Heart of Campus, Green School

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Chad's Inguinal Injustice

I’d like to thank my husband’s inguinal hernia for returning me to this blog and for recently bringing us inadvertently to Singapore where we were able to do most of our Christmas shopping (Singapore is the land of the mall) and connect with old friends from Cairo, Egypt. Back to the inguinal hernia I’d like to thank. It happened last Friday during our October break. We were carrying (let me rephrase that…) Chad was carting our heavy luggage across the white sand beaches of Gili Trawangan in order to mob up in the blazing sun with the other boat-ticket holders to load the luggage on the boat and retrace our journey across the Darwin-Wallace line back to Padangbai, Bali. Grandma Beth had the carry-on bags. I had the children. Chad’s efforts with the luggage opened up a weakness in his abdominal cavity (one that he had conceivably already opened a while ago, since he’d been complaining of pain in his right hip for over a year.) The next morning he awoke with a large bulge above his bulge and he knew immediately what it was. When asked by a friend how he knew he replied, “Well, tumors don’t grow overnight.” When he lay down the bulge went away. The intestines slipped back into place. Yuck. When he stood up the bulge grew. Over time it drooped and sagged. It began to hurt and trouble him. Being an amateur athlete, he wanted it repaired immediately so he could get back in the saddle. So we made a few phone calls, sent a few e-mails and lined up a surgeon in nearby Singapore to do the dirty deed. Sure enough, Chad ended up having bilateral hernia surgery 6 days later on a humid Friday evening in Singapore. Since I’m going ahead and unselfishly thanking my husband’s inguinal hernia for my return to the blog, I’d like him to thank me for over-packing our luggage, which allowed him to get to the bottom line of his nagging hip pain after one year of concern. And perhaps after he thanks me for over-packing our luggage, I should thank him for taking a stance on needing a break from his job in Redmond, Oregon that had left him devoid of any energy that landed us in Bali, Indonesia as teachers at the well-marketed Green School on a two-year contract. Doesn’t chaos theory begin with the flap of a butterfly’s wings and radiate out from there? Do all amazing adventures start with something completely random like that to prod them into action? Checking into the Mt. Elizabeth Hospital for the surgery was a macabre affair. It was the uniform and leer of the hospital host that made me feel this way. A nice enough young man, he was unfortunately oversized and oddly shaped. To top off his monstrous “Hunchback of Notre Dame” look, he had placed an overstuffed wallet in the right rear pocket of his brown on brown concierge uniform. It bulged like a large stiff wart from the top of his massive pear-shaped buttocks and moved independently to the NE as his hips swayed and drooped toward the SW. The outfit, top to bottom, was an exact replica of the uniforms that the Disneyland crew working the Tower of Terror wear as they load you onto the ride. I kept waiting to hear the click of the ride’s cage snap into place. He wore a cafĂ© au lait polyester jacket and pants with chocolate brown trim, Sergeant Pepper-style yellow cloth buttons, matching bellhop hat. He gave us not one but three over-the-shoulder ½ smiles with one slightly droopy eyelid to ensure we were following at the appropriate distance from the check-in desk to Chad’s shared hospital room on the 8th floor. The doctor was the antithesis of our hospital host. Sleek, clean shaven, revving with Asian efficiency and fatherly comfort. His waiting room wall was heavy with awards and certificates from trainings he had attended. Chad’s favorite was the certificate for “hands on colon and rectal surgery” training at a hospital in South Korea. He had satisfactorily completed a year of training at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Always reassuring for an American seeking overseas incisions. He was warm, hospitable, had the perfect length of personal bedside manner and then switched quickly into business mode with an examination and a fascinating lesson about the implicit weaknesses of the male abdominal cavity due to embryological development of testes, which have to pass through three walls of tissue to descend into the scrotum during fetal development. He pointed out the femoral artery and other tubes that pass through the abdominal cavity in order to do their job, leaving behind areas of weakness that can easily rupture with the slightest of effort. All of this explanation was offered with a visual aid – a model of a cross-section of the male anatomy and lower abdomen. The doctor turned the model towards us each time he made the point by grabbing onto the largest external feature of the model and using it as a handle. I mentally visualized it into a coffee cup because he kept grasping the penis handle and tipping the lower abdomen toward his mouth as he