Running with Her Soul: Dana Platin’s Iron Man Report

Aug 17
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Race Reports

You may remember my pal Dana’s race report on her DNF (Did Not Fail). Well, she made it to her Boulder Iron Man and she’s back on my blog to give a full–and inspiring–report. Here we go.

 

So, you did it! Congratulations, Dana. Tell us about your experience.

It all began in 1979 on the Appalachian Trail.  I was six years old, fascinated with adventure, exploration, setting new challenges, the woods, gear (check out my first pair of Nike’s and puffy down jacket!), and of course keeping up with my big brother and his friends. Thirty-four years later, I find myself in similar circumstances of stepping outside of my comfort zone, exploring the unknown, embarking on new adventures, and learning what I “can” do versus what “I cannot.” I still try to keep up with the boys, and my obsession with gear continues.  Here’s my post-race report of the Boulder Ironman (IM)—August 4, 2014. I had an incredible journey and learned more about my mental and physical capabilities as well as the power of “community” during my 13+hour adventure on the hot, dry, high altitude Boulder IM 140.6 mile course (2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run).

Dana 1978

 

What was running through your head at the starting line?

Breathe, Focus, Deliver. I repeat that over and over in my head as I stare out over the Boulder Reservoir, watching the sunrise and trying to eye the 2.4-mile swim I will navigate today.  The water is calm the sun is rising.

sunrise

I head over to the couple thousand swimmers: men wearing green caps and women wearing pink caps. We are asked to place ourselves in the corrals based on anticipated swim time for the 2.4-mile swim.  I have been swimming around 1:31 for that distance so I place myself with the 1:15-1:30 group, which happens to be a very large group of swimmers.  I take a deep breath as I walk over. I find my friend Laurie, and a great calm comes over me as we stand together chit-chatting away about what life will hold after this IM (woohoo Laurie is getting married,). We talk about race day strategies, and we just stay close together as we wait since we are both smaller women and can’t see in front nor behind us. We were surrounded by many large men.

Slowly we are being pushed forward until we are next in line to take off for the swim leg of the race.  We hear music blasting, and the announcer is getting the athletes psyched up to race.  I hear a loud voice come through the microphone and yell, “Today you will be an Ironman.”

Really?  I think. Here is that inner critic that I have been working on hushing.  Will I be able to finish?  I have had an incredible training season, no major setbacks and lots of solid preparation.  I am feeling good.  Yes, think positive. I will finish today and will finish strong.  I start to focus on what could go right versus what could go wrong.  My old cards would focus on the latter and I have worked really hard this past year on what will work, what will go right… dialing into that… mental skills training.  I take a few steps forward as the crowd moves us to the swim start line.  I look up and see hundreds of swimmers off to the first buoys. This is it, no turning back, right foot forward. Own this day, no matter what happens.

swim start

I take my first dunk into the water and off I go. I swim calmly, practicing my orienteering, checking out my surroundings, protecting myself and finding my line. Breathe, focus, deliver, breathe, focus, deliver. I look up every six strokes to make sure I am swimming in line towards the yellow buoys and not zig-zagging across the reservoir. I know once I hit the orange buoys, I will be at the halfway point. I come round the bend and see those orange buoys. Phew! I am “in” this. I am calm. I say to myself, Take your time, you have a long day ahead of you. I keep swimming and notice many pink caps around me. Strong women, you go girls. I notice a guy swimming right up to me, he isn’t passing or dropping back but swimming “on” me. I pull back so he can pass. I keep going and there he is again. I am not able to get my pace back as he keeps bumping into me and won’t go around, ahead or drop back. I try to move over more and there he is again. I stay patient and put in a few more strokes and then BAM, I get a swift kick in my stomach and get the wind knocked out of me. I swallow water and get pissed. “Come on buddy, find your line.” He yells back at me, “No, you find your line!” Am I really going to have an argument in the middle of the IM swim? Should my energy be spent on this? NO!

I try to catch my breath after getting the wind knocked out of me and just take another stroke, but AGAIN he elbows me. I decided there is no time for negotiation or providing feedback in the middle of the reservoir. It’s time to pick up my pace and get the heck out of there. As I take off, I take a fast, hard stroke, and I accidently, slammed my hand on top of his head, giving him a good dunk. I turned myself into a speedy minnow and get the heck out of there, and I never looked back. I get out of the water in 1 hour and 34 minutes. Pretty close to the 1:31 time I anticipated. I probably lost a few minutes due to the wind being knocked out of me and IM water brawl J.

