Pinkulluna - February 1, 2016
Now I am living… The wind toss my hair about with gentle ease as I stop for a moment on the outskirts of town by the river. The mountains surround me, cradled at the top by a halo of clouds. I rest in a valley just north of Ollantaytambo. Earlier I hiked up a steep mountain trail to several sites of ruins.
I didn’t know what it was called when I first saw it, nor did I know it was somewhere with a trail. I just saw it and looked for an opening to the mountain along a narrow alley lined with stores and homes. It was a series of fortressed walls and buildings on a steep slope of the mountain. The first few steps were tall and I took gigantic footsteps upward bound. Excited I had found the path I bounded up the first series until my lungs began to feel the change in elevation. I slowed to a steady pace. The trail was steep, somewhat treacherous and very unforgiving – straight down. I passed several smaller ruins until I reached the larger store houses stacked back to back. The lowest house on the cliff stretched out with a mountain view fit for the kings. With windows overlooking the next mountain and a small grassy terrace area it is quite the place for a peaceful stop. The windows of the three homes were planned out so perfectly that they all line up to share the view. The highest of the homes is filled with small notched off rock floor areas where it looks they used to keep Guinea pigs. I guess that’s what gives it away as a store.
Below me was a very old home and farm. I ventured out later that day only to discover is was private property. Along the way I made friends with a donkey, pig, chickens and cows and had the chance to speak with quite a few people just down that small street.
This has to be one of my most favorite towns along the way. Ollantaytambo is a small city where Manco Inca rebelled against the Spaniards in 1536 and staged one of the greatest acts of resistance to the conquistadors during that time period. The conquistadors who described this fortified mountain called it a ‘thing of horror’ now I call it a thing of beauty.
I sit on the town square just before dark. Half a dozen restaurants line the street in front of me with servers waiting for a tourist who just won’t be coming tonight. This is the slow season. Even though it is summer, it is chilly in the mountains. Auto rickshaw drivers circle about the two square. There is one road in and one road out. The police blow their whistle. The square seems to be a major spot for them to congregate. A few dogs break out in a spat. The final tourist buses depart as the sun goes down. It’s time to head to my home for the night.
That stick with the red plastic wrapped flowers
They were all around this little city. One of them at a small home across from my hotel. Finally I met someone at a restaurant who explained what these little bouquets of flowers with the red colored plastic bag around them at the end of a bamboo pole meant. It is where they sold Chicha – frutillada, a corn and strawberry fermented drink. I ventured across the cobblestone alleyway to a home. An order man sat on a bench drinking a beer. Chicha? I asked a lady in her 70s. A huge smile came across her face and she motioned me to come in her home. There was one other older gentleman there as well sipping quietly on a beer. It was peaceful, we were in the kitchen and living room area of her home. I sat down on a cushioned chair next to the TV. Just a little I told her. She went to the corner of the room and uncovered a pitcher with a small cloth draped over the lid. It cost less than a dollar and she poured me what I would call a massive glass. It was thick and sweet. Very good, better than any beer. I remembered what the couple from Argentina told me on my way to Peru. How they would not drink it because the fermentation process used to be started by people spitting into the corn mix. I wondered how she made it here.
Many meanings to the word – “Cultura Chicha” – a mix of concepts
Aguas Calientas – the base of Machu Picchu - 2/2/2016
There has been no electricity here for days and many hotels are without water. The first one I found had no water, here they have no light and no hot water. But at least the water is available but cold here. The food is going bad everywhere and restaurants are cutting their menu prices in half and offering free drinks. I glanced at a menu a server waived. Everything was over 40 Peruvian soles. You can have anything you want for 20 he said. But then I found a place for 15. I have been drinking the water since Lima, but here the water is orange. I will pay the high price for a bottle.
My first plate arrived piled with vegetables – avocado, cucumber, corn – and cheese. It was a cold dish. I took a bit but immediately felt odd knowing the power had been off for so long. The streets here are lined with pricy restaurants, novelty shops and grocery stores. They are ready for the high season, but here in February (Summer) times are slow. I ordered alpaca. I hope my stomach survives.
There is no power again tonight, no wifi, no phones, no lights, nothing…. and I am starting to really like it.
It’s dusk by the soccer field. This is where the locals are and I have joined them. There is a frame of a large concrete structure to my left. In front of me, at the base of the peaks are local homes stacked 6 high with stores on the lowest level. Many homes look to be only partially constructed with no windows, but laundry hangs on a string fluttering about so I know they are lived in. To my right are a few stores with generators, disrupting the peace of the city. Other stores are with candles. I sit on a covered bleacher watching the games. It is misting outside; a common thing this time of year. Beside me a dog it laying on the bleacher, keeping dry as well and enjoying the game. Creeping up around be from below the bleachers is the smell of grilling chicken and beef skewers. I hear the sizzling and people gather round as more are up for sale. The clinking of coins, the flickering flames. My stomach is full from a herbal tea mix with lemon and several other juices, but I am unsure of this drinks name. One pot boils the local ‘orange’ water as another simmers with herbs. They ladle it out in cups and bags, adding the juices you choose. Night is closing in and the police have come out on the playing field to send everyone home. Slowly we leave. I can hardly see to write at this point. Rain sprinkles down on my face. Below me is the honey biscuit lady, maybe it is time for dessert.
Say a Prayer
The lady next to me just said a prayer. What was she thinking? Was she worried about our aggressing bus driver honking away on these blind turns and that we make it to our destination. That in this life things just be ok. Or what may come when she reaches her final destination.
What a Man - February 3, 2016
It’s 3:13 pm. He stands before me, a strand of colors flirting with the wind… red, yellow, blue. A beaded band is wrapped around his head graced with a pair of blue and yellow feathers reaching for the sky. He shakes a strand of shells and bows towards the ground exposing the golden medallion on his forehead. Long black hair flows out from beneath the band tied in the back with bright colored bands, draping down in pink, yellow, blue and white. Close your eyes. Force all the other sounds to disappear. Now listen to the hollow shaking of the bamboo stocks, the rivers of sound from the flute. The ups and downs and uncertainties - like life. More bamboo, shells and the journey begins.
Chinchero - February 5, 2016
I rest under the awning of what may be one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. An afternoon thunderstorm has come and here I seek shelter from the cold and rain. At 14,000 feet it can get chilly even in the summer. The cathedral is white with a terracotta tile roof and stone base. Arched doorways with carved stone columns grace the entranceway. Cobblestones laid sideways in concrete make up the pathway with large stones intermixed. A small yellow dog comes to seek shelter as well and a family who has joined gifts him with a bone. Inside some of the cathedrals here, religious paintings can be seen depicting Guinea pigs or triangular shaped people. This is the Inca culture mixed with the Spanish. There are also rosy red cheeks on the Spaniards from the lack of oxygen at this elevation. Gold leaf over cedar wood adorns this chapel, there is an adobe floor. Flowers cover the ceiling and walls, with grape leaf painted pillars and a condor alter candle.
Somewhere in the Amazon - Date Unknown
I sit under an awning on a porch three feet from the river. A rain storm has come and I watch the river begin to rise. It flows swiftly by be carrying logs and debris from other parts of the country carrying them away to Bolivia. The river is very high at this time of year, you can tell from the vegetation the banks are quite swollen. There is no power now. Power only comes for a few hours in the morning and evening from a generator used by the camp. There is no phone service here, no internet. I have spotted a parakeet taking shelter close to me in a tree. We will all wait out the storm.
Smoke wafts around the room and candle flicker in the breeze. It is night in the Amazon. The mosquitoes are barely kept at bay by the breeze and the smoke. My cabin is filled with small holes in the boards. The sounds of cicadas and frogs surround me. A limb cracks, a bird calls out and I hear the sounds of churning water and the river parting ways for an unseen log or rock. I pull the mosquito net down around me, a welcome prevention from what might crawl in bed beside me in the night. Another bird screams outside my door… someone must have disturbed his habit of hopping on my patio steps looking for bugs in the dim light. Soon I will drift off to sleep, totally alone in the jungle, off in the wild and happier then I can ever explain here.
And the thunder rolls
The thunder roars down from the north in the distance. You can see a gray coloring about the air. And suddenly the wind tears leaves violently down at me. I pick up step, it is almost at my heels. It begins as a mist and comes to a roar. The kind you want to tear off your worries with and dance around in delight. And then it unleashes everything… thunder, lightning and other sounds too. Like the crash of tree branches in the jungle. The rain slightly muffles the branches cries as the fall to the forest floor, but not the evidence as the storm subsides. Trails disappear, bridges fall down, and machetes get put to work. Life in the Amazon goes on.
Fishing for Piranhas
“I will put the first one on,” he tells me. “I can do it,” I explain. I have done this before, well… kind of! He watches as I slipped the worm on over the hook. It was much smaller than ones I usually use and longer. The pole was a stick, with a short piece of fishing line tied to the end and a very well used hook. Yesterday the rope bridge I stood beside was underwater, but today it just barely was showing. Snakes and Piranhas are there he cautioned me. There are holes too, you might slip through. And that was true. It was full of holes and weak spots… would never pass as remotely safe in the USA. But it was the perfect place to get in deep for me. A goldmine I would not give up. I walked down and picked a place slightly in the shade. The water came over the sides and onto my shoes. The river was not down enough to cross dry just yet. This little bridge runs over a creek that leads down into the Amazon. The Amazon is muddy, but this creek was even darker – like chocolate from all the rich organics flowing out. I tossed my little worm out into the current. A flash of silver in the mud, slight tug and the worm was gone. Another worm and another toss, it sank gently down. The water below some low tree branches swirled and a fish headed my way… Piranhas on!
Have you ever lived?
Suddenly dozens of screams pierce the air around me. A branch shakes and large drops of water and twigs fall to the ground around me. A limb from a tree cracks high above me and leaves begin swirling down. With several startling thuds it lands somewhere near by me in its final resting place to become one with the nutrient rich soil in time. I dodge my head back and forth watching for something to fall. Something large lands a little too close for comfort. And then I see small hands part the palm leaves and little eyes peering down at me. The grab hold of the palms like little bars on a cage opening the door for me to see into another life. She nods her head back and forth watching me with curiosity. One jumps down to a lower branch in reach of my camera lens. This guy pauses to watch me as he grabs at pea pods pulling out white seeds. He inches closer and is now within 7 feet of me. I feel he has come to accept my presence in the jungle for the moment. I stand watching, taking in the sounds around me of the other monkeys after the storm. This moment is just one of the little things that makes me wonder if we have ever really lived life until a colony of fifty or more monkeys moves across the jungle canopy over your head, after the storm.
Rio Madre De Dios
The Amazon is awash in pink, blue and gray hues. The swirls in the water look as if a paint brush tip is weaving its way downstream. Lush shades of green, yellow and brown line the far banks. Night is closing in. Night under the jungle canopy comes fast. The dragonflies are practicing their aerobatic moves outside my window screen. Vengeance on those tiny mosquitoes hovering nearby hoping for a bite. The cicadas, frogs and a few last birds sign in the twilight. Time stands still.
Only when the last tree has been cut down.
Only when the last river has been poisoned.
Only when the last fish has been caught.
Only then will we discover that money cannot be eaten.
- Amazon Planet
I can make out the shape of a giant wooden boat go by at dusk. Is it filled with Brazilian nuts, drugs or just a passerby like me?
Swirling and Swirling to the Stars
We float silently down the river with nothing but the light of the stars to guide us along the way. The little wooden boat swirls gently in circles. All around is the sounds of frogs on the bank of the river and an occasional scream of a money or some other creature in the dark jungle. The river groans with swooshing sounds as water gushes upward and in whirlpools at the currents come in contact with a rock, tree or sand bank somewhere deep below. It then calms again to join the rest of the flow.
It changes you. Makes you want to be a better person. How do you go back to who you used to be when now you know. I just you just never really are the same, but for the better.
Photos from India
Morocco is an amazing place of the past and present. Read my story about all the little glimpses and how a short journey can bring you into another way of life - the amazing skin markets, military bases, opinions, hospitality and more. The Moroccan people are warm, friendly and it is just the kind of place I recommend traveling.
The Terminal @ 1am
I found a nice group of chairs with some friendly looking people and settled down to get a few hours of sleep before my flight. After but 10 minutes, the hard seat began to bother me and I opted for a spot of the floor with my blanket. I hid between the wall and a pine tree tightly clutching my luggage and soon fell fast asleep.
“It’s time to get up,” said a man gently shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes, slightly disoriented, and saw a guy my age through the pine tree branches beside me. Someone else had joined me on the floor in the night.
I looked up. “How was your sleep?” the man asked me.
“Great for an airplane floor!” I replied. I smiled and stood up; in a few more hours I would be in Morocco.
The Skin Market
I climbed a flight of narrow steps between old houses in an alleyway. As I came to the top, I entered into a small market square. It was a ‘woman’s market.’ Women sat in together in circles selling personal effects, in the center.
A set of rickety wooden shacks lay to my right and I immediately noticed a spotted leopard skin hanging from the overhanging roof off of one of the shacks. Then I saw that there were other pelts too. There were ‘skins’ of every animal in Africa imaginable hanging all over the shacks.
That was not all that was hanging there. There were also hundreds of bones; along with skeletons that had pieces of dried flesh still clinging to them. These were all tied about with string from the ceiling. In the front of the shack, a small rope held some jugs with live leeches and other strange creatures from the sea. Then there were the small bundles of bird feathers carefully wrapped in brown paper. Everywhere in the wooden boxes below were pieced deceased hedgehog skins with quills and other strands of dried flesh. In fact, there were pieces of dried dead animals/animal parts laying everywhere.
There were other things too. There were stones, horns, leaves, powders, spices, strange sticks, roots and bulbs. Then there were also the live animals such as a hawk with a broken wing, in a wooden cage, surrounded by decaying chicken heads. There were more small tortoises than I could count by the dozens and hedgehogs too. I stopped in amazement to examine all of the new things and was allowed to take a few pictures (which is normally forbidden).
Today I can say that I have laid eyes on one of the most unique types of markets that I am sure I will ever see. This was the market for local ‘magic.’ No tourists are taken here and you will never find out about it in the travel guidebooks. I guess I can say I was lucky. Don’t assume anything in life because it will come back and prove you wrong.
Where the sun meets the sky…
We walked down the rocky isle past fishermen and boys in their swim trunks. Lovers hid in small hidden caverns and the cool breeze picked up the scent of the sea. I stared out as far as I could see, where the ocean met the sky. As I looked at the ocean, admiring how the two colors were exactly the same blues, I could barely tell the difference between above and below. When you think you understand more, you then realize that you understand even less.
The King’s Tomb
The green triangular dome stretched up into the misty blue sky. Three small globes rose up at its tip. A three-tiered dome lay beneath it, with each level of stone intricately engraved in a diamond like pattern. At the edge of the highest and lowest tier were small pyramid like structures that were made to mesh together forming a wall. The portals (domed entrance ways) called mokaous in Arabic lined the front of the mausoleum. Pillars of marble stone separated the mokaous’s apart.
The courtyard was littered with round stone pillar like structures that were all chipped by hand. They were of varying heights and circumferences. As I write, I now sit on a portion of the old city wall. I run my fingers down it and a few more grains of sand crumble away over the cliff.
I look up above and can see that I am below the tower of the Mosque. The upper portion has now given way with time and what lies below is a latticework of red stone and intermittent windows. As I look out towards the ocean I can see two other old Mosque towers rising up about the city in the east and west. A river runs far below, between them. Small palm trees and tropical plants lay just off the cliff side below me. The sun is setting and the sky is ablaze. With every breath I take here, life confounds me even more.
Dinner on Fridays
A large silver platter was laid on the table before us and we all sat very close together to eat. We were sitting on a bench like piece of furniture with a lot of pillows and a sturdy, slightly hard cushion. The platter was filled to the brim with couscous and in the center was a piece of tender meat and vegetables such as squash, carrots, cauliflower and potatoes. A small bowl of broth also sat on the table; we took turns spooning some of it onto our portion of the couscous. We then all ate together off of the same platter with either our hands or a spoon. Two large glasses of water also sat on the table, which we shared together. We fought over trying to give the other people around us the ‘choice’ piece of meat. In the end we each had our own little couscous shaped trench and a full stomach. It was 11:30 at night; this is a very normal time here to eat.
We should all do this with our family more often. Isn’t family a large part of what life is all about?
I stepped off the plane from Amsterdam and began making my way through the security checkpoints. I was now in Rome. Beside me there was a little incident and a man was taken away in handcuffs by a group of plain clothed Italian men. Now in Rome, floods of fond memories come rushing back to me.
‘Sleeping on a shred of newspaper, under the Coliseum, with a group of really wonderful, homeless, Kosovoan refugees; dining with the President of the Italian Red Cross at the site of the Battle of Solferino (Italy) on the anniversary date (Here J. H. Dunant was inspired and wrote a proposal for an organization which led to the creation of the Red Cross.); coming back from an all night salsa party in a skimpy black dress, wearing a trash bag over me, in rush hour Rome traffic in the pouring rain on the back of a moped (you should have heard the beeps!); or maybe my time in the Vatican..’
There is a lot more I could go on about, these are just a few. Each of these short stories has a story behind it and many of them, have led to further stories. Isn’t it funny how life sometimes works?
Thoughts in the Alley Way
Don’t assume anything in life because life will come back and prove you wrong. Don’t stereotype because their will always be things that will break them. Breathe in and breathe out. Live for the moment, but still never forget tomorrow. Your life here is but a fleeting moment and time and you can never take back yesterday. Every moment that passes I think I understand more, but I know now that I actually understand even less. Trust your instincts because they are stronger then your brain. When you truly feel something, go for it because tomorrow you may never have that second chance. As all reason slips through my fingertips and life deals me a wild… I pause in the moment and follow my heart. Your way is not always the right way and you may find true satisfaction if you learn another and combine the two to fit you. Live life.
The US Embassy Guard
The thick stubby limbs of the trees stretch up into the night. The sparsely leafed branches sink deep into the darkness of the sky and look as if they hold the world above me in place.
I am walking towards the US Embassy, with a well-dressed stranger who from ‘out of nowhere’ offered to show me the way. That’s how it is here. The people are friendly and everyone offers to help. Just last night a strange man wouldn’t leave me alone and was trying to follow me to my hotel. A man with his family stepped in when he saw the problem and walked me home.
This new stranger points at a few restaurants to indicate that this is where the bombings occurred in Casa and also mentions that the hotel is just down a nearby street. He said that the bombings were a result of political tensions between the people and the government with some new laws they were imposing. We talked more and I learned that he was an actor. The latest role he played was in the movie Spy Game (I will be sure to watch it now).
As I neared the US Embassy I saw that the entire sidewalk was blocked off, forcing people to walk in the center of the street. He said, “Yeah, you always know which one the US Embassy is. It’s the only one here like that. They have themselves so scared that they have to cordon off the entire street.”
I paused and stared at a guard who was loading his machine gun. Click-click… you could hear the bullets being loaded and he stared my way cause he must have seen I was an American. “Loading his gun, watching you… that’s kind of intimidating, Hugh?” the actor commented. We both had to laugh.
1000 Years Back
Standing here, I could easily be somewhere 1000 years back. A gust of wind blows up sand in my face from the old city street. The sun is setting behind the red city, fortress like, wall. An amazing array of colors can be seen to the west and to the north, over the ocean, the sky is the bluest of blues. Small wispy clouds circle around the full moon, giving the atmosphere an even more surreal feel. Here I am standing beside an arched entranceway into Old Medina. Old men pass me by in hooded cloaks of all colors and a red tattered flag with a green star blows above me in the wind (Moroccan Flag).
If someone could walk for just a moment in my shoes, they would let us both be free.”
Old Medina is an amazing mix of 5-story white homes. You can memorize your way through the small, winding city streets by the array of door entranceways into people’s homes. Each is shaped like the silhouette of a Mosque, emphasizing the Islamic influence. Some of them are metal, others wood. Some have brass buttons, are lined with pillars and have latticework above them. Then there are the amazing arrays of tiles in different shapes, sizes, patterns and colors, which line the sides of the homes. Words in Arabic have been written in chalk on many of the doors. I wander on in Old Media; may these streets lead me somewhere I belong.
My Name is Amina
My name is Amina and here I stand before you. I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know how you found me. All I know is that I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The Moroccan soldiers draw closer with my every passing breath. My heart flutters now, as I shift into the shadows of a banana tree. Quietly here, I hide in the dark… escaping the revealing shadows of the soft moonlight. I see the glare of the moon off the soldier’s rifle as he draws nearer. I am standing in the middle of a Moroccan military base, somewhere just outside of Rabat. I am in a courtyard situated in the center of the compound. I shy my face towards my friend and lower my voice; the soldiers pass us by.
You are probably wondering what I am doing here and how I managed to get inside. Some stories though, I prefer to treasure for my own.
This is Morocco’s most elite military base, for medicine. It is a military hospital, ‘The Walter Reed of Morocco.’
A Strangers Kindness
I walked down to the edge of the ocean and squatted by the shore. He gently pushed up my sleeve and pulled my arm closer to the water. With one hand he spooned salt water over the mosquito bites on my arm, which I had been rubbing at all day. Carefully he ran his hands over my arm, gently rubbing the water into my skin. The itching subsided and I thanked him for teaching me this trick. The swelling was gone by the end of the day.
Random acts of kindness are something we should practice everyday. A stranger’s smile can make a day, just as a rude act can break a day. I am grateful the people here have treated me for the person I am and not thrown me into a stereotypical category, as too many people are prone to do.
Why is life like this? I think we will never know.
Switzerland is where my family roots begin. All things here have a deep and special meaning to me. I used to think that Americans have no culture (because I though of culture with more of a traditional and historical sense) and tried hard to understand the culture where I came from. But now I know that Americans do, and very much at that, have a culture indeed. You can read more about my Swiss history on the family history page.
Switzerland with Family
Muggenbuhl Restaurant: Zurich
(27 December) Two wooden Clouchard men stand at the entranceway of the restaurant. The story of these men originates in Paris, from the men who live under the bridge. These men are romanticized in the theaters and songs for the freedom that comes with ‘living under the bridge,’ but more so, truly living life without societal burdens.
One is a man of dignity and class. He wears a dress suit with a bowtie and offers up nonalcoholic drinks. He is the picture of correctness, in fact too correct. He had a good job, is religious and never drinks. He is chained to time.
The other man is in a sloppy cloth hat and old jacket. Liquor bottles line the inside of his jacket and he offers a number of hard drinks. He takes wine and hard liquor as he pleases and lives life as he likes. He has no connection to time.
The two men represent the two extremes of living. One lives for the moment and the other doesn’t live at all.
The chef brings a tray of appetizers to our table. There are over 15 choices ranging from sushi to cheese. When the main entrée comes out, they bring out a xylophone like dinning table on wheels. This table opens up into a serving platter with multiple dishes. We can have our pick.
I questioned the waitress more about the two men. What amazing things we can learn from wooden puppets and their stories from under the bridge.
Fondue is, as the Swiss say, “best at the bottom.” Be sure to take it with black tea and some ‘after dinner’ Cherry Kirsch liquor.
Zurich Church Monastery
(28 December ) A man’s head, an animal’s head, another animal and then a man; I stepped into the monastery courtyard. Men and animals lined the pillars along the courtyard on the outside of the gardens. An animal with ears of a woman’s face and a chin of a man rested on a pillar to my right. To my left were other bear and wolf like demons eating men. Another man scratched his chin in thought and stared up with a set of puzzling stone eyes. One man was bent over forwards peering out at the world with his head between his buttocks. There were other men and women in all sorts of odd, almost sexual positions. At no time though were any two people together in one stone carving. The only thing combined together was man and beast. No wonder there was a time when they didn’t allow woman to venture here. What would they have though about the monks?
Back to the Castle: Bellinzona
(29 December ) I walk alone. I have no choice but to go back; the beauty of the mountain beckons me. I arrive at the base of the mountain and stand aghast in its mighty shadow. A huge slab of rock juts up towards the sky, in stark contrast to the rest of the mountain. Here it creates an island towering out over the rest of the city. At the top stands a castle.
I stop to think what it might have been like several hundred years back. I guess this is what it would have been like for me… I wander around the base of the mountain for a bit, past pictographs etched by misunderstood teens. At last I find the entrance to the castle; it’s in a cave. My feet are tired from the journey because nothing is marked. If I hadn’t found the entrance before dark I would be out here alone for the night in cold weather I am sure I couldn’t survive. I walk silently in the dark, careful where I step. My boots echo loudly off the rock walls, unmistakenably announcing my presence. Three men sit at the entranceway. I pull my scarf tighter over my face. They gaze my way and say something among themselves. They let me pass unharmed. I climb a flight of narrow steps that lead into a watchtower along one of the castle’s far walls. Two more people surprise me at the top. A long path stretching out from the watchtower leads towards the main part of the castle. I step out onto path, which is along the castle wall and brace myself against the wind. A mighty gust tears at my scarf and bag. I step into view of the courtyard and walk up out of a bowl like pit. In the center of the courtyard stands a small circle of stones.
I come back to the year as a stranger snaps a picture of the castle and me.
Traveling with classmates in Switzerland
3 July : Basel
It’s very strange to be where I once belonged. To look around and see myself in others faces, to have been the people passing me by. Sometimes I feel it, that sense of who you really are, just within your grip. And other times it slips right through your hands.
Three people cry in the street as they greet each other with two kisses and a hug. Maybe that girl finally realized what she really wanted. It was such a beautiful moment that you cant help but feel good for them. I see myself in a million lives and one of them might have been her live, the one that just passed me by.
Outside the air is quiet and at last I am at peace and clean.
The shadows part way as the sun darts through the clouds to chase away the darkness of the night. The beams of light scar the lake in brilliant colors, as this day here has scared my heart. But the scars are not wounds, they are brilliant tales of a life untold and every little jagged edge is a reminder of my life… the one that is only about to begin.
What a tale could be told of this time. I close my eyes and think of where the rest are and where I am now. What I have learned, seen, done, lost and the life I live. I am lost in the cool breeze with the tick of my clock. We all long for the greatest but for few it ever comes. If life is a ride on the train, what pieces that slip by the windows will you remember. I think tomorrow I may wake up and be with the rest of them there in the sand. Why can I be here and others not? At times I feel bad, but I will make it my duty that there is a reason to everything. We are at times slaves. Tools to be used and broken by people who are not even the owners of our land. Sometimes you set the caged bird free and it flies home to the cage and bad owner because it doesn’t know what to do with its gift of freedom. I flew far away from the cage, even further then before. I flew past the known and into air almost too thin for me. I may loose it but I have been preparing for this loss for a very long time.
Five of them circled around us in the dark.
“I cant open it! The door is stuck.” was all that could be heard coming from the outhouse stall. With a loud crash, the door came open and he rushed forward into the dark to vomit. The leader of the group, an older Canadian gentleman, approached the two drunken young men. He was arrogant old Canadian man to say the least; claiming he was different then any American despite knowing the least about who he was answering to. He approached the two of them in the dim light of the square and grabbed the larger one by the shirt saying “that’s enough!” An evil gleam flickered off dark brown eyes and his pointed nose seemed especially wicked in the moonlight. All his drunken follower could do was stare on in bewildered silence and then begin to laugh. Both of them laughed and the astounded Canadian let go while the two of them stumbled off into the dark. They rushed back to the table they had been dining on and gathered up their stuff. A third person was asleep in the cold on the bench. They staggered back to the tarp tent to sleep. Tales are still being told to this day about being able to see the whites of their eyes as they lay half asleep through the eerie night.
I awoke with a stiff neck and an ant crawling across my ear. Where was I and what happened last night? I turned my head just enough to see many others crawling across the tarp. I was sleeping in a puddle of water with no padding under my body. I grabbed a black shirt laying to my left. It stunk of several days of sweat, but by now nothing could outdo my discomfort. I pushed it under my neck for some relief and drifted off again to sleep. A few hours later the tarp fell down across my body but I was too weak to care or to try to do anything about it. It began to rain harder and my leg was all cramped up. I tried to stretch it but the moment I did, it went right into a puddle. I drifted off again. Then came a street cat purring and rubbing up against my head. It left getting tangled in my wet curls. I pushed it away and prayed for morning and the sun to come. When at last we came out, the whole camp grounds was watching quite bemusedly about our current situation.
Look, I said as I pointed at a man with a white cape and pictures stapled all over his back. I wonder where he’s flying off too! I hope not down there. There was a large cliff directly ahead of him stretching out to give a beautiful view of the river. We walked faster so that we could figure out just what this fellow was all about. A long string of jagged cans jingled from his side on a rope and his hand was plastered to a beer mug so that it looked as if he was begging for change.
“Do you speak English?” we asked.
“A bit.” he smiled and replied. He turned to face us. Soon to be married was printed across the front of his white cape.
In Switzerland it’s a tradition before marriage to perform challenging and quite embarrassing acts thought up by a group of your same sex friends. You given keys with hints that lead you to a certain point or to another clue. These keys are placed all around the city in odd locations. It is your job as the bride or groom to retrieve all of them. He told us about earning money for a train ticket by singing and dancing in the street, about trying to get a Japanese tourist to give you a coin, and using an umbrella to fish a key out of a water fountain which he had to borrow from an old man. During the day his friends took pictures and plastered them onto his back. He is not allowed to see the bride to be. He was a Cali guy, marrying a Swiss gal and we shared a glass of cheap wine while his friends set up a small BBQ under the government quarters on the steps.
We walked down the river path into the deep of the woods. Life is like the swirl in the river. Just as it comes close to you and you think it is within your grasp, it then disappears down below out of your reach.
A lady at a gas station with a Texas Esclade drove us to the highway. A man in a Jeep picked us up thinking it was only me. We continued by bus to Interlaken.
Last night I sat on a children’s swing and contemplated the purpose of my life. Fifteen minutes I saw a rainbow and walked to Goldsberg on a mountain top above.
A shrill piercing sound broke the silence of the night. My muscles were stiff and rain was dripping down onto my head, but I peered through the tent to see what was going on. There was darkness everywhere and I dared not leave the illusional safety of the bench and tarp tent.
We were sleeping in an old castle’s ruins atop a small mountain overlooking the city of Interlaken. Below the castle was an old grave yard reserved for royalty. We took shelter in the inner courtyard wall.
As I peered out and off into the night, I could see the moons reflection coming up off of two large lakes joining close below our mountain. The shrill continued and my pulse increased. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. What could have happed that there would be mountain alarms all around us breaking the silence of the night? What ever had happened, these alarms were a warning but the news would have to wait until morning. Sleeping here reminds me all to much of Srinigar.
In the morning we learned that there had been a series of terrorist attacks in London.
What one must always remember is to never sacrifice their dreams and ambitions, for he who does will never again be at peace within themselves. "What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you," says the writing on the wall.
The Netherlands and Dutch culture will always hold a fond place in my memory as a place of vast opportunities. "God made the world, the Dutch made the Netherlands." That sure rings true.
On the Island, Summer
“Were still on the island, were still on the island!” sang a group of bikers, pedaling on by. I walked quickly down the brick road; I didn’t want to miss the sunset.
White arrow shaped sign to my right pointed down a sandy path through the woods. The words ‘Begraafplaats Vreden’ were painted on it bold black letters. I took that right; I took this chance and headed through the forest. The scent of wet ferns filled the air and geese cried out from above. I heard a chain jingle to my left and the path opened up into a field, where two Clydesdales stood. I stepped off of the path into a marshy ditch and stood beside the low fence. The two horses wandered towards me, they towered above me and gratefully took my offering of grass.
I stepped back up onto the path and kept on walking. I could see it was coming to an end up ahead, but an iron gate lay to my left. As I came closer I could see it was a cemetery. A small sign on the fence indicated that it held WWII Common Wealth French and German War Graves. Names, units, military positions and religious denotations were engraved into each of the stones. Most of them held only one identifiable thing though and that was a date of death. Groups these nameless soldier’s graves lay side by side with the same date marking their head stones. Most likely they died together in an air strike against the Germans. A stone pit lined each grave, filled with shells from the sea. During WWII this island was occupied by the Germans, a large bunker was less then a mile to the north.
I stepped outside the cemetery and climbed a nearby sand dune. Swirls of pink, orange and yellow filled the sky. Some crickets chirped in the brush, like squeaky bicycle wheels. The fresh ocean breeze hit my face and I stood there as the sun dipped into the sea. Every moment something happens you would never take back. As the day gave into night, I knew I would never give up my memory of this moment. The Clydesdale called out in the darkness. I turned around and headed home.
My time with the Dutch
The moment your plane lifts off USA soil you will begin to feel it. It comes as a range of mixed emotions clouding your thoughts and tearing at your soul. You will question everything and your heart will be filled with wonder. One thing is for certain, you will never be the same again.
There are several things you will first notice upon your arrival in the Netherlands. One of your first impressions of the country will be those open green fields and a great flatness. There are a few hills in the south, but in the north there is nothing but a great unbroken expanse of sky. Then there is the fact the water is everywhere; there are lakes, rivers, and channels of many types. Nothing could be more unpredictable than the weather. In the morning there may be bright sunshine, but within a few hours the wind can change direction and there will be dark clouds and furiously cold gusts of wind.
In the Netherlands you can live very easily without a car, but one of the first things you will need to do is buy a bike. Everybody in Groningen rides a bike; it’s a way of life. On the streets you will find bikes of all shapes, colors, sizes, ages – and the older the better. There is even a strange kind of pride owning a bike that looks like it has been through two wars and it is less likely to be stolen. Here, bike theft is a way of life; you aren’t Dutch if you haven’t lost a bike. Many bikes are protected with 2-3 locks and the locks are often worth more than the bikes.
The city of Groningen is a mix of canals and streets walled by the amazing 17th century skinny brick houses that Holland is famous for. It is a dynamic student city, with over half of its population under 35-years. It is the place to be as a student; perfect to study, party and to live in. With night life that doesn’t start until after midnight to the city markets opening as you exit the pub, there is always something for everyone find for fun.
In early September, after an ‘introduction week’ on the small muddy Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog, I began my first days at the Hanzehogeschool. My studies took me to the International Communication Department’s EPIC Program, headed by Iejke Smit.
During our first days, we spent a lot of time getting to know one another through games that challenged our intercultural skills. Some of us were amazed to learn that we had so much in common, within many strange areas of our lives. Now I won’t say much about the studies, because that’s something which will be different to each of you. But I will say that the Hanzehogeschool is very special. It’s not the traditional approach to studies you will think of, when you think about NAU.
The program and staff allow you the freedom to make more out of what you do. They give you the opportunity, guidance and financial support to initiate ideas and you have the chance to see these ideas propelled into action. How much you get out of the studies is totally dependent on your motivation. With the flexibility of the program along with the fact that creativity is highly fostered within the class, you can put your own ideas to action. Never have I had the chance to tailor so much of my studies towards my personal interests and see such success. Take advantage of all of the opportunities available to you.
There are many things you will learn to adjust to and love while living in the Netherlands. Everything is so close; you will be able to do lots of traveling. And people’s personalities and ways of life will intrigue you to open your mind and become more. On a world map, the Netherlands is very small, but it’s going to leave a big impression inside you.
The Merman on my Door, Fall
Groningen is famous for its history in the trade industry. At one time all sorts of grains, vegetables, turf (peat) and seafood were transported in the canals, just outside what I now call my home. This house has a history, which is deeply tied to the city. It was home to the workers from the trading ships. These workers were the hard working people, whom are responsible for truly bringing this town to life. The canals in this city were hand-dug by these workers. These homes hold the memories of many people’s lives. Just behind this house are even larger homes, in which the owners of these trade businesses used to live.
I won’t let you visit until after dark, when the true feeling of the city creeps under your skin. Walk slowly down the cobblestone street. Pause when you can see the reflection of the moon, shining up at you in waves, from the waters within the canal. The home is just before the very end of the block. You will see a classy park bench resting beneath an old lamppost; it is directly across the street from me. My bright blue bike with the purple seat (which is chained to the bench in two places) tells everyone who passes, that this is my home.
The houses are built out of a beautiful type of dark red brick, which varies in pattern and size depending on where it was laid within the walls. Towards the top the bricks are angled and alternately laced with white stone. White paint lines large black cast iron window frames and rectangular granite slabs jut out in points from up above. A steep slanted black-dakpan roof, lines every home on this block. (Here the word for shingles is dakpan and these shingles are so unique that I wouldn’t know of any other name that would fit.) Peer up at the small window on the top floor that sticks out at such an angle, it looks as if the house has an eye. That is my room.
A dark Mahogany planked door, guards the entrance to this home. With boards of such thickness, they look as if they were pulled from the deck of one of the ‘great ships’ themselves. If the mailman was lazy, you can peer in through the door. The mail slot sticks open and you can see into the kitchen.
Now hopefully you contacted me and I am expecting your visit. But if you did not, you can still try to knock. Now look at the door and that small face staring at you. He’s met every visitor who’s ever entered this home. I call him the merman and he’s a little brass knocker. With curly gold hair, he sits centered on the door. Pick up the handle, it’s a small lily flower and give him the merman a sharp tap, tap, tap. He will vibrate the door and call my attention; I am most likely up in my room doing schoolwork.
If that doesn’t work pull the knob to the right. It looks like a secret door, but it really is not. Inside, a rope runs through a series of pulleys to a coiled black spring secured on the wall. The spring pulls forward and then falls back, knocking a little iron bell that lets off a soft little ding!
I open the door and you step in the hallway. Teal and beige walls lead you forward, to a fresh homely kitchen. A black and white checkered floor up ahead, really livens everything up. If I leave the lights off now, you’re in for a special treat. The moon shines through the sunroof and lights your way softly to the back courtyard door. Out in the courtyard you can see just a few stars; tonight the moon holds hostage the sky. The courtyard is surrounded by a high stonewall and an old wooden bench stands atop moss covered stone slabs. A thorny rose bush hangs over a table, with a single red rose lightly scenting the night.
Walk back inside and you may glance in the living room. A small cozy fireplace warms up the coldest of nights. Here the ceiling is vaulted and latticework lines decorate the edges. More modern pieces of furniture decorate the rest of the house.
Now I open what looks like a closet and we tiptoe up a steep narrow, yellow, staircase. I will warn you just once that you must be very careful… for the steps are really quite small (they fit ½ of your foot, if that).
At the top of the steps is the computer room and then there is a bedroom to the left and the right. Mine room is on the left, yes, you may step inside. Two small candles burn on the coffee table beside my bed and reed mats that remind me of Sri Lanka, hang down from the walls. Pictures and memories rest in every awkward place, which really help during those "long lonely nights." Now look out my window, down to the street and you will truly understand the charm of this home.
Stop and be silent. I hear the house creaking. Or wait… was it possibly a sigh of relief? Could this part of history be going correct? As you step out the door, be sure to glance back. You musn’t leave with out bidding the merman goodnight. The sailors say that they bring good luck, so I know he will guide your way safely home thru the dark. So wherever you are, thanks for visiting my home, your thoughts were here for a moment.
Camping by Bike
April... bike trip trying to find the woods with classmates.
In the Church
And I think life will come down to all but a song in the end.
I wander around the church in circles staring up at the pastel paintings on the ceiling. Thick stones, which resemble gravestones, hang on the walls facing in towards the center of the church.
I can see the sands of time slipping through the hourglass. Beside it grins a hollow stone skull. Above, in the highest corners, are a man and a woman smiling happily. Did they realize that life was just ‘time’ too late or are they smiling about how they made the best of it? Either way, they are sending a message out from their grave. We are just temporary things here, searching for meaning. Life is nothing but time.
I pause in silence to reflect.
Fields of Green
I could be touching freedom today, lying in this grassy field with the warm sun on my face. I have biked for about 10km and stopped to laze in the warmth of the sun... I eat ‘fish fingers’ for lunch. I’ll wait until the sun begins to set and bike on.
I round a corner and notice a sign on a barn marking this as a commercial dairy barn. So I stop in to see if I can get some fresh milk. Black and white spotted cow-after-cow is all I can see. Henri ventures forward up into the barn as I shy back looking for the farmer. Then I hear something. Someone is screaming at the other end of the barn and I hope it is not at me. I walk forward, smile shyly and ask the farmer if he has some milk. His English is good; he has a sister in Michigan.
‘Wait one minute while I let the cows out,’ he says as I step back to watch.
He begins screaming and waving a stick at them to shoo them through the gate. When one doesn’t move, he beats it a few times on the rump. Then he screams some more. The cattle move slowly forward and every now and them one slides on the floor and scrambles. At last he gets them all outside and tells us to meet him around the other side of the barn for the milk.
I wait a minute listening to a barking dog and he comes to meet us in a small room with a large stainless steel milk tank. He screws a small hose onto the bottom and opens a valve to let milk flow into an empty water battle I had brought along. It is pure white and delicious looking.
‘How much do I owe you?’ I ask.
‘Only a smile,’ he responds.
And boy do I smile. I walk out and feast upon a large jug of milk. I don’t think I have ever tasted milk that was quite so good.
Boys on Bikes
I ride into Bejum looking for food, since I realize I am almost out. I stop to ask a few young boys where a shop is. But they don’t understand much since they have not yet started their English. The oldest tries his best by saying, ‘winkles are closered.’
They follow me around for a little while on bikes, trying to be helpful. Shouting that the winkles are closered! I am in luck though because I find a small snack shop and buy some bread, a turkey stick and ice cream.
Bugs and Eggs
Next I biked another 4km towards a new city but still did not see a good place to stop for the night. I kept biking… past beautiful homes. All the while, I am racing swarms of bugs and praying they don’t land in my mouth.
Every tree-lined horizon looks like a good place to stop. But it turns out to be too crowded and with homes/civilization very near.
‘I stop and ask a guy my age where I can get eggs and I am in luck. The last farm back has some for sale by the side of the road. I biked back and to the spot where you can buy eggs at your own honesty. I then opened up a refrigerator and pick up 12 of the large double-yolkers; then I biked on.
Home for the night
I stop for the night in a small patch of woods near the highway. A small picnic table marks the entrance path to the trees and a swarm of mosquitoes hover nearby. I walk into the foliage cover and look for a clear spot to set up tarp. Yes, tarp… not tent. I have arrived just in time.
First I bring over grass clippings to throw down to soften our bedding. Then I begin to tie a string up between two trees for the tarp. Next I light a fire with two matches and dry kindling I found high up in the trees.
For dinner I prepared canned carrots, eggs, pieces of chicken on a stick and tea in a vegetable tin… the best part of the meal was the last part, the Vermouth. I stood by the fire passing the bottle back and forth, discussing life. I discussed cooking potatoes and marshmallows as kids, two things in two different worlds but with the same meaning.
At last as the embers gave way I headed over to the makeshift camp site. Despite the fact the tarp was open and it was quite cold, I stayed relatively warm and it was far better then the parking garage.
The next morning it rained on the way home, but it was still as beautiful of a day as ever.
Intercultural - BECOMING INTERCULTURALLY COMPETENT
I am 100% American on paper, but not quite in my soul. I am a confusing array of partial identities that I am still trying to grasp. At once I thought I knew more, but now I understand that I know even less. The Netherlands has taught me a lot about myself and other cultures. The experiences and knowledge gained here I would never take back. In this essay I will explore methods that I used to become interculturally competent and lessons I can always use in life, which I learned along the way.
IN THE NEWS
On my way to Morocco, as I read through the latest issue of the International Herald Tribune, I saw that the dollars value continues to sink lower as the USA enters the beginning of a recession. I also saw that November has been the bloodiest month yet in the War on Terror in Iraq. Then an article mentioned that Congress is again preparing to reform the intelligence community. Several other articles made it clear that the USA is still obsessed with national security. Last I saw some scary accusations being made that possibly signal that the USA is on the verge of a nuclear crisis with Iran. Iran, according to Bush, is a member of the ‘great evil’ and host’s dinner parties with Satan. Therefore Iran can’t be trusted and the United Nations is of course now too corrupted to intervene after the Oil for Food Program mishap.
FLAWS OF AMERICAN SOCIETY
Living abroad has given me a new awareness and sensitivity to some of the flaws the USA has as a country and ideas for possible solutions. For example the two party USA’s democratic system is an absolute joke to anyone who has lived in a country such as The Netherlands where they have multiple parties to choose from. Then there are our sharp social divides in classes based off of wealth, where as in The Netherlands people are relatively more equal.
I could also add in something about the USA’s justice system, which has sentenced many innocents to death or puts children away in prison for life sentences based off of ill planned laws such as the ‘three strikes rule.’ I can’t forget to add in the ‘guns,’ most Dutch are appalled by the USA’s liberal stance. Lastly I will mention the ghettoes, high crime rates, kids killing kids, obesity and other strange stories that cross the ocean and float up one of the canals in tiny bottles only to land at a news reporters door.
SUPPORTING AMERICA’S UNKNOWING CLASS
Despite all of these criticisms, I still support America as a whole. My favorite saying here is “It’s not good or bad, right or wrong… it’s just different.” Yes, I admit that we have a lot of problems - who does not? We are a nation of over consumers and our foreign policy needs work.
But I can say with sincerity that most Americans are actually wonderful people; but there is this type of ‘unknowing class.’ These people do everything with the best of intentions but the choices they make are uninformed choices. Many Americans, it’s sad to say, have no idea of anything going on outside of America nor do they care. One of their five TVs is always tuned to CNN and this is where they shape their views about the rest of the world. And people do not always care to know anything about the rest of the world around them and we, the people who are well traveled cannot expect everyone else to think the way we do. Just because they do not understand these things though, it doesn’t make them bad people. They just need to be more informed.
HOW TO ADAPT
The one lesson that I have learned from my time in The Netherlands is how to keep whom you really are and at the same time adapt certain customs and values from other cultures that you appreciate and find value in. I have kept my same values, while adjusting my personality to better meet the person that I am becoming.
Another important piece of advice I have learned from class is to trust your instincts more often, instead of always listening to your brain. I am now trying to follow this piece of advice regularly. I wish I had followed it more in the past because several times I followed logic rather then instincts and each time it has been my instincts that have proved right. Samovar, Porter and Stefani, from our reader, state that “meanings reside in people, not in words.” Often people from other languages cannot communicate effectively in your own language so you must watch things other then their moving lips.
To live in any new culture, you must be flexible and know how to play many parts. You must be everything at the same time and therefore nothing. You must be able to respond and adapt to many situations, places and people. You must learn how to be reflective and think before you do or say something. You should not only have accurate knowledge about the culture, you must know how to use it.
Remember that every action you make will have an affect on the people around you. Bennett states, “The end result of adaptation is becoming a bicultural or multicultural person.” I am towards the end.
Sometimes, a misunderstanding can occur from a single word. I have often found myself saying, “Why did they say that?” or “So, what did they mean by that?” It often isn’t until weeks later that I will learn it is normal to say or do things like ‘that.’ Reading into things is always hard, especially when there is a culture and language barrier.
Sometimes people may say one thing but mean something else. You must know how to read the cultures you are living in. If you are not familiar with the culture, then you will not recognize those cultural hints. I have often thrown out cultural hints towards friends and foes but very rarely have they gotten the hint.
When communicating, you must be sure that you are not exhibiting any type of evaluating behavior. When you appear to be evaluating someone, it impedes communication because that person will become defensive. You must have an open mind and be sure not to make judgments about other people until you understand the whole story or have ‘walked in their shoes.’
Nonverbal communication is also a method you can use to more effectively communicate. Smiling, head nodding, leaning forward and laughing can all be positive means of communicating.
Despite all of these barriers to communication, there are still common codes between cultures and if we learn to use them then we can effectively communicate. We now live in an interconnected world and will find ourselves face to face more often with people from unfamiliar cultures. We should focus on the similarities of our cultures and learn to communicate from there.
Samovar, Porter and Stefani said that there are many things that are universal such as:
1. The desire to be free from external restraint.
2. The universal link between children and family.
3. The desire for friends and a partner.
4. The fact that we all must face old age and the potential suffering that goes with it.
5. The love for music, art, play, sports and jokes.
6. The belief in being civil to one another and the desire to be happy.
7. The search for tranquility in life while avoiding physiological and physical pain.
These are all things that we can communicate together about and we all have in common. Males and females also play different roles when communicating. This is another aspect we can find similarities in.
