Week 1: Community Seeds & Roots
On Friday (May 11, 2018) John and I found ourselves scrambling to get everything completed and depart for our new home in Puerto Rico. No matter how much you prepare there is always something else to do or something you didn't think of. When you throw in having to deal with the USPS of Plant City, Florida on top of it all, you better have a lot of patience and compassion.
The USPS website informed me that bulk shipping was not available until 10am and I had been trying to call them for 4 days with no answer. We ended up waiting until 10am needlessly and had to carry all of the the packages through the regular line. John nearly had a heart attack when the clerk rang up the total to $1,100. Which I had to explain to him was extremely low for moving out of the country.
After getting our packages off at the post office we rushed back to All World to get our luggage and get to my grandparents house so they could drive us to the airport. The drive was uneventful as well as the airport. However, I had not been in an airport or on an airplane in almost 20 years.
It was quite amusing how nervous I was on the plane (more so than in a car) but not enough for me to sedate myself. Our flight was on time and we arrived at San Juan Airport at 5:11pm. His parents and brother picked us up and we headed into town for dinner. They selected one of John's favorite restaurants called Platos, and that was where my new 75 pounds began. I don't believe I've stopped eating since then.
After dinner his father wanted to walk around San Juan but we were exhausted. The city itself reminded me a lot of Tampa and Ybor so I was curious but way too sleepy. We climbed back into the car with full bellies and headed home. The traffic lights in San Juan were not working (like people had warned) and the drivers were way more intense than I expected. I am normally not comfortable in vehicles as it is, so I just closed my eyes and practiced my Zen techniques while we drove 2 hours back to Ponce.
Saturday we spent the day getting settled and then Sunday was of course Mothers' Day and time to meet the family. First, was John's maternal family and none of them spoke English so John spent most of the time translating for me. They reminded me much of my own family, coming from a farming country style background more oriented on family and connection. However, I found myself extra emotional because of the holiday, exhaustion, and not being able to communicate on my own.
After that, it was time to meet his father's family. This was the more "modern" or city type of family. There were more cousins in our age range and they all spoke English. This gathering included extended families and friends where as the first was only close family and much smaller. The only thing that was the same at each place was the amount of food and dominoes. But even the dominoes were played differently between the two houses.
On Sunday we decided to take most of the week as a "vacation" and not focus on work after being so exhausted. So Monday we found ourselves at the beach with some of his cousins. The beach was much more natural, unlike Florida's man made beaches, and these had trees in them.
Unfortunately, many of the beaches are littered with garbage. It was like walking through a corporate advertisement. I was also told that many people couldn't get water during the hurricane recovery yet they had endless access to junk food and other crappy products made by American companies like Coca cola that now litter their beaches and walk ways. They shipped massive amounts of their products without any concern of their packaging (an issue that should be addressed around the world). It blows my mind that these corporations aren't required to subsidize trash can cost and pickup or use biodegradable materials. But I'm not here to type from my soap box but to share how we are going to make a difference, so I definitely see organizing beach clean ups in our near future.
John's cousins found it amusing how "paranoid" I was about the sharks, especially since he cut his foot open and still went in the water. However, I didn't let my JAWS-phobia keep me from the gorgeous water. Like a true Cancerian, I swam like a dolphin around and around letting the ocean cleanse away the last four days of displacement and emotional processing. I rejoined the group and was floating around in the water when suddenly, "CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP!" A fish or some creature gave three bites in quick succession like a machine gun, to my....wait for it....MY NIPPLE!!!!!!
I screamed some curse words and jumped up covering my chest like a girl getting out of the shower. In the milliseconds of the occurrence, I had not processed that it was a fish so I of course looked to the person closest to me, John's brother Cisco, and accusingly asked him if he had pinched my nipple. But physically he was too far away; it was impossible. They all looked at me as if I was being dramatic and making it up.
I lifted my hand only to find that my nipple was bleeding! There was a complete bite mark encircling my nipple. The group burst into laughter, including myself. All of them claimed they had never in their lives, or their grandparents lives, heard of that happening. Leave it to me to have nipples that look like fish bait. I ended up reading and doing things on shore for the rest of the time. Later, I heard them scream in the water because the fish jumped at them. Soon they were all sitting with me.
We said we were going to take the first week as a vacation, but like usual, I had to find some way to work. I found a new friend and ally that the project could focus on: the family dog named Baby. Almost 10 years old, Baby had no training and was "over excited and crazy". Training started immediately upon our arrival. The whole family joined in and the connections began. I was not expecting the bonding to occur so quickly between us all, but the moment I saw Cisco (John's older brother) shed a few tears the first time Baby sat for him, I knew we were all going to be very close.
