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Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Just because I wander, doesn’t mean I’m lost.

I wonder how my life would have panned out if I had stayed on the little island where I grew up. Coronado is a special place. What was once an island off the coast of San Diego is now a man-made peninsula, connected to downtown San Diego by a two-mile long bridge resembling a blue Brontosaurus. Coronado is the typical small town from American films, with its perfectly aligned and gridded street blocks boasting beautiful homes and well-kept gardens. There are awards for the best gardens, and everyone wants a blue ribbon to hang proudly in their front window, just beside the post from which the American flag hangs proud. There are concerts in the park each and every summer, where everyone gathers religiously. Children play in the sprinklers and soccer moms lug their children in their SUVs to Spreckles Park for practice. Cut up orange slices and brownies for treats! Though everyone drives cars, it is not really necessary as you can bike ride from one end of town to the other in approximately 10 minutes.

As a peninsula, Coronado is naturally surrounded by water. There is the San Diego Bay to the east, full of sailboats and seals, windsurfers and wakeboarders. Across the bay towers the “toolbox” of variously shaped and shiny financial buildings and hotels of downtown San Diego. To the west of the island, waves from the more furious Pacific Ocean crash, where the sun sets just above the horizon and dolphins dance in the pounding waves, playing with the surfers and my Dad’s ashes.

I think if I had stayed in Coronado I would have been happy there. But I left. And as everyone knows, once you have taken a bite of the apple there is no going back. My first trip out of the USA was to Europe to visit my sister that was living in Germany at the time. We traveled around Europe for two weeks and then I met up with my Spanish high school teacher, and fifteen friends, in Spain for a summer language immersion trip. I fell in love with Spain. The second I stepped foot on her soil I knew deep down I would be back. I was only sixteen at the time.

Two years later, with a U-Haul packed full of my high school keepsakes and must-haves, my Dad drove me up to Berkeley, California to start my first year of college. If such a thing as “black and white” existed, the contrast between Coronado and Berkeley would come awfully close.

Coronado: Population – 24,100 people. Military town housing two major US naval and amphibious bases. Right-wing conservatives. In 2000 84.4% of the total population was white. Petty theft was the major crime.

Berkeley: Population – 102,743 people. College town known for its political activism and hippie movement in the 1960s. Radically left-wing. In 2000 59.17% of the total population was white. Homicide was right around the corner.

Boom!
Reality check.
Everything and everyone was different.
It was scary.
And very, very exciting.
I found the differences fascinating …
… and wanted more.

With ants in my pants, I spent two college summers working in Germany and England, and traveled all over Europe on the Eurail pass – back when backpacking through Europe happened in sketchy overnight trains when you could not fall asleep for fear that someone would rob your bag. Nowadays these cheap charter flights make it much, much easier. Then I headed down south to visit my best friend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I learned to get over my fear of speaking Spanish. That was when I realized I needed to live in a Spanish-speaking country. It made me feel really alive for some unknown reason. After “graduation” I moved to Barcelona on a total whim to study for one year, slightly upsetting my Dad when he asked to see my diploma at my graduation ceremony. “Uh, there isn’t one. I actually have one more year of school left…in Spain.” Just pack my bag, and go.

Pack my bag and go. Seems to me I am constantly packing my bag, and going.

Visiting a village in the north of Ghana while working with OrphanAid Africa (www.oafrica.org)

Barcelona has been my base for the past eight years, not my anchor. I move around quite a lot, sometimes out of need, sometimes out of want. Twice I have moved back to California, and twice I returned to Barcelona. I have been fortunate to explore other fascinating places, like Ghana, Costa Rica, Thailand, Senegal, and lived/worked in the south of Mexico just recently for five months. I returned from each of those places with a yearning to move there permanently. But of course I never do. I always return to my base. To Barcelona.

I first learned the word wanderlust through my good friend, and amazingly talented and open-hearted human being, Suzanne Hansen. It is her favorite word, and she was the one who finally named that uncontrollable, raging desire to pack my bag and go (minus the actual packing part. I hate packing. I am a horrible packer.).

