I’ve been working my way through the last of winter stock, clearing the decks for the fresh food now starting to show promising growth in the warm soil under spring rains. The last container of frozen vegetable stock went into a pot with a bouillon cube. I cut up one of the last onions from my winter share into thin French Onion soup style slices. Squeezed the juice from the last orange and lemon. Pulled out the package of julienned butternut squash I picked up at my local farm market the other day, quite sure this was a creative gesture on their part to use up the last of their winter stock as well. A colorful mound of spaghetti thin stands of butternut. When the stock was boiling I added the onions and squash and took in the thick orange. Added some bay leaves, fennel seed, turmeric, minced fresh ginger and the fresh citrus juices. And then knew the last ingredient had to be quinoa. This wasn’t a ‘use up to make room’ decision. This was me wanting to feel some tangible connection to my daughter, to share in some visceral way from this distance of 3800 miles from where she was in Cusco Peru where she lives. I knew she was getting some form of quinoa in each hot meal she was served in her hospital bed where she has been for almost a week now. She was being nourished, even if from within a context of worry and wonder and need for patience.
As a resident with a job there, Molly is eligible for the same free health care available to all Peruvians. Of course this comes with a price. Time. She is not a critical care patient, she most likely has pneumonia, she is there because of the pain the fluid in her lungs has been causing her. Ironically, time is what she needs to heal, and so I have come to accept that it is not so terrible that the process for testing and diagnosis has taken so long. Yet the worry and anxiety that can gather in this space of waiting has tested the limits of all of us in communication with her, fear in not being able to advocate directly for her as we are wired to do, wanting to be her family there supporting her, the lone gringa, in a foreign hospital. Except it is not foreign to Molly. It’s taken days for her to realize this. Like most nationals living abroad, she straddles two worlds of expectations, the one she grew up in, and the one she has integrated with in commitment and style. She understands all too well where she is and as an anthropologist, all too well that she has made a choice to be part of both worlds.
The scariest part of being in the hospital is the not knowing. True I think no matter what part of the world we are in. Not knowing when, not knowing what, not knowing why. With each piece of the puzzle of her case being fit into place, I have heard the growing empowerment in her voice. She can advocate for herself because she can. All these days of communicating on the phone and in texts with her have developed into a rich web of a story that includes the effective and not so effective doctors, the range of nurses and their varied personalities, and the two women roommates who have taken her under their wing like two elderly aunties, one moment full of advice, another moment shocked by Molly’s sensitive and intelligent defiance. It includes the support of friends and colleagues in her community there and the need to trust the truth of this too. It includes the support of her uncle in California, world traveller and fluent in Spanish, who has been where she is and has made himself available to her. Being a mother from so far away watching all this has been nerve-wracking, but mostly inspiring. It has been a big lesson for all of us; getting what we need is most definitely not always what we think we want.
Modern technology for communications is really quite amazing. With What’s App and Skype we can talk on the phone and live chat in text with Molly any time. All for free. It truly is a global world. We can share what is happening in the moment, our fears, our happiness, sightings of awe and beauty. Just as Molly and I concluded a conversation about her relationship with some the nurses who seem rigid and stern, about how her own need for empathy might be best served by showing empathy in return and embrace the possibility that these nurses are also doing the best they can. In that moment I look out and see the developing relationship between anxious Nora and the puppy who has entered her life. As a point of illustration. All gaps have the potential to be bridged.
I added the quinoa to the soup and let it all simmer until it was done. It finished fragrant and thick.
Just as I was about to take my first mouthful, Molly texted me three photos of the lunch she was about to eat, the first a quinoa salad, a chicken casserole, fruit purée and barley soup. She would be eating this out of the colorful bowls it is served in, with silverware brought from home, because everything needed for personal care must come from ‘family’ there, everything from toilet paper to silverware, to towels and shampoo and soap. She is getting what she needs. The tangy comforting quinoa soup I am eating is my homage to a culture that can provide in ways I will never understand.