Saturday, February 15, 2020

De-Southwesting the Whole Enchilada

Confession: My Christmas tree was up until the middle of January.

It was sill alive and drinking water every day, which is good since it was cut down less than a month ago. I am going to confess: I loved that tree. It was my absolute favorite of all the trees we have had at least since we moved to Colorado. And I think it liked being in our living room. As well it should have- it was in a room that for the first time in a long time, is decidedly, NOT SOUTHWEST.

As I mentioned in our Christmas cards, which didn't get out until after Christmas because that's the kind of year we had, we took the plunge and painted this year. If you've been to our house, you know that our living room is open through the second floor, with a sloping ceiling that follows the roof line. We also have two skylights, with shafts ascending through the ceiling to the roof. Hold tight, this information will be important.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's 2020

My husband sent me a text this afternoon.

Eric: <<link>> Inaugural Boulder Marathon and Half-Marathon

Me: Yea, that keeps popping up on Facebook.

Eric: Ahh, ok. Just making sure you knew.

If that isn't love, I don't know what is. (Also, he came home with "non-Valentine's roses since we don't DO Valentine's"... and heart shaped lobster cakes for dinner. That guy.)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

One Season at a Time

Today is December 28, 2019, and for the first time since we've been married, I just now finished our Christmas cards. I've always gotten them out before the holiday. However, this year has been a doozy.

2019 has not necessarily been a bad year, although I am ready to kick it to the curb. There have, like any year, been some great parts and some terrible parts. In a job like mine, you can assume there are bad parts that I can't talk about publicly because I value hurt children's privacy, even if you will never know them. There have been some other parts that have challenged me in ways I wasn't anticipating.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Race Report: NY Freaking C Marathon

As you know, I got into the NYC Marathon by lottery in 2018. It was exhilarating to have gotten in! And then... well, then 2018 happened, and I spent a lot of time in PT and not running. I didn't actually restart running until January, and rebuilt at a snail's pace, all for the goal of getting to one race: NYC 2019.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Over and Back

I woke up a couple of nights ago and didn't know where I was, when I was supposed to get up or what I was supposed to be doing.

It turned out I was at home and it was a weekend.

By the end of the year, I will have been in 8 countries and 8 states (I think). Most recently, I was in Uganda for a work trip... including my first ever equator crossing!

I landed relatively late at night into the international airport in Entebbe and, after a few calls and some waiting, had a ride to my hotel in Kampala, about 45 minutes no-traffic-at-night drive away. I was picked up at my hotel about 7 hours later for another, albeit very different flight. We pulled up to the dirt airstrip, where my office had made arrangements with Missionary Aviation Fellowship, an international organization that specializes in sending pilots all over the world for just this kind of thing, to fly us out of the city to a new programmatic area of the country. We had to go early as the weather had been rainy, and we had to get back before dark, as neither the airstrips nor the planes had lights.

Off we went to an area of the world incredibly different from anywhere I had been. This partly arid, rural area, 1.5 hours by bush plane from the capitol, was home to what was described to me as a

"semi-nomadic" people. Families lived in stick-built compounds called manyatas, and held on to cultural traditions quite at odds with modernization and development. The difference was so profound, I felt like an anthropologist, observing an entirely different world. Men wore blankets or sheets as garments, and I was told these doubled as sleeping mats at night. The family shelter was thatched roof, with tiny openings to crawl in and lay down on the dirt floor or a calf skin to sleep. There was no tradition of going to school, and children were sent to tend the goat or cow herds from about age seven. Younger children milled around, the youngest shrieking and crying at the site of his very first muzungu (white person) and proceeded to give me the stink eye for the rest of my visit. We visited several manyatas, bending down to enter through a 2 foot high opening in the stick wall, accompanied by the local pastor and local police officer in charge of children's issues. We then went on to talk with community members and church leaders about the community, its strengths and needs. I left knowing there was great opportunity, but knowing that solutions needed to come from the community and a result of a lot of community engagement and a LOT of time- me coming from the outside was going to be just as effective as all the other NGOs who came before...

