With Luck, I’ve Learned A Lesson

My last walk was ten miles through downtown San Miquel de Allende and ended with this steep climb – hundreds of steps – up to my home near the top of the mountain.

I’m feeling boundlessly grateful today for my robust immune system and the two AstraZeneca vaccines that strengthened that solid foundation. This is my seventh day of isolation. I have Covid.

At first I ‘knew’ it was ‘just a cold.’ It felt like every other cold I’ve ever had. But I quarantined myself while my daughters urged me to get tested. I sent out a request to my new friends here in San Miguel for a home test kit and one appeared. The very clear POSITIVE reading stunned me.

How could that be? It’s just a cold.

But it isn’t just. And now, seven days into the experience, I feel the difference. The coughing has passed. The fever’s gone. A raging strep-like sore throat has finally dissipated. My nose runs but the congestion was never extreme. My bronchial tubes and trachea remained clear. I had no problem breathing.

But what happened to that powerhouse of energy that used to propel me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and keep me going like Napolean’s army until sundown and sweet sleep?

Gone without a trace.

I have no choice but to rest, which I haven’t done since leaving Bali three-and-a-half months ago. Of course, all this downtime brings with it hours upon hours to reflect on – well – seventy-two years of life, and be humbled. There were events I shouldn’t have survived physically. There were years when I could have been devastated emotionally. There were traumas that might have left unhealable wounds.

But none of that happened. Why?

As I reflect on that question, I see the faces of kindness at each fork in the road.

Kindness.

In the last seven days, confined at home, one after another of my new friends have messaged me,

“We’ve found a test kit. We’ll drop it by…”

“You must need groceries, Send us your list…”

“How are you feeling today? If you need anything…”

“If you need anything…”

“If you need anything…”

Kindness.

My daughters were relentless. They knew far more about the virus than I did and my cavalier approach brought out the mama-bear fury in each of them. I was scolded, educated, and reminded how much I was loved.

I’m a bit ashamed that I had to be knocked flat out to realize the unsustainable pace I’d set for myself. It isn’t like there weren’t gentle nudges along the way. (Falling off the pillow and conking my head, for example – not so gentle but definitely a nudge.) Then along came Covid making it physically impossible for me to push myself.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, that’s it. Will this time be the charm? Will I accept that I’m human, elderly, and have limitations? Oooo. That’s a tough one. I guess time will tell.

You’re not in Kansas anymore…

I click my Ruby Red Slippers and I’m in Oz! Well, maybe not Ruby Slippers – more like warm socks with ugly shoes. And maybe not Oz, exactly…

I’m sitting on the rooftop terrace of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, thawing.

It’s been a long journey, mentally, physically, and especially emotionally. When did this transition begin?

In my heart, I could feel it three years ago. It was the kind of knowing that something had changed and something else was coming, but I had no idea what or when. Then Covid arrived and the pandemic took over the world. It stopped me in my tracks and made me face the reality of my age and the distance from my family. It created an urgency that had been absent before.

After finally getting my second vaccination, and jumping through a great many hoops, I was on the plane to the U.S. On October 4th I landed in San Francisco and spent two jetlagged weeks hiking the rocky coast along Highway 101 with Jessa and her partner, Dan.

The contrast between the U.S. and Bali stunned me. It felt so normal, so like life as I remembered it, before…

Dazed and overwhelmed I did my darndest to be in the present moment with them and integrate into the vibrant energy of California. I think I failed. I’m pretty sure I failed. On the heels of two stressful years in a destitute Bali, seeing the abundance of life-as-we-knew-it playing out before my eyes while my friends on the island suffered lockdown isolation, presented a dichotomy that hurt my heart.

So I stuffed that reality into the chamber of my mind that says, “I’ll think about this later,” and continued my cross-country journey.

In Minnesota it was an ecstatic, far too-long-awaited reunion with Jenny and Kennen and my delightful twin grandsons. We’d all aged two years since my last visit. The twins, at two and wobbly, were now four, running, bouncing, and talking non-stop. Those two little guys are incredibly well-behaved. Their patient, loving, but strict parents provide the magic formula for ultra-creative kids who could otherwise manufacture all kinds of trouble!

