Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Colombia, Part 5: Paradise

I am awakened on my first day in Cali by the aroma of the world's best coffee. Laughter floats in from the veranda.
Through my window, I see the sun is reflecting off the Farallones - a high jagged mountain range nearby. I am going to love being in Cali again.
I walk onto the porch and can't believe my eyes. My parents live in a park! This assisted living home has a huge yard with a pool, tall mango trees and shorter palms, an umbrella table, a soccer field, and birds of all kinds. Small storks, red-winged black birds, mockingbirds. Two canaries come up to our table for bread crumbs. Dad, still a romantic after 56 years, has named them Jimmie and Marilyn.

Maria's view over the kitchen sink
The cook (Maria) and the nurse (Lysett) are friendly and fun, and are excellent at taking care of my parents. If Mom has to have Alzheimer's, I'm glad it's here, in their loving hands and surrounded by this beauty. It's a cool morning, and they serve my favorite foods: lulo - a delicious fruit drink; pandebono - cheese bread; and cafĂ© con leche - coffee with milk. Mom seems to remember me, and I am in paradise.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Colombia, Part 4: Thank God for Cristo Rey

"Linea unica, por favor," - with its translation "Unique line, please,"- is the sign greeting Dan and me as we get off the plane. I'm soaking everything in and the wade through immigration goes quickly. We make our way out the door and into the overwhelming throng, but Dad's smiling face in the center of the sea of Colombians is a reassuring sight.
Cristo Rey Hovering Over Cali
The airport used to be far from town, but Cali has grown toward it and on the drive I search for something, anything, that looks familiar. The city is so changed it's another place entirely. I'm disheartened that 25 years has turned Cali into a stranger and I wonder if this is how Mom feels; lost in a world that was home. 
I'm relieved when Cristo Rey, a distant speck in the sky, comes into view. At least he hasn't gone anywhere, even if he is now surrounded by cell phone towers.
Mom and Dad's street in the Daytime
Mateo, our driver, turns off a main road, then makes a quick left and pulls up to a huge white wall. We've arrived at Mom and Dad's assisted living home. It's a lovely house, feels very safe, has a pool and a veranda, and there are many people around to help out.
I'm thrilled to see Mom, but she isn't sure of me. Dad tells her I am her daughter and she looks suspicious. She smiles her distant smile, not my dear mom's smile for me. She loves her nurse, the cook, and everyone who looks after her, and Dad seems well. He is in high spirits. I leave the room and come back and Mom asks, "And who is this?" It breaks my heart and pisses me off at the same time. I hate this Alzheimer's. 
I've noticed there are no bugs, and can't wait to tell my Natalie. No bugs! No mosquitoes, no cockroaches, a moth or two, and some salamanders, but that's it. The weather feels damp and cool, like it just rained, and it's unbelievably quiet. A dog barks occasionally, a car drives by, but otherwise this house, with it's windows open wide to a neighborhood full of people, is silent. This is truly a different world, this city of 3 million. It's still hard to believe the number now includes my parents. But tomorrow I will see Cali in the daylight, and I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Colombia, Part 3: Next Stop, Cali

 The Miami Airport's North Terminal is a wonderland. Even the air smells better, but that's because of the expensive perfume shops. The floor is inlaid with gorgeous pearlescent shells and sea life, and -- is everyone more good-looking? I love this, even if it feels like a weakness to enjoy such ritz.
Dan and I head for our gate, find chairs, and get comfortable. I doze, exhausted from being up since 3:30 am. I am aware, even as I rest, of more and more people surrounding me. Finally, I sit up, a kink in my neck, and Dan and I kill time talking about our kids, Mom and Dad, and how much flying takes out of a person. I swear it's because of the noise of the engines.
When it's time to board our flight, I call Chris and Natalie at home, then Olivia on her cell phone, to say goodbye. The flight will be three hours, seventeen minutes and the next time I am on land will be in Cali, Colombia, the city of my youth. We rise over Miami and it seems we barely miss the skyscrapers on the beach. We are immediately over water, and soon we are over land again: Cuba, they say. They serve us delicious snack dinners, then I listen to jazz and look out the window. I see the ocean end and Colombia begin, and am in awe of the clouds building up over the land. It's silly, I know, but I feel safer with that bouncy castle of white beneath me.
Soon we will see the Andes, and I push the tragic memory of Flight 965 carrying Ariel Felton and Catalina del Corral out of my mind. That flight, and those school friends, didn't make it over the mountains in 1995.
The sun is dipping beneath us and the sky, still blue, is rimmed with pale yellow. As I sit, my forehead pressed into the window, I try to separate what is new about this experience and what I grew up loving about flying. Speed; I always loved the overwhelming speed that makes flight possible. And those clouds. The cold, forced-fresh smell of the airplane's oxygen. The sense that I'm closer to God up here. The music in my eats that separates me, making me feel alone on this wing.
So what is new? Chris. The girls. The fact that I am thinking of them at every turn, and missing them. And Alzheimer's. That's new.
 The pilots lowers us into wispy clouds that will envelop us and darken the night around us. I remember this morning when tears stung my eyes as Chris glided down the escalator, waving goodbye. I'm on my own now, and I feel a momentary sense of rebellion. I didn't want to take this trip. After years of travel (my old passport opens like an accordion, stamped full) I am now a homebody. I didn't choose for my parents to move so far away. It all feels so dangerous, so frightening. I want my little life back. But I need to see my mom.
Then our airplane drops below the clouds and city lights shine in the distance. I can't deny the thrill I feel at seeing Cali, my beautiful Cali again. Like it or not, my world is about to get bigger once more.
Here is a link about Miami's North Terminal. Have you been there? http://www.miami-airport.com/app_north_terminal.asp

