationship with them?  My sisters and I are all very different from each other. We’re as different as the directions on a compass. From a young age we had strong, and mostly opposing, opinions on boys (and later husbands), make up, religion, music, and lifestyle choices.  There wasn’t always harmony in our house growing up.  There were lots of heated arguments about bathroom sharing,  “borrowing” of clothes, disclosing teenage secrets to our parents, and even how to do the dishes properly (we never had a dishwasher growing up!).

When I wrote to a friend saying that my mother was a spirited, feisty woman who would have the strength to pull through this crisis, he teasingly wrote back saying that there was “no resemblance there”.  I was flattered by the compliment.  I certainly didn’t feel strong at the time I wrote him, in fact, I felt the contrary.  After some time (there always seems to be a lot of that when you’re sitting in a hospital room), I started to reflect on what my friend had said; not how it applied to me, but how it applied to my three sisters.  As much as we are different, we’re the same and we owe that to our mother.

When this crisis happened our bond was strengthened.  The support we have given each other has been so heart-felt, warm and sincerely genuine.  We literally live thousands of miles and a few time zones apart, but I never felt that distance.  It has felt like they have been by my side the entire time.

Spiders rely on the intricate weave of their webs for communication (ok, so it’s really to signal that dinner has arrived) and our communication reminds me of that (sans victims).  And although the gossamer thread appears delicate and fragile, it’s is amazingly strong which can withstand all types of storms Mother Nature throws its way, just like our little storm here.

Technology has played a huge part in this web of ours.  The ability to send voice messages, videos and pictures of the grandchildren via cell phone has lifted my Mom’s spirits considerably and, of course, my sisters seeing my mom’s progress has helped reduce their stress immensely.  I am thankful for all of it; more importantly, I am thankful for my sisters.  I’d hate to be facing this alone and I’m not.

Thanks Sisters, I love you each dearly. xo

sisters-1

Sisterly Love

Inconspicuous Angels

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”  ~John Bunyan

When I was thinking about writing about my journey to Venezuela I wanted it to be light, funny and full of wit and humor   I never really wanted to talk about the little things that get on my nerves, the negativity or the sad bits.

One would think that a week before moving half way across the world, I would have been excited, but I wasn’t   There was a heavy feeling, a non-excitement if you will.  I don’t know if it was because the trip itself was going to talk a long time, or I was working up until the end and I was tired.  I’m not sure, but even as I was saying my last “see ya laters” all of my friends said the same thing, “I thought you’d be ecstatic”.  My mood was anti-climatic even though I really WANTED to be overjoyed. It was strange. I spent a lot of time questioning myself about all of the reasons why, but never came up with anything substantial.

On Thursday afternoon I knew the reason.  It was my last day of work and I had some time to visit a friend and get my last haircut.  On my way into my appointment I received a text message from my sister in Ontario that my mom was rushed to the hospital.  She was also on her way into an appointment and didn’t really have any further information. I sent a message to my sister in Germany and we all tried getting a hold of my sister who lives outside of Calgary.  Now, my Dad, god bless him, tries hard to be connected to the world of technology, but doesn’t really understand how text messaging works. With his phone on silent, without vibration (I changed that today) or off, I’m not sure which, made the wait to get any information on the status of my mom excruciating. Angela, my sister from Ontario, called around Calgary and discovered which hospital they were in. Jenny, my sister from Alberta was making her way into the city early Friday morning.  She essentially became a lifeline for my sisters and me.

Friday was a weird day.  Juan and I were relaxing at our friend’s house, preparing and rearranging things in our suitcases etc.  My sister’s updates were worrying and as the day progressed, they became frightening.  There were messages like, mom is not making any sense, and she’s gurgling.  My nerves were frayed.  It was so difficult for me to imagine what she was going through.  We got up early to get ready for our flight on Saturday morning.  While eating breakfast I received a text saying “The hospital told Dad, Mom took a turn for the worst.  She’s unresponsive. I’ll let you know more when we get there!” I crumbled into a heap of tears.   This isn’t the kind of thing anyone wants to hear, ever.

For a few minutes I was in a state of flux.  What was I to do?  Our travel day to Venezuela was a few hours away.  My Dad, not wanting to worry or inconvenience me, thought it would be ok if I continued on my journey, but the thought of being so far away doing nothing for anyone made me feel sick. Even if I could be home to feed the dogs made me feel better.  I knew that I needed to head to Calgary to be with my family, but I wasn’t thinking straight as how to work out all the details.  Thank God for Juan and my friend France.  I had brain freeze. I was trying to process so much at the same time that all I could do was sit.  The drive to the airport is now a blur.  I remember getting into and out of the car.  The drive there doesn’t exist in my memory.

Paulo Coelho that says when you want something the universe conspires with you to achieve it. I was reminded of that every step of my way here.  I wanted to be with my family and the universe made sure that would happen.  Strangers were helping us without even knowing they were.  We were passed straight through to an Air Canada ticket agent when we asked to be on stand by for our flight to Toronto.  We didn’t have to wait in the long line.  We even passed through one of the shortest security lines.  Once we got inside we started planning.  I called the airline and they were gracious enough to put my flight to Venezuela on hold.  Juan kept checking flights into Calgary.  We were trying to see if there was a direct flight. There weren’t any, so we started looking into hotel options. I, of course, just wanted to book the first thing that I saw.  But Juan certainly had a clearer head and knew to be patient (one of his virtues, not mine).  We would book my ticket in Toronto.

