I am so thankful that my life has played out the way it has - that I have such wonderful memories to look back on, such bountiful blessings to appreciate right now (namely our children), and such hopefulness for the future. Today the girls had the rare treat of afternoon tea at a local little English-style tea room while the boys watched football.
I began to tell Bou about the best cup of tea I ever had, and as I told her the story it occurred to me that I wanted to record some of my favorite travel memories for my children (and me) to look back on and read. After all, this was meant to be a family blog, not just an adoption blog. I love sharing our adoption journey, but I have other stories I want to include here as well. So here is the first one...The Best Cup of Tea.
It was April 2004 and I was working in the Intensive Care Unit at an Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. It was the hospital that all wounded military service members and DOD civilians/contractors from Iraq and Afghanistan were evacuated to before being transported back to the U.S. for further medical care. This was the second time I'd worked in this hospital - the first being 1996-2000, when the pre-war atmosphere was completely different. Back then it had been a fairly slow-paced environment. But not anymore - now the ICU was busy and intense, full of young men with devastating wounds that tragically changed the course of their lives, and the lives of their families.
Rob, also in the Army, was stationed back in the U.S. while I was in Germany, so my dear friend A and I shared an apartment, worked together, and were traveling buddies. Both of us had been there about three months - and I think both of us had seen injuries we never expected. Both of us were living thousands of miles away from our husbands for the next year. It was a hard job.
What does this have to do with tea, you may be wondering? Well, I am getting to that...
It was early April, which meant tulip season in the Netherlands. A and I both loved flowers and we both desperately needed some respite, so we decided to hop on the train and head to Leiden for our three day weekend.
We rode and rode AND RODE our bikes all over the place, laughing like kids at the cold wind in our faces. It was a very picturesque place, and of course there were bike lanes on every street, which made it so pleasant to ride around.
There were beautiful canals with sidewalk cafes...
gorgeous flowers everywhere...
and more windmills! Because we were in Holland, after all. That's blurry me on my bike in the edge of the photo - we rode until almost dark.
And when we were nearly frozen and nearly out of daylight, we rode to our hotel and checked in. It was the quintessential Dutch bed and breakfast - so cute. This is where the tea comes in. We took off our heavy coats, sat down to a strong cup of ceylon tea and some scones, and warmed ourselves up. Sitting here in this little hotel, eating and drinking, cheeks still flushed from hours of bike-riding and sight-seeing in the cold, I felt a million miles away from the sadness of work. And it was so good. That tea was more than tea - it was symbolic of warmth, happiness, simplicity.
The next day we went to the famous Keukenhof Gardens to see all the tulips, which really were dazzling.
That night we ate at Woo Ping's Chinese Restaurant, because that was kind of a tradition, to eat at a Chinese place in every country we visited.
On Sunday morning it was time to board the train and head back home. In the train station we saw a Dutch newspaper with this image on the front page:
At first glance, we knew they were U.S. Marines, and we thought they were just huddled together praying. It actually looked like a nice picture to grace the front page on this Easter Sunday, coincidentally. Then we noticed the feet sticking out from the huddle, and the stretcher beneath them. We realized they were gathered over someone who was either dead or seriously wounded, but since the caption was written in Dutch we weren't able to read the description. Once we arrived back home we realized that this photo had been on the cover of many newspapers, as part of the coverage of terrible fighting in Fallujah that weekend. Here's what one caption read: "U.S. Marines pray over a fallen comrade at a first aid point after he died from wounds suffered in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, Thursday, April 8, 2004. Hundreds of U.S. Marines had been fighting insurgents in several neighborhoods in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah in order to regain control of the city." I cut the image out and saved it (I still have it, along with lots of other photos and articles). We were oblivious to what had begun, as we were tucked away in a little springtime utopia of flowers and windmills. During the fighting that became known as the First Battle of Fallujah, 51 U.S. service members were killed and 476 were wounded. Over 1200 Iraqis were also killed. When we stepped off the train in Germany on that dreary Sunday afternoon, there was no denying the reality of what awaited at work the next morning.
And so it continued for the rest of the year - we worked hard, took care of young men with shattered bodies, got emotionally invested, cried sometimes. Then when we had the chance, we got on the train and savored the experiences at our next destination. Including good cups of tea. Just not the best cup of tea.