Sunday, July 3, 2016

Poop in the Stairwell

celebrating summer w/ cotton candy
I won't post a picture to give any more of a visual of the title of this post...but I do feel like it's a good picture of what we've been stepping around as of late.  Yes, there has been a pile of human excrement in our stairwell for several days now.  We do have an elevator, but this past week when it went out we discovered the stinky pile as we passed by it (thankfully, not through it) on our way up to our 8th floor apartment.  Gross.  Putrid.  Really inconvenient.  Yet unavoidable, and what are you gonna do about it (other than maybe clean it up myself, which I haven't brought myself to doing yet...)???  So while we're waiting for the pile to be removed or our elevator to get repaired, I figure that the best approach is to be aware of it being there, take heed as we dodge the pile, hold our breath, and press on ahead.  My life, in so many regards....

grass whistles
Three weeks ago, two of the kids were bitten by stray dogs.  The crazy part is that it was two different dogs, on two different days (one on a Friday and one on a Sunday), in two different apartment complexes!  What are the odds?  Now when I say stray dogs, you kind of have to have some context.  In our part of town, most people consider dogs to be unclean, so you should't have one in your home.  But, of course, lots of kids still like dogs.  So you end up with kids getting puppies, but they can't have them in their homes (and VERY few apartments have any sort of outdoor courtyard that could contain a pet).  So you end up with kids keeping puppies in their apartment hallways until they are bigger, then they turn them loose outside to kind of run wild, but sometimes consider these "stray" dogs to kind of belong to them.  So it's really normal to have a pack of dogs living in an apartment community courtyard with different people feeding them at different times.  All four of my kids are HUGE dog lovers, so this really has been a huge blessing to them to have such easy access to playing with dogs in the area.  They have them all named (currently, our complex has a pack of about 6 that are living in a small grassy patch on the other side of our building) and go outside to play with them regularly.  Jasper, my kids' current favorite, loves to roller blade alongside the kids all throughout the complex and also is an incredible frisbee player, retrieving and returning the frisbee every time it's thrown!  It's a bit of a sad situation, too, however, in that these dogs are often severely mistreated by people within the community and they're, of course, quite mangy, as they live off of whatever scraps, garbage, or small critters they can find and never are indoors to get groomed or bathed.  It's also pretty normal for them to just disappear or be known to be killed by workers within a complex (usually the garbage collectors).  So we've had pretty strict rules concerning these dogs; the kids are allowed to play with them but they're not supposed to be petting or touching them.  This has gotten increasingly more difficult though as they've gotten to know so many of these dogs better and the dogs have a huge affection for my kids, some of the only ones who are kind and compassionate toward them.

Noah at the water park
So 3 weeks ago, Karis was playing with several of the dogs in a friends' complex when Tapioca, one of the girls' favorites, got carried away and nipped Karis in the arm.  It was only a small bite, but punctured the skin nonetheless.  Kevin and I weren't sure that we needed to take drastic measures at that point, as we were pretty certain the dog wouldn't be carrying rabies and the bite wound was so minor, but we were still concerned and in the process of talking through the issue on Sunday, when Noah was bitten by a different dog (Freddy).  The kids were outside playing a game of Virus Tag with a group of their friends when Freddy jumped out from behind the bushes and latched onto Noah's arm.  His bite was much more severe, breaking the skin and leaving bruises in several spots, and Noah was obviously shaken up by the whole thing.  Freddy's been around in our friend's complex since this winter, and he's always been pretty mean, but this seemed even more extreme an act of aggression than we were used to, which increased our concern.  As we did the research and talked with our American doctor friend here in town, our fears were confirmed about the seriousness of rabies (once you show any symptoms, it's too late; there is not cure and rabies almost always ends in the fatality of the victim).  We decided it wasn't worth the risk, no matter how minimal it might be, that the kids could have been infected, so we started the hunt for the post-exposure rabies shot.  You would think this would be a simple task; it is not!!!  We took off on Monday morning after researching on Sunday and knew that we were looking for two different shots--one is an immunization that we wanted all 4 of the kids to get, and the other is the post-exposure globulin that is administered if you have been bitten by a dog with (possibly) rabies.  After 6 hours we returned home on Monday having all 4 kids receiving a shot, only to discover after confirming with another doctor that all they had received was the immunization, NOT the post-exposure shot that is so necessary for Karis and Noah who had already been bitten.  And this is after trips to multiple different hospitals and CDCs in town, with everyone we talked to assuring us that this is all that we needed and all that was available.  We even had to fight to get Hudson and Eli the shots, as they didn't have proof that they'd been bitten and therefore the doctors felt like an immunization was a waste of a shot!