 

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

The bike…

I take off slower on the bike and plan to build up since I have 112 miles to ride and then later a marathon to run. A slow start makes sense to me. As soon as I’m on the bike, I kick into mountaineering mode (my first love) and go slow and steady, keeping myself in check. I stay my pace, my race and let the masses go ahead. I know my strategy will pay off later when I hit the 70-mile mark (where the race will really begin.) I spend the first few hours properly hydrating, fueling, and prepping for the remainder of the day. I feel intense happiness; I have a huge grin on my face. Its all coming together, today is my day, things are going as I envisioned earlier in the morning. I keep smiling and keep riding. I am enjoying this, I am not in pain, I am not suffering, I have trained hard and trained well and I am now feeling/experiencing those results.

I have now been riding for about 3 hours and start to notice many cyclists slowing up. I push my cadence and move. My engine starts revving. I am feeling good; I start to pass people—a lot of people. I am hitting the hills and hitting them hard and still feeling good. Of course, the inner critic shows up, telling me to slow down: “You shouldn’t go this hard; you’ll run out of fuel,” I hear inside my head. But I decide to throw the inner critic in front of my tire and keep going—even harder. I am riding.

I am having so much fun. I keep hearing this woman beside me yell at me, “GO GET IT!” Then she rides past me and screams, “Let’s do this, let’s get it girl!” She’s motivating me to push even more and I do. I pass her and cheer her on. She says “I’m Liz. What’s your name?” I introduce myself and spend the next hour seeing her ahead of me, climbing the hills. Sometimes I catch her climb in front. Sometimes vice versa. I never do any drafting, but I just start to see the same folks, and I keep them each in sight. Each time I pass another woman or they pass me, we all acknowledged each other and provide encouragement. This inaugural IM Bolder race is made up of only 25% women. It’s turning out to be a nice community of female athletes supporting one another versus competing against one another.

When I hit the 70-mile mark, I feel good and continue to ride. At 80 miles I keep going. 90 miles comes and goes. At 100 miles, I turn the bend and see a group of smiling faces and all of a sudden, I know these faces! It’s a group of my work colleagues (young women) who came out to cheer on the athletes. I get so excited I just start screaming at them and they at me, then I turn the corner and fly off. I got to see them for only a split second and that was it, but it was great motivation to see them.

At 100 miles, I know I have 12 miles to go. But I still have the famous “3 bitches” to climb. Yes, these last 3 climbs are called the “3 bitches.” I am sure you can imagine the steep climbs—and after cycling 100 miles already. I decide to envision this going well for me. Breathe, focus, climb, and now DELIVER. I take the first climb, stand up on my bike and nail it. I sit back down, get some hydration, and then go for it on the next climb, also nailing it.

For the past hour there’s a guy in an IM tri jersey passing me then dropping back. We are now on the 3 bitches together, and I pass him. He catches me on the flatter section before the final climb, and we repeat our magical dance until I make it to the top first. He catches me at the top and introduces himself as Marty from Texas. He says, “Young lady, you are one strong cyclist. I have been following you and letting you pace me for the past few hours. You’re climbing really strong.” This pumps me up, especially since I still have lots of fuel in my tank and know that the race is still just getting starting due to the fact that I have a full marathon awaiting me. Marty from Texas shouts to me, “Get out of here and give it all. You got to hit your time.” I thank him, wish him all the best and tell him that he too is looking strong.

Off I go, pushing hard for the last 6-miles. I love the camaraderie here! This is effin’ inspiring spirit!   Where is my GO GET IT girl, Liz? I hope to see her again, to finish the bike leg together, but I never see her again (and I probably never will). But its women like Liz that make the race so special for me.

 

IM DP 1

I roll into transition and hand my bike off to a volunteer and run into the changing tent.  The transition zone is located on a hot asphalt track. I take off my cycling shoes to run quick but still burn my feet on the asphalt. It’s like running on hot coals before running a marathon!

 

Did you ever hit a wall or bump into trouble? What happened and how did you handle it?

For the run, I’d been training for 9:00-9:30 minute miles and had been consistent on hitting those targets.  Now on race day as I begin the run, I immediately notice my stomach is acting up. I suddenly feel like I’m carrying a water balloon in my belly.  I have to slow it up and begin at an 11 to 13 min/mile.  I keep it slow and steady (mountaineer mindset) and figure I will pick up the pace later when I can… I’ll do negative splits—I’ve trained for that, so it’s okay.

