The people on remote islands tend to be a bit closed-minded, like people in small, isolated towns in the Great Plains.
But people in bigger cities bumble. They stare at the their phones as they walk down crowded sidewalks. Why are big city people so tuned out? John has taken to running smack into them head-on just to prove a point.
The language of the country where the sidewalk and the bumblers are located doesn’t really matter.
And I don’t even know why I’m talking about these Little-Known Facts except that I’ve been calling people all over the world asking questions and generally noting things like the levels of friendliness and intelligence coming from the other end of the line… Because friendliness matters when you’re asking important questions about a place you’ve never seen with your own eyes. A little bit of effort goes a long way, folks.
FACT: A person can only stomach so many phone calls to Ministries of Foreign Affairs in one day.
But anyway, we’re planning a wedding now to take place on the Island of St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines. I now refer to it as SVG to the islanders themselves because I’ve been sending lots of emails to them and that’s what they call it. Also, I’m tired of typing it out in its entirety.
Today, I researched and readied a trip to the Galapagos Islands and Baños de Agua Santa in Ecuador to hopefully/maybe take place before we leave Ecuador. John says the Galapagos Islands doesn’t sound that exotic anymore and I agree. We shrug our shoulders at it. And maybe we won’t go. Every day, I bombard Naing Naing with the prospect of some new adventure or some new, nearly insurmountable issue that he can hardly comprehend (he has a lot on his plate already). He tries to block me out because my volume is always on Full Blast these days. Or maybe my volume is permanently on Full Blast, but I’ve just never noticed it before.
A couple of weeks ago, Naing Naing and I had a long, drawn-out debate about the possible virtues of begging, mendicants, and how the beggar gives something valuable to the beggee (or rather, the person who chooses to “give”). He spent time as a novice in monasteries in Burma, so his views on begging are highly developed and as solid as the temples that dot the landscape in Bagan. I realized during our conversation that he views medicine and disease very differently than I do, though he didn’t clarify his position exactly (because we were talking about begging and charity), but it sounds similar to some of the systems common to the Khmers in Cambodia and the Nepali people that live just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Myanmar. His grandmother died of a sadness of some kind…that and from smoking too much.
This emotion-oriented medical model resonates with me, but I don’t fully understand it. It’s like German New Medicine maybe and certain vibrational models or so it seems.
So last night I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about how cultural views about medicine and health are woven more deeply into the fabric of our being than views about religion and politics because medicine and health actively underlie our views about life and death. Health and medicinal practices have a lot to say about “right” and “wrong”, but they sidestep righteousness and tackle the issue only tangentially. Most people don’t even realize they follow a Model of Medicine and Health because these beliefs are so deeply ingrained into the psyche. Medicine becomes a high-priority Action Item that’s immediately relevant to both life and death during illness. Religion, on the other hand, asks for action and claims to require a certain set of behaviors in order for the system to yield good results in the afterlife, but alas next to every dogmatic requirement is a parenthetical note that says: “optional”.
Yesterday, Lydi, Naing Naing, and I went for Naing Naing’s yellow fever vaccination (a required vaccine if he ever wants to LEAVE Ecuador) and my only request from the attending nurse was that she shake the little vial before sucking the poisonous liquid out of it. They use only one vial of the vaccine per day at the Public Health Clinic and it contains a gigantic dose of thimerasol (which is full of mercury), but shaking the bottle can keep the dose within a normal range for each individual who gets the shot. Of course, the nurse just stared at me lethargically when I asked her to shake the vial. So I stepped around her and picked up the vial and shook the damn thing myself.
To her, I’m crazy. To anti-vaxxers, I’m crazy (but working within international law). But, I think I know what I’m doing. I need to shake the bottle.
It’s like praying…
…because I believe that when I shake the vial, no one will get sick or die from yellow fever or the mercury content of thimerasol.
And about hair…
…I mean, hair cuts. They’re so difficult and risky in foreign countries. You never know what you’ll get. All of us, including Naing Naing have hair that doesn’t fit the norm here in Ecuador. And our hair cuts demonstrate this fact. Barbers and cosmetologists struggle with our natural endowments and try to cut our locks to fit what’s familiar to them. Often, the results are surprising, if not hideous. Yesterday, Naing Naing went into the barber 3 inches shorter than he was when he came out.
John, on the other hand, went from having medium length hair, to almost no hair at all.
I ended up with bangs before I could say, “NOOOOooooo!”. And Lydian was unabashedly evangelized during her hair cut. When asked if she was a “believer”, she responded reflexively by saying, “yes, absolutely”. The woman was holding a pair of scissors at neck level so she didn’t feel comfortable saying, “My beliefs are complicated”. Of course, the woman offered her all kinds of presumptuous and unsolicited advice about marriage and sex (in Spanish, of course) and then tried to force Lydian to have a face mask full of acrylates and methylparabens. Lydi had to refuse the offer (which, by the way, was not free) with caution and the same kind of diplomacy she would have used if she were a dark-skinned native and some newly arrived Spanish Franciscan wanted her to join the local church.
