The lady who worked in the kitchen hadn’t a whole lot of English. We got our messages through to her via elaborate miming and scattered Spanish words which entertained her to no end. She was an amazing cook until it came to mashed potatoes, she could make anything except this… this concept was foreign and vulgar to her when rice is obviously the answer to all of life’s problems.
One of the kids wanted a black coffee one morning. I considered telling him that coffee was no good for minors but I wanted one too, so I let it slide.
“How do you say ‘black’, in Spanish?” he asked me.
“Negro” I said instantly. I had no idea how I knew and wasn’t entirely sure if I was right, but went with it anyway. My conscience told me that I was taking a big risk, if I was wrong, I was racist. If I was right, I was forcing a minor to be racist. Latin can be a cruel thing, sometimes.
“What? I can’t say that!” his eyes grew large as saucers.
“But that’s what ‘black’ translates as! ‘Negro’!” I told him.
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure?!?! Am I about to make the biggest social mistake of my life?”
“I’m about 91% sure”, I replied.
He wandered into the kitchen and disappeared for a few minutes before returning with his head hung low, and a mug of steaming black coffee in his hand.
“Was I right?”
“Yes” he quietly replied.
His hang-dog expression lasted for a while, as did mine. We both felt dirty, but knew it was not our fault, it was society’s. The lady in the kitchen had no idea why we were so sad, but she sliced up some extra pineapple and put on another pot of coffee for us anyway. I liked the kitchen lady a lot. Our husband’s names were the same, even though we lived thousands of miles apart, and her son was the same age as my youngest. The latter bounced around the camp every day and made me homesick.
I washed up for her some nights after her shift had ended.
Others asked me why I’d bother washing up when I wasn’t paid to do it, so I told them it was to keep the ants away. I really did it because I liked the kitchen lady, and the view she had from her window. Maybe I really did it because I wasn’t sure what else to do or say in the company of so many bright-sparks, sometimes to merge into the back-ground is the wisest thing to do, no matter how misunderstood this action can be.
I took pleasure in the thinking that maybe she’d arrive in the morning to find the previous night’s work done and think it was fairies that did it, or maybe she didn’t notice at all.
Either way, it worked out well for both of us I guess.
This hut reminded me of Animal from the muppets, though I have no idea why.
I woke up in the middle of a dream where I was being attacked by Predator. It was outside my window with its glowing lasers and it was threatening to take away my sanitary towels.
Howler Monkeys sound ghostly. They sound like hound dogs from hell.
There is no need for this! I thought, as daylight seeped through my eyelids. Then I saw Curly beside me who turned with the discomfortable noise and peeped at me from under her eye mask. I was glad not to be alone, the sound was too creepy to suffer by myself at such a vulnerable time.
‘What the fuck is making that sound?’ she murmured.
‘Nnnnghh’ I replied.
We stayed there for a few minutes trying to doze through the cacophony, but it was useless. Just as well, we were due to surface by 7am so they were a pretty good alarm, those funky monkeys.
We dressed in our swimsuits, shorts and teeshirts. We wandered out to welcomes of ‘Hello Mammies!’ from the kids, I was glad not to have to shake them out of their sleepy comas, teenagers can be funny items when it comes to morning waking. I thanked the monkeys then and dropped the urge to shoot them, but the monkeys had quieted by then. Turns out they sleep for 15 hours a day, just not when we want to. It didn’t matter anyway, the coffee was that good.
By the time the coffee had kicked in, so had the cicadas. They were surround sound. Everywhere. They were so loud, they seemed to be inside my brain and I threw rocks into the trees but they wouldn’t quiet. Nature’s car-alarm.
‘Welcome to the jungle’, somebody said.
‘Thanks!’ I shouted.
Surfing began at 8am.
Several un-prepared teenagers were loaded into a van with sunscreen, surfboards, chairs, gallons of water, insect repellent, and a wheelchair or two. I expected to be driving for a half-hour or so, but after five minutes the drive was over. I walked back to fetch ice cubes, just for the excuse. It was a nice walk, there were squirrels and lizards, and they didn’t judge me.