INDIVIDUALISM AND COLLECTIVISM
Understanding yourself is never easy and I constantly find myself struggling between identities. Sometimes you don’t know which side to support because you believe in both for different reasons.
Coming to the Netherlands as a foreigner can be a very complicated adjustment to make. It gets even more complex when you take into account the country the person is coming from. The Netherlands is extremely individualistic, so it is easy for me to see why foreigners coming from collectivistic cultures find it almost impossible to find their place among the Dutch. After only a week, many foreigners will desperately seek out people from their own culture and cling to them with the strength of super glue. The Netherlands is a mess of clumps of people like that; this has both good and bad points to it although it is defiantly bad for society.
America, on the other hand, in it is not as extreme. People are very mixed. It is rare for someone to be able to say, “Well, I am from Switzerland,” because we are from many cultures and backgrounds and find pride in the myriad of a past we have. When you ask the average Dutch citizen how many foreign born friends they have, most will answer none. They will often justify it by stating, ”But I went to school with one and another plays of my Football team.” If you were to ask that question to me, I could go on and on with all the places I have friends. Most of my close friends are not Americans and they are just as open minded as me. Several times, friends of mine had bad opinions about Americans until they met me. I am pleased to say I helped change that. Although if they had not been open-minded to begin with, then they would have never even given me the chance.
Since America leans towards the individualistic side of the scale, I would say I had a slightly easier time adjusting then other foreigners. I have no problem finding things to do alone, but I prefer functioning in collectivistic cultures where I always feel more welcome.
Now that I am back from Morocco, I can say that I was blessed to meet an absolutely wonderful family who immediately took me into their home. As I entered their home for the first time they said, “Go ahead… you first; this is your home. You now have family in Morocco.” I can’t ever imagine a stranger on the street in The Netherlands doing the same thing. It just doesn’t happen that way here. When I mentioned this incident to two of my Dutch friends and watched their reactions, I could tell that they were very puzzled. They just didn’t understand the way it is in a collectivistic culture, where nearly everyone works to make you feel that you belong.
This semester I have worked a lot on a Public Service Advertisement (PSA) combating discrimination in The Netherlands. I have met many people this way who have been willing to share their experiences and feeling with me. What I can say is that I think if people took half the time helping each other out, such as the Moroccans do, maybe the ‘integration’ crisis could be solved. We all carry around different attitudes and prejudices, but if you walk in another’s shoes you are sure to see differently. I believe, in a sense, that you should never believe something until you see it.
WHY IS EVERYONE SO SCARED
The violence against Muslims and hate crimes has increased in the Netherlands at an alarming rate since the murder of Theo Van Gogh. Most Americans, visiting a Muslim majority state where terrorist bombings had occurred just a few years before on western hotels and restaurants (Morocco), would feel very uneasy. I on the other hand was not; I had lived with a Muslim family in Srinagar, Kashmir and felt perfectly at home navigating in Muslim society.
In the reader, Samovar, Porter and Stefani state that, “language teaches ones cultural lifestyle, ways of clothing and different patterns of interacting.” This is very true, as is evident in the Moroccan culture, where their language is interlaced with Koranic passages and praise to Allah. Their clothing also is also related to their language and the Koran. I also noticed that the men sing quite a lot and have the most beautiful voices. This has to do with the musical nature of the recital of the Koran and the flow of Arabic language.
CULTURE-SPECIFIC AND CULTURE-GENERAL
In our reader, Samovar, Porter and Stefani  discussed the differences between the terms culture-specific and culture-general. A culture-specific method would be learning one culture at a time in order to learn all of the specific communication methods and habits in that culture. A culture-general method would be learning norms and skills that could be applied universally.
I believe in following the culture-specific method when you really want to learn about cultures because there are so many variances from place to place. The culture-general method, I feel, is a good place to start if you know nothing about the culture and need to do some quick research. There are norms that can be applied to once, but these norms are really just the basics.
ETHNOCENTRIC AND ETHNORELATIVE
Bennett points out that you can classify two groups of people, when it comes to being interculturally sensitive. These two groups are called the ethnocentric and ethnorelative people. The ethnocentric people define the world around them by their own set of principals. They judge all people using only one set of standards. These standards do not change, no matter where they are.
The ethnorelative people are comfortable with many standards and can easily adapt their own behavior in a variety of situations. They judge people based off of many different standards and use logic and context more often. Judgments will vary depending on what situation they are in. I can say that I am defiantly an ethnorelative type of person. Every opinion I have to decision I make is all about the context and situation the decision is being made under.
Having just returned from Morocco, I was doing some shopping in Centrum when I learned that the store workers was Moroccan and had only been here for a few years. I told him I had just come back and gave him a somewhat knowing look, commenting on how hard it is to adapt to the people here as compared to in Morocco. (Even I had a hard time readapting from an atmosphere where everyone is so outgoing and friendly to one where, if you knew no better, people seemed indifferent to others and the world around them.)
We stood there talking for a few minutes and I realized that I had immediately I began doing ‘Moroccan’ things like touching his arm and standing close. I would have never behaved this way towards a local Dutch man. I have noticed that when I touch people here that I have just met, that they often look down at my hand as if they are wondering… ‘So why did she touch me?’
He then told me that he would really like to go out for coffee because he needed a friend to talk to. I later learned that this nice guy had only recently been a victim of a hate crime and no longer dared to go out at night. It really angered me because I though of how helpful all of the people in Morocco had been to me and how cold, people here, would seem to Moroccan outsiders. Maybe all of the problems occurring between the Moroccans and the Dutch are because as far as culture is concerned, these two cultures are on about two of as extreme ends as you can get. I made my judgments of him and formed an opinion off of a myriad of things I learned in Morocco and also about the people in the Netherlands. Maybe I would have thought differently had I not been to Morocco and would have been less likely to talk to him since part of my stereotype may have been formed or built by the Dutch media. Having been to Morocco built a small bond between us, allowing us to successfully communicate.
When I first arrived in The Netherlands, due to reasons out of my own control, I experienced a unique type of culture shock. Things here went from bad to worse, then to worst. I was well versed in traveling, so many of the first stages in culture shock I skipped through. I completely missed the ‘Honeymoon Phase’ and dove right into the ‘this places is horrible and the people are cold and untrustworthy.’ Due to the homes I was forced to live in with the housing shortage, I no longer trusted anyone. When every night you see well-dressed businessmen with car seats in the back of their cars, frequenting the prostitution houses or your forced to live in a home with other desperate American students owned by a pimp, or you are robbed by a cocaine addict… who can you trust? Everyone I walked past, I eyed with skepticism and suspicion.
My only friend here at that time was also a foreigner. They were not a student, but were my age and had faced similar problems of integrating when they moved here. After five years of living here, they still had no real Dutch friends. The two of us would sit down together over coffee and contemplate for hours what was ‘wrong’ with the people here. Both of us wanted to figure out what made it so hard for people to accept others, yet neither of us could place our finger on it. We really felt that the Dutch were a somewhat cold group of people and I will tell you that my friend to this day still, overall, feels the same way. Although he does have some small exceptions for a few ‘really wonderful’ Dutch people, but it is not many.
After a horrible theft and assault incident that occurred by the hand of my ex-landlord, I hit an all time low in The Netherlands. Luckily my American optimism kept me smiling and working hard, so I quickly pulled out. What impressed me the most was all of the people who came forward to help me out. My views about The Netherlands again changed and I at last referred to The Netherlands affectionately as home. The people that came forward to help me, during this really bad time in my life, opened my eyes are far as my understanding of the Dutch culture. I began to realize that it was just their culture to stay distant, in a sense, but if you tried to open up to them and approach them that most people were pretty nice. When people did really stupid things like cut me off on my bike badly or bump into me hard, I stopped them and said “Why don’t you say excuse me or sorry next time.” What I got for the most part was a very surprised look and an apology. When you learn how to use the culture to your advantage, such as the fact the Dutch are so direct, then you can really do some amazing things such as make people stop and think for a minute about what they just did. There is no use in hiding what you are feeling here. Just go ahead and say it, as long as they are Dutch they will appreciate it more. The key to living here is to understand, how to move in and out of both cultures, the Dutch and other foreign born people (like me!). I will also say that I have an easier time with getting people to accept me because I look Dutch. If I didn’t look Dutch, I would be much harder to fit in.
I can now say that I am most likely at the adaptation, bordering integration phase of the culture shock process. I do not necessarily agree with everything in the culture here, but I understand it and accept the differences, seeing that there are good sides to both. Different situations call for different behaviors. When you understand a culture you realize why they do the things they do and the reasoning behind them. What was once bad is now at least ok, or even good if you know how and where to use it.
FINDING MY PLACE
A person like me going ‘home,’ finds it hard to relate. I don’t quite fit in with anyone else besides the people who have had similar experiences as me and they are often hard to find. I am a product of my cultures. Culturally, I am now a little Dutch, some Indian, a bit of Swiss, mostly American, a lot of the U.S. Army type culture and maybe now even a little Moroccan. I fit in nowhere perfectly, yet at the same time I fit in everywhere. I can adjust to any atmosphere quickly, with a minimum of unease. I am a confusing array of 1/8th identities and I imagine that no one will ever come even close to matching exactly a person like me, culturally.
Bennett states that people in the adaptation stage, “may seek out roles that allow them to be intercultural mediators and exhibit other qualities of constructive marginality.” He also says that these people are inclined to interpret behavior from a variety of cultural frames of reference so that there is never a single right or wrong. This is exactly what I am doing with the jobs I am looking for now and with the Public Service Advertisement I am working on.
IN THE END
Over time, cultural aspects that I have found strange and illogical I can now understand, relate with and use. These varying aspects do have benefits depending on the culture and context to use them in. I have come to realize that there are benefits to almost all ways of doing things once you understand the deep-rooted meanings behind them. The key to living as an interculturally competent person is taking a little of everything and molding it to fit your own personality, along with being able to use it properly in the environment you are situated in. When you can move freely in and out of cultures that vary in extremes, you know that you can survive anywhere… no matter what.
 L. Samovar, R. Porter and L. Stefani. Communication Between Cultures. 3rd edition, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, pg. 251-271.
 M. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication. 1998, pg. 24-32.
 L. Samovar, R. Porter and L. Stefani. Communication Between Cultures. 3rd edition, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, pg. 251-271.
 L. Samovar, R. Porter and L. Stefani. Communication Between Cultures. 3rd edition, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, pg. 251-271.
 L. Samovar, R. Porter and L. Stefani. Communication Between Cultures. 3rd edition, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, pg. 251-271.
 M. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication. 1998, pg. 24-32.
 M. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication. 1998, pg. 24-32.
The Hague, Fall
Like a farmer venturing out of the small city of Groningen into the grand city of The Hague. Today several special events were taking place: the Chinese Moon Festival and Culture Night in the Hague.
All day long I wandered the city streets in China Town, tasting exotic foods (like a drink made from the saliva of a bird called a Swallow) and watching events. I were just in time for an event, which I called the dragon dance. Several Dutch and Chinese performers did fancy street acts and then out came 6 people dressed as 3 beautiful dragons. The dragon dancers danced about in the crowd and spit out messages on rolled notes in Dutch and in Chinese. A predetermined girl from the crowd was chosen to hold the notes as one by one they unrolled with her name on them. Suddenly 5 bandits rushed into the crowd and began beating up the performers. A man from beneath the dragon jumped out and used fancy moves to beat them to the ground. As the 5 bandits lay on the ground at his feet, he proposed to the girl with the notes, who was his girlfriend. She said yes and began crying. She was lucky in love.
After that I walked to the Chinese Embassy (beautiful), the USA Embassy (surrounded by huge wire fences and green tarps so you can’t see inside), the Iraqi Embassy (I think it is abandoned, a log lay in front of the entrance gate and the windows were boarded up). I also visited the Peace Palace, the Peace Flame and quite a few UN buildings. I will definitely go back for the UN Building tours and I hope to find time to sit in on some proceedings in the ICC (International Criminal Court).
Later on in the night I attended the culture festival. I entered a large white warehouse room with a gray cement floor. Pictures hung from the walls of the notorious ‘Bread Man’. In the far back corner, a television sat. Groves of people sat around it in silence. On it played videos of the ‘Bread Man’ in Roosevelt Park (posing as a homeless man - NYC), a hospital in Tokyo and a village in Nepal. Loafs of bread covered his face, tied in place tightly with coarse brown string, in strategic positions so he could still see.
Suddenly there was a noise at the door and cameras began flashing. Fourteen people entered, each with bread on their head. You could tell no one apart, not even the leader.
Suddenly one man came to the front. “We are not human beings, we are ‘Bread Men’ and we come from Tokyo, Japan.” he shouted.
They lined up against the wall and people began taking pictures. Some men walked right up to the ‘Bread Man,’ lifted a loaf and began snapping pictures of his face. A man came with scissors, cutting the loaves off. They fell to the floor with a thud.
The leader sat down and began drinking a beer. He picked up a loaf from the floor. The loaf was quite wet; it was raining that evening. It stuck to his fingers in a gluey, icky mess. He ate it still. People circled round him and began to take pictures. I asked the guy beside me… what this was all about. He didn’t know and told me “I think this guy’s crazy.” He continued to sit there unaware of the flashes from the camera lights.
Suddenly the room beside me went dark and out came the sounds of a noisy jet. I peered around the corner and saw that it was a video. Two girls sat on the floor beside a large musical instrument, which looked like a coffin with strings. They ran all sorts of strange instruments over it (picks, strings, metal rods) making one hell of a sound. Dark and spooky music came forth; the girls paused and drank tea. One of them then picked up a piece of paper; she violently tore it in shreds and threw it at her partner. They began to bang on the instrument, shout and scream.
“I still don’t understand.” said a man beside me.
Neither did I, nothing made sense.
The two girls bowed down and the video ended. Everyone clapped and then left. A camera swung in my face and I walked into the other room. I sat down beside a man with rope marks around his face and asked him what all of this was about.
He said to me, “It is to provoke confrontation and conversation. This guy has been doing it for over 30 years. It is a response, he told me, to what I don’t know. I know it is a social movement of some type. He has done it all over the world. Bread symbolizes the ‘basics.’ He wants us to think about the basics… I think.” He was a student from Israel, taking part.
I thought to myself… well I did ask everyone what this was about. I guess he achieved his goal in provoking conversation.
I walked back in the dark towards the train station. A man passed me wearing a long blue and red flowered shirt with pink stockings and nipple pins. He was walking with a baby carriage. Under the blanket noises came forth (tape player). It was a grown man talking from the tape player and not a word made sense.
I walked by buildings with movies showing on the outside walls, high up in the sky. There were light shows and car tire ‘street lounges,’ music came up from the tires. Car parts artwork was everywhere and there was a VW Bug with a wig. Nothing, still, seemed to make any sense. I walked by a car, which was totally silver (even the glass). What a weird, but special, day to visit The Hague.
The Hague is a BEAUTIFUL city!
The Pillow Fight, April
We were given an orange writs band as we entered Grote Markt. Loud music was coming from large speakers on the City Hall steps. Everyone began to scream. The metal fencing holding hundreds of pillows back safely together in the center of the square, came crashing down and pillows were thrown through the air. People stormed the fences and reached up to catch the ones coming through the air. Wham, a pillow came crashing into my face! Pillow fluff rained down from the sky like torn pieces of a fallen cloud. People began to catch them and immediately the fight began. Several guys around me beat one man into the ground. Another man began to bleed from the nose.
A stranger smiled and hit me in the face. Pillows were flying all around me. Bit by bit they began to be torn to shreds. I grabbed a handful of fluff and threw it in the air. I pulled the half-empty pillowcase over a classmate’s head, while little white pieces of fluff began to cover our heads and bodies. I braced my feet together as I was attached viscously from the side. I was able to block a few of the unrelenting blows. If the pillows had been any heavier there would have been some real injuries here.
People began screaming again. We did it! We broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the worlds largest pillow fight. Over 3,000 people were present and a large fence separated the spectators from the pillow fighters. We had won.
(19 March 2005) Last weekend it was the man in the courtyard garden, with the concert hall tickets. This week it was a day as a Dutch Marine.
We ambled up the narrow stone walkway, under the bridge, passing by the kissing statue man. The exit led out into a busy byway and the harbor was directly ahead. I cast my gaze to the far right-side port, where an aged Dutch Royal Naval Ship was docked lazily to rest. The spring sun played games on my face and the wind cast the scent of the Noord Zee towards my nose. We were in a city by the name of Delfzijl, on a mission for adventure.
We crossed a bridge devised of railway tracks and hopped a guard fence leading out to an abandoned pier. Step-by-step we wandered down a flight of narrow stairs that lead directly into the sea. If I could have kept walking, I am sure one of the mermaids lining the city center would have come to rescue me. But I paused and watched the water lap over the bottom step only to return to the top, as land-bound as can be. My eyes shifted back up to the Naval Ship in the distance, where I caught sight of two young boys playing on the navigational deck. We headed that way.
“May we take some pictures on your ship?” we asked an older man in worn coveralls. We paused respectfully, unsure of his response.
“Why sure,” he at last stumbled back in English. Another man mumbled a few words in Dutch.
We graciously accepted his offer and scampered over the plank on board with Cheshire cat grins. We crossed to the front of the boat and posed for pictures with the ship and the sea. We then climbed up a ladder towards the control tower.
Three boys greeted us at the entranceway. It didn’t take much coaxing for them to let us inside. I gripped the great ship’s wheel, feeling the power within my hands. To the left were two radar screens and to the right a large navigational compass. We thanked them and made our way towards the exit plank. Just as we were about to leave, a man asked us if we wanted a tour of the ship. We accepted with smiles.
The ship’s name was the Naarden. It is a 50-year old Royal Dutch Navy Ship, which is now no longer in use. It used to be used as a minesweeper; the hull was made of aluminum and wood, so it wouldn’t attract mines. Now it was only a proud training vessel, living out the rest of its days as an inspiration to future sailors and dreamers like me. The crew called themselves the Secret Service (SS).
We began in the control tower and then headed down to the communications room. I couldn’t help but gaze over all of the knobs and buttons in awe. Just thinking about the history here, not to mention the missions that the ship undertook brought up a feeling of pride. Memories from my time on the USS Battleship IKE suddenly came flooding back. I could still feel myself beside the fighter planes as they came in for a fast landing. I could still remember my time in the quarters deep below. I pushed them aside and we continued into the main cabin.
The first door we passed was the kitchen and just one door further was the Officers Mess. We then strolled past the Commanders quarters and on to the bunkrooms. We visited the engine room and learned stories of the ‘things’ people had found when the Secret Service acquired this ship, hidden deep amongst junk on the lowest deck. We learned of seasickness on long voyages and how this vessel had inspired many people to live a new dream.
We then went to the Commanders Mess, to have a coffee and talk. We spoke of the changes occurring around the world in the military service and what life used to be like for the Dutch Marines. We spoke of the costs of taking a ship of this size to South America and spoke of its history. He was an amazing man and so hospitable. He offered to take us to another naval base one weekend if he happened to be passing through our city. We borrowed uniforms and paused for pictures, beside the setting sun, with SS officers.
Could anyone else in our shoes, claim to have had a day quite like today?
A POEM OF THE SEA
Oh sea set me free.
Oh winds take my sails.
I am on a mission for glory.
I have the patience of the Blue Whale.
I have the fury of a Killer.
Great Whites rest below my hull.
Oh sea set me free.
The fire of the tidal waves roars deep within.
Try to catch me and you will fail.
I refuse to go as on a calm day, willingly.
Oh winds take my sails.
Strike down my mast and fate will have its way with you.
Let it fly free and you will go unharmed.
Carry me far, may I span every sea.
I am on a mission for glory.
Found at http://www.zkkdelfzijl.nl/
Translation by Amy E. Smith
The Naarden is part of the Dokkum Class ships. This class of wooden minesweepers was built on different Dutch shipyards between June 1953 and April 1955 and were all given the names of large Dutch cities. In total there 32 were built, of which 18 were financed by the United States. The Dokkum Class was designed specially ordered for the use in the Dutch sea. This meant in had a limited depth and could navigate successfully between sandbanks and waded islands. It is made of hard wood on aluminum siding. The appearance of the ships has undergone changes in the course of the years. The machine gun steps were increased, the original open bridge was closed so that the rescues go smoothly and other equipment was adapted to the requirements of the time.
General Dokkum Class Description
Largest length : 46.62 meters
Largest width : 8.75 meters
Average depth : 2.28 meters
Navy Crew : 38 heads.
The present Corps ship, the Naarden, was finished being constructed on 28 October 1954. The Naarden was also financed by the United States and got the American registration number MSC 183. The Naarden completed 40-years of service with the Navy, and was retired from the Navy on 13 December 1996. The Naarden is the oldest sailing ship of the Dokkum class. The Naarden was transferred from a service position by the Navy to the Sea Cadet Corps Delfzijl.
A Mix of Stories
London based singer-songwriter, Janie Price, gives her audience all that and more
BIRD - 13 January, 20.45 at the News Café
She sat barefooted on a plush white cushion. To her left was Michael, her guitarist. The two looked at each other knowingly and smiled. She stared down at the notes on the floor and began tapping her foot as Michael picked up the beat. Counting in head nods she placed her lips closely to the microphone and we were carried away in a Celtic-like rush, flying over lush green fields and mountains.
“As a struggling young musician you have to work a lot of funny jobs to pay the phone bills. For a while I worked at a mental hospital and had to type up notes, which the patients had written for their doctors. This is where I gained much of my inspiration. One patient used to walk around outside with a watering can, talking to himself and watering the concrete. There were no flowers out there, not even a blade of grass; but that didn’t stop him. I wrote this story about him and what I think might have happened to him.” She told the crowd.
Her words brought a chill to your skin, with a feeling of sadness, longing and pain untold. People stared off; lost in secret thoughts. But just as she brought us down, she lifted us up once more on wings of hope. With the guitar in the background, her cello playing over tones and her hauntingly beautiful voice, it left us all something to savor.
“The lines keep me wandering on. I go in circles crossing the lines. I’m too weak to fight. And none of it means anything if you can’t stay alive,” she sung.
She closed her eyes and strung back and forth in robotic movements over the cello. She freed us from the cages we were barred in, like wild birds, with her voice. She flirted with our ears a little more. “Here I am, so sad, silently stalking myself. I run out of places to hide. If I wish hard enough will they struggle to keep me sane?”
Even when you couldn’t make out all of her words over the noise of the crowd and her accent, you could still feel the passion, power and emotion in her music. Michael knelt to the floor and Janie let the cello wand fall to her lap. They looked into each others eyes and brought the song to a close. The two of them fit just right.
Afterwards I asked her, “If you could tell people one thing about pursuing their dreams, what would it be?”
“Do it, defiantly do it and don’t let anyone tell you not to” she smiled.
It was hip, it was hot and sometimes it was not. The Go Team didn’t really live up to all that British Go.
The Go Team - 13 January ; 23.45
Five of the band members came out onto stage and opened the show with a scratchy alternative piece, without vocals. With two gals at the drums and three guys with their electric guitars, the tune coming forth sounded like the opening music for some grand circus performance. There you stand, as an audience member, about to take on the world. You step forward, now you step a little faster and then you begin to totally fall into the beat.
Next came the lead singer in tight red pants and a white Mickey Mouse t-shirt. A small musical clef was tattooed on her right shoulder and a chunky fake diamond hunk around her neck. “Do you know who we are?” she shouted down at the crowd.
The music picked up with an interesting array of beats; you never knew which style they would break into next. She started off in alternative rock, threw out a kick in the air and broke into rap. “People in the back did you like that one?” she screamed.
A quiet gal with short brown hair, moved out from behind a set to drums to join the lead singer in the front. She switched back and forth between small plastic musical instruments and a piano. She had a real talent being able to play so many instruments, but the guitars drowned out everything.
“People at the front say: GO, GO, GO!” shouted the lead singer. She used a lot of hand gestures in her music so that even when you couldn’t understand her, at least you had something interesting to watch. Part of the lure of this band was the fact that she involved the crowd in so many things. Not to mention the fact, that everyone was drinking. “All right everyone, shout GO, GO, GO!” she said.
“NO, NO, NO!” shouted a man to my left. I looked at the faces around me and saw that some of the people were not so amused. This band may have a good idea for a combination of beats, but they don’t have the lyrics to support. Rarely did we hear her sing more then a few lyrical lines at once. When we did hear her sing, it was drowned out by the guitars and drums.
“I’m so excited. This crowd does that to me,” (but were we?) she said with a touch of irony. The man to my left scowled; I could see he wasn’t impressed. It was just about to end and they opened up into one more chorus line. She turned around, shook that ass, and they brought the show to a close. As the lights dimmed around us, all you could hear from the crowd was, “GO, GO, GO!"
Hanzehogeschool Students Work to Fight against Discrimination - Fighting Back on Discrimination
(18 January ) In early September, a group of nine students at the Hanzehogeschool joined together to conduct a Public Service Advertisement (PSA) to fight discrimination in the Netherlands.
One interview with an FGD participant brought the team a unique insider’s view as to what it is like, living with discrimination in the Netherlands. The interviewee agreed to let the students use his interview so that people could better understand what many foreigners have to deal with on a regular basis.
Why did you come to the Netherlands?
“I came here with my family, seeking asylum, because of the war in 1999. We saw that the air strikes weren’t letting up and were forced to leave our home. Many people died along the way. We lost everything we owned: our home, our lives and our happiness.”
What did you expect the Netherlands to be like?
“We thought the Netherlands was a good country to come to. We heard they were very democratic, non-violent and there wasn’t any discrimination. When I came here, I didn’t know the people’s mentality, culture or way of living.”
What was the worst experience you had here in relation to discrimination?
“Well when I first came here I was driving every now and then, with only my Yugoslavian driver’s license. Once the police stopped me and they put me in handcuffs. One of them said to me, ‘You Yugoslavians are all criminals.’ Then he tried to shove an alcohol tester in my mouth when I wasn’t even drinking. I tried to explain to him why I didn’t have the correct license and he said to me, ‘Shut your fucking mouth.’’ I really felt like shit, how could people think we are all like that?”
What did you find when you came here and how has it changed you?
“If you are Dutch, close your ears. My mom and dad were given permission to stay here, but my brother and I don’t’ have that same permission. We came here together as a family. How can they give half of us permission to stay and the other half not? The Immigration and Naturalization Service says, wait until next year and we will give you an answer. How can you go on year after year in suspense? I just want to know if I can stay here or I have to go, because I want to get on with my life. The war has also changed me a lot. Shit happens and you don’t think positively anymore.”
What do you think needs to be changed?
“The biggest problem, I feel, is not with Dutch people but it’s with the Dutch government. The government has gotten much less tolerant and has imposed new rules. The political parties in power are making it very hard for us to fit in. The government also has rules so that people with my status (Asylum Seeker) cannot leave the country, even on holidays. Were also restricted on the number of hours we can work each week (20-hours) and I can’t use my Yugoslavian drivers license. The Muslim community here doesn’t feel good about what’s going on. In the past year, things have gotten really bad. One stupid guy killed a filmmaker and the whole community suffers. Now we are all bad in the eyes of the public. This made a lot of difference in the way the Muslim community interacts with the Dutch; it’s a real shame.”
The team conducted a total of 3 Focus Group Discussions (FGD) and over a dozen in-depth interviews. They are currently working with a number of student newspapers, to promote the PSA and are also hoping to have a similar version published as a Boomerang Card.
The PARA Open Team members consist of: Sudjadi, Amy E. Smith, Martien Sijtsma, Marieke Heijdeman, Kirsten de Witte, Jessi Leal, Ingrid Schoonveld, Aniek Van Velzen, and Jessica Overweg.
The Dutch language has been in existence for around 2,500 years. Written documents began appearing around 1000AD. Dutch comes from the West Germanic language tree, along with English, Frisian and German. Currently, there are an estimated 21 million people who speak Dutch, including people in Belgium (Flanders), Surinam, Aruba and Indonesia. The Dutch language is the 48th most widely spoken language and is in the top 1% of all languages. Afrikaans is a language that came from Dutch and is closely related. Plattdeutsch (Northern Germany) is also related, along with the Frisian language (but not as closely).
‘Don’t look through your fingers.’ When you know about something, but don’t know about it. When you ignore something.
In 1637 Dutch was standardized (statenbijbel), but the language has borrowed a lot of words from other languages (colonial influences). It is common to borrow words for objects that are new to you or that you do not use yourself. Did you know that the word smuggle and dollar are two of the words we (English language) borrowed from the Dutch?
Cool borrowed words to learn:
mazzel – luck (Flemish)
klunen – to walk on land with skates do something in a awkward way
pikeren – worry (Indonesia)
jack – jacket (English)
graffiti – stress (English)
beamer – LCD projector (English)
doerak – fool (Russian)
When coming here to learn the language you will often feel that some of these words are ‘taking a vacation in your mouth.’ At one time (WWII) the Dutch used difficult words to test for spies and foreigners.
More cool words:
Inspanningplichting – responsibility to try
Planologie – urban planning
Verworven rechten – acquired rights
Wildplassen – urination outside facilities
One interesting point is that the Dutch use a lot of negative words in their everyday speech. There are over 100 negative words, or words that you can only use in a negative way. For example in English one of these words would be ‘budge’. You can say he wouldn’t budge, but you cannot say that he would budge. Another is ‘I don’t give a hoot’. Have you ever heard any one say he gave a hoot?
In the English language there are a lot of negative things to say about the Dutch, such as: (My question is why? What is behind this?)
Double Dutch – speaking nonsense
In Dutch with my wife – in trouble
Go Dutch – split the bill
He pulled a ‘Dutchman’ – cover up a mistake as in construction work
Dutch courage – courage from alcohol
Dutch bargain – deal made with alcohol
Dutch uncle – someone always trying to give you unwanted advice
Dutch disease – the politics of consensus, all agree or ‘give in’
Dutch oven, Dutch doors, etc.
In the city of Haarlem, Dutch is the most standard. But the Dutch language has many variations. There are 3 – 5 major differences in dialects but there are over 30 over all (in an area only about 40K km2 in size). Frisian is an official minority language; with several dialects of its own. Lower Saxons and Limburgs are recognized as regional languages.
Don’t bother fishing behind the net. (Don’t try for something when there is little chance of you getting it.)
The Dutch people are very interested in languages, especially their own. Onze Taal is a private foundation that deals in language issues such as creating spell checks for the Dutch people so that they can keep their culture alive. The world’s largest dictionary, Algemeen Woordenboek der Nederlandse, is also in Dutch. There are five languages taught to children in prep schools and there are many programs in English without subtitles. The Dutch are very proud of their command of the English language.
Please don’t pull any dead cows up out of the trench. (Don’t bring up painful memories.)
The Dutch very much so have a vergader cultuur ‘meetings culture’ and believe in consensus and ‘all noses pointing in the same direction’. The Dutch have a gedoogbeleid or a policy of tolerance. They believe in a maaiveld ‘mowing field’ and are critical of people who stand out or try to do better. There is a common saying here, ‘someone who’s head sticks out above the grass will be cut down.’ There are many cut downs for the big shots and there are more derogatory terms for showoffs then I can list.
There are a few good jokes that I would also like to share with you that help explain typical Dutch culture.
How do you break up a demonstration in the Netherlands? - Pass a collection plate.
Why are the Dutch’s nostrils so big? Because air is free.
What does a Dutch man do if he wins the lottery? Recounts the winnings.
There is only one exception when it comes to cutting down the big shots… this does not apply to the famous ex-football player Cruijff. When he speaks, people become quiet. He has so much authority in everything he says. He is the Dutchman’s hero; people have pride in him.
There are several common phrases he uses, that everyone knows:
“Italians can’t beat you, but you can loose to them.”
“If you want to score, you have to shoot.” (Als je wilt scoren, moet je schieten.)
“Every disadvantage, has its advantage.” (Leder nadeel heft z’n voordeel.)
The Dutch also use a lot of obscenity in their everyday language. There is a whole lot of cursing done. The Dutch focus on the genital area when they curse, other cultures focus on other areas. The Dutch have an extreme threshold for how easily they get offended. Anything can be shown on television or the radio. When Dutch people get angry with you, they will wish a disease on you, such as krisg de stuipen (get convulsions). There is a religious group that is calle dthe Anti Cursing League. They are working to fight against this problem. They normally advertise in train stations.
Het kon minder. – It could have been less. (high praise for a gift)
The Dutch work very hard at keeping their language intact. They look at English as somewhat of an invasion and threat. An interesting fact is, that when Dutch people see stores that have incorporated English into the shop signs they see the store as new. When they see stores that are only in Dutch, they see the store as reliable, trustworthy and well… Dutch.
The Dutch School System
Tonight the lecturer started off by criticizing the USA and England. He said that “we” have language deficiencies and he didn’t know why so many people wanted to study in those two countries. He also commented on how low the USA’s education system ranked on the education scale. I didn’t think it was a proper start.
“The Netherlands has a lot of money invested into its educational system,” he said. Both private and public schools are state funded; this aspect of the Netherlands school system is unique to the whole world. In the 1920’s there was a great change in the Netherlands from public to increased private schools. About 3/4ths of the schools in the Netherlands are now privately operated. There are very few real ‘religious’ schools left in the Netherlands except for maybe a few Islamic schools. Religion, for the most part, doesn’t really mean a thing in school to the children even if the school they go to is of a certain religious denomination.
A war of education occurred, which split society into pillars of religion and government. In the 1970’s the constitution was ratified to state that there is freedom of education and religion. Anyone with enough students to attend their school can get government funding.
There is a great competition between school groups to attract children to their districts for money. The more kids at your school, the more money you get. There are many program and religious differences in the school programs and schools are also giving children a chance to have some sort of say in what they want in their own schools.
In Groningen there are 20-30 different schools to choose from. In the Netherlands there are over 30 Islamic schools and there may soon be a University. Islam is the fastest growing religion and the school systems are showing it.
The speaker went on to talk more and more about religion and history. He spoke much less about the current conditions in the Netherlands, which was what most of us were interested in. He also continued to compare everything to the USA, negatively. This I could see, was annoying quite a few people around me. It is ok to criticize a country, but there is a limit. You should learn to draw the line somewhere early, especially when the majority of your audience is American.
He then discussed the five most important types of school systems: Dalton Schools – Helen Parkhurst, Jenaplan – Peter Peterson, Montessori Schools – Mana Mantessori, Freinet Schools – Celestin Freinet and Free Schools – Rudolf Steiner.
Schools, he said, are free for foreign students in the Netherlands until they reach the age of 16. From then on, students do not receive financial help from the state; they must pay for themselves. One major problem for immigrants in that their children begin school at age 4 and have no knowledge of the Dutch language for the most part. Due to this, they fall behind in class and end up in lower rungs of the education ladder. Foreigners must start their children in programs by age two, so that they can keep up with their fellow classmates at 4 years.
The oddest thing I learned is that special education is not integrated into normal schools. In the USA it is very integrated, although there is not yet one standard way of structuring it.
They’re politically incorrect, controversial and plain out weird. But the audience loves them.
THE HOUSE OF MANGOES GIVES COMMUNICATION A MEDICATED MIX
(April ) In 2002, Lolu Ajay began an improv comedy group that would come to be known as the House of Mangoes. Their show specializes in developing characters and themes based on the audiences suggestions.
Lolu walks quietly towards me, scanning the crowd. ‘On stage,’ he comments, ‘you can’t expect your ideas to just flow out naturally. Improvisation is about adapting to the people around you. What we really want to do is give people a peek into another world.’ He steps off into the shadows of the stage spotlight.
And another world is just what this audience gets. Gerry van der Laan steps down from the stage and begins to look for possible improv-victims. He chooses from a selection of random audience members, to ask questions such as: if they are employed, in a relationship and their favorite movie.
Nicole Mischler and Ben Silburn then take their places on the stage. They are ready to begin putting together a story, from the audience’s answers they just received. We are taken to a scene at a bar, where a man and woman are meeting for the first time.
Nicole giggles stupidly and holds her stomach. ‘I have had too many of these pills.’ She begins to stir her glass. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Role,’ he replies.
‘YOU RULE!’ she shouts out unexpectedly. ‘Mine’s Norma. But I ain’t too normal,’ she smiles.
‘What do you do for a living?’ he asks her.
‘I medicate. It’s a full time study in date rape drugs and nausea. It will surly knock you out… want some?’ She pushes her imaginary cup towards him. ‘Here’s the nausea and dizziness.’
‘Well, I just stay home; I’m single and in-between jobs,” he beams proudly.
She turns her head and tries to hide her disappointment. ‘I’m single too; I have been single for 6-months.’ She sobs while she stuffs another pill in her mouth. One of them then drops to the floor and she bends down to get it, waving her butt in Ben’s face. The audience breaks out in laughter. ‘This one will leave you giddy with dilated pupils. Here try it,’ she forces it into his mouth. ‘What beautiful eyes you have,’ she evilly grins.
‘Wait… music! Lets go back to my place, take more pills and dance the night away!’ she suggests.
‘Check please!’ they both shout out at the same time.
With one and a half hours of laughs we are still going strong, as they pull the show to a close.
Please Visit: http://www.houseofmangoes.nl or http://www.boomchicago.nl/
France and Germany are not too fond of the Dutch’s marijuana policy. Drug users are deemed by the Netherlands as “having health problems.” Therefore, the public health and criminal justice system works together to develop laws, which can help solve both problems. There are mixed targets in the justice system. Two sides work together to solve one problem. Prosecution Service-Police and the Police Chief-City Chief all hold monthly meetings with one another. They don’t only discuss law and order; they work together to achieve multiple goals that they both want.
Marijuana use is not considered criminally dangerous, but possession is a criminal act. On the other hand, those who put others in danger by selling it are breaking the law. But people are free to ruin their own health. The Narcotic act has two branches: Legal (soft drug use) and Illegal (trafficking, trade and possession). There are also several dimensions to the health risks: High (hard drugs) and Low (soft drugs).
Hard drugs are associated with sick addicts who look bad. Soft drugs are associated with alternative lifestyles and happy people “hippies.” The Netherlands is the #1 producer of ecstasy (the chemicals are legal, the mix is illegal). The speaker commented that the Dutch are “proud to be a production country.” There are also great points of entry such as the Harbor in Rotterdam and Amsterdam Airport. Much trafficking is done between Afghanistan (Heroin) and South America (Cocaine) like Colombia.
The practice and the crime are divided along the same lines as the health risk dimensions. It is called the opportunity principal:
A. Allow the police to practice the discretion to prosecute someone (big criminals vs. small criminals)
B. Prosecute everything
The speaker said that, “In the mid 1980’s koffee shops began popping up everywhere. In the late 60-70’s they were already in Amsterdam. Hard drugs are found in the same areas, along with junkies and drinking. Party pills becoming popular and ‘coke houses’ began popping up. The 17-year-old kids with the ‘raaaaaahhhh’ scooters have a 50% chance/likelihood that they are selling soft drugs. They are given mobile phones and new motor scooters to pedal drugs. They are allowed to sell soft drugs as long as they were not disturbing the public. If these shops though cause too much nuisance, the city governor can shut them down.”
If cities accept private enterprises that sell drugs, it is not a problem. If they sell drugs, it is a problem. Changing an act can take a long time, but changing a policy can happen overnight. In the Netherlands it is in the front door legal, but out the back door illegal. People are also allowed to grow 4-5 pot plants in their home. If neighbors complain of the smell then the police will come in and trash them, but the people will not go to jail in most cases. Sometimes there are student rooms being rented to grow pot in (100+ plants). They sell this to coffee shops that are kind of legal or should I say just not prosecuted under the priority act.
The Dutch criminal justice system is open to the integration of several policies into one. A lot of it has to do with the liberal and permissive nature of the Dutch society. Mercy killing is one such policy the Dutch are very liberal about.
Doctors often perform ‘mercy killing’ or euthanasia by reducing one medication and increasing another, (such as a pain killer) so that the disease can have the full effect. This applies only to terminally ill people, who doctors can do no more for. This way people can plan their deaths. These people may die in a few days or a few weeks and often they ask the doctor to help with their death.
Doctors live by an oath to help patients in one way or another. Doctors commit a crime by not acting. Lethal injection though is a criminal act; it’s said to be premeditated and ‘amounts to murder.’
In 1973 a doctor was prosecuted under these circumstances and the first laws began to be developed to offer protection to doctors under these circumstances. The term was coined ‘killing upon request’ and had a low penalty, (reduced sentence) but it was still considered a homicide. Before long, several exceptions were requested to this new law: Medical and Duress (strain of circumstances). In 1984 duress was accepted as an exception to the law under certain circumstances and conditions listed. When these conditions were met, the court would normally dismiss the case at ease.
The conditions that had to be met were that the condition of patient was terminally ill and that a process was followed of consulting other doctors and getting opinions. The medical professionals, though, were not happy with only this and they wanted more protections offered to them under the law. They wanted security so that they were not branded as a criminal. Meanwhile the government wanted evidence of all of the unnatural deaths to be reported by law. Doctors were not reporting this because they were scared.
In 1998 an experiment was begun by government to prepare society for this new regulation. It was sold to the public as a way to increase the reporting of unnatural deaths. A commission on euthanasia was created that would investigate unnatural deaths. This commission would consist of one or two medical experts who would act as medical investigators. No judges or law enforcement would be involved. This commission would be used to assist in the decision making process, it was a case of non-prosecution. People, they believed, would become accustomed to it.
In 2002 a second act was placed in it. This act ensured that if you violate this code, then you would be discharged from duty. Nothing had changed as far as the problem the government is having with people reporting unnatural deaths. There was and is still a distrust of the system and doctors do not want to be investigated. Medical people do not want to be “looked over.”
FYI: Under Dutch law you cannot arrest someone for an SMS death threat. Release or custody is up to the DA’s office. A crime does not equal threats and abuse. This is not a crime you would arrest someone for, for more then 4-7 days. (legal statute number 287285300). It is not the Police Departments fault, it’s the law. Go to the politicians.
22 November - CONNECT BUSINESS CLUB
Martiniplaza, Zaal 14, Leonard Springerlaan 2, Groningen, NL
The Tennis Talk (Stanley Franker): Rules in tennis that you can apply to life.
Live – Treat your body as a temple.
Learn – Experience things. Making errors is a natural part of life. Don’t let those errors ruin you for the next 3-4 games; develop yourself as a source.
Live a Legacy – Real wealth is not about money. The most important things in life are free but you must have the right attitude to get them.
Charles Ruffolo “The Network King” sat just to my left. I listened as he told a few stories about his meetings with ex-president Clinton.
Networking My Way (Christopher Devries; Country Manager for Citibank International)
“What sort of day are you going to have today? Is it a networking day?” he asked.
After a quick joke, (That you could obviously see that he treated him body as a temple… it was the size of one!) he launched himself into the speech.
“You can change yourself.” he said. “You only get used to it by doing it. You have to be positive and like people to be a good networker. Networking is often casual and done indirectly. You must watch how people operate. Many people network through friends and yes it takes time. It has to be done naturally, with no malicious intent or people will sense it and be turned off. Be nice to people, smile and remember their faces.”
“The real definition of networking is building up social and professional contacts that may be of use to you one day. But people you network with are often first friends. When the two of you can compliment each other, then why not.”
He continued on with a story about a man he knew who received 300 business calls a day at home. At 5pm a hired lady came into his house, sat down by the machine and wrote every message down. She then organized them by importance and only the top ten he called back. There was another lady who came in every day with a homemade casserole that she left in the refrigerator in case he brought business acquaintances back for dinner.
Plane networking 101: “Why would anyone sit next to each other for several hours and not even introduce themselves. It baffles me,” he said. “How can you sit there and not even say hi?”
“People become who they are for a reason. It’s not ‘for nothing.’ These people know how to work, are likeable and intelligent. Also, if you don’t stay in touch with people then networking is useless. You must maintain your contacts and continually grease the wheel. Take certain hours in the day or days of the week to network. Networking is expensive. It takes a lot of time. Contact everyone, even if you don’t think they are important. Stick with a recipe that’s comfortable to you.”
He then went on to tell a story about a cab driver he met. “It is very un-Dutch to invite strangers into your home. But one day I was having asparagus and the cab driver had never had it before so I invited him in to give it a try. My very Dutch wife gave me “the look” but served him anyhow after some convincing. She knows we Americans do crazy stuff like this. Now I talk to him every now and then and when I am in an emergency and need a cab he always comes to my rescue.”
“Can you network in an environment when you don’t know who’s who?” he asked. “Yes you can, if you study the people and find out who’s important. I have cut out faces and made whole scrapbooks of important people in the countries I have lived in.” Right now I was thinking, great idea!
He then spoke of some experiences he had in Norway. “Spend time talking about the good things about the country you are living in, not the bad. When someone says something about his or her own country it’s ok. When someone says something about another country, it’s not ok. Who are you to judge if you have never even been there? Always tell the truth because it will come back on you and don’t exaggerate.”
Business cards are a great tool for networking.
“A resume should be three paragraphs and a closing statement that’s interesting. Dare to be different. Say something out of the ordinary.” He concluded his speech.
Students bare all, for Charity, 27 June
Electric windmills circles around us on the skyline, and a cool chill of wind tickles down bare spines. Today four new photo shoot participants were to get their first real taste of posing in the buff.
Today the group meets beside an old mill, just outside the harbour of Eemshaven. Frank grabs his bass guitar and heads down a grassy hill to a wooden fence beside the mill. First, he is told to undress and put on a robe while some test shots are taken. Next he bares it all, as he climbs back and forth over the fence while photographer Ewoud Broeksma is busy at work. As many as 75 photographs can be taken per participant. As last they finish, and Frank emerges from the basin with wild, wind-blown hair.
In April, a group of Hanzehogeschool students from the School of Communication and Media (ICM) came up with the idea to create a nude birthday calendar to raise money for the Saidia Scholarship Foundation. Saidia is a foundation by students, for students and they help to provide financial support to students coming from developing countries. The goal of this calendar is to produce awareness within the general public of student needs and show student involvement in working for each others cause.
The students partnered with famed photographer Ewoud Broeksma, who specializes in nude portrait photography of sportsmen and women. The birthday calendar features twelve male and female students living in the city of Groningen. Students pose both inside and outside the city; but the one rule is that they always pose in the buff with an article of their choice.
‘You’ll be the next victim’, Ewoud jokes with Mark. ‘What kind of other stuff have you brought for the pose? A pile of books?’ ‘I have two’, responds Mark, ‘so it’s not necessarily a pile... something about dreams and Business Ethics.’
Each week the students can be found visiting a new location. Last week students awoke at 4am and joined Ewoud in Grote Markt. For several hours they strolled around the city at sunrise, in long robes, deciding on the perfect public place to pose. Next week they head to the satellite dishes near Westerbork.
The calendar will be available for sale in September and will be featured in a special exhibition put on by Ewoud and then marketed internationally. Students have high expectations for this calendar and imagine that it may raise more then just awareness.
Teachers deal with intercultural aspects in an advanced English class
‘In American culture, teachers aren’t so harsh.’
Kevin Haines, a teacher with the School of Communication and Media (SICM) instructs an advanced English class that offers teachers the opportunity to learn from one another’s practical experience, while teaching in an intercultural environment. Fourteen Dutch teachers of the Hanzehogeschool participate in the course, titled English for Teachers.
In class, teachers present complex communication problems for the group to discuss. One of Kevin’s assignments requires participants to present an intercultural teaching dilemma that they have had occur in class. This week’s topic is based around the textbook quote, Other people cannot tell you your strengths and weaknesses; you have to work them out for yourself. The discussion was related to giving constructive/critical feedback to students who had just completed a public speaking assignment. A teacher from SICM comments, ‘I never tell anyone if they are a good or bad speaker. You can’t tell people what they are.’ Another teacher responds with, ‘I don’t believe we can tell people their strengths and weaknesses in presenting because they are often culturally based.’ An example from American culture was then brought up from a female teacher, ‘I have seen with Americans that it is common to over-exaggerate on the benefits of something, but the Dutch see this as just a lot of hype.’
