Sunday, May 8, 2022

Airport driver

Last month I dropped people off at the Tucson airport 12 times.

I volunteer for The Inn of Southern Arizona. We provide food, clothing and shelter for documented migrants traveling from the southern US border to the homes of sponsors elsewhere in the US. I've served on the board for the last year.

Before covid, my husband Art and I volunteered every Saturday night at the shelter. It was then located in the basement of a Methodist church in Tucson. Cots were set up for families, and meals were prepared and served in the church kitchen. When families received bus tickets from their sponsors, they were taken to the Greyhound bus station for their onward journeys. 

More than a year later, we reopened - this time in a motel just off Interstate 10. For the sake of safety, families were housed in individual rooms, and volunteers knocked on the door to deliver meals. Everyone wore masks and observed social distancing. All our guests had tested negative for covid; those migrants testing positive were housed at another shelter until their tests were negative.

Now, most of our guests fly from the Tucson International airport to the cities of their sponsors. 

I haven't volunteered on site much this year because it's hard to be on my feet for the four-hour shift; I'm still recovering from my hip replacement last summer. But I offered to be an airport driver. I'll get a text from Elsa, coordinator of the drivers. "We've got a family of three leaving at 3:30 p.m. Can you take them to the airport, help get their boarding passes, go through security with them, and take them to their gate?" 

I've learned that if I'm going through the airport with families, it will take two hours and 55 minutes from the time I leave my house until the time I get home: 35 minutes to the motel to pick up the family, 20 minutes to the airport, an hour and a half from the parking lot to the ticket counter to security to the gate to the family boarding the plane, 30 minutes back to the parking lot and then back to my house.  So if I have an afternoon free I can say yes. 

My Spanish is pretty limited, so I have Google Translate on my phone. I've recorded a few messages:  "I will take you to the ticket counter and help with your boarding passes" and "I will take you through security" and "I will stay with you until you get on the airplane." I show them the message in Spanish on my phone and they nod. Or I read them the message in my not-too-terrible Spanish.

At the ticket counter there is usually an agent who speaks Spanish. I get a gate pass there. At the TSA checkpoint there is always a Spanish speaker, who looks at the family's documents and takes their picture. They look at my driver's license and take my picture. We go through security. I take off my shoes and say, "No zapatos". We go to the gate and wait. Sometimes one of the family speaks a little English and we have a simple conversation. Sometimes we use body language to communicate. When the family's boarding row is called, the adults usually give me a hug and thank me, like I am the one responsible for their upcoming new life. Sometimes they cry. When they're about to board the plane, they look back at me and wave, and I wave back. 

I have taken families to the airport who are from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti and Brazil. The young woman in the Brazilian family talked to me via Google Translate Portuguese. Her mother died nine years ago. The family had to leave the rest of their family behind in Brazil. She cried as she told me the story. I said, "I don't understand all of your words, but I understand your heart." I put my hand over my own heart and she nodded. Her name was Priscilla and she wanted my phone number so she could text me to tell me they had arrived safely. I got a text from her yesterday, with a photo her husband had taken of us.

Volunteer driver coordinator Elsa may also say, "We've got two families leaving at 11:45 a.m. We have another volunteer who will take both families through the airport, but the volunteer doesn't have enough room for everyone in their car. Can you take the second family and drop them off at the airport to meet up with the other volunteer?"

I know this will take me an hour and 15 minutes, so it's usually an easy "yes". 

I love this volunteer work. It makes a difference to a single person or to a family. It is easy for me. I get more than I give.

"Todos somos iguales." We are all the same.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The most embarrassing moment

I wrote this piece about ten years ago. Still the most embarrassing moment of my life.

My mother was somewhat of a snob. Not intellectually, for sure. Not even socially, for the most part. She was a high school graduate who made good by marrying a career military officer. From her position of safety, she was free to cast judgment upon others. And she taught her daughters well to do likewise.

"Tacky" was an especially dismissive term reserved for artwork in a house that differed from what she liked, unattractive wardrobe accessories worn by others, the exterior maintenance of a house that was other than what she would have done. "That is so tacky" was the ultimate scornful statement.

One of the most scorned yard treatments when we lived in Southern California was plastic flamingos on a front lawn. Whether a solitary bird or a flock, all of us pointed and laughed when we saw them. In our family it was almost like looking for license plates from different states while you're on a road trip. "Oh, look! SIX flamingos over there." Heads swiveled as we took in the tackiest of tacky sights.

As is usually the case, I strove mightily to cast off my mother's less attractive teachings. I didn't gossip, didn't speak harshly to family members, and reserved the silent treatment for only the most deserving situations. 

