Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pumping in Public

Since River’s birth, I haven’t had any problem breastfeeding in public. When he’s hungry I feed him, whenever and wherever that may be. If it seems uncomfortable, I remind myself that he has the same right to eat as anyone else. Luckily, people have been only supportive so far.

Pumping outside the home has been a different matter. That I don’t feel can be done in public. Nipples being sucked by air into little plastic tubes is not a sight I would subject anyone to. At home is fine. In the car is fine. But since I don’t have a car and prefer to work outside the home, finding spaces to pump has been pretty near impossible.

There are two types of bathrooms in the places I frequent. The first is a public bathroom with several stalls. This is the case at the library. I have privacy and I’m not holding up the line. However, people can hear what goes on each in stall. I learned that when I tried to pump with a manual pump and it began to squeak. The electric, battery-operated pump whirrs. There is no way to do it without everyone in the bathroom hearing. For those who haven’t pumped before, the squeaking or whirring nearby might make them think someone is manufacturing an explosive device. A breastpump really only comes to mind for those who have done it. So once was enough at the library.

Then there are the nice bathrooms at the local coffee shops and grocery store. Only one person at a time enters, so no one can hear what I’m doing. However, pumping takes longer than a standard trip to the bathroom. Each time I’ve tried it, someone knocks or tries to open the door long before I’ve finished.

Since these unsuccessful tries, I’ve organized my day so that I can go home to pump. If anyone has been more successful in finding a place to pump outside the home, please share your ideas.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A $20 Water Bottle

I admit it, I spent $20 on a water bottle. Crazy, I know, materialistic, consumeristic – you name it. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I saw my yoga teacher using one. The parents on a listserv I belong to raved about their Sigg and Klean Kanteen bottles. I looked into it. Then I saw the price. No, I wouldn’t spend $20 on a water bottle.

But for some reason, I continued to want it. So I gave in and I love it. It’s so pretty. I feel like I’m carrying around a little work of art. The shape and design of the bottle is great. It’s only slightly heavier than an empty aluminum soda can and is easy to hold. Somehow, either the water tastes better, or it’s just more fun to drink. Since I received it in the mail this afternoon, I’ve filled and emptied it five times – 3 liters worth of water.

Maybe this cool bottle will improve the continuous state of dehydration I’ve been in lately - due to a little guy who drinks a lot of breast milk. Even if it doesn’t, I’m still having fun using it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Little Gem of a Book

My Spanish book discussion book introduces me to all kinds of unique books written by Hispanic authors. In the course of the last few months, I’ve read a book narrated by a cow, a novel based on the horrific Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, and a novel about a man who is at his married lover’s house, together with the woman’s two year old child, when the woman suddenly dies.

This latest book, Kafka y La Muneca Viajera (Kafka and the Traveling Doll) by Jordi Sierra I Fabra is based on true events. Shortly before his death from tuberculosis at age 40, Franz Kafka was walking through a German walk when he saw a young girl inconsolably crying. Unaccustomed to children, he nevertheless approached her and asked what was wrong. She had lost her doll. In an effort to console her, he told her that her doll was not missing, but that she’d grown up and needed to leave home and explore the world on her own. He told her he was the doll’s mailman and that he had a letter for her from her doll, Brigida.

That night, he wrote the first epistle from Brigida in Paris. Over a period of weeks, he presented several letters to the girl from Brigida, describing her worldwide travels and life adventures, helping the girl to accustom herself to the loss and to take pride in Brigida’s growth.

It’s a beautiful, heartwarming tale – even better to know it really happened. It’s the kind of story I’d like to read more of.

Today I visited my local library and saw their children’s Spanish collection. Although it’s not extensive, they do have a selection of books, CDs and DVDs. Since it’s expensive to buy Spanish-language materials, I’m grateful for the public resources.

I also found out that they have a laptime story hour for babies up to 15 months twice a week and a story hour for 3-8 year olds in Spanish once a week. I’ll have to start taking River. I am a huge fan of public libraries and the promotion of questioning and learning. I feel so lucky to live near an excellent one.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Our homestay family in Panama

I’m preparing to take River on a trip with me to Panama next month. The goal is to improve my Spanish. Enjoying the area is on the agenda too.

We’re planning to live with a local family in a town called Boquete, in the Western highlands. I just received information about our family today.

I’ll be staying with Lorena Sanchez, aged 48, Ronaldo Suarez, aged 54 and their son Ronaldo, aged 25. Ronaldo has a six year old son who lives with his mother. The couple’s daughter, Magdalena, lives in David, a town 45 minutes away.

The family specializes in the transportation business and owns two passenger minibuses. They also own a farm with a river, a waterfall, and cattle that the elder Ronaldo visits each Thursday. I was told I could accompany him, though it’s said to be an adventure.

But this is the part of the description I liked best:

“They only have cold water because the doctor told them that it is better for one's health. After a few times you will get used to it and you will feel how good it is to be so alive in the mornings!”

We’ll see how that goes!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Visit to Spring Lake

I recently spent a couple of pleasant days on the Jersey shore in the town of Spring Lake.