With a multitude of cultures present in class, it’s often difficult for teachers to find a set of universal standards for use with their students. Students at the Hanzehogeschool were interviewed about how teachers in their own country, would give critical feedback on an oral presentation. Sudjadi, a fourth year student in International Communication from Indonesia commented, ‘When a professor wants to give critical feedback they relate it to the textbook in order for the student not to take offence. Teachers would say, according to the textbook you didn’t meet this presentation’s standards.’ American exchange-student Ryan Narramore remarked, ‘In American culture, teachers aren’t so harsh. They write it down on a piece of paper and give you the grades after the presentation.’
Students feel that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to take culture into consideration. Henrikas Jurkauskas, an exchange-student from Lithuania, comments on this matter. ‘The teacher has more competencies than the students, therefore much more responsibility should fall on him or her in order to adapt to the students they encounter. Teachers should look for a common ground.’
Practical classes, such as English for Teachers, offer teachers the ability to learn from each other’s teaching experiences. Working together in discussion-groups offer teachers not only a new perspective on intercultural issues, but also methods to solve their everyday challenges in teacher-life.
Inspirational Words - Freedom of Speech in Africa Zimbabwe
(22 September )
Wilf Mbanga is founder and chief-editor of the Zimbabwean Daily News, which is now prohibited in Zimbabwe. Tonight I had the opportunity to listen to his, personal, side of the story. The topic we discussed was A Free Press? Africa, Democracy and the Media. Currently he lives in the city of Tilburg, which is located within the Netherlands. This is his story…
“A journalist is like someone drunk and trying to find their balance in an alleyway.”
A tense relationship between journalism and the government is a healthy relationship. Did you know that 36 journalists have been killed, in the line of duty, in 2004? Twenty-four of these journalists were killed in Iraq. It is not just the journalists being killed; translators, cameramen and others too have fallen victim. There are many countries all over the world that are ‘bad’ for journalists. Zimbabwe is a bad country for journalism; the government is extremely repressive. There is no freedom of speech.
“Politicians are like a bunch of bananas; they hang together, they are all soft inside, they are all yellow on the outside and they all go bad at the same time.”
In the 70’s and early 80’s Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rate, the highest life expectancy (65 yrs), exported food to other parts of Africa and had high freedom of press. President Mugabe has been in power for too long and he is now very corrupt. At first people made excuses for him and denied that the corruption could be coming from him. They said that he was clean and it had to be others. Everyone wanted to believe that it was not him, because he had been such a good president in the beginning. But when people began to be tortured, there were false arrests and with the massacre of 25,000 people, things could be hidden no longer.
“Fish rot from the head up.”
Originally, Wilf Mbanga had worked for the government newspapers, but when he saw what was going on, he knew he had to get out. He wanted to start an independent newspaper and went around the city asking local businessmen to contribute. All of them were scared, so he had to search elsewhere for funding (overseas).
In 1999 he was finally able to launch an independent newspaper. In 6 months his newspaper was the most widely read, largest selling paper in the entire country. His paper made a point out of ‘telling it like it is.’ They reported facts as they saw them and this gave them credibility. Their newspaper became the newspaper of reference. In the mornings, there were two piles of newspapers… the government newspaper and ours. By the afternoon there was only one pile, the governments. The government paper went from 127,000 a day to 38,000 a day.
“The people voted with their dollars.”
The government felt they had to do something about this. They bombed our staff offices one night. Six months later, they bombed the printing presses and every one of them was destroyed. There wasn’t a piece of one left larger then this small drinking glass I now hold. The person, who did it, knew what they were doing. Still even today no one has been arrested. One of the security guards hid in the bushes when they saw six armed men approaching the building. They took down the vehicles license plates that they were using. Normally is legal to go to the government vehicle registration offices to find out the owner of a vehicle by their license plate. When they went to find out, it suddenly became illegal. Then the vehicles registration disappeared as if it never had been.
Soon vendors were being arrested who were selling these newspapers for obstruction of traffic. The vendors, who right next to them selling the government papers were left alone. Then the reporters were arrested on Fridays and put in jail. You had to wait 48 hours, in jail, before you could go to court (and Saturdays and Sundays do not count) so by the time they got out is was Wednesday. Then they began arresting senior editors. Then they came after him.
One evening he got a phone call from a colleague who had been arrested. They said that they were given permission to use the phone to call him and notify him that the police were on the way over to his house to arrest him. He went straight to get a shower because he didn’t know when the next chance would be he could get one. Then the police drove into his garden in their tactical jeeps.
At first he thought it was very weird what was going on because he was allowed to sit in the police department headquarters and make phone calls. He was being interviewed live, by CNN and BBC, while in custody. Friends and family were also allowed to bring him food. By evening he was charged with fraud. When his lawyer asked whom he had defrauded, the police had no person, no amount of money and not any other details.
“There was once a President Banana ruling Zimbabwe. A Dutch businessman went over for a meeting. During a business meeting he commented to a Zimbabwean businessman, Your president comes from the house of bananas and my queen comes from the house of oranges, they both are fruit-baskets so we should get along just fine.”
He was taken to a cell for the night that held 13 other criminals. There was only a hole in the ground for them to go to the bathroom in, there was no food provided, no water, no windows… only a big steel door and a hole in the ceiling for ventilation. At 6am he heard loud singing coming from outside. It was his wife and his colleague’s wife. They were trying to annoy the guards because they were not allowed to take their husbands breakfast until 8am.
Two weeks passed till the court date. Mbanga was released on bail. When he was seen in court the judge said there was no case and he was dismissed. The government appealed the courts decision, but again the case was thrown out. Soon though he saw that his phones had been tapped, people were following him everywhere and at night people wandered around in his gardens. He got up at all hours to scare them off, but he was getting a horrible sleep. He had an 8-foot wall built around his house, but still people hopped it and wandered about trying to make him uneasy. When he fled the country, his son told him that they stopped coming to the house.
“The President does not want to do anything outside the law. When he wants to do something that he does not have the power to do, he invents a new law so that everything he does is legal.”
An ‘Access to Information’ law was soon created that required every journalist to have a license to report. Journalists were given 12-month licenses and then they were monitored. If the government did not like something they wrote, their license would be revoked. Newspapers also had to have licenses. Mbanga decided not to try to register his newspaper because he knew the license would not be permitted. Instead he challenged the law. But when he challenged them, he was told that he was the one breaking the law and that he needed to first try to register. He tried to register but was refused and the police came the next day to the newspaper and said to them that they had to close it down. They began taking away stuff and loading up the computers.
Mbanga then went back to court and appealed for permission to get a license. The judge agreed that they should be given a license and told him he would have it in 30 days. Nothing happened. When Mbanga went ahead and continued to publish the newspapers, the government shut it totally down. They took everything away (cars, building, equipment, etc.). There is no longer anything ‘physical’ left. They must again start from scratch. They have an appeal in, to the court, but nothing has happened yet. This is where they are now.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Mbanga believes that there should be more independent newspapers so that there is a greater range of ideas flowing around. Everything should not lie in the hands of the government. Mbanga is fighting back with a new form of communication, the World Wide Web. There are about 100,000 people in Zimbabwe who have email accounts. But his website is now being blocked within Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans, who live outside of the country in other parts of Africa, still have access. He knows the government is keeping track of the website because they have email complaints that Mbanga ‘is the enemy of the people,’ for publishing what he does. Two months ago they began controlling the Internet. They purchased equipment from China to monitor all incoming and outgoing e-mails. If they don’t like what you type, they block it and also destroy your email address.
“No government can take away word of mouth. It may be worse not to have an independent press because then all that is left is rumors. Information can be horribly twisted.”
“We can get around it, still,” he said. “We should not give up.”
Currently, Mbanga is preparing for a new method of attack. This time he is going to fight back my starting an outside newspaper, which can be mailed to the people of Zimbabwe. This method of communication of information has not yet been blocked. One-fourth of Zimbabweans live outside of their country. The majority of educated people who were mobile left Zimbabwe in 2000.
“The President can’t live forever.” Mbanga chuckled.
Elections are coming this March and opposition plans of boycotting the elections. Mbanga is disappointed that Zimbabwe is no longer in the news since the white farmers were kicked out. In 2002, the presidential elections were rigged by Mugabe to ensure his reelection. These elections provide a new chance.
“Who cares about the black peasants?” he asked.
The inflation rate is currently at 600%, there is no medicines in hospitals (curtains have to be used as bandages), 1 in 4 people have HIV, eighty-percent of the population lives below the poverty line, there is a high unemployment rate and President Mugabe is training militia. The government news is all people know. The government is showing people the world through rose-colored glasses.
“There are so many dictators in Africa that don’t want free media.“
Wilf Mbanga has no plans to return to his country until things change.
He knows that he is not safe there now and any attempt to return may be the last.
The Lion Ship
“A-hoi young mates! This is the captain speaking.”
A venture onto the Lion Ship, at just the moment the captain arrives.
(April) The thick rope netting hanging off over the hull of the boat, gives a creak and slight shake. I can hear a small boat docking down below. Hardened-hands reach upward and a figure rises up from the wayside. Two icy blue eyes gleam up at me from beneath a dirty, knotted, mess of hair. He looks as if he has not washed in weeks. A piece of dead skin hangs off from his nose and a slight stench catches mine. I shy back a step, not sure what to think. A huge, friendly smile lights his face and he welcomes me inside. I breathe a sigh of relief and follow him into the main cabin room of the ship.
Antiques lie in every corner, they are but bits and pieces of things he has collected over the years. A bookshelf behind me is lined with adventure stories about sailing the open seas. I hand him the gifts I brought: a bottle of Vermouth and ‘adventure-style’ liquorices. Two well-dressed artists, who are only over for an Easter visit, accompany him on the boat. A mangy dogs runs around at my feet.
He begins by showing me pictures of boats, which he is working on getting this one to resemble. He tells me of his dreams about getting this one in shape to one day again sail the seas. He tells me of how he acquired it from a man who sold it very cheaply after it had sunk twice in the South of the Netherlands. Everything in the boat, he has done by himself. He claims to be the most famous, or at least well know, foreigner in the city. He is from Germany.
After some prodding, he takes me downstairs. It is very dirty inside, but you can see that he has amazing dreams. The living room, when you first enter the lower lever of the ship, is being designed to look like something out of a magazine photograph, which he found. The resemblance is amazing despite the fact that he used odds and ends from Mama-Minis to create it. (a thrift shop)
“This is the toilet,” he pointed at a dirty seat in a dreary wet room. “They have just recently changed the law, not allowing feces and urine to go directly into the water. It costs too much money for me to have one of those types of toilets installed on this ship.” (Everything is smashed up into unrecognizable bits and goes off into the canal. Remind me not to go swimming in there.) I wandered around the rest of the ship and made my way towards the door to say goodbye.
Lost in thought: 'This has always been my favorite ship in the city. Something about it, despite the fact that it is a mess of odd parts, has attracted me to it since day one. Maybe it is not the ship that I fell in love with, but the idea and the dream of what this man one day wants it to be. The ship radiates with dreams and pirates... freedom and the open sea. What this man wants is the same as all of us, adventure and to live his dream.'
I stepped onto the street. It was just one more day for us in the Netherlands.
Just by chance, adrift at sea.
By: Amy Smith
Coincidence you say to me,
and I feel it deep within.
I try to smile and let it be,
but it’s mounting towards the rim.
I’ll give my best to only one,
if they should follow through.
But by the time that you were done,
I knew it couldn’t be you.
One more step could change it all,
if chance might have its way.
I stand firmly and refuse to fall,
for it won’t be today.
When you will know the oceans breeze,
and I will know the waves.
I will come down to my knees,
and we will then be saved.
Queens Day, better know as Konninginnedag to the Dutch, is a day honoring the birth of Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix. Queen Beatrix’s birthday is actually on the 31st of January, but she decided to keep the celebrations on this date in honor of her mother whose birthday is April 30th. This year Queen Beatrix celebrated her 25th year on the throne.
(30 April) Orange is not only the color of the royal family; it’s said to represent happiness, zest, success and creativity. This is just what Queens Day is all about.
Finding a hotel, without prior reservations in Amsterdam on Queens Day, is like finding the answers already filled in for that upcoming exam. People are desperate and they are more then willing to sleep in any nook or cranny offered up. And this is exactly what the locals have figured out.
‘Fifteen euros and you can sleep on a bench in the back,’ said a COFFEE Shop manager near central station. I looked towards the back of the room. There were four wooden benches surrounding a pool table and the air was filled with smoke. ‘Or you can shower upstairs for 5 euros.’
This wasn’t the only shop keeper making use of the accommodation shortage. There were numerous hostels that would rent you a spot on the couch, in the reception area, late at night.
Then there was the sleep-place black market going on just outside of Central Station. Here you could pay high prices for sketchy places in people’s private homes. The owner would set a base price and the dealer would benefit from the high resale price. Unfortunately, this method was filled with the possibility of the taker being scammed or robbed.
Free Market Trading
This is only day of the year when Amsterdammers can enjoy something called the Free Market, which takes place all over the city streets. Local shops, citizens and non-profit organizations can reap the benefits of being able to set up a table with goods for sale just outside their doorstep. Everything ranging from old hairbrushes to wooden shoes can be found and the prices are yours to bargain for. A man to my left begins to shout out prices from his seat like an auctioneer behind a stand, today is defiantly his day.
It’s not only goods that are for sale, it’s also ideas. Creative capitalism is exactly what this day is about. On one corner of the street a Speed Dating booth is set up and you can buy a chat with a girl for only a euro. On another street corner you can take your best shot at a young mans face with half a dozen raw eggs.
Between the sellers there are musicians. You can stand on one street corner and hear three very different types of music coming at you from
all sides. The atmosphere of Queens Day in Amsterdam is unsurpassed.
The Street Scene
By 7am the music was already going. I sit in a café amongst a small group of people with dark circles under their eyes, who are lazing about. Just down the street, a stage is being prepared for another day of events. Main stages with popular musicians can be found along a road marked only by the people walking down it. Vending stands full of orange knick-knacks are being assembled and two boys stroll back-and-forth with orange crowns that are for sale.
I step outside onto the sidewalk. A large chalk box is drawn, down below, at my feet with the word bezet for busy. Masses of people are entering the streets and it looks as if one is standing within a sea of orange. Everywhere there are people with orange hair, orange stockings, various orange clothing articles and tiny Dutch flags painted on their cheeks. A small pudgy bulldog runs past me with an empty Heineken beer can in his mouth and a group of people smile as they walk past. The festivities are only beginning.
Newspaper Article by Amy:
Students organize seminar in Berlin
(Spring) A thin line of bricks marks the spots where the Wall once stood. It stretches out past the Brandenburg Gate and on towards the Holocaust Memorial. A group of Hanzehogeschool students mull about below it and one stares up in wonder at the golden chariot above.
A group of seventy students and staff from the Hanzehogeschool have traveled to Berlin for a five-day seminar to study how the fall of the Wall has influenced German society today. Sixteen exchange students have spent the past five months organizing this seminar through a program called European Perspectives on International Communication (EPIC). This seminar combined insider tours with historically groundbreaking speakers to give students a deeper understanding of Berlin today. A two-day conference was held in conjunction with the seminar at the Harnack-Haus.
‘On November 9th everything changed’, stated Werner Kolhoff, who was chief of the West Berlin Communication Department during the fall of the Wall. ‘All of a sudden, everything went differently. During the protest people shouted no violence and no shooting or violence occurred. The guards let the people be. The happiest thing was that despite all of the violence over the past years, this was a peaceful end.’
‘Berliners wanted freedom’, remarked Leo Schmidt, professor of Architectural Conservation at the Brandenburg University of Technology. ‘If you had relatives on the other side it was really hard. The Wall went up in 1961 and came down in 1989. Walls are not forever and at last hope could return.’
Tom Sello served for two years with the East German army. Once discharged, he joined up with a group of likeminded people to fight oppressive government rule through underground newspapers such as the Umweltblatter and Telegraph. ‘The main purpose of the East German military was to break people. People were brain washed and forced to fit into the system. It is important to prevent dictatorships.’
But with the fall of the Wall other problems arose. Heinz-Gerd Reese, director of the Airlift Gratitude Foundation remarked: ‘Down in the cellar no one notices the differences, but if you pay attention you will see they are still there. The psychological effects of the Wall run deep. Many Germans today, want the Wall back.’
The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the biggest events in the last forty years. At that time it made the whole world turn around and think. This week it made us stop and think.
Amy E. Smith, Intern with the School of Communication and Media
Memories from the Speakers:
His experience in the East German Army made him active in the resistance.
Tom states, ‘The main purpose of the military was to break people. People were brain washed and forced to fit into the system.’
Tom wanted to accomplish his studies but he never found the time or had the chance. He began to look for people with the same ideologies and dreams. He was distributing fliers against the military service rule. Distributing fliers was very dangerous. Each one had to be typed by hand and it took a lot of time. If he was caught he would go to jail for up to 10-years. Tom was very afraid of the Stazi; he was an activist trying to increase public awareness.
Tom comments, 'Now it’s easy to look back and say that’s how I should have done things, but then it was difficult. On both sides the authorities did not approve of what I was doing. The loss of trust from past wounds has really affected me and the way I trust people today. How do you know who your real friend is and who is s spy? People’s perspectives are what are important. One of my friends who were criticizing the system ‘died’ in jail. For me it was about finding my way in my own life through this resistance. Today I can say that it is important to prevent dictatorships. There was no funding at all for me and I didn’t know if I would have even wanted it because then you are linked to someone or something. It is important to find people with your same ideas but from other backgrounds so as to break down stereotypes and boundaries.'
Reese comments, ‘The Soviet’s wanted everything to appear democratic so that they can stay in power. But freedom is always and only freedom if for those who have different opinions. A communistic media was meant to create an intense and deep emotion with antagonism and opposition. Hate needs an objective. Hate or the urge to hate was used to destroy or damage the class consciousness. Education was used to build hate.’
Kolhoff comments, ‘On November 9th everything changed. All of a sudden, everything went differently. During the protest people shouted no violence, no violence and no shooting or violence occurred. The guards let the people be. The happiest thing was that despite all of the violence over the past years, this was a peaceful end. When there was peace… this is when it all broke down between the parties. This was the end.’
Schmidt comments, ‘In the 1960’s the Berlin Wall light around the city could be seen from space. There is 155 km of wall encircling West Berlin. About 255 men, woman and children died. Even more were traumatized. The Berlin Wall was somehow overcome by a peaceful revolution. The Wall was a canvas of ideas and expressions. Decorating it made it normal or somehow invisible. In the East the Wall meant the end of the world. Everything on the other side was nonexistent. People could see, smell, hear and taste the other side but it was not there. You must try to understand but how can one understand when one has not been through anything like it. In time memory fades and people forget. The big and visible things have been destroyed, but if you understand it you can see that it is still all around you.’
Ziegele comments, ‘The gates and the wall are wide open streamed over radio and television announcements, November 9th 1989 was the moment that moved the world. It was one of the biggest events in the last 40 years and it made the whole world turn around and think. Today, use of media in the East and West is very different despite the fact that they have the same information and exposure to it. The East and West gap is closing. Easterners have a stronger identity because they feel more disadvantaged.’
Ziegele states, ‘It is important to distance yourself from a cause whether it is good or bad. Only when you distance yourself from something can you get a truly objective view. How do you remain totally objective when you have not been exposed to all sides? How do you describe something and how ‘it’ is when you see it from your own background? You need to give people the possibility to be informed without intention. You must learn by doing. We see it from a certain angle, it may be the truth, but it is not the whole truth.’
Other Cool Quotes from the Conference
‘This is what moves you. These are the things that define us.’
’Ignorant ones… so that you stay ignorant, we will school you.’
’I found my file and I felt like a bug pinned to a natural history collection to study from all sides.’
‘Structures and objects are only brought to life by what people make out of them.’
News speak is the language of the party. People are supposed to love their country.
Double think is when someone holds two opinions that are very controversial yet they are both believed. People can’t bear the burden of freedom (good/evil). People need limits and borders. This was the bondage out of love they had tried to create. The state was like a father who would punish unruly children.
Under Soviet Rule, East Germany had a planned economy.
Taboos were bananas on tables shown on TV.
Enemy concepts- they just deported the people who opposed them rather then try to keep them in there.
They began to rename normal crimes or things that were not crimes, as crimes against the state. A social behavior could be a crime.
The book 1984 by George Orwell was forbidden for inflammatory writing directed against the government.
Shut out of… Shut in this country. (Book: Wonderful Years)
One person’s diary can change the world. It can bring forth ideas to influence an entire generation.
Everything, war, conflict, etc. start with a small group of people speaking their voice. Hitler was speaking his voice and he began WWII. We must let these groups have their freedom, but not let it get out of hand. - Peter Rodriques
Lithuania - Soviet War Crimes
One doesn't have to look long to recognize the horror. This mass grave lies about 20 minutes down the road from where I live in Vilnius. Along side a calm river bank it stood in silent secrecy for many years. One only had to be a good Lithuanian citizen for this fate during the Soviet occupational years. These people deserve to be remembered as a symbol of freedom in all our hearts.
Deportation to Siberia
Taken from the book, Siberia: Mass Deportations from Lithuania to the USSR
Authors - Dalia Kuodytė and Rokas Tracevskis
The book Siberia brings to you, a heart wrenching photographic journey of a Lithuanian tragedy. As you flip through the pages, you will begin to get a glimpse into what a deportees life was really like. This book was made possible by research conducted through the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania. The following article is a summary taken out of this book.
This string of tragedies began in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin concluded a cynical agreement that divided up Central Europe between the two totalitarian countries. According to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Lithuania was to fall into the Soviet zone of influence.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944.
Pre-war Lithuania’s position of neutrality on the eve of WWII did not protect the country from its sad fate. According to Lithuanian state institutions, the damage caused by the USSR‘s occupation to the Republic of Lithuania in financial terms is $278 billion. During Nazi and Soviet occupations, including 200,000 Holocaust victims, the losses of the population of Lithuania amounted to 33 percent of the total number of the country's population in 1940. Lithuania lost 1 million people to deportations, executions, incarceration, the murder of the political opposition and forced emigration.
Siberia was the major destination of Lithuanian prisoners. Altogether, some 600,000 prisoners were taken from the Soviet occupied Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There were some 10 million inhabitants in all three Baltic states on the eve of the Soviet occupation. Proportionately, the number of Baltic prisoners would be equal to a loss of 20 million in the United States or 5 million in Great Britain.
During Soviet occupation, the nation sustained heavy losses. Every third Lithuanian became a victim of Soviet terror. During 1940-1953, some 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to remote areas of the USSR: Siberia, the Arctic Circle zone and Central Asia. They were not allowed to leave remote villages. More than 70 percent of the deportees were women and children. There were 50,000 women and 39,000 children deported to remote areas of the USSR. Some 30,000 of the deportees died there mostly because of slave work and starvation. Some 50,000 of the deportees were not able to return to Lithuania. During the same period, another 200,000 people were thrown into prisons. Some 150,000 of them were sent to the Gulags, the USSR‘s concentration camps, situated mostly in Siberia.
There were several big waves of mass deportations to Siberia. There were some differences between them. In 1940-1941, the Soviet’s task was decapitation of the Lithuanian nation by annihilating its cultural and political elite. Arrests and deportations, executed by the Soviets and local collaborators, started soon after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union on June 15, 1940 and even before official incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR on August 3, 1940.
On July 6, 1940, Antanas Sniečkus, secretary of the tiny Lithuanian Communist Party and director of the State Security Department, issued an order to arrest anyone who would campaign against the election of the Soviet-organized and shamefully named People’s Seimas, which was a farce. This was held to justify the approaching annexation of Lithuania. After issuing the order, the first mass arrests began and by August, 1940 and the Soviets and their local communist collaborators had arrested more than 1,300 Lithuanian citizens. Many of the arrested were statesmen, politicians and other public figures. On July 17, Prime Minister Antanas Merkys and Foreign Minister Juozas Urbšys were arrested and sent to the Soviet Union.
In October and November, 1940, the Soviets ordered to draw up lists of “anti-Soviet elements”. This term included a wide spectrum of people: 1. Members of non-communist parties, including heretical communists; 2. Members of patriotic and religious organizations; 3. Former police and prison officials; 4. Former officers of tsarist and other armies; 5. Former officers of the Lithuanian and Polish armies; 6. Former volunteers who had joined anti-Soviet armies in 1918-1919; 7. Citizens of foreign states, representatives and employees of foreign firms, and employees of foreign embassies. 8. Those who corresponded with foreign countries or consulates of foreign countries as well as philatelists and those who know the Esperanto language; 9. Former high level officials; 10. Red Cross employees and émigrés from Poland; 11. Clergymen of all religions; 12. Bankers, members of aristocratic families and rich farmers.
The total number of persons registered as “anti-Soviet elements” reached 320,000 entries. There were teachers and professors, school and college students, farmers, industry workers and craftsmen among them.
June 14-18, 1941 were the dark days of the first massive arrest and deportation of the Lithuanian population. A cargo of 16,246 people were crammed into cattle cars. Moscow’s instruction required separate men from their families. So, 3,915 men were separated and transported to concentration camps in the Krasnoyarsk territory while 12,331 women, children and elderly people were transported to the Altai Mountains territory, the Komi republic and to the Tomsk region.
Forty percent these deportees were children below 16 years old. More than half of the deported died quickly. Pregnant women and babies born in the cattle cars were the first victims – they died in the trains. The deportation process was interrupted by the German-Soviet war.
The Soviets resumed mass deportations to Siberia and other eastern regions of the USSR after recapturing Lithuania from Nazi Germany in 1944. The partisan anti-Soviet war for democratic and independent Lithuania began in 1944. Some 22,000 Lithuanian partisans lost their lives in unequal war against the Soviet regular army and NKVD units. From 1949 the armed resistance started to wane. This guerilla war continued until 1953. The last resistance fighter refused to surrender and shot himself in 1965.
Partisans, their supporters and non-armed opposition made up a big group among those who were deported in 1945 – 1947. Another big group of deportees was those who tried to escape service in the Red Army. Ethnic Germans and members of their families, who did not leave Lithuania, were deported as well.
The situation changed in 1948. The most extensive deportation from Lithuania was held on May 22 and 23, 1948. Over these two days 12,100 families, numbering over 41,000 people, were seized from their homes and exiled. In 1948, 50 percent of deportees were accused not of their relations with the armed guerillas. Their official guilt was their social class – they were owners of private farms. In 1949, already two-thirds of the deportees belonged to this category while in 1951 they absolutely dominated the Soviet secret police‘s statistics.
Such change was due to the collectivization campaign in the Lithuania’s countryside. In 1948, the Soviets started to implement mass collectivization, appropriating land and livestock. This resulted in establishment of kolkhozes. In 1950, some 90 percent of land was given to kolkhozes. Mass deportations continued until the death of Josef Stalin in 1953.
How did the typical deportation look? The NKVD broke into an apartment or house and arrested all the family members. The NKVD marched them onto the back of a truck. In the railway station as far as the eye could see there were men and women clutching suitcases and bundles of hastily gathered clothing, the elderly and the disabled searching for places to sit and mothers holding their children, all surrounded by Red Army soldiers brandishing weapons.
Usually, the men were put on separate trains. They usually were transported to prisons and the Gulags (concentration camps) while females, kids and the elderly were deported to live in God-forsaken settlements in Siberia.
In the cattle cars the passengers were given hardly any food except a little water and some inedible soup. There was scarcely any air to breathe as everyone was jammed together and the cars had only a few small windows covered with bars. A hole in the floor served as a toilet. Some of the people, especially the infants became sick immediately and died. The bodies of those who died on the journey were left on the side of the tracks.
After one month the train reached some Siberian center. The Soviets immediately put their prisoners to work. They forced women and teenage girls to march into the forest to cut trees. They worked in deep snow, even as temperatures plunged to minus 45 degrees Celsius. Prisoners cut up trees and later lived in huts made from those tree branches. Sometimes it was so cold they awoke frozen to the ground.
Some deportees collapsed while the guards pushed the others along to another day of work. The collapsed prisoners were then left for dead somewhere behind in the wilderness. In exchange for their efforts, prisoners received a small amount of hard bread. They were working for food. A full day of hard work was equal to 500 grams of bread. Physically weaker prisoners could only earn 100 grams of bread.
Working prisoners shared their meager rations with those who could not work – the little children, the old and the infirm. Much of the time people had virtually nothing to eat and everyone suffered from constant hunger. Their bodies were swollen and covered with boils caused by malnutrition. Their skin was inflamed by mosquito bites.
The youngest children were affected the most by the harsh conditions and almost all of them were sick. Many of them died from starvation and disease. The elderly followed the children. Those who remained could only struggle to dig graves in the frozen earth. Gradually, the survivors tried to adjust to life in Siberia. Deportees were permitted to use a patch of ground on which to grow potatoes.
In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided that deportees should be released. In late 1950s, the survivors started to return to Lithuania.
There is an old and cynical saying that one death is a tragedy, but a thousand are just a front-page headline. Well, of course, deaths of thousands of deportees began to make headlines only in late the 1980s. Let’s look to personal tragedies.
The survivors of the Gulags and deportations can speak openly now. Former deportee Janė Meškauskaitė says that she and her family was kidnapped by the NKVD one night because her father was member of the ruling Tautininkų Party in the pre-war Lithuania. Her family was put on a train and dropped off at a remote village in the Tomsk region many days later.
They were among the more fortunate deportees, as Russian farmers from Kazakhstan who were exiled in the early 1930s for being to wealthy inhabited the village. They understood her family‘s plight and welcomed them into society. Nevertheless, food was scarce.
“My father once bought some meat from a local crook. He and a friend hid in the woods to cook and eat it so that thugs wouldn’t steal it. They found out later that they were eating a friend of theirs who had just died,” said Meškauskaitė.
Bread was also strictly rationed. “People in our village were allotted 300 grams of flour a day. One time the flourmill broke down so we were simply given whole grains. People were so hungry that they would just eat them uncooked. Of course, most had bad teeth and couldn’t chew them so they would end up undigested in the latrines. Many people would go and collect them, wash them, and make porridge,” she said.
Life in Stalin-era labor camps was a dehumanizing experience. The diet allocated to prisoners was less than that required for survival. “As inmates we were chained in pairs. Once my partner and I thought a wolf was attacking us. It turned out to be a guard dog that had broken loose from its chain. We killed it with our axes and buried it in the snow. We returned many times to cook and eat it. Those were some of the best meals of my life,” he said.
Life was not easy for those who survived and returned to Lithuania. Meškauskaitė returned to Lithuania in 1958. “We were placed in an impossible situation. The government required us to register with the local municipality or face renewed deportation. In order to register, we needed an employer, but no one would have courage to give a work to former deportee. I lived and worked illegally for many years with the help of relatives,” she said.
Now former political prisoners, deportees and partisans receive an additional pension, which Lithuanian state finances can manage. Russia, which officially proclaimed inheritance of all international rights and obligations of the USSR, shows no will to pay compensation to them. The Russian state has never said a word asking for forgiveness for the Soviet terror in the occupied Baltic states. However, it was done by Russian dissidents.
Virtually no one has been called to account for what was done. The West has chosen to forget these horrors. Nothing of these horrors is taught in their schools. There is no grand museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to those whose lives were destroyed by the communists.
No Communist Party bosses in Russia have ever been made to pay for their transgressions. Not one labor camp commandant has been forced to answer for his inhumanity. There is no talk of reparations. The Kremlin objects whenever anyone raises questions about the injustice of the past.
The great crimes of Soviet communism are mostly just remembered in the hearts and souls of the victims.
Lithuanians are considering the Soviet terror corresponded to genocide. Most of those deported were doomed - a third of them to a speedy death and the rest to a life of misery in Siberia. One only had to be an honest Lithuanian citizen to face deportation. A lot of work still needs to be done, in order to clarify world opinion.
INTERVIEW WITH DALIA KUODYTE
In 1994, Lithuanian investigators discovered KGB files documenting the killing of 766 people by the Soviets in Vilnius’s KGB headquarters at Gediminio Avenue in the city centre. The victims were buried in secret at Tuskulenai Manor, a small park with old trees on the right-hand bank of the Neris River. Until 1994, nobody other than the KGB knew that the centre of Vilnius was a place where victims of mass killings lay under the soil. Hundreds of skeletons of anti-Soviet partisans, priests and politicians of independent Lithuania placed in trenches were found during excavations that started in 1994. All these people were executed by NKVD, the former name of the notorious KGB.
A state commission for the commemoration of the Tuskulenai victims was created after the awesome discovery. One of the members was Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Centre of Genocide and Resistance (LGGRTC) and editor of the journal Genocide and Resistance. Ms Kuodyte, in 1991, became a member of a working group that was founded to document the KGB‘s actions in Lithuania. From 1997 to the present, Dalia Kuodyte has been the general director of the LGGRTC and all its components. There are five members within the commission.
We met Dalia Kuodyte to talk about her experiences and the things she has learned since she became active in her search for the KGB encroachments in Lithuania. We began by asking her how severe the total suffrage, for Lithuania and its people, in reality was.
“Lithuania suffered from Soviet and Nazi occupations as did other countries,” Kuodyte explains. “It lost one-third of its inhabitants due to killings, deportations and forced emigration. The occupation and annexation of Lithuania, and the repression and deportation of more than 300,000 Lithuanians to Siberia, gave rise to a resistance movement with the ultimate goal of independence. Guerrilla warfare involving some 50,000 freedom fighters took place from 1944 to 1953."
Who were those people who were found in the Tuskulenai mass graves?
“The Tuskulenai story is strongly tied with the Lithuanian partisans’ war against the Soviets, as mostly partisans are buried there. Leaders of the partisan units were officers of the Lithuanian army, and the partisans wore Lithuanian army uniforms. Usually they knew each other only by pseudonyms, because of the fear of infiltrators. Big cities were controlled by Soviets, but forests belonged to the partisans. Some 20,000 fighters were killed in battles with the Soviet regular army and NKVD units. Small groups continued this fight up until 1956. The last partisans came out of their hideouts in the late 1980s. What is interesting about Tuskulenai graves is that a past KGB officer came forward and told about this place to our former Director of National Security. We don’t know this officers name, but after he came forward we learned that this was here. The graves are from the years 1945-1946; all of these people had been killed in the KGB house. There are a few more KGB burial sites scattered around Vilnius from the 1950’s, but none of them have been revealed yet. There were an estimated 1,200-1,300 people killed around Vilnius in the 1950’s. The majority of the killings stopped around 1965 when the last of the partisan’s war was dieing out. People that were brought to trial during the Soviet times didn’t get a real trial; they had no possibility to defend themselves.”
Didn‘t the partisans realise that their guerrilla war was hopeless against the Soviet super power?
“Resistance to the Soviets was sustained by the hope of aid from the United States and other Western democratic countries, and elderly people still remember how they waited for the landing of American troops on the 1st and 15th of each month. But we are not Kuwait. There are carrots in our soil, not oil. Who would come to fight for carrots? To the partisans it was not as important to keep themselves, as it was to keep the idea. When you are sitting in underground bunkers, thinking about your life, it is the idea that keeps you going. We can tell this from their letters. Some of the fighters believe that maybe someone would come and help, but the leaders knew what was going on. No one was coming. There were hopes about a third World War in 1944 to 1945, but nothing ever came through. There were two reasons people didn’t go home. The first is that they knew their homeland as an independent and free state. They wouldn’t rest until they saw it any other way. This idea was more important then anything else. The second is that they knew in any case they would die. If they came back to their villages, to the KGB, they would die. Originally new recruits came all the time into the forest, all the way up until 1949. They were nicknamed the ‘Forest Brothers.’ After 1949, the leaders refused to admit new members. Lithuania and the Ukraine had the largest scale guerrilla war in Europe taking place. There are no estimates as to the number of people who were killed in this guerrilla fighting in the Ukraine, it is estimated that 20,000 Lithuanian citizens died. About 4% of the Lithuanian population took part in one means or another in this was.”
What can you say about whether collaborators in general have been punished for Soviet genocide?
“There are 6 or 7 cases talking place now regarding Lithuanians who collaborated with the Soviets. They are too old though to sit in jails. It is said they are guilty, but they can stay at home because they are too old. But… they are guilty and that is very important to understand. The most important thing is to say the truth, not to shoot or imprison these old, OLD people. They have admitted in some cases to what they did. They worked within the system though, and that was very natural. The mentality then in Lithuania and within the Soviet system takes inherently different forms.”
Have you met and spoken with any of these people?
“I have met several of them in 1992-1993, when I worked for a historical journal. I tried to get information about the partisans from them. Some of them were prior partisans whom had been captured and made to serve as secret agents. During this time they talked more to the KBG because there was no threat of trial. It was very interesting to speak with them, horrible, but interesting. Some thought they could help their friends to come out of the forest and stay alive, but it was just an illusion.”
In 1998 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the Communist ideology and its consequences for Lithuania. The parliament was of the opinion that former Communists are morally and politically responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the name of Communism. Still, several former members of the Communist party have been elected to parliament as representatives of other parties. What are your comments to this fact?
“Like I said, our collective memory of Soviet times is very interesting. Yes, of course we are talking of crimes of the Communist Party against Lithuania but we are talking about members of the Communist Party, not criminals. Not every member of the Party was responsible for these crimes. This is even a bad question when I have to answer it in Lithuanian, but in English it sounds ten times worse. In Lithuania, our Communist past is very problematic still today. It takes twenty to thirty years to come to the idea to establish such a centre and institution that citizens can investigate and discuss their past.”
You are also the head of the newly established ’Lustration (Peace and Reconciliation) Commission,’ which is investigating links between KBG and Lithuanians. How many cases have you investigated so far, and how many individual KGB-collaborators have you discovered?
“Currently we have sixty working cases and in thirty of these cases we said that the person was a secret agent for the KGB. Twenty of these people said that they wanted to go to trial to dispute and deny our decisions. Only in one case trial did they say our decision was incorrect, all of the others proved valid. People with the Department of National Security are working as investigators for our commission. Many of the cases have been found in the KGB archives, this is our main resource. There are as many as 500,000 Lithuanian cases being investigated. We must work with pieces of information from the archives, but many documents were taken to Moscow never to be seen again. The Russians are keeping their secrets.”
The Vilnius County Court ruled in 2003 that there is no convincing evidence that Kazimiera Prunskiene, Lithuania's prime minister from 1990-91, collaborated with the KGB. The court thus overturned a 1992 court ruling that affirmed that Prunskiene had worked for the KGB under the code name "Satrija." Your comments on this case?
“Now all of my comments are too late and this is a bit political. I know this material and for me the real decision rests in the 1992 court ruling.”
It is rumoured that many documents have gone missing. What are your comments on that?
“Since the trial in 1992, one document has gone missing, yes. But without it there is still enough evidence of collaboration found within the other documents to prove our case. In 2003, the 1992 ruling was overturned by a lower court.”
Have you even heard of before, a lower court ruling overturning one of a higher court anywhere else in the world?
“It was pretty complicated and they ruled that in civil cases this was possible with new developments and a new trial. I know that she was a KGB agent that is clear to anyone. What is unclear is at what level she was operating. Maybe she was just passing along scientific information from which she has gathered during her travels to universities in Germany. We don’t know if her work really did any harm.”
Last year you were in the newspaper almost everyday, why?
“Only about this commission, because it’s interesting to people. This is our past and as new cases come forward, more information will become available. We are now living in the European Union though and for many of our children this is not interesting. I think it is important to talk about the past.”
Do you have any support from the government or other authorities?
“No, everyone can think that the next case may be about a friend or fellow party member. This commission is not comfortable for many politicians and people. In one month a new law will be passed that gives people the opportunity to come forward and tell the truth about themselves. They can say to what extent they were involved in any of this, as a secret agent and such, in return for amnesty. Those who do not come forward will in time be prosecuted and information about them will be publicized. We are continuing to form new cases. This job is very hard; no one enjoys destroying people’s lives, careers and reputations. These people have children who maybe didn’t know about what their parents did. We don’t want to ruin people, we just want the truth. Many of these people are not guilty of killing people; they just passed information along to try to save themselves. You will continue to hear new names, but I don’t think it is important if these famous public figures. Again I say, what is important is to tell the truth not to punish people. People need to be able to put this past behind them.”
Can you tell me more about what has been left out of the history books?
“Little by little we are trying to talk more about our history. In our history books, during Soviet times, the partisans were called terrorists and bandits. It was all Russian propaganda. Many citizens, who were returning political prisoners, didn’t tell their children of any of this under threat. If they did it would mean that all of the family was an enemy of the system.“
What about the mentality within the Soviet Union during those times?
“The mentality of Soviet times is important to understand. The past mentality that is within us seeps down from parents to children. We came to the European Union and want to be understood, but we must talk about it and first understand ourselves. Mistrust is part of it and paranoia; this is all from Soviet times. It is convenient to try to hide all of this, why must we show all the damages within our soul? People think they can smile like in the Soviet times and it will all go away, smiles don’t make it anymore elegant.”
You have written so many moving books on subjects of this matter. Lietuvos Partizanai:1944-1953, was the first of its kind. What are your future writing plans?
“Currently I am working on the scripts of school children about their grandparents who were in Siberia. They are finding their past history through families and writing their feelings about it. I will title it something to do with Hope.”
“There are various ways of resistance:
To survive when you are supposed to die.
To remember when you have to forget.
To think when you must not think.
To notice when you are made to ignore.
To strive to know when you are ordered not to know anything.”
The book, The Psychology of Extreme Traumatisation, takes a scientific look into the psychological aspects of life in Siberia. It is a composition of varying articles about the effects surrounding this issue. Many survivors of Siberia had faith in the liberation of Lithuania and in their moral superiority; this helped them to survive in prison and in exile.
During 2000 to 2003, a study began in Lithuania about the psychological effects of Soviet and Nazi repression. The study was completed in part with the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania and the Department of Clinical and Organizational Psychology at Vilnius University.
Dalia Kuodytė, historian and director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, wrote a report called, ‘Traumatizing History.’ This report describes the historical trauma of the mid 20th century and the transformations within society.
Almost every family has a story and the effects of political repression depend on the duration, degree and extent. Traces are still, today, found inside the people of Lithuania and the collective memory. These traces express themselves on the level of the family and the cultural subconscious. They are past down, unknown, from generation to generation.
Many of the deportees were prior members of the resistance. They took the best and brightest, the civil servants, army officers, leaders of public organizations, members of political parties, teachers from universities and Gymnasia, along with government workers. The victims were the most educated, ambitious, talented and motivated members of society. Many of these people were taken to remote hard labour camps within Siberia. These camps destroyed peoples personalities and lives. Surviving this, people searched for logic where there was none to be found.
Most of these people, never returned to Lithuania, but a few of them did. The ones who did return faced persecution almost everywhere they turned. They were discriminated against in jobs, access to higher education, health care and by their neighbours. Often survivors married people in similar situations, for stability within the home.
Unfortunately, these peoples suffering was often not recognized and reintegration issues were never addressed. Times were tough coping with hardships and help came mainly from the family, close friends, other relatives and the belief in god. Hope, inner spiritual strength and chance, is what kept their spirits alive.
Today many people live normal lives with children and happy families. There is a very low divorce rate amongst survivors and many have found strength within. People are resilient and have amazing coping skills. The ability to give meaning to experiences and see positive aspects of their suffering are things that were useful to them later in life. Trauma brings out a realization of ones internal resources, self knowledge, wisdom and a better understanding of reality. Siberia was the ultimate ‘university of life.’ Sometimes these hardships can shake the core of ones personality and lead to a questioning and re-evaluation of the meaning of the world around them. People came out with a greater feeling of ones self-worth. The survivors used this to create a viable future and bring a positive ending to all these years of pain.
"I dream about a war. The conquerors made everyone go to a bare field, shot some of the people and let the others live. There’s a pogram again. We are driven to the field and I am afraid I will be shot. We lie down on the ground. I am with some woman, though I cant see her face and I don’t know who she is. Then I suddenly get the feeling of relief and I realize I am no longer afraid of dying, and that depends on the Almighty. If they shoot me, it will only last a short moment, and I can stand such pain. I start praying and tell the woman that I am not afraid and that I am praying for her too.” A dream from a child with family members who were victims.
“I felt a strange feeling when the Chekist shouted, ‘Number seventeen.’ Am I a number seventeen? I came to my senses only a few minutes later, the blood went to my face, I even felt my heart beating faster. Number seventeen from carriage nineteen – this is what I am… For the first time I felt that I was a thing… I stood before them, pale in the face and felt the terrible hatred and protest of a slave… I turned my head and saw my mother… A look of pain… We understood each other and both felt nervous; we didn’t broach the subject again.” Quote from a survivor.
TABLE OF DEPARTURES
The first departures occurred from June 14th -18th 1941.
Year Number of People
Total 126817 - deported to remote areas of the USSR
Taken from the SSSR Ministry of the Interior
Museum of Genocide Victims
The Museum of Genocide Victims: Grand opening of the KGB and Lithuanians in Exile Exhibition
A new exhibition in set to open at The Museum of Genocide Victims in late 2005, exposing KGB operations and the lives of Lithuanians in exile. Here, portraits and in-depth descriptions bring to light what it was like during hard times, when Lithuania was faced with massive deportations. There is a personal look into how families still managed to hold onto their traditions and culture, far from their true homes. A special section is devoted to children in exile, and still another shows what it was like for these people returning home.
Walk into the room, which the KGB used for listening to tapped phone conversations. Preserved in all its original décor, it gives visitors the chance to get a better understanding of what the true atmosphere was like. Below you runs a thick tangles of wires, exposed through the floor boards by a small pane of glass.
In another room on display, there are over 1000 different types of stamps. Across from them lie examples of spy equipment, listening insertion devices and other equipment here that the uses for still today remains unknown. Name after name, can be read off of an old hotel logbook, with many names that were never logged out. Down below there are several letters marked in red, used for training. Only a small example of the thousands of personal letters found written by the prisoners.
During the time the KGB was headquartered here, they had their own small museum of glory. It was nicknamed the ‘Room of the Glory of Chekists,’ and was meant to foster pride within young KGB workers. Some of its original exhibition pieces are also on display.
Interview with the KGB Museum Director
An Interview with Eugenijus Peikštenis
The Museum of Genocide Victims was established in October 1992. This unique building was once headquarters to the Soviet occupational authority of Lithuania. It was this place where mass repression on the Lithuanian people was planned and coordinated. It is the only KGB prison-museum of its type within the Baltic states. There are over 100,000 exhibitions on display, of which a large proportion were found on the premises.
Today I visited Mr. Eugenijus Peikštenis, who has worked as director since 1997. I began the interview, by discussing how the museum had acquired so many interesting pieces of KGB history to display.
“Before they left, they tried to destroy many of the documents. They cut out names in some, and then shredded or burned the top secret ones. But even with all of this, they could not destroy it all. When they left, they still left a lot. It is thanks to the citizens of Lithuania that we have here, what is seen today. People poured into the streets and began a blockage of the building, as the remaining Russians fled in the early 1990’s. Without this, the information we have here would’ve been lost. The citizens of Lithuania prevented them from taking most of the stuff.”
Most detainees were kept in the KGB prison only while they were awaiting interrogation and trial. How many people were usually held here?
“This was never an official jail, but some people were held here for up to a year. It was originally meant to hold 300 people, but then it was raised to 500 people during the partisan movement. This was just a holding area before trial. Some people were just brought for questioning and then released, but many others died here. After 1954, there was a passive resistance taking place and many ordinary people were brought here for questioning. Between 1940 and 1958 over 200,000 people were imprisoned. And they did have the death penalty; many people were shot in a room down below us just after their sentencing. Trials resembled nothing of the trials in Lithuania today.”
After sentencing, what was the average prisoners fate if they were sent to Siberia?
“After sentencing, people could be sent to two different places, prisons or hard labor compounds for working. Many woman and children were exiled to remote camps to live out the rest of their lives under duress and in suffering. If they tried to escape from the these remote camps, they were then sent to prisons or working compounds where the suffering was even greater. Sometimes, people were just moved within Lithuania and not allowed to go home; not everyone was taken to the USSR. For example, people from areas with no lakes were sent to ocean cities and told to become fisherman. They did things to break people down and disrupt their lives.”
