Global Volunteers, Cook Islands

Let me introduce you to Global Volunteer’s Vaca 139. Why “Vaca”?  Because it is the Maori word for boat, and  it serves as a reminder that we are all in the same boat–we’re in this together.

The 139 is self explanatory:  we are the 139th group of Global Volunteers to serve in Rarotonga. Of Vaca 139’s ten volunteers, six have been here before, which speaks volumes about this assignment. Half of the group will be staying for two weeks.  I am one of the five that opted for three weeks.

Standing:  Dave, Larry, Willy Middle: James, Lynda, Shelley, Bud Front: Robyn, Patrick, Sally, Niki
Standing: Dave, Larry, Willy
Middle: James, the country manager,  Lynda, Shelley, Bud
Front: Robyn, Patrick, Sally, Niki

So what were we going to do during our stay?  Larry and Sally split their time between the prison and the high school.  When she was not in jail, Sally was a one woman “beautifier”, sprucing up the exterior of Tereora College.  She was leaving HER mark in flowers, while Larry, a former math teacher, gave his students practical skills, such as learning how to calculate nutritional values and convert celsius to fahrenheit.

Robyn and Dave worked in Titikavaka College. Bud, an Ob/Gyn, returned to the hospital to offer his assistance, and Lynda worked with the Ministry of Education, developing plans for special needs children.

Willy and Niki, Patrick and I were delighted to be assigned to an elementary school.  Papa Patrick, an artist from Florida, very thoughtfully brought along a suitcase full of watercolors and paper.  He spent the first two of the three weeks at the school, helping the children make cards; the last week he taught disabled adults at the Creative Center with Lynda.

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Uncle Willy worked with the third graders during class time.

Uncle Willy with the third grade class.
Uncle Willy with the third grade class.
Can you see why it required more than one attempt to photograph THIS group?
Can you see why it required more than one attempt to photograph THIS group?

Once the drums started beating (yes, that’s right–there are no bells, there are drums that mark the start and finish of school periods) he was out in the field, playing soccer with boys of ALL ages, regardless of the heat and humidity.

Time to get into your classroom!
Time to get into your classroom!

If you would like a more vivid drumming experience, Just click on this YouTube link.

Niki and I preferred more sedentary (and cooler) ways to interact with the children during “free” time.  During the school day, she worked one on one with fourth and fifth graders.
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My first week was spent helping out in the office.  Their secretary had abruptly quit right before we arrived, leaving a mountain of unfinished paperwork.  A basic principle of Global Volunteers is that you do whatever you are asked to do, so I got busy copying, doing excel spreadsheets, data entry, and report cards.   James figured that my years in the insurance industry would mean I was good at office work.  I didn’t bother to tell him that wasn’t quite what I did, and once I left the world of paid employment, I said goodbye to PCs to become an Apple devotee.  I was shocked at how much windows and excel had changed in just a couple of years!  Fortunately, speed was not important, and I was able to figure it out–although the copy machine WAS a bit of a struggle.

The best part of my assignment was I shared the principal’s office, so I got to know this warm, gracious, interesting woman. Because she had recently married, she generously shared her wedding photos and the stories about people in them, her extended family.

In the principal's office
Engia, the principal, and her new secretary

Of course, I was able to take several breaks during the day to play and read with the children, who LOVED to have their photos taken, AND to take photos.   Here are a few schoolyard shots.

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Stay tuned for the next post–the coronation!

Grander than Grand

Magnificent!  Spectacular!  Those adjectives are far more accurate descriptions of the natural wonder that we call The Grand Canyon.   It is very difficult to capture in a photograph the enormity of this “hole in the ground”.

An early explorer, with the catchy name of James Christmas Ives, was unimpressed.  He dubbed it a “profitless locality”  and predicted  “the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” Had cable news been around during his day, he might have had a brilliant career as a pundit. (I leave it to you to decide which station would hire him).

After meeting at the Scottsdale Cottonwoods Resort in Scottsdale, our group of 35 headed off to the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs via Sedona and Flagstaff.   Our hotel is on the reservation, right by the railroad tracks.  Somehow that image didn’t make it into the hotel’s decorative window.IMG_0253It occurred to me that the trains’ engineers might have been a little annoyed that they were working while others were sleeping.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for blasting the horn multiple times as they approached the town.  And yes, there were many, many trains–about 1 every 15 minutes. Made me feel really sorry for the people who live in the Peach Springs.

