Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I miss Oregon

There are some days when I wonder what we have subjected ourselves to. This would be one of them. Things are fairly well developed here and so we can get in the groove sometimes and forget ourselves. And then, WHAM. Something comes along seemingly for the sole purpose of reminding ourselves that we are foreigners in a foreign land.

Today it's about environment and garbage. Air and food.

First, it is just a fact of life here that there is garbage everywhere. On the streets, on the beach. Here are some photos I took from the beach in Phu Quoc.

We were told before we moved here that everything was recycled. The reality of this is that trash is put out on the street for garbage pickers to go through. The pickers are private people who take bags and carts and bicycles and try to recover items that might be sold. Of course, not everything is wanted. So there are spots where the piles linger. And linger. And linger. And then there are the people who just drop trash as they walk because, the rationale is, someone else will pick it up. Sometimes this is true, sometimes not. And, of course it is the plastics and the styrofoam that linger.

At home, we separate our garbage Oregon style. One, we're in the habit. Two, we don't want the kids to develop the throw-away mentality. Three, we don't want people to have to pick through the muck to get to the good stuff. So we mostly feel ok about our trash. It's still hard to throw away food, however. And the food gets icky fast so we line our trash bin with?? You guessed it - plastic bags. Which are EVERYWHERE here. Where is my compost pile?

And the plastics. Aie. All this garbage ends up somewhere. Too often, it's the ocean. Harming sea life and turtles - my especial totem. Follow this link to read more about ocean trash and what one group is doing to study this problem. http://coastalcare.org/2011/04/its-official-theres-plastic-in-all-of-the-subtropical-ocean-gyres/

Some days it just all gets to me. The kids and I came home from school today. There was a nice breeze blowing up so I ran around the house opening all the windows to let the cool in. Five minutes later, I ran around closing all the windows. Across the busy road, in a schoolyard, someone was burning plastics. My eyes were burning and my throat itching. I don't want that air.

Then I think about the brand new mall built down the road that we visited recently. I could only stay for about 10 minutes due to the powerful chemical smells from all the off-gassing materials - paints, formaldehydes, plastics. Who are the store clerks? Young people. I made the joke as we departed that I wouldn't want to see their children, IF they are able to have them after chronic exposure to all those estrogenic materials. But it's really not funny. Already, there are generational effects from the US use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam-American war. Low birthrates and high rates of birth defects in areas where use of this chemical were highest.

Then I think about the food we are eating. And my cancer history. And what kind of toxic stew might be brewing in my life and the lives of my children.

Some days it's all I can do to stay in the room.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Memories of My Dad

It has been twelve years since my dad died.  The year 2000 was a big one for me. I sold a house, bought a house with my soon-to-be-husband, got married, got pregnant, started a new job and lost my dad in December.

This year, being without him, feels particularly poignant and fresh. Andrew and I have a friend in Oregon who recently lost her father to cancer and she has been upfront with her process over Facebook so we have been following his diagnosis, sickness, decision to not pursue treatment, his death and her grief.  This, in the same month as my father’s death.

As we are in a different country so this year, we did not have the choice to gather with the family in the same way during the holiday times. Being with the family year after year, in the same way, and at the same time somehow helps to ease the pain of my dad’s loss. Partly because we can see traces of my dad in the faces around us – my brothers and their children reflect different aspects of my dad whether it be looks or personality. We might not always speak of my father, but he is present and vital in the room through our history of him and with him.

I have vivid memories from the first few weeks after my dad’s death. Getting the 9:00 pm phone call from my mom after just climbing into bed from a long day at the hospital. The pit that grew so deep that sound could not be found. Throwing on my sweats to go pick up my mom so we could return to the hospital. All of us in his room at the ICU holding hands around my father’s bedside, me, my brothers, my mom, Uncle Bob and Aunt Jenny, Uncle Mike (who had just become my father’s last remaining brother), and my cousin Jimmy, whom I loved dearly as a child, but did not immediately recognize in the hospital waiting room as we gathered to pay our last respects. Writing a good-bye letter to my dad that I put it his pocket before his cremation. The viewing where I, after a long and solid history of running from rooms where dead people gathered, telling my brother that I wasn’t ready to leave my dad and my oldest brother joking that we could throw dad in the back of his pickup and we could run until I was ready to let him go. Laughing so hard at that vision, but knowing the truth that I might never be ready to let him go.

The first week after the funeral, driving out of the Fred Meyer parking lot behind a little old lady (86 if she was a day!), who could barely see over the steering wheel, had a cigarette hanging off her lip and was going about 15 mph in a 40 mph zone, and the rage that came over me in a second. I wanted to ram into the back of her car because HOW DARE SHE (still be living)?!  When my dad was not. Having to pull over until the rage subsided.

Driving away from the hospital after an ultrasound where I had found out that Asher was going to be a boy. I had called Andrew and my mother and, as I was driving, I was thinking of who else I could call. “Dad!” Pulling over to dial my dad’s number and only on the first ring remembering that he would not be there to answer.
Going home after planning burial arrangements and burying my face into my dog, Finnegan’s fur. The week before my dad’s death, I had shown up at his house with Finnegan after a trip to the vet where Finnegan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A week or two the vet said, maybe a month. A week or two later, Finnegan was still here (she would stay with me until two days after Asher’s birth in April) and my dad was gone.

There are people in our lives that we will never be ready to let go of. And, yet, let go of them we must. We get little practices along the way. We go to camp, we go to college, we move out of our parent’s house, we choose different ways of life that make it harder to understand each other, we get married, we have children (and it starts over again), our children go off to school, we move out of the state, or to a different country. We get to practice, but that doesn’t mean we will ever be ready.