What other things have you found during restorations, within this building?
“This was the headquarters of the KGB in Lithuania, there were four other regional offices. While renovating the first floor we found documents from the 1920’s and 1930’s. There were five rooms used for interrogation and torture, but so far we have only found two. The others are hidden somewhere within this building, most likely they were bricked up in a hurry as they did last minute ‘renovations’ before they left. There is also a listening room, that can not be found.” “Another interesting fact is that this place was one of the only prisons with a view. In many of the cells there were windows and curtains. Prisoners were not allowed to touch the curtains and there were guards on both the inside and out. If they disobeyed this, they would be put into the solitary confinement room. Across the street was the Conservatory of Music and parades passed by all of the time. It was a strange place for a prison. There was also a photography school at the rear of the building and people sometimes snapped pictures of the guards. The students often called this place the faculty of beating.”
Note - Pay close attention to the hole in the back of the wall in the bottom picture.
The Genocide Centre
Their mission includes the following:
• To ascertain the historical truth through research of the occupations from 1939 to 1990.
• To record Lithuania’s people’s physical and spiritual genocide accounts and their struggle to fight oppression.
• To memorialize the victims.
• To establish reparations for all victims of the different occupations.
• To research and record resistance against the aggressors between 1920 and 1939 in the Vilnius area.
The idea of this, is a museum around the site. It will be the first museum of its kind.
We want to show emotion On November 1st – 2nd there will be a vigil at this park in memory. They were old at this time and they died. No one ever faced trial.
Over the next three years they are working to open the burial site.
The burial site will highlight what the Soviet Union was trying/managed to achieve and do in Lithuania. It will look at the good and bad things implemented (art, theater, literature). The site will be open for two days on All Souls Day, on Nov 1st. It will not permanently open for another 2-3 years. 26 people are employed here.
- To disclose crimes of the Soviet occupational regime in Lithuania.
- To immortalize victims of the Soviet genocide and freedom fighters.
One of the last prisoners was Nijole Sadūnaitė. Nijole was caught by the KGB in 1987 for anti-soviet activities; she was investigated and subsequently released.
“Overwhelming poverty! Not a ray of hope for a more beautiful life. The only entertainment is drinking samogon, often followed by a drunken brawl. The village is completely overtaken by samogon. It is brewed and drunk by everyone, even children. Drowned in a sea of blood, tears and black despair, the nation seems to have found its only solace and temporary comfort in samogon. How many idiots, criminals degenerates, embezzlers, prostitutes, and morons will these goddamned years bring to Lithuania? Some say the years of Bolshevik occupation and fighting will make the nation stronger. What remains will be steel, they say. Perhaps some will remain, strong as steel, melted and tempered in this struggle. But there will be few of them.” Anonymous Quote
The Tuskulenai Site: Interview with Dr. Rimantas Jankauskas
Today Dr. Rimantas Jankauskas shares with us his expertise and experiences excavating the Tuskulenai site. Forensic anthropology in Lithuania began in the early sixties, with experience gained from earlier exhumations of the mass graves of Holocaust victims and the examination of a series of historical people. Dr. Jankauskas has played a leading role in these developments. He has also participated in various national and international congresses and meetings with contributions on paleopathology and physical anthropology. He is a member of the Council of the European Anthropological Association and holds esteemed positions on many other boards.
During 1994 and 1995, 706 skeletons were exhumed at the Tuskulenai site by archaeologists and anthropologists and 18 more skeletons were found in 2003. How did you first get involved in this case and what were experts’ initial objectives?
“The Decree of the President of the Republic No 216 from 25.01.1994 was issued and according to it the working group consisting of archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic medicine professionals was formed. The initial goal was to exhume and identify two prominent persons of Catholic Church and anti-Soviet resistance. In June 1994, exhumation and identification work was started. The Secret Service didn’t tell us much. They would give us small doses of information and we promised not to disclose anything to the public or their sources might be compromised. If information was given, people might be able to identify each other. The working group was aided by the soldiers of regular army. During the field seasons of 1994 and 1995, 706 skeletons were exhumed by archaeologists and anthropologists. During memorial construction works in summer of 2003, additionally 18 more skeletons were exhumed. The details of executions and the locations of burial sites were a secret under the Soviet regime. In the year 1994 evidence about these facts became available for the officials of the Republic of Lithuania. The KGB actually had a house-book of executes and a protocol of execution. The books contained evidence of where the people were buried, which was later also helpful in identification. The executions began during the summer of 1944 and lasted until the spring of 1947. In 1947, Stalin abandoned the death penalty, in order to appear more humane, and replaced it with a 25-year sentence in Gulag. People rarely survived that sentencing either.”
What did the site look like when you first arrived?
“When we first arrived, it looked like nothing but an abandoned park sparsely filled with trees. We could see a villa further in the distance. This was a very enclosed and secret area, thought to be used for recreating purposes by the local public. When soldiers began to clean the area they discovered some disturbed pavement. We soon learned that it was a former garage. As we continued to dig further, we found bodies.”
How did you begin with the identification process?
“Our first task was to begin identifying the age, sex and stature of the victims; this was information that was also kept in the KGB files. We cross-checked data found to help in the identification process. There were individual files with photographs and dates of execution. There were also secret files kept with locations, followed up with three signatures. There were 720 males and 4 females, their age ranged from 19 to 66 years.”
How did the burials and executions take place?
“Victims were buried at night. This is how it basically happened; first you would be sentenced to death by trial. Sometime after you would be told that they were going to now take you to a commission to review your files. You would be taken into a separate, dark, room with people who were supposed to be reviewing your files. They would say, please wait in there while we discuss this and we will call you out in a moment. You were then pushed into a very bright room and shot in the back of the head. Some people never knew it was coming; other people we saw had fought against it and had been shot while lying on the floor. The goal was for people not to be prepared and they weren’t. The executions were always preformed in the same manner. After the people were shot, they were often stabbed in the head with a metal rod to make sure they were not faking death; this was also practiced all over Siberia. The execution room was called, the kitchen.”
How often were the executions held and how did they get away with this in the centre of the city in secrecy?
“They would dig one pit per night in two to three week intervals. There were from 12 to 40 people buried in each pit and the pits were up to 4 meters deep in bodies. They would put down wooden supports between layers and then some type of insulation paper. The reason they choose this spot is because it was in a protected area. We can see in files that they were discussing purchasing remote farmland, but the threat of partisans was too great and they didn’t. They had a garage because in the winter the ground was too frozen to dig in. As they dropped the bodies in they used to joke, ‘now they are dropped out of contingent.’ In the summer they would bury the bodies outside in the park.”
What happened with the bodies that were identified?
The bodies that were identified have been returned to the relatives. There were only 45 identified in total.
Dr. Rimantas Jankauskas is currently an Associate Professor with the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Anthropology in the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University. He gives lectures on anatomy, histology and human biology for medical students, as well as osteology and physical anthropology for archaeologists.
Notation - In the 1940’s, Russian troops came to arrest the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Only the Lithuanian president was able to escape, the other two were captured by the soviets. The president of Latvia died in exile, somewhere in Central Asia in an unknown grave. The president of Estonia was sent to a Central Russian Mental Hospital, where he died under Soviet care. The area was excavated and his grave was eventually discovered.
Lithuania was the first of the Soviet Republics to declare independence (March 11th, 1990), which Moscow didn't recognize until September of 1991. Since then, Lithuania has began the journey down the long road of a major restructuring program. There are still a lot of changes to be made and I am happy to have been here so that I can understand all the growing pains that go along with it.
Memories from Vilnius
The Lithuanian Chronicles
Bits and Pieces of my thoughts and memories over the past 2 years from my journal
"Hello little girl sitting by the gate. I will pick you the very last flower. Don't be sad little girl by the gate. I will pick you the last flower, the very last flower." There he was, a bristly old man swinging on the bar of the trolleybus back and forth to the sways of the street. He sang out in Russian. It was a sad song. I looked up at him and the way I felt, he could have been singing to me. He was in tattered clothes and obviously drunk, and he had the face of a tough worn man who had seen more in his life then most of us will ever understand. I looked back down so as not to loose the feeling and listened to him sing. "Don't be sad little girl alone by the gate. I will get you that flower."
I am out of reach within the cage, but in full view to the predators. (In reference to being a foreigner inside the city, where as long as I do not speak English no one knows that you are a foreigner and therefore one is safe.) My protection is temporary for as soon as I speak, then I step outside the cage and everyone knows exactly what I am. (An American)
Down through the grey blanket of clouds sitting thick atop the city came a surreal pink hue casting games amongst the life of real men in the streets of Vilnius. (The problems with bribery and corruption)
Hide your hopes tightly, cling onto them. But put your fears out visible on the wind so that they might be swept away. (It is uncommon to smile at strangers, especially amongst the older generation, because as one lady commented to me, what is there to times to smile for? I stopped smiling.)
Yeslee neelzyah no ochen nochetza togdo mozhna . If it is forbidden but you really want it then it is permitted. - Russian saying
I sit on a plastic picnic bench chained to the wall inside a decrepit lime green colored building. I can't figure out how to work the old Soviet style elevator but the thuds and bumps suggest to me that I should not even bother to try. (‘New’ technology, that is to me)
"There was no need for a communication department in soviet times, orders were given in Moscow and dispersed down to the minor soviet capitals (conquered lands). They used to hold votes for a new legislation where farmers gathered and did nothing for several days. They just provided people with a bunch of papers that never got looked at again. It was a puppet show and then they left for another year to do nothing. I was in charge of the communication department when the soviet government collapsed during the time when all the tanks rushed the Vilnius tower and people were wounded and died." (From a conversation with a man at a conference on Corporate Social Responsibility in Lithuania.)
And I sit on the trolleybus. The smell of an alcoholic who drank too much cheap cologne (a common type of cheap 'false alcohol' used) spreads down the center of the bus and invades my seat space. The people who drink it smell of something like embalming fluid, it reminds me of the frogs way back in high school biology class. It stings the tip of ones nose and you can taste it in the back of your mouth. It is the most awful smell I have ever smelled, I gag and have to get off the bus. If you are not careful, and you don't get off quick enough, then the smell clings to your clothes for the rest of the day. (People are advocating that they stop selling it or make it taste bad so that it will stop being used as a cheap form of alcohol for the homeless.)
I always wanted to be a child with the knowledge I know now. And here in this strange place it seems I am. (I was a child in many ways to understanding Lithuania but at the same time I had ideas and knowledge that was rare, coming from my own and such a different upbringing.)
I guess we are all slaves to our culture. We follow our guidelines, what we were taught is right for a society. And this, right or wrong, we are all slaves to. Trying to live in a land where you need to reshape the way you think brings up many internal struggles and questions. As we come into contact with new ways of life, with new ways of doing things, and with new ideas - then our mindset begins to shift and we adjust to something in between. With this we understand more of the world around us and each other.
And the whole trolleybus line stopped. The power had cut off again in the city. One by one they all stacked up like little red dominos going down the road. The doors opened up and people fled out onto the streets. (Common congestion problems or when one came disconnected off a line / broke down.)
And it was rationed like bananas in the former Soviet Union. (Here I was taking about the scarcity of some things. For example, only the wealthy people got a banana - every now and then - sometimes people also ate the skin just because they did not know how to eat it. It’s still that way with many of the new western coming foods. They just don’t know how to eat it or what to do with it, so it does not sell very well. Programs need to be brought to television or to the stores to show people how to eat the food if marketers wish to sell it at a profit.)
Potatoes were the marshmallows of the Soviet Union campfires. (Taking about common childhood experiences around the camp fire.)
They clean the streets often with a bundle of sticks tied to a wooden pole. It looks like the wicked old witch of the west’s broom. The old man on my street tied a little more greenery to his today, I guess to brighten his life. He stands there and sweeps; I don't think it cleans much but the fact is that he continues to go through the motions. It's only the motions that are important, not the act or the purpose. It reminds me that sometimes we just have to go through the motions to get on with life.
"I find peace in the small things," a lady said to me. That is a great piece of advice.
Acid rain takes a toll on your hair and body after only a year. And to think, I used to wonder why everyone said you must peel all the skin off of any fruits and vegetables. It's just another one of the little things you begin to notice that mere tourists will never understand. In a year alone as a foreigner you see a lot. There is a lot more to a place then visiting it and until you live within it, alone as a foreigner, you can truly never understand. (It comes down to you even understanding the looks on peoples faces because your face turns the same way.)
If only I could breathe in words, and feelings merely scared my skin. If blissful memories were fresh each day, as though they just had been. And when I opened my eyes today, I could rehearse every word. And then I’d know just what to say, so that I might be heard. (letting go of the bad and not letting the things you hear affect you)
What of the people in the world who will never understand what it is like to think in another way, from another cultural standpoint? (cultural perspective thinking in the big picture, peace and war)
Sometimes I write down the bad things I see just to shred them up and force myself to forget. (understanding what you see and trying to forget)
I am walking down the street but I don't feel like it is really me walking. I keep walking, people pass me by. A man in a very old wrinkled suit carrying a cheap black nylon bag passes. Another woman goes by wearing two different suit sets where the top doesn't match the bottom. A spindly, scraggly old woman with a huge box in her arms teetering back and forth passes. A middle age woman walks by with a see-through shirt. I pass by a gypsy. Blue and yellow colored buses stream by my trolleybus stop lie broken caterpillars. They sink in the front and stick up in the middle like a hump-back whale. A few younger guys walk by looking tough and making sure I saw. This is Vilnius. (comments about average people passing on the street)
Like a bird with clipped wings hopping around on the ground dreaming of the sky. (getting out of a situation)
Music comes from a lighted apartment window down below. I can see the shadow of a sailing ship through the window. Fireworks go off in the tree line; I am sure at some VIP's estate in another providence, another world, another way of life then average people here. (income gaps in society)
Life is like a satellite. Little things bouncing off your sides, the ones with which you are surrounded with, hitting into you. You pick up the ones you feel are the most important and the others remain noise. It's like your life is at the point at the center of the dish. (what you choose to accept and see in your life)
The song skips but the track moves on. Life moves on too when you skip. (everything changes and despite it all life moves on)
I am alone now, staring down at the reflection of me on the river beneath the thick pine trees. Although I am just a mere image in the water, it represents the person whom I am. The ripples of the water attempt to pull me away from myself but I hold on. (how staring down in to the river reminded me of myself, changing within another culture)
I race towards the elevator and try to get in but there are already too many people on board for me to fit, so much for the occupancy restrictions. I run to the other corner and hop in another small elevator just in time. I am pressed up hard against several people. We begin to head down. I was leaving a lot behind up there but headed to a better place, out of this cramped elevator. (we never know where the doors that open are going to take us in life)
Under a pale light, lost deep within my thoughts are the sounds of Arizona. I miss my home. (everywhere I went I was still connected to where I felt most at home)
The night is gripped with an autumn chill that browns the trees and makes you grasp tightly your coat. I am alone in the eye of the city. (being foreign)
Scraps of paper glued together on a window, seeing through to the outside world. (a picture of another reality painted over the glass you are looking through but you begin to see through the glass at what is really going on)
I read something in a book the other day, which by chance was exactly what I was feeling. I couldn't have justified my feelings if not for have reading my own thoughts penned down by someone else's hands. (understanding yourself in another land)
On the trolley bus today a drunken man tried to kiss me on the cheek. His girlfriend violently punched him in the face. Guess I didn't have to do it for her. (many drunks harassed me and other woman, only I dared not open my mouth to let them know I was a foreigner)
And I repeat the words in my head like a mantra, like a holy chanting to ease the soul. (telling yourself something)
"So it hurts for you girl; it's the end of the world," sings the man on the side of the street. I was lost in thought, thinking of how when you concentrate more on signs, symbols, life around you, reading between the lines… when you slow down a bit and trust your senses, then that is when you can truly feel things at another level. When you do not speak the language and are all alone, this is just what you need to do. We loose it being in places where we here our native language all the time. Then we do not have to listen to our other senses. But when taken far away from everything we know, we can use that experience to explore senses we never knew we carried. Every day is Basic Training to me. (using your given senses)
It's too bad that I had to understand real life and fight monsters. (naïveties are sometimes a blessing in life)
Piles of dirty snow are now forming little mounds, which melt over and over again atop each other into hard lumps. Numbing cold that bites till pain burns my skin to the bone. Icicle thorns on the grass blades. A barren empty field peppered with pieces of life's wind blown trash. A half built monument of somebody else's stadium dream (the Soviet Union started). My hands can write no more. (recovery from communism and landscape)
Walking down the street all alone,
Full of holes in the path ahead of me,
Blood on my feet,
I hope that the path narrows,
And the stars light the shadows,
Lest my feet be worn smooth by the stone,
And the blood fades to scars,
And alas there is no pain anymore. (poem on a sad day)
The word T rip is on the wall. Like a torn trip. But rip holds all the meaning and reasons. (when a trip goes wrong)
He sings that he tried and tried and tries but never got it right. He sings of the painted sky. He sings, "you say it gets better but it never got right." (a man on the bus, reminded me of life coming out of communism)
I threw the message in the river but where will it flow. (where does life take you)
I didn't want to remember the words, only that the day did come. (wanted to remember, but not remember everything)
"I thought you were a Lithuanian with really good English," said the lady on the trolleybus beside me. (said while I was writing in my journal)
I wanted to tell the lady on the street today that I understood her. But I just don't know the words in Lithuanian, as in how to respond. (beginning to understand the language but not being able to respond back very well)
Burn Winter Down
(March 1st) I got out of the bus and began to walk up the side of the snow covered highway. Cars were rushing by and nothing could be seen for miles on end except for flat crop fields covered in snow, with sparsely scattered trees.
I looked in the direction to which the cars were heading. There was a long line of cars streaming off the highway onto a small side road. I made a mad dash across the highway, passing the police. No one stopped us or said a word... and then I began to walk, and walk... with nothing but cars passing slowly by and the biting cold stinging up through the feet deep into the bones.
I entered a large gate, passing children being dragged along on sleds with donut shaped bread strung around their necks. I began to pass houses, houses from over a hundred years back. I did nothing but follow a path and the flood of people leading the way.
I passed by a small church with brightly painted crosses surrounding its sides.
I entered the deep dark woods and came upon homes built high in the trees.
Then the woods opened up and I saw a view of what can only be described as 'folly'. A very, very old newly-wed couple with straw sticking out of their cloths really looking quite a mess, sat on a bench drinking mead (honey liquor). The woman (really a man) had a note on her back saying she had 'just come from America and was a millionaire all ready to be wed'. What were they trying to say by this?
I look around carefully, who were all these strangely dressed people celebrating in the cold? A man invited us to sit down and share some slices of cold white pig fat strips and have a cup of mead. I tasted and went, there was a whole day ahead of us an a village to explore.
I came upon games to prove our strength and I fought on stumps flinging bags towards one another trying to knock the other to the ground. I watched multi-person ski races, saw people being slung around a pole by a bar on a sled in a pond, men participated in log cutting events and held hammers trying to prove their strength.
I ate things that reminded me of something like pancakes, while fighting my way into line where ladies with red hair flailed their arms back and forth like witches.
As I rounded about on the end of the day, I came to an open field where people were chanting, 'winter, winter, go away'. I looked down the hill and saw masses of people gathered around a huge scarecrow like woman (maybe a witch?). There was the fat guy and the thin guy, one whom looked like the grim reaper and many more dancing about a fire that began to roar burning the woman to bits. Dark ash flowed up into the sky and spread down over the people. I ran up closer to the fire... 'winter, winter go away!' I screamed.
What I can tell you is that it is almost April and winter is still strongly here.
The Baltic States - Latvia, Lithuanian and Estonia
The Baltic States is a term, which usually refers to three countries to the East of the Baltic Sea: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. These three states are formed up of a myriad of different people with unique languages, customs and cultures. Despite their differences they are a group of people with a common past, who are located within a centrally geographically related place. The Baltic States are bordered by Poland, Russia, Belarus, and Finland.
At one time it was even thought that there were four Baltic States. Prior to World War II, Finland was considered as the fourth. Today though, Finland is generally accepted as being one of the Nordic countries.
Despite their common geographical ties and location, there are still many differences in each country’s directional thinking. Estonia looks towards the Nordic countries, while Latvia focuses on trade between Russia and the West. Both have strong maritime and fishing interests. Lithuania on the other hand, concentrates on its connection to Poland and Central Europe and is almost entirely an inland and agricultural country.
Despite their common sounding names, the Baltic countries have many differences…
One of these differences can be seen in the language. There are two distinct language families in the Baltic States. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages make up the group of Baltic languages and belong to the Indo-European languages family. The Estonian language belongs to the group of Finno-Ugric languages, sharing close cultural and historical ties with the Finnish language and culture. Only the people of Latvia and Lithuania actually speak a Baltic language; the Estonian language is closer to Finnish.
History has played a very influential role in the Baltic States relations to one another. The area around the Baltic States had remained quite sparsely populated and was predominantly non-Christian until just before the middle of the 13th Century. This is when the Teutonic and Livonian Knights began their first expeditions into the region. The common history of the Baltic States started when the Sword Brethren began their struggle to bring Christianity and feudalism to the region, but unfortunately it also brought a lot of ‘lost’ blood. Since then, these countries have been a battlefield for soldiers of Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Russia and Germany.
Lithuania's history in the Middle Ages was quite unique compared to that of the other two states because of its powerful monarchy and partnership with Poland. On the other hand, Estonian and Latvian histories have been closely similar for over 800 years, starting around the time of the invasion of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th Century to the present. Only in the late 17th Century did Lithuania’s history and fate more closely begin to resemble that of the other two Baltic States and that was with the entrance of the Soviet Union.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania made their first break for independence from the Soviet Union, becoming sovereign nations, in the aftermath of World War I. In 1918 independence was formally declared and in 1920 they were recognized as independent nations. It was an amazing breakthrough in each of their histories and something savored with remembrance.
In the mid 19th Century the Baltic provinces again became a battle ground and were seized by, then taken in as part of, the Russian Empire. A short period of Soviet occupation was followed by a German invasion and at the end of the war, again a Soviet invasion. The Baltic republics were annexed into USSR as the Estonian SSR, the Latvian SSR, and the Lithuanian SSR. This led into many more very dark years.
The Baltic region has been under domination for most of its recorded history by either pre-Russian elements of what is now the Soviet Union, various groups of Germanic knights, or Polish people in one form or another. The three Baltic States again declared their independence in 1989 and 1990. On September 6th 1991, their independence was at last formally recognized by the Soviet Union.
In 2002, the Baltic States took their first steps towards the realization of their long-standing political goal, becoming members of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and of the members of the European Union. In March of 2004 membership of NATO was achieved and on May 1st, 2004, together, they all joined the European Union. Integration with the Western world and with Western Europe had begun.
Today the Baltic States are liberal democracies and parliamentary republics, with quickly growing market economies. Since their regained independence, the Baltic States have experienced rapid growth and a notable rise in the standards living. Relative to the other nations of the former Soviet Union - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - are experiencing quite a booming economy.
Today many foreigners and locals alike, enjoy referring to these three nations as the Baltic States. You can look at reasons for this such as a recent shared history, or the fact that they are all facing similar problems both in domestic and foreign affairs. Currently all three countries are fighting to become the top Baltic place where foreign investors ‘just have to be’ and where tourists tend to flock. The three Baltic capitals: Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, are all making great strides to become the premiere Baltic City.
The Antique Market
11 August (Vilnius, Lithuania) It’s the dust on your fingertips after digging through a chest full of old relics. It’s the lure in the challenge of the game of bargain. It’s the opening of a tin can and finding someone’s past treasure. It’s finding something that no one knew was there before.
But nothing has as much disturbed me as finding the wire band with rings today. “Supranto Anglish kalba?” I asked the seller. “No… Russian, Lithuanian and Polish,” he responded back in Lithuanian to me. Then he asked the girl beside me if she spoke English and she did. “Where did these come from?” I asked. Then she explained that they came from the ground. He found them using a metal detector… searching. One can only assume that there is a great possibility that they came from a mass grave. Staring at the rings I saw wedding bands, birthstones... men, woman, children. What stories did they hold wrapped around a metal coil now and sold to the passer-buyers.
The other things that bother me the most are the photographs. The photos of lives, people and family. How do they come to be sold at the antique market. Things that should be treasured and loved by family are here for strangers to gawk at and purchase. I could never purchase them.
What I find are the small treasures in the bottom of the box. Old stamps collecting dust and decaying, which I whisk up and place safely at last in my hand for a bargain price because no one else dares spend the time to realize their value. I find old Russian wooden cups and spoons that have never been removed from their wrapper. I touch pieces of the past and ask prices. I watch old men walk by dressed up in old military uniforms. There are also many dealers sneaking about looking for large and expensive pieces to take west and sell. Then they are young men in camo holding knives and foreigners with their translators.
There are a wealth of religious relics, military helmets, coins, clocks, irons, wooden pieces, furniture, books, and other decorations - the wealth of them sometimes unimaginable. The market is an amazing place of the past.
Happy New Year - The Eve
I dashed out of the house and made our way up the hill. The countdown was on, only 3 more minutes left.
I made my way towards the Ponu Namai at the top of the hill; there were guards standing just inside the gate. The Ponu Namai (or Masters House) is where all of the wealthy Lithuanian government dignitaries go to show off with the most expensive and impressive of celebrations. On weekends at midnight, one can catch a glimpse of the displays of fireworks that people use to show off their glory and wealth.
Tonight was different, only a small show came from that big house. Instead the entire sky line was a show of brilliant lights. If I had closed my eyes, as the ground shook and the skies flooded with light, it could have been D-day.
People poured out into the streets to set off their own miniature displays of celebration as car alarms cried out in protest in the dark.
Car repairs with tinfoil and duck tape - Vilnius
(18 March) Log homes with shattered glass windows, spray painted siding and ragged plastic sheeting blowing in the wind. Just upon the horizon, directly behind the homes in view, towers a glamorous office skyscraper complex still under construction. An alcoholic stumbles passed a group of well-dressed teens. He’s in his last few good years, just before the 'drink takes him' so to say. We enter the market. We walk into the shop and begin negotiating prices. We’re alone.
Then a controller walks into the shop and turns her head as to not meet my eye. The shop owner drops what she’s doing and whisks what looks like a children’s coin purse out of her coat pocket. She takes out a 20 lita bill and passes it discreetly to the controller. But I still see. She returns to finish the transaction with us. (She runs a illegal stand outside of her shop at the market and the controller/controllers boss don’t report her as long as she keeps paying. They all just split the daily bribes.)
I stare out the window. A mess of bike tires hand from a metal market tent stand frame. Boots dangle in the wind by their laces. A lady walks in with a mink around her neck and asks who the shop owner is. Outside the window is a cold drab world, post-soviet style. A man passes by me with a box of used videos he’s selling. They hold what once were white - now yellowing – labels hand scribbled in Russian.
I made my way to the market exit. A man can be seen standing on a crate in a puddle haggling with a customer over two shoes. He raises one up to the world as if he is about to give a great speech to the masses.
Now what looks like a drunkard with a cane pushes an elderly man aggressively out of his way who has brushed a little to closely by. He begins to curse in Russian, loudly to the world. He carries a red plastic bag and a really bad attitude. His skin is quite dark, he’s not native. He stares down towards me and then out at the crowd. He’s angry, angry with life. Maybe he’s not drunk, just mad.
Another drunkard beside me sways back and forth on bowed legs. He’s obviously far along on his way back out of this world again, at least for another day to forget his fears and pain. He’s smiling though and think, it’s just nearly noon. His friend sits on the bench below him with his shoes in the puddle, smoking a cigarette, oblivious to the dampening feet.
I don’t know how to describe some of the people or things I see here. I don’t know the words in English for the roles they hold. The old and the new, the rich and the poor. It seems like everything clashes within itself, but the biggest thing clashing may be the ideology taking root. Two separate ways of being. People just exist, barely getting by.
On my way back home, a man is passed out across from me on the bus. He holds a dirty black hat in his hand. A tattoo is on his left thumb and all across his knuckles. It may mean he’s a former prisoner, people with tattoos like that are to be 'watched out for.' He wakes up with a jolt and a surprisingly happy look across his face. He places his hat on his head to help cushion against the bumps and leans back against the bus window. The bus shakes violently, seems it’s just barely getting by too.
I get out of the bus, someone walks by who looks like someone I knew long ago in another world, another life. I smile because we are everywhere.
And then for a moment I close my eyes and shelter myself, for what I have seen may have just been too much.
False Alcohol - Winter
Six bums stood fighting over a small clear glass bottle of pale yellow cologne and stale donated deli snacks in the shelter of the bus station stop. One took a quick swig of the cologne (a cheap way to get drunk) and another began to chug it as if she was gulping down the last sips of her life. They were dirty and aggressive with one another, fighting over swigs of that stuff. I dared not stare long and hard enough in the dark of the night to write more.
I saw one of them today on the street, it looked like he had over-dosed on it. A lady was hugging him crying. A police officer was nearby. An ambulance was then taking him away.
The government must get rid of this stuff. I know they are working to change the taste and make it more expensive.
The Polish Lady
(11 August) A sickly pigeon sits outside the block cement houses with feathers puffed and a foot tucked up in hiding. I approach a grim looking building and punch three numbers in on the combination lock, then give the door a pull. The rusty bolt lock groans but does not give. I give the door a hard inward jolt and try the lock again; this time it gives.
The communal entranceway is plain and unkempt, as it is in almost all of the soviet era style apartments. She knocks on a door on the second floor and calls through the mail slot a few times. After several long moments of waiting, at last a lone, elderly, lady answers in Polish.
I enter and she prods us to sit down with a smile. She mumbles a few quick words in Polish and takes a seat on the couch in the middle of the room. The lady begins to fill out paperwork, while I sit in silence and observe the room.
It’s a typical one-room soviet style apartment, where a single room serves as ones bedroom, living room and dining room all in one. A small kitchen, toilet room and bathroom are detached off of the main room, just through the small hall. There are two couches in the room, along both of the main walls, which serve as ones bed in the evening. There is a small table in the center of the room and two chairs. A few large wooden dressers are against the wall beside the window, holding all of her possessions it so seems. A dim light comes through the dirty window and lights atop several old paintings hanging about the walls at odd angles. Each one is a representation of something that makes her feel more at home. Beside the door into the hallway, bright blue tape holds pictures of her deceased husband onto the small pane of glass; a few magazine clippings hang above him.
She goes off into the kitchen and comes back with a single beer, glasses with spoons and a carton of eggs. She offers them to us, as guests.
‘It’s a tradition to offer this type of drink in Poland to guests.’ I am told. She cracks a raw egg into each of our glasses and opens the beer, which he pours on top. ‘Now take your spoon and stir it up’ she instructs me.
I mix it together until the beer turns pale yellow in color from the thick yolk of the egg. I slowly drink it, sip by sip, only leaving bits of the stringy egg white at the bottom of the glass. The eggs are nutrient rich village eggs, which are expensive and hard to find in the capital.
She’s warm and welcoming; she continues to smile. The lady asks her to show me the pictures. She goes to a small table and sifts beneath a spam newspaper advertisement. She comes to me with tears in her eyes and pictures of her two deceased daughters and their grown children. I learn her husband has also passed away; she shows me a picture of herself beside his coffin on the funeral day.
I learn that she met her husband at age 67, where he brought her to Vilnius from her village in Poland. He passed away soon after that and she now lives in this strange city far away from what she, for such a long time, knew as home.
I left the house, but my thoughts still hang on the wall of her apartment. A dead rat on the dirt path before me jolts me back to Vilnius. My heart went out to her, alone in that dim apartment, having to see all of the people she loved pass before their time. I am sure her days pass slowly, full of thought and grief. I wonder how many other warmhearted people like her are out there alone in cold homes.
Past tradition coming forth in art. How deeply tradition is tied into our lives. Birch bark strips wrapped and woven around pottery.
Boil fish scales and a fish head (carp)
narrow strips of birch bark were cut directly off tree for wrapping
modern method to attach using glue (originally birch pitch)
There is evidence of this practice from Neolithic times. Cracked pots were wrapped with bark to hold dry goods (recycled) and not thrown away (this was not for prestige). In the cold regions pots were valuable because it was hard to make and dry them.
15 DECEMBER 2006 - TERM PAPER FOR ISM UNIVERSITY
1. INTRODUCTION TO NEGOTIATION
Welcome to negotiation; welcome to the world we live in. We negotiate all the time and the process of negotiation is all around us. People negotiate because they need each other in order to achieve something – such as between spouses, friends, business partners and communities. Negotiation is defined by Salacuse (2003) as a process of communication by which two or more persons seek to advance their individual interests through joint action (p. 7).
The goal of this term paper is to compare, contrast and evaluate two types of negotiation - distributive and integrative. These two negotiation styles are in some ways like opposites, but they have many common elements as you will see throughout this text. I will also be relating them to several case studies from class. Lastly I will discuss where cultural and ethical negotiation issues come into play.
2. DISTRIBUTIVE NEGOTIATION
Distributive negotiation is most commonly used by people so they can get what they need and get out – it’s a competition to win a larger share of a fixed and limited resource. Distributive negotiation occurs when one party’s goals are in fundamental and direct conflict with the other party’s goals. This manner of thinking is in direct conflict with integrative negotiation. Therefore, this type of negotiation is commonly used when the relationship between the parties does not matter and it would fair miserably in cultures like Japan.
As we discussed in class, many people see this type of negotiation as destructive and I will state that this would be my least preferred method of negotiation unless I never had to see that person ever again and there were no moral dilemmas in the act.
People negotiate for many reasons. Lewicki, Barry and Saunders (2007) have identified several key reasons negotiation occurs: (a) to agree on how to divide a limited resource; (b) to create something new; or (c) to resolve a dispute (p. 2). And one must not forget that many negotiations never even come to a deal. The ‘resource’ that is being negotiated could be money, materials, time, process, relationships and principle. People negotiate for these common things in both integrative and distributive negotiation.
2.1. The General Negotiation Preparation Process
The most important factors determining the outcome of a negotiation occur before the negotiation actually starts – this is the process of preparation. I will first mention several common preparation tactics’ needed for both distributive and integrative negotiation. These include: determining ones target point, initial offer and bottom line (bargaining range); setting a plan/pattern for concession making; and knowing ones BATNA.
There are also tactics related solely to the distributive or integrative negotiation process. Table 1 in the appendix compares and contracts a list of methods discussed in class and that I learned during the case negotiations.
2.2. Distributive Class Negotiated Cases
While preparing for a distributive negotiation case, the student must determine a strategy that will get them the most of the pie. The following case is one of the best class examples in relation to distributive negotiation.
2.2.1. The Automotive Case Negotiation
Out of all the negotiated cases in class, I believe that the Automotive Case Negotiation was the most distributive and least integrative in nature. This could be because it was a one time deal. In this case the resources were fixed and limited. The fact was, that one person needed to sell their car badly because they were moving to Jamaica and the other person needed to buy one desperately because they had been offered a great new job and needed the car to get to work.
Each party had a certain bargaining range from which to negotiate and who ever got the best deal won out. Basically, the objective of both of the parties was to obtain as much of the bargaining range as possible. If the seller sold the car at a higher price, he/she could purchase a larger boat in Jamaica. If the buyer purchased the car at a lower price then he/she would have enough money to purchase new clothes needed for the new job and get a tattoo they had been wanting for a while.
I played the part of the buyer and determined that the clothes were important because I needed to make a good first impression on the job, but the tattoo was a secondary thing. I made sure that I did not mention my desperation to find a car because of the new job. Nor did I mention the fact that there were few similar cars on the market to choose from. The main points I brought up were related to my mechanic friend who had seen the car the other week (their price estimate) and the cars history (how reliable it is/isn’t). Since it is an older model, I claimed purchasing it was a risk and I made sure the seller understood that. I asked about how frequently the oil was changed, if the car had been in any accidents, if the seller would agree to an inspection, etc. On the other hand, the seller told me that they had an alternative buyer (mentioning a price a bit higher then was accurate). We finally came to a deal that allowed me to buy the extra clothes I needed, while the seller also had to pay for the car inspection before purchase. The seller didn’t get the big boat, but they still got a boat and more then the previous (alternative) offer! We both were pretty satisfied with the deal.
3. INTEGRATIVE NEGOTIATION
Negotiation doesn’t mean that one of the parties has to loose something, in fact both can win. Integrative negotiation is commonly used to achieve similar goals and objectives between parties – meaning to solve problems in a constructive manner. It is as is the opposite of distributive negotiation. Of course it helps when the parties are committed to both themselves and each other.
Lewicki, Barry and Saunders (2007) state that, the goals of a party in this situation are not mutually exclusive, meaning that both can achieve what they want without harming the other (p. 58). Integrative negotiation also allows for a creative approach. This is through the generation of alternative solutions and invention of new options – things that were never on the pie plate to begin with. To expand the pie means to add resources to it so that both parties can achieve their goal. This creative approach can be achieved through brainstorming and or a redefinition of the problem all together. Sometimes a similar process occurs with distributive negotiation – but that is more related to sweeteners.
Integrative negotiation would be my preferred type of negotiation because everyone comes out happier and more of a winner. I feel that relationships are important because bad ones can always come back to haunt a person or business deal.
3.1. Integrative Class Negotiation Cases
While preparing for an integrative negotiation case, the student must determine a strategy that will best expand upon everyone’s share of the pie. In order to do this there are specific tactics that can be employed in the integrative negotiation process (see Table 1 in the appendix). According to Lewicki, Barry and Saunders (2007), the key steps in the integrative negotiation process are to understand the problem, identify the parties’ needs, determine solutions and evaluate alternatives (p. 61). This is part of the value creation and claiming process. The following case is one, which I thought was very integrative in nature.
3.1.1. The Carmen Jones Negotiation: Public Information
While give and take is extremely important in negotiation, sometimes it is better to give more in order to benefit in the long run. This is how I saw the Carmen Jones case. This negotiation was between Stockholm Opera and London Agents. I played the part as a member of a team for London Agents. Our goal was to negotiate an agreement between our two parties, on behalf of Kristina Kingston, for the lead role as Carmen in a Carmen Jones Opera.
Our group took a very integrative stance because our goal was not only to get the part, but to show future clients ‘look what we can do!’ We wanted to get everything out of the part and more to push Kristina along to stardom. Money was not as important to us as was expanding into a new arena (musical comedy and opera). We were looking for a long-term honest partnership with Stockholm Opera and our client’s success because it would bring us many new clients in the upcoming years.
In the second round of offers, when we were offered a $60,000 flat on a sliding scale related to attendance, that was perfectly fine with us. That’s when we tried to go for all of the bonuses that would push Kristina up along with our reputation including – photo signing, advertisements for Stockholm Opera, magazine/television interviews, our logo on some of the things and a multi-country road tour. Stockholm Opera agreed with all of this and was very willing to work with us. They said they had little experience in advertising and marketing and would love to partner up with us. It was truly a win-win situation and we all went together to the opera that evening.
3.1.2. The Towers Market Negotiation Case
The Towers Market is another that I would like to mention because it had both distributive and integrative elements within it. It is important to understand that fact that all negotiations have the possibility to contain both distributive and integrative elements, so therefore one must be familiar with both types. This case was a good example of that because while we needed to fight for what we wanted – temperature, advertising, clerks, maintenance and position - we also knew we were going to have to work side-by-side in the long term and needed to remain on good terms.
Another element I would like to mention, in relation to this case is a term know as logrolling. Logrolling is common in multi-party negotiations such as the Towers Market case negotiation. A logroll occurs when parties have more then one issue in conflict and there are different priorities for those issues. Parties can then trade-off issues with different parties. In the Towers Market negotiation, I played a team member in the Jacqui’s Bakery group. Since our group saw that we were winning all around, we helped to facilitate the logroll when other groups seemed at a stalemate. Meaning asking questions between groups such as, “Who has their main priority met?” and “How many concessions has each of the other teams made?” We then basically divided it out around the room as fairly as possible and everyone at last came to an acceptance of the deal.
4. ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Parties sometimes have interests in a principle – such as what is ethical or just the right thing to do. Ethics relate to social standards for what is right and wrong. The ethical negotiation case, Where’s Alvin? A Case of Lost Ethics was presented in class, where many of us behaved – well, not so ethically. This is because in negotiation, ethics are somewhat more difficult to judge. For example, if ones strategy is to add a few white lies in the negotiation and reap the economic benefits – is this ethical? We often do this for power or because we feel the other person is behaving the same.
So because of this, how do we determine what is ethical in a negotiation? First of all, ethics can be either absolute or relative. Absolute ethics are standards that apply in all situations. However, relative ethics are formed by individual’s personal values and can change. According to Lewicki, Barry and Saunders (2007), there are four approaches to ethical reasoning: end-result, duty, social contract and personalistic (p. 170). I think that most of the ethical situations we face on a day-to-day basis are personalistic. But when negotiating in a business sense we face many other and much more important types of ethical decisions too.
5. CROSS-CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS
Culture is another aspect that must be taken into consideration during negotiations. There are three types of culture that we discussed in class: national, regional and organizational. Geert Hofstead has defined four dimensions of culture that are particularly important in business. These are power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity, long-term orientation and individualism/collectivism. Each of these different dimensions will influence how the negotiation is conducted. In class we also discussed the fact that cross-cultural deals are more likely to fair then deals made within your own culture.
Lastly, Richard Gesteland developed two cultural classifications: relationship-focused and deal-focused. This division applies very much to negotiation. Gesteland sites Eastern European countries as moderately deal-focused. This is cultural aspect that’s important because you will know how open they are to doing business with you if you are from another culture and whether you must first find an insider relationship or not.
To conclude I would like to say that cultural aspects are something one should work into the preparation process and think of along every step of the deal.
TABLES AND GRAPHS
Table 1. Comparison of Negotiation Tactics
Distributive Negotiation Cases Integrative Negotiation Cases
to guard my information carefully; to share information and ideas along with finding similarities between what we were working towards;
to know (improve) your alternatives and even state them (to intimidate); to find ways to build long-term relationships;
to tell a few white lies or expand upon the ‘truth’ (manipulation); to let the other party see me as trustworthy;
to find more information that will support my story from what the other side says; to compare data to something real that we can both relate to;
to strategically release pieces that sell my story in the best manner (modify perceptions); to search for solutions that meet the goals of both sides;
to give in only a little at a time (control) and never state the bottom line; to invent and create new things to add into the deal;
to ask a lot of question from the other party and discover their resistance point; to listen and make the goals meet;
1. Lewicki, R., Barry, B. & Saunders, D. (2007). Essentials of Negotiation. (4th ed.,
International) New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
2. Salacuse, J. (2003). The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing and Mending Deals
Around the World in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
3. The Carmen Jones Negotiation: Public Information. Class Negotiation Case
4. The Automotive Negotiation. Class Negotiation Case
5. Where‘s Alvin? A Case of Lost Ethics. Class Negotiation Case
6. Gesteland, R. (1997). Cross-Cultural Business Behavior. Retrieved December 13,
2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.zmk.uni-freiburg.de/ss2000/texts/gesteland(e).htm.
 Other common names for distributive negotiation are bargaining, zero-sum, competitive and win-lose.
 Here I will use people and parties interchangeably.
 For example, when haggling over prices with a seller in a third-world country (i.e. India) is $1 dollar really going to make that much of a difference to you – but it would feed that poor seller’s whole family for maybe 2 days and you can see he is really starving (meaning that this would be a possible moral dilemma).
 Meaning tangilbe and intangible things.
 Knowing your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) is essential, because a strong BATNA means more power throughout the negotiation since you have strong alternatives.
 So therefore both parties wanted to maximize their share.
 Another issue was that his/her partner’s parent was sick so his partner also needed to have the car for use to visit the sick parent on the weekends. This point was never mentioned to the other person when I was negotiating the case because it is possible that they would then realize I was in a bind and they could ask for more money. I never want to show the other person my weak point s unless I think I can gain compassion and in this case I did not think that was possible.
 Besides, they are horrible for your skin!
 Until we learned the real numbers in class.
 Other common names for integrative negotiation are non-zero-sum, win-win, cooperative, collaborative and problem solving.
 A long-established and highly respected institution.
 A firm that manages and acts as agents for artists and celebrities.
 We had a bargaining range between $60,000 USD to $90,000 USD.
 We also saw that this was a common price within the industry and kept in mind that Kristina desperately wanted this part, was already wealthy and had told us that money was not a big issue – getting the part was.
 They are also a non-profit institution.
 The difference between distributive and integrative negotiation is that in one instance the party is trying to win the negotiation by gaining the largest piece of the pie and in the other the party looks for common ways to make the pie bigger – and some cases have both.
 I thought this case provided the best example of a logroll.
 This Jacqui’s Bakery group seemed not only to make out the most in this negotiation – but in both class groups.
 The Where’s Alvin? negotiation case is the best example of a case where one might experience an ethical dilemma. The case is about a possible information leak (tape theft) at Galaxy Software Inc. I played the part of the manager interviewing an employee that I suspected stole the information. Normally, employees are required to go through extensive background checks before hire. But this particular employee I (Blair) had waived the requirements, since we were university colleagues. Several months after I hired this employee, I learned at a party that they were fired from their previous job and prosecuted because of information theft. I confronted the employee about it and they swore it was a one time thing. When I sat down for the interview, the employee told me right away that they stole it because they were desperate for money and had a large gambling debt. We negotiated a somewhat unethical deal where supposedly ‘the employee was studying the data for an upcoming game in the office and it was an accident (stupidity and protocol unknown) the tapes were copied.’ The employee returned the tapes and I gave them a slight raise (because of the wonderful contribution to other games successes). After they paid off the debt, all additional money from the raise was put into a long-term company bond that could not be touched by that employee. This would ensure the employee had motivation not to do it again and the employee was also required to go to gamblers-anonymous classes. And I would keep my job for the time being. Had this been a real world situation I would have done differently, but for class the two of us acted ‘creatively.’
 I feel that we all lie a little, at least when it comes to distributive negotiation.
 A study carried out in 2006 by M. Huettinger found Lithuanians to score low in power distance, moderate in uncertainty avoidance, moderately-high in individualism and very low in long-term orientation and very low in masculinity.
 Gesteland, R. (1997). Cross-Cultural Business Behavior. Retrieved December 13, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://www.zmk.uni-freiburg.de/ss2000/texts/gesteland(e).htm.
Fall Mushroom Madness
Wander down a forest side road and step off of the path. Spider webs of small footpaths spread out amongst the grass. Take a step and sink within that carpet made of moss. Flakes of light come drifting down, like broken shards of glass. Searching softly, eyes are sharp; you see its rising head. Today will be a splendid feast; you’ve stumbled across a mushroom bed.
During the fall season, as the leaves turn softly to the brilliant colours of yellow and orange, throngs of people descend into the forest to take part in a memorable pastime… mushroom picking.
Amateurs wishing to dabble in this national past time, need only to drive down a simple forest road and walk off of the main path. In the late summer it can be as easy as walking through the forest where you can spot mushrooms beginning to emerge from the ground. The picking is especially abundant after a good warm rain. Finding your first patch is quite a thrill.
Most passionate mushroom pickers have their secret forest spots, which they will never reveal. Year after year the same species will return to a well-guarded spot, because being generally mycorrhizal in nature, they are dependent upon the root system of the trees that they are growing under.
Everybody loves mushrooms; they have held a place of honour across dining room tables from royalty to peasants. There are two especially popular species, along the outskirts of Vilnius. These are the Chanterelle and The King. The Chanterelle is a fall mushroom found beneath the spruce. It is bright yellow in colour and known the world over. It is known in Lithuania for its medicinal qualities and is very tasty in fried with potatoes. Some species of The King can grow up to 12 inches in height and weigh in at nearly two pounds. The King is a giant among gourmet editable mushrooms and is best in marinades or soups.
Most people clean and eat their forest conquests as soon as they get home. The remainders are then dried, pickled or frozen for the winter.
Mushrooms have also ‘spored’ their way into Lithuanian curse slang. When one calls you a grybas (mushroom), they are really calling you a looser. In Poland, mushrooms have been used in the names of politicians.
