We’re slowly advancing into your story, probably as slow as you were recovering. 

The cat that changed his mindKaren was going to leave the island and wanted to take you with her, but you were still in no shape to travel. Even though we have learned here on the island that it is easier for a Nicaraguan cat or dog to get into the US than for a Nicaraguan human, for sure no vet would give you a clean bill of health, mandatory to travel. So we looked at other options. My landlord was not particularly fond of cats, so I couldn’t adopt you. I asked my neighbours, who had once told me they were cat people, although they were forever taking care of dogs. They agreed to take you in, when they would arrive on the island for the season. But between Karen’s departure and my neighbour’s arrival was a 10-day gap. So there I came in. Since it was only for 10 days my landlord was willing to give me an OK on having a cat around. You were still so injured it was unlikely that you were really going to go around and make a mess everywhere and get into fights with other cats (we thought…). Under your loud protests we stuck you in a cat carrier and wheelbarrowed you to my house, into strange territory. It must have been another terrifying experience.

 

Once we arrived and let you out, you scooted under the bed, and stayed there for the rest of the day. For the next few days, the far end corner of the bed was where you ensconced yourself. Hardly visible for the outside world, but you could just peek around the corner and keep a lookout through the open door. Then, a couple of days later, you posted yourself on the far corner of the mat that Karen had given me,  it must have smelled familiar, I guess. You still did not want to go outside. The big world had really given you a good scare, apparently, and on top of that you must have felt that your weak legs were a major handicap when it would come to confronting whatever danger was lurking out there. You were happy to use a litter box, since that relieved you from the need to go outside, but your stiff legs that still prevented a proper squat sometimes made you miss the box, so I was mopping every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. My little house smelled of you, Pumpkins, and it was OK. 

The way you were taking your time to recover from your fears AND wounds was an eye-opener for me. You were constantly sitting with your fears balancing on the edge of your confidence, nudging the limits of your comfort zone. Shifting them a little bit every day, moving a little closer to that open door. You weren’t wallowing in you misery and fears, but gave them time to calm down and subside. You weren’t going to be traumatised forever, that wouldn’t work for a bush cat, would it? You had to get back out there, but only when you were ready. In the right time it would happen. An amazing process.The cat that changed his mind

Then you moved to the door mat.

And then trouble came around. 

To be continued….

 

(This story takes place on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. You can read parts 1 and 2 of Pumpkins’ story here)

 

Little Corn Beach Bums

My last post was about trash and why I pick it up. I didn’t include a story about one particular clean-up session, because it has become quite a long story in itself, the prompt for a charity project that I have started for the island. And when I say for the island, I mean literally for the physical island, for Mother Nature. But as a beautiful side effect families will benefit from it too, financially, and babies, physically! It will be a triple win! Before I go into all the details about the project (and you may be able to help as well!), I will tell you how it all started…..

Little Corn Beach BumsOn one of my trash-pick-up outings, I followed a little trail into the bush. I had never walked that little trail, because it doesn’t really go anywhere that I ever need to go. But I was curious…. (well, to be honest, I kind of knew what I was going to find there)….and guess what I found: a big pile of trash. Mostly diapers and plastic bottles. Those bottles made me mad, because they should be in the recycling bins. The diapers made me very sad, because I realised that diapers are the most complicated trash that we have here on the island. For multiple reasons:

  1. we have many babies, and many used diapers as a long-lasting by-product of their sweet presence
  2. the diapers are not organic, so they won’t decompose in nature
  3. they are soaking wet after use, so they cannot be burned
  4. they stink, so you cannot just let them sit in your backyard drying, besides, if you do that, dogs will come by and start eating them
  5. they cannot be recycled, but are full of plastics and other toxic compounds, so even burying is not really an option

 

 

I pick up trash. Not for a living, but just because it’s there. And because I can. Because I want to. Because I have to. Let me explain.

I live on this beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean, Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua. It’s tiny, so everything (and everybody) is right in your face. You cannot avoid walking past trash, because there are only a few paths that take you around the island. And there is trash everywhere. 