Then there is wanderlost. I am sure that someone has coined this word before me, but it sprang to mind today as a new thought tends to do. And I started to think about the implication of wandering…it sounds a lot like moving without a purpose. Like being lost. Hence wanderlOst.

After giving it quite a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that I suffer from wanderlUst, and not wanderlOst. I base this decision on another word: “going.” This verb can be so easily misunderstood when used alone. “Going” usually implies “leaving.” But used as a phrasal verb it can imply something else entirely. My “going” of preference is when joined with another word, such as “forward” or “to” or “up”. It is a motion moving forward and upward, and not backward. It is positive, not negative. It means “searching for” and not “running from.”

Without a doubt, I am wandering, in the sense that my interests pull me in various directions, and that I am trying to work out quite a lot of things on both personal and professional levels. But I am not lost. I have direction, and each day just a little bit more. But there is no map and there are lots of little side roads that distract me from time to time. Side roads that end up adding to my life much more than if I had followed the signs and walked straight ahead.

Slowly and surely I am becoming more conscious of what I want. And when I want it. The problem, and where I struggle, is with the where? So until I figure it out, I just keep packing my bag, and going.

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As a little girl, I used to play naked in the sprinklers of our big front yard. Water balloon fights were a must at every birthday party, along with Slip N’ Slides and water guns. On the hot summer days, it was excellent to simply play in the hose while completing the chore of watering the lawn and flower beds. I was a fortunate little girl.

Sadly, I do not believe that our children and grandchildren will have the same good fortune. Our clean water supply is in a dire state, and although my fellow Americans and Europeans may not feel the (water) pressure quite yet, I do not doubt that they soon will. Believe it or not, there is a massive world water shortage. But as always, these types of world dilemmas never quite seem to hit home, until they literally hit home.

When I first moved to Spain, it was hard to feel comfortable in bathrooms. The water level in the toilets was very shallow, which sometimes causes “splashback.” The water pressure in the showers was more like a drip dip. And bathtubs were designed for midgets. It is doubtful that these bathrooms were designed to conserve water, but regardless I have become accustomed to using less water by default.

Then I visited Africa, where we were given a bucket of cold water to shower with. At first I thought that a full cleansing job would require more than the given amount, but soon discovered that a bucket was totally sufficient. The children shared their buckets of water and the soapy water was then used to clean the patios. Purified drinking water came in bags, rather than bottles, also creating less waste.

And then there was Mexico. I lived in Oaxaca, a brightly colored colonial town notorious for its water supply shortage. We had running water, but that did not mean an endless supply of water. On each and every rooftop there was a large black tank full of water. That was it. Once you ran dry, you had to wait, sometimes up to five days, in order to get more water for your house. We ran out almost once a week or every two weeks. So once again, not as much by default as for necessity, I learned little ways to conserve the precious water supply (see list at bottom of this blog). Mexicans are resourceful. And they, along with the rest of developing countries that have been forced to live with little of the world’s resources, despite the fact that they provide many of those same resources, will be the ones that triumph when the well really does go dry.

At the end of my trip in Mexico I headed up to el norte, the US, to visit family and friends in California. Although it was nice to know that I could shower without running out of water half way through, I was flabbergasted by the use of water there. The toilets are filled almost to the rim (just imagine how many times a day one household toilet is flushed. It’s a LOT of water!). The water pressure in the showers is like a jacuzzi spa (fabulous, but at the same time wasting gallons of water). Dishwashers only 1/3 the way full ran. And though California is technically a desert, all those neatly trimmed, perfectly green lawns and their automatic watering systems that run sometimes twice a day.

Out of impulse, or like a deep guttural groan, I acted. Perhaps not in the best of ways, but I’m telling you – it was instinctual. While my mom was sweetly doing the dishes after an awesome meal, I noticed how the water was on full blast and just kept running while she chatted or filled the dishwasher. My arm flew out from my waist, with a mind of its own, and slammed shut the faucet, turning off the water. My mom gave me a curious look, turned the water back on and continued. And then I did it again, much to the disgust on my mother’s face!