Many years later I had moved away from California and now lived in Washington State. I obtained a professional degree and was employed in a respected occupation with a salary that provided me with more than the necessities of life. I worked for a company that developed software programs for the educational institutions' administrative needs - for example, payroll, financial accounting and student scheduling. From time to time I would be sent into the field to train people on how to use the features of the software.

On one project, we had worked for several years to develop a new financial system and it was time to train the first district on its use. The suite of applications was called WISE (Washington Information Systems for Education). As a person logged into the system, a blinking owl greeted them (you know how an owl is WISE). It was in the days before graphics were sophisticated; back then the pictures were created using the characters on a word processor.

I drove to Puyallup to spend the day with the accounts payable clerk in the school district office. I'd been told she was reluctant to be changing how she did her work, so I wanted to approach her with compassion and a bit of humor to make the process easier. Her name was Darla, and I found her in a tiny office in the back of the building. I sat down with her and showed her how to log on. The computer was slow that day and the little blinking owl displayed for an unusually long time. To break the silence I said, "What do you think of the owl?" Darla said, "It's all right". I lowered my voice conspiratorially and said, "I think it's a little tacky myself - you know, like flamingos on someone's front lawn." 

And Darla said….

Yep. She said, "I have flamingos on my lawn."

I looked for a table to crawl under, but couldn't find one. Instead, I excused myself and slunk to the restroom.

I try to learn from my mistakes, so I have told that story many times. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. Even more than when I had a tail of toilet paper tucked into my pantihose at work. And not just the toilet paper. The back of my dress. That probably happens to everyone at some point. When I talk about my horrible flamingo faut pas, I get to remember all over again that I was tackier that morning in Puyallup than a yard full of flamingoes ever could have been.

When we redid our yard several years later, I put a metal pink flamingo into the ground in the side yard, to remind myself. I wonder if people laugh when they drive by.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Looking back on some 2014 foolishness

 I wrote this in 2014, just eight years ago.

 My husband Art is six years older than me and for at least ten years he's been complaining about his aching bones. He's had a hip and a knee replaced, two rotator cuff surgeries and a hand surgery. Oh, and a pacemaker following a cardiac arrest last winter. He didn't use to seem that old to me. When we met we were in our 40s and he was trim and strong and nimble. Now he walks with a little hunch and groans a little when he gets out of his chair. Some days when he's cranky  all he wants to do is read the paper and work the puzzles and read in the living room, I ask if his arthritis is bothering him and he says yes.  

That is not going to happen to me. I know it isn't.

I've been healthy nearly all my life. When I was younger I broke my left arm and my left leg. Once in a while my back would go out, but it would be better within a few days. Usually it happened after I lifted something heavy. 

When I was 59 I ruptured my Achilles tendon working out at the gym. No big deal, the trainer said. I'd have surgery and P.T. and then I'd have a full recovery. So I had the surgery and did the P.T. and have, I'd say, about a 90 percent recovery. I don't have any pain but my right leg is smaller than my left. Something about the other leg compensating or whatever. Funny that didn't happen when I broke my leg at 23.

That same year I strained my SI joint. Maybe doing yoga, or maybe once when I slipped on an icy sidewalk and fell. My chiropractor took X-rays and pointed out that my lower spine is messed up and my pelvis is tilted. He said I was lucky I wasn't in any pain. But I was - for six months my SI joint hurt. We went to Paris for Christmas and I walked with a cane the whole week. Eventually I figured out I could go to the gym and work out on the elliptical trainer and get myself back into shape. I thought I'd recover completely, but the SI still bothers me seven years later when I'm on my feet too much in a day, or spending too much time in an airplane seat. I'm hoping it will get itself in order pretty soon. When I was younger my body always healed right up.

Three years ago I sat down in a chair that was two inches lower than I was expecting and I messed up my back. A light show of nerve sensations ripped down my leg from thigh to knee. Within half an hour my feet were tingling. I went to a chiropractor who said the sensations would pass within a few hours. They didn't. It's been three and a half years. The sensations are still there, though not as strong as they were at first. I hear it can take five years for these kinds of things to clear up and sometimes they never do get better. I think about my feet from time to time, especially when it's cold and they complain, but I don't worry. Everyone gets injured now and then, and I'm no exception. This doesn't have anything to do with getting older.

This summer I did so much watering of my garden that I strained muscles in my arms and legs. They're still bothering me. Really, it's annoying. This never used to happen to me.

I have other little odds and ends of physical issues. Nothing serious. I had one cataract removed a couple of years ago and will take care of the other one next summer. I try to get all my errands run before dark since I don't see so well at night. I'm a little stiff when I wake up in the morning.