made his point. Chad had obviously opened up his right side along one of these fault lines and, after a thorough ultrasound, the doctor determined that he also had a small tear along another fault line on the opposite side. Bilateral surgery was scheduled for 4:30pm on Friday and we were sent out to enjoy the mall culture of downtown Singapore for a few hours before the procedure began. Medical tourism at its best. Fast, efficient, comforting. Meanwhile, we have reached the apex of our Renaissance in Bali. We think. We are happy, balanced, settled, comfortable, energized. The kids are naked, free, swimming every day, bouncing on the trampoline and running wild from house to house in our 7-family 7-home villa compound on the outskirts of Ubud. Pirates come blazing through our living/dining area, costumes askew, blades up and ready for the imaginary battle that is going to take place in the labyrinth-style garden between the swimming pool and the trampoline. Packs of older girls come by to see if Zoe wants to come over and play at their house. They squat down to her level for the invite, arms folded onto knees, heads jutted forward with expectation. When she answers with the affirmative, they scoop her up in their arms and carry her off or offer more of a big-sister hand and away they go, down the flowery pebbly path that connects one house to the other. It is pretty blissful here most of the time. Returning overseas after summer break feels like clockwork comparing to arriving for the first time. While we had an amazing summer in the USA there were things we were looking forward to completing here and we had to get here to get back into gear. Bali’s magic continues to surprise us with ceremonies around every corner, gentle loving people who are very tuned into our kids and newly discovered wild places we are able to explore by bicycle. We are hopeful for more of that soon, once this hernia patches itself up. Between now and the hoped-for increased island bike exploration we are staring down the barrel of a busy semester at school and a three week holiday in New Zealand with Chad’s brother’s family and my parents coming over to join us as well. As much as we are missing family and community, we are thankful for our grandparent visits (Grandma Beth rocked October break!) and enjoying the nutty little community we have managed to temporarily join here in Bali.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Year in Review (otherwise known as Report Card Avoidance)

Somehow a short respite from this blog lapsed into a 6-month hiatus. Not sure why, in retrospect. I think it was a mix of visitors, holidays, illnesses, work, exhaustion, and also getting into the rhythm of life here enough that it didn’t feel terribly extraordinary anymore. There’s less to write about when things aren’t new. But then I stop and remember we’re at Green School in Bali, a complete micro-sub-culture of weirdness in the jungle and I realize I have a lot to share. I find myself walking home from work, chuckling as I narrate yet another bizarro incident from the day in my head…then the struggle commences – do I tell the tall tale or do I remain a diplomatic ambassador of my workplace with more of a mums the word approach? At this point I suppose it is better to simply keep quiet. Suffice it to say we attract a lot of very alternative-minded people here and incredibly unbelievable things happen on a daily basis. Some parents go so far as to explain every extraordinary event (aka: misbehavior in class) as a repercussion of the nuclear disaster in Japan. How does one work with that? That’s part of the excitement and chaos of this place. Green School attracts all types. Some are overachievers who want Green School on their kid’s resume, meaning we are meant to supply their child with the rigorous academic challenges they might receive at a prestigious private school in Washington DC alongside kids who have been home schooled for so many years or in the Waldorf system for so long that they are master woodcarvers, painters and musicians who struggle to grasp the basics of reading and writing. The highs and lows are still extreme. It is part of the overseas crack experience. Of course the car was breaking down on the way to the hospital to check up on Chad in the throes of Dengue. When else would we have car trouble? This year has been about a lot of different things – facing and overcoming anxiety, adjusting, thriving, questioning, seeking, listening, waiting and all the other –ings we have been experiencing in the jungle. We had a coming to Jesus, we met our El Guapo, we wrestled demons over what to do as a family of four. We realized in many ways that Bali is not exactly our place. Most expats around Ubud fall into the category of extreme alternative living. The raw food movement, full colonic centers and yogi life coaches abound. It often feels over the top as we compare our version of 'normal' to their version of alternative. On the whole, though, we have benefitted here. We have slowed down as a family, creating time to be together