At this point, I am 8 hours into my day and still have this marathon to do.  I anticipate a 4:30 marathon, but realize that isn’t likely to happen when I’m starting slow. As the race goes on, I never do hit my pace time, although I remain steady. I choose to go with what my body needs.

The spectators along the marathon course are fantastic; it’s like a street party: cheering, signs, music, motivation, tears, joy. I saw it all—experienced all of it.  Athletes beside me walked, limped, ran, jogged, and slogged.  I make it into the first 6 miles of the race, turn around a bend, and see my husband Daniel (who is also participating in the event)!  I shout out “Daniel, how are you? This is insane; we can run the rest of the marathon together!”  He looks at me and tells me he is at the 20-mile mark.  WHAT! I am so happy for him, but then it sinks in, I still have 20 miles to run HOLY SHIT!  Daniel only has 6 miles to run.  He says he has hit the wall and worried about the last 6 miles.

I look at him with no pity, “MOVE IT! You are crushing this course and only have 6 miles left before you’re DONE!  You have already done 134 miles. Nail this. Don’t slow up for me.”  I let him know how much I love him and trot off thinking, “Man I have 20 miles to go.” Just for a moment I feel negative, but I smack it out of me and envision what could go “right.” When my right calf muscle tightens up at about 130 miles into the day, I handle it with grace.  No hitting panic buttons, just walk through the aide stations and do the best I can.

The run course was curvy, hilly, flat, odd. It makes me dizzy, but the spectators and fellow athletes made it so special.  I hit my own 20-mile mark and look up to a huge movie sized screen and see and hear my husband Daniel rooting me on.

That was one of my “highs” during the race: to see Daniel up there cheering for me. My biggest supporter, fan, love of my life.  The race organizers had these 15 second videos taped the day before dialed in with our timing chips, so when I ran over the 20-mile carpet, there was my husband on the big screen, motivating me to cross that finish line, a very special moment.  I am so elated I just stand there until one of the race organizers yells to me, “Keep running. He’s waiting for you at the finish line.”  That was the last motivation I needed to finish the final 6 miles of this race.

In my last mile it dawns on me, I have raced 139 miles today and I am still standing. I am really going to do this.  I don’t want it to end; I want to hold onto this last mile.  As I move forward, I high five every kid on that course.  The kids were amazing, out there volunteering all day and supporting the athletes.  I am now in the last half mile;I am beaming with a huge smile and really living “in the moment,” loving the day, the process, my life, and knowing I am seconds away from crossing the finish line.  “Dana Platin, you are an Ironman.”

IM DP 4

 

How did this experience change you as a person? What did you learn about you, your life, or your approach to life?

I am so results-oriented that it can take away from the journey, the process and the enjoyment.  I challenged myself for this IM to “stay in the moment” and be focused the entire race.  I struggle with that in daily life with so many tasks and distractions yet when I am in my element of racing, I go to one of the more peaceful places in my mind.  That being said, all the physical pain and suffering is somewhat alleviated, does that make sense?  I had the biggest smile on my face throughout the rough patches during the day and several people commented on how happy and fresh I appeared.  I had my targets and process goals on what times I wanted to achieve, and I was an hour off of my run and 10 minutes over on my transition times. That’s ok.  I had such a blast and just learned to love the culture, community, and energy of the IM; I stepped out of myself and was part of a bigger community.  I love racing IM as it keeps me in check.

#1—consistency and training will equate to success,

#2—you must keep a good attitude “no matter what,” and regardless of the results you must focus on what you did do right versus all that went wrong.

#3—learn from what went wrong, make adjustments, tweaks, and changes for the future.

I learned that I am quite capable and mentally stronger than I ever thought.  The mind is so powerful, and when our physical capabilities are tapped out, a positive mind will carry you forward. I learned that I can run with my soul when my feet are tired.

 

What encouragements or thoughts would you offer to others who might decide to go on some kind of huge life-altering journey such as you have done?

There is never a perfect time, you can start “today.” Everyone has their own Mt. Everest. It can be a little mountain next to their house or a 5km race 2 months away.  Whatever it may be, get started today.  Don’t wait until you lose weight or until the summer comes. Pick your “life-altering journey” and get started. Once you decide, put some smaller goals out there to take you to that bigger end goal.  Sort of like a road map. Start with the date of the goal date and work backwards. What needs to happen each day in order to achieve this? Write it out, have fun with it.  Once you have it written out, it’s time to put it into action.  Get started. The most important thing is to enjoy the process and the journey; reaching the goal is a celebration. And like my new friend “Liz” said, “GO GET IT!”