But I'm never going to have aching bones like my husband. Not me. Nope.

Now it's 2022, and my story is different!

Now I have aching bones and I complain almost as much as Art. I had my right hip replaced last summer and, though it's healing, my low back and my left knee are complaining. Some days are better than others, of course. But some days aren't. And while we choose to live in Seattle from May to October, I already know that until the rain stops in late June, those aches will be quite bothersome.

I watch younger people in our Tucson retirement community - they're mostly in their 50s - playing tennis and jogging. And I remember how I felt at that age. They have no idea that the same thing will happen to them. Actually, they've been told it will happen, but they don't really believe it. Just like I didn't.

This afternoon I'll take an eight-mile ride on my electric bike. It will be so easy, with a little bit of pedal assist, that I'll be inclined to forget I'm one of those with aching bones. 

Until I get off the bike and climb the four stairs to our house.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Not an ordinary week!

This has been a week!

A week ago today I got a video from my Afghan friends Shakofe and Nasar. Shakofe had arrived with her family in Turin earlier in the week, and her brother Nasar had driven with his wife and four children from Germany to be reunited with his sister, whom he had not seen in six years. I played the video several times, tearing up at least once, and feeling so glad for the outcome of Shakofe's journey.

Early in the afternoon I had an hour-long Zoom call with my sister and brother-in-law. My husband Art joined that call, and we talked and laughed together.

Then the carpet cleaner came. While he worked, I sat on the deck and read in the sunshine. I didn't know what Art was up to.  When the carpet guy left I went to find Art. 

He was lying on the bed. He said he felt terrible after half a dozen occurrences of vomiting and diarrhea. I took his temperature and it was 100.4. I gave him a covid test and it was negative. Within half an hour his color had changed to a grayish blue. I took his temp again and it was 102.1. Art said he had never felt so bad. By this time his voice was husky and his breathing was rapid and shallow.

I called the consulting nurse for Kaiser Permanente, our health care provider. She asked me a few questions, then asked to speak to Art. His voice was faint. I took the phone back from him. The nurse said, "You need to call 9-1-1."

I said, "Art, she says I should call 9-1-1." He said, "No." I said "Yes."

Ten minutes after my call to 9-1-1, the EMTs arrived at our house. Art's oxygen saturation was 83. Within 15 minutes they had carried him on a gurney to the ambulance and left for Banner University Medical Center.

Before I went to the hospital myself, I contacted several close friends; I knew I'd need their support for whatever came up.

By the time I got to the emergency room, Art was wearing an oxygen mask and receiving antibiotics. The doctor told me it was likely Art had a bacterial infection that had gotten to his bloodstream. When he arrived at the hospital he had severe sepsis - septic shock. 

The medical team at Banner saved Art's life on Saturday night with oxygen and antibiotics and expertise. A lab culture grew e-coli within two days. He spent the next four days in the hospital's Progressive Care Unit as the staff monitored his progress and administered IV antibiotics and fluids. I talked to the doctors and the nurses. They were all committed to educating us as to what was happening and the plan for Art's treatment.

By Thursday Art's medications were being administered orally and his supplemental oxygen was discontinued. And yesterday, Friday afternoon, he was discharged from the hospital. He'll be resting and recovering at home for the next week or so. Today he spent the day in his pajamas, watching TV. I went for take-out Thai soup, and as he ate it, his face lit up at the flavor. It's been a week since that last happened.

I called the Kaiser consulting nurse service and thanked them for saving his life. The nurse I talked to got a message sent directly to her. I called the ambulance service and thanked them. I have the name and email address of the administrator of the Banner hospital team. I will thank the medical team, through her, on Monday. It often happens that these lifesavers don't know the outcome of what they do. I think it's important to let them know.

Grateful, grateful, grateful!


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Journey's end for my Afghan friend

Last Sunday, my Afghan friend Samira and her family flew from Islamabad, through Abu Dhabi and Rome, to Turin. Samira has been offered a one-year research project at the University of Turin. They are now finishing up their 10-day covid quarantine in an airbnb. They have been welcomed by the academic community and she is very glad and grateful to have arrived in a safe place to begin a new life for her family. 

This was Samira's first Facebook post when she arrived in Italy.

I Never Give Up!

Maybe sometimes I will be disappointed, maybe I will be tired, but I will not give up!
In addition to working as Ph.D. scholar on the "political system of Afghanistan", in these difficult circumstances, my efforts became not less but more.
I won a research project “Asylum System and University Experience: The Role of the Mentoring Project in the Political Socialization Processes of the Afghan Refugee Community in Italy”.
I hope I can be useful for my country ,and all the friends who supported me, especially Professor Simona Taliani, my good colleague at the University of Turin, Italy, Ruth and Linda, my good friends who were with me during all the difficult days.
Good Days Will Come Soon!