Karis and Hud picking flowers
So the next step was getting to some place that did have the right shot.  After an hour-long phone conversation to the international hospital in Beijing, finally ending in me speaking to an American ER doctor there who confirmed that we could get the post-exposure globulin, Kevin got on a plane with Karis and Noah on Thursday to take a four and a half hour flight across the country, wait in the ER for several hours before getting the needed (and very painful!) shots, spend the night in a hotel, then turn around and fly back the next morning so they were back in time for a lunch meeting Kevin had scheduled for Friday.  And the funny thing is, this doesn't seem too abnormal to us!  I guess one of the things we've adjusted to is that living overseas requires a lot of extremes that you would never dream of doing (or enduring!) in the US.  So we're resting much more easily now, knowing that the kids who were bitten have a "good" dose of the required medicine and tomorrow marks the final round of the immunizations needed for all 4 kids (5 rounds of shots total).  The kids are counting down the days till they have permission to re-engage with their dog friends, who have been patiently awaiting our kids' return to the courtyard for a game of frisbee.
Noah's 7th bday celebration (June 3)

We've had a scary instance or two within our apartment complex over the 15 months that we've lived here, but only twice have we had late-night knocks on our front door that left us rattled.  Unfortunately, the one night Kevin was away marked our most scary incident of that nature yet... A little before midnight there was an intense pounding on our front door that aroused me from sleep.  As I ran/stumbled to the door, the banging increased in aggression and there was rattling of the door handle as well as a key going into the lock.  Now this normally would have unnerved me, but the key in the lock sound really put me over the edge because just that afternoon I had gotten a copy of our front door key made at a nearby store.  While in the store, there was a man there who made me uncomfortable, asking me lots of questions and expressing his frustration with American in general (I couldn't quite figure out why.... he was using some vocabulary that I didn't know!).  So the whole time our door is getting pounded upon my mind was racing with the possibility of someone having followed me home, knowing where we lived, having a copy of our key, and their ability to waltz right into our home.  I was still pretty drowsy but had enough wherewithal to start shouting in as deep and threatening a voice as I could in Chinese, and within a few short (but long feeling) minutes, the person on the other side of the door ran to the stairwell and down the stairs.  I was so shaken up thinking that there was a chance still that someone had a key that I spent the rest of the night clutching a baseball bat and fervently asking for help in my heart!  I did have to chuckle at the difference in my response and a friend's.  Upon their arrival here in our city (several years ago), they had a group of men gather at their front door and pound on their door for quite a long period of time, evidently not just at the wrong door but seemingly in anger or disapproval of their new foreign neighbors.  Our friends were brand new to the country, so they were also at a language disadvantage, not being able to ask through the closed door what the problem was.  Rather than picking up a baseball bat and being ready to take off the head of the first intruder to walk through the door (my possibly unsanctified approach to this situation), the husband had his wife and daughters lock themselves in a back bedroom and prepared tea.  He figured if the men outside were to get into his home he would at least try to win them over with warm hospitality and servant heartedness!  Guess I have some room to grow if that is what loving your enemies looks like...
Karis' surprise!

