Pleasantville Choices and Exchange Rates

The impact of what I am planning really hit home this weekend. I am exchanging friends and family for strangers: known for unknown; English speaking familiar and sure for Spanish speaking confusion; a market where prices are stated, goods are standardized and legislated to be exactly as advertised for a market where haggling and negotiation is normal and uninspected goods are sold on street sidewalks and open air stalls. I am exchanging the purchase of government appraised meat for the flesh of guinea pigs slaughtered, skinned, and roasted on reused poles in open air road side fires: where a bowl of chicken soup may contain the chicken’s foot and who knows what else.

In exchange for a system where pedestrians have rights and drivers generally obey traffic lights I will have one in which I am told less than diligent pedestrians are targets and drivers behave like lunatics. The sidewalks I now trod are relatively smooth and flat and have handicapped curbs cut for ease of travel. In exchange I contemplate the cobbled stoned and tiled pathways of my future along with the declining function of my decaying knees. Instead of the relative freedom I presently enjoy walking alone at any time of day on public streets, I am warned my new habitat houses pickpockets and thieves ready to assist me in divesting myself of any of my remaining worldly goods – even in broad day light.

I am leaving my son’s grave site where the memory of picking glass out of his beautiful hair as he lay dead on the hospital gurney is as fresh as if it was today. I am leaving my grandchildren to grow into adults without having known them or they me in any substantial, nurturing way. I am selling all, or nearly all, my worldly goods to go to a country in which I know no one and no one knows me. Is this insanity? A dream world? …Or is it wakefulness?

Although I have a superior academic education, I have paltry little beyond the normal, acceptable and accepting living skills. I lack significant negotiation skill beyond those necessary to deal with clamouring children, a disgruntled spouse or a disinterested clerk at the returns desk of the local department store. My computer came equipped with a virus detector which eliminates threats and automatically scans for oddities while I peacefully sleep. My doctor schedules in my annual physical and my dentist timetables the regular inspection and cleaning of my teeth. I have spent my life accepting government regulated standards for education, shopping, health and safety without questioning those standards. I have lived in Pleasantville.

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Spring Weather Has Finally Arrived!

Spring weather has finally arrived! Time to put away the winter coat, boots, scarves, toques and gloves. Awe, spring! My favourite time of year. Like the butterfly budding from its cocoon, letting go of the constrictions of winter garb is a ritual heralding freedom, flight and new horizons.

Although my journey to new lands is months away I feel like I am personally awakening from a winter’s season of life to the portals of spring. As I move forward in divesting myself of the shell of my constricting “normal, comfortable” life, I feel the pull of adventure. At a time when many would think of me as entering the Golden Years, I feel alive to new possibilities and exploration, not the prospect of rocking chairs, Medicare and coffins.

Every day has an opportunity to cast off my old life and experience the new. My “stuff” is slowly finding new homes. Saying goodbye has not been as hard as I once thought. There is still a lot to be done, but little by little I am moving closer to my dream.

Getting Ready to Sell my Stuff

In preparation for moving to Ecuador, I started to take pictures of my “stuff” in order to sell it off. It is not easy. I have limited space in my small mobile home to keep the potential possessions available for a buyer. I dislike messiness and it looks like I will be living in it until everything is sold which could take up to (or even over) six months. I am starting with things I haven’t used for a while and even then I think in the back of my head: Would I use this (need this) again before I move?

It is funny how I have become attached to things – stuff that could be destroyed in an instant, yet keeps me tied to this spot like a caged animal. I try picturing my things acting as anvils chained around my neck or attached to my leg. They drag me down, tug at my life force, and hinder a new life and new adventures. This exercise in mental imagery helps a little, but old ways die hard. I paid good money for this “stuff” which ties me and in some (sad) ways defines who I am and what I enjoy.

It is both a physical and emotional effort to release myself from these physical possessions. Yet, I know the surgery of letting go is necessary if I am to make the biggest move of my life. One might think putting up my home would be the hardest, but that is not what I am finding as I begin this process. It is the smaller, more intimate items: things that the children have given me over the years that will be the hardest to part with

My children have feelings about my move that range from horrified to completely supportive. The former set loving, well-meant, guilt traps on my heart while the latter verbally strengthen my wings and encourage flight. Just as they grew up, moved on and started new lives, whatever their concerns, in the end, they will have to let me grow and move on too.

Information from a Recent Visit to the Ecuadorian Consulate

After a trip to the consulate I learned that it will cost around a thousand dollars to get all the paperwork and visas needed to move to and retire in Ecuador. That is without the help of a lawyer! My birth certificate, marriage certificate, my husband’s death certificate and a statement of pension income all have to be translated into Spanish then notarized before I can make the real application.

The woman at the consulate told me to get an extension on my visa while in Canada, then gave me the form to complete. Doing so would give me 6 months of living in Ecuador before either getting my retirement visa or being kicked out. Perhaps you could apply for another extension, but that would be another cost and I hope not to have to think about that. In addition to the paperwork I need to show a return airline ticket to get this extension. I was also told to bring a Spanish-speaking translator to the consulate when I apply for the extension so they can be sure I understand everything I sign. Once in Ecuador I can apply for the retirement visa: it cannot be done from here in Canada. Hopefully I will have all the necessary paperwork already completed and will not need a lawyer.

Questions and Quandaries

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: To be or not to be, that is the question. My question is similar: Do I sell everything and move or stay put in my tight, but comfortable, nest? I think it would be a terrible thing to come to life’s end and say, “I wish I would have.” I’ve read that people come to regret what they did not do much more than what they did do.