After a long day in our office, the weekend brought another visit to another community. This trip I had arranged, in order to meet a young lady we support. I had done my math wrong- the trip was longer than I anticipated, and we were again out early in the morning for a 4 hour van ride through the country to a hilly, lush and rural area where she lived. Along the way, we crossed the equator from north to south as rain pelted our car.

On arriving to the church, the young lady I came to visit burst out of the doors and gave me a huge hug. It was then I learned that while she writes her letters to Eric and I in English, in practice she speaks very little, and we had to rely on a translator. It was also a bit overwhelming for her, I think, to meet me, and she was quite shy for most of the visit. That said, this visit, like many I have had, was a production in itself. Unlike other visits, this one LITERALLY brought out the band for me. The program had a marching band, complete with homemade uniforms and a lot of heart. I was later told that they were disappointed that they weren't called right before my arrival, as they had wanted to march out to greet me at our van, and escort me onto the church property. However, they went to their plan B, bringing me out to a tent that had been set up, and playing first the American National Anthem, and then several John Phillips Sousa tunes. A bit overwhelming indeed.

We then went for a home visit, so I could meet the rest of our young lady's family. Her dad had

accompanied her for the day but the rest of the family was at home. We all piled into the van - two staff members from the church, daughter and dad, my trip host, and me, and made our way over to the "good road" for getting to her home. The dirt track quickly had devolved into mud because of the day's rain, and soon, we weren't going any further as the van slid off the side of the road. Out we climbed, and improper footwear not withstanding, we hiked 45 minutes uphill through the mud to get home. It became clear that we would have had to hike a good portion of this anyway, as the road rapidly turned into a rutted path that was only wide enough for walking.

The family greeted me when I arrived, and we visited. Working through a translator and across cultures is awkward at best, but we managed. I met the family - the children and grandchildren living at home, mom and dad, and learned about the older siblings who had left the community to work in the capitol. I heard about how six years ago, the family's home had blown down in a storm, and through funds my organization makes available, were able to build a sturdier home out of brick instead of sticks, with a tin roof to keep out the rain and a stone floor instead of dirt. I heard about the family's farming and the plan they had to expand their land
when they could save the money for it. I then saw the family cow, which had also been purchased through funds my organization had available. The cow was due to give birth in a few months, and there was a plan for the calf and for milk. It was a humble existence, but there was hope for the future.

And dancing. Our young lady and her 2-years-younger niece entertained us with song and dance.

They came alive and their personalities shone through in the dancing. Then it was time for gifts, and we exchanged the food we have brought for the family for a gift mom had woven for me - a basket with Eric and my names on it, and a dozen or so fresh eggs.

Then it was time to return to the church, and the best course of action was to take the walking path the kids used to get to the church, instead of heading back down the road, to the van that may or may not still be stuck in the mud. I think it must have been about 30 minutes walk or so, slow and slippery downhill, but beautiful in scenery. Jackfruit, banana, and avocado trees grew around and groundnut plants covered the hills. When we got down the hill and to the road that led to the church, surprise! The van was waiting for us, covered in mud but otherwise free to roam. We piled back in and drove the last few minutes back. There was lunch - matoke (smashed unsweet banana) with groundnut (like peanut) sauce, and more band playing. Then a group of girls came out and danced and sang. Our young lady is usually part of this group, but she said she wanted to stay with me and watch. Then it was time for thank yous and more gifts and goodbyes. A fast, busy visit had come to an end, and it was a final opportunity to thank the staff for their obvious hard work and dedication to children, and once last chance to tell our young lady how proud we are of her. Back in the van for the 4 hour ride back, stopping only at the equator for a photo. After heavy traffic in the city and handing off the eggs to our driver, who could take them home, we were done for the day.