My sister and her husband live in northern Minnesota on the remote edge of nowhere. In a whirlwind week with them, I reconnected with many of my Norwegian relatives and friends. I drank more coffee and ate more cookies and cheesecakes than I’d had in years.

Gwen and her husband W, bought the family farm. She knows me better than anyone and we share a common history, common that is until I moved to Hawaii. A year later, she moved to Arizona. Covid reunited us through emails. We’ve maybe missed three days of correspondence since February 2020. I love my sister. Now my logical Capricorni-ness understands her quirky Gemini-ness far better than I used to.

My daughters and their partners are wise, wonderful adults coping unbelievably well in their individual, unique circumstances. I’m so proud of them. I had one more family to see.

Joy and Kellen and my two grandaughters welcomed me into their busy boisterous lives with open arms, bountiful snuggles, and affectionate kisses. Two years ago, my newborn granddaughter had raven black hair and screeched whenever Mommy was on the phone with Granny. Now she’d turned two with golden curls, a bubbly, joyful child. And my five-year-old granddaughter, in Kindergarten full time, is a budding zoologist. She stores more facts about animals in her head than I ever knew. Their dad, Kellen, maintains a loving, much-needed order in that household of independent females which was especially appreciated while Joy and I spent hours brainstorming ideas for her business. She also gave me great feedback for a new service I’m considering. More on that another time!

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All this while, I kept reading the news from Bali. My original plan was to fly back to San Francisco for one last week with Jessa and Dan then return to Indonesia. My ticket was for Dec. 6th. But the rules were strict and inescapable: if I went back I would have to quarantine in a hotel in Jakarta for 10 days at my own expense, and the devastating economic circumstances in Bali hadn’t changed.

Sitting in front of the fireplace on a chilly evening in Pennsylvania with the girls burrowed close on either side of me, I agonized.

The last thing I wanted to do was return to Bali with a new variant, Omicron, bringing more uncertainty. Over the past two years, I’d come to the conclusion that I wanted, and needed, to be closer to my U.S. family. Mexico, it seemed, was the logical option. Why not check it out before going back? See if it was a fit. I had friends in San Miguel de Allende.

Suddenly that seemed like the most common-sense idea I’d ever had. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with Singapore Airlines. They finally agreed to change my return ticket to January 4th, 2022, with a valid reason and another $50 added to the original price. I hoped I could trust the old saying: Take a step and the path will appear. The Universe seemed to be showing the way.

That’s when I clicked my Ruby Red Ugly Shoes!

ReAnn Scott (My Home On The Roam) welcomed me with overwhelming hospitality. In the first eight days, I met more people, had more invitations, (even played Rummikub with a group of fifteen people that meets weekly) than I’ve ever before in my life experienced. Everyone was friendly, inclusive, and best of all, interesting.

With ReAnn’s help, I found a house to rent that exceeded my wildest hopes. Another piece of the puzzle clinked into place.

Years ago, when I was trying desperately to figure out who I was, I made a list of things I love. Not people, things. One item on the list was: Sunlight streaming through French doors.

  • This house has five sets of double French doors.
  • I wanted to live on the second floor. The house is built above a first-floor garage/storage/laundry space. The living quarters are on the second floor.
  • I wanted a rooftop terrace. I have that, too, with a 360° view of San Miguel de Allende.
  • I wanted to be in the area called Centro which is close to the town center and I needed rooms with plenty of open space drenched in light. There are huge skylights in every room and it’s a fifteen-minute walk to the famous cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, that occupies the place of honor in the heart of the city.
  • I had a budget. The rental amount was within the parameters I’d set.
  • Last but not least, it had to be a Mexican-style home, not new construction void of all personality. Plaster walls, a wood-beamed ceiling, bright Mexican tiles…it had everything I wanted plus a kitchen that would make a professional chef jealous!

The Universe laughed and I knew instantly this house was mine. I paid the deposit and moved in the next day. That was fourteen days ago.

And now I know won’t be returning to The Island of the Gods on January 4th. I have a 180-day visa for Mexico and I intend to extend that permanently. This already feels like home.

This morning I journaled for the first time in over a month. In a few paragraphs, tears were flooding the pages and smearing the ink. That chamber where I’d stuffed those vulnerable feelings about Bali and the friends I was leaving behind cracked open. I sobbed for a long time.

As I write this, grief wells up again.