Mushrooms have also found their way into popular Lithuanian literature. The great 19th century romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz, is one of many people who have written about Lithuanian mushroom lore and legend.
“Mushrooms abounded-round the fair damsels the young men did throng; or vixens, as they're hailed in Lithuanian song. They symbolize maidenhood, their flesh no maggot bites and no insect thereon ever even alights. The slender bolete maidens pursued instead, that colonel of mushrooms as it's commonly said, But all hunt for milky caps which, though not very tall and largely unsung, are the tastiest of all!" (Adam Mickiewicz)
To this day mushroom picking remains a popular national pastime.
NOTE: Please do not attempt to go out and pick a mushroom to eat without getting someone knowledgeable to confirm identification of that species. Picking and eating without proper knowledge of the species is a prescription for disaster.
The Origin of Witchcraft (Lithuania)
When the world was fairly new, a long long time ago, a young woman went out into the woods to pick mushrooms. She was so absorbed in her task that she did not notice the roiling clouds. The skies opened upon her and she narrowly escaped the rain by sheltering beneath a tree. She stripped naked and bundled her clothing in a bag so they would not get wet. Eventually the rain stopped, and the woman returned to her mushroom picking.
Weles, the Horned God of the forest happened upon her and was surprised. He asked her what great magic she knew that kept her dry during such a brutal storm.
‘If you show me the secret to your magic, I will show you how I kept dry.’ The maiden said. Weles, tempted by a pretty face, proceeded to teach her all of his magical secrets. Afterwards, she calmly told him how she had sheltered under a tree, and removed her clothing. Weles knew then he had been tricked, and had no one but himself to blame. He ran off in a rage, and the young maiden became the first witch.
Coming Home to Vilnius (October)
He was well dressed, wearing a nice leather jacket and a warm vest, with the kind of face that radiates trust. On the ground at his feet was a plastic bag brimming with food and a small grimy sack holding everything he carried with him. I looked at his luggage and back at mine. I had four stuffed bags with straining seams and wear holes starting to show. I wondered if they would make it the rest of the trip. I looked back up at the guy and we picked through a conversation in bits and pieces of broken English. How I longed to be able to just talk and open up my world to him. You cross worlds when you cross Berlin: culture, any common language, customs and stark differences in understanding. I looked again at my bags and back at his. I was beginning to understand the two sides and put more depth into these little things. I heaved my bags around to the other side of the bus, he followed me and waited there out of courtesy in case of my struggling needs with no common language to talk with the bus driver. He waited as I got onto the bus in a protective sort of way that I have come to know and admire.
The journey home began at the Groningen train station, loaded onto a train bound for Amsterdam with friends waving goodbye. I crouched on the floor, resting atop one of my five bags. A group of musicians (Hard Rock Band) boarded, talking back and forth between themselves in an English-Dutch mix. One called a friend to see if she would join them for dinner after the gig. “I just ate, but I’m running to the toilet now so I can barf it all back up. Soon I will be hungry again,” went the reply. We hit the Zwolle station stop, where it was time for me to change. The band members took one look at me, grabbed their guitars and then my bags. There was no way I could make it alone. One man grabbed the handle of my heaviest bag and gave it a tug in the wrong direction and it instead took him! He whirled around and the bag went to the ground. Everyone chorused in laughter.
At last I reached Central Station, alone. A knot had risen up in my stomach from worrying how I would get five large bags down the escalator. Thank god there was a slow elevator to solve my problem. I waited about for 5 minutes and at last it rose to expose a huge fat man that stumbled out onto the platform nearly plowing me over.
I dragged the bags in one by one, propping my arm against the door to keep it from pulling shut. It reached the bottom floor and I pulled them back out, arranging them on the floor to make my attempt at a bag drag. The only way possible was to drag one, with another strapped like a monkey to its back on top, another in the other hand and two over my shoulders. The bags slowly moved forward… drag, drag, drag, my arms were becoming weak.
“Here,” came from behind me. “I will help you,” flowed forth in broken bits of English. He was dressed in a clean, but very old suit. He must have been around 35-years old, with a short but muscular stature. He had two large bags in his hand, but he grabbed two of mine despite it and we made our way towards Victoria Hotel, which was a long walk across the street. He was from Poland and as nice as can be. “I have time, I can help you,” he said to me. I had to pause a few times along the way, but he would just stop and turn back patiently. When we got to the street light, a bag strap of mine snapped under the pressure and he rushed back into the street to help me. We made it across and I took up his hand in both of mine to thank him. A shy smile came back from him and a gracious look back from me. I released his hand and felt a tinge of fear spark across me as I was left alone with the Dutch druggies wandering around me in this scary middle of the night Amsterdam world.
My goal was in view and as soon as I caught my breath I began dragging the bags again, only this time in pairs because there just was no other way. An Aussie with his gal spied my troubles and began to laugh. “Let me grab two of them things for ya mate!” Luckily we had the same destination, the bus stop. We all talked for another 35 minutes about their whirl wind tour around Europe. So free were they with their words, like you could talk about anything and there wasn’t a worry in the world holding them back.
I asked a lady from Estonia if this is where the bus stopped, I could tell she was also waiting. She smiled, was very friendly and said yes. Her husband was Dutch and the two of them kind of looked out for me while I was waiting alone in the night. Passing by, smiling and asking if I was ok… her husband was constantly walking back and forth on that street.
“DO… YOU… SPEAK… EENNGLISH?” said a fellow approaching me, talking to me like I was dumb. I paused, thinking this is how people must feel with the tourists. “Yes,” I said to him after a few seconds of thought. I had a very English book that I was reading opened in my lap; it was obvious he was not the type that saw signs. He asked if I was waiting for the bus to Berlin, which I was, so he sat down to join me. (Berlin was where he claims to have his business of exporting sports cars to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, which is how he makes OH SO MUCH money and can travel and do all sorts of things for me.) Nothing would stop him from talking on and on about how grand he was, I was beginning to be quite annoyed. At last a dark haired, strikingly handsome man approached me of a German-Brazilian mix. His English, spiced with Spanish words, did nothing but add to the lure. “There’s something about the German language that just takes away all your English skills,” he said apologizing to me. But his English was excellent, his manner articulate and his clothing professional. The Mr. ‘I can do anything for you’ man saw him as competition and went off again on a rampart to him about how much money he had. I sighed and listened with disinterest.
A Dutch man with his foreign friend approached to ask about the bus schedule. I had exactly what they were looking for and they were greatly appreciative as I saved them loads of time. When I went to board the bus, the three of them just grabbed up my bags and left me standing there without a thing. “Thank you” said the Dutch guy to me and gave out his hand for a firm shake. I stumbled into the dark bus, phone ringing, and looking for an empty seat. I sat behind the German-Brazilian man because it was the only empty seat, although someone’s bag was in it, and I felt safer near him. My eyes adjusted and a man approached to take the seat beside me, he had been out smoking. He settled down beside me and I looked over with a little look of horror. He looked as if he had just crawled out of a ditch after an all nighter cocaine overdose. I turned around only to see Mr. ‘I can do anything for you’ behind me who added, “You can sit here if you like?” Nothing would persuade me to sit beside him. I turned to look at crackie beside me and closed my eyes. He was asleep peacefully at least.
“There’s an empty seat in the front of the bus beside me where you can sit if you want,” whispered a French man with his hand on my shoulder. Fuck, I crouched down thinking when would it end… but he was the helper-conductor. I got up and almost ran to the front. He was from Normandy and was doing a degree in Physical Therapy in Berlin. He mentioned that he had been to Vilnius once for a Martial Arts sports competition. He had been all over the place, to many places I had also been. We spoke for hours on the bus before at last I drifted off to sleep. As the morning sun rose I changed buses in Hanover and again in Berlin.
I ended it here.
The Karaites religious sect was founded sometime around the 8th century. The Karaim people are of Turkish decent and came to Lithuania, first, as prisoners-of-war and later immigrated on their own. They were eventually granted freedom to practice their own religion and settled in the city of Trakai. Here they served as guardians of the fortresses and bodyguards. Today there are approximately 300 Karaites living in Trakai. To this day they have retained their own religious faith, customs, language and identity. There are fears that the current population will dissolve within this next century.
Into the Smoke of the Night - August 30th
The streets are always the most beautiful at night when the setting sun rounds out the edges of neglected buildings and helps to soften the loud graffiti lines. I walk down the street scented with the perfume of ripe apple trees and past the strong standing school which has been a part of so many lives.
I enter the small grocery store on the corner and begin my wait in a long line. Four drunken guys enter and one blond with a red flushed face stares my way and comes to stand behind me with another beer. The two older men in front of me also drunken, whispering back and forth in each others ears. I ignore all the folly; this is the time of night when you feel safe only around woman.
I throw my stuff in the bag and walk swiftly towards the door, speed is my ally in the dark. Up ahead I see a black plume of smoke rising up in stark contrast to the fading blue of the sky. I pick up my pace until I can see the lights of the sirens. The abandoned house beside the Russian Embassy is on fire. Tongues of flames lash out into the night sky at firefighters as the run to put an end to the burning derelict. This was one of the historical buildings of our area, with many a stories to tell I am sure. The building rested on embassy property, which is unfortunately what may have led to its demise.
According to Lithuanian law, you cannot tear down a historical building in order to rebuild, historical buildings can only be renovated. The only way to rebuild on that site is if it is burned down. So, unfortunately, many of these buildings are burned by their own owners hands.
The firefighters this evening had first gone to another abandoned building nearby where they had spent 30-minutes searching for a flame that did not exist. Most likely, none of this was an accident.
Slowly the fire dies down as the firefighters hack away into the 91-year old wood. A dense brown cloud of smoke wafts over the growing crowd. A man runs by me in military dress, police are also at the scene. Men direct tubes of water from a small pond to the main engine which feed water out onto the fire, but its too late now.
The story of this home and its inhabitants fades into the smoke of the night, as we stop to observe the heat of the flames.
The house was built in 1914 by a famous doctor (Dr. Pimenov) whose wife had contracted Alzheimer’s disease. He spent his life fighting it.
Cafe in Vilnius
Esperanto on the Menu - Café Vienna, Trakų g. 5 Vilnius
With classy jazz music in the background and customer service with a smile, Café Vienna is sure to keep you coming back. Director, Franklin Orosco, comments to me, “This is the kind of place for people who prefer the quiet spots, where they can relax and concentrate. When it’s cold outside and you need a cosy place to rest while you reenergize, come here.”
As you sit back in your chair and relax with a steaming hot cup of cappuccino, you can see that this atmosphere speaks comfort. Positioned around the café are photographs depicting the coffee culture of Vienna. “I took my staff member, Aidas Alionis, to Vienna for 5-days to take these photographs so that you can get a better feel of the atmosphere. The Turkish people brought a special type of coffee culture there,” smiles Franklin. “I import Julius Meinl coffee from Vienna, because of its smooth taste and the fact that I don’t want to sell junk.”
There are many benefits to a customer who comes here, such as an international book swap, along with newspapers and magazines from all over the globe. Franklins face lights up as the conversation shifts to Esperanto. “We also offer Esperanto and English menus here, so that we can accommodate people from all over the world. Esperanto began here, so I see this as a natural place to have it in our menu. I like what it stands for and I hope to one day be able to provide this café as an Esperanto meeting point. One of our employees also speaks Esperanto.”
A warm bowl of chili is brought out to me for sampling; it’s their newest recipe. “I develop my own recipes, with natural ingredients, so that the food here stays unique. Once we have perfected something, we send the recipe to a local bakery where they prepare a fresh batch daily. You can’t find this food anywhere else. We know our customers tastes and are constantly responding to requests and feedback,” comments Franklin. “Tomorrow we get our rum-raisin cake, the rum has been injected into it with syringes to keep it melting in your mouth.”
A young man passes by carrying a plate of lemon meringue cake; the indulging scent clings around us in the air. A couple beside us whisper details of their day quietly in the corner, with the music just covering the tail end of the conversation. A gentleman reviews his business work by the window. With offers of steamers, stroopwaffles and sundaes on the chalkboard, here you can never go wrong.
Café Vienna opened its doors on, Monday September 5th 2005.
The Hill of Crosses and Faith
Arrive early so that you can wander alone in wonder to the sounds of the birds and the wind rustling through the crosses.
Twelve kilometers north of the city of Siauliai is one of Lithuania’s great national pilgrimage centers, Kryzių Kalnas, or the Hill of Crosses. It is a small hill covered in hundreds of thousands of crosses and it marks the spot as a memorial to Lithuanian national identity.
The first written recordings of these crosses date back to chronicles in 1850, but it is believed the first crosses were erected as a show of peaceful defiance during the peasant uprising of 1831. And still, rumors have it that this may have been a tradition for a lot longer then that. The city of Siauliai was founded in 1236 and in the 14th century occupied by the Teutonic Knights. Crosses came as a show of resistance to outside oppression, defiance to foreign invaders and the persistence of Christian devotion. In 1895 there were over 150 large crosses and by 1940 over 400 marked the spot.
From 1944 until Lithuania’s independence in 1991, the city was occupied by the USSR and the crosses were consecutively bulldozed down, broken and removed. The crosses were then burned up in a mighty flame or used as scrap metal; the hill was leveled and then spread with sewage. Roads were blocked, guards were posted… they even tried to flood the land. But it didn’t stop people from pressing on and from all over Lithuania people came to replace the crosses on this sacred hill. This hill became the symbol of anonymous uprisings and persistence for freedom.
Masses of crosses have been placed here, staked into the soil or hung across one another. The crosses come in all ages, shapes, materials and sizes venerating an air of awe. Mixed within them are tangles of prayer bead strings embracing tiny portraits of Christ and hand-written messages. The air perfumed with the scent of dry flowers, sweat and tears. Photographs of Lithuanian patriots adorn the largest crosses, while small memorial stones lie hidden at the base.
Find the sheltered wooded statue of Jesus Christ bearing the burden of many crosses. Walk up the winding steps to the top of the hill and kneel down before the Blessed Virgin Mary. Light a candle and whisper a silent prayer. Many pilgrims from all over the world have journeyed here, faith standing the test of time.
These crosses do not represent grief; they represent faith, love and sacrifice.
Latvia – Lithuania’s Neighbor
The name ‘Latvia’ originates from an ancient Baltic (Indo-European) tribe called the Latgalians. Latvia is a small country nestled between Estonia and Lithuania on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The territory of Latvia consists of some 24,900 square miles and is inhabited by over 2.5 million people. The Latvian language is one of the most ancient European Languages. Together with the Lithuanian language, Latvian forms the Baltic branch of the Indo-European group of languages.
The territory known today as Latvia has been inhabited since 9000 BC and is famous as an ancient trading crossroads. It was once part of the famous route from ‘the Vikings to the Greeks,’ which stretched across Scandinavia and through Latvian territory along the Daugava River to the Ancient Russia and Byzantine Empire. Latvia was most famous across the European continent for its trade in amber. Up unto the Middle Ages, amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.
In 1201, the Germans founded Riga thereby establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Because of Latvia’s strategic geographic location, its territory has been frequently invaded by neighboring nations. In 1621, Riga came under Swedish rule, and by the end of the 18th century all of Latvia’s territory was under the rule of Russia. Industry developed quickly, bringing with it a major growth in population and soon after Latvia became Russia’s most developed province.
In the early 1800s Latvians experienced a powerful ‘awakening’ of national identity. During this time the first newspapers in the Latvian language were printed and an active national rebirth took place. These ‘New-Latvians’ began demanding the same rights enjoyed by other nations. Only at the beginning of the 19th Century did the idea of an independent Latvia become a reality. Latvia’s independence was proclaimed shortly after the end of the First World War - November 18, 1918. Ironically, the first to recognize Latvia’s independence was Soviet Russia. But with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Latvia was again forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union on June 17, 1940.
Latvia was doomed to the same fate, under the Soviets, as Lithuania. Soviet rule was characterized by systematic repression and genocide against the Latvian people. An extensive Russification campaign took place in Latvia with the attempt to wipe out the Latvian language.
In the mid 1980’s, a liberalization within the communist regime began, allowing the opportunity for a pro-independence movement to spread across the country. August 23, 1989, marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,’ which had led to the Soviet occupations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In a symbolical wish for independence and to draw attention to the fate of the Baltic States, around 2 million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometres from Tallinn, to Riga, to Vilnius.
In the 20th century alone, Latvia has survived two world wars and freed itself from the chains of the Iron Curtain - the Soviet Union. Soon after reinstating independence, Latvia became a member of the United Nations. In 1994 they joined the NATO ‘Partnership for Peace’ program and signed the free trade agreement with the European Union. In 1999 Latvia was the first of the Baltic nations to be accepted into the World Trade Organization and in 2004, they joined the European Union.
National Symbols of Latvia
The Latvian Flag
The Latvian flag is one of the oldest flags of the world. Written records have existed since the second half of the 13th century when ancient Latvian tribes went to war against ancient Estonian tribes. The distinctive dark red colour of the Latvian flag is often referred to as ‘Latvian red’.
Riga Black Balsam
The recipe for Riga Black Balsam was developed by Abraham Kunze, in the 18th Century. This unusually dark, strong and quite thick drink that resembles a liqueur, has long been popular as a favourite souvenir overseas. Balsam is known to consist of some 25 ingredients, such as various berry juices, along with plant, herb and root essences. Today the recipe is still a carefully-guarded secret.
Riga Black Balsam is regarded as possessing various medicinal properties. Kunze developed his original balsam recipes from ancient medicinal notes of 16th and 17th century Riga apothecaries. Today Riga Black Balsam is produced by only one company, Latvijas Balsams and it is exported throughout the world.
Latvia's most popular national foods are considered to be caraway cheese, grey peas with bacon, bacon-filled pastries and a unique rye bread prepared according to ancient recipes.
The Baltic Sea is often referred to by Latvians as the Amber Sea (Dzintarjūra). Baltic amber is formed from fossilized organic pine resin, which absorbs body heat and is easy to shape. In ancient times Latvian territory was known for its wealth of amber, which was used as barter in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece and the Roman Empire. At times amber was considered even more valuable than gold.
Today amber is still commonly used throughout the world as additions to intricate pieces of jewellery such as amulets, pendants, broaches, buttons, and decorative necklaces. Amber has also been considered to have unique medicinal properties and has been used for pharmaceutical purposes in the past, since it contains succinic acid. Today amber is still a viable piece of Baltic culture and life.
The River Daugava
Not only is the River Daugava considered the Latvian national river, it is also considered the symbol of Latvia fate. The Daugava is 1005 km in length and it is the largest river that flows through Latvia. The Daugava served as an ancient trade route, linking the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, serving as an essential transport route and source of energy. The Daugava profoundly influenced the flow of Latvian history.
The Latvian 'Crocodile Dundee'
Arvīds Blūmentāls was born in Dundaga, Latvia in 1925 and is regarded as one of Australia's first renowned crocodile hunters and a prototype for the blockbuster movie, 'Crocodile Dundee'. In 1945, during the USSR occupation, Blūmentāls was forced to leave Latvia. He settled in Australia and in 1955 became widely known as Crocodile Harry where he hunted a total of around 10,000 reptiles. In 1957 he published a book about his crocodile hunting life.
Liedskalniņš 'Sweet Sixteen'
Eduards Liedskalniņš (known in the USA as Ed Leedskalnin) was born in Latvia in 1887 and is responsible for building Florida’s famous ‘Coral Castle’. When he lost the love of his life in 1912, he left for North America and in 1918 he settled in Florida. Here he worked to create a coral rock structures, which he developed into a monument to the beloved girlfriend he had left behind in Latvia, better known as his 'Sweet Sixteen'. He built the castle single-handedly, which incorporates around 1000 tonnes of rock. It is claimed that he created this statue by night and never allowed anyone to view the development. Legend has it that he had discovered a secret allowing him to overcome the force of gravity. In 1987, the castle became the subject of rock star Billy Idol’s number one hit, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and has been included in the United States National Register of Historic Places. Liedskalniņš passed away in 1951.
Oh Baltic Christmas tree!
Many Baltic historians claim that the tradition of Christmas trees may have originated in the Baltics. Journals from the early 1500s found in Riga mention a practice of local merchants decorating fir trees on Christmas Eve. Other journals mention the practice of German knights in Tallinn dragging a tree into the Town Hall Square, covering it with colored paper and fitting it with candles. Only later, claim historians, did the knights introduce the trees in their own German homeland and from there the tradition spread.
The Capital of Latvia, Riga
Latvia has long attracted foreigners, from invaders to travellers and adventure seekers. For a long period of time Latvia was nothing but a blank spot on the modern world tourist maps, but today it has opened up to all people. The newest influx of visitors consists of business people, who are especially focused on Riga.
There are 77 towns and cities located within Latvia. In the past these cities have flourished and grown around trade and traffic routes, they are now sprouting up amongst manufacturing facilities. Throughout the centuries Latvian cities have undergone diverse changes. Riga is the oldest city in Latvia and in 1918 it became the capital. Today than half of Latvia's population lives in Riga; it has developed into an important economic, political and cultural centre.
A visit to Riga can prove very rewarding. The city contains over 50 museums, including the Museum of History and Shipping, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Latvian History, the National Art Gallery and the Latvian Ethnographic Open-air Museum. The National Opera and Latvia's most professional theatres are also situated in Riga. Within the city of Riga you can find a diverse range of architectural history from Middle Age dwellings and church towers to fashionable new types of architecture. Riga’s old-town city centre has been included in UNESCO's list of the world's most important cultural and natural sites.
The Republic of Latvia
National Independence Holiday: November 18th
Area: 64,589 sq. km
Regions: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Latgale
Total national border length: 1,862 km
Borders: Latvia borders Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania.
Population: 2,290,237 (July 2005 est.)
Ethnicity: 58.2% Latvian, 29.2% Russian, 4.0% Belorussian, 2.6% Ukrainian, 2.5% Polish, 1.4% Lithuanian, 0.5% Jewish, 1.6% other nationalities
Religion: Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox
Government: democratic, parliamentary republic
Currency: lats (LVL), 1 lats consists of 100 santims
Medical Contributions - Memoirs of Medicine
Dr. Saulius Špokevičius is one of three entrepreneurs who founded the Baltic-American Clinic in Vilnius. His medical studies have taken him all around the world. In this interview he shares with us the importance of remembering, and understanding, Lithuania‘s medical history. Dr. Špokevičius is currently Chief of Surgery, with the Baltic-American Clinic.
How did you initially get involved in the field of medicine?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to study when I was a kid. I was interested in chemistry and biology, so I entered the Vilnius University Medical Faculty. Here I became interested in cardiovascular surgery and joined a team within Lithuania, which was then part of the Soviet Union. We were a young group and keen to develop a new field, which was booming in the West. Our team became one of the main pioneers in Vilnius microsurgery.
What can you tell me about the history of medicine in Lithuania?
It is said that medical history here in Vilnius is unappreciated; it’s a real shame. This country had quite a number of players who are worth being mentioned. In the 19th century, medicine in Russia was booming. Many world famous doctors, such as Johanas Peteris Frankas and Jozefas Frankas, have come to work and study at Vilnius University.
During that time, intercommunication between medical practitioners, such as photographs and healthcare reports, were extremely active amongst the practitioners at Vilnius University. It offered medical practitioners a great chance to learn from one another. These people have left great contributions to Lithuanian society as a whole.
One famous Lithuanian medical figure was Adomas Bielkevicius, an anatomist, who made extremely dexterous anatomical models of the human body with primitive instruments. In 1832, Vilnius University was closed due to anti-Tsarist activities and most of the collection was sent to Kiev University. We hope to, one day, get it back.
What differences do you see in medical practice, when you compare Lithuania during Soviet rule and today?
That is another ball of wax, but in general many doctors and specialists are leaving Vilnius because we are a new European Union member. On the other hand, more people are coming here to have medical work preformed at a low cost. Here, standards of treatment are growing and private medical practices are also gaining strength. Universities in Lithuania have good equipment and play a major role in medical politics; medicine itself is dependant on industry and development.
What aspects of Lithuanian medical history do you feel it is important to educate people on?
It has been peculating in my mind, how nice it would be to focus on well-known names of the past. We need to take these names and look at them in a new light, a light of today. Many people who had not collaborated with the Czar were forgotten because they were against him. But the people who supported him, meanwhile suppressing Lithuania’s independence, were raised high on a pedal stool of honour. Some doctors were wonderful surgeons, but bad people. We must compare these people’s lives with their medical careers, side-by-side. We need to appreciate our medical history. Unfortunately no one is doing it just now; there are very few people devoted to historical medicine in Lithuania. In Kaunas there is a pharmaceutical museum devoted to historical methods of disease treatment, but it has nothing to do with the Lithuanian professionals in medicine.
In this letter, here, (1865) they are addressing the medical status of a doctor who was sent to Siberia for crimes against the Tsar. He was later exonerated and was allowed to return to Lithuania, but was thrown out of the university. This other letter is addressing the monthly medical gatherings use of the Polish language. Here they are forbidding the use of Polish, stating that the meeting must be held in Russian, under threat of repercussions against a senior medical leader (Aleksandras Korevo). These are facts that are not widely known.
In the Science Academy Library at Vilnius University, there is a parliament of the law signed in the 16th Century by the King, about the differentiation between becoming a barber or a surgeon in Latin. No one is seeing this.
What contributions did the Jewish citizens of Lithuanian make in the field of medicine?
Jewish citizens were not involved in teaching at the universities in Lithuania in the 1800’s to early 1900’s. By the end of the 19th century though, there were some very famous doctors who came on board.
Adomas Ferdinandovic Adamovic, president of the Vilnius Imperial Medical Academy, wrote a year long statistical analysis of the patients and diseases at the Jewish hospital in Vilnius in 1844. I found this report in the Vilnius University archives. Amazingly no one had seen it except the librarians. There were five hospitals in the city at that time and one of them served primarily the Jewish population. The Jewish community had certain particularities within their community. There were certain diseases that effected only this population, for example, Jewish ladies wore a special long woollen skirt that rubbed against their legs causing ulcers and scabies. This was the worst during the coldest seasons. Many people were writing that the Jewish population here was not as clean when compared to other countries, but it was mainly because of this skirt. Jewish hospitals here, served people of all religions. Lithuania during that time was notorious for its tolerance of people from other backgrounds. For this report we can learn about career distribution, mortality rate and what disease were affecting the people of Lithuania then. Most of the people seen in the hospitals were from poorer families; the wealthy people were seen at home. The library at Vilnius University has a wealth of information available, you just need to go and dig.
Dr. Špokevičius is currently lobbying to establish a Medical History Museum, in honour of Lithuania’s medical pioneers, in Vilnius. “It’s just a matter of time,” he states, as he smiles back at me.
Famous Contributions to Medicine, in Lithuania
(1724-1790) Priest Steponas Bizijas preformed the first post mortem examination (1770), in Vilnius.
(1745-1821) Johanas Peteris Frankas, father of Jozefas Frankas, arrived in Vilnius to teach with the medical department in Vilnius University. He was then appointed to lead the University Teaching Hospital. In 1805 he established the first Vilnius University Therapeutic clinic. Johanas developed a program that changed the way medicine was taught, to include practical aspects.
(1771-1842) Jozefas Frankas, a professor of pathology, founded the Vilnius Medical Association for purposes of self-development in 1805. The medical association is known for its separation of politics and medicine under the Russian Empire. The Association helped to establish various medical journals, made a vast contribution to research and founded the VU Medical Library. Through the Association, the first institute of Vaccination against Smallpox in Vilnius was also launched. Overall this organization contributed significantly to Lithuania’s standard of living. Jozefas Frankas also founded the first anatomopathological examination room with the University Hospital. Most samples were obtained from post mortem studies (autopsies) and stored in spirit. During the retreat of Napoleon's army, most samples were eaten by starving French soldiers. But getting bodies for the University’s studies during this time was easy, because the Tsar had decreed from 1793-1809 that all dead bodies be opened in order to collect monsters. Jozefas Frankas recognized the role of post mortem studies in regards to medicine training. Most of the exhibits of the Vilnius anatomical museum, including anatomopathological preparations, were moved to the anatomical museum of Kiev University. Few of them remained with the Vilnius Medical Society.
(1798-1873) Klemensas Malesevskis, who was the head of Vilnius's Asylum in 1837-1864, conducted research on the use of galvanic current and metallotherapy in cholera treatment, and also in the treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders. In 1861, he implemented successful electroshock therapy in a 35-year-old catatonic patient.
(1851-1927) Jonas Basanavicius, was the originator of Lithuanian medical terminology. He also founded the science of sanitation in Bulgaria and known for his promotion of public health. He is also famous for his contributions to research in Lithuanian history, culture and ethnics. He helped to preserve the Lithuanian language while taking care, about the nations enlightenment.
(1859-1917) Liudvikas Lazaris Zamenhofas, a Jewish ophthalmologist, spent much of his life in Lithuania working on the creation of a universal language, called "Esperanto." This language was an essential tool that helped to abolish the differences between human various nationalities and religions. Zamenhofas believed strongly in the universalism of human rights. He is known throughout the world as the ‘doctor who hopes.’ Esperanto is still used through out the world today.
(1892-1966) Vladas Lasas, honoured scientist of Lithuania and a member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, founded the Lithuanian Physiological Society. In 1924 he worked on probation in Lausanne, under supervision of famous scientist M. Arthus, the founder of experimental allergy-anaphylaxis. In 1944 he was appointed as dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Kaunas University. Here, under his own initiative, three basic clinical buildings were built for the Faculty of Medicine. In 1946, he was elected as academician and appointed as secretary-in-charge of natural mathematical and applied science of the Academy of Sciences of Lithuania.
(1902-1966) Jonas Runkevicius was the first in midwar Lithuania to commence epidemiological investigations of tuberculosis. In 1945 he began working concurrently for both the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University, while leading the Department of Tuberculosis in the Ministry of Health. From 1947-1949 he was a deputy dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Runkevicius spent his life battling tuberculosis in Lithuania.
(1922-1997) Alfonsas Kaikaris, a pharmacologist, was the founder of the Lithuanian Pharmacy Museum. In 1947 he began to work with the Kaunas University and in 1957 was appointed as vice dean of the Pharmacy and Stomatology Department. In 1957 he began collecting pharmaceutical artefacts and in 1973, the Institute provided a small room in the attic for these objects and so a small pharmacy museum, the first in Lithuania, was born. Today this museum has grown into the Pharmacy and Medical History Centre of Lithuania.
And these are just to name a few.
E.U. Lobbying and the Firm
Friday March 10th; 1630-1830
ISM International School of Management
Topic E.U. Lobbying and the Firm
“It is not enough to hear and see you must also get in there, it is not enough to involve, you must also get involved.”
SPEAKER - Laima Andrikiene (LT EU Parliament Member)
Pyramid of Power:
People from the blocks try to influence the overall pyramid through lobbying. A solution to all of this is better interaction between groups to meet goals.
1. thousands of lobbyists play an important role but the EU lobbying system is problematic
2. EC only supports self regulation of lobbying procedure, there are no rules to govern it
3. self regulation in inadequate (no records, transparency, regulations)
4. civil society groups are speaking up for change
Lithuanian business representation in BXL is almost null, very few people do anything. Many people act underground. The services directive came back with 90% question marks when it should have been + and –‘s from Lithuanian representatives, to want they want to keep and get rid of. There is no network of understanding of what can be achieved and how the EU system works. People have no experience and it is time to change. People are young, (no experience) weak and there is not enough money. We don’t need a huge association, but we do need people with skills.
I spend 1% of my time with Lithuanian lobbyists. If you are not where the decision is made, then the decision is made without you.
SERVICES DIRECTIVE: There are many differences between new and old states and large bureaucratic obstacles. If passed then in the next 20 years we can do it. Some maybe in 5 years but time is needed.
The problems are that there is a high population and low service quality. I am very angry about Lithuanian trade unions, they are supposed to defend their workers and they are not doing so. They are doing nothing for the services directive. And when the time passes it will be too late. We have to act in the right time, with the right information, and in the right form, to the right people. The EU makes exceptions but if you do it for LT you must do it for others as well. The situation in the Euro zone is not the best one and we do not want to accept it with all these problems (controversy, poverty).
The number one priority for 2013 is closure of the nuclear power plant.
It is important to get into the right network and do what they do.
SPEAKER - Tomas Vasilevskis (US Embassy Analyst)
I want to bring up some provocative ideas about lobbying in the EU/LT. Where is the line drawn? We are in the common market and the commission is where it starts but many businesses perceive the EU as ‘out there’ not ‘in here’. People thing BXL has nothing to do with business. Well, if you don’t want to have anything to do with it then don’t. Post Soviet heritage leaves a mark on how people think. You don’t go where you don’t see any benefit and people have a hard time seeing a benefit here.
COMPANIES: Can companies do private lobbying themselves? No, they should not directly because that is a close step to corruption. Companies should act thorough official lobbies to avoid corruption.
ASSOCIATIONS: Are groupings of companies and they have the right to approach civil servants together (politicians). Providing positions on behalf of associations is better then providing them on behalf of companies. Associations help you to deal with trade unions (10 % of companies in LT belong). In many organizations there are bigs and smalls under the same umbrella. The bigger players try to influence the smaller ones and the associations are a tool to do so. You have to be careful all the time and know what you want.
CONFEDERATIONS: These are bigger units uniting associations under one umbrella organization. If you are a company in the confederations it opens doors. There are influential people that can get you to the lobbying procedure.
LOBBYISTS: Lobbyists are private people who’s business is making money out of people. They provide services. Private lobbying potential is huge but the market is weak. People do not have the understanding and skills needed yet. In BXL they look at private lobbyists as a business organization umbrella. PR and PA companies are establishing units to deal in governmental affairs.
The benefits of being in BXL are reliable and fast information, first hand information, representation of your interests and you have influence, informal and formal networking (they need each other) and image building. But people do not perceive it as a benefit.
The challenges are the slow bureaucratic process, difficulty in coordinating, lack of strategic plans and lobbying agenda (do best yourself) and lack of financial resources and know how.
Loving it is the most important key to everything you do.
Tolerance - Lithuania a Haven of Tolerance
Norman Davies, author of God's Playground a History of Poland, is chair of the history department with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, at the University of London. Davies regards Lithuania as forming Europe’s “prime haven of tolerance.”
According to the French National Geographical Institute, the centre of Europe is about 20km north of Vilnius; according to Norman Davies, the centre of European tolerance in the 1400’s, lies here as well. At its furthest extent the realm of Lithuania stretched all the way from the Baltic to the Black Sea, encompassing numerous cultures. Despite the differences, people coexisted with relative ease. The roots of this fact can be traced back through a series of steps in history. Here’s how.
1253 During Mindaugas’ rule, he managed to establish a stable state comprised of peoples of varied ethnicity and religious confessions.
1323 Gediminas established Vilnius as the capital of Lithuania.
1385 Lithuania grew immensely after its ruler Grand Duke Jogaila married Queen Jadwiga of Poland and concluded in a personal union with Lithuania and Poland. Lithuania and Poland, under united rule, began to Christianize people according to the rules laid out by Pawel Wlodkowic. Their marriage enabled the Christianization of Lithuania and the final defeat of the Teutonic Knights.
1386 Grand Duke Jogaila began to remove the outward symbols of the pagan religion. He instructed the people in Christianity and mass baptisms were preformed.
1387 The foundation of the bishopric in Vilnius took place.
1400’s The Eastern Europe of the fourteenth century, continued to steadily grow more peaceful. There were several distinct nationalities in the territory, including Russians, Lithuanians, Poles and Jews. Only the Roman Catholics had less freedom of worship, due to their association with the crusaders.
1500’s Catholicism was the main religion during this time, but there was a great openness toward other religions in Lithuania. As the great military leader Jan Tarnowski stated, “this is not a question of religion; it is a question of liberty.” This openness concerned also the non-Christian religions. Muslims were also widely tolerated.
1569 By the Union of Lublin, Poland and Lithuania became united constitutionally: “the Commonwealth of Good Will…. Free Men with Free. Equal with Equal.” The Lithuanian and Ruthenian (Belorussian and Ukrainian) elites joined their Polish equivalents in the parliament and government administration of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
1573 The Parliament in Warsaw passed the Act of Toleration. This Act ensured that there would be no suppression of any Christian denomination. Protestants and Catholics were to work in harmony for the greater glory of the Commonwealth.
1592 The Jewish community in Poland organized itself on an autonomous basis with its own-quasi parliament, The Council of Three Lands, responsible only to the King. Lithuania became haven for Jews escaping slaughter and persecution all over Western Europe.
1650 The population and diversity continued to grow. Lithuanians made up only around one-third of the total population of an estimated 3 million people. Slavs, Germans, Jews, Poles, Tatars and Karaites composed the remaining two-thirds. The diversity of peoples, faiths and political convictions were more and more resistant to centralized administration.
1800’s Vilnius was known as the "Jerusalem of the North." In the 18th century it was celebrated for the presence of the "Vilna Gaon."
1890 The power of the Commonwealth dissipated and the country was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. This was largely the end of the original, indigenous legal and political thought. Afterward, this type of contribution from the Polish-Lithuanian Union, to the human heritage, was mostly limited to the romantic slogan, “For our freedom and yours.”
1900’s The city contained 96 synagogues before World War Two. Today only one remains.
Vilnius has always been a prominent intellectual centre, thereby attracting foreigners from all over the world. Today it continues to play the role. In Davies most recent book, God’s Playground a History of Poland Part II, he states, “Throughout nearly all its history, Lithuania was more tolerant of Jews and other minorities then most of the neighbouring areas. The Pogroms which disfigured so much of Czarist Russia were hardly known in Lithuania. The capital, Vilnius, was a safe haven of toleration in which Poles, Lithuanians, Russians and Jews lived side by side. (1400’s)”
Davies wasn’t the only one who took notice of this. Erasmus of Rotterdam is quoted as stating, “I congratulate this nation (Lithuania) which now, in sciences, jurisprudence, morals, and religion, and in all that separates us from barbarism, is so flourishing that it can rival the first and most glorious of nations.”
Today Vilnius faces a new wave of foreigners and Lithuanians will once again face this age old issue of tolerance. If history plays a part, we can expect that Vilnius will continue to be a growing international centre.
A Belarusian Border New Year
I thank the people who invited me, it's a historic cottage I will never forget.
Somewhere along the Belarusian border (near Svencionys), we spent New Years. The sauna, they joked, was in Belarus, the house in Lithuania and along the dirt road to the village, police are on the watch for border jumpers. But when we arrived, we just found a sleepy little cluster of homes past the crosses (signaling a crossroad where people pray about their safe journey).
The cottage was a faded yellow color, matching the golden fields to the east. A picket rail fence surrounded it and it was the the only one without snarling guard dogs (these guard dogs are the tough, mangy, all year outdoor kind that never get let off the chain - and it takes a really tough dog to survive Lithuania's typical winters). It had a rustic tin roof and lattice around the windows. I wasn't sure what to expect when I stepped in, but what we found was a 100 year old historic relic preserved just the way life was in those olden years. The neighbors to our sides still lived the same way, but many farmers have moved into the cities. Someone mentioned to me that most of the people out here are old "pensioners," living off the land and just getting by.
So it was time to start getting things set up for the evening. We walked out to the well and I sent the metal pail tumbling down to the bottom. I peered inside, down into the deep black depths below; gently the pail was sinking down as water invaded its walls. I gave the ok and a friend began to pull it back up. Water sloshed back and forth as we carried it into the house. There is no indoor plumbing here.
There were two types of wells in our village. One was the typical kind you raise with a handle by winding a chain around a pole. This one is common all over Lithuania. The other was a large stick on a lever system, which I had never seen before. When you released the pail it gently dipped down and the back end of the stick raised up. Once the pail filled with water, you gave it a gentle pull and the weight of the stick easily lifted it up.
We carried it inside and set it down by the sink. The sink consists of what looks like a aluminum pail attached to the wall by an arm. You lift the lid to pour water into the pail and you press a little arm like stick at the bottom to release water so that you can wash - hands, dishes, face, etc. The water drains from the sink by means of a crude pipe that leads just outside the house. Below the sink are bricks, because wood wouldn't last through the years with all that moisture.
It was freezing cold when we entered the cottage, and here there is no central heating. We were lucky to have electricity at all, which served the few lamps on the wall through the night. So now it's time warm the cottage. This heating system is unlike anything I have seen. It is like a large brown block wall in the center of the cottage, where a portion serves as a stove and the remaining part stretches into the second room. There are two places where logs can be placed to feed the fire. One is below the stove and the other is just at the entrance way to the second room. The stove consisted of what was a large metal plate atop the blocks. There are metal rings of varying sizes where the burner tops of modern stoves would commonly be. You removed the rings with a metal rod depending on how much heat you wanted and how large the pot or pan was.
The cottage was only two rooms in size, but the two rooms were then divided again in half by curtains strung on wire and dressers. An old table sat in the middle of the second room surrounded by wooded chairs with pretty floral designs carved into the back. The inhabitants of this home were very religious. Orthodox Russian paintings, pictures of Jesus and other Catholic saints hung all over the walls. A small card with Pope John Paul was stuck into the edge of the painting near the bed where we would stay. An old cuckoo clock hung on the wall by the front door, with a chain that hadn't been pulled in years and a Russian coin lay on the table.
When evening came, two old men joined our group. Both of them spoke in Polish, many people around here do not even speak in Lithuanian (Russian and German languages are also commonly used). I greeted one of the men with a hand shake and he grabbed my shoulders and gave me a kiss on the cheek and then my hand. The other man sat down at the table and we offered him something to eat. He refused, but we convinced him to have a drink. It was a full glass of vodka - which by the amount I thought better could have been apple juice - and in one full swig he drank a 10 ounce glass down to the very last drop. Then quickly he ate a few pickles. The other guy did not want to leave without buying a bottle of vodka for 10 or 100 litas - I lost track of what they were saying but he kept shoving a 10 lita bill in peoples hands. Finally they were able to lure him out of the house with a tiny sip of vodka in the bottom of a glass and he went home happy enough.
Some people then wandered out to the sauna (which took about 4-hours to heat) to beat themselves with a combination of birch and pine branches bundled together (for ones health they say - but I don't know how healthy it is since they often beat until blood). The walls in the sauna were completely black and the wooded building was charred from the inside. Water had to be carried from the well and dumped over large rocks. One of the Polish men helped get the fire inside started. We also had games to play and plenty of food. What was unusual to me is that just about every dish had mayonnaise - vegetables, rice, cheese and fried bread cubes - anything you could think of (compared to Americans who tend to avoid excessive amounts of it).
When the clock struck midnight I hardly realized it. I just remember watching through the static on TV a man opening a Champaign bottle (with an antenna like antlers hanging by a string from the roof). And I realized 2007 was here. And while 2007 was ringing in I realized how hard it is to feel at home in a culture not your own. Some fireworks went off, voices were speaking all around me that I couldn't understand and I stood there lost in a world - inside another world.
At maybe 3am I finally fell asleep. I pulled the blankets on the bed back and stuffed the sleeping bag underneath. Some of the blankets also looked like they had been there for 100 years. Henri kept complaining that he had some sharp rod sticking in his back in the bed all night. I slept by a window, where a fat lazy fly buzzed around all morning.
The next morning we went out to explore for a little bit. I found the wicked witch of the west's broom beside the neighbors house. I guess they were having a really witchy New Years Eve.
German Art Exhibition
Hans Christian Schink
Exhibition opening 11 October
GALERIJA VARTAI, VILNIAUS G. 39, LT -01119 VILNIUS, TEL/FAKSAS +370 5 2122 949
Hans Christian Schink was born in Erfurt, (Germany), in 1961. He studied photography at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig, where he earned the distinction Meisterschüler, or “master student,” in 1993. The curriculum focused on both the practical and theoretical aspects of the medium with an emphasis placed on photography’s ability to document visual culture. Schink now lives and works in Leipzig.
The massive gray skies of winter, bleeding out the trees into the background and the sky. Pushing your eyes towards the land and manmade elements. Each image is classically composed, with careful attention given to formal structure, scale, and visual clarity. Schink focuses on his optics and weather to achive this unique impression, while other photographers working to achieve the same quality can only achieve it through digital manipulation.
Concreate structures of mankind, towering over the fragile elements of nature, show the intertwining conflicts bbetween the two. The impressive size of the photographs add to the appeal.
There are 58 photographs in this series with others scattered through Germany, Japan and in the United States of America.
Schink comments, "I don‘t talk about my future plans.“
Saint Nicholas Came to Lithuania by Ship
St. Nicholas Church (Šv. Mikalojaus g. 4, Vilnius)
St. Nicholas’s Church was built just around the beginning of the 14th Century, when Grand Duke Gediminas invited traders and artisans to the city of Vilnius. It can be found first mentioned in books, in the year 1387. At that time Lithuania was prominently of the Pagan religion, but Gediminas granted the traders the privilege of freedom of religion. St. Nicholas Church was built in honour of St. Nicholas – in connection to the Hanze trade. St Nicholas Church is one of the oldest in Vilnius and Lithuania.
The church can be found resting in a quite area of the city, off Vokiečių gatve. The attractive gothic red brick building rests quietly inside a church fence, added in the later 19th century. Although small, stepping inside the church gives you a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Just as St. Nicholas is the patron Saint of Sailors and travellers, this church will surely shelter you from the city and offer one a place to feel at home.
When you step inside the gothic ceiling and honeycomb lacing will first catch your eyes. Small spikes and twisted barbs are painted about and pieces of history shine through the layers. In the center one can see the sun and moon surrounding small faded faces. Chandeliers hang down through holes in the ceiling. The church's vault is supported on four octagonal columns, looking closely towards the bottom you can see pieces cut away to show the original art work on the gothic column. The church has three altars and on one rests a 16th century silver-encrusted picture of St. Nicholas. Above him hover angels painted on the ceiling. Their faces fade in and out – flowing together like watercolours – watching down on St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas looks out onto the congregation, with his hands held open in prayer. His right hand supports a staff and merchant ship, below him hangs a plague covered in tiny silver hearts, eyes, legs, arms and people kneeling in prayer. These tiny silver ornaments attest to the prayers that have been answered through him to God.
The gothic features of St. Nicholas Church have survived almost unchanged since it first stood in pagan Vilnius. Let’s hope it remains this way.
St. Nicholas the Patron St. of Russian Merchants
There is also a Russian Orthodox Church in Vilnius, named on honour of the saint. St. Nicholas is known in Russia as the patron Saint of Russian merchants. He is a popular subject portrayed on countless Eastern Orthodox, primarily Russian icons. Icons are meant to be ‘the Windows into Heaven' and inspire within the viewer a manner of prayerful reflection on the Divine. These icons can be found in homes and churches as a daily reminder of which duties to live by. In many Catholic icons, St. Nicholas is depicted as a bishop in a red bishop's cloak, with staff. He is shown holding purses, coins or golden balls in combinations of three. This can be traced back to the story of the poor man and his three daughters. In the background will be images of ships or children, depending on which St. he represents.
St. Nicholas is one of the most important Russian Orthodox Saints and Russia has taken various steps to honour him. In the year 2000, a mighty bronze statue of the saint, sculpted by the Russian sculptor Gregory Potosky, was donated by the government to the state of Turkey. The statue was then placed in a prominent spot along the square beside the medieval church of St. Nicholas, in the city of Demre (originally ancient Myra). In 2005, with much discontent, the statue was moved to the entrance of the church and in its former place a red-suited plastic Santa Claus was erected.
St. Nicholas of Myra
Nicholas of Myra was born to an affluent Christian family in Asia Minor during the 3rd century at Patara, Lycia. At that time the region was largely Hellenistic in its culture and outlook, referring to the spread of Greek culture over other non-Greek cultures that had been conquered by Alexander the Great. The Hellenistic civilization was said to be a fusion of Greek and Oriental culture, which gave Christianity the opportunity to flourish. Nicholas was very religious from an early age and devoted his life to Christianity. It is said that his parents died while he was in his youth, which led him to a period of soul-searching in which his uncle introducing him better to Christianity. He even received an inheritance, which he donated all to charity. As a young scholar, Nicholas moved to Myra to continue his studies. Here, his uncle introduced him to the local bishop. The bishop saw great potential in Nicholas and he received his ordination as a priest at an early age.