without a lot of distractions every day and we have strengthened our little family unit of four. We have all had to live outside our comfort zones and we have grown and changed for the better (I think). (I’m sure my 3-yr-old will thank me for this experience someday!) More importantly, Chad and I have both rediscovered passions outside of teaching that could reinvigorate us at a time when schools seem to be in such peril. This experience is, after all, a working holiday at hippie summer camp. (This has been my survival mantra from the beginning!) Yet we are committed (with a team of amazing teachers) with a focused purpose to transform this hippie summer camp into a more legitimate school. One year in, there is still much work to be done but the progress is visible. So, demons aside, bamboo house a thing of the past, we have our sights set on the horizon of summer vacation 2012 with much excitement while at the same time we are feeling positive about our imminent return to Green School for next year’s wild ride. Hope to see most of you stateside over the next few weeks or in Bali during the next school year!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Saying Goodbye to Bamboo Village

Last month we hit the bamboo village wall – or lack thereof. It quickly became time to move on. After what felt like a lengthy search we found an amazing house. We moved last Friday, June 1st. Our new house feels pretty dreamy. Of course, like all things, it has some pros and cons. The cons have yet to unearth themselves so I’ll keep thinking of housing nirvana and cut to the chase – we’re in a small ‘villa’ tucked into the rice paddies of Ubud with a view of Mt. Agung, an incredible garden and a swimming pool! We are sleeping in air conditioned bedrooms and we have returned to the land of flush toilets. There are a total of six individual houses on one big property with a shared pool. Each house will hold a Green School family. Some homes are occupied by Green School teachers, other homes have sabbatical parents on extended leave in Bali. Almost everyone has kids ranging in age from 3-10. Our new neighbors are from USA, Canada, Holland, Indonesia, Portugal and Brazil. Everyone is pretty physically active (quite rare here!) and generally into cycling. Again, in our minds = housing nirvana. The reality will, of course, unfold over the next few months with fantastic moments and probably a few not-so-wonderful times. For now, though we have high hopes of building a positive, supportive and fun community with our neighbors in our new digs. As I have realized with overseas living (an a lot of situations in general), when I am “in” the situation, I try to appreciate what is good (on the good days) and work hard to change or accept what isn’t so good on the other days. Sometimes it is a struggle, but that’s the overall goal. However, once I am on the way “out”, I give myself a few moments to focus on what I have been enduring and I really get into letting it bother me because it is about to be a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong - Bamboo Village is an amazing place. For many months I couldn’t think of any other place to live. Being outside all the time, the built-in community, the 5-minute walk to work on a jungle trail, the full on Swiss Family Robinson adventure of the whole affair had me for most of the year. Then Chad got sick with Dengue Fever, he tried to ride it out at home for a week or more and suddenly the house became the swamp witch from the bowels of the jungle - a sweatbox with no escape, and while he recovered quite comfortably at the Marriott Hotel near the International Hospital, he came home weak, beaten up and ready for a change. So, having made the mental shift out of BV, I happily said goodbye to the following things last weekend (in no particular order): -Stepping in gecko poop at home (although this could likely happen in our new place... hmm...) -Stepping in rodent poop at home (hmm, could also be an issue at house number two.) -Pooping in a bucket. -Peeing in a bucket. -Hearing my neighbor singing “Age of Aquarius” into a fan at 2 am. -The sweaty, oh so sweaty walk home from work. -The natural stone road into the village (aka: ankle twisting trap). -The stench of the cremation fire from the temple up the road (yep, not frequent, but not good). -Bizarre skin rashes that ooze and lead to fevers. -Fevers, fevers and more fevers (we remain quite hopeful and perhaps stupidly optimistic that our move will improve our overall health). -The mold : moldy clothing, moldy puzzles, moldy dolls, moldy toothpaste tubes, wet stinky sheets on the rainy days, moldy roof, moldy front steps, moldy canvas ‘wall’, all the disgusting stinky mold! So, goodbye BV – don’t let the bamboo door (uh, barn gate) hit you on the way out! If any of you have considered visiting us in Bali but felt a bit squeamish about our accommodation, squirm no more – come and experience it for yourself!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Featuring Grann Ann, Guest Blogger (new Sarah-inspired post coming soon!)