I had ten phenomenal years there. My dear Ketut and his family helped me grow, learn, and heal some very old wounds. He was my closest friend, loyal employee, and wise teacher. I’ve written about Ketut and our hair-raising motorbike adventures many times over the years.

His family accepted me as their own.

Perhaps deep in my subconscious I knew I wouldn’t be back but couldn’t face the goodbyes to him and so many others: Nina, who became like a daughter.

My friends in the Ubud Writer’s Group who challenged me to edit, edit, edit!

Mu and Shane who provided laughter, deep philosophical conversations, and loving support.

The courageous and beautiful Sriy Sinawati who will one day follow her dream…

And many more…so many goodbyes unsaid…

And yet, I know this is the right place at the right time for me. A new adventure for this dreamer. Won’t you please, come along…?

Pandemic life in Bali eighteen months and counting

We’ve logged eighteen months of Covid in Bali. Nobody thought it would last this long. Nobody had a clue how devastating it would be to the economy, to morale, to human life. I wish I could say we’re learning to live with it. We’re not. There’s still a never-never-land hope that soon tourists will return. Soon everything will be like it was before. Soon.

Soon was supposed to be June, 2020. That was scrapped and moved to August 2020. Each new date set for the reopening of international tourism was exchanged for a later one. The most recent was this month, September 2021. We all knew it wouldn’t happen as the Delta variant bore down on Indonesia making it the world epicenter for the virus.

I hate to preach doom and gloom, but the only upside I can see to this prolonged slog through hell is a return to the land for those who didn’t sell out to the highest bidder. Paddies, neglected for years while their owners taxied foreigners to and from the airport, guided tours, sold sarongs, or opened cafes, are being tended again.

Fireflies haven’t returned yet but birds and butterflies have. Roads aren’t clogged with trucks belching black fumes, and there are no drones, helicopters, or planes disturbing the peaceful sky. Only kites. Hundreds of them pirouette on unseen currents high above. These photos are from the annual Kite Festival in Sanur, Bali. This year it didn’t happen, of course.

When there’s no work there’s an abundance of time – time enough to go fly a kite.

For many Balinese, however, there isn’t enough money to buy food, and the lack of funds affects the animal population as well. This article, Bali’s tourist drought sees hundreds of hungry monkeys raiding homes, hit international news today. These are the monkeys that visit me. They never used to leave the Sacred Monkey Forest which is a quarter mile from my home. But now they have no food and no tourists to entertain them. They’re bored, hungry, and they’re multiplying at an astonishing rate. (Nothing else to do, may as well make love.)

The longer the situation persists, the more aggressive they become. They use my roof to stage their battles. I wake up at dawn to the sound of snarling monkeys waging war as clay roof tiles crash to the ground. If Ketut isn’t here to do immediate repairs, I know the next rain will pour through the ceiling wreaking unspeakable damage.

I captured a photo of this guy coming toward my upstairs landing across the old roof.

Hoards of roving monkeys, thirty to fifty at a time, appear multiple times a day every day. Whatever isn’t behind closed doors is fair game, a plate of fruit, a bottle of water, a bouquet of flowers. They’re looking for something – anything – to eat.

Their petty thievery was manageable, but the roof issue was not.

Ketut and I engaged in endless conversations attempting to arrive at a solution to the problem. The situation was dire. I had to replace the fragile tiles with something monkey-proof.

Last week we found the answer. Genteng pasir. Literally translated that’s sand tiles, a pressed metal shingle coated with a gritty substance and painted the color of a traditional roof. The look was perfect and the price was right.

Ketut lined up a team, placed orders for shingles, nails, lumber, and cement, and work began. First, the old tiles came off.

The three-man crew worked, ate, and slept here, on site. They began at 8:00 a.m. and stopped at 6:30 p.m. when the sun went down. We provided their meals, coffee, and beds.

Ketut was the busiest of all, running to get take out food three times a day, making coffee, keeping the necessary building supplies on hand. Food, coffee, and snacks were all part of the package to ensure that the guys stayed well-nourished and happy.

They worked seven full days, non-stop, and did a stellar job.

Isn’t that a splendid sight?

I didn’t realize how on-edge I was. Even now, three days later, I find myself stiffening with a lump of dread in my stomach when I hear the beasts coming. Then I remember, oh! My roof is monkey-proof. I can relax.