Nicholas' early years as a priest occurred during the reign of co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. At that time Diocletian had issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. Following the abdication of the two Emperors the policies changed. Emperor Constantius Chlorus took control in the Western part of Europe. But still in the Eastern part of Europe Galerius continued with the persecution, considered the longest in the history of the Empire, until his deathbed. Nicholas somehow survived this period.
After Galerius’s death, the surviving co-ruler Licinius for the most part tolerated Christians, and the community began to redevelop. It is in this period that Nicholas became bishop of the city of Myra. History shows that he was well loved and respected in his area, and Nicholas' popularity would serve to guarantee his position and influence.
A war broke out between the two rulers and in 324 Licinius was defeated by his co-ruler Constantine I of the Roman Empire. Now, all of the Roman Empire unified under the rule of Constantine and his policies towards Christians consisted of active support. Under this newfound reign of relative peace, the Christian church experienced an age of prosperity. But it brought forth an internal conflict within contemporary Christianity over the failure to agree on a commonly accepted concept of God.
Constantine put together a council to address these issues as a problem of the state. Nicholas was in attendance here, in what was called the First Council of Nicaea or the Ecumenical council in 325. The council resulted in the declaration of the Nicene Creed and the formal condemnation of Arianism. In the latter years, Arianism saw renewed growth in popularity; even Constantine himself was baptized under the Arian faith shortly before his death.
Nicholas died on 6 December 343, in Myra. Unfortunately his remains did not rest in Myra. In 1071 the Eastern Roman Empire lost control of the region when they suffered a loss to the invading Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert. Myra was then overtaken by the Islamic invaders and sailors from Bari, Italy seized the remains of Nicholas from their caretakers, the Orthodox monks. The remains were then brought to Bari and have been preserved for the most part intact in his grave crypt.
The feast day - December 6th – is now a day of celebration and remembrance for people across the world.
St. Nicholas the Patron Saint of Children
St. Nicholas‘s fame as a protector of children is well known. This comes from some of the many associated stories and miracles preformed by St. Nicholas such as when a horrible famine struck and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, to slaughter sell as ham. When visiting the region, St. Nicholas learned of the horrible crime and was able to resurrect the three boys from the barrel. This is why St. Nicholas is also known as the patron Saint of Children. In the 14th century, choir boys of St. Nicholas churches were given money and the day off on December 6th. Later pupils of covenant schools were threatened to behave with the warning that they would be rewarded or punished by a monk dressed as the Good Bishop.
There are many other stories about the miracles of St. Nicholas, but perhaps the most famous one is the story of a poor man who had three young daughters which he could not afford a proper dowry for. This meant that they would remain unmarried. St. Nicholas decided to help him by sneaking out in the cover of night to throw three purses filled with gold coins through the window. When one night the father lies in wait, St. Nicholas avoids being seen by throwing them down the chimney. People then thought that he was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, and even after his death such gifts are still often attributed to St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas the Patron Saint of Sailors
Shortly after his death, the cult of St. Nicholas spread rapidly via southern Italy throughout the rest of the Mediterranean and eventually to coastal towns along the Atlantic and the North Sea. Holland built no fewer then 2 churches in his name in the 12th and 13th centuries and the city of Amsterdam adopted St. Nicholas as its patron saint.
St. Nicholas' strong influence in areas heavily engaged in trade and navigation is due to the fact that St. Nicholas is often referred to as the patron Saint of Sailors and known for his prayers on behalf of sailors and other travellers. It is said that his family managed a fishing boat fleet. Sailors whom are in danger of drowning or being shipwrecked often call upon him for help.
Sometimes the three golden balls are interpreted as fruit. Since oranges are generally believed to come from Spain, this led to the belief that the saint lives in Spain and thus comes to visit every winter bearing fruit.
The Dutch Sinterklaas or ‘Saint Nicholas' Eve’
St. Nicholas’ influence spread with the tides of trade and in the Netherlands his feast day – December 6th - is remembered with the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas.
On December 5th, St. Nicholas is welcomed in cities across the Netherlands where he has just arrived off a steamship from Madrid, Spain. He arrives dressed up in a flashy red bishop's dress, atop his white horse Amerigo. Following him are numerous assistants, better known as ‘Zwarte Piets’ (black Pete). These black faced elves, dressed in colourful Moorish outfits, dance around behind him throwing candy and making mischief. During the Middle-ages Zwarte Piet was a name for the devil; but is it said that on the eve of St. Nicholas the devil was shackled and made his slave. Many other stories accompany this. Today there are also many debates over the racial connotations of Zwarte Piet. The Dutch claim his face is black from soot, others by the Spanish sun. Many cities have switched to painting Zwarte Piet’s face green.
On the evening of December 5th, presents are brought to every good child. Several weeks beforehand the children have set out their shoes by the doorway or fireplace with bits of hay and carrots as treats for St. Nicholas’s horse in hope of some sweets in return. Typical presents include the first letter of a persons name made out of chocolate and marzipan.
Later in the Netherlands, adults started to give each other presents too. This holiday tradition has progressed by taking on many new twists. One of the most entertaining events of the evening has to do with the poem reading and special surprise gift un-wrapping time. People spend weeks before hand planning the perfect poem to suit the person, along with the given gift. The poem is more or less a small work of art, (bringing out the good things and ridiculing the bad) poking fun at things the receiver did during the past year. It is given anonymously to family members and close friends, signed by St. Nicholas.
The gift wrapping, is often more important than the gift itself. The point is to rap the gift to resemble something else and hide the purchased gift deep inside. Some people hide the gift in hard to find places around the house and the poem gives hints at where to find it. The possibilities are endless and preparations start far in advance. What’s so special about this day is that it’s not what you buy, it’s the meaning you put into it.
Today St. Nicholas is best known as the patron Saint of Christmas. He is where the American Santa Claus, British Father Christmas Dutch Sinterklaas derive their roots from.
The Life of St. Casimir
Casimir was born on October 3rd 1458 at the royal palace of Cracow. As the son of Casmir IV the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Casimir came from a family of power and wealth. Casimir’s mother, Elizabeth of Austria and daughter of Emperor Albrecht II Habsburg, bore six boys and six girls. Casimir was their third child and second born son. Casimir’s grandfather, famed Jogaila was one of Lithuania’s most influential grand dukes; whom helped to first spread Christianity across Lithuania.
Casimir was raised and educated in the Polish cultural atmosphere where he was taught by the honourable Canon John Dlugosz and famed Italian Callimachus Buonacorsi. Dlugosz described Casimir as, “an excellent youth of rare talent.” He excelled in his teachings and at thirteen was sent to the Hungarian throne.
Casimir was most renowned for his life of great piety, good works and virtue. It is said that he often sat and prayed outside of the closed church doors at night and participated in many a fasting. He was of devout faith and also lived under strict chastity. He refused his fathers wishes to marry the daughter of Emperor Frederick III, preferring to remain single.
In 1481 Casimir took an active role in the government helping to strengthen finances, repay debt and strengthen foreign relations. He was of great charm and character, loved by the people and was able to accomplish great feats all throughout the region. In 1483 Casimir fell ill and returned to Vilnius, where he was in charge of the Chancellery of the Grand Principality of Lithuania. His health continued to deteriorate and he passed away during the winter of 1484 (March 4th) at the court of Grodno. Grodno was then the second capital city of Lithuania, while under Polish - Lithuanian rule.
Shortly after his death people came in masses to pay their respect and pray for his intercession with God. His tomb is n the Vilnius Cathedral. His body has been associated with numerous miracles.
The process to canonize Casimir was started in 1521. It is believed that Casimir was canonized by Pope Leo X then, but it wasn’t until 1602 that Pope Clement VIII officially declared St. Casimir’s feast on the church calendar (March 4th) and he was named a saint.
German philosopher, Hermann Hesse described Casimir as, “the kind of man I am seeking and one that I would wish to meet up with; one who is equally likeable in company, as well as in solitude; one who is equally effective in action as well as in contemplation.”
St. Casimir Chapel at the Vilnius Cathedral
The Grand Duke and King Sigismund Vasa decided to have a chapel built in his honour at Vilnius Cathedral. The chapel is adorned by frescoes, pictures and sculptures built in 1636 under Constantino Tencallo. Sandstone was brought from Sweden and marble from Italy to aid in its creation. There are eight wooden statues covered in silver adorning the chapel - holding places for the rulers and their family members of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, dating back to the mid-17th Century. The scenes in the paintings covering the walls are scenes from St. Casimir’s life and stories. The alter table, where people kneel to pray to the beloved saint, depicts a Madonna and Child. Angels bear the silver sarcophagus with the remains of the saint.
The Jesuit Church of St. Casimir
The Church of St. Casimir in Vilnius was founded by the Jesuits and dedicated to Lithuania’s patron saint – St. Casimir. Today it remains an example of one of the finest Baroque churches in Vilnius, which most similar churches in Lithuania have tried to imitate.
Displaying hints of Gothic and Renaissance architectural style, pieces of its amazingly resilient history come shining through. The church is constructed in the shape of a Latin cross and atop it rests a golden king’s crown representing the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Both towers hold ‘Bells for St. Casimir’ with over 15 different tones and so much as a breeze can ring up a new melody.
Inside, six unconnected chapels hold displays, and a painting of St. Casimir graces the main alter. Below the main alter rests a large crypt, discovered in 1991, containing paintings and sketches of the praying monks, calligraphy and scenes from the bible. Some fifteen Jesuits and benefactors were also found buried here.
Since the reconsecration of the church, every Sunday after midday Mass the best choirs in Lithuanian present striking concerts, a splendour to the ears.
St. Casimir’s Day (Kaziukas)
St. Casimir’s Day, also known as Kaziukas, is a national holiday and festival celebrated every year in Lithuania and Poland on March 4th. On this day, thousands of private vendors enter the streets to sell homemade products of all sorts. One of the most popular products are Vilniaus verbos. These are dried flowers tied to short sticks, which are presented in festive colors and designs; they are taken to church on Palm Sunday and used to decorate the home. In the evenings families would traditionally bake muginukas, which are heart shaped cookies decorated with designs and ones name inscribed in the center.
St. Casimir, descendant from the respected Gediminaitis clan, is Lithuania’s only saint and this special occasion is very popular with all Lithuanian people. St. Casimir is a saint that the Lithuanian people can relate with, due to the fact that he comes from the same land. Casimir remains an inspiration to Lithuanian youth, due to his age and regard for chastity. His life and miracles go well beyond the church walls.
It is said that his first such miracle, the one that he is best known for, is his apparent apparition in 1518 at the Dauguva River during the war with Russia. A large Russian Army had assembled beside the river outside of the city of Polotsk where a small group of members of the Lithuanian Army stood guard. The river was swollen and there was no way that they could cross but it is believed that Casimir appeared on a white horse and urged the Lithuanian Army to cross. They fought and won the battle. Casimir was elevated even higher in eyes of Lithuanians.
There are 12 churches in Lithuania serving in memory of St. Casimir and numerous others found in Poland and across the United States. The first church in the United States built in memory of St. Casimir, was erected in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in 1862. Where ever Lithuanians live, one can find churches bearing his name.
Timeline: The Jesuit Church of St. Casimir
1578 The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola
1604 Construction of the church began with funding from the Great Duchy Leo Sapieha, in memory of the holy prince Casimir
1622 Andrew Bobola was ordained
1635 Construction was completed
1655 Destroyed by fire when the Russian Army Entered Vilnius
1707 Destroyed by fire
1749-1755 Destroyed by fire, reconstruction was overseen by architect and astronomer Tomas Žebrauskas
1751–1753 Hans Kierner (Prussian sculptor) decorated the interior
1773 The Society of Jesus was suppressed and the church was turned over to the Augustinians
1812 Napoleon’s French Army used the church as a grain silo
1815-1832 The church was used by missionary priests
1839 The Russians turned it into St. Michaels Orthodox Church, while banning the Lithuanian language
1864-1868 Reconstructed under architect N. Chiagin
1915 The German Army turned the church into a Lutheran house of worship for the German soldiers
1917 The church was returned to the Catholics
1919 Blessed George Matulaitis returned the church to the Jesuits
1925 Restoration was overseen by architect Jan Borovski
1949 The church was closed by the Soviets and used as a grain silo
1963-1988 The church was turned into a museum of atheism
1989 The church was returned to the Roman Catholic community
1991 The church was reconsecrated and the Jesuits work in it once again
1993 Antanas Kmieliauskas adorned the church with paintings of the Resurrection and St. Casimir
Timeline: The Life of Casimir
1458 Casimir was born
1471 Sent to occupy the throne of Hungary
1472 Returned to Cracow to continue his education
1472 Casimir’s oldest brother obtained the throne of Bohemia and Casimir became heir to his father’s throne
1474 Began attending meetings of the State Council and traveling with his father in order to gain knowledge in affairs of the state
1480 Casimir took an active role in the government
1481-1482 Casimir represented his father in Poland, while away
1483 Casimir was in charge of the Chancellery of the Grand Principality of Lithuania
1484 Casimir passed away of tuberculosis
1521 Casimir was canonized by Pope Leo X
1602 St. Casimir was officially canonized and Pope Clement VIII officially declared St. Casimir’s feast
1636 The chapel of St. Casimir was built and incorporated into the Vilnius Cathedral
1948 St. Casimir was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII as the special patron of Lithuanian youth
1948 St. Casimir’s coffin was removed from the Vilnius Cathedral and taken to the church of St. apostles Peter and Paul
1989 St. Casimir’s coffin was returned to the Vilnius Cathedral
2004 Jubilee year of St. Casimir
Lithuanian Social Democratic Party Concert (LSDP)
a.k.a. Mr. Bowtie
16 December... All that I knew, was that I was on my way to a concert at the Siemans Arena. The rest was a mystery.
Riding the bus of Politics
The bus ride to the Siemans Arena was anything but usual. People around me were all fired up about politics. “Why should you even work when it is only for 600 litas a month? The government gets pretty much all of your salary and all you have left is pennies,” a woman said. Someone else commented, “The Social Democratic Party is just a bunch of Communists in disguise. We mine as well be ruled by Russians.” Then from the back of the bus came, “And nothing good is coming from the West – only drugs and prostitution. Once the West came people only are catching up on the bad things that never were here before. This is what was forbidden in Russian times.” And another person refuted, “No, good things are coming but we don’t know how to use them. We are only taking the bad and that is why families are broken and people go into alcoholism. It’s because they then have nothing left.” “Youth are becoming cruel,” someone else added in. “Youth earn money and they spend it on drinking and you see them sitting on the bench wasted.” And a man to my left said, “We are nothing but workers – a human work tool – and that’s how we are treated. No one looks at us any differently. We are not people, we are tools... instruments. Why can’t we just live our lives? Zuokas ruined everything.” (Arturas Zuokas is the former mayor of Vilnius. You can even read his blog at http://www.zuokas.lt. I even read in the news that he was acquitted on charges that he kidnapped a key councilmember in the municipal elections and used psychological pressure to sway his vote. Hummmmm....)
LSDP Concert (a free holiday concert for all LSDP party members)
First, before I go into the details of the concert, I would like to give you a few political figures for reference.
Statistics about the Principal Political Parties and Coalitions (2006):
Labor Party--29 seats
Conservative Party--26 seats
Social Democratic Party--23 seats
Civil Democracy Group--12 seats
Liberal Movement Group--11 seats
Peasant and People's Political Group--10 seats
Liberal Democratic Party--9 seats
New Union--9 seats
Liberal and Center Union--8 seats
Finally I found a seat. After a lot of pushing, looking and ignoring 'stop!' I sat down in a pretty sweet spot. That's when in all began. They came striding in through the crowd with long candle sticks that reminded me of the flames in Kaunas on Independence Day. The concert started out with people in Medieval costumes. I tried desperately to watch and listen to what was going on, but all I could hear was the old lady cursing about the seating behind my back.
Then Algirdas Brazauskas (In May/July 2006, then Prime Minister, Algirdas Brazauskas resigned after the Labor Party pulled out of the ruling coalition because of a major scandal. Brazauskas was the first president of newly independent Lithuania from 1993 - 1998. Brazauskas was also the leader of the Communist Party under Soviet rule starting in 1988.) came on the big screen and one audience member shined a red pointer light into his eyes. It wasn’t him in person, it was only a video recording. But you could tell the person was dissatisfied with Brazauskas and doing it out of hate or spite. A good show for all of us, thousands of people saw it. "The Social Democratic Party supports families,” a speaker said. But you could see amongst the crowd that not all people were so believing - they were just here for the free show. Gediminas Kirkilas (Current Prime Minister, who was elected after Brazauskas resigned.) then came on the big screen.
Next a lady came on stage whom I will call the 'ruler of the right to have children.' She is the one to determine how much money pregnant woman receive and whether or not to create a good atmosphere for having children. She welcomed people to the concert and then the show began.
A singer sang, “We’re all together, people in our circle will help us. Why do we need money if we have friends?” (I was thinking corrupt friends in the right places – is that what you are talking about in this context?)
Next came a huge Public Relations stunt, where Brazauskas (and Kirkulas on the side) visited a family to 'act' like he cares. It is shocking to me – he has stolen so much from the average family and here he is on the big screen ‘caring.’ He gave 8kg of meat and 12kg of cake the commenter said (like measuring how generous a person is by giving away stuff in kg – like in the Soviet times). He gave a few more gifts while thousands of people sat and were forced to watch. People clapped at the end, but not too many people.
The next group was named after fruit. They were all about 13-15 years of age dancing around on stage. Red, white and navy blue stripes - the children are decorated in these soviet colors standing before us on stage. Some of them are too young to understand what it means. Maybe when they are adults they will be ashamed to have stood there in those colors.
“What is making Lithuania proud?” shouted the commenter. “Social Democrats!” (What response should this receive if you think back to the bus?)
Next was a leopard striped circus group act. Small kids doing tricks – they reminded me of snails in a tube. They were one of the best acts.
“Love, family, house and work…” that’s what is important to a social democrat or so the commenter says.
The next singer opened her act by saying, “Even though there is no snow on the ground, I am glad to be here on this beautiful day.” (Well I can say that the sun was shining this morning and that is something rare.) “I’m getting old and nobody wants me, as if in a dream,” she sang. I could hear the pain in her voice even before I knew what she was singing. It was haunting and eerie – full of emotion about a life that was passing her by. And she couldn’t understand how. She didn’t know what had happened to her life and how she got where she is. She begged for something in her words, maybe for the pain to go away and for her time on this earth to end. “Lost in a crowd. Melting in being alone. Warmth disappears as if in a dream,” she came to a close.
And I watched another goodwill announcement about Brazauskas supporting students from the Military Academy. “The number of students in the LSDP are increasing,” the commenter said after the video clip ended.
The next singer is an old man who bit the head off of a pigeon about 5-years ago. And let me add that five years ago he was also an old man. I was told he did it to become famous, like Ozzy Osborne. The pigeon was even alive! And this man is a classical music singer – I guess it was a PR thing. But his singing sounds more like whining, so I guess he needed it. More then half of the singers are old men. All of them people popular from the communist times.
“The name of Lithuania is widely echoing all over the world,” shouted the commenter. And they began asking where people were from. The crowd loved the involvement.
The next performer sang a sweet love song – but it didn’t sound like she was that in love. She called herself the Uzupis Angel (Uzupis is a suburb of Vilnius that is, well, not so nice). Above her, what looked like a bat floated down from the ceiling. A spotlight outlining what was supposed to be angel’s wings lit up the wall - like batman. Snow fell in sparkly circles and the bat flew back to the rafters as the song came to a close.
Next are whom I will call the Lithuanian Cowboys. Their song began with a resemblance to country line dancing. They commented to a person in the crowd that they looked like a person from Panevezis (a somewhat backwards city in Lithuania - people joke). It was a boot stomping down-south kind of feeling music, where you wanted to get up and stomp around. They said something about “time to go to the hay.” And people swayed back and forth together in the crowd. The guy beside me nodded his head in the air.
Christmas old father - is how you say Santa in Lithuanian.
And now it was halftime. I made for the nearest exit way. “Are you part of the LSDP party?” asked a guy at the exit. “Yes” I said… I mean “Taip.” And he let me through. Most people were being denied access to this exit but I stood beside a guy in a suit and pretended like I was with him. I quickly slipped by – I wasn’t going to give that guy another moment to change his mind. (What did I say yes to…was all I was wondering.) Once I stepped in, I saw. There was a whole buffet table lined up in front of me with all the sandwiches, sweets and wine you could imagine. Juozas Olekas (Mr. Bowtie or the Defense Minister), Gediminas Kirkilas (the Prime Minister), Zigmantas Balcytis (the Finance Minister) and other top government officials were there. We also saw the guy who sold Mazeikiu Nafta (oil refinery) to the U.S. Williams Company, which resulted in a big scandal. So, there I was – in the inner circle – and joined in on the feast. I ate a lot, drank some, ate some more, stared at people and drank a little more. The one thing I noticed is that if you walk around with your back straight and head high looking like you know what your doing, no one even bothers to ask why you are there. There were security people all over the corners of the room and I had to smile about being there. Finally, I hunkered down in a corner to enjoy the atmosphere and a guy next to us offered some more LSDP chocolates. Once I left the place I felt more like I wanted to go to sleep then listen to anymore music. “I can’t believe we just had lunch with Kirkilas!” I thought. It would be like having lunch with V.P. Cheney I guess. The only one missing was the President, but he of course can’t show any party affiliation. It was interesting to see who all the members of the LSDP were.
I then learned that there are 11,469 people at the concert today and we were the lucky ones to have lunch in the hot-shot box! This whole event seems a little scandalous and forbidden. The LSDP dues are what paid for the feast. These dues come from the common people and the big wigs make out like bandits on Treasure Island. What is fair? Nothing is fair I’m afraid. The normal people don’t win – the corrupt upper crust takes all. It’s sad when I see it in these people around me. Here they are, hoping for a better life, each with dreams and struggles. And what? They will never even know what went on in the room behind them. Here the hardworking normal people don’t win. I stare at the small exit door across the arena lost in thought. It looks like a door to another world out.
Another music event starts where people are dancing around like genies – something Middle Eastern with a Lithuanian twist. Or maybe ones impression of the other. I look around at all the normal people.
“How do you live? How do you feel?” asks the next singer. “I want it to be like that forever.” This is Lithuania’s most wanted bachelor. He bows down to the crowd and throws his arms out. Then he kicks up a leg. Tie-dyed red, white and green colors twirl around on the screen behind him – similar to the colors of Christmas, or the LSDP Party, or the Communist Flag. You pick.
The next guy has on a black shirt and white pants – may I say that is the worst composition ever to have on stage. His back side looks enormous and he is this twiggy little guy. “La, la, la” is half his song.
The Dolphins group is next. Red suit with navy blue and white stripped shirts below. No, it’s not bad fashion taste. It has to do with the Soviet military colors, the LSDP and wait… maybe you guessed it! “Thank you for being here for me. Thank you for holding me as a fool. Thank you for holding me and not letting me go. Thank you for dreams come true. Thank you for a faithful and clear heart,” he sings. People go down to the front of the stage waving red flags and swaying side-to-side.
Next comes an older, completely bald-shaved headed guy with a red jacket surrounded by men in green. “Open the doors so that happiness will come into your house,” he sings. Lastly, Santa is coming with pigeons they say. And he came down from the sky on a small white umbrella with a pigeon clinging to his coat. He was a thin spindly guy with arms and legs waving like a spider in the air. Not exactly what I though of when I heard the word Santa. Oh well, Christmas comes in all shapes, manners, and sizes.
There are still a few more road blocks to pass, but think of them (the people slowing it down) as old stones in the road that crumble with every passing year. The bad politics is slowly moving out, making way for a progressive young generation of goal setters. I just hope the people who really can do something, don't get too discouraged by the overall. It's a tough road ahead.
The Vilnius Market
On the way to the market I heard a familiar voice. "Hello Amy," I heard. Where did that familiar voice come from I was wondering… I never know anymore around here. But there it was again, I knew this woman.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "I give lessons up the street in a room rented in one of the academic dorms. I give English classes to the upper level police agents…" and we dove into a fury of discussion about the police life in Lithuania such as:
– appalling work conditions,
- rat and roach infsted buildings,
- low pay even for specialists in their field (a lady who is divorces with two kids earns 1,500 litas a month and has been working there for the past 15 years,
- tax is 27%.
"They are unteachable" she told me. "They are the only group I truly believe is unteachable." And she continued on about life. "Our pensioners, standing by the buses of foreign pensioners near the gate of dawn looking up in envy. And so it goes," she said.
As I stood there in the cold rain one could think it was the city of their dreams, everything looks so beautiful on the outside. But when you look inside all you see is a nightmare.
The market photo journal...
“I keep thinking every morning that I don’t want to end up like that cold little old lady (bamboshka) pushing the stroller in poverty as I pass by.” Quote
A Russian Orthodox Church - 6 July
I was wandering around the city and wandered into this beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. There is this room behind the podium that is totally off-limits and totally secret so no one ever knows what is in there. But the cleaning lady was there and she left the "secret room" door open and I snapped some pictures. You can't see too much in the photo, but basically it looked like another small room with lots of paintings and icons on the wall. I wonder if there is anything else behind that!
Central Vilnius Hospital - July
24 July (Vilnius, Lithuania)
The first time I visited the Central Vilnius Hospital was for a tooth removal and thankfully not my own. I came to learn that here they do not use painkillers and a common practice is to drill the whole think down to the gum. Thankfully that's changing now.
This hospital has a cold feeling. Like you are afraid to touch the walls. People do the best they can to make it brighter and more cheerful with the paintings, but it still gives you a strange feeling when you first step in the door. Above the office doors are these little green and red lights, like traffic lights I can almost imagine them changing colors.
But not one have I seen blink anymore. Then there are the long rows of wooden chairs, worn down from so many people waiting their turn. And when you walk up the hallway stairs, footsteps are worn down into the stone. Hidden amongst the bleak hallways are murals of beauty, local artists photographs, children's paintings and advertisements from a pregnancy magazine.
Strength is represented by a warrior covered with a red drape leading a youth to meet his love. Knowledge is shown as a teacher with his pupils at their desks. Justice is on a high stone, placing her sword back on its scabbard. Valor shows a young man sharpening his sword on the wing of freedom. Union is represented by harmony between a warrior in combat and poetry, a symbol of the arts. Astronomy draws the weight of the world adorned with a band showing the signs of the zodiac. It's Italy, what more can you say!
A journey just one week after his death, until the day before a new beginning.
(19 April) Windup toy soldiers crawl across the wall, last meeting their defeat as they fade away into nothing but flecks of blue spray-paint. KILL DONALD (Rumsfeld) marks the next street corner, followed by BUCK FUSH beside a hastily spray-painted picture of President Bush. Words of hate, in Italian and English, continue on down the road for as far as the eye can see. This is the street that just 1-week prior, the U.S. convoy passed down on the way to Pope John Paul’s funeral.
The Sistine Chapel Vote
But many other dignitaries have also passed down this street and many untold deals have been made. Now is the time of the secret and sacred papal conclave vote, where 115 cardinals from six continents are on a quest for a new Pope. This is a process few know anything about and the partakers are sworn to secrecy with the threat of excommunication. But in the age of technology and the internet, are these secrets really safe? Rumours run like wildfires, on the city streets of Rome. But who knows?
The Vatican is now facing a new threat, espionage. With just the tap of a hand, a small microphone can be snagged onto one of the folds of a cardinal’s crimson robe. There are many people willing to pay large sums of money for just a tiny piece of conversation or a copy of the previous days vote. And the vote does get out, because money speaks an international language in the halls of the Vatican.
Basilica di Saint Pietro
And the angels stood with heads bowed before, on both sides of the entrance to the tomb. As they wept tears of unknown pain, people strolled by in silence. Cameras flashed like lightning coming down from the storms outside, bouncing shadows off the rose-tinted marble walls.
Cody Long, from Colorado, had also joined me on this venture into the Vatican. The two of us were blessed, a friend of ours works inside the Vatican. As others waited in long procession lines, we slipped in like honoured guests.
As we came back out into Vatican Square, the reporters were beginning to show. A large two-storied metal reporting stand had been assembled to view whatever proceedings might take place. A member of the Associated Press let us venture up it, to steal a peek from the live reporter’s perspective on Vatican Square.
Beggars, For Hope
And they circled around us with the voices of angels. Every Sunday, one of the hundreds of Roman Catholic Church’s hosts a remarkable setting for worship. In walked a dark plain-robed man carrying a dangling metal tray of billowing incense, followed by a priest and the cardinal. We slipped quietly past the nuns and stood in the back, where a man was kneeling for confession. The priest inside the confession box sat on a hard wooden bench. He stared out into the mass, lost in the sinner’s desperate pleas.
We stepped outside into the light. A beggar sat huddled by the door clutching a rosary and a tin can for coins. Everywhere in this city, there are people alive with hope and prayer. Has ever a death brought together so many people, from so many parts of our world?
When the votes come in and the new Pope is at last elected, white smoke will billow forth from the Vatican and millions around the world will pause in reflection. Who will be the church's 265th pontiff? The world shall soon know. - Reporting from Rome
Theft on the Plane
I have just been notified that 100 pounds sterling was stolen out of the front galley. The person who did this has 5-minutes to give it back and nothing further will happen. If not, there will be a delay and the police will question and search everyone. You will then be held accountable and responsible for the delay of the aircraft and all of the costs incurred. It will go down on your criminal record and Ryan Air will pursue further legal action. Ladies and gentlemen you must all stay of board until the police arrive.
Several Italian police circled the plane and it began to get very hot inside. You’re clear, a Dutch guy joked. It was pounds sterling and not euros. Several vans pulled up to our plane along with other people. It looked like a bomb threat.
The Plaza Protest
They stood there in the plaza, like medieval soldiers facing off for a great war. One side held white posters. They were protesting for residency permits and these posters were their white flags of freedom. On the other side stood the Italian Police with their batons and small machine guns, but on which side stands justice?
About 100 protestors had gathered here for the first time to protest their state of living. A publishing company by the name of Din Islam had hired this group of people, coming from places as far away as Asia and South America, to distribute fliers. After 6-months they mysteriously closed down and left the country leaving these people with false promises and lost hope. There is nothing for them to return to in their home countries and many haven’t seen their family in over 6 years. Here they are today, eager for a small miracle.
Church Tower Clock
Through a hole in the roof, the sun fell down onto a spot on the floor that marks the hours of the day along a timeline of the zodiac.
Late Night Walks
I went walking late at night to think about many things. A creepy man began following me on the street; he was drunk. I told him to just let me be and walked on so that I was ignoring him. He followed and as I went to open my hostel door, he placed his foot in it. “Go,” I told him, now he was scaring me. He was a lot bigger then me but drunken. I began to estimate what I would have to do if he tried to come in. I tried again to close the door on him and said, “No, go away.” Finally, as I firmly refused every attempt for him to get in, he left me alone. He told me I was intelligent in Spanish, because that was the only language we were communicating in. I made sure the door was securely shut and went upstairs to my hostel room.
Subway Station Stop
Gangster Paradise is playing in the subway; it sure looks like one here.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Mosaics
Strength is represented by a warrior covered with a red drape leading a youth to meet a young woman. Knowledge is shown as a teacher with his pupils at their desks. At the teachers side, as he imposes his lesson, is an altar on which the knowledge of light shines. Justice is on a high stone, placing her sword back on its scabbard. Valor shows a young man sharpening his sword on the wing of freedom. The lunette of peace is permeated by an atmosphere of tranquility. Union is represented by harmony between a warrior in combat and poetry, a symbol of the arts. Astronomy draws the weight of the world adorned with a band showing the signs of the zodiac.
Lady on a Train
And the sun sets before me for the very last time, as I make my final leg of this journey. A lady from London sits at my side; she has just come from Africa. She had worked there in an orphanage teaching English as a volunteer. When she retired, she took on a new life. It gives me hope for the day when I reach her age. She suggested that I go to the Philippines one day because they are really inspired by America. She is also in the process of writing a book called English for Business. Everyone thinks at my age that at 65, life is over. When I meet someone like her, I realize it can still be far from that. She is just beginning. She said to me, “I think when you leave, the people at home miss you more.”
It was as if the constellations had at that moment realized themselves and reserved that piece of fate just for me. The lies we tell ourselves are the ghosts that haunt our empty house (our mind) at midnight.
Speakers Corner (Hyde Park, London) is what captured my imagination, the most, in the United Kingdom. It is one of the UK's most famous places for public debate and discussion. I urge you to learn more.
Chaos in London
September 11th, 2003
I arrived amidst the chaos of protests. More Bobbies then usual patrolled ubiquitously amongst the London streets. One walked past me with a bomb-sniffing dog, urging the dog up into the brush to sniff what looked like a homeless person’s stash of clothing and a sleeping bag.
I wandered on towards Speaker’s Corner; as I approached I could hear the music coming from the BBC’s Proms in the Park Concert series. My mood picked up with the music; it was as if I was meant to be walking down this path just now. I had long, awaited coming back here. Speakers Corner was home to some amazing debates and mind opening experiences I had wandered up upon, a few years back. At last I was here again.
I approached a group of people standing in the center of the park clearing and stood next to the main speaker who was standing beside a ladder. The man beside us was preaching Christianity; no one could convince him any other way. The speaker and I looked at each other and went off to the side; he could tell I had a personal question for him, on my mind. “So, what’s going on here?” I asked him. I could tell something odd was in the air.
He replied, “I am not quiet sure, but you are not the first to ask me. Undercover Bobbies have been asking me the same thing. I will be here till 7p.m.” We talked a while about Islam and I got some papers he had with him and then I headed off to find a hostel room for the night.
Covering the ground were thousands of pieces of white, pink and yellow paper squares. I picked one up to read it. IF WE DIDN’T DO IT SOMEONE ELSE WOULD was typed on it in bold black letters. On the back, was a picture of a bomb in a shopping cart. What were they talking about I wondered? Dropping a bomb? I kept walking a sorted through the remnants of protest papers till I found one that talked about it. This group was against DESi (Defense Systems and Equipment International). Thousands of these small scraps of paper were blowing everywhere and it gave me an eerie chill on this empty street. I rummaged around and found a note scribbled across the back of another piece of paper. It read: “DESi we don’t want your bombs, we will stop you with our pom-poms. Guns, they are hot toys. Listen, we gonna make some noise, war is not a game. DESi, you put the world to shame. Together we gonna make it stop so that no one else gets shot. DESi you want to sell us war. Peace, it has its charms. DESi we don’t want your bombs, we will stop you with our pom-poms.” I continued on and found posters stating BLOOD FOR OIL, the words ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE and DON’T FORGET were written on them with light blue paint. I picked up a few to take back home with me and frame for memories sake.
The entire time there I came across the remnants of the protest. It very much filled the streets of London, more so here then in the States. The bars and city streets were also alive with healthy political talk, even amongst the people my age. Numerous groups were active and willingly show their positions on matters. Where is it back home? Or are we experiencing a type of “Death of Discourse”?
(September 13th, 2003)
I stepped off the train station and it was as if some westward wind had hold of my feet. My whole body felt light and I was so happy. The sky was bright blue, the air fresh and clean and I am in Winchester, I mumbled to myself. Today was a rare and enjoyable day in the typically rainy UK. I wandered down cobblestone streets to the Peninsula Army Barracks; the Gurkha museum was very near, I was told. After wandering through some beautiful 18th Century style gardens, I caught glimpse of the museum… at last I am here! I had dreamed of coming here for a very long time being that my grandfather had fought alongside the Gurkha Soldiers in WWII.
I wandered in and began chatting with the Nepalese guy at the front desk; he let me in for free. I was the only one in the museum. I quietly tiptoed off around the corner to start my journey through the winding halls of Gurkha history. It began in the year 1814, with an overview of Nepal and the history of the Gurkha Soldiers. I passed through details of the Indian Mutiny and then climbed the stairs to the WWII section.
Gunfire went off! Now a man on a radio was shouting. I had triggered a live show in one of the display cases. Next I wandered to India’s Partition (1947). I picked up a headset to listen to overviews of different aspects of WWII that interested me… My time alone here is a priceless memory I will treasure for life.
Next I visited the Gurkha Today section and then came out into the gift shop. The lady there gave me a sweet deal on some hand signed block prints. I paid 10 pounds for 7 of them and they are normally about 4 pounds each. She told me that she had had them for a long time and knew I would value them much more then the normal customer, so she didn’t feel bad about giving me a deal. It was a good day; no it was an excellent day. I said my goodbyes and headed off to a Nepalese restaurant they told me about, for lunch.
After lunch, I came across an old section of town called King Alfred Place. The city streets look virtually untouched by modern life. Slowly I wandered down narrow street paths and past homes built in the 15th Century. I passed by one unique and amazing door that had designs in the glass that spiraled outward (3D) in cone like shapes; other windows were stained glass style. A small church was nearby, enclosed by a rod iron fence. I wandered in the open gate. All along the edges were gravestones dating back to even before the 16th Century, roses and vines circled about the rod iron posts. I decided to stop and photograph the area for my University black and white photography class; I knew these would turn out to be by far the best prints. The history here makes for wonderful black and white prints (and they turned out beautifully) and the church became my cameras playground.
Next stop was West Gate; one of the two last standing medieval gates in Winchester (and a prison). I wandered up a low and dark staircase, there did not look to be anyone up there. When I got to the top, all that was there was a very wide but low wooden door. I pushed it open and with a loud creak it gave way and opened up into an elaborately decorated room. A fireplace stood in the left corner and the ceiling was hand carved and painted with the most intricate medieval design. Scratched in the walls were the final words of those who had been imprisoned here, hoping to teach us their own lessons learned in life (they included poems, statements, names & dates). I walked across the room and over to the next set of stairs; these led me out onto the top of the medieval gate. From here I could see the entire city stretched out before me. Below the streets were alive and with shoppers. I stood there alone for a moment, thinking back to what it once was like here. I imagined the knights riding in for a meeting with the King and all the elegance and horror of the medieval ages. I am sure that one day someone else will also stand here and think back to what it must have been like today.
Next I wandered into the Great Hall, legendary Knights of the Round Table. Here I stood, where it all took place. I looked up at the table hanging on the wall in amazement. So much history loomed here; I could feel it all around me. I walked slowly around the Great Hall, taking it all in. There were the cathedral ceilings and stained glassed windows that were graced with royalty. There was also a family tree painted on the far, branching out in amazing lines with well known medieval figures. I walked out back into Queen Eleanor’s garden and stooped beside the fountain. Words could never do justice to the beauty around me.
(September 15th, 2003)
LIVERPOOL, 2008 EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE: 2007 MARKS ITS 700TH BIRTHDAY
“The bloody bloke hit me and stole my 20 pounds.” “I am blind you see, blind in the right eye.” “I have to use the toilet, where’s the toilet?”
“Right this way,” said the police officer and led her back. I am standing in the COP SHOP, which is a small police station located in downtown Liverpool. The officer smiled at me and commented, “At least it’s never dull working the evening shift.”
We began talking about the differences between the police in England and police in the United States. Here, they are not all given guns and there are also these strange camera crews (called Caught on Camera) in vans that patrol the streets. Then there are these groups of about a dozen women in tight clothing who wear fake plastic hats with tin badges and carry nightsticks, wandering around late at night breaking up bar fights. I could hardly believe they were actually cops, being they were so out of the norm. The police here seem so much more approachable and in the United States; maybe we should think of using some of their ideas.
The lady came back in and the officer asked her, “So how many pints have you had tonight?”
“Just four.” she replied. “You know… I know karate. I beat him up.” The officer could barely keep a straight face and me either! The theft investigation team soon arrived and took her back for questioning.
A young man ran in, “Some blokes are beating up my friend and they just stole his watch.” And so the night began. (I came to the police station to interview them for a project I was working on for the Coconino/Flagstaff Silent Witness)
I began wandering the streets looking for the Beetles old bar stomping grounds. I stopped to ask directions to a man outside the bar.
Stop fluffing around and put a bit of grunt into it – this is as physical as life gets, after all. Grab a fistful of hair and pull it! Hard! Find a meaty bit and slap it! Bare the teeth that helped you charm your way here in the first place, and bite into something. Make it worth your while. – A Sagittarius Horoscope from the Star Time
A woven wire statue of a horse marks the center of the Market Square. The tail of the horse stretches out, winding about for nearly 15 feet. It’s made of wire, but is fashioned in such a way that it looks like rope, matching the nautical theme of the city. A man in his draws stands there too, his right heel upon the horses tail. The horse rises up on its two hind legs in protest. Two more days and I head home, who knows what may come up next.
And a whole lot more I did....
The University of Gent is where my grandfather, Guy Smith, taught soil science studies for many years. He is most widely known for developing an taxonomic soil classification system, which is widely used throughout the world. He held the Francqui Chair (foreign scientist) at the University of Gent.
The Church Play
I stepped into the church; immediately the darkness enveloped me as the door eased closed. As I began to push through a second set of wooden doors, a bomb blast shook through the building. It shook the wooden door planks and rattled through the door handle, up into my arm. I grasped the handle tighter and paused in silence to try to figure out what had just happened. There was nothing but silence so I pushed the door open and slowly peered through. I could barely see a thing; my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted from the moonlight. I could just barely make out the movements of a soldier, walking between the front pews. Just a few feet in front of him were a dozen school children sitting in silence staring out into the dark. I moved to the back row of pews. I could hear someone in the darkness speaking in French. I sat down quietly and carefully so that no one would see me, as I might get kicked back out onto the streets.
Interview with the Past
A Sherman tank stood just outside my window in the town market-square. As I peered through the window fog, I could just make out the US Army division emblems. What were they doing here? Why was this city filled with US tanks? I thought to myself. Nowhere in Europe, nowadays, would one find a city that appeared so welcoming to Americans. On every window ledge hung an American flag, celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Germans in WWII. In the store windows stood pictures of honored US soldiers, who had liberated this city so many years ago. Between the photos lay green US Army helmets and empty tank shells. Everywhere you walked pieces of history lay about. He sat with his wife and daughter, just a table behind us. He was a WWII veteran, who was just 20-years old when he joined the US Army. He spent three years in the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division as a journalist and tonight we had the honor of meeting him.
“It’s really different here,” he said to me.
“Why?” I asked with curiosity, hoping it would prod him on.
“We liberated a lot of cities but there was just something about this one that made it special and that’s why I keep coming back here year after year. This city holds an air of mystery. I remember the fog rising up from the fields in the morning as we snuck towards the Germans. The Germans were all around us, but the fog was providing us cover as we snuck on through their lines. I remember when I lost my friend here.”
He paused. “Our CP was just 3km out of town. I visited it today and nothing had changed. It looked just as it did 60 years ago on December 24th, 1944. You never know where these roads might take you.”
“When I was here,” he said. “The city had been reduced to total rubble. It was completely bombed and that’s why it is so modern today. After the liberation, the children came and took us by the hands and led us into the street. Many people were dancing. It was one of the most wonderful times, I will never forget it… never.”
We began to discuss Iraq and how the changes in technology have effected the war. “I didn’t really do anything evil during the war, but then again we were not hounded and watched over by the media as US troops are these days. We had nothing comparable to today’s technology. For example, if I had a phone I would have been calling home every other night.”
I could see it in his eyes as he began thinking of how much time had passed. “No one ever wants to talk about the war with us. They wait to talk until it is too late. I don’t know one person who had been here, who wouldn’t want to talk about it. It’s too bad that everyone waits until we are almost all gone.”
A shiver ran through me as I though of my own grandfather who had also fought in WWII. I wished I had been able to meet him and talk to him about his amazing life, but he died when I was a very young child. What I knew of his time in the war was reduced to a few videos he had taken of his travels and the unit. I stared back out the window at the tank.
We stepped back out onto the street, as we had just finished dinner. A picture lay in the square by a memorial marker. It was of a US soldier who had only recently passed away and couldn’t make this one final, 60th-year journey. I picked it up and stared at the young man in the photo. He was a good-looking guy with a friendly smile and warm eyes. The photo frame was cold to the touch and fine spray of mist covered the glass. I wiped off the glass and propped him back up against a memorial stone marker. I wanted to be sure he was facing the city. Someone from his family must have traveled a long way to bring his photograph here. I am sure it would have been what he wanted.
For more information visit www.screamingeagle.com or read the SLA Marshall Government Publication The First Eight Days.
Trinidad and Tobago
A burst of moonlight lit up a strip of water highlighting the outline of a boat. Waves rippled along beneath the moon light tapping softly against the shore.
Stories from Tobago
The Island of Tobago
My Flight to Trinidad and Tobago
As we touched down in Dallas a bright fuel fire burned on the airport strip to my right. Thick black fumes of smoke rolled up into the sky. It was fast and raging and then just as quickly as it leapt up into fury, it was gone in a few poof’s of light smoke to nothing.
From up here it look like I but only raked my fingers across the sand pile in the sea.
Romance in Hotel Trinidad
With warm Caribbean water flowing across my skin and the soft glow of light on the other side of the shower door, dancing across the walls, some might venture to think that I was having a relaxing candlelight shower in a romantic hotel on the beach. But on the other side of that glass shower wall was a small flickering flashlight straining to put out the last light of what was held in its battery. I heard a large crash on the floor, the toilet seat had just fallen off again for the umpteenth time. I got out and flipped back and forth the light switch again hoping something had changed - nothing happened. The power was out across the city – it was flashlights and cell phones till then.
The Boat named Subaru
“Just call me Rasta Shark,” he said. “But don't worry, I'm a vegetarian and I will find you a boat to use here.” He wandered off and some 10 minutes later a small blue and pink boat pulled up to the dock with the young Trinidadian man speaking rough English. We hopped in the boat, the waved rocked the boat side to side. He began to steer off towards the coral reef and nylon pool. The sea was rough and we were blinded by the salt water spraying up in our faces. He stood up to try to get a better view. Finally we made it to a buoy marking the reef. He docked beside it and tied off. “Here,” he said “this is as far as I can go.” I looked down apprehensively, the sea was dangerous. You always have to try though, so I slipped on the life vest and jumped out of the boat. I hit the water and the current began to suck me out. Snorkel in hand I began swimming if only to keep up with the fast current pushing me away from the boat. I realized that there was no respect for safety here and paddled as fast as I could, yet still I could barely move and the waves crashed over my head making it was hard to breathe. It took all my strength and I was near exhaustion when I reached the boat. It was a prime day to drown. “Enough” I said, “let's go somewhere where the water is calmer.” We steered back to the shallows of nylon pool. Here it was shallow enough that my feet could touch the bottom and the waves couldn't push me away. He was not allowed to park the boat here, so he got out and held it while we enjoyed what little we could of snorkeling. A few small pieces of coral lined the bottom of the sandy ocean floor and small fish flirted with my toes. This was more like it.
I sat alone in the little blue Swift in the parking lot waiting for my brother to get out of the shower. A man approached me carrying four thick chunks of aloe leaf. Before I could say much of anything he ripped off a piece and began rubbing it across my leg. “The doctor is in the house, the doctor is here,” he began to repeat. “This is what you need to get a tan and it will turn your skin brown not red.” “They call me Horse,” he said and he just kept talking. I was a little shocked. “Wait, wait” I told him, “no thank you, I am about to get a shower” I said as I grabbed my towel and ran to the safety of the beach house.
Cat and the Rat
We were sitting on the curbside enjoying our lunch of odd vegetables, rice and chicken. I heard a loud noise and looked to my right. There was a scurry and crash, I gasped. A cat was chasing a huge rat right into our laps. It ran by my feet and into a bush, the cat gave up on the chase.
Within the Jungle
Parrots cry out around us. We are alone. Totally alone except for the sounds of the waterfalls and the sounds of the jungle.
"In India, all the successive stages of improvement are preserved. Men can be found to occupy the lower stages of technological evolution. You have the chance to admire it all."
- Swami Vivekananda
"If you can lay down your life for a cause, then only can you be a leader.""