Some of my favorite moments include:

The oceanfront view from my room at the Breakers Hotel

Biking along the boardwalk and around the lake in town

Eating fresh, delicious fish at the Black Trumpet

Seeing the cherry trees blossom in front of St Catharine’s Catholic church and learning about the impressive church renovation.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Robbery by children

Roberto took us on the 2.5 hour trip from Samaipata to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He was a good driver, cautious on the mountain roads, careful when crossing over the avalanche area in the dark. He got us back safely to the taxi cooperative office, then offered to take us home for the same price as a local taxi. Since we already knew he was trustworthy, we took him up on it.

We’d just moved a couple blocks from the office when we were stopped at a stoplight. The street was full with people leaving a soccer game, people waiting for transportation, selling things, visiting one of the many shops and cafes that lined the road. The buzz of traffic and people on the move surrounded us.

All of a sudden, several dirty, gangly young boys surrounded our vehicle. This in itself wasn’t unusual. We expected they were going to wash the windshield, or do some tricks in order to earn tips.

Instead, one of them opened the Roberto’s unlocked door. Another tried to open the passenger’s door behind the driver, but it was locked. A third stood at my door (I sat in front). While my door was unlocked and window was open, I didn’t think about that at the time. Like everyone else in the car, I looked over at Roberto as he struggled with the boy, who had the car door fully open and wasn’t letting go.

“What are you doing?” Roberto yelled. I could smell his fear and tasted my own.

The boy grinned at though he was playing, his eyes glazed over by glue sniffing.

A hand reached into the car through my window and I shouted, but not before the boy managed to grab something.

“He took some money from you,” a woman selling something in the median told the driver. Fat cascaded from her midsection in two large rolls.

I had money in my hand, but the boy hadn’t gotten that. He hadn’t gotten the driver’s money that was on a shelf. Nor had he gotten my duffel bag, which was on the floor in between my legs. I commented how stupid the kid was. If he had opened my door, he could have gotten away with all my belongings – a nice loot.

But I was sure I’d seen him take something. When I pointed for the second time to the general area of the dashboard where I saw something go, Roberto sucked in air, then exclaimed, “My radio!”

He’d purchased the radio only recently for $200. And he worked the entire evening to make $25 (minus his expenses). Those kids, aged 7 to 12, robbed him of several day’s income. He was so upset that he became distracted, missed turns, had a hard time following directions. At one point he even stopped on the side of the road, unsure of how to continue.

My colleague, Maria, advised him to stay in town for the night, and to visit Los Pozos market the next morning. There is a street in that market where only stolen goods are sold.

“I went there after my radio was stolen and I bought it back for $30,” she said.

The criminals unload their loot quickly and easily at these shops. And the owners resell it with a profit, but at prices much lower than retail. Everyone knows about this street, but no one closes it down.

For me, other than the unpleasantness of being attacked, tricked, and robbed, the overriding sentiment was one of sadness for the society. How could children hold up a car in the middle of a busy street and not a single adult does anything to stop it? How could the children have so much experience at such young ages that they were able to pull it off so professionally? The driver said there are probably older criminals behind them, ready with a knife for anyone who interferes. Where are the police? In a town with so many wealthy people, they can’t find the funds to implement public safety? And then there is the issue of abortion being legal. It’s only in a country like this, where abortion is illegal and it’s very difficult for the average person to access illegal services, that one can see the impact of forcing women to have children they don’t want and aren’t going to care for.

You get streets full of vagabond children, kids in training to become criminals far before the usual time, and underfunded orphanages full of kids that nobody wants. I visited one of those orphanages. On one street corner, there were four separate institutions, all full of kids. The one I visited took in boys, ages six to sixteen. Unlike countries where parents make a choice whether or not to have a child, the vast majority of children in this orphanage had living parents. But the parents gave the kids away because they were unable to take care of them.

The employee we spoke to said that most were single mothers and most had five, six, or seven other children. They could not take care of another. Almost 80% of the boys living there had a living parent in the area.

While this particular orphanage received foreign funds and had relatively nice facilities, the boys sleep 30 to a room, run around in ragged clothing, and eat food that leaves a lingering, unpleasant smell in the hallways.

As far as the employee knew, there had never been a single adoption. Nobody wants these children. No one loves them or takes the responsibility for raising them. But because some people insisted that they must be brought into a world that has no place for them, it is society that has to deal with the consequences of what they turn into as adults.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Dip Into Eastern Europe

During a Sunday afternoon, we found a little hole in the wall that made me momentarily I was back in Eastern Europe. Sitting on a flimsy white chair in Julian’s (925 North Olden Ave; Trenton, NJ; Tel: 609.656.1600), looking at the knick-knacks scattered along the walls, listening to the beat of Russian pop and waiting ages for a server to attend us, even though we were the only customers, brought me back into the experience of eastern European travels. No matter that I sat across from my husband, our baby was crawling on the tabletop (no one was watching) and a bail bond shop was next door. I was suddenly back in my twenties, sitting in a small dive cafĂ©, ordering a $4 meal in a foreign language and feeling invigorated by the way I had to think about everything I did. Yes, the gigantic fried potato pancake, topped with beef goulash and sides of shredded beets and carrots sat like a brick in my stomach. But our entire bill was under $20 (how often does that happen?), we left stuffed, and I felt momentarily transported to another time and place.