The big attractions for the western Canyon were the helicopter rides down to the canyon’s bottom, river rafting to Lake Mead on the “snout rigs”, and the Sky Walk.

First the Sky Walk.  It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned.  We didn’t go out on it, but we saw it from the top of the canyon,

View of the Sky Walk from the rim
View of the Sky Walk from the rim

then later from our river raft.  It’s that silver oval, jutting out from the top of the photo. What do you think? Worth an additional $70?

View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River
View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River

We didn’t think so either.

Back to the western canyon–here’s the view from the rim–very subdued colors, with a sediment laden river (that very brown ribbon) winding along the bottom. The Colorado River is quite low because of 12 years worth of droughts and the additional water needs of the area’s growing population.
P1000247Mike and I were in the last group of chopper riders, so we had time to become “one” with the landscape and to take pictures of our new friends as they climbed aboard.

The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by
The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by

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I was lucky enough to get a front seat.IMG_0650

Prior to this trip, we had toyed with the idea of rafting and camping through the canyon. Our ride on the snout rig absolutely settled that issue!
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I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those rigs are not the most comfortable way to travel. And if you are seated in the front, you are guaranteed to get wet, even when there are no rapids. Guess what–the water is COLD.

Our land transportation, on the other hand, was luxurious. Good thing, because we traveled from one end of the canyon to the other:  from Lake Mead to Lake Powell, logging many hours on that bus.P1010290
Our next stop was the one most visited by tourists–the south rim. The advantage to going a little later in the season was that the park was not crowded. Fortunately, we didn’t go TOO late. Had we waited another week, we would have found the park closed, thanks to our fine congressmen. But that’s another story.

There are so many possible captions for this next photo. “Death Wish”, “Just one more step back, honey”,  “Did you send the check to the insurance company?”…

No, they were not with OUR group!
No, they were not with OUR group!

For the more adventurous, the South Rim offers the opportunity to hike (or ride) along Bright Angel Trail.
P1010058Dinner at El Tovar was not part of our tour package, but we decided to forgo the Maswick Cafeteria and enjoy that beautiful setting.

Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar
Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar

The next morning, while my two favorite traveling companions caught up on their beauty sleep, I returned to the edge of the rim to catch the sunrise.

P1010043I had the view pretty much to myself.

P1010023Our last leg of the journey was to Glen Canyon where we enjoyed another raft trip and a tour of the dam.

View of the dam from the river
View of the dam from the river

If you look closely at the next photo, you will see our rafts on the left hand side of the river. We get there via a two mile tunnel carved through the rock.

View of river from the dam
View of river from the dam

Drew, our fantastic river guide, kept us informed and entertained, as he guided us down the river. A former Marine and lawyer, he chooses to spend his days piloting rafts on the river, and we all benefited greatly from that decision.
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Drew explained the significance of the petroglyphs, including the “modern” one. Can you make out the word “Trent” carved into the rock? it seems Trent just had to leave his mark, and in doing so, he also contributed many dollars and hours of community service for defacing a historical site. Yep, he got caught.

Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs

Some people never learn. Once again, I sat in the front. Once again, I got SOAKED from head to toe.
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We spent our final night in Marble Canyon.

Here it is--the town of Marble Canyon
Here it is–the town of Marble Canyon

The best part about being in such a remote area is the skies are magnificently dark. We were lucky enough to have a professional astronomer with us–Mike gave us a wonderful impromptu lecture on the heavens.  It was a great finale to a fantastic trip!P1010353

Retirement Redefined

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Sometimes the most valuable insights are the ones you stumble upon.

I’ve been very fortunate to be able to spend time in other countries, learning about different cultures, values and philosophies.  Doing so brought American culture into sharper focus, but what really helped me examine our way of life from a different vantage point was a piece written by Dr. L Robert Kohls, the Director of International Programs at San Francisco State University.  Entitled “Why do Americans Act Like That”, it was intended to help international students deal with culture shock.