- Swami Vivekananda
"Numbers do not count, nor does wealth or poverty. A handful of men can throw the world off its hinges, provided they are united in though, word and deed - never forget this conviction. The more opposition there is the better. Does a river acquire velocity unless there is resistance?"
- Swami Vivekananda
(22 December) I am watching Japanese MTV and the plane is somewhere over Turkey. The weather is getting bad and I am being tossed about in my seat; a little kid is screaming. My body is adjusting well to the time zone changes, but I a still very tired. I think I will try to sleep again… analyze cranberries (that’s what I wrote before I drifted off to sleep again - who knows?).
Singapore was beautiful. Pristine and so advanced. I took a boat around the harbor downtown and did a lot of walking around. (Did you know it’s illegal even to chew gum there?) I have also taken advantage of all the good deals on sushi (it's wonderful :) ). I am on my way to India now.
I have arrived. I took a pre-paid cab from the airport and we drove the wrong way down a one-way street. He just kept honking and swerving as if everyone else should move. I clutched onto the car door and chuckled... it was night and this was my "welcome to India" cab ride. Right now, I am in the train station; I can't sleep. These rats keep running in and out of a hole in the wall behind me; I think it's a restaurant. They are very bold… a few have dared to run across me!
There are so many people sleeping here; they are all lying on newspaper on the hard concrete floor. I walked around a bit outside but soon realized that the train station was the best place to be for the night. At least there were a lot of police patrolling there. There are also these rainbow penguin trash cans everywhere, but no on uses them. I keep getting weird looks and I am sure people are wondering what I am doing sleeping at a train station at 1am. They keep purposely walking by me, as if I can’t notice. Ewww… another rat ran across me. They keep playing in a box to the right of me, jumping in and out. A man is singing beside me and the police are eying me now.
(Later that night a man came up to me and talked to me about all the taboos of India. What I learned from him that night has stayed with me since and proven very true.)
Well I made it through the night with about 2 hours of sleep. I am on a train now, eating some strange fruit for breakfast. Outside I see cactus, palms, flowers, sheep, cows, goats and their herders, people gathering wood, footpaths, and a monkey. Chi-a, chi-a, chi-a echoes through the train.
A young Indian girl by the bathroom this morning stood (mouth gaping, eyes wide open) staring in disbelief at me; I gave her a watch. We were all making faces wading through a flooded bathroom at the train station that was giving off quite a stench. None of us were happy for you can only imagine what was floating around in it. I washed my feet when I got outside.
As I was walking down empty streets this morning in Calicut, two boys, each with a German Shepard dog approached me and asked if I had been to the beach yet. "No" I told them, "not yet"; so they said they would show me. I followed them to some dunes and a break in the fence. "There" they say, as they point towards the sound of the ocean. I thank them and climb up the dunes.
There before me are a half a dozen men crouched side by side in a line with their pants down. My jaw almost drops as I realize what I have just walked up upon and I begin to turn to leave. Some one shouts something and they all jump up, pulling up their pants; staring at me in embarrassment and disbelief. I stare back even more mortified then they are I am sure. I don’t think they have seen many foreigners; especially at the beach while making their morning toilet stop! One guy motions for me to come down to the waters edge. Now everyone has already jumped up and is dressed, I figure I mine as well pretend that it didn’t bother me either and walk down. "What do you think?" he asks. I look around and human feces are everywhere; I can’t take my eyes off the sand or I may step in it. It is all close enough to the shoreline that later the tide will take it out, but it is still everywhere. "It’s nice", I reply, not knowing what else to say. "Thanks" I tell him and head back to the dunes to leave the men to their business.
(Certain areas in small villages have beaches like this, for the people there don't have toilets. It's quite normal, though not all beaches are this way. I think the 2 boys did it for a good laugh!)
After walking all day I finally found a hotel room. It was pretty nice, had a large bed and TV; thought half the night I played hide-and-seek chasing the roaches who kept coming up the shower drain. I finally killed them all and was able to barricade the drain so more could not venture up. (There's nothing like getting up in the night to use the bathroom only to have roaches running across your bare feet.. and up the drain you are using... no comment!) My shoes have died now (the straps broke) and this is only day 2. I went looking for new ones, but had to settle for men’s shoes since my feet are larger than the typical female Indian. All of us at the store got a good laugh! I gave my old shoes to a shoe shiner on the side of the street (to repair and sell to someone else). When ever I walk by he waves. I guess he’s my first friend in this new town. Sajan comes tomorrow to pick me up and I head to Wyanad with him.
(I know Sajan from my time spent in Europe)
Well the last few days have been wonderful and I did far too much to write about; so instead I will list them.
1.) I stayed at a beautiful beach resort, (saw a gay community on the way there).
2.) I stayed at Sajan’s home (which is absolutely beautiful) and we hiked around the farm looking at all the crops grown there. He told me stories of people coming on stealing the food and how annoying the monkeys are! There was also a snake fight.
3.) We visited a National park (and my first temple) and were told to watch out for the water buffalo.. not to venture too far out for just the other day someone had almost been gored.
4.) We went on a tiger watching safari by elephant (just like a safari you would picture from Africa).
5.) We toured a palace in Mangalore.
6.) We spent New Years eve at a party in Bangalore. Oh... and we also almost hit a cow! (Err…)
Words cannot do the time I had justice.
I was just awakened by music coming from a temple beside Sajan’s brothers house, along with the milkman banging on the door. I am just in time to watch the New Years Eve celebration going on in New York City. Maybe next year I will be there for a change.
I have just finished washing all of my clothing in the sink. It’s so hot here that they dry as soon as I hang them by the window. I have no western clothes left (I have thrown them all away to lighten the load I am carrying) and have completely adapted the Indian dress style. It’s comfortable to me and I have less people bothering me when I wear it too. I drank some restaurant water which I probley shouldn’t have and my stomach is feeling sore. I should get over it quick though. If the locals can do it... so can I (in time).
I am in a really nice, friendly town now (everyone smiles at me and says hi) and I also found a very cheap hotel (about .75 cents USD)! This morning though a man came by banging on my door and ringing a bell. I was trying to sleep and he was driving me nuts! Finally I got up, wrapped a blanket around me and said “I am not dressed, what do you want?” “We check everyone in the morning to make sure you are ok” he said. So people die here at night I thought to myself... or do they run off? This was truly a hole in the wall place. There was no shower, only a faucet about knee high and then I had a cup, so I showered with that. The toilet consisted of a rudimentary hole in the floor. The bed sheets were covered in stains and I questioned if they had been washed for months; but I slept on my sleeping bag. I don't mind though, for I don't spend too much time in the hotel room anyhow.
“My mothers name was Mary, my fathers name was Joseph. Joseph died and Mary threw herself in a well because she couldn’t live with the pain. She left us three kids to fend for our own. We are all deaf and dumb. Please help. Return this card with your contribution.” The card was laminated. I looked up at her and questioned how stupid she could possibly think I was. “No” I said and shook my head; she still stood there. “Chalo” I told her, “go”. I hated to be mean, but she looked like the last person on earth there who needed the money. She was dressed nice, clean and well fed, besides, it’s bad to give away money like that… it only encourages people to beg. Pretty soon another person came along trying the same trick only with a story about a flood.
I was hounded by auto rickshaw drivers when I stepped off the train. Two began pushing each other fighting over who saw me first I imagine. I kept walking and just said no, no. I walked around the streets till the shops all closed and then found a hotel.
I looked down upon the city of Madurai from the top of the building of my hotel. It was dusk, and fires were everywhere on the streets. What was going on I wondered? Curiosity soon got he best of me and I wandered down to the street. Street-sweepers were making small piles of trash consisting of coconut husks, plastic wrappers, etc. and then setting them on fire. This is how they got rid of the trash. Crippled beggars and children wandered about. Everyone seems to be watching you in this city, everyone knows who you are.
Soon, a man began following me. Unnerved I walked faster trying to loose him on the street. I didn’t want him to know where I was staying so I slipped down a crowded street into a shop. He was still watching, waiting for me. What could he possibly want I wondered? The power keeps going on and off in the city too, making it eerie. I finally made it back to the hotel, but switched to a new one in the morning.
“See the temple dances for free,” a man shouted at me. “Here, here” he said and directed me into a shop to the roof. On the way out I was hassled to buy things that were marked up by nearly 100%! I said to the man “you have to be kidding!” and he blushed when I mentioned the real prices on a few things. I am sure they had heard it before. I left and another man came up to me with the same trick. “No” I told him, “I see what’s going on”. He told me to please just walk in the shops for a second and that I didn’t have to buy anything but that he would get a commission. I agreed, but only if he told me the truth behind what was going on. So, we spent the day as a team… ripping off the expensive shops and I got to walk around listening to stories and finding out how things worked. People actually will nearly block you from going into the small shops with decent prices because they know you will never buy from the big ones if you see what is going on! I purchased all my stuff at one of those small shops from the nicest family. They do the same thing as far as hotels.
That afternoon I visited the Gandhi museum. I stood there staring at the blood soaked scarf, thinking of what this man’s life was like in a sort of shock and awe. I left a nice donation; I appreciate what they are doing here.
A young woman just moved close to me, sat down and smiled. She is alone too I guess.
OK, new word time everyone!
Baksheesh – tip
Freak – Westerner wandering India (funny)
Bandar – Monkey
Dacoit – Robber
Chawks – Intersections
Chappals – Shoes
Chalo – Go
Chaat – Snack
Pradesh – State
Yatra – Pilgrimage
Thiru – Holy
Prasad – Food offering
Pacha – Green, pure
Nadis – Rivers
Mandi – Market
Angrezi – Foreigners
Jawans – Military, or police
Ananda – Happiness
Wooow… what a bad dream. I awoke sweating and panicked. I am beginning to dream in foreign languages and that I understand them. I had totally forgotten where I was… I was asleep on a train with strangers sleeping all around me. It’s so crowded now that a few people are also asleep on my seat (one guy is nearly lying on me). I have paid for it, but I really don’t mind as long as they are nice. The train has now stopped and everyone is waking up. Today it is very slow going. Heelalige Station it says. It’s not on my map. Night is fast approaching and it is a little chilly now. No one around me speaks English.
Well, a little girl just walked by me, dropped her pants peed in the street and kept going. Guess it was an emergency! There are fields, trees, homes made of mud with coconut roofs, (cloths and tarps also draped over them) and termite mounds all around the countryside here. Last night there was a bomb threat on the train I was on. They wanted to blow it up as we headed into Banglore. People were a little scared, but most shrugged it off and said happens all the time. I made it through the night though, so guess I am supposed to make it home.
“Killer Clinton Go Home” a sign reads. “Jesus is coming soon” is also painted on the wall.
Today I explored an old fort in Banglore. I chatted with a guy about what a shame it was that it was falling apart and also got to tour a ‘behind the scenes’ spot thanks to some official who was there and offered to show me some closed off rooms.
A lady also stuffed about 5 chicks into my bag at the market. They were adorable, but I explained that they would never survive with me on this trip; so I gave them back. Dried fish, shrimp and spices are being sold everywhere! I bought a sweater from a man from China. He told me 60% of the people here I really need to watch out for. Another market I walked to is what I will call a “moving market”. People sell goods on the street and as soon as the cops walk by they move… wrap it all up in a cloth because it’s illegal to sell on the streets where they are.
Well, I am on a bus now to Chennai. I got my dress caught in barbwire this morning. This is marking the end leg of my journey. In a few more days I will be headed home. Things will be very different when I go home; I am by far no longer the same person. Every trip changes me in a way. This I will say, is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning. My eyes are wide open.
I arrived safely in New Delhi this morning and immediately booked myself a hotel room, near the Central Railway Station, at Hotel Bajrang. There is this unique type of air conditioner in my room, what is called a swamp cooler. It sprays water on a reed mesh inside of a metal box; there is also a fan inside the box that blows air through the reeds. This afternoon I filled it with water, turned it on and it blew out a whole lot more than air all over my clean white sheets. So tonight I shall be sleeping in swamp juice.
There have been frequent power outages today and it is so hot. After wandering around in the hot streets of Delhi, I sat down on a veranda to get out of the heat. A man named Latif, who owned the shop beside me, sat down with me and began talking to me about Kashmir. We talked about the violence and what is really going on. We talked about China as a threat to India, Bin Laden (where he may be hiding) and other things. Latif is the owner of a travel agency here. He made some suggestions about what my group from North Carolina State University (who meet me in two weeks, maybe?) should do. The other students, besides me, have held off on the trip due to the rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
To make a long story short now, I have rented a personal driver (ohhhh there goes the power... whew it came back... ohhh... no... ok!) and will be making a trip to the state of Rajasthan (Jaipru - Amjer - Kota - Bhopal - Agra) and many other cities. One thing I plan on doing is go camel trekking into the desert. This will be much better than staying in the hot city, where breathing the air in a day is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes (40 in traffic)! Besides I am sure to learn a lot, and that is one thing I am always up for... is learning.
The man I am traveling with is Latif's co-worker and he knows India much better than me of course! Latif seems like a decent guy, though a tough businessman on his employees (says he has 6 wives and 13 children in Kashmir... wow! but I think he is playing a practical joke on me). After a week out, I will decide where I should go next if the group has still not arrived. I hope they do though, for I am really excited about the classes (Hindi and Urdu courses) at JNU. Tonight I am meeting Latif at 7pm and depart at 7am tomorrow morning. Tomorrow will be a stressful day of road madness and no air conditioning! Heading out…
Girl on a Bike
Wow, we just lost electricity in the internet café that I am at for the past 1 ½ hours. I had gone out on my bike to see the town, the handlebars were not fastened tight and the bike broke down. I was stuck pushing it back and it's this big awkward thing... the seat is way too high for me. A man saw the problems I was having with it, stopped and took out a tool to tighten the bars. He didn't speak English and all I could do was smile and thank him in Hindi... but I will never forget him or his simple act of kindness.
Unfortunately, the bars did not stay tight for long and a huge dust storm was blowing in. Nuclear sirens started going off, someone was shouting something in Hindi over the loud speakers and I could not understand a word.
I was a bit worried being that I was miles from the hotel, and didn't know what to think about the sirens... was this ‘it’? A wonderful family at an Internet cafe took me in and let me take refuge there from the storm. I met a really interesting guy who I spoke to about JNU (the University I am supposed to be attending now) and US/Indian politics. I wish there were more of us like this.
Well, lots more has happened, but I am afraid of another storm coming so I must go. This storm is still bad but I am sure Raja is worried, so I must try to head back. I will write again when I can. The only reason I have what I do was because I saved this e-mail on a word doc once, before the power cut. Better go quick, things are getting nasty and here come the monsoons again… it will be a long bike ride home.
Side note: Later that evening when the storm calmed, I went out again to a wild bird refuge and two guy's who were medical workers stopped me. They told me it was dangerous to be out alone at night and did I want a ride home. I told them no thank you that I would walk, and before I knew it no cars were coming and they both grabbed me trying to pull me into the vehicle. I struggled free and ran across the street. Other vehicles began coming and they sped off. Also, that evening my driver Raja never made it back. He had been drinking and driving and was in a horrible car accident. A loorie truck hit him, smashing the van to bits. If I had been in it, like I was supposed to be, had I not been caught in the storm... I would be dead. Latif showed up in the morning to tell me what happened. Raja arrived later that morning to apologize to me with his wife. He was a mess, a bandage over his eye, arm in a sling, dried blood caked all over him, torn clothing, IV still hanging out of his arm... it scared me to see him that way. Latif was furious that he came and began yelling. I lowered my head and walked to a tree in the shade to let them talk... I knew it was going to be a very odd trip.
Singing in the Palace
The creator sat atop a pillar resting on a turtle's back. The demons of good and evil played tug-of-war on either side (1700's painting).
Today I wandered around the city palace. I came across 2 men playing a flute and drums high in the palace tower; I had followed the beautiful music. One of them motioned for me to sit down and handed me a metal instrument (like a drum symbol) and two sticks. I picked up as best of a similar beat as I could. The other stopped to rest a second from his flute a grabbed a large red turban and proceeded to wrap it around my head. Several locals walked by doing double-takes, shocked to see me in there!
The streets are full of people trying to sell me things. Very few tourists are here now and vendors flock to me every time I step out of the car. It is very annoying but I have learned to say chalo, chalo... be stern and they soon go. Snake charmers set up on the ground, wherever I walk. The heat is unbearable, especially in Indian dress.
Later that night, I came across a beautiful wedding. There was music and dancing in the streets. Men carried large lights with a generator carted by a horse at the back of the gathering. The band struck up some festive music and encouraged me to join in. I was soon invited to join the wedding. I spent the evening watching interesting ceremonial traditions take place, where the groom was anointed with powders and markings. At 12pm I headed back to my hotel to sleep.
Pilot the Camel
Yesterday, I went on a camel safari far out into the desert. It was only the camel man and I on his camel, named Pilot. Pilot went to his knees as his master’s command and I hopped on the front. As soon as Raja (camel man) hopped on... we quickly, and awkwardly rose up. It was a very new feel, lurching front to back in the seat... but after a day, you learn to adjust and your body falls in motion with the camel. When we stopped to watch the sun rise, Pilot rolled around in the sand and lay there looking up at us with this ridiculous face. Huge ants caused actual paths in the sand to form and there were deer, birds, and other animals everywhere. We traveled past a small village, to the far west and sat and had chi in an old mans home who lived on a cliff over looking the desert valley below. He lived in a small reed hut, shaped in a U and sat in the center on a rock where he boiled water and poured herbs, spices, milk and sugar into his chi concoction. Surrounding his home were flags of tattered cloth signaling his home as a rest spot for herders making the long journey across the desert to Pushkar. Bottles, tin signs and other things the desert had blown in were tied up all around his home. Pilot stood outside the bramble fence, and waited as we finished chi and I looked through a small book the old man had that other desert travelers had written their journeys in.
As the day came to an end, Grover (my new driver) and I headed back to Jaipur. It was a long car ride of near misses as is any car ride in India. In less than an hour I head to the market for a day of bargaining and monument seeing.
Monkeys at my Door
(2 June ) I am currently in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Internet has been scarce and very expensive. Yesterday, with the constant power outages all over the city, I gave up typing after the 7th time I lost my work. You know the power goes out in the oddest of times… you will be in the middle of a conversation and ‘wham’ pitch darkness! All you can do is sit there in the dark, feeling weird now that you can’t even see the persons face (till your eyes adjust) and wait for the power to come back on.
Last night I stayed in Agra (Utter Pradesh). There I saw the Taj Mahal and way too many forts to remember all of the names. I stayed in a really nice place; Raja is friends with everyone and has been getting me better deals (200 Rs vs 600 Rs and 1 dollar = 48 Rupees). The first time I walked in and saw the prices, I told him to forget it... that I was going to walk down the street and get an affordable hotel because I didn't care if it was a luxury one! He told me that they have deals with the travel company here and he can stay for free, that's why they bring me to these places. (it is a business to rip everyone off) I bit my tongue and said ok if they just lower the rates. The same with the restaurants... but there I just don't eat. As soon as I get out on my own, I run off to the local places. I don't care for the fancy ones. I just can’t tell all the other ‘tourists’ about all this.
All last night, I stayed up talking to Latif’s sister's husband (who owns a shop beside the place I am staying at) about Kashmir and the current situations. And also drinking wonderful Kashmiri tea, which is said to add 5 years to your life. Nobody wants a war here. They do not want another (quoted) “Hiroshima” and this is all about the Politicians playing their games.
You would never know, being how the media is portraying this, that things are quite calm. In the average town, we go on with life, as anyone would do on a normal day despite these tensions. What else can you do? Only the border areas are really bad. Do not trust everything you hear, there is a lot of hype. The media lies a lot here, as it does everywhere.
If one person dies they say ten, but it also works in reverse. The tourists you heard about in the news being murdered… well I was told that many times it was the Indian Army that did it. But who knows! Rumors run rampant, all you can do is keep an open mind. One example I will give is about the Danish tourists (who were hippies) and the Army asked them stop because they thought they were someone (something) else. They did not understand what the Army was saying to them and kept going. The Army shot them then, I was told. Maybe this is the truth, maybe not. But it is what all the local people say. Who for sure knows what will happen in the end with this war.
After dinner, last night, I had to drive our van home (a bit scary). Raja is an alcoholic. He hid away more liquor bottles then I can count, in the glove box and was too drunk to drive. Earlier, Raja said to me, “If you can ride that motorbike, I will buy you a beer and if not… you buy for me.” It was his friend’s motorbike and I figured why not! I won the bet, but Raja drank the beer and a then bit more. That's why I drove (There are Nuclear sirens outside now).
One last funny thing… this morning I awoke early to someone tapping and pushing on my door. I said hello, but no one answered. Then they began it again. I was a bit worried and slowly opened the door… no one was there. I opened it a bit more and looked down. There stood 3 monkeys who all wanted in! They steal the tourists’ stuff all the time.
On my way to Kashmir
Today is Sunday, the past days I have spent on a bus making a 28-hour journey up into the Kashmir. The air is clean here and pine trees surround me. I am staying in a houseboat on a lake, which is surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas. Internet is scarce, so I may not be heard from again for week.
Trekking in the Mountains
Currently I sit by candlelight composing this letter. Internet has been scarce so it is best to go prepared. The past ten days I have been in the mountains, and may continue to stay here for the rest of my trip. The past week I have been trekking in the Himalayan Mountains with Latif, Jabar, 2 horsemen, 4 ponies and a chicken. All day long we would face sudden rain or hail storms, literally racing with the weather to be sure we could make it to our next campsite before the storms come again. If it was sunny out all was safe, but rain caused the glaciers to become treacherous ad we risked having the ponies fall through and break a leg. Several times, I myself went through the snow up to my waist and would have to claw my way back out to a firm spot. It was really quite hilarious, but a lot of hard work on your legs trudging about. Our goal was a small mountain glacier lake 4000+ meters, surrounded by wild flowers and unknown beauty. Our journey began by a small village, up through pine forests past gypsy homes and sheepherders, over a snow-covered mountain and into a grassy valley of nothing but wildflowers and bones. Every night we would set up camp, cook a huge meal and sing songs around the fire. The only American song we could come up with was “I’m a Barbie Girl” and “No woman no cry”, I almost died laughing at the time we had trying to mimic the tones of the songs. Sheep herders would stop to chat with us, gypsy children would follow me around endlessly in amazement of my skin color (to my horror even to try to watch me bathe and change!). We met one boy named Sadam Hussain.
The journey brought us all very close and I was disappointed when it came to an end. Only the chicken did not make it back. When I look back now on the mountains we have crossed if you had shown me pictures, I would have wondered if it was possible.
Currently I am staying on a houseboat at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains. The houseboats here are unlike any others in the world, all hand carved, mainly out of walnut and with such intricate detail. The area is beautiful; yesterday Latif and I took a shikara (type of boat here) around the lake past floating vegetable gardens, what were once very expensive brick homes, lily gardens, parks in the middle of the lake and a Hindu cremation site. Everything you can find in the streets, you can also find on the lake. Men come up offering fresh roasted corn, there are jewelry retailers, tailors, snack boats and yes even beggars all on shikaras or other small boats who will paddle up to you pier steps. During my time here a Dutch radio station has also interviewed me and other friends of mine in India said they saw me on Zee TV news. In a day or so I may head to a small Tibetan style village in the mountains, which has been virtually untouched by present day life. I will stay in touch when ever e-mail is possible.
To the market
At 0430 am I awoke to the chirping sound of my alarm. Quickly I got ready and then knocked on the kitchen door to awaken Jabar (that is where he sleeps). This morning we were heading to the vegetable market. We pushed off from the rickety pier, the morning lake was smooth as glass. In the east we could see the sun rising from behind the mountains. After about 15 min. of paddling, we rounded a bend to where a mob of 60 or so Shikara boats fought for space on the water. Each farmer was auctioning off his vegetables to the local vendors (the reason it is all done by boat is because the vegetables are grown on floating gardens on the lake). I was quickly chased by a local flower vendor who carried a wide assortment of different color and size flowers. After snapping a few pictures and chatting with the locals we headed back only stopping for the mornings milk and bread. Almost now, there is a full moon.
On Friday the 21st,the Prime Minister of India Atal Bhari Vaghpie, visited the convention center just beside my houseboat for a special event. The day before, the President of the Nationalist Conference Group was shot in the head in old town and grenades were thrown at some VIP’s cars. All that is targeted is the Indian Government Officials. Military and Police security forces were everywhere with multiple checkpoints along the roads. I saw an Auto-rickshaw driver mistakenly pass through one with out stopping and then get clubbed and kicked by a military officer. All I could hear was “sorry, sorry” while we then passed through with ease, guess I look too innocent to be any threat. Armored jeeps with armored windows with small peepholes, along with tanks lined the streets. The military here carry an assortment of weapons, and each adds his own special twist to his uniform, so none are quite the same.
Currently I sit outside the houseboat, it is evening now. Upbeat Hindi music is coming from a Shikara boat passing by, and my feet dangle in the warm water. Slowly now, it is beginning to rain. Yesterday the entire family and I made a long journey by car to a mosque called Baba Shakur Din, where a holy man is buried. The mosque sits on a hilltop overlooking the largest lake in Asia. Inside is a stone casket where the holy man lays. People journey here from all over India to say a prayer and make a wish that will hopefully come true. When you make your wish, you tie a small piece of fabric from one of your outfits or a bangle to the casket. I saw many very sick people there too who would just lay down on the floor in tears begging, I guess it is true that all that is left for them to do is to pray. I too made a wish and tied a small piece of brown fabric from my outfit to the casket, when it is granted I am supposed to journey back and remove another one. I can tell though that there are many ungranted wishes for the temple over flows with them.
We then traveled down to the lake, which over looks the Mughal empire's ruins. There I met a village math teacher and gave a student of his a quarter and told him that now he can prove to all of his friends that he met an American girl in the park. The day before I went for a picnic in the Himalayas with Ruby, Latif, and Jabar. There we walked through small riverside villages and chatted with horsemen and locals.
Tomorrow will be a day of market bargaining and street wandering and on the 28th I head back to Delhi.
To the temple
Every morning I have looked up to the mountain to see a small stone tower peeking through the trees, and above it blowing in the breeze a red flag. Today, curiosity got the better of me. Early in the morning Jabar and I set off to climb the mountain. Passing quietly through the military checkpoint we glided up the mountain past pomegranate and apricot trees, berry bushes and flowers. Occasionally we would come across a group of a few young boys carrying bags of apricots back down the mountain. Finally after 2 hours of nonstop climbing we reached the top of the mountain, smelling sweetly of pine. We both underwent a vigorous military pat down and then climbed the 268 steps to the foot of the temple. The temple was over 500 years old and was dedicated to a BG of the Indian Army who passed away in 1923. Surrounding the entrance were photographs of other Indian Army soldiers, who had died in the line of duty, most were of the Border Security Force. We walked slowly up the very last few very high stone steps into the temple. There in the front sat a smooth cone shaped stone, a clay pot hung above it with a small hole in the bottom in which a rose was stuffed. Water dripped down from the rose petals onto the stone making it glisten beautifully. Around the stone incense billowed up and coins, powders, rice and flowers lay. A young boy stood there trying to eat the rice as his mother swatted him and resumed prayers. As each of the Hindu’s stepped in, the holy man by the stone took blessed water and spooned it into their cupped hands. The people then drank some and threw the rest over their heads. He then placed a yellow powder bindi mark on each of their foreheads. They each left an offering, touched the stone and then themselves and backed out never once taking their eyes off the stone.
The whole way back down the mountain we spent our time climbing apricot trees to shake down the ripe fruit, eating the best ones as we went. Once we were offered a ride back down with a few military men, but we thanked them and politely refused since it is well known the many people have disappeared around these parts after getting into one of their vehicles. It was evening by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain.
Well, I am back in Delhi now and this evening head to Varanasi. It is very hot here, 48 degrees C. and up! Last night I was awake most of the night sweating, for with out electricity and the fan... sleeping is impossible! Varanasi should not be too different then Delhi as far as the heat goes, but it will be interesting to see.
Side note: I beat up a man with an umbrella who grabbed me after one too many times dealing with stuff like that. (all you can do is find the comical side to the bad stuff or you can never make it through... that has to do with all of life) Also, I awoke in the night once to a train conductor touching my hair. I made a scene, but they begged me not to report him since he would loose his job. They told me his wife recently left him and he had not been well since, so I guess all he has is his job. I didn't report him, but I hope I scared him so that he may never do it again.
I sit on the cold tile floor of a small yellow room, pondering the war outside my door. It stinks in here like piss and when I turn my nose a certain way, I start to gag. If it weren’t for the annoying buzz coming from the ceiling above me, my thoughts would be totally uninterrupted. But I welcome the buzz, for it keeps my mind in check and lets me know that I am still alive. I only come to this room when the gunfire from the soldiers and rebels gets too violent. I was told to sit on the floor inside the innermost room where the stray bullets are the least likely to find me. The flowered curtains in the boarded up window above me stick together in moist clumps and the humidity penetrates my cloths. The wall to my side is covered in mold; it is spanning out from the scrap of cloth that has been tied around a leaky pipe. A small mist of water from the pipe creates a dark spot on the cloth draped over my knee. This place I call home. This place is my country. It pains me the moment I think of departure, for I know no other way. But if I don’t leave, I will die. What choice does that leave one with? Some days I think I can make it over there and other days I don’t. My body starts to shake and my throat grows sore; I can’t hold back this pain much longer. How will I do this? Why do things have to be this hard? Why did life come down to this? Will anyone else ever understand? I try to think of any other way to do this, but nothing comes to mind. I must go. I look up at the ugly fluorescent light bulb above me and start to cry.
All over India
The Man on the Train
The lady beside me covered her face and snickered. I looked up and a huge figure was looming above me in a purple and white flowered sari. Curly brown locks of hair fell into view from beneath the covered head. I stared in horror, not sure quite what to do. It was a woman of huge proportions... no wait, a man.
I covered my face with my scarf, to hide my shock and disbelief. I had seen others, but none like him... none so big. I was worried what he might do to me. But he did nothing, he didn't even look at me. Instead he began touching and caressing the mans arm and face in front of me. My look of horror turned into a smirk as I watched the guy squirm uncomfortably. Quickly the man pulled out a 10 rupee note and the beggar when away.
I stared around the corner of my seat bench to see what the man was going to do next. He repeated it on every compartment on the train... and at the rate he was going he easily now had more money then me. The lady beside me snickers again in delight and I can't help but join in. Before long he stepped off the train and began to unload his booty... both of them.
These beggar "she-men" (what someone on the train called them) make the make the most money out of all of the beggar groups because they touch and say vulgar things to the men. They rarely touch woman or even bother to ask but a simple "Do you have any spare change?" but there never qualms about groping a man. Some of the time these men are born this way. Other times they were captured as children and had their genitals cut off... forcing them to become this. Strange thing is that they are also considered auspicious to have around at ones baby's birth. Most men I have seen are terrified of them, but I must say they are a welcome relief to the ladies. (Especially with what we have to put up with on the trains, but that's another story.)
Dal Lake Attack: Srinigar (Kashmir)
The night is all around me, as I sit here in the dark mulling over yesterdays happenings. A small pier stretches out towards the lake, lit up softly beneath the full moon. The boards of the pier have been fit together like “that jigsaw puzzle sky, you never seemed to be able to get.“ Holes are spread throughout the boards and if you step on one end of a loose board, the other rises up in protest.
The light from the houseboat reaches out just far enough through the dark to touch a small footbridge crossing over to the main pier. Lily pads and Lotus creep beneath the pier, spreading up onto the banks of the lake. A large pink flower darts up between my toes. A small aqua marine colored boat rests nearby me amongst the lilies.
I sit alone now in the darkness on the porch. Voices can be heard coming from a houseboat nearby, somewhat muffled below the chirping of the frogs and crickets. Beautiful shimmering light reflects up at me off of the lake, in just the right manner that I may be able to write in my book. Mountains surround the lake and one would say that it is truly paradise… or paradise in an “occupied” war zone.
Kashmir is the jewel in India’s crown and parts of it are “occupied” by China, Pakistan and India. The locals want freedom, but more so peace. Grave human rights violations occur daily, which are committed by the Indian Army on the local Kashmiri people. “Terrorists” by one name and “Freedom Fighters” by another, dual out bitter battles with the Indian Army on the streets and in the mountains every day. The Indian Army has turned the people of Kashmir into outsiders in their own homeland. Woman are raped, old men beaten, homes and villages burned, people are tortured to confess to things they never did and thousands of people have “disappeared.” The situation is a complex one, with no easy answer.
At about 6:30pm on Tuesday night, fierce spurts of machine-gun fire broke the peaceful silence of the night. “It’s a wedding ceremony.” Commented one man in our boat, trying not to scare us. I though it somewhat strange, being that the locals are not allowed to own weapons and weddings normally occur in September… but anything was possible in Kashmir. The shooting continued on violently for quite sometime. It was just outside our boat... maybe a block away on foot. All night long, gun fire broke the silence of the night in intermittent spurts and finally by morning it had ceased. At dawn, bodies could be seen being pulled out of the lake.
The next day I received word that two terrorists dressed as Indian Army men walked in on a group of (CRPF) Police Officers, who were all watching the India/Sri Lanka cricket match and opened fire. Twenty – thirty men were killed. The locals told me that the terrorists had escaped because their bodies had not yet been shown. The Indian Army claimed differently. Various accounts were reported in the news, but none were the same. Friday, another man told me that he thought it was a spat between the Police Officers and that no terrorists had been involved.
Who can truly say? Who will ever know? I will continue the rest of the story next time...
Bangalore is a beautiful city... progressive, diverse and clean. Definitely the place I would choose to live, if I lived in India.
It was a hot summer day and despite the rains, the air had not cooled down. I had just arrived in town, so Sajan and I were wandering the streets looking for a cool afternoon drink.
Crack! A sharp noise came from out of no where, off to my right. I turned just in time to see a man running off down the street, screaming. I wasn't quite sure what was going on. Then I saw him, a shirtless man with a long black leather whip. He cracked it again.
People were scared. What kind of beggar was this... I wondered to myself. One who instills fear into the hearts of people for spare change. I watched with amusement from across the street, after all he wasn't asking me. He meandered from person to person, either collecting coins or being ignored.
Sajan was getting a carrot drink and sandwich nearby, while I was just standing beside the coconut man taking it all in (I love coconut milk!). Sajan began walking towards me from across the street, to the car. The whip-man soon followed. Sajan ignored him when he asked for change and I gave him a dirty look telling him to go away.
Suddenly he reached for Sajan's leg. I didn't know what to think, so my first instinct was to push him away. I shoved him hard and he stumbled a fews steps to the side (He was not a very big man.). He looked up at me with the eyes of a very normal man... one whom I had just given quite a surprise. I told him to go and he left. When we got into the car and both let out our breaths... he was no where to be seen.
Later I learned that he was only reaching for Sajan's leg (actually his foot) as a sign of respect, seeking Sajan's compassion and pity. Sajan told me that I scared him for a second too! Next time though, maybe this man will think twice about how he goes about asking for spare change.
We climbed the 370 steps (I counted every last one) leading us to the entrance of the grand Cheluvanarayanaswamy Temple. The temple overlooks the entire city of Melkote, which is located off of a small plateau near Mandya, Karnataka.
Melkote is filled with history. In the early 19th century, Tipu Sultan's army massacred 800 citizens on Deepavali Day. To this day, I was told, they still do not celebrate Deepavali. Melkote is a city of peacefully empty stone streets and resembles, at times, a virtual ghost town. Only two small restaurants can be found in the whole city and nothing is open long after dark. Melkote is also along a hilly tract containing some of the oldest rock formations on the earth's crust. Melkote is also home to India's Academy of Sanskrit Research. There is plenty to write on about.
The Cheluvanarayanaswamy Temple was built in the 12th century and despite a few gaudy modernizations, it has still retained its old world charm. Every step we climbed on the way up the mountain was unique. Each held intricate rock chiseling's of female dancers and people in prayer. Towards the top, the men and woman who helped build the temple had been given the opportunity to etch themselves into the rocks.
Once inside, small notches in the stone walls held places for candles to be set, to light the way. They were no longer in use now and had been replaced by crude strands of electrical wire hanging from the rocks, with light bulbs dangling about to light our way. A cat sat in front of the main prayer area, its tail fluttering side to side. Beside the cat, large holes had been worn into the rocks where holy water was once kept to perform pujas (prayer offerings).
We walked clockwise around the temple and came across a strange room we though looked worth visiting. We found a man who was willing to unlock it and serve as our guide. We exited the temple at the back, descended a small flight of stairs and entered a cave. He said that this was the way people could secretly enter the temple for prayer. At first we began crawling along a dirt floor, it was very low for my bag kept scraping the top of the ceiling. We stood up for a moment only to enter another cave room. I went to the right only to see a few bats come my way. "No, No! This way." said the guide as he slid through a small hole in the path. I slid in behind him, the hole was no larger then half the width of a sewer pipe. I came out into another open room, where I saw people. For a moment I though I had entered some secret underground world (after all you never know in India.) but as I stood up and brushed off my knees, I saw we were back exactly where we had began.
Visions of a Houseboat (Srinigar, Kashmir)
Slowly the sun rises from behind the mountains backing Dal Lake. I walk across the shaky pier planks, so that I may sit and rest along the waters edge taking in the mornings' silence and beauty. I look out across the lake, low clouds hang over the mountains. Over a dozen eagles have bean to circle over a lone old man in a small boat busy with his morning fishing. The eagles seem to be dancing back and forth in the air above him. They take turns swirling and then diving down into the waters below. It looks like something out of a movie; I wonder how it can be real. A man carrying a load of vegetables from the floating vegetable market nearby, silently glides by me. I barely notice him.
I hear sounds now, to my right. Children have docked a small boat beside our houseboat and are screaming in delight as they take turns diving into the lake. A breeze comes my way; I can smell fresh bread baking from within a tandoori oven in the distance.
I stand up and step onto the front porch of the houseboat, placing my hand upon the rail. Below my hand, birds and lotus flowers dance together in an intricate carving along the fence. I step towards the small gate in the middle of the fence. A small set of rickety steps leads down to the lotus covered waters below. Above me a small white tattered sheet catches my eye, it has begun blowing about in the cool morning breeze. Cotton rope holds it tightly in place; it has been tied up in the rafters on a pole in case of wind or rain.
I look towards the doorway of the houseboat; I hear people stirring from within. Around it, maple leaves, lily pads, lotus flowers and birds have been carved with care into the cedar wood facing. Beside the facing are oddly shaped pieces of blue, red, yellow, green and white glass, which have been worked into a mosaic and carefully integrated into the boats design.
I step through the front door and push aside the curtains leading into the house boat. The sun is now rising and a rainbow of light is shining through the pieces of glass, down onto the living-room floor.
I slip off my chapels and step onto the silken Kashmiri carpet, it has such an amazing Persian design. I am now in the living-room, where beautiful hand-carved furniture graces my view. I look off to my left side, out the window, only to see stain-glass stars lining the window tops. They remind me of the millions of stars I see here at night. The long white flowing curtains, framing the window, are covered in local flower patterns. They have been woven with bright colors, offering a timeless design. I look up. The ceiling above me is covered in small rectangular blocks of wood that have been shaped together in an amazing geometrical fashion.
It is time to go now, we are heading to the floating vegetable market.
Side Note: We spent a lot of time watching vendors at the vegetable market. For instance, man A would order 50kg worth of a type of vegetable and as man B was weighing it, man A would reach into man B's boat and pull more of the vegetables into his own boat. Of course he would be caught, but it would still continue until man B could throw enough vegetables into man A's boat, that he could push away. It would almost always end up with a sly smile from man A, some joking and laughing! Well, except for the time one man didn't like another mans prices and threw the bag of potatoes he had just negotiated for back into the lake. They then proceeded to get into an oar fight.
Life On The Train
A bad train derailment occurred on these same tracks late last night. The accident has cost us 36 hours of travel time and we are now backtracking and will take the old eastern rough to Kerala. One passenger told me an Indian Railway joke to pass time: "A man arrived for his 8am train and was amazed to find it on time. It was yesterdays train."
We are all restless on board... some people are chain smoking, others staring out the window, one man sleeping, another reading but in my compartment we are all playing cards. There are anywhere from 8-10 people here for any one game. We are all squeezed onto two seat benches, smiling and laughing, throwing down cards... having the best of what we can make of our time.
The old man across from me is receiving a vigorous oil body and scalp massage. The man giving it looks to be slapping him about. People are constantly passing by with chi, coffee and other snacks.
News just came in from the train waiter that 20 people were killed in the accident. In the night there was a mudslide, due to the monsoons, and a rock rolled into the tracks. It was the train in front of us; we were lucky to receive notice in time to be spared. He is our only source of information. The train officials have all left our train.
Another day has passed and this is the third time our train has been diverted onto a new track. I had a shower in the toilet room this morning with train faucet water. I had no choice, since I felt such a mess (day 3). I cut a water bottle in half for a scoop, washed off the floor as best as I could and carried in my towel. (You can not even begin to understand until you have been in one of these... the motions, swaying back and forth!) When I came out we were all laughing... others soon followed my example.
This is day four and the train is virtually empty. A weird guy keeps passing by telling me he knows the friend I am going to visit. When I questioned him about where he knew them from (University?, Neighbors?) everything he told me was a lie. Now I won't look at him, for he really puts me on edge. He keeps walking by. Luckily the 3 guys in the bunk across from me are nice, so there are no worries. With the few of us left, we all now know each other.
I got off the train today, to try my luck somewhere else.
The Toda Tribal People
We are now in a city by the name of Udhagamandalam (Ooty), which lies high within the Nilgiri mountains in the state of Tamil Nadu. Four groups of tribal people reside in these mountains: the Toda Tribe, the Badaga Tribe, the Kotas Tribe and the Irulus Tribe. We are currently living amongst the Toda Tribal people. Today Sajan and I climbed up set, after set, of winding hill-side steps till we reached the top of the mountain. Only one of the Toda's villages lie within city limits, and today we were visiting it. This village houses only 20 families, yet it is the largest of them all. The remaining Toda people live in the forest, in groups of two-three families. Only an estimated 1,200 Toda remain.
The Toda's belief system and practices are centered around the water buffalo. At one time buffalo milk and ghee was used as their main currency. Today it is still a staple source of nutrition in their diet and is also used in religious ceremonies as offerings to the gods. The Toda people will only kill a buffalo during a funeral procession, because they believe that the buffalo's soul accompanies the soul of the dead person to heaven. In heaven the buffalo will provide for the deceased person too (they no longer practice this tradition though).
Today Sajan and I had the unique experience to meet a Toda family (the grand daughter of the recently deceased Toda chief) and learn about their culture and way of life. We learned a lot about marriage ceremonies and also about how the people are coping with the city growth and tourism. For example: As soon as a Toda child is born, their mate is chosen for them. They marry only people with-in their own tribe and it is common for a husband and wife to be children from a brother and sister.
A woman and her daughter in law (who is about my age and speaks good English) invited Sajan and I to visit some traditional tribes further up in the mountains where few others ever go. At one time she also worked with a professor from the USA, helping him to write a book documenting the Toda people since they do not have their own written language. At 10am tomorrow we are meeting this lady and her husband for a day trip to these other tribes.
Maybe we can all learn a little something from these people, from their struggle to survive with an ever encroaching India.
Visiting the tribe...
She bowed down to the ground and the old man lifted his feet, one at a time, to touch atop her head as a blessing. It had taken us an hour, through the dense jungle, to reach the providence of Glenmore and we now stood amongst a village of about 70 Todas. Small concrete slab houses, built by the Indian government in 2000, surrounded more traditional homes of wood and thatch. Looking down into the valley, several temples were in view.
Nithya’s family greeted us with homegrown tea with jaggery. After tea, we walked down towards the temples with 4 other Toda men. Toda temples are either shaped like a crescent or a cone (if they are in the head village). These two temples were of a crescent shape, with beautiful carvings in the wood above the small door of buffalo heads and other traditional symbols. No idols exist inside these temples, they only exist as a place to meditate and pray. Women are not allowed in or near the temples, but they made an exception for me just to look. We walked past three large flat stones jutting up like headstones out of the earth (to symbolize that this is a temple), to a small ridge where there lay 5 round stones. The largest of the stones weighs over 150kg; there were smaller ones too. The men began to argue over who would pick them up… but finally two agreed to show their stuff. Only 6 men in all the villages can pick the largest one up and I was about to see two of the six. Before a man can marry, he must lift the largest stone. The ongoing joke in the village is that Sajan and I had come to look for marriage partners. So I told Sajan that he too had to lift the stone. Nithya said the girl was hiding whom he would marry… but Sajan said he already had his marriage planned, so he wouldn'tn’t lift the stone. If a man cannot lift the stone, he must stay in the temple for three months practicing. It is the Todas coming of age ceremony.
Priests also live in the temple, here one is present 24/7. They wear all black or white and are not allowed to speak with woman… barely even their wife. The priests are rotated every three months and are allowed two days a week of “family time.” Here the wife can come near the temple and talk to her husband from afar.
One man motioned for me to get out my camera; he then grabbed the largest stone, squatted down and rolled it to his knee. He came to a stand and positioned his left foot on a flat stone and rolled the stone onto his thigh. He rested for a minute and worked the rock to his shoulder… paused for a moment and let it roll off. It hit the ground splashing up mud everywhere and the second guy gave it a go.
We walked back to the house just in time to see two government officials arrive. An older lady was telling them that they needed a new road to the well built, a light outside the houses for safety and a pump fixed. At one time the government provided the Toda people work, but today they do not. The men stay at home and work in agriculture. Most are only educated to the 10th – 12th standard. Nithya stopped studying because her grandmother forced her to and hit her books one day (the next day she was married). Her husband had only been educated to the 10th standard and her grandmother believed it would cause problems if she was more educated then him (she wanted to become a lawyer). Toda girls marry from the age of 15-17 years; if you stay in school and reach your 20’s you may never find a mate.
It was lunchtime now and the women were preparing food in the kitchen. Each family owns 5 acres of land and 10 buffalo. The men and woman both tend to the land and over see the livestock. At night all of the buffalo are rounded up into a stone enclave, situated around what once was a spring and is now a mud hole. The Todas are for the most part self-sufficient. They live off the land and have a stable population.
Nithya carried out two plates with small mounds of rice. The rice had been cooked in buffalo buttermilk to create a special texture and sticky consistency. There was a small depression in the top of the mound for chutney and ghee. You mix the two of them together with your finger and break off small chunks of rice from the sides of the mound to dip in. (It was excellent! I got the recipe.) Everything they ate had something to do with the buffalo and despite the fact that they were Hindu… they still ate meat.
After lunch, the woman wanted to dress me as a traditional Toda girl in her wedding gown. An old lady first prepared my hair. She took long strands, wetted them with hot water, brushed them straight and then wound them into long tight roll-type curls. She did it with 8 strands of my hair and then tied them all together with red thread. Next I sat in the sun for them to dry. The Todas have three ceremonies related to marriage. First there is an engagement ceremony and as soon as the girl is five months pregnant they hold a formal wedding. The wedding ceremony is only one day, but the partying goes on for eight. During the wedding the girl must bow to about 150 people, to receive blessings. Most often, after-wards, she goes to the hospital for two days because of stomach pains. Despite the doctor’s warnings, they still retain this part of their culture because they feel that receiving the blessing is far more important.
There are two Toda tribes (different casts) and one tribe always hosts the weddings for the other. An old Toda legend that was told to us was of a greedy Toda lady who ate twice, when there was little food to go around. She said the food was for her child when she had no children. Since she lied, woman from this Toda tribe have not been allowed to visit the other tribe. Only men can go.
When the woman gives birth, if the child is a boy… a third ceremony takes place. First the boys face is to remain covered for four months (when outside or around strangers) and he is taken to the temple daily. After the ceremony, they no longer cover his face.
The Todas have different patterned cloths for their different ceremonies. There are even special ceremonies for rebuilding and tearing down the temple (thatch is replaced every 3-4 years). They dressed me in the wedding patterned cloth. Another important ceremony is for funerals. The person who passes away is cremated and the person who was closest to them during their lifetime (who is of the same sex) cuts their hair and burns it in the funeral pyre. Men are buried on one side of the mountain (closest to the temple) and the woman the other.