My job as a mammy, with Curly and five other souls was to stay in the surf to catch children. We were the catchers in the rye, or the shallows as it were.
Disabled children were brought far out into the sea, placed onto a surfboard, and let. go.
It was amazing to see those faces, happy children who couldn’t have dreamt of such freedom sailing through churning waves on adaptive seaboards wiping through froth and foam and surfacing to hot sun and cheering supporters. I was glad to be there, so glad. As cheesy as it is to high-five people, I embraced it then for its effectiveness on the spirit.
It was done in teams of two. One disabled child with one able-bodied. I got to watch the contrast, it was surprising at times which one out of the two succeeded, but it didn’t really matter at the end. I felt sorry for those who had to remain at the beach in the shade waiting for their turn, five hours was a long wait in that heat. That was until I remembered that they could be still in Connemara so I smiled for them, and counted their shoes and listened to their jokes.
‘That wind would knock a knacker off your sister!’
Wit wasn’t something that was spared among these teenagers. They were sharp, but respectful.
Later after dinner, one took out her guitar that she’d lugged half-way across Earth, and began to sing a song about being down-trodden and seduced by fairy tales. She envied Cinderella and felt sorry for her at the same time, her voice struck silence between the other twenty chatterers… we listened and nodded and loved her voice. Then two more stood up, one kid rapped a rap that would put Jaden Smith to shame, accompanied by another who didn’t really know how to play the guitar but performed perfectly when caught up in the pace with his bud.
They asked me to play that night, and I could have, I was dying to… but I said no. I was to help with wheelchairs and scorpion-eviction so I promised to play tomorrow. I didn’t. I wasn’t nearly enough prepared to play in their company.
Cicadas died away. Lizards croaked sporadically.
We mammies retired, and tried desperately to gain connection to Facebook but when we finally gained an inch of signal we became distracted again by the condoms on the ceiling and weird dates we’d been on. We’d just begun a game of twenty questions when sleep overcame us. That was shortly before the monkeys howled again, but we were ready for them this time.
So there we were, all twenty-two of us. We were eight children (four with disabilities), two mammies (being Yours Truly and Curly), two mentors and a film crew. We all landed with Irish flourish in a rare town named San José.
The country’s prettiness on landing teased us with its odd sporadic forest fires and patches of lights… I pointed out a fireworks display at 1,000 feet but as the ‘plane turned it went out of sight and nobody believed me. Then we all went deaf with the sudden drop in air pressure and concentrated very hard on our brains and our bladders to stop them exploding. Nobody vomited, so that was nice.
Costa Rica was interesting from the start. The night-time airport air is warm. It smells of salt and perfume, and something like the after-notes of sewage. They never tell you about that in travel guides. It’s not an unpleasant smell as such (like horse manure and the way you grow to like the stable odour), but it tells you that you’re somewhere warm. My skin felt different, the night-time fug blocked my pores and soothed them, all at the same time. Big green leaves, croaking squeaking bugs, muted silence behind.
We met four people at departures outside on the musty road. They had white vans and catch-phrases like
“Who has the duct tape… ‘cos this guy’s RIPPED!”
They asked me if I was psyched. Nghh. Enthusiasm is unnerving to us Irish as a stereotype, we’re not used to that sort of energy at all at all and had no idea what to do with it.
They high-fived the kids and gave free smiles and helped us out. They marvelled at mine and Curly’s speedy wheelchair folding technique and asked us what our qualifications were. We felt fairly awkward at having to describe the experience and efficiency of an Irish Mammy and how there is no such qualification, as such. I have my First Responder qualification but I’m all theory and no practice which isn’t much use. Curly’s business is caring for many children at one time which requires dedication and patience beyond means… not to mention a sense of humour. We had nothing to prove, but everything to learn and I think they sensed that in us.