 

Join me in congratulating Dana in this awesome accomplishment! And let’s all take her advice and GO GET IT–whatever “it” may be for each of us!!!

 

 

Why I Write

Aug 11
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Writing

My friend Leah Lax invited me to be a part of her blog tour by answering the questions below about my writing life. Leah is one of the authors in our book Beyond Belief who is currently shopping her own beautiful memoir. She’s a dog-lover, a writing teacher, and a musician. Leah lives in Houston.

Note: I have a sinking feeling that I was supposed to do the interview questions below and then send them on to three other bloggers. I never sent the questions on, so the chain-letter experience will end with me, but after the body of this post, I have listed three bloggers whose sites I go to almost every day. Check them out just for fun.

 

BLOG TOUR INTERVIEW:

  1. What are you working on?

Right now I have a few projects in the works. For one thing, because we are on this grand 5-month adventure to Chile, I’m BLOGGING as regularly as I can! I love blogging precisely because people read what you write almost instantly. Right now, blogging is a way for me to stay connected to community back home.

But I’m also working on a book (working title: Running Undercover—or something like that) which chronicles the history of women’s running. Before women comprised more than 50 percent of the runner population in North America, we were discouraged from running, told our wombs would fall out if we ran long distances, and prevented from signing up for races. We’ve largely overcome all of that in the west, but there are still populations/communities where running is rare, discouraged, or even illegal for women. This book explores the lives of women who buck their respective systems and find their way to running as a subversive activity that ultimately leads to life-changing freedom and self-authority.

  1. How does your work differ from other work in your genre?

I’m sure as a writer I share some qualities with others who write memoir or who write about women’s issues and/or running. Because of my background as a psychotherapist, what I think I bring to the table is a unique blend of story-telling and psychology. In every story I write, fiction or non-fiction, I’m looking for/listening for the metaphor that makes that story applicable to other people’s lives. Everything has a lesson for us if we pay attention. I’m not saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” The idea that everything which happens to us is pre-planned for a specific reason is a philosophy I don’t have much affection for. I don’t feel like I have any idea WHY things happen. What I’m saying is that we can choose to consider each thing that happens to us an opportunity to find a way to grow. WE construct the narratives of our lives. When I write about my own life or about the lives of others, I look for how to tell a meaningful story that has some generalizability. I want people to relate to what I write and to feel encouraged by it.

  1. Why do you write what you do?

Well, I alluded to this above. I want those who read what I write to walk away feeling like they can take hold of life and live it on their own terms. This passion to encourage others probably comes from my years of living inside of a small religious dogma that made me feel there wasn’t much wiggle room for self expression. Now I feel like creative expression is central to my sense of well-being.

  1. How does your writing process work?

Ah… Well, it starts with my calendar. I block out chunks of time and then I put my butt in the chair, open my computer, and place my hands on the keyboard. I always have at least one project going. If I can’t come up with anything to write on any of those projects, I open a blank document and listen to the voice of my deeper self. I write down whatever she tells me. Eventually, I settle down and feel I can get back to one of my projects at hand.

 

stock-photo-4792809-writer-s-desk

So three blogs I go to very regularly:

A. Pam Helberg. Pam is runner as well as a memoirist, poet, and essayist who is currently studying to become a therapist. I’m watching her journey closely.

B. Wendy Welch. Wendy is my pal in Big Stone Gap. Her life couldn’t be more different than mine, and so I peer into it through her blog with fascination (and sometimes with befuddlement).

C. Dawn Landau. Her website, Tales from the Motherland, features such posts as “I May Be Lame, Clueless and Demanding… But You Still Came out of My Vagina (and other ugly truths).”

On Being Afraid

Aug 7
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014

We’ve been here for more than a week!

So far, Bill and I have both found our own “signature routes” to run daily. “Signature route” is what we call the routes we run at home–the ones we run from right outside our door and can do without thinking. A signature route is crucial for the days you don’t feel like running (right, runners?). You just have to put your shoes on and forge ahead without much planning.

Here’s my new signature route: I go out my door and turn left. Straight on Los Olmos (our street) until it Ts off with Edmundo Larenas in front of the University. Then I turn right and go around the University until I hit the track. Two to three miles on the track (whatever my poor PF can bear). Next I cut through the campus, turn right back onto Edmundo Larenas briefly before catching the bike path alongside Victor Lamas. The path on Victor Lamas goes for quite awhile, but I cut up a steep set of stairs that curves to the left and puts me back on my own street. Voila! 5 miles (or 4 if my foot is hurting and I cut my track workout short).