So the next pile of poop came less than a week later.  Karis' birthday was on June 17, and the day before that I threw a surprise party for her.  I had 6 of the western girls here in the city (which is pretty much all of them between the ages of 6 and 15!) meet at our favorite restaurant for lunch then took them all to the plant market for Karis to let her friends help her pick out some potted flowers (this is one of her favorite places in the whole city!).  We had been in the plant market about an hour and were winding down when the group of girls stopped at one tree that had two pieces of fruit growing on it that looked  a lot like kiwi.  Before I could say anything, one of the girls reached out and gently touched the fruit on the tree and encouraged her sister to do the same.  In a flash, the somewhat withered piece of fruit dropped off the tree and into the girl's hand.  We all stood there looking at it for a moment before the vendor walked over, obviously not happy.  He started fussing at us and then pointed to a sign that said the cost of the tree was 600 kuai (about $100) and touching the tree cost you 50 kuai (about $8).  The two sister who had touched the tree have pretty good Chinese, so they initially tried to argue with the vendor that the fruit was already withered and that caused it to drop, but he wouldn't have it.  So they (very maturely, I thought) pulled out their wallets (which they happened to have to buy their own plants) and tried to hand him 50 kuai.  The man wouldn't accept the money, saying it wasn't enough, and grabbed onto one of the girls sweaters.  I removed his hand and told the girls to walk closer toward the door, away from the vendor's stall.  I proceeded to argue with him, urging him to take the 50 kuai or nothing, but he insisted that 4 or 5 girls had touched it so we needed to pay him more money, not specifying an amount.  At this point I told him to take the money or we were leaving, but he said that he wouldn't let us go.  I tried to call his bluff by walking away, at which point it got scary.  This small man grabbed my arm with both of his hands with such ferocity and strength it shocked me.  He managed to literally drag me back to his stall by holding my one arm after I'd walked away about 20 feet.  This is when I realized we were in trouble.  I tried speaking loudly and forcefully to him, telling him to let me go in every language I could get out, but to no avail.  His grip was really hurting at this point!  When I realized that I wasn't going to convince him to release me and I saw the horrified look on the girls' faces who were standing by helplessly looking on I made the conscious decision to starting yelling.  In China, a lot of time you don't get peoples' attention until you make a lot of noise.  It's an honor/shame culture, and someone yelling at you makes them loose face (feel shame), so you see this practiced ALL the time--people yelling at the security guards when they're not quick enough to open the gate to an apartment community exit, at lines at the ticket counter of an airport, etc.  My yelling worked.  I started screaming out my defense in Chinese, explaining that we made a mistake by touching the tree and were trying to give him money, but that the man wouldn't take it.  Then I started yelling for someone to call the police, hoping that would prove to the bystanders that I was convinced of my own innocence in the matter.  Thankfully, right away a few men came to my rescue, one in particular who started yelling back at the vendor and I think (I can't remember this part clearly) actually got the vendor to release my arm.  I didn't even stop to thank my rescuers, but threw the money at the vendor's feet and started running toward the group of girls waiting in tears for me.  We all bolted for the entrance door (the exit was the other way that would have taken us right past the angry vendor) and managed to talk our way out (the security guard there was hesitant, but we kind of just blew past him as I hurriedly explained that an angry man was chasing us and we needed to get out as fast as we could).  We ran to our car and took off, stopping to debrief and pray together before returning home.  The girls were all so shaken up by the whole thing and my arm had bruises on it still the next day from the man's hands and marks from his fingernails.  By the time I was dropping off the last girls, we were able to laugh at the fact that Karis' birthday party had certainly been a memorable one!
bday cupcakes in the plant market parking lot

So how do we handle these piles of poop that seem to be inevitable in where we are?  Good question.... and I'm not sure I have the complete answer yet.  I will admit that the series of events that I've just written about were enough to rattle my sense of safety and security.  I had a period of several days that left me feeling like I wanted to withdraw, curl up in my nook and just read.  I didn't want to get out the door and engage with my community.  I found myself more jumpy when someone I didn't know looked at me funny on the street.  I felt so tired.  But thankfully, I feel like I've pulled through the feelings of insecurity and I'm back on track, ready to take on the world!  The best analogy I've got (besides dodging the piles of poop) is that of a boxing match.  It feels like so much of living overseas is just that--a boxing match where I have to have my gloves up at all times.  It's a fight to not feel overwhelmed and withdraw.  It's a fight to learn another new language and communicate in one that doesn't come naturally to me.  And I sometimes find myself against the ropes, feeling like I'm just getting pummeled.  In these times I'm so thankful for my husband who encourages me, a few dear friends here who hear me talk through my stressors and allow me to cry, times of solace to be still at his feet and realign my heart with his in praise and worship.  Struck down, but not destroyed...  Piles of poop that we try to walk around but just can't get out of the stairwell completely.  So I've had my water break on the bench in the corner and now the gloves are back up.  Ready to face a world that sure knows how to stretch a girl to her limits...

Karis opening bday gifts