These dudes were strong and mindful, all members of Ocean’s Healing Group. Two were astro-physicists, two were fire-men. One was a woman of flippant strength and beautiful form who smoked cigars. One was a bloke who I’ll dub Billy, he and his wife had battled through his kid’s disabilities just like our family did and had a look and a voice about him not unlike Harvey Keitel’s, or Tommy Lee Jones’. He was also one of the astro-physicists so I wondered if he had satellite input on my picking my nose in my back-garden, or if he ever will do, in the future. You can never be too sure. Another was a Hawaiian fella, let’s call him Mowgli. He had a Ukelele.
The next day there was a van journey, then a boat journey…
…the boat journey was fun. The teens danced on the top deck or looked on in amazement, some stayed inside out of the harsh sunshine and bought coca cola while nobody was looking. We mammies pushed sun-cream like it was illegal. Mowgli let me play with the Ukelele and belted off a tune or two before I had to float off to offer assistance somewhere else. It was a nice moment.
On the other side, we piled into the vans again, and drove to Shaka.
This is Shaka, the base from which we did our first week’s adventures, and a look into the ethos of the people that run it.
It was heaven. In fact, if it weren’t for the wee beasties and the fact that we couldn’t flush toilet paper we would all probably have been wondered if we were on Planet Earth at all, its beauty was that unreal. There were monkeys above us, there was a banquet on the table.
Mowgli showed me how to take a persons blood-pressure around a large wooden table under ceiling fans and eavesdropping lizards and warned me on the hazards of dehydration.
Curly and I shared a room… we began our bedtime routine of medicine giving, comfort giving and bug evicting that evening before sharing a smoke and settling for the night. I say settle… the rare coolness of the air conditioning soothed our sweaty foreheads and gave us a second wind. We giggled at how the rolled-up mosquito nets looked like condoms and laughed when we discovered we’d both brought EXACTLY the same swimming costume. We missed our kids together, and fell asleep at an ungodly hour.
Long-haul flights are not something I’m used to. I don’t get to travel at all, but the thought of doing absolutely nothing after years of worrying and working and toiling and fussing seemed pretty sweet to me… even if it was only for seventeen hours.
I got to sit beside the assistant camera-man for the trip to New York. Turns out he has a blog too, but I never found out his address. I will though, soon. He loaned me a book for the trip, ‘A visit from the Goon Squad‘… I read half of it on the journey over to Costa Rica, the other half I read on the way back. There was no time to read in between. Maybe there could have been, but I spent it unwinding with beer and conversation and skinny-dipping, such stories are to be told later on maybe. It was a really good book though… to be given a chance.
I love take-off. I love turbulence. I love holding people’s hands and telling them that aeroplanes are the most least-likely things to kill you given their safety checks and drivability. I’d love to be a pilot, but I’m not sure that’s the course for me. I have utter faith in the things, so I nearly HOPE for horrible turbulence, just for the adventure of it.
We had a five-hour layover in New York. I spent it buying chewing gum and books, and wandering around trying to find a phone signal.
I also tried to go for a cigarette.
Going OUT for a cigarette was easy. Coming back, I had to wait for an hour in a queue to be searched and scanned and x-rayed and swabbed for bomb residue. For fuck sake! I felt violated and abused by the end of it all, it nearly wasn’t worth the nicotine fix. I know that New York should be fairly security conscious but seriously… I’d checked with a guard beforehand to see if it would be okay for me to nip out for a puff and he was fine, but do you think he’d still be at his post when I returned after five minutes?!
I have rights as a smoker, I don’t care what anyone says. I have rights to breathe fresh air, too. Everyone has rights to fresh air, even if the air in New York isn’t all that fresh. It’s the wide-open space people crave after being trapped for hours, they deserve it. Yet, it’s denied.
No you cannot go outside, not without two hours of torture upon your return.
The flight from New York to San Jose would have been a lot nicer if I hadn’t been so frustrated and tired. I don’t like to sleep in public. I fear that people will shave my eyebrows, or take pictures of me drooling to post on facebook… I should be that lucky. I just don’t like letting my guard down in public that way.
When we touched down in Costa Rica I was knackered, but the heat upon leaving the airport was beautiful. Large palm trees, big leaves, croaking bugs and dusty roads.