As you might imagine, Bill already has a full race schedule for us. He’s even put me on a training regimen for a marathon coming up here in Concepcion. So far, my foot is feeling pretty good, so if I keep up on icing it and talking sweetly to it, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get ready to do a slow 42K in October.

Tonight we went to the art museum on campus and attended a tribute to Pedro Millar, an artist from Concepcion who recently passed away. Bill and I both love art and appreciated the invitation to attend the memorial. A sizable group of people who knew and loved Professor Millar gathered around to tell stories and to hear his grown children sing a few songs in his honor. Of course I didn’t understand a word of it, but I gleaned the sentiment.

 

One of Mr. Millar's famous images

One of Mr. Millar’s famous images

 

After the reception, we wandered through the campus, which is vibrating with youthful energy now that classes have started for the semester.

 

The clock tower on campus with the moon shining above

The clock tower on campus with the moon shining above

Then we came home to crash. Every day I’m so tired by the time night arrives–so worn out from trying to understand things.

Have I mentioned how scary it is to me to settle into one (foreign) place for a few months like this? As a seasoned traveler who has been to about 20 countries all around the world–for short trips–this experience is simply so different. Here I need more than a traveler’s vocabulary to order food and find the right bus station. Here people actually talk to us! Today, when I came back from my run, Julio asked me how far I’d gone. So far, so good. “Siete kilometros,” I said. Then he proceeded to tell me about a different route I could take if I wanted a variation on what has become my daily trek. I only know what he was telling me because a.) I’m very intuitive, b.) he was using gestures to describe the directions he was giving me, and c.) I caught the words “via” and “Victor Lamas.” I do think I understood the gist of what he was saying, but I had nothing but a smile and a “gracias” to give in return (and I can’t roll my “Rs” so I sound pretty guttural, I’m afraid).

I am such a verbal person–so very dependent on words to show my openness to friendship. I’m afraid that if I can’t speak, I’ll hurt people’s feelings. And I’m worried about missing out on getting to know really awesome human beings because of my lack of language skills.

But friends, fear is not a reason to stay home. You know this, right? Coach Carol back in Bellingham talks about “pee your pants” risks: the things we decide to do because we know they will stretch us and make us grow–but they are scary. What scares you may just be exactly what you need to press into and do. There was a day many years ago when I was absolutely terrified standing at the starting line of my first marathon. And over the years, I’ve never gotten really “good” (i.e., fast) at running, but I did kick the fear. And now I’m a veteran runner.

Well, learning another language has always been one of my big hurdles. I took years of French and still can barely order croissants at a bakery, so I may not have a natural knack for language–but again, not being “a natural” at something is ALSO not a good reason to avoid doing what you want to do, is it?

My challenge in the next couple of weeks will be to find either a class or a tutor (or both), so that by the time I leave, I can at least go shopping without my sidekick (aka, Bill). What’s your challenge these days?

 

Getting to Know Our New Town

Aug 2
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Running for Fun, Travel log

Yesterday the University of Concepcion (U de C) hosted Bill and me to welcome us to town and to the campus.


The above video is of the mural at the art museum on campus. It is the Presencia de America Latina by painter Jorge Gonzalez Camarena

What a privilege to meet University officials and to have the chance to say thank you for inviting us to be a part of their community for a brief period of time. A Fulbright Grant is a huge privilege and we don’t take this opportunity lightly, although we do plan to have as much fun as we can cram into a few months!

After our meeting on campus, we went to lunch with Lilian (director of the English language teaching program), Cecelia (also from the university), and Laura (Lilian’s daughter) at a restaurant specializing in seafood. I stuffed myself so full of the crab and shrimp cannelloni I ordered that I didn’t need to eat again until today.

Getting to know a new town is a slow process, but we’ve been given a huge jumpstart because Laura–who is 19, speaks amazing English, and has a knack for making the big task of getting oriented feel like a cinch–has been willing to spend a couple of afternoons walking us around town, translating for us, and generally hanging out. She’s been our delightful anchor, and we’re incredibly grateful. Because we are here in Chile under a Temporary Residency Visa, we have to register our presence with local and federal authorities. Laura helped us navigate some of the red tape yesterday as if she’d done it a million times before for other foreigners (she hasn’t).