Last week I sent two international wire transfers. The first was for the family's airfare, donated by my friend Jan and her partner Jack. The second was for lodging and living expenses for two months until Samira's first paycheck arrives. 21 people donated $8,000! I am so grateful.

We are all in this together. I still believe it.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Good news from my Afghan friend Samira

I chatted online last night with my Afghan friend Samira, who is still in Pakistan with her husband and three small children. In December she had found a research scholarship the University of Turin in Italy. All she had to do was get there.

Acquiring a visa required passports stamped to prove legal entry into Pakistan. And she did not have those, because when the family left Afghanistan and entered Pakistan, its passports were taken, then returned, with no stamps. Also, at the border, the family's luggage was stolen, with all of Samira's documents buried beneath the clothing. This is often the case with migrants entering a new country. 

No exceptions were allowed for Samira and her family to leave Pakistan without the passport documentation. So she recently returned to the border and got the passports stamped. That is a story for another time. I was pretty much speechless when she told me about it.

On February 2 Samira will take her passports to the Italian embassy in Islamabad, and she told me the visas should be issued within a day or so. The family will then be able to fly to Italy to begin a new life.

I have two friends, Janet and Jack, who have offered to pay the travel expenses for Samira and her family. I have been in touch with Simona, Samira's Italian contact, who is a university professor. She is working with a travel agent to get prices for a flight to Milan and a train to Turin. I will wire the funds; Janet and Jack will reimburse me.

Simona tells me that Samira's first paycheck will not be issued for two months, so funds will be needed to support the family until that time. Her paycheck will be 2,000 euros a month. So I will be doing some fundraising in the next week to give her 4,000 euros (about $4500) for rent and living expenses until her paychecks begin. 

We hear so often about the tragedies experienced by refugees who have to leave their homeland because their lives are in danger. I met many of them when I volunteered at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece. Samira is the sister of Nadim, one of those Oinofyta refugees. When Samira and her family arrive in Italy next week, I will be relieved and grateful to have helped.

I tell this story often:

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man laughed to himself and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference to that one.”

(adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley)

If you want to help Samira with a contribution to her living expenses for the first two months, please email me at, or call or text me at 206-499-0934.

We are all in this together!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Happy cat

We've had Larisa, our Designer Cat, for 11 years. She is a Siberian Forest cat; her registered name is Windrifter Larisa of Lundberg. She was a breeding queen at a small cattery in Oregon, and she was retired when she was five years old. We bought her because my husband Art is allergic to cats, but Larisa is a very-low-allergen cat and he is not allergic to her.

Larisa would not let us touch her until she had lived with us for 62 days. Now she's a typical cat.  We can touch her when she lets us.

We live in a Seattle suburb for six months of each year, and in Tucson for the other six months. Larisa travels on the plane in a soft-sided crate under the seat. She knows both of our homes and heads for the litter box when she first arrives at each place.

Last June, in Washington, I watched her exploring the yard. She looked a little hesitant, a little stiff. I guessed she had some arthritis in her hips. I hadn't noticed it until then because we'd been in Tucson, where it's warmer and drier and easier on the joints of most elderly creatures. We called our vet and she prescribed gabapentin for Larisa's arthritis. Powder in a gel tab. We spent most of the summer trying to get Larisa to take her medicine, a usually fruitless effort very familiar to cat owners all over the world.

Also last summer, Art had back surgery in June and I had a hip replacement in August. We were both distracted by some pain and by the pre- and post-surgical limitations each of us had. Larisa had gotten a close haircut in the spring, when the weather in Tucson got hot, and it grew all summer in Washington. By the time we left for Tucson again in October, Larisa looked like a slow-moving hedgehog.

I noticed that she wasn't grooming herself much. She had mats in her fur - under her chin, on her belly and on her back just in front of her tail. We'd brush her, but she was sensitive in the matted areas. Her coat looked dull. I wondered if she was sick, or just on the decline.

Last month, finally, we made an appointment for Larisa to be groomed. She got a bath and a haircut. It had been over six months. Art and I had been distracted enough by our own issues that we hadn't thought about it. We realized then that Larisa's arthritis had prevented her from reaching the mats to take care of them herself. When she moved or we brushed her, the mats had pulled on her skin. 

When we brought Larisa home from the groomer's, she was a different cat. She had a very short cut. She spent the first half hour grooming herself. Then she played with toys she'd ignored for months. She sits on my lap now most evenings. She sleeps in our bed most of the night. 

She's a happy cat. She's purring on my lap right now, her tail resting on my keyboard.