Cutting the Strings: A Memoir (Volume 1)

Cutting the Strings: A Memoir (Volume 1)

by Carole J. Little

ISBN: 9780985700409

Publisher Elkins Lake Publishing

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Family & Childhood, Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Biographies & Memoirs

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Book Description

This riveting autobiographical account takes the reader on a journey around the globe as Little strikes out on her own at an early age and discovers a world that not only embraces her but transforms her existence. Little does well in telling her story and readers will likely be impressed and moved by the way the author “cut the strings” that were holding her back. Readers will laugh, cry and be inspired by the turn of events in this compelling example of perseverance and personal triumph.

Sample Chapter

The trip from Bangkok to Mexico City took thirty-six hours, with stops in Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Dallas. There was an eight-hour layover in Los Angeles. This was my first look at the United States after traveling around Asia for more than a year. I realized just how much I had adapted to the conservative way of dress and behavior when I saw a blonde American girl on roller skates wearing Daisy Dukes, a skimpy halter top, headphones, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. I now understood the meaning of culture shock and realized why I was treated poorly in other countries from time to time.

As the plane touched down in Mexico City, I looked at the dirty, fraying strings that were hanging from both wrists and decided my journey from Bangkok to Mexico City was over so there was no need to keep them on any longer. The strings had been tied around my wrists by Hmong refugees at a farewell ceremony as part of a Buddhist blessing for “great luck, great riches, a great new job, and a safe journey.” The practice of Sai Sin is especially popular in Northeast Thailand, where I had been living. I was told to wear the strings until they fell off, as to cut them off might bring bad luck.

While in Thailand, the strings seemed to have won me new found respect with the Thai people as I slowly made my way south toward Bangkok, taking one last look at the country where I had learned so much during the last fifteen months. Once I left Thailand, the strings elicited the same question of “What do the strings mean?” by every curious traveler I met en route from Bangkok to Mexico City. After two weeks, the once-white strings were now gray and more of a nuisance than a help. When the plane landed, I quickly cut them off and put them in my pocket.

The thirty-six-hour trip had taken its toll, but somehow as I made my way to the information counter at the airport, I felt a renewed sense of energy. I thought I could easily make the four-hour bus trip to Orizaba, Veracruz. When I reached the desk, the smiling hostess asked, “How may I help you, Miss?”

With every intention of completing my journey that day, I asked, “Can you please tell me how to get to the bus station to go to Orizaba?”

Her response was totally unexpected, “It’s a four-hour ride to Orizaba, and you need to rest before traveling there. It is better for you to get a hotel today and after you rest, you can make the trip. Would you like me to arrange a hotel for you?”

Not giving up just yet, I said, “I’d rather get to the bus station, can you please help me do that?”

Unwavering, she said, “I’ll help you get a hotel room so you can rest after your long trip. Then you can go to Orizaba in the morning.”

As if it were settled, she made a call then pointed to the line of taxi’s waiting outside the main exit, “Give this slip of paper to the driver.”

Since I didn’t speak Spanish, I could only hope the taxi driver spoke English. When I got to the first car in line, the driver quickly got out to help me with my luggage. “Do you speak English?” I asked.

He shook his head and replied, “No English.”

I tried one last time to tell him the name of the bus station and town where I wanted to go, but he didn’t understand so I handed him the slip of paper resigned to the fact that I would not be traveling to Orizaba that day, trusting that I would end up at a clean, safe, affordable hotel somewhere in Mexico City.

The ride to the hotel took about thirty minutes and as we weaved in and out of traffic through the streets of Mexico’s historic capital, I couldn’t help but compare it to Bangkok. There was a lot of traffic, smog and run-down areas in certain parts of town. As we neared the center of the city, the architecture became much more ornate, the streets were wider with beautiful plazas, fountains, and parks. There were street vendors at every light and political signs for the PAN and PRI parties plastered everywhere.