Our Log and Some Observations Thankfully the outstretched arms of Sarah midst a sea of people led us through the crowd waiting to greet our plane. A quick text and her car and driver appeared. It was the beginning of Bali traffic. Motor scooters outnumber cars at least 6-1 by my guess. A horn is essential for all vehicles, used only as a gentle toot but used often. There are very few traffic lights in large cities, none at all in other place; never saw a yield or stop sign, once again, that's where the horns come in. Scooters dart everywhere, the cars, most of which are vans, tailgate them with maybe a foot to spare. Families, sometimes 4 deep, ride on one scooter. (One guide we had takes his family of 5- children in front, wife with 2 month old in her arms, riding sidesaddle behind her husband) We saw very few helmets. The roads are narrow, many with large potholes, which require slowing to navigate them; passing others done at will with little regard for oncoming traffic (more horn usage) yet we never saw an accident. The Balinese say hello, goodbye and thank you with prayer hands about chin height, a smile and a gentle nod of the head. They love children, especially blonde blue-eyed ones. Ethan manifested an ear infection as our first dinner and the staff, to a person, offered help, one even suggesting she take him to a nearby doctor so we could eat dinner. I fully believe it is written in some parenting book that ear infections will always flare up between 8 PM and Midnight on Fridays. Speaking of books, Bali parents have no need for the 100,000-baby names book. Children are named by their birth order with 2 names as options for the first 4 children. Sarah and Chad's driver, Ketut, is 4th born of 7 children. He has 2 Wayans, 2 Mades and 2 Nyomans. Certain classes of families precede boys names with an "I" and girls with "Ni." Parents can select the middle name and it is often the nickname used at home. Ritual and celebration are ways of daily life. Offerings appear daily at every door (to ward off the evil spirits). They are small squares about 4" made from palm leaves and filled with flowers, sometimes a few grains of rice (it's a fine way to use leftovers and the street dogs seek those out) and often with a lit incense stick. For big celebrations like temple birthdays, women make and carry large (3' tall) offerings beautifully crafted of fruits and flowers. These are balanced on their heads as they walk (sometimes a mile) or sit sidesaddle on the back of a scooter. Ceremonial clothes are always worn at this time. The Lowe family each has their own ceremonial clothing, having been blessed in their bamboo village. I was handed a sarong and sash prior to entering temple grounds where we attended a Balinese dance. Zoe (3) can mimic the dance basics, which start at the feet. You keep them moving, make sure there's a bit of arch to your back, then begin "slithering" your body from foot to head, engaging your arms and hands very expressively. This is done slowly and beautifully in long gowns worn with beaded head dresses. The particular type of dance we saw started with 35 men chanting and using hand motions (which Ethan carefully mimicked) before and during the entrance of the girls' dancing and storytelling. We were in Bali during Nyepi, preceded by Ogoh Ogoh parades in villages throughout the island. Ogoh Ogoh's are very large brightly painted grotesque creations generally made of paper maiche. They are built on and attached to a bamboo grid through which village boys and men stand in order to carry their work of art. Their purpose is to chase away the demons on the island, therefore they are huge (20-30' high) and scary looking and some had moving heads. The parade we attended started in a large playing field - the 20 ogoh ogohs were in a semicircle, then one at a time were carried to the center amid much drumming and noise making to ensure the demons could hear them coming. They were then carried by the boys and men down the streets of the village. Generally they are torched at days end, having done their demon chasing. We did see a few on our departure, placed roadside still looking fierce in case any demons were still lurking. Nyepi starts at dawn the next day and lasts 24 hours. The entire island shuts down, including the airport. No transportation of any kind is allowed, not even walking on the street. No electricity is to be used. Our staff at the villa had prepared food ahead of time for meals that day. They asked us to dine early so they could clean up and walk home before dark. David and I turned on the bathroom light (all curtains had been drawn and we thought we were "safe") only to hear frantic knocking on our door from the security man, telling us to dowse the lights; not even the low lit bedside lamp could be on. My 7:30 bedtime had me up at midnight, refreshed and ready to go with many hours of no electricity ahead of me. The point of the aforementioned is to indicate to the demons that the island is empty, therefore they should move on to some other place. Fascinating and interesting to have been a part of it. Next time I'll pack a flashlight. A couple more observations - the women are the carriers of the island and everything is on the head, hands free. I watched 2 women at our first stop carry pails of cement, ascend a ladder to the roof to the men awaiting use of pail contents. During our nature walk we noticed stacks of bricks for a building project- all carried there by women, stacked atop their heads. They are posture perfect and I'm sure have very strong necks. SuMade led Sarah, David and me through rice paddies, pointing out bird varieties, a rice snake, whose picture she took up close and personal, various plants and their medicinal qualities and bugs. We watched a butterfly laying eggs on the underside of a leaf. We saw 2 dragonflies, which SuMade gently pinched (after telling them "sorry") so she could show us their delicate wings before she returned them to their leaf and "activity" (talk about coitus interruptus). We left them in peace. The dogs of Bali have 1 (maybe 2) lineage. They are about 20" high, have prick (pointy) ears, tails that curl over their back and are light yellow in color. I did see a couple of black and white dogs with the same features. They are street smart regarding vans and scooters managing to be out of the way just in time. I think they text each other, saying the gathering will be in 10 minutes at the nearby corner as you see dogs heading that way from both directions. Thank you Sarah, Chad, Ethan and Zoe for showing us a part of the world we probably wouldn't have experienced. It was most interesting. -Ann Durfee