Not only was baby a bridge between John's family and I, but she was also my bridge to the environment and the community. We started walking her immediately (usually she pees and poos on pads). Through her walks we began identifying wild herbs and plants in the neighborhood, including one of my favorite plants, Damiana. I've wanted to grow this for a while and nature once again has done the work for me. This was my first real bonding with the actual Earth of Puerto Rico and not just its Earthlings.
Along our walks I noticed there was a lot of damage to the roads and so much garbage everywhere. To be honest, this shocked me because it is a gated community for wealthy people. Since I can't do anything about the roads or stray dogs, I decided to start picking up the garbage despite my internal battle of picking up garbage after "rich people". I asked myself, why can I do it for poor people but not rich people? Yet another lesson helping me grow during this adventure.
On the first day that John, Cisco, and I picked up garbage while walking Baby, a neighbor stopped in his car to thank us. A few days later, I was picking up garbage alone, and a female neighbor named America stopped to thank me and to introduce herself. She and her husband are the owners of the really cute and well maintained blue town house units in the neighborhood. Upon further discussion she informed me that Unit 3 was rented by a woman who was also a yoga teacher and the downstairs of that unit had been converted into a yoga studio. She offered any aid that we may need; another community connection made through Baby and our love for helping the earth.
As I continued to find ways to have fun and relax for the week, I decided to test out the family keyboard. One of the hardest things of leaving behind the mainland was selling my keyboard. It made it easier (and only possible) that John's father already had a keyboard in the house. Unfortunately, it does not have a sustain pedal. Another excuse for us toventure out to a music store.
The music store was located in a downtown-ish type area that was even worse than Tampa when it came to finding parking. We got dropped off instead, and the pedal was a quick purchase. The disappointing part was that the pedal doesn't work because Casio programmed their keyboards backwards so you have to have one with the reverse polarity. Instead of getting upset I accepted that the universe is great at giving me lessons I need. Having to practice without a pedal has been great for my musical evolution. Fortunately the pedal was easily returned and it gave John a chance to shop at the local vegetable market.
Our venture out also gave me an excuse to "swing" by the home depot to check out supplies. I ended up purchasing buckets to start our first main project I call The Compost Initiative. I purchased 5 black buckets with lids (the white ones were sold out). One bucket went to John's maternal grandparents (the one with the farming background). One went to America (the owner of the town houses), one to his Titi Sandra, one will be our compost toilet, and the other will be for exchanging out the others. I also bought a smaller white one for the kitchen.
John's mother also "talked" us in to doing some work on the front yard. We trimmed palm trees and collected carbon to apply to the back yard which is heavily sloped and washing away. The pictures above don't even begin to show the angle of the land on the back nor the state of the erosion. Our goal is to apply as much carbon and material to cover the exposed limestone to allow a larger diversity of plants to begin growing, and then build a small garden at the flat bottom.
The next two days I threw myself at converting John's childhood bedroom into our office, in preparation for the arrival of our stuff in a week or two. Then on Saturday John's dad took us to help clean the boat which he had not been able to visit since Maria. So needless to say we ended up working most of the week. I can't help but smile at our attempt of a vacation. I have found that when your life is work, and your work is your life it is practically impossible to separate the two, especially when they are everything you love.
John and I have been excited by discovering so many signs of the start of permaculture here, from gardens in the front yards to water management techniques that can easily be converted to support natural environments. It helps that many people are open and ready to learn after experiencing such a natural phenomena like Maria.
While there are things that are familiar to me here, there are many things happening that are so different from what I'm used. Time seems to be moving at a faster tempo, like a song of life sped up to match the wind and the waves that thrum the islands inner chords. The birds and clouds move quicker to match its tune and I'm left trying to sort out my own harmony in this Caribbean overture.
Yet already in just a single week I have found some matching notes; a new melody that reassures me that I have always been meant to come here. For one, there are the horses. Everywhere I turn I see horses: in fields, in yards, being ridden down the street, even strays walking alone. And not a single one is skinny nor supplemented with hay. The grass is endless and green here; even along the highways it stands taller than my waist.
Many of these horses are clearly lineages of Paso Fino bloodlines: a naturally gaited horse created from horses brought to the Caribbean by Spain. Yet another connection to this land that had already been made on the mainland through my prior experiences with Paso Finos and breeders of Pasos. I can't wait to start rounding up some of the strays to take to the farm and train with natural horsemanship. And who needs a horse trailer when you've got a pick up!
Now, as the week comes to a close, I find myself rushing to finish this blog and packing my bag for another adventure to the beach with John's cousins. With my swimsuit on and my eyes and heart open I find my fingers close to my phone, like a wild west gunslinger, ready to snap a picture or write down something to add to the blog.