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Colombia, Part 2: Miami

The plan is for Dan and me to take a car from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to Miami's airport, and we are whisked away from the airport into a white sedan with black-tinted windows. I'm glad my big brother is with me. I've lived a small-town life for twenty years now, and everything about our trip has been anything but small-town: slick, busy, fast. 
Now Dan and I are flying through the traffic jam that is South Florida. Our driver, Alfredo, is from Ecuador, but to me he’s Rayco's twin. My brother-in-law had the same charming Spanish-softened English, that sharp wit, that sweet Tony Bennett smile. But Rayco didn't drive like a bat out of hell. At one point I mouth to Dan, “How fast are we going?”
“Seventy-eight,” he mouths back. And this is in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with the usual construction along the sunny, palm-lined highways. But Alfredo is an excellent chauffeur, and we don't die on this less-than-32-minute drive. In Miami’s airport, Dan and I have to walk the entire length of the terminal, A to H, to track down his luggage. Halfway there, we ask an airport employee if there's a quicker way to make the trek. "No," she says. "Anyway, it looks like you could use the exercise." Once we've found Dan's suitcase, we go to great lengths to find the people-mover back.
Checking in at an American Airlines ticket counter feels like heresy; we are Delta people. There's no line at the freestanding computers that look like R2-D2, but there's no human contact, either.
We get Starbucks mochas and share a scone, but end up having to wolf it down in front of the security gates. The woman checking our passports and boarding passes looks at mine, then at Dan's, and seems to make a decision. "Just go this way," she tells me. Once in line, Dan whispers that I've dodged a bullet. She has let me go with him and he is preapproved. The non-preapproved line is easily three times longer. I walk through the security gate holding my breath. In Pensacola this morning, a perfectly normal-looking woman in her seventies, polyester pantsuit and all, had been searched pretty thoroughly. Things have sure changed over the past thirteen years... But the uniformed Hispanic gives me a nod. Good to go.
We head to our concourse, riding a Disney-style tram through gray buildings, open hangars, and big sky. We are dropped into another part of the airport I swear is cleaner, brighter, better; we are now among the international jet-set. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Colombia, Part I

“What if everywhere you went, you experienced so much more than you expected?” This TV commercial catches my eye as I wonder if the Delta Air Lines ticket agent will offer me a stand-by seat on a very full 6 a.m. flight. I guess I’ll be optimistic. Besides, here’s the worst thing that can happen: I don’t go. I don’t go to Colombia to visit my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, and my father, who has found them a home so far away. I'll be honest, there are lots of things about this trip that scare me.
Alas, and oh joy, Delta has a seat for me. In the row ahead of mine is a family with four kids. A blond, blue-eyed girl looks at me and I feel like I’m beginning again. I am one of four children and we used to travel often. It feels like a good sign.
Meanwhile, my seatmates and I are quiet, respectful of each others’ space, until Atlanta, tree-filled city, is below us. Only then does the woman in the middle comment on how strange it is that we three are left-handed.
In Atlanta's bustling airport I meet Dan, the oldest of my three brothers. We will be travelling companions to Colombia, but for now we have time to eat a biscuit at Popeye’s. Then we discover there’s no way we are getting standby seats to Miami. Dan is a mechanic for Delta and has been flying free for years. Dave, second brother, is now a ticket agent, and he recommends we fly to Ft. Lauderdale. We race to the gate, the last ones to hop on to Miami's neighboring city.
This time I have a window seat and I remember why so many close the shade. It’s unnerving to be reminded of how much space is between us and the ground. But the Florida's terrain is fascinating. Miles of housing developments stop abruptly at a strangely red desert with unnaturally straight intersecting waterways. Is this neverending land the Everglades?
In Ft. Lauderdale Dan and I step in line behind a young woman. She is beautiful and self-assured, joining the adult world without fear. I want my daughters to be like her. I want them to have this confidence. I catch her eye and smile at her, her hair in a high blond bun, her face lovely and bright. She is perfect in a serious black suit and pumps, with a smart rolling suitcase and I'm glad someone like her is in the world.
Dan and I need to get from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami’s airport, but before we go, I find myself next to the young woman at the restroom sink. I am washing my hands and she is brushing her teeth. She has changed into a lovely white sundress and I grab the opportunity to tell her I hope my daughters grow up to be like her. She rinses, then dazzles me with a smile as she laughs. She wishes my daughters well and I am off to find Dan, and a ride to  Miami.
To be continued... Any idea what part of Florida we were flying over? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Freestyle Fridays: A Story of Love and Adventure

