25 September, 2016

Autumn Weather and the Calendar Finally Sync

It's a gorgeous, cool fall in New England day, and for once I'm not running a fan nor an air conditioner.  Yesterday I was able to dig and plant all day without feeling like I need to shower every half hour because of the humidity, a big win.  I also finished putting up a wire garden fence so the entire yard is enclosed in two sections. Huzzah!
Nickerson State Park

Sunday mornings with my son are wonderful, and they only occur bi-weekly, so I savor them.  He and his sleep over buddy are enjoying my homemade French toast made with local Portuguese bread and local eggs. Of course real maple syrup! We will go to Mass at noon, and while I did think about it I really don't expect that fasting before receiving the Eucharist applies when they put a Mass at noon.  Seriously, a whole church full of people with grumbling stomachs and low blood sugar? I do fast before the earlier Masses, but I'll bet even the priest has had coffee by noon.

France 2015

I love podcasts on a Sunday morning, a happier alternative to Sunday morning gloom and doom talk shows.  I check the BBC app to see what evil Putin wrought during the night, and the go for the good stuff.  The takeaway so far is to have an actual budget line-item for giving, to respond to an unexpected need or for regular giving. Moreover, rather than have charitable fatigue, because there are so many needs and what can one person do, identify what "keeps you up at night" and it's okay to say no to the rest at this time. So even if it is one-half of one percent of income, or a set amount, make it happen.  I never use the envelopes at church because I'm going with the give anonymously directive, I cannot stand that they do keep track of who gives what so I won't play along. This enlightenment was delivered via The Simple Show episode 41 and Chris Marlow. I'm a huge fan of Tsh's.

Other podcasts I enjoy are Happier with Gretchen RubinGirl Camper, The Moth Radio Hour, and The Lively Show.

Enjoy the Sunday outdoors wherever you are.  Remind me to write about how much I wish the Blue Laws were revived. 

18 September, 2016

Bedbugs and Broomsticks

I am not a linear thinker, so this is not a chronological blog. This is about my battle to obliterate bedbugs from one albergue on the camino de Santiago de Compostela.

I arrived the day before my two week stint was to begin, in order to be oriented by the two current hospitaleras.  This albergue is owned by the town and staffed year-round by volunteers. They were lovely Spanish women who had become great friends during their two weeks in July.  They made crafts, hung out in the cafes and enjoyed the interaction with pilgrims.  They showed me where the mops were, how to run the washing machine using only cold water, and how to register the pilgrims.  When my colleague from Valencia arrived, we all went out to dinner and had a fun evening. We newcomers lodged in the albergue with our guests and the departing hostesses went to the volunteers' quarters in a small space across the courtyard.
Benches up to give the floor a good cleaning every day

The first days were wonderful! Hot and sunny, with a steady stream of guests from all over Europe and Australia. I got to know the townspeople, tended to many blisters and sprains of the pilgrims, and worked from six in the morning until we locked the doors at 10 PM.  However when stripping the sheets from the bunkbeds the next morning, there skittered across a top bunk a chinche. We had learned about them in hospitalero training, and although I kept an eagle eye out for them on my pilgrimages and indeed all of my travels, I had never encountered any.  I had already been flipping the mattresses and washing them down daily, they were covered with plastic. Now I was on the hunt. No panic, just irritation.  I assumed they had come in with the prior night's guest. However when I pulled the bunk away from the wall, I discovered a well-established colony that had been in residence for some time.  I called my partner upstairs to see.
Bedbug poop and eggs

Blood of an unfortunate pilgrim on the bed

Live bugs and poop on the bed post

The masses of bedbug poop, shed shells, eggs and living creatures were shocking. And disgusting.  This was beyond what I thought we could deal with with the can of fly spray that we had.  We had no car to travel to a town with an actual store, we only had a small tienda.  It was a weekend. I asked her to call the area coordinator with whom she was in contact from her one other assignment, and she left him a message.  With a couple of hours before opening for the day, we focused on stripping all of the beds and taking out all of the heavy fleece blankets.  They could not be washed in the tiny washer and didn't smell great.  We soon discovered that one load of laundry washed in hot water took 3 hours.
Next to the bed