At the baggage carousel, Juan flipped open his laptop and bought my direct flight (he’s smart and patient!). We had less than an hour to find the terminal and check in.  Juan and I said our goodbyes at my gate.  I was sad; this wasn’t the way we had planned our trip, departing on different planes, not knowing when we’ll see each other next, but we both knew that this was the right and only thing to do.

My seat must have been one of the last ones because the plane was packed.  I had the good fortune to sit with an off duty flight attendant named Patricia and a really down to earth business man.  I was ok at first and then started to silently sob.  Both of these strangers were angels.  Patricia ensured that I had everything that I needed and at one point came back with a box of Kleenex.   The man was incredibly empathetic and shared a similar story to mine. I was being taken care of by people I had just met.  The universe was conspiring to make this journey less painful.  As much as I thanked them, they will never know how much their kindness means to me.  I will never be able to repay them.

I am happy to be here, happy to help out, and happy to give my Dad some rest and peace of mind.  To say that I am relieved that my mom is stable is indescribable.  To be able to recognize the good things mixed in with the bad is a blessing for me. I need to trust that the universe is till conspiring with me.   So for now, this is my journey, my little detour along the way.

Trusting that everything will work out.

Trusting that everything will work out.

The Stars Aligned

A friend is a present you give yourself.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Earlier I had said that I would write about the friends in Montreal that have made my life fuller.  I digressed.  I steered off course, but stories are like that, aren’t they?  You start down one path and the story takes you to another, eventually leading you in a completely different direction and then you sit there and ask, “What was I saying? Oh yeah……”

When you live in the city of Montreal, and gauge the distance and time by which metro line to take, it seems like a huge ordeal when a car is required to get to any other part of the island, and even a bigger deal when you have to coordinate a ride with someone else.  Add winter conditions and these are the makings of some serious excuses to not venture out!  Going to a Christmas party that required some planning, knowledge that the house would be filled with kids (not really my forte), falling snow and putting my trust in a young Venezuelan driver (his first Canadian winter) made the meeting of my friend France a real miracle.  The stars aligned that night.

I’m a shy person if I’m in a room full of people I don’t know.  I’m not a mingler, I don’t work the room. I kind of stand close to Juan and ease drop on his conversation or I’m in the kitchen trying to help out the hostess.  This is my coping mechanism, you know, so I don’t feel too much like a wallflower. This particular night’s conversation was boring.  The party was taking place at one of Juan’s professor’s house and the topic had something to do with Wireless Networking. If you’re a geek, it probably would have been stimulating, but computer speak, mixed in with the latest technologies and lingo, plus engineering was more than enough to put me into a coma.  No matter how much I try (which, to be honest, I don’t) this kind of stuff just doesn’t hold my interest.  It’s like a really complicated math class being taught in Mandarin.  Needless to say, I left the room yawning, searching for a drink.

Drink in hand, I found a dimly lit room that called my name.  No screaming children in sight, I entered the sacred space. France was escaping too.  She looked up and said something along the lines of, “I’m not really into this tonight.”  I love this kind of honesty. I think we read each other’s plight, boredom.  We quickly discovered we had a lot in common: age, interests, traveling, etc.  Her husband was one of the “geeks”, another of Juan’s professors and a fellow Latino.  Once you say the words “I have a Latino husband/boyfriend”, the unspoken “uh-huhs” and “I totally know what you mean” and “his family” are written all over your faces, there is an underlying universal acknowledgment of understanding and bonding.  Strange, isn’t?

Our friendship was slow to grow, like ice thawing in the spring.  The winter was definitely a factor in this, plus she and her husband live in the burbs.  Again, it was about logistics. Take a bus, a metro and then a train.  Instead of calling it laziness, I like to think that I economize my energy in winter.  Anyway, we didn’t meet again until early summer.  And after a few BBQs  I knew that we’d be friends for a long time.

France is easy to talk to, we share the same sense of pragmatism, we’re both honest people that don’t put up with a lot of shit, we despise winter, we had very parallel lives in terms of marriage and divorce, plus we both LOVE chocolate.  But I identified with her in a way that I didn’t expect. To be honest, I had never given it any real thought prior to knowing her.  As funny as this is going to sound, it really means something to me.  She’s Canadian.  Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” but there’s something comforting in talking about T.V shows, food, cartoons, music, and all things Canadian with someone who truly get’s it.

Besides all of these things, France is a friend’s friend.  If she knows I’m down, there’s always a comforting word. She really listens, she’s compassionate, sympathetic, and as my mother would say, “She’s the kind of person that would give you the shirt of her back”. She’s fun to be around, she has a great laugh and is just as quick witted as I am.  She plays a mean game of crib and totally gloats if she wins, which, sadly, is most of the time.

Someone once told me that we see ourselves in the people we surround ourselves with.  I see myself reflected in her.  France is sensitive, but more importantly she tries to do all that she can with the best of intentions. And if what Robert Louis Stevenson is true, then I gave myself a very precious gift.  I will miss her.

My “Canadian” friend, France.

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