Coping with a Parent Living with Alzheimer’s

Two weeks ago I guest posted on a wonderful blog called . Actually, it was a conversation with Kerry about my parents, who are about to embark on a journey back to Colombia. This time my mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and my folks seek a better life. Thanks Kerry for the opportunity!
Kerry: The idea of your dad taking your mom back to Colombia for better care in the spirit of their adventurous marriage really warms my heart and makes me tear up. True love is so inspirational and they seem to have it.
Jeannie parentsJeannie: Yes, my best self agrees completely. But the child inside, the one who will greatly miss the touch of my mother’s hand and her still-strong hugs, is the one who thinks the whole idea is very, very bad. One of my brothers is a chaplain, and I told him my biggest fear is that when we say goodbye on March 2nd it will be the last time she will remember my name. He sighed and said, “Jeannie, she’s going to forget you.” It made me realize that will be true no matter where she lives.
Kerry: When was your mom diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?
Jeannie: Her Alzheimer’s came on suddenly, on May 17, 2012, when she didn’t recognize my dad, and wanted him to leave the house. Now she knows who he is most of the time, but she has very limited short-term memory. I miss our conversations most – the laughter about some crazy situation my dad has gotten into – but we’ve been able to stay connected. We talk about the weather, the room we’re in, the food.  She’s from Oklahoma, and we love to sing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical. I’m so grateful Mom always has a smile on her face, even though it must be awful for her world to be so incomprehensible. Dad had to put Mom in a nursing home this past summer because she kept falling. It’s a nice place, but they prefer my dad leave around 2 o’clock each day.
Kerry: I can’t imagine the pain your dad must feel leaving her every afternoon. Will they live together again or will she be in a nursing home in Colombia?
Jeannie:  My Dad and one brother went to Cali a few months back to see where my parents could live, and they found an assisted living arrangement where Mom and Dad can live together again. The place is near some of Dad’s friends, the healthcare will be fine, and it’s much less expensive!
Kerry: I’m glad they’ve been close enough for you to visit, but I know you must be tired from traveling back and forth so often to see them. How far away do they live?
Jeannie: They are in Montgomery, Alabama, a three-hour drive from here. They’ve lived there for the past 15 years. Before that, they were Baptist missionaries to Colombia for 30 years. I grew up there, from age 2 to 17, and returned for visits up until their move to the States.
Kerry: Their move to Colombia seems like a big deal. How are you handling all of this, Jeannie?
Jeannie: I was pretty heartbroken at the thought of them moving so far away, but I turned a corner when I realized I would get to share pandebono, delicious cheese bread, with my husband and two daughters when we visit my parents in Colombia.
Kerry: So you’ll visit your parents once they get settled back in Colombia…for the bread? Haha! What a great way to revisit your childhood and maybe your kids can see where you grew up!
Jeannie: Yes! I think people who grow up overseas have a hard time sharing their culture with their American families. It’s almost like we have to close off a part of ourselves. With the pandebono I realized I will finally get to share my childhood with my family. My girls will see with childlike eyes what I saw, and that’s so exciting!  I’m also looking forward to meeting up with school friends, seeing the amazing Andes mountains, and being in my beautiful vibrant city again.
I haven’t traveled overseas with my blond, blue-eyed daughters, though, and the thought of taking them to South America terrified me. Then I remembered my parents did the same thing when my brothers and I were ages 2, 4, 5, and 7. Compared to that, taking a 13- and 16-year-old will be a breeze!
Kerry: Your parents were really brave.
Jeannie: Yes, and committed to their beliefs. But my parents have always put their lives in God’s hands, and that hasn’t changed just because they are now in their 80’s. Dad told me he prayed that if this wasn’t the right thing to do, he wanted God to block the process. But the process has only been smooth and easy, so my brothers and I have to trust that it’s meant to be. It’s God’s will for Dad and Mom; it’s their fate.
Kerry: I know you said you couldn’t meet for writing group on the 2nd because of a big family send-off party for your parents. Tell me about that.
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Jeannie: This party came about because I found my cousin Larry’s phone number and called him to tell him about my mom. I expected him to simply give my mom a call, but Larry said he wanted to see my parents before they left for Colombia, and he’s already booked a flight from Colorado to Atlanta for the big sendoff. I wasn’t planning to go to the airport on that sad day, but when Larry turned the event into a party, how could I not? Now my three brothers and their families will be there too, and we’ll take over the Airport Hilton and have fun until we watch them walk through the security gates. And although I worry I might fall apart when I wave Mom and Dad off, at least I know I’ll be surrounded by family. It may seem a little late for my parents to start a new chapter in their lives, but they have never been known to play it safe. They are still teaching me to not be afraid of living life to the fullest.
Kerry: Well, bon voyage to your parents and good luck to you, Jeannie! I look forward to hearing how everything turns out. You’ll be in my thoughts at the sendoff, I’m sure you’ll feel some relief.
Jeannie: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my crazy story with you and your readers. And I’d love to hear from anyone whose aging parents have retired to a foreign country. I’m sure I’m not alone!