Here comes the insight part.  It struck me that four of Kohls’ thirteen points provide a great explanation of American attitudes toward retirement.  See what you think.  I’ve changed the order of the points  and slightly shortened some of them, but otherwise directly quoted.

Action/Work Orientation

“Don’t just stand there, do something!”  This expression, though normally used in a crisis situation, in a sense describes most Americans’ waking life, where action – any action – is seen as superior to inaction.  Americans routinely schedule an extremely active day.  Any relaxation must be limited in time and aimed at “recreating” so that they can work harder once their “recreation” is over.  Such a “no nonsense” attitude toward life has created a class of people known as “workaholics” – people addicted to, and often wholly identified with, their job or profession. The first question people often ask when they meet each other in the U.S. is related to work: “what do you do?”

Self-Help Initiative

Americans take credit for only what they accomplish as individuals.  In an English-Language dictionary, there are more than 100 composite words that have the word “self” as a prefix: self-aware, self-confident, self control.  The equivalent of these words cannot be found in most other languages.

Time and Its Control 

Time is of utmost importance to most Americans.  It is something to be on, kept, filled, saved, used, spent, wasted, lost, gained, planned, given, even killed.  Americans are more concerned about getting things accomplished on time than they are with developing interpersonal relations.  Their lives seem controlled by the little machines they wear on their wrists.

Future Orientation

Americans value the culture and the improvements the future will surely bring.  They devalue the past and are, to a large extent, unconscious of the present.  Even a happy present goes largely unnoticed because Americans are hopeful that the future will bring even greater happiness.

Wow.  That sure got ME thinking!  Or should I say, becoming more “self aware”?

When I announced my intention to retire, the most frequent question I was asked  (can you guess?) was  “what are you going to do all day”.   There you have it–the perfect display of our “work/action orientation”.  I’ll admit that after almost 40 years of “to do lists”, objectives, project plans and performance reviews, it took a while for me to truly realize that I don’t HAVE to do anything.  A day can be perfect even if at the end of it, I can’t point to a single significant accomplishment. Okay, did you just get a mental image of me plopped on the couch, glassy eyed, with remote in one hand and cheese doodles in the other?

If your ‘self worth” is defined by what you have “made” of yourself,  which is generally taken to mean what occupation you have, then retirement can indeed feel like a loss of identity.  Couple that with our notions of time and our future orientation, and it becomes clear why many Americans fear the unstructured time that retirement provides.

I realize how fortunate I am to have been able to  choose to retire, rather than having retirement thrust upon me because of poor health or job elimination.  But for those of you with negative stereotypes about retirement, well, maybe the term “retirement” needs a make-over.  Hey, I’ve spent the last 6 decades being bombarded by advertising.  I know  Madison Avenue can help with this.  So, here’s how Peggy Olsen and Don Draper would wordsmith my answer to the question, “what do you do”?

I am the CEO of Destination Now, (well, as its only employee, I am also its receptionist, administrative assistant and janitor, although my husband Mike might argue that last job title belongs to him.  But hey, this is MY blog so I get to say what I want) a “lifestyle management” company (whose only customers are Mike and me, although occasionally my bossiness–I mean “management skills”– expand to engulf close friends, sisters and cousins).

Our current projects include containing health care costs,  (Okay, so we go to the Y regularly, and I cook healthy meals–no high fructose corn syrup for us, and I swear the red wine and dark chocolate are only consumed for their health benefits)  supporting the global economy,  (I take my obligation to buy from local vendors very seriously when we travel.  That’s where my contest prizes come from!) and promoting early childhood literacy (this last one is real).  How’s that?  Better?

Now, about that “Future Orientation”…this blog is entitled “Destination Now” to remind me that I have arrived.  The first 30  years of my life was preparation: getting educated, finding a life partner, starting on a career path, becoming a mother.  The next 30 was implementation: putting all that preparation to work.  And now it is fruition: enjoying all of the fruits of prior labors, focusing on the here and now, making the most of every day, even if that means allowing the day to unfold without any plan or need for accomplishments.

Way back during my high school days, one of my closest friends shared with me this definition of success.  (Maybe Emerson was the author, maybe not, but does it really matter?)  I think it is the perfect ending to today’s post.

Success

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.