At long last, the taxi pulled up in front of a small, older hotel called the Hotel Valle. I paid the driver and made my way to the front desk with the luggage. Back then, my bags did not have wheels so I struggled with the bulging, oversized bag. The lobby was tiny but clean and obviously from a previous era, with its timeless worn marble and mahogany front desk, black and white tile floor, and brass fixtures. A silver-haired desk clerk with a moustache and glasses greeted me in English. I gave him the reservation slip from the airport courtesy desk, and he began to check me in asking me how long I intended to stay. I indicated I would only be staying for one night. When I pulled out my wallet, the clerk announced they only accepted credit cards or pesos. I indicated I only carried US dollars to which he offered, “I’ll be glad to exchange your dollars for pesos, however the rate will be less favorable than a currency exchange place.”

Under the circumstances, I had to accept whatever rate he was willing to pay since I had not thought to exchange my money at the airport. I gave him a hundred-dollar-bill in exchange for a handful of colorful bills that meant little to me at this point. Since I was paying cash, I had to settle in advance, and he promptly took several hundred pesos back. When I got to the room, I figured out the rate was higher than what I would normally agree to pay, but one night wouldn’t hurt. I still had plenty left to get me to where I was going and to tide me over until I started teaching English.

The grumbling in my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since I left Los Angeles eight hours ago, so I decided to grab something in the little coffee shop next to the lobby. Trying to decipher the menu was more of a challenge than what I anticipated, so I ordered una hamberguesa con queso y tocino, which I guessed to be a cheeseburger and something else. I figured if I didn’t like whatever it was I would just put it to the side. It turned out to be a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and fries. Not too bad, I thought. Later I would learn it was the worst thing you could order in a Mexican restaurant.

After dinner, I decided to explore a bit while there was still daylight but realized I was pretty worn out and opted to return to the hotel. I laid down on the bed and the next thing I knew I was waking up with a violent urge to run to the bathroom. My head was spinning and the nausea was overwhelming. I washed my face, got into my pajamas and went back to bed only to repeat this same process over and over for the next forty-eight hours. I knew I had to get help and after several attempts to communicate with the front desk. The clerk kept hanging up on me. I found the number to the American Embassy in the phone book. Miracle of miracles, the clerk understood that I wanted to make a call, and fortunately I knew my numbers in Spanish. Much to my delight, the line was ringing and a male voice answered in American English, “United States Embassy,” then went on to say, “We are currently closed in observance of Columbus Day and will re-open Tuesday, October 13.” That was three days away. I would run out of money by then. I was so violently ill; at one point I just lay in the shower and turned the water on occasionally to rinse myself off.

After three days, I somehow got myself dressed, packed, and down to the front desk. It seemed like it took me forever. Once I paid the hotel, all I had left was $100. They had really taken advantage of me on the exchange rate, but I had little choice. I walked slowly to a taxi waiting at the curb. The driver helped with my luggage and stole occasional side glances at me as I gingerly made my way into the back seat of the taxi. My stomach and intestines were so distended and painful, I could not stand up straight nor could I sit normally. I had to lean as far back as possible so as not to bend my waist. Every move I made was excruciating. When I finally settled in to the cab, I glanced at the rear view mirror and saw the driver watching me.

I said, “ADO—Orizaba, por favor,” which was the name of the terminal and the city I was going to. The driver glanced at me as he pulled away from the curb into traffic. As he darted in and out of the congested roadway, the pain from being jostled to and fro was more than I had ever experienced in my life. After a few minutes, the driver said, “You no go Orizaba.”

I couldn’t believe it. What was up with these people? First the woman in the airport refuses to help me get to Orizaba, now the taxi driver.

Once again I said, “Si, por favor, ADO a Orizaba.”

He shook his head “No.”

At which point, I closed my eyes and thought, I guess this is it. It is the end of the road. I’m going to die in a foreign country and no one even knows I’m here.

After several turns, the driver turned and looked at me saying, “You no go Orizaba. You go doctor.”

I laid my head against the back seat and closed my eyes. I could feel the tears streaming down my cheeks. I was too weak to protest any more. A few minutes later, the cab stopped in front of what appeared to be an elementary school. The driver got out, motioning me to wait and said, “Esperase.”