This week, our wedding planner bailed on us in St. Vincent’s, so I found our own officiant and started working out the details of a beach wedding (or maybe they’ll marry at the courthouse, who knows?). Today, I called three different offices in St. Vincent’s about getting Lydi and Naing Naing’s marriage certificate apostilled. Two of the offices couldn’t understand me when I said, “Aw paw stile” (they’re very “Caribbean” on this island, apparently). I called the third office and said the word “Apostille” three times very slowly and finally, FINALLY she understood me and corrected me vehemently… “ah poh STEEL” she said. Then I repeated it and she said “ah poh STEEL” back to me three more times to make sure I had it “right”. She told me how long it takes to get the marriage certificate (2 days) and that the apostille takes only 10 minutes (which is WAYYY different than what Suzanne, the wedding planner told me…she said it took 3 weeks). So I called the other two offices back again, now armed with the “correct’ pronunciation of the word and learned that 2 days is only part-right. In reality, it takes 9 days to get the certificate and 10 minutes to get the apostille. I’m glad I double-checked because we need that apostilled marriage certificate before the next step in our journey toward Mexico becomes possible.
What’s the next step?
Well, ultimately, we’re trying to get back to Guanajuato where there’s a major drug war going on between 3 different cartels, apparently. But nevermind that. I don’t really want to talk about that right now. The next step is still twice-removed from the final destination: we have to fly to Nicaragua and then travel by land to Honduras to go to a Mexican Embassy there where hopefully Lydian will be able to petition for Naing Naing to enter on a temporary residency visa under their Family Unity Laws. There are no guarantees, though. So, we’ve got a few “Plan B’s” that we can implement should things NOT go as planned.
Last night I had a dream that I was putting together a model railroad and my train kept going off the rails, but it didn’t really matter because I could just pick up the engine and move it to where it needed to go even without the rails. Still, when the train went off the rails I would religiously put it back on the tracks so that every inch of the rails was traversed between Point A and Point B. And when I woke up, I thought about how nice it would be to look down on a village from an angle and a distance that was comprehensible. Right now, I’m floating in outer space staring down at that big blue ball called Earth thinking, “Man…I can’t believe how many problems there are everywhere in the world.” I’d love to zoom in on something comprehensible and just watch people…individuals doing good things and bad things, stupid things, and smart things. I’d love to be able to tell the officiant at Lydian and Naing Naing’s wedding what we’ve all been through over the past few months, but I’m afraid he’d get confused and maybe even feel scared of us if he knew. I’d like to tell him not to talk to any of us about God from his little island on his tiny planet, but I’ll zip my lips as long as we end up with a marriage certificate that’s acceptable worldwide.
Is that wrong?
Before you respond, I’d like to make an appeal to the concept of dharma and all the foreign languages, delayed flights, embassy workers who can’t answer our questions, laws that don’t apply, government workers demurring at our need for solid answers, bad haircuts, bank accounts, robberies, lawyers and notarios who failed to do their jobs in a timely manner and without our constant vigilance, ignorant doctors and nurses, evangelists who know better than us about life and death and good and evil, bad/non-existent Internet connections, undelivered parcels, the drug war at home, and pedestrians who are staring down at their phones instead of paying attention to where they’re going on every sidewalk from here to Burma that the four of us have had to deal with in the past four months before you tell me your response.
We’re having a weird situation and the location of this event is worldwide which makes it hard to escape from it. The more global it gets the harder it becomes to find humor in it. It’s not like I can call up a friend and we can joke together about how it doesn’t make any sense that so many embassies are only open until 1:00 PM (haha). Don’t they have enough to do to keep them busy from 8:00 to 5:00? You’d think so, yes…(haha), but no. What makes those short working hours super funny is time zone differences. (LOL). Now that’s FUNNY! HA! Yep…there’s nothing funnier than needing to make a phone call (or three) in a foreign language to an embassy at 3:00 AM Your Time.
…make your daughter a wedding dress with a sewing machine you borrowed from the landlady at the AirBnB in Ecuador where you’re living temporarily. Then, take the dress to a Caribbean island you’ve never been to before where she and her fiance will be married by a reverend you’ve never met and…invite your family and friends to watch the fiasco. It’ll be on the beach during the start of the hurricane season. I wonder if there will be decorations and seating. In my mind’s eye I see some shepherds hooks and a couple of baskets of flowers hanging from them and maybe a small archway with fabric hanging from it, but that seems ambitious. What are the odds that I could find these things within 3 days of the event what with having to get the marriage license when we arrive and…find the grocery store. We could end up on the beach for the ceremony with no decor except the natural surroundings which would be okay with all of us except a few judgmental friends and relatives…
…or we could end up in a courthouse.
And then we’ll head for Honduras via Nicaragua, by land of course, against all the travel warnings along this route before heading back home where a 3-way drug war is currently in progress in our city. “Be glad you’re going to Honduras” we tell ourselves, “Be glad you’re going there for an unknown amount of time and that you’re not going to Haiti.” And then we remind ourselves, “You could still end up in Haiti. You could end up back in Myanmar. Don’t congratulate yourself on Honduras just yet.”
Mentally, as I orbit Earth, I prepare for all the possible countries we could end up having to travel to in order to finally end up in a static location with residency and someday (hopefully) a second passport (this is particularly important for Naing Naing).