I bet your first thought is: why do people throw their trash around in such a beautiful place? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, this is a developing country, with a lack of funds, logistics and poor education. Basically, here we have no system in place that takes care of our trash the way you are used to have your trash taken care of. All you have to do is put it at the curb, and a truck will come and pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind. You pay for the service, they take care of it. Not here. We have no municipal facility or officer here. We have no roads, no cars, so no garbage trucks. We have no central dump or incinerator. Apart from a handful of recycling bins, we have no general garbage bins along our walkways, because emptying them causes a problem: where to take it? So better not have the bins, head in the sand-strategy. Basically, we’re on our own, when it comes to trash. We DO have trash, lots of it. 

 

A lot of the people living on this island have not grown up with the same concepts about trash in nature as you and I have. It’s a cultural thing: I have learned that trash does not belong in nature, and I have learned why it is bad that it is there. So I know. I cannot walk past trash sitting in nature without feeling bad about it. A lot of the people here have not learned that (yet). And let’s be honest, our developed countries took ages to establish this attitude towards trash. I remember I was tiny, when we had only one black and white channel on TV, seeing a government campaign about taking care of the environment. So it was barely 1970 when they started educating us about the environment in the Netherlands. It took us well into the 90’s before there was a firmly established system of recycling and diminishing our trash, which now has become second nature to most Dutch people. So if a well-developed, rich country with a good education system, municipal services and government campaigns needs a whole generation to get this environmental attitude in place, we cannot expect that a poor country without all that is going to get on top of their trash problem in a couple of years. I let go of that dream a while ago.

Here reality is that a lot of people throw their trash wherever they go. Because they don’t know any better. And because there is no real option to put it anywhere anyway, apart from plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are collected and shipped off the island for recycling. At their own homes they may burn their trash, but when it rains (and this is the tropics), that is not an option either. So then it is the bush. Where the chickens will scratch through it, and neatly distribute it all over the place. Dogs will scrounge and find the edibles (including disposable diapers). So what’s left is plastic, loads of it, and cans, everywhere.

Then I walk by. I see the trash. I used to get angry at the people for throwing it there, even though I didn’t know who had done it, a pretty senseless waste of my emotional energy. When I started to understand the complexity of this problem better I managed to stop blaming them, and I also tried to stop thinking that the local government should do something about it. Because they won’t, because they can’t. The person who throws plastic in nature is guilty of a crime against Mother Earth, and in a way that is a crime against every organism on this planet, which includes me. So that could give me a good reason to be angry and upset. But when I walk by and I see that trash sitting there, KNOWING THAT IT IS HARMFUL TO MOTHER EARTH and then not picking it up, I become as guilty of a crime against nature as that person who threw it there in the first place. I should be mad at myself then too! Once you know, you cannot leave it there, can you? That is the most important reason to pick it up: I do not want to be guilty of leaving it there, passively condoning these crimes against nature, which are also crimes against me. So I pick it up, and take it to the recycling bins. I throw the non-recyclables in there too, that is my silent protest to the municipality  and government for not providing some kind of trash-bins and a system to take care of that street trash.

 

For all you people who have aspirations to meditate, or who are already doing it for some time and still find it impossible to tame that monkey mind, I have some good news and some bad news. 

Let’s start with the bad news: after years of meditating, mostly on a daily basis, and often for at least 30 minutes or more, yours truly still has a VERY LOUD MONKEY MIND. Well, I must admit it isn’t too bad in my case, because I do not have a very stressful life, plus I don’t have a partner and a family, which always cause a million worried, stressed or anxious thoughts a minute. My monkey mind does keep going endlessly though, but it is mostly story telling that goes on during my meditation or just a lot of remembering. It is mildly entertaining, so I often just get totally lost in thought. But in all these years of regular practice the moments of true stillness are hardly ever longer than 30 seconds, and few and far between. It took me a while to stop seeing that as a personal failure, and it took me even longer to stop finding it frustrating and unfulfilling. But that monkey does never put a lid on its chatter, EVER. So far the bad news. (Did I just crush all your hopes or motivation to even try and start meditating? Sorry for that, but keep reading…the good news will perk you up).

The good news is that I found a way of working with that monkey mind, and tame it in a different way. I’m happy to share it here. 

I am not a fan of one particular type of meditation, so I switch around between techniques now and then, and one of the things I regularly do is a combination of deep breathing with mantras (not out loud, just in my head) or positive affirmations. When I start such a meditation, I think I got the right phrases ready, but then when I get into it, I keep fiddling with the words for a bit, trying to find the perfect mantra for myself. One day it seemed that no phrase was the right one, so I kept fiddling for quite a while (what do you mean monkey mind in disguise?).