Needless to say, my reaction was not well thought out. Nor helpful. I really do not want to become one of those green activists that force their environmental will on people, because that simply annoys. That said, I cannot keep quiet either. I desperately want to spread awareness in a more informative way, to show people how easy and NECESSARY it is to start considering our limited resources. And then let people make more informative decisions. Imagine if the water was shut off in San Diego for a week. Would people know what to do? It would cause a huge crisis. We are not prepared, because we have never felt the threat.

So, rather than banging shut your faucet with my fist of will, here are some friendly recommendations of simple ways you can help reduce your water usage. Not only will this save on your water bill, and not only will it help reserve the small amount of water that remains, but the day that we really do find ourselves in a water crisis, you will be much more prepared and knowledgeable about how to get by on less.

10 Water Saving Ideas that Regan Recommends =)

1. Brushing your teeth: You can simply turn off the running water while the brush is in your mouth. Same goes for shaving your beard!

2. Buckets of fun: Buckets are amazing. They can be used for many different purposes, mainly to collect water that would otherwise get wasted down a drain. (i.e. while you wait for your shower to warm up, a bucket can catch all that cold water that makes you want to shiver, or you can fill up a bucket rather than your kitchen sink when you wash the dishes). Once you have your filled buckets, they can be used to flush the toilet, or to mop the floors.

3. It’s raining, it’s pouring!: Water falls to us from the sky. Catch it. You can collect rainwater from the drainage systems off of your rooftops. Or in buckets on your balconies or backyards. This water is excellent for watering your plants, as it lacks the minerals and chlorine, etc in tap water from your household faucets. In nature, plants live off of rain. And nature is smart. Let’s copy her!

4. Cacti grow in the desert: Look up the local flora and fauna native to where you are living. Those types of plants will flourish in your garden, and will save you lots of money on care and water. My Auntie Nani in San Diego recently pulled out her entire green lawn and plants and built the most amazing ecosystem of colorful and diverse succulents (and some pretty amazing rocks). She also has an outdoor shower with buckets that collect the water and she uses that to water her plants.

If you do have a lawn to water, try watering during early morning hours or in late afternoon when temperatures are the lowest. This reduces losses from evaporation (ie, you use less water and your lawn gets healthier).

5. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down: I’m back on the topic of toilets. Sorry. It’s just that you really do not realize how much water is wasted by flushing. They now make toilets with two different buttons (one for “yellow” and one for “brown”). You can also use the Buckets are fun! method. Or…old school style – just don’t flush unless it is necessary! A little pee in the toilet won’t hurt anyone, unless you have eaten asparagus. Perhaps then you could flush.

6. Showers: If possible, take shorter showers. Or if you are like me, and love to sit under hot water for a good ten minutes, than perhaps consider replacing you shower head with an ultra-low-flow version. You can also turn off the water when you shave your legs or soap up.

7. Dishwashers / Washing machines: are very handy and can in fact save water (as opposed to hand washing), but ONLY when it is run when full. If you live alone, perhaps it is better to hand wash your one plate, one fork and pot rather than run a full cycle.

When washing dishes by hand, fill one sink or bucket with soapy water. Quickly rinse under a slow-moving stream from the faucet.

Same goes for washing machines (try to fill it up rather than wash one pair of jeans at a time).

8. Houston, we’ve got a problem: Check faucets and pipes for leaks. A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day. Larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons.

9. Rubber ducky, you’re the one!: If you have more than one toddler, try bathing them together so you don’t have to fill up the bathtub multiple times a day. Besides, it’s more fun to play with bubbles in company (this also applies to adults…)!

10. Say it, don’t spray it!: Spread awareness. Tell your friends. SHOW your friends how YOU save water. And let them know how EASY it really is! Each little drop does matter (try not having water in your house for three days – you really learn to appreciate it!).

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