Bed post

Bed frame

Finally we received a call back from the coordinator.  Do nothing, tell no one. This is normal and happens every year. My partner related this to me and said, "he's in charge, we do what he says."  Monday morning we went to the town hall and told them we needed something to clean out the bugs.  Again we were told this is normal, they would have some bug spray brought to us.  Nothing happened.  On Wednesday I had really had enough and felt horrible about putting pilgrims in the hostel.  I had expressed my distress to the USA trainer who agreed it was a difficult position, but we served at the pleasure of the town.  I scooped up a plastic bag of living and dead bedbugs and brought them over to town hall, at the same time emailing the Spanish coordinators pictures and video of scattering chinches.  After throwing the bag on the floor and stomping on the bugs, spurting blood, we were told to close the affected room for the night and that an exterminator would come. He did, two days later. We were told albergues in the next towns were calling back and complaining of bedbugs arriving at their hostels.

Antonio pasted the beds with a noxious poison, and told us to close the building for the day.  We did, and I biked over to the neighboring town's albergue for a much-needed break.

The next day I found nests in another room.

As directed, those two rooms were closed while we waited for Antonio to return. In the meanwhile, I bagged all of the blankets in 21 black plastic bags and put them in the hot sun to kill the bugs and eggs.  I put fresh shellac on the woodwork and dining tables after scrubbing them well. The black bags finally were taken away to be laundered, after sitting in the yard for a week. All 30 sheets and 30 pillow cases had been washed and hung in the sun to dry.
Some of the bags of blankets on a hot tin roof

My partner went off to Paris for vacation and a replacement arrived.  Antonio came back with yet another noxious chemical and painted it on the beds.  The slats were screwed down in places and the men refused to allow me to unscrew them even though we could see that the bugs had squeezed under.  He insisted that the whole thing could not have happened as I have described. The albergue was closed again for two days. The American who came two weeks later to host reported that they were "bed bug free to the end." Amen to that.
Sunset on the meseta
Cleaning and poisoning bugs

I guess my mission was to rid the place of infestation, making no friends in the town hall but garnering respect and thanks from the townfolk.  Bedbugs can be and are everywhere, these same pilgrims often left us to go to nice hotels for a respite.  They are not known to transmit disease from human to human. I did everything I could to make sure the host quarters did not become a casualty, and I was very careful about my own backpack. But it still makes me feel creepy to remember these critters! Everything else about my time volunteering was exhilarating and fulfilling.

Town folk

Town folk

Town folk

21 August, 2016

Getting There...and Getting Back

Travel in economy class without an expense account is not glamorous.  It is draining, tedious, annoying and often infuriating, and I do it as often as possible. As much as I may attempt to lay out the plan and account for every eventuality, The Camino has taught me that when I plan, God laughs. Sometimes with a huge guffaw, He laughs at my attempts to control what in reality is entirely beyond my control.  All that I can do is purchase a ticket, therein lies the end of my control, with the click of a "buy now" widget. What happens after is at the whim of traffic, weather, and the TSA.

I have made famously hilarious OJ-type runs to catch a plane prior to the doors closing, but at 51 and with asthma, that is no longer possible. I am now always secretly hoping a transport cart will be going my way and I can hop on with a meek smile.  The distance between terminals and gates has grown as ever more enormous planes vie for space.  And yes, the real fear of global terrorism has prompted some pretty ridiculous security theatre which affects every aspect of modern travel.  The portable luggage scanner brought to the train platform in Madrid, long after the thousand of passengers in the station have already been filtered through the ticket-taker seems more designed to protect the monetary investment in the actual train than the safety of passengers.  The nun seemed quite affronted that she, too, had to have her handbag scanned.

The hours I spent standing in immigration lines these past weeks were devoted to chatting with some pretty interesting people.  I've determined to strike up conversations whenever possible to alleviate our shared misery, and overall it's worth the minor effort and occasional language gaps.  Global Entry is now my favorite government tax-collecting scheme.  My $100.00 investment for a five year card has saved me countless hours standing in line to get back into the USA, allowing me to make connecting flights and buses I would have otherwise missed. Yes, I had to drive an hour each way for a two-second fingerprinting and photo session, but it was worth it.  All that this means is that as more people catch on they will have to change the whole thing for a new scheme but for now I love it.

I do think that the agonies of travel are akin to the agonies of childbirth: the mind blocks them out otherwise you would never do it again, in this case only a week or two later.  I am reminded that travel must be of a minimum of two weeks in one location to be even minimally restorative.  Any less, and I am only just figuring out that I brought three pants and no shirts for my son and forgot to have the mail held.