The first thing to organise was the Eggstravaganza. There is a beautiful farm shop a few clicks away which has spectacular views, fwuffy wabbits, oodles of lambs and a few chickens on the side. It sells things like coffee, and fresh bread, and funky crisps and cheeses. A big wooden cot melded into the scenery behind the till and a rosy cheeked baby propped up its walls when we visited to set the party up.
It was a great event to take part in, the first time all of the schools in the town decided to band together. I was on car park duty, my cousin flipped pancakes. I don’t think I could’ve gotten through all of this if it weren’t for my cousin Diddles. A rake of cash was made for the schools that day, and it was the sunniest day after the storm, too… everything twinkled, not just the shiny chocolate wrappers.
Then we moved house.
I can’t really put the enormity of that mayhem into words. I was embarrassed when after three hours they called in extra man-power, and after six hours, all seven of us were still going. The truck (a very large truck, I might add) was almost filled to capacity with all of our stuff. Boxes everywhere.
Two nights later saw me fumbling blindly for light-switches in an alien kitchen at 2a.m. Coffee brewed, I dressed in my tucked-away gear, applied my tucked-away eyeliner, and mounted my tucked-away rucksack on my back. I said goodbye to Wouldye, but I didn’t know at the time that it would be the last goodbye. I would’ve buried my nose in his neck fur for a deep inhale into my memory banks if I’d known then what I know now.
I didn’t know a whole lot when I entered into this. I knew that a documentary was being filmed about eight transition-year kids (all aged 16/17); four of whom were disabled, the other four able-bodied. One needed regular medication doses, and one needed a wheelchair.
None of the children knew where they were going, but they knew they were going somewhere.
I was employed as a chaperone, along with another lady, let’s call her Curly.
As an introduction weekend, we all were to spend a day or two in Connemara, Co Galway. Curly phoned me the night before, nervous as I was… when I met her on the platform I knew everything would be okay. She has a way about her that I probably don’t need to describe, I don’t think I could anyway, she fell into that category of people that you seem to have known for years.
We yakked together on the train all the way in, and met everybody else at a hotel in Dublin. Worried mothers grasping arms and whispering secrets into out ears. I felt so overwhelmed all of a sudden, at the vastness of my responsibilities.
I went from having three children, to eight. Thank God for Curly.
We rode into the West and had the craic and some sangwiches and a bit of an auld sing-song, as you do. I couldn’t believe how quickly the kids bonded together. They were a well chosen bunch.
At a pit-stop, the kid in the wheelchair, let’s call him Joel… he hinted that he needed to pee. I brought him to the jacks and we did our best with the narrow walls of the petrol-station bog. I hadn’t realised that he needed help with everything, so when he asked for my help I was honoured that he could be so comfortable with me so quickly. There’s something about exposing yourself to others, trust is a huge thing, and to be trusted so quickly is a wonderful compliment. We made distracting conversation and I found out that he was an avid reader with a love of Xbox.
The other kids were quiet with us at the start, but we made ourselves as accessible as possible with smiles and funny faces like eejits on crack. They hadn’t realised that we’d be there for the whole adventure, I realise in hind-sight. When they figured this out, they accepted us wholeheartedly as mammies. They even named us ‘Charlie’s Angels’.
Connemara was HARSH.
There was a storm, shortly after we arrived. Our comfortable hotel was completely isolated from phone or wifi for our entire trip. Joel commented that a re-make of ‘The Shining’ could be filmed here and I agreed. It was a sort of side-ways rain that pelts your skin like pins and needles. Bleak slamming and howling noises were to be heard at night, early starts for water activities came all too soon.
I was impressed by the participant kids and their commitment to effort, I mean really impressed.
There were two ‘mentors’ employed on the trip… one I’ll name Fawn, because her eyes reminded me of one. When she was sixteen, she got meningitis and had to be put in to a coma. While she was under, she contracted the MRSA bug and was given her last rites. She now survives as an amazing woman, presenting and researching for TV. She wears prosthetics, but you can’t really tell. The other mentor was Mr Out of This World (so dubbed by the teenagers). A handsome chappie, I couldn’t get a grasp on him at the start (that’s what she said).