I asked if any Todas had ever married outside of their tribe (since it is forbidden); there are only two. These two were now somewhat outcasts and even though they could visit the village, they could never again partake in any of the ceremonies. By now my hair was dry and I let loose the curls. The woman started singing and dancing, so I joined in.
Before long it was time to go home. The whole tribe followed us as we walked towards the road where the car was parked. We walked past the beautiful “marriage tree” under which weddings take place. Five holes were cut into the trunk for candles. We walked past the sacred tree, which binds wedding vows tight. Branches from this tree are cut and held in the shape of a bow and arrow by the bride and groom to be. Buffalo loomed all around us on the hills and everything was peaceful and green. I was sad to leave this wonderful group of people, but I will always remember their kindness to two foreigners… whom they can now call friends.
Quotes from Swami Vivekananda
In India, all the successive stages of improvement are preserved. Men can be found to occupy the lower stages of technological evolution. You have the chance to admire it all. Swami Vivekananda
If you can lay down your life for a cause, then only can you be a leader. Swami Vivekananda
A demon whose every drop of blood falling to the ground produced another demon just like him (Raktabija). Swami Vivekananda
Numbers do not count, nor does wealth or poverty. A handful of men can throw the world off its hinges, provided they are united in though, word and deed - never forget this conviction. The more opposition there is the better. Does a river acquire velocity unless there is resistance? Swami Vivekananda
The Questioning (Srinigar, Kashmir)
They were both pointing guns at him asking to see his Identification Card. I had wandered off for but only a second with my friend. I couldn't believe they were on him so fast, it made me mad. I hurried over and sat closely down beside him, he was my friend. The soldier loosened his grip on the firearm and reluctantly pulled it away. They both stepped back a bit, guess it was improper to point a gun at the foreign tourists. I couldn't understand too much of the conversation, but I could see in their faces that it was not good. They were rude and arrogant. They were questioning him about last nights killings.
Diversity in Rajastan - Mev
A lone old man walked by me at the bus station. He had a long dark beard and a white skull cap atop his head. He wore a light blue Pathami suit and hung his head as he passed by. "Who's that?" I asked my friend.
"He is a Mev." my friend said. "A Mev is a Hindu who was converted to Islam. He is not accepted by Muslims or Hindus in this community. He lies somewhere in-between."
"See those people there? They are Bhubhliyo's. These people never settle down, they have no home. Every two years they pick-up and move again. They are all iron workers and the woman are very strong. They are also covered in tattoos. It's all in their culture, their beliefs." he said.
I watched as the lady picked up a hammer and swung it down onto a piece of iron her father held. She was in her late teens and extremely muscular. Tattoos covered her feet and legs. Her family was living under a tent on the side of the road. There were many more families there.
The Faces of Poverty
I look out the train window to see an old man laying on the Railway Station floor. A matted, white bushy beard stretches down to his naval. All he wears is but an orange t-shirt and a white loin cloth bunched up between his legs, barely covering his hindquarters. Brown stains mark the loin cloth and his bony hip juts up out of the cloth, in view for the whole world. He keeps scratching at a bulge in it. I doubt if he even has the strength to get up to relieve himself any longer. He shifts his body to stare up at the ceiling. People pass by him with out even noticing.
An old lady crawls by me, dragging her whole lower torso and legs across the floor.
Young children with faces painted like clowns, sing and play drums for coins.
A young man with disfigured arms like a grasshopper's legs, clanks together a few coins.
A extremely thin lady in her late 20's wearing a pink sari hobbles on three points of contact across the floor. Her legs are tucked tightly up under her arms and she waddles side to side. One leg is quite smaller then the other and her foot dangles loosely as if it is barely intact.
A boy of seven to eight years crawls by, sweeping the train floor. A small rope leads up from the boys tattered blue pants, which is attached around a baby monkeys neck. The monkey clings tightly to the boy's belly. He holds up his hand for a coin donation.
A man missing both his arms passes by. Another man with only one hand. A man with no legs.
Should I go on...
New Delhi's Local Buses
A dog let out a scream and rolled out from under the moped. It limped by us, whimpering, with its tail tucked between its leg in pain. It looked like it had just broken its leg and maybe a few more bones. It crawled into an alley way. I then turned just in time to see the moped driver lose control and slide but a few feet in front of our path only to crash into a street vendor's shop. I rushed up towards the scene of the accident, but the two guys stood up and appeared more shaken then harmed. The dog and the bike had bore the brunt of the accident.
Stuff like this happens all the time here in New Delhi. Devesh was telling me that not long ago a lady slipped when getting off at the bus stop, the driver was not paying attention, and the bus ran right over her head. (This is at the same bus stop I use every day.) She of course died and the bus driver lost his job. Six or seven similar accidents occur here everyday.
The drivers here only care about getting more people on, they don't worry about safety. You have to be very careful on the bus... always get in at the back and off in the front so they see you. When you are getting down, be sure to face forward and be ready to be thrown forward a few feet because the bus never completely stops moving.
But there are more things to worry about then just this on the buses. Always be sure (if you are a woman) to sit in the first few rows of seats on the left side of the bus, they are reserved for ladies. If you have the unfortunate luck of having to sit in another you are going to have to deal with the men. Many that I have sat down beside insist on taking up the entire seat. The further you scoot to the edge so as not to touch them, the further they scoot towards you. Several times, after riding the edge of the seat long enough, I have just stood up in disgust and gripped onto a handle bar in the front of the bus till I reached my stop.
If you have the chance to sit next to another woman, she will warmly smile at you and most often strike up a conversation. I have had everything from flowers tied in my hair, invitations back to homes and offerings of all sorts of exotic foods to me on the buses. People are so generous and selfless; I always do something to try to show my appreciation back. Stick with the ladies.
Last but not least, when getting off the bus... get off fast. If not some guys may accidentally try to grab your hand as you get down... pretending it was a mistake. You may have to give a few mean glares, but most likely these guys will never meet eyes with you. One last thing... don't you dare look back, because everyone is looking at you (Very few foreigners travel by bus).
It’s Friday night, at about 10pm and I am herding close to a dozen Water Buffalo down one of the main streets in New Delhi. “Chalo! Chalo!” I shout and clap. I am only having fun. I walk patiently behind the slowest one… who waddles back and forth in the dark. Unfortunately, they soon veer off course so I assume they know where they are going. They have now ignored my words and clapping taking a sharp turn to the right, through a break in the roadside fence. The drunks in their loories (trucks) and auto-rickshaws (three-wheeled "cabs") stare and laugh. I am sure it was a first for them too.
So... what are you doing Friday?
The monsoons are over one month late and New Delhi is in a drought. Vegetable prices are sky-rocketing and the village wells have gone dry. In Ghaziabad, a suburb outside New Delhi, villagers have begun holding yagnas. Yagnas are ceremonies to appease the rain gods. Scores of woman are ploughing the fields naked. Ceremonial prayer also goes on from 6am to 2pm with flowers, food and other religious offerings. I left Delhi today. Still the rain has not come.
“Cool me from this blistering heat; shower me with the udders of clouds.” --- Anonymous
A Local's Story
“Seven times I was captured and tortured. Do you see these scars on my hands? They are cigarette burns. Thee scars are not the worst they did either. They wanted me to give them information that I did not have and that I did not know. They asked why I was not cooperating with them. Those son’s of bitches; they are trash. They raided, and then burned down my village.“
“Once thousands of terrorists lived near my home and the Indian Army came to hunt them down. They had ordered us all out into the open to search our homes. A young woman stayed in her house… she was all alone and frightened to come out. The soldiers found her hiding and repeatedly raped her. When she knew there was no escape, she grabbed a knife and killed two of them. She then threw herself out of a window and was killed in the fall. The Indian Army said she was a female terrorist and that they found weapons on her. That’s what they always say. Besides, she would have been shunned from society after being raped, especially by a Hindu.”
“At one time I thought of joining our freedom fighters and several times I almost did. Then I would think of my family and I knew they would suffer… maybe be killed. The things they have done to us…”
How many people has this happened to? How many other stories must go untold?
The Malaha Village, Bharatpur (Rajastan)
It happened here, right at this very spot, some two years back. Three men tried to tried to "befriend" me, saying they were medical representatives passing through and then attempted to pull me into a van when I said I didn't need a ride. I am walking down the same street, to that very spot right now, to look around and reminisce. A new park is under construction, where people are resting to the right. To the left is the Wildlife Sanctuary. A representative sees me watching the entrance way and soon approaches telling me a tigress has been spotted and is roaming around these parts. Other then that, nothing has changed.
I walk on. An old man on an bicycle rickshaw follows quickly after me. "It's dangerous here." he says. "Let me take you, so you stay safe."
"No" I told him, "I want to walk." He continued to hassle me, telling me it was dangerous. Then finally settled on just following me so that he could be sure I was safe.
He pointed to some termite mounds. Then he pointed to a large hole in the ground and said that a boa constrictor often sleep in there during the day. Then he pointed out some brightly colored birds in the trees, water buffalo and wild hogs. Maybe he wasn't so bad to have pedaling along beside me. "I should really pedal you now, we shouldn't go this way. This is a very bad area. There are many prostitutes here and very bad men." he said to me. "Get on and I will tell you why."
"OK " I told him and hopped onto the seat behind him.
"For 20 rupee here, you can get anything." he stressed. "People even sell their own children... babies. It is the whole village that is involved in this. This whole cast of people here do it. Look there!" he said in a hushed voice and motioned with is eyes. "They are doing it in the bushes right now. What did I tell you? Sick people... it's all these truck drivers that pass through. (There is a huge problem in India now with HIV being spread around these villages, a major carrier of HIV is the truck drivers.) This is an interstate highway. Oh, and you see that home over there?" he pointed. "A family was murdered there, the home is haunted. They say their spirits wander this area at night." A few young boys on a moped began following us. I sat alert and nervous (ready to give them a spray in the face with my pepper spray if they ventured too close). They made a few crude gestures and remarks and the bicycle rickshaw wallah told them to move on, giving them a dirty look. They left. Many more people followed, leering and making bad remarks. The old man was right.
We came to a better area where he gave me a chance to pedal the bike (a few people wanted rides). I thanked him and continued my walk back home into town, in silence. I would be sure never to return to those parts.
A few related news articles:
India: AIDS Fueled by Abuses Against Children
(New Delhi, July 29, ) — India’s explosive AIDS epidemic is being fueled by widespread abuses against children who are affected by HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The Indian government’s failure to address these abuses is undermining its anti-AIDS policy and putting millions of lives at risk. The Indian government estimates that 5.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in India.
Street children, child sex workers and children of sex workers, children from lower castes and Dalits (or “untouchables”) suffer even more as they also face other forms of discrimination. Sexual abuse and violence against women and girls, coupled with their long-standing subordination in Indian society, make them especially vulnerable to HIV transmission. Girls are also more likely to be pulled out of school to care for a sick family member or to take over domestic work. When living with HIV/AIDS, they may be the last in the family to receive medical care.
India: Eviction of Sex Workers Boosts HIV Risk
(New York, July 7, ) — The unlawful forced displacement of thousands of sex workers and others from a beach community in the Indian state of Goa will drastically harm efforts to contain HIV/AIDS in the area, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 14, Goa state authorities destroyed 250 homes of sex workers as well as about 800 homes of other residents of Baina. The eviction occurred at the height of the monsoon season, and many displaced residents are still without homes. Twenty-two persons were arrested peacefully protesting the eviction.
Previously, a high court in Mumbai had ordered the state of Goa to conduct a socioeconomic survey of the Baina neighborhood and to offer to the sex workers in the area a viable “rehabilitation” plan before any displacement could be effected. The state offered sex workers the opportunity to be housed behind barbed wire in a former children’s home to learn handicrafts, including candle-making and embroidery. The sex workers did not see this as a viable employment alternative and had hoped the state would reconsider its proposal.
“The Baina sex workers had a well-known record of working to promote condom use in the community as well as among their clients,” said Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch. “Now that the sex workers are dispersed, and unable to work together on HIV prevention, the whole community is at greater risk for HIV.”
The Baina sex workers also successfully combated child trafficking in the Baina area, an effort now stopped by the eviction. The Forum for Justice in Baina, a local organization, filed a petition for redress with the High Court in Mumbai, seeking assistance for those displaced. A hearing is scheduled for July 10.
Germany has an amazing variety of landscapes and attitudes. More then anything else I will remember their progressive attitude, creativity and determination... wrapped within a lot of history.
Sunday October 10th
To give a name to the fall colors of Leer, Germany would be like trying to put in to words the feeling of a warm ocean breeze at night across your skin and the scent of the sea in Cape Hatters, North Carolina. It would be like trying to describe the infinite number of stars you eyes lay witness to, as you stare up into the sky with a feeling of complete and utter wonder on a cold summer night from on top of a glacier, within the Himalayan Mountains, in Kashmir. It would be like trying to describe the contrasting fall colors of the Aspen trees and Ponderosa pines, in a valley amongst the San Francisco Peaks somewhere in Flagstaff, Arizona. It would be like describing the shimmer of the blue ocean water, in Greece, as you stare down marveling at another world so filled with life, in the Sea of Crete. So how would one ever write it down?
The people in this city have been extremely nice to me. When I bought a few small things at a shop, the lady insisted in giving me free samples to share with my friends, and also family in the USA. I sat down at a small café and ordered a thick Greek coffee. Everyone on Sunday goes out with their family to small 'Eiscafes' (an ice cream cafe) and couples stroll along hand-in-hand just window shopping.
City of Berlin, Winter
The past is so complex, yet so related to present times.
I don’t know what it was about the city, but something deeply moved me while in Berlin. Could it be that the reasons behind why the wall fell on my birthday that tie me in some subliminal way? Could it be the mystery and the city’s past? What ever it is, it has me deeply in its grasp.
The Red Army
The Red Army controlled most of Eastern Europe until officially 1989, unofficially 1991.
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin’s Foreign Affairs Chief (Russia) claims that there was no occupation.
Did you know that until the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was illegal for East Europeans to link the Red Army’s defeat of the Nazis with the Soviet occupation? It was not liberation for Eastern Europe; it was the beginning of a new communist regime. May 9th 1945 was the liberation from the Nazis, shortly after that Russia took over control.
Shortly after the WWII VE day, an American soldier in uniform was brutally tortured in the halls this house. At last a bullet pierced his skull, fatally injuring him. He lay in the hall for days waiting for help, until at last him body and soul had to part. The townsmen in Tegel were the only witnesses. They said the death was over only his military boots. No one ever reported the men.
He haunts the house whenever you speak his name. When at night you hear things up above you and you know you are the only one here, it is he. When you feel a breeze across the hairs of your neck and there is no way for a draft to come through your room, he is here then too.
The Last Train
‘Look, look! It’s empty, completely empty.’ I said
‘What if we end up in the service zone?’ said Ryan, ‘We’re we supposed to get off? Where are we?’
Marlous began to look down at the map.
‘Look there is no one at that subway stop and we are passing it right by!!! There is no one in those subway cars beside us either!’ I said in a raised voice.
‘This is going to be really embarrassing if we end up in some type of service zone, where they park these things at night. Why didn’t anybody tell us? How come no one got us off the train!!! This didn’t happen; there’s no way.’ Ryan said.
‘Christ we have to go.’ Marlous said as the subway came to a stop. We were in an empty service tunnel and everything around us was dark. There was no one around, no one in the cars. It was only the three of us, alone, and in the dark. ‘Hello!’ she screamed again and again out the window.
‘Your ok, your ok.’ Ryan tried to assure her.
‘This is really serious.’ Marlous said.
‘What is this?’ Ryan asked, pointing at a button. ‘What is this and what does that say?’
‘Oh my god, we’re in the service zone. Don’t laugh it makes me really nervous. Hello, Hello!’ Marlous began to scream into the dark.
‘Don’t pull that.’ Ryan said to Marlous. ‘It’s some type of alarm.’
‘Hello, hello!!! Oh my god.’ Her voice echoed all around the subway car. Suddenly Marlous pulled the alarm; nothing happened. ‘I want to get out of the train. Hello! We are in the train.’ Then she pulled a second alarm.
We then saw someone walking along the side of the subway car. It was the conductor. He came in and Marlous ran to him. ‘This has to happen all the time, wait I will speak in German. I am so sorry we didn’t know the train. I am so claustrophobic, I am so claustrophobic,’ she said as she fell to his feet giving up on speaking in German.
We were allowed to sit in the conductors seat on the way back.
‘Perhaps this is even good if it happened. I am always wondering what if? See all these stairs on left and right and you end up on a street. It’s good to know, really. Actually this was very good for me. I am just shaking in my legs. It’s always my worst fear. What happens when you are in a subway and you can’t get out? Well now I know. I am very pleased that this happened,’ were her final remarks as we all exited the train.
One day while heading home on the way from school, a 14-year-old girl found lipstick on the side of the street. The year was somewhere within the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s. There were pictures of Stalin everywhere. She thought that on one of those pictures, Stalin looked pretty grim so she painted a red mustache with the lipstick on him. She was then arrested and received a 10-year prison sentence for anti-soviet activities. She was said to have insulted the Russian Red Army. She ended up serving 8-years in prison, under extremely harsh conditions.
In March of 1953, Stalin passed away and on June 17th, 1953, mass protests broke out across East Germany. The people were protesting against the government’s orders to make them work 10% more hours, for same amount of pay. Soviet tanks crushed the protesters and resistance. The SED, at that time, was the only organization with any power. This protest was said to be a fascist uprising, which was blamed on the west because ‘people were happy with their jobs in the east,’ the SED said.
In the late 1950’s only physical torture was used; later on that changed. They used to use psychological pressure to get people to confess. One such example was a door that looked like a prison cell entrance but opened up into something smaller then a closet. It was so small that you could not lie down to sleep and turning around was virtually impossible. Where the door came together, it closed you into a very small area where you could barely move. They would keep you there in the dark for days. You would go crazy and admit to anything just to get out of that room. One would confess to things they never did, after a very short time.
The American sector was the voice of the enemy because it was heard in many parts of Germany. American music was banned in East Germany and where/if you could not get American music or news, you were said to live in the valley of the ignorant.
Names have been witnessed that had been written down 10 days before a trial had started with a day even before the crime was said to have been committed. There was no division of power. The Head of the Department could decide on life or death with only the swipe of a pen… people were helpless. They were desperate for independence.
The prison cells had glass block windows so that prisoners could not see outside. When people had to go to hospital, guards would put them into vans and driven in circles so that they became even more disoriented. When people were arrested, they were transported in secret vans with a false label on the side advertising a fish market vehicle, or another type of delivery van.
Stasi looked over State Crimes and Crimes Against the Public. Most people tried to run away to the west after the fall of the wall. The wall was called the anti-fascist protection wall and was necessary to protect East Germans from the aggressive West Germany. But it was not for ones protection; it was only there to keep them locked in and from running to the West. There was a death zone; it was a strip of sand where they planted land mines in. There were two guards on patrol in order to keep each other in check (Two are stronger then one, correct; but they were really there for double control).
Prisoners were taken to rubber rooms so that they could not hurt themselves. A former worker claimed to have had to wipe away blood/excrement all the time. Just think what happens when you are locked away in a dark place and forced to sleep in your own waste in a dark room for many days. You loose your self-esteem and self regard.
The Stasi would carefully strip search each prisoner with rubber gloves. People fell into tears when this happened. This is one of the most humiliating things. All the time, people everywhere misuse their power. The USA in Guantamo Bay does not comply under the Geneva Conventions. We should very critical of it.
The Stasi also used light to control prisoners. Prisoners were forced to sleep with their hands outside a blanket and if not they would be awakened by light. People were also given drugs in their food so that they could not control themselves or think properly
Prisoners had total isolation except with the interrogator. So after a while you may begin to tell them everything because you start to trust them. There were two tape recorders going so when you turned off one, there was still another.
Disillusion or disintegration is the best translated word from German. They would order porn in your name, call in the night, break into your car and move stuff around and then relock it. One would thing: What did they do? What will happen? What did they find? People would also order furniture for you or rub dog shit in the hall sp that your neighbors would complain. Another thing they would do is put radioactive materials in ones possessions (laundry) to poison the person.
You would walk in circle with your hands on back and your body further then 40 cm from wall. You were not allowed to sing, cough or make any noise. Open air was very important emotionally, but people were still very afraid down there because the guards had machine guns and could shoot you/forage documents about it like it never occurred. Fear is all you feel. Uncertainty and powerlessness follow!!!
As a westerner, I will always remember the border controls and the treatment. If you enter with a newsmagazine and didn’t declare it, then you would have great problems!
Political jokes were very important during these rough times, but you could easily end up in prison and as well be executed. If you were caught listening to the wrong music, you would also be severely punished. In 1985, 3 boys painted graffiti on walls of an abandoned building. The DDL locked them up for a short period. The writing read, we have come of age but our opinions don’t count. After they were released, they were soon rearrested, when on a random room search the security found songs on the walls. “I was never in NY, I was never in Hawaii. I was never really free. (in capitals and circled)” It was termed Anti State Propaganda. These people spend three years in jail until they were finally purchased by West Germany.
Rolling stones music was really bad!!! The Beetles was banned too. It was very dangerous to listen to western music; even in the 1980s you had to get permission or you would be arrested.
You need to look back and understand the political persecution in East Germany. You also need to look forward and stay alert. DO not take everything for granted. Think about your rights and think about political persecution.
“Are you from a news agency?” One of the soldiers was dressed in fatigues while the other was in an army t-shirt and jeans. They looked my way, one of the guys smiled.
“We have a few questions for you, do you mind if I film you?” I asked.
“So, you want to go sightseeing or something?” he asked. But that was far away from the direction of our questions.
They are both from Berlin, and are stationed about 165 km away from Berlin on a military base. He was 7-years of age when the wall fell and he still remembers it. “There was panic and so many people walking. We had to stand up at 0500 and there was happiness, greetings and welcoming by strangers. Everyone was so friendly. He’s from east and I am from west, we are on the same army base. I have worked with a combined endeavor and am a private first class. For 2 weeks we setup tents with the GI’s from USA. I liked it a lot; they were very nice to Germans but I feel they may not be as nice to foreign soldiers from other countries.” He was an engineer who had served in Bosnia for 6 months and had been involved in 3 wars.
“You were in the army? The American army?” they asked. I got a smile.
“Life is an open road. It is an endless sky; it is the deepest sea. I have my headlights to guide me through the night. I’m built for life.”
The Gold Ring: Nurnberg
We stepped into a small dark holding area, where at one time many prisoners might have wept. I strolled past the row of death cells. Each cell had a hole in the ground that was used as a toilet and a bench in the back where they were often handcuffed to. A small table lay behind the bench which served as a bed and eating area. I stepped into a side room and ran my fingers over a carving in the wall, which was most likely done by a prisoner guard out of boredom, over 500 years ago.
I walked down a few steps into another very dark room and where I bumped a few chains on the wall. It was a torture chamber, where prisoners were whipped, beaten, hoisted by their heads and left to hang with weights tied to their feet, had thumb screws driven into their fingers, were put on stretcher pallets, had sulfur poured over their naked bodies and anything else you care not to think about.
After that we walked into the executioners “cubby hole,” which is the only room with a light. Here the prisoners were given their final meal, before their death sentence was carried out. They were given as much food and drink (alcohol) as they wanted, to calm them down before their death. We walked up a set of stairs and into another room where the dungeon caretaker stayed. Two holes in the wall held pitchers of beer and wine, which the soldiers and prisoners could purchase. We were thanked and released into the light.
I sat down on a park bench juts outside the ‘rat house’ close to the mysterious gold ring. It is said that if you turn the gold ring, your wish will come true. Long ago a young ironworker was in love with his master’s daughter but his master said he wasn’t smart enough to marry her. He wanted to prove himself to his master so that he could marry the love of his life and late one night he assembled a gold ring into the fence he was constructing. The ring had no evidence of how it got there, such as tool marks or welding. How he did this is still a mystery today. He was allowed to marry his love.
An old man with a thick red beard sat down beside me and began to peer over my shoulder. He smelled heavy of alcohol and had a bee in his hand. He began talking to me in broken English, which he said he learned on the road. I asked him out of all the countries he had traveled to, what one he liked the best. He replied, “Spain. I hate Germany; the government doesn’t support its own people. It gives all the money to Indians, Africans and other foreigners. Everyone else but me!” he screamed. Beer spittle flew out of his mouth and landed on my cheek. It was all I could do not to wipe my face. He continued to raise his voice and people looked at the two of us. He then tried to get me to take a swig of his beer, which I politely refused. I calmly ended the conversation and wished him a nice day.
I walked slowly over to the gold ring. I had a lot I could wish for today, such as a safe home and some peace in my life. I climbed the edge of the fence and slowly turned the ring around in two complete circles. With two turns, maybe they will listen a little more clearly.
“Some people live their dreams, some peoples destiny passes them by. There are no guarantees.”
The main portion of the castle sits on a large ‘island’ like rock, which protrudes out from the rest of the mountaintop. On cloudy days, it looks as if the castle is floating in heaven. A deep ivy filled courtyard stretches out to the edge of the cliff and then gives way into nothingness. A drawbridge covers the courtyard; the central break rests atop a huge stone pillar. Iron chains hang from its sides, swaying gently in the wind. The sun glares off a portion of the white wash eastern castle wall. Moss covers the rest of it, with inlayed stone carvings of knights and crests. Down below, the sky open up to reveal a small town of white homes with auburn colored roofs. Sometimes you just need a little reminder about what life’s all about. As we head out the gate, we see the Duke! He stops near us with his classy golf bag and chiseled looks. He’s returning home from a day of golfing to his castle. What a life!
Get My Mojo On You! – The Piano Man
An old oak piano sits atop a low, wheeled, movers dolly in the center of the street. The piano looks as if it hasn’t been oiled in ages and small white flyers have been taped all over its sides. An old man plays forth from it with passion, bouncing up and down in his wooden chair and tapping his feet to the beat. With every tap he shakes the whole contraption and the piano sways forth from side to side. He then lifts his foot and begins to play with his heel; the small crowd lets out a roar of laughter.
I stop to watch. A red, green and yellow wicker basket rests nearby him on the street. A few coins lay inside it. A large amulet hangs around the old mans neck and the sun is setting in the distance, behind him, out over the lake.
I look out towards the mountains. From here they look blue and low clouds hang about around them. The clock on the lighthouse glows orange and the city lights just kicked on. The rest of the city of Lindau is visible from the island I am on.
I sit on a small park bench looking out at the harbor. A large stone lion guards the entranceway, where the boats quietly rest. The piano man says a few words of English. “I can read your mind,” he says in English and then continues on in German.
I look over at him. Then I look back at the lake; the reflection of the lighthouse is shimmering forth at my feet. Now he sings about Louisiana and I can’t help but smile as the passion comes forth in his voice. He’s doing exactly what he loves. He looks my way again and smiles. I think he’s American too.
I look down shyly and continue writing. We are both doing what we love and loving what we do.
Sena in the Night
Music blows by me like the salty ocean breeze. The romantic melody grasps hold of me with ease. It pulls something inside me towards the dimly lit park. I see nothing but trees; I am now in the dark. The music it wafts through the branches of pines.
A lone man sits on a bench.
I pause in stride and hesitate for he sits alone. But another moment of listening and I can’t help but be drawn towards the tone. He glances my way and continues his song. I knew sitting down here, I couldn’t go wrong. I stare out at the harbor, not invading the moment. The music brings forth a felling of passion and I know that he knows that. It’s just him and I alone on this path. For but a moment in sound we escape the worlds wrath. When he finishes he stands and smiles my way. I commend him and smile, this is the moment I wanted to put an end to the day.
Beuron, Mass Graves in the Night
It was about midnight when I pulled into Fridingen and headed towards Beuron. I drove slowly through the winding mountain roads. On my left I saw a sign with a series of crosses on it. I was searching for the Bened Kloster, so I stopped to check it out. I parked my car with the headlights on so that I could make my way down a small stone staircase. I pushed open a low rod iron fence and stepped into a stone walled graveyard. A sign read Soldatenfriedhof. It was a mass grave. A chill quickly ran through me. What was I doing at midnight, on the side of the road in the woods, in a mass grave! I watched my steamy breath come out through the dim parking lights of my car. Two large stones stood out in the dark. One had Nazi engravings covering it (red and white Nazi cross). Smaller graves lay all around me. It was too creepy; I headed back to the car.
Hier ruhen 84 Soldateb aus den verschiedenen kriegen. 37 aus dem Jahr 1814 und 24 aus dem 2 weltkrieg March 1945.
I walk through a dark cold forest. Dead branches poke out at me from the trees like jagged wooden spikes. The moss covered forest floor gives in with each step. Suddenly the trunks of the trees reflect back at me like mirrors. All around me I can see my reflection. I stumble into the daylight and the forest closes in behind me. The branches curl up in arches with strands of pine needles tugging at them, weighing them down like falling tears. Time is a strange thing that we long to pass faster or wish to grasp hold of for just a little bit longer.
What a bookstore
A small crowd of people gathered around a section of books in the front of the store. I walked towards them to see what was so interesting.
The rise and fall of the American empire; All the presidents’ spin; The Nazi raid on America – Saboteurs; Generation kill; The price of loyalty; The main enemy – America; Dude… where’s my country?; Stupid white men; Who are we? – Americans; In the shadow of no towers; Bush at war; Loosing America; Bush world – enter at your own risk.
Into the Forbidden Room
Music fills the great hall from an organ in the front. Faces of maidens are engraved into the wooden pew entranceways. You have no choice but to grasp a demon in order to pull down your seat. The architect who designed this was clever indeed because we often say that some people are wrestling with demons of their own, when they sit down in church. On the armrests are creatures that resemble serpents and dragons, which have been rubbed smooth at the top from centuries of people’s arms resting atop them.
I turn right, into the forbidden room. It is dark, cold and the air gives off the scent of old books. A wooden lady holds a bible out open to me. I step through the door way and a pale golden crescent can be seen painted on the wall. I walk towards it because it is shining brightly and I can now see a part of a man’s ribcage there too. Faded white angles hover all around above me on the ceiling. I run my fingers gently across a chiseled out symbol in the wall. It is shaped like a clover with a cross, an upside-down Y and some numbers that I cannot name clustered within it. I move my hand leftwards to a broken sculpture and up over the jagged crack. In front of me, stain glass windows tell stories from the bible and headless men hold up offerings inside urns. A man walks in behind me and turns on a light ruining my peaceful dark moment. I head towards the doorway. Shields line the wall, each with a different Coat of Arms. I walk past a stone knight.
I step outside of the room; letters to God are posted on a bulletin board. They are in Japanese, Greek, German and Spanish. Not a single word is in English. I see people wishing for no war, praying for their family and there is also something written about Islam.
Germany with Betsy and Curtis
The Castle Watchtower
(25 December) Half of the castle has crumbled to pieces; time has taken its toll. I peer down from a cylindrical watchtower, at what used to be a moat. Climbing up the outside of the tower, in a spiral, are small stone outcroppings that look like stairs. The castle wall below me has crumbled into rubble in various places and ivy vines make use of its demise. Here they find ledge space for their roots, springing forth out of the death, to bring on a new life and splendor to this old wall. Moss covers every odd space.
A tall square tower lies to my left. Its shape reminds me of the Mosque towers in Morocco, which tower mightily over the city. I wandered down the watchtower and under an arched entranceway into the castle square. I walk to the right where a small fountain graces the courtyard and I lean on the wall beside a gnarled old tree. The tree looks like something right out of, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ Its trunk is split in two and large, wart like bumps, cover its sides. The trunk is stretched flatter then I have ever seen on a live tree and it is also curved. It reminds me of a bloodless leech I had seen in a medical program the other day on TV. It’s a very odd, old and sick tree and it is still grasping onto life.
I walk down into a dungeon-like cellar, past stained glass windows shaped like chicken wire. Stone knights and several coats of arms emblems mark the wall. I push through a curtain; the room is quite dark. Peering down a narrow set of steps, I can see a wooden vat of ale the height of 6 Dutch people. I climb a flight of stairs up to the top of the vat and marvel at its size. Above me are all sorts of German words spray painted onto the stone ceiling. Several friendly people smile at me; I can hear their American accents. I wonder where they think I am from. What I have learned to enjoy the most is wandering alone as an ‘anonymous’ or ‘hidden’ person. People may look at you, but as long as you say nothing they will never be able to guess where you are from. Being free of identity and stereotypes is a wonderful thing at times… I could be anyone.
Back from Iraq: Ramstein
(26 December ) The sign to Ramstein Air Base had a line drawn through it, as if it was closed. We drove on still, I didn’t quiet know how to get in but I decided to follow my directional instinct as it rarely led me wrong. I could see a C130 Jet flying just above the tree line coming in for a landing. Then I saw the entrance gate. German soldiers stood guarding it. Being that I am ‘Military’ I had no problem getting in. I drove around in a circle checking out the base and looking for the Commissary. I hadn’t seen this many Americans in months. My family wanted me to stop at Burger King for a quick lunch since we hadn’t had luck with our other idea. I pulled in and parked the car.
“Ask someone if they know where the Commissary is so we can stop for drinks,” my mom said to me.
I scanned the room. Two impressive Marines, who were about my age, stood in fatigues stood to my left. “Hey, do you guys know where I could find the Commissary on base here?” I asked.
“No, we just got here yesterday and we hardly knew where this was! Some old lady picked us up and said, ‘You guys must want to go to Burger King!’ How did she guess.” one smiled.
I thanked them and stepped back in line to get my coffee. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around. “You are welcome to join us. We are eating just over there.” he pointed.
“Ok, sure.” I replied. “Be there in a sec.”
So I joined them. It turned out that they were just back from Iraq. They were part of a forward-recon Marine Unit and had been slightly injured so they got to come home. I won’t talk much about our conversation, because things like that I keep private. The two guys were so cheerful and well mannered, despite what they had just been through. I couldn’t believe this was their 1st day home. A strange wave of feelings came over me and I got angry that anyone could ever think something bad of an American Soldier. These men were paying the ultimate price for something they really had nothing to do with. How could anyone feel anything other then sympathy for them? How could most people even begin to understand what they had just been through? I offered them both a ‘Dutch drop’ from my purse. It was almost time for me to leave.
We talked more about life. “Are you ever going back?” one of the guys asked. He was talking about the USA. I looked at him and smiled, I think he knew what I was thinking. I was happy for a moment that maybe there was someone else out there who understood something outside of that big island between Mexico and Canada. “Maybe one day, but I don’t know.” I told him.
I stood up, as it was now time to get back on the road. I patted his shoulder and wished him success. The other guy gave me his hand and stood up. His other arm was wrapped in white bandages.
New Years Eve: Karlsruhe
(31 December ) This New Years Eve as the clock stuck midnight, I hung out of the window of a Karlsruhe hotel. Fireworks were coming from everywhere in the city, including our front lawn.
It all began this morning along the coast of the Italian Rivera, in a small town called Santa Marguartia Ligure. After a wonderful day, the day before, at the beach in our 4-star… I was wondering if anything else could compare. By 10am we headed off towards Germany. As we neared the border in northern Italy to Switzerland, we began our climb into the Alps. Before we knew it, the four-lane highway had turned into a one-lane gravel road with no room to pass. The small road led us up into the Swiss Alps and over the Simplon Pass.
We drove past WWII army machinegun bunkers and ice sickles the size of the rental car. There were cliff-side tunnels around every turn and quaint stone homes on every cliff. There were hairpin turns and deep snow. Every few hundred meters was an orange SOS sign.
As we reached the top of the pass and I pulled over to admire the view. A thick blanket of clouds hung over the mountain, opening up in the north to reveal a bright blue sky. “It’s a long way down from the sky and I’m never gonna come down,” a song blared in the radio. We drove on. “Are you sleeping?” I shouted back to my mom. “No,” she said, “I am about to have a heart attack.” She was scared of the steep cliffs.
It was now night and we still hadn’t made it out of the mountains. We came to a single lane snow packed road and the car began to skid out. I drove a little further, worried we might get stuck, and then realized that the road didn’t go on. We had at last reached the end of the pass, or as far as we were allowed to go. The remaining roads were closed up ahead and we were stuck. There was no way back but the way we had come… or a train.
So we pulled off to take a ‘train tunnel pass car.’ We purchased a ticket and pulled forward into line. I was the first. The train pulled up and some other cars unloaded. And then I just drove right on. We put on the emergency break and shut off the lights. You stayed in your car for this trip. As the train took off down the track, the car swayed uneasily from side to side. I thought my mom was really going to loose her lunch now. I looked down over the edge of the mountain. It was a long way down.
We entered a dark tunnel. I switched off and on my headlights… I left them off; it was pretty amazing with everything so dark. All that could be seen was a small light from the conductor car and the pail glow of the headlights from the front of the train. As we rocked to and fro, I couldn’t peel my fingers away from the wheel or my eyes away from the window. The tunnel seemed to grow and contract as the shadows played games with my eyes. A gust of snow blew up into the window; we had survived the pass and were now free of the mountains and on our way to Germany.
Frida is the one who stole my heart in Mexico City, although I have to admit I was a fan of hers long before that. She embodies pain and strength that the rest of us fear to show.
August, a short while in Mexico...
Some where south of Ensenada, Mexico… WHEW! I lived. A car flew by me at break-neck speed. Mexico... ‘The land of fast and dangerous chance encounters with cars.’ I just hopped off the main toll road and am now on the road that the locals use. The toll road was beautiful and easy driving (much nicer then most of (US) I-40)... heading right down the coast. I am making my way towards San Quentin, the city of wonderful clam digging.
This road is a mess. Parts of this road have no centerline and every one drives at 3 to 4 times the posted speed. To pass another vehicle, one must literally dance-with-death. Large trucks fly around tight cliff turns at speeds uncomprehendible even to me! Blind curves make up 60% of these roads. Some of the vehicles, on the other hand, travel at speeds 3 to 4 times below the posted speed limit. This leaves you no option but to pass (or add 4 hours to your trip).
I happened to be behind a line of many of those vehicles and had large trucks flying up behind me and breaking hard and then continuing to tailgate me till I got the hint... time to pass!
Down a hill I go and I step on the gas in my Toyota Tacoma. I can see another vehicle ahead of me in the road frantically flashing their headlights. They are fast approaching me head on. I swerve between two MAC trucks to let him pass and then back out into the road, this time making it past all the slow ones. I survived... again! Only 3 more days to go with this! I think pretty soon the Mexicans are going to think I am a local. I may earn my Mexican driving badge after all.
As I come up a hill I pass a burnt up truck with onions all over the road… fair testament to the crazy drivers. Now there is a broken down bus, with about 30 people trying to hitch hike! I see signs now for fresh coconuts… time for a refreshing drink and a break from the road. (only all the slow cars are now in front of me again)
I stand here now on a small-enclosed beach, which is encapsulated by rock walls. In a few hours it will be no more, as it was granted life only by the falling of the ocean tide. I look out at the sea; it is covered in a hazy fog.
As a walk forward now, towards the coastline, small waves of sand pulsate out from beneath my feet with every step I take. They shimmer gold and give way to black footprints, which are all that is left behind. The sand here is a rich mixture of gold flecks with black and tan shell or rock grain type sand. Large rocks make up a natural 8-foot wall behind me, parked up against the cliff walls. Many shells and also other man-made objects (which were destine for their return home to land) are trapped behind them. A foul odor of rotting fish is being mixed with the wonderful scent of the sea; the wind tugs back and forth with the scent almost as though it is playing with it beneath my nose. As I approach the wall and peer over, hundreds of fish lay dead there. They were trapped by the tides. The gulls call out swooping down on the dead fish making use of another's misfortune.
Clumps of seaweed are also strewn about the beach. I tug at one that is 10+ feet in length. I continue down the shoreline till I reach a small cave; an object that looks like a rusty old vault lies at its mouth. As I make my way back to my truck, clam diggers can be seen heading out to sea with large nets, slowly they wade out into the ocean. A small pack of dogs is chasing after them. I make my way back 5 miles to the main road. A drunk stumbles past me, pausing but for a second to look up before moving on to continue to his ranting to an invisible friend.
Mexico City - To the heart of it all
Population: 20 million (with 1,100 newcomers entering each day)
(Mexico City; 15 June) "United 223, maintain radio silence. I can't find your flight plan, hold till we find it. No, I don't want to talk to you. United 1021 make this left turn and hold short on Charlie. Wait. Who just cleared the runway? I didn't authorize anyone to clear the runway. WHO CLEARED THE RUNWAY? Everyone standby, standby. No ones going anywhere. Who's on Foxtrot? They need to give you another route, go back to clearance." the traffic controller shouted.
Our pilot came on over the intercom and said, "Due to the weather, power outages in Potomac and reduced runways because of heavy construction... our flight is going to be delayed. I am trying to work out a deal with one of the traffic controllers to get us out of here faster. Right now were are third in line. The strip is still too cluttered for us to get out."
He was an aggressive pilot with a wry sense of humor. I really wondered how he was going to get us out faster, being that it was he who kept pissing off the main traffic controller. Every few minutes I would hear, "United 223, maintain radio silence!" Yes, that was us. He was bold and took every chance he could to sneak the plane forward another spot. Some of the other pilots were making stupid directional errors and I was amazed at how they ever received their pilots license in the first place. At last we took off. I breathed a sigh of relief and fell right asleep. My eyes couldn't even stay open for lift off.
Somewhere in the night I awoke and looked down into the vast darkness. I could see the beginnings of a huge sprawling city. The city light spread out in a spider-web like network of patches, intermixed with areas of complete darkness. Welcome to Mexico City.
CENTRO HISTORICO (Templo Mayor)
(Mexico City; 16 June ) Mexico City is one of the worst cities in the world, when it comes to pollution and traffic problems. The city also holds 1/4th of the entire country’s population. But walking through the streets you can glance at an amazing array of history, with beauty far beyond words. Mexico City has it all. You have your indigenous craft makers and then the men in business suits. You have your Starbucks Coffee and then your fried cactus patties. Simply put, you have it all.
My first stop was the Centro Historico District. This is where Mexico City began. I wandered around an array of construction until I reached Templo Mayor, home of the Aztec's guardian God Tenochtitlan. Here, there once was an island. Here, 20,000 prisoners were sacrificed by the Aztecs to prevent floods and famine. Here, is what was believed to be the center of the universe. Here, is the point where the Aztecs stopped because they saw an eagle perched atop a cactus, eating a snake (this was their symbol to stop wandering, they had found a home). Here, they believed they had found the center of the universe. Here, I stopped too.
I wandered into the ruins, past a small temple covered with over 240 carved stone sculls. Then past decapitated bodies made of stone, laying about awkwardly on the floor. Past sharp fanged feathered serpent deity's heads and beasts holding bowls to the sky, which once held human hearts.
Then I made it into a museum. A human skull with two bright white clay eyes stared back at me through the glass. A spear point is wedged deep into its nasal cavity and small holes have been drilled in a line stretching across the top of its forehead. The back of the skull is missing and a jaw bone lays awkwardly to the right. Brain matter can still be seen through the corner of the eyes.
A skeleton body with sandals and loose pants reaches out desperately towards me with his hands. Long pointed fingernails just barely touch the sleeve of my shirt. He stands in an awkward manner with his rib cage jutting out. He wears no shirt and you can see straight through him. A huge heart resembling a bell or a flower in bloom, hangs just in sight down below his ribs.
Human figurines, with holes where their hearts once would have rested, are lined up against the wall. One hand on each of them is stretched up and in it a bowl has been carved. Beside them, a black dripping scull rests. It has been jabbed deep onto a wooden stake. Something hangs from its ear; is it dried flesh? I dare not guess.
CENTRO HISTORICO (Hildalgo)
I step out of the museum and decide to head for lunch. After views like these all I can think of eating is fruit and vegetables. I find a small vegetarian restaurant, downtown, just south of the Hildalgo Metro Station. (If you have ever been to Mexico City, you have heard of Hildalgo. It is famed for its pick-pocketers, hookers and thieves.)
Modest pink and green paint tones covered the walls and Mexican classical music was being played in the background. Japanese lamps hung from the ceiling. Fake red Christmas flowers which were situated around a pink rose stuck up out of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese glass. This marked my tables center-piece. Mismatch wooden chairs were clustered around the tables. Most all of the tables were wooden, except the two white plastic patio tables with umbrellas in the far back. I grinned at the thought of those umbrellas open inside. Maybe it rained in here too.
I picked up a tray and pointed at a few interesting things which the lady spooned generously onto my plate. One resembled what I though could be a sponge (or a lung the way my mind was working now). If I wasn't so absolutely sure, that it was a vegetable, I would never have tried it. Large bowls of cream, salt, sugar, oil and other new and unidentifiable stuff sat at the end of the food bar. I spooned a few things onto the palm of my hand. I carried my plate back to the table and got up to get my drink. First I spooned aqua con frutas into my glass and then I got a type of coffee which was thicker then mud (café con cerales) yet a wonderful change from the typical Americana style coffee we are so used to here.
The waitresses wore red, yellow and black sequined head caps, with blue surgical masks to cover their mouths. Every one sat in couples except for a weird man who had finished eating and kept staring at me from across the room. I ate my lunch, the weird man finally left.
CENTRO HISTORICO (Museo de san Ildefonso)
I wandered back to another museum, the Museo de San Ildefonso. This was once a prestigious teacher training college, adorned with murals by artists such as Diego Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros and more. The mural El Libertador (by Simon Bolivar) depicted a scene from the Mexican Revolution. A white man and woman, can be seen, morning over a friend who was killed laying below them. His body is draped in a white sheet. A soldier to their left, dumps the body of a young native girl into a mountain ditch. A war plane flies above a lush banana tree. Slaves and natives begin to kill soldiers on horseback. Naked angels hover above the fighting, looking down upon the locals. Blessing them for struggling for their freedom. One angel whispers into a fighters ear the words of a revolt. Spear heads are thrust up to the sky towards the outsiders on horses and guns are pointed below at the local people. A massacre ensues.
I wander into a back amphitheater where I lay my eyes on a huge mural by Diego Rivera (one of my favorite artists). I remember this mural from the movie Frida. I walk out with a complete sense of awe from the beauty and passion in the murals. A man bumps into me and knocks me from my thoughts.
"¿Puedo ser yo su companero?" (Can I be your companion) this strange man asks me. "¿Que?" (What) I said and gave him a nasty look. "Companero, companero, companero" he repeated. "No, no, no!" I yell at him, "GO AWAY." I didn't want a companion and especially not some crazy guy following me down the street. I turned to walk the other way and he followed. "No!" I shouted once more and turned around again. But he simply turned as I did and continued to follow. A few people who had been watching yelled at him to leave me alone. "Venga aqui!" (Come here) another lady said to me. "Stand in the museum until he leaves, there are many crazy people here." I gladly stood inside. He left.
After a few more museums, I headed to the Metro. Today it was jammed packed. I watched as a man tried to force himself in through the crowd. His body was pressed tightly against the people around him and he was making awful facial contortions as the Metro doors opened and closed on him. Some people were trying to push him out, while others were pushing him in. I can still recall the way his eyes seemed to be bugging out. He just stood there, until at last people were able to shift to let him in. I made it to my hotel.
(Mexico City; 20 June ) Today I climbed the Piramides del Sol (of the Sun) and looked down upon the Piramides de la Luna (of the Moon). Teotihuacan is about 50km northeast of downtown Mexico City. It is Mexico's biggest ancient city. Home to the world's third-largest pyramid. The city began around AD 100 but collapsed in the 7th century AD. When it was rediscovered by the Aztecs, they believed buildings were great tombs that housed the Gods, built by giants. Here the Gods had sacrificed themselves to start the sun moving to the "fifth world." So they called the street that ran between these tombs, the Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), which is where I walk now.
I climbed up 70m of stairs to reach the top of the Piramides del Sol. Cotton ball clouds and rolling mountains marked my view. Over 3 million tons of stone lay below me and people had done all of this with out tools, pack animals or the wheel. This pyramid is dedicated to the Sun God and was once painted bright red. A small American spiritual