Without a lot of money to spend visiting Ecuador before moving there is not an option I can afford. It’s all or nothing, and doing nothing is not so appealing. Not that I am complaining about my life. Canada is a wonderful country! I have a pension after years of work that lets me eat every day; afford a movie on occasion or a small dinner out with friends. Health care is excellent and I feel safe in my neighbourhood. My nest feels tight, but padded and comfortable.

Yet… Yet, there is that little niggle that tells me there is, and should be, more to life than mere comfortable existence. The times in my life that have been the most memorable have been experienced outside that zone of comfort that presently envelops me. Those times that I value most were initially shrouded in trepidation. Stepping off the gang-plank into waters unknown took courage (or an external push), but I was (almost) always the better person for having made the plunge. It was sink or swim.

To date I have swam, perhaps clumsily; but I made it to shore. I have gulped down the sea waters of experience, become breathless from exhaustion, but emerged with a renewed joy of having lived and grown through it all. I’ve had some cuts and bruises. I’ve made some mistakes, paid the price and still went on breathing.

So… what is it now? Fear? Definitely fear, but what’s new about that? Age? It could be, but time will only increase that as an excuse, and I recognize it as an excuse. Health? So far, not a huge concern. It could be in the future, but then again if I had a crystal ball what fun would life be?

What will my family think? That’s a big one. I value their opinions and advice. Unlike the character in Simon and Garfunkel’s song: I am not an island; I do feel pain. My children and family are important to me. However, they certainly do not ask my permission to live their lives, and I would not expect them to. So, should I care what my family may or may not think? Perhaps. They do know me quite well and may be able to point out what I cannot see. They could also be blinded by their own wishes and expectations about me and for me.

In the end only I know only I can live my life, which leads me back to my question: should I pack up and move overseas or stay put? My heart is saying, YES, move on to new life, new adventure. My head counters with all the negatives, which I suppose is its job. My heart says forget all that and LIVE. The battle will rage on until I decide to choose: will it be, should it be, Sensible Head or Sensitive Heart?

What would you do?

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks – Learning Spanish

Spanish language school in Vitoria

Spanish language school in Vitoria (Photo credit: Zador Spanish schools Spain)

Today I started my first in-class weekly Spanish lesson.  The class had 20 students, all of them younger than me and most by more than a generation.  I was the only one who had never taken a lesson in Spanish or traveled to a Spanish-speaking country.  The pace was quick, but the instructor, Carlos, repeated everything in such a clear voice I could hear his enunciation without a problem.  I couldn’t always repeat it properly, but I tried my best.  the amount of vocabulary he covered in two hours was mind-warping.

By the time 2 hours had passed we had covered introductions, asking for and giving addresses, adding and subtracting up to 100, the sounds of the vowels and the alphabet.  Whew!

Then he had us take turns being characters reading dialogue from a script.  There were times I felt tense, but I’d much rather learn in a classroom than become flustered on a foreign street.  I wonder if there is any way to make this learning easier?  Any suggestions from those who have been there?

 

The Road Home

The road in from the highway was hilly, narrow and barely graveled.   Half rotted timbers from the original log road broke through the dirt in places and the ditches were overgrown with weeds. In spring, buried culverts swelled the road in mounds that looked like beached whales sunning in the middle of nowhere. These bulges remained until the frost completely left the ground then descended to almost level by midsummer only to be heaved up again in the winter.  The effectiveness of the culverts suffered as years without proper maintenance passed.

Travelling on the road in the summer produced a cloud of dust that followed a vehicle like the exhaust of a jet engine.   With care, two could pass, but it left occupants in a choking, dust cloud for several seconds. It also meant driving nearly blind until the dust settled.  Graders came down the road at least once a summer hauling weeds and dirt up from the ditches and spreading a lump of debris on the center of the road, including embedded rocks.  These rocks could be as high as 18 inches although it usually was more like14.  Passing a grader meant taking a chance driving over the hump and then clinging to the margin of road remaining.  Until the grader made its exiting pass the road was practically a one way street.

Soil on the sides of the road varied from sand to clay to black muck.  The corner where the concession road broke off to our side road was entirely black muck.  One summer a ditch clearing backhoe got sucked in by the muck.  In trying to make corrections the rear of the machine slipped sideways and got sucked in even deeper.  The hapless operator radioed for help before climbing out of his sinking machine.  By the time two large trucks arrived to assist, the rear of the trapped backhoe was barely visible and it had started to tip onto its side.  With little room for manoeuvring the men pondered logistics, situated their trucks as effectively as space allowed, and then attached chains from the backhoe to the trucks. 

Diesel engines strained unsuccessfully at the load, their exhaust crowding the air with spent fuel, their wheels digging into the logs beneath the surface of the road.  Visible tremors hammered the area shaking dead limbs off surrounding trees sending flocks of birds skyward.  The backhoe sank further into the muck.  The owner arrived and after some discussion he climbed through the muck, and got into the partially submerged cab.  The crew balked but the owner pressed them to pull as he revved the backhoe’s sinking engine.

The wheels of the large trucks sent clots of dirt, logs, and stone flying.  The owner, his determined face barely visible inside the cab, gunned the backhoe’s engine. Muck started spraying out from behind the submerged machine sinking it deeper.  It looked like the muck was about to swallow both machine and man when it suddenly released its hold.  The backhoe sprung to the road causing one of the rescue trucks to plunge into the edge of a diagonal ditch.  Its liberation was not nearly as dramatic, but the damage to the road during this whole operation was substantial.  Two loads of gravel made a cosmetic repair, but the road continued to sink over the remainder of the summer.

 Where and when was this road?  In a third world country?

No, it was Northern Ontario and it was the road that led to the path into our home in the late 1970’s.  That path led to our one room house where we lived with our children, a handful of animals, and a lifetime of memories.