The next day was Sunday, and church with my long-time colleagues and friends, and out to our one friend's house in the countryside (again, incredible views of the hills and lush surroundings) for lunch.
The rest of the week was work - good work and hard work, but in the hotel conference room, business as usual. I managed to get a couple of runs in during the evenings, including a final long run: 2.5 hours on the 7th floor treadmill in the open air at about 90% humidity and smoke from the surrounding cooking fires wafting in. That air quality should probably prepare me for NYC!

A midnight flight out of Kampala through Brussels and to Chicago for a wedding, which is the subject of a blogpost to come.

If I'm most honest, I struggle sharing these experiences. While my horizons expand and I want to show people what I've seen, I worry how these communities will be seen. What I hope is that we are reminded that the world is both smaller and much larger and more diverse than we can imagine. I worry that the communities I describe will be received with pity or disgust or the people will not be seen as strong and resourceful and full tradition, but as a project needing fixing. These communities don't need fixed - they need released to fully embrace the resources and the strengths they have. They don't need this muzungu coming in, telling them what to do and how to live their lives. I need to learn about their lives and their traditions, and support individuals in their communities to engage in organic, healthy and respectful ways to challenge those traditions that might be harmful to kids and help develop new ways of expressing their culture that honors the past and protects the people.

This work is hard, and I have the easy job. I fly in and out, see and learn and make a few comments and go. I don't traipse those hills every day to get to my work. I don't have to directly convince families to send their kids to school. Even if I don't always remember what bed I'm in, I'm in a bed and not a mat on the ground. I have clean water and working toilets and so much more to learn about the world.

And I also have another plane to catch...

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

What Goes Up...

Three years ago today, I finished the Pikes Peak Ascent and was so high I promised I would do the full marathon.

Two years ago today, I finished the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Who Changes Your Sheets?

It's no secret I travel, quite a lot. I stay in a lot of hotels, and I eat in a lot of restaurants, which means someone else is often making my bed and preparing my food. These people work hard, are on their feet most of the day, and are exposed to environmental hazards that go long with their work.

  • Housekeepers are exposed to harsh chemicals, disease and illness, have to clean bodily fluids, and are frequently targets of sexual harassment, as well as physical and sexual assault  - primarily because the overwhelming majority of the 924,000 people serving in this role according the the US Labor Department's 2018 statistics are women.  For some horrifying case examples, I suggest you read Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky, an excoriating expose on the hotel industry. 
  • Prep cooks face cuts, burns, exposure to toxins, food-borne illness and work in hot kitchens with slick floors, often with poor ventilation. Anthony Bourdain explores these worlds in Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, which are good if vulgar, reads. There is something on order of 1.2 million prep cooks in the US.

Interestingly, these two positions, hotel housekeeper and prep cook, have nearly identical average wages: $12.30/hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor (although other sources cite lower average hourly wages).

$12.80 an hour means a gross annual pay of $25,584/year, but only if you work exactly 40 hours a week, all 52 weeks a year. No vacation, no sick days, no time-off to take your child to the doctor or enroll them in school. It also assumes you are 100% on-time, your car never breaks down or the bus is late, you never have to attend a funeral or jury service, and nothing unexpected ever happens on a work day.  This also assumes that you can get scheduled for 40 hours a week, meaning the restaurant is never slow on a Monday or the hotel has a midweek slump in reservations, or the boss just hired an additional person so everyone's hours get cut by a few.

However, if you are just getting your first job in the industry and you are a new employee, chances are you are making under the average salary.

In sum, it won't take much less than that 40 hours/week for 52 weeks to qualify these full-time restaurant and hotel workers for Medicaid or food stamps, depending on the state you live in and the formula the state uses to determine eligibility (133% percent of the poverty line? 200%? Only if you are pregnant or have children? That determination alone is a cluster that the federal government has basically admitted is totally not clear NOR consistent!)

And you know the overwhelming majority of people in these positions?