Today we simply HAD to get out for a run.

Ourforarun

We started at the campus, and then wound our way through the university district alongside a park called “Parque Ecuador.” Sadly, the park itself is closed right now for remodeling during the winter months (remember: the seasons are flipped when you go south of the equator), but we were able to run along the edge of it on a well-marked bike/foot path. I’m sure as time goes on we’ll find some additional routes, but this is a good start–a few safe and easy miles where I can run alone when Bill isn’t handy to come along.

After our run, we changed clothes and went for a walk (I think we put in about nine miles today altogether). By the end of the day, what could we do but find a beer. Here’s Bill at Latitude Sur, a local microbrewery with ONE in-house brew. But ah… it was nice.

Microbrew

One of the really hard things for me to see every time I have visited Central and South America is that in some places, homeless dogs roam the streets in great numbers. Concepcion has this issue, just as Punta Arenas does in the south of Chile, and just as many cities in Mexico do. Probably other countries contend with the issue, too. Some of these poor pups are seemingly full breeds who have been turned out on the street by their owners. Yesterday I saw a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback who had to be a full-blood. People are generally kind to these sad creatures–even feed them, as I understand it. And Laura told us that there is a neutering program in town which has been helping to decrease their numbers, but still… It’s very hard for me, as a dog lover, to look into the eyes of these beautiful animals and to know there is nothing I can do for them.

Dogs sleeping on the platform in the square

Dogs sleeping on the platform in the square

Looking for scraps at the market

Looking for scraps at the market

Tonight as I sit typing this, I’m missing my own creatures and my own house, but I’ve had news from home. Jane, Fuji, and Bronte are all being well cared for, so there’s nothing to worry about. Our house is occupied by our lovely friend HH. Still, we are far away from everything we know. But we have to stretch beyond what’s comfortable to grow, friends.  We have to leave one thing to find another, don’t we?

More news to come as the days pass.

New Digs in Concepcion, Chile

Jul 31
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log

We’re here in our new home!

Our new landlady’s name is Carmen. She stocked the kitchen with dishes and pots and pans, and then she went one step further and left some of Concepcion’s best chocolates (I’m eating one right now) for us (Hugo Roggendorf) in our fully-furnished apartment.  Today she brought us some jam made from fruit grown in her own yard, which is a few doors down! Our place is small, but very sufficient. One bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living area. We have a gate, staffed by a nice man named Julio, and outer and inner doors, so we’re quite safe.

Concepcion is a bustling university town, about 229,000 people in the city proper. So far, we’ve had rain, rain, rain. But we’ve braved it to get some shopping done and to go have dinner this evening. Bill will go to the University tomorrow (and I’ll tag along) to officially meet his colleagues, although one of them, Lillian, picked us up at the airport yesterday. Having someone meet us was a BIG blessing because we had been awake for a full 33 hours by the time we arrived at the airport in Concepcion, and I doubt very much we would have been able to navigate even a taxi at that point (we slept for 13 hours last night).

After Lillian and Carmen got us settled in our apartment, Lillian’s youngest daughter, Laura, gave us a walking tour of the downtown area and tried to help me get a SIM card for the flip phone I brought for making local calls (unfortunately the phone was locked and the SIM card wouldn’t work!).

The most obvious adjustment for me will be the language. I took French in high school and was never very good at that, even after three years of studying and a four-month stay in Paris. Spanish is completely new to me; I fear I’ll never get past hello and goodbye, but I’ve been trying to memorize vocabulary at the very least.

This morning Bill decided he was going to speak to me in Spanish while we were getting ready to go out shopping. It didn’t go well.

Bill: Hoy es el dia final de Julio.

Cami: Today is Julio’s last day? I just met him.

Bill: No. Listen again. Hoy es el dia final de Julio.

Cami: I heard you the first time. But why didn’t any one tell us that he would be leaving? Why bother even introducing him to us?

Bill: Cami, okay, listen. Enero, Febrero, Marzo, Abril, Mayo, Junio, Julio… Hoy es el dia final de Julio. Get it?

Cami: (Finally understanding!). Oh… Today is the last day of July!! I’m so glad Julio isn’t leaving. I was looking forward to getting to know him.

You can imagine how worried Bill is to leave me alone in the city while he’s in meetings at the university. Fortunately, I’m not new to traveling in places where I’m a foreigner and don’t speak the language. And I’m amazing at charades and pictionary, so I’ll get by.

Wish me luck.