Just in time.

Rainy season approaches and there’s nothing as important as an intact roof when tropical storms shed their pent-up tears in torrents – gallons per second!

It doesn’t solve the greater problem. The economy is worse than ever. People and monkeys are still hungry. I’m acutely aware of my privilege as a foreigner living here. Because I’m a long-term expat with the necessary documentation, I was given my vaccinations free, same as the locals. I follow government protocol to the letter, grateful for the measures they’re taking to end this plague so living can find its rhythm and a better life for all can begin.

Soon. Hopefully, soon.

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It all began the day before…

We set off around 8:30 a.m. for Sanur. The excitement that pumped through my veins would soon be joined by the second dose of the AstraZeneca cocktail. I’d waited three months for this moment.

When we arrived, even at that early hour, we weren’t alone. This is one-quarter of the motorbike parking area. “Lots of people,” Ketut said. “We may have to wait a long time.”

The staff at Bali Mandara have their gig down. My blood pressure and temperature were taken in one room. I was ushered into another cubicle for the prick. The whole thing was over in twenty minutes and we were on our way home.

I had no reaction at all to the first jab, so when I awoke for toilet visitation at 4 a.m. the next morning, I expected nothing out of the ordinary. I sat up. The room did a somersault and two spins as a black curtain descended over my consciousness. I slowly, carefully, lay back down.

WTF was that?!

I breathed deep to calm myself but my heart had a new dance step, an awkward thump and flutter that did nothing to ease my spiraling fear. With intense concentration and a level of willpower I didn’t know I had, I made it to the bathroom and back to bed. Then slept.

When I awoke again two hours later, the barest movement of my head brought whirling nausea. It had gotten worse.

Breathe, Sherry. Don’t panic. Breathe…

At times like these, which are extremely rare and always seem to happen when Ketut has gone to his village for a few days, I debate with myself. Should I call someone? The doors are locked. I can’t get up to unlock them. Maybe just let a friend know that I’m feeling unwell. What if I become completely compromised and someone needs access to my bank account? Better send the pin number to Ketut, just in case. No, then he’ll worry and won’t want to get his second dose…

Sleep overtook my internal narrative.

The next time I woke up I had a plan. Inch by inch, with long rests in-between, I would scooch myself up the curved arm of my bed until I was sitting upright.

I scooched the first inch.

The room’s rock-n-roll started but I stared at my tented knees as though they were the key to salvation – and it seems they were. The room settled.

I scooched the second inch staring at my knees.

The third.

The fourth.

At the fifth scooch my head cleared the arm of the bed. I clasped my hands behind my neck to fool my body into thinking my head was still supported by the pillow.

The sixth, the seventh, the eighth – I was sitting. So I sat. Waiting to stabilize. Hopeful.

My phone was within reach. I googled side effects of 2nd dose AstraZeneca. Dizziness and irregular heartbeat were not on the list. But farther down, where it said If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor immediately, there it was: dizziness and weakness. That didn’t make me feel better, but it did motivate me to use every humanly possible effort to beat this nasty situation.

With the same plodding slowness I’d used to sit, I shifted position so my feet could rest on the floor. Eyes straight ahead, at the pace of grass growing, I levered myself up. I stood. Took a baby step. Stopped. Took another. I was walking.

I unlocked the door.

By 2:00 p.m., starving, I baby-stepped to the kitchen, ate, then slept again, sitting up.

By 6:00 p.m. I didn’t have to be as careful. I could stand, walk, and pivot slowly without dire consequences. My heart wasn’t behaving yet, but I knew I’d conquered. The worst was over.

When my girls were little I read them this book:

ALEXANDER TERRIBLE HORRIBLE.jpg

Poor Alexander. His day really sucked. But not as much as mine did.

This morning my heart beats steadily. My body’s tired but it isn’t struggling to maintain an even keel. I’ve reached out to friends with my scary story and have gotten loving messages in return. That works so much better for me than having them rush to my rescue when there’s absolutely nothing they can do.

I debated posting about my experience but we’re all wired so differently that the standard responses to vaccines, or whatever life throws our way, can vary greatly.

I’m going on record as one of those who doesn’t fit the mold. Maybe my story will bring comfort to someone else who wakes up one morning wondering WTF.

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