He disappeared into the building and a few minutes later came out with a woman. They stood in front of the doors talking, looking at me from time to time. Then the woman disappeared inside the school and moments later reappeared only this time had another woman with her. All three of them approached the car and the second woman leaned forward as I rolled down the window.

In the most beautifully spoken English I had ever heard, she said, “My name is Mrs. Aleman, and this is Jose Hernandez and his wife, Maria del Carmen. Mr. Hernandez brought you here so that I could translate for him. He is concerned for your well-being and would like to take you to a doctor.”

I began to recount the events of the last few days, trying to hold back the emotion, but it felt so good to finally be able to tell my story to someone who understood me. I explained that I had little money left and needed to use it to get to Orizaba.

“I have not been able to communicate with the director of the language institute to let her know I am in the country and explain why I did not arrive on time.”

Mrs. Aleman kindly explained. “Mr. Hernandez will help you contact your director after taking you to see the doctor since there is no way you can make the trip in your current condition. Don’t worry, they are good people, and you will be in good hands.” Her smile reassured me and I was overcome with emotion.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Aleman, and please thank Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez for me. I am so grateful for their kindness.”

When she finished translating, Jose and his wife nodded and smiled at me. Jose drove me to a nearby clinic, and it was not long before I was ushered into an examining room where the doctor and Jose had to help me up on to the table, since I could hardly stand at this point. The pain in my lower intestines was unbearable.

The doctor introduced himself in perfect English. “I am Doctor Morales, and we are going to do this in stages, since you are in so much pain. First we will help you lay on your side, and then we’ll help you roll over on to your back, okay?”

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I nodded, overcome once again with the joy of knowing that I was with someone I could communicate with and that I was about to get relief from the intense agony I had been experiencing for days. I answered questions about my general health and the incidents leading up to this point.

Then Doctor Morales said, “I am going to give you an injection that will alleviate the pain and antibiotics to eliminate the infection. Once I give you the shot, we will wait fifteen minutes for the medicine to take effect. Then I’ll come back to check on you.”

As I lay on the table waiting for the medication to take hold, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had not met Jose and his wife, Maria del Carmen. When the doctor returned, he asked, “Do you think you can sit up now?” Surprisingly, the pain was gone! In fact, I could even stand up straight.

“Whoa! Hold on, not so fast,” Doctor Morales warned. “You are still in a very delicate state. You are extremely dehydrated, and if you don’t continue with the shots every four hours, you will feel even worse than before. I’m going to give you a prescription, and Jose will take you to the pharmacy. You will then have to find someone to give you the injections for the next ten days. You must also stay on a clear liquid diet for the next few days. Please make plans to find a doctor in Orizaba who can do a follow-up exam to make sure you have healed properly.”

I was so grateful and relieved at how much better I was feeling.

“Thank you so much, Doctor Morales. Where did you learn to speak such perfect English? Did you study in the States?” I wondered out loud.

He smiled and said, “Yes, I went to medical school at Loma Linda. I really had a hard time leaving but my family is here.”

I smiled back and said, “I am very glad you did. Thank you again for coming to my rescue today. How much do I owe you?”

He graciously replied as he headed for the door, “You are very welcome, there is no charge for the visit and don’t forget to follow up with a doctor in Orizaba.”

After we picked up the prescriptions, we went to retrieve Jose’s wife from school and they took me to their tiny three-room apartment, where they lived with their five children. The 400-unit apartment building was older and slightly run down. As we walked through the courtyard to the main entrance, the air was filled with the sounds and smells of families cooking, listening to music, children playing, dogs barking, and people arguing. As we climbed the four flights of stairs, I continued to marvel at how I could move about with ease. Jose insisted on lugging my suitcase upstairs, most likely because he feared for its safety if left in the taxi.


Excerpted from "Cutting the Strings: A Memoir (Volume 1)" by Carole J. Little. Copyright © 2012 by Carole J. Little. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Carole J. Little

Carole J. Little

In addition to being a working author and public speaker, Little currently serves as President & CEO of one of Houston's premiere social service agencies. Little currently resides in Texas with her husband and two children.

View full Profile of Carole J. Little

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