I got to have a drink with the crew at the end of the day, I’m glad they accepted me so quickly… their histories and biographies extremely impressive. They were lovely people with dry wit and funny stories and I couldn’t wait for the next chapter.
The kids found out about our destination at the end of the Galway trip, on camera. They were going to Costa Rica… their woops and screams tingled the hairs on my arms. Of course we had to try to re-shoot that moment several times which you’d think might dilute their enthusiasm, but it didn’t.
I couldn’t believe it either.
I went home, helped to host an Easter Bonanza, and then moved house two days before the air-plane for Costa Rica took off.
I’m not a great person for sticking to routines, but routines are exactly what are needed when you need to run a family effectively. For this reason, life began to seem monochrome, sounds were just a distant hairdryer hum and feelings needed shelving like books you keep meaning to read but never get around to opening.
This doesn’t make for effective blogging, the inspiration is distant, just out of sight. The motivation to comment becomes thwarted by lack of lust for life and the impression that there really isn’t anything interesting to say.
Now, I have something interesting to say.
I was invited on an enormous adventure recently which finished today. My head is full of thoughts and feelings and words and emotions, far too many to spill on to one page so instead I’ll begin a series of posts, beginning with this one.
A while back, I became lucky enough to become friends with a wonderful family through Puppychild’s school. They introduced me to many things outside my comfort zone… music performance, yoga, how to properly cook healthy food and share it socially to name but a few. They also invited me to participate on a television program which is to be aired on an Irish channel later this year.
I was invited on the basis of my experience with Laughingboy and his special needs, and was considered a good potential candidate to look after eight children on an adventure which involved love, friendship and overcoming pre-conceptions and gut-wrenching fears. I can’t begin to describe how lucky I am to have experienced this. I’m going to try to bring every memory back for you, and for myself before it fades into distant memory and I don’t believe that it was in fact, real at all.
My story involves befriending Mr World, becoming a stooge, plunging from a 250ft cliff, and the death of Wouldye, my bestest friend, among others. To say it’s been a challenge is a massive understatement.
To start, here is a photo taken in Montezuma, Costa Rica:
They say that every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Mine is not so much like that. Mine is very much an in-between sort of story.
Everything hurts today, it’s that season. Everyone else spins around me, like leaves do when it’s windy and they catch a moment with themselves and decide to whirl around each other… there is no explanation for this behaviour, it just is. They pat me on the head sometimes as they whir by, or brush my fur. That’s nice, but I wish they’d choose a moment when I’m off duty to do so.
I had to do my protection duties from the couch today, blast this stupid knee. I did leave it twice for rasher rinds and once for a pee, but they’re worth the effort. I deserved them. Little do they know that it’s thanks to me that my animals are alive at all today.
Men with complicated noises came and did things too close to us this morning. I had to yell at them a lot to make sure that they kept their distance but one or two were brave enough to knock… to ACTUALLY KNOCK on our house. Smells erratic. Suspicions rife. I hackled-up and gave my last warnings to scare them away. It hurt to stand up and it ached my running parts but that is my job. I barked my loudest bark and showed the teeth that aren’t broken and I snarled. Boss told me to shut up. What does he know. Best Friend thanked me by giving me biscuits. I think she understands me, even if I don’t understand her, and her need to plait my tail.
The smallest one hugged me.
I like him. He’s the same height as me so when I speak to him, he really pays attention. He shouted with me, at the men with complicated noises… he stood my ground, but then he fell over and cried. What a part-timer.
So now I’m back on my couch, the couch that smells of me and me alone. The fire roars, and I am too hot, but I am happy. I pant. Boss pets me. There’s a tick behind my ear but I won’t tell him that yet, it can wait, I’ll let it have its fun.
One thing confuses me. When she puts her nose in my fur and huffs and makes a warm spot, she says a word that I’ve heard before. I can’t remember what the word is, but it’s a soft word. And it smells nice. She says it sometimes and makes her eyes big and squeezes me and ruffles my ears. I don’t know why she bothers, when ‘good-dog’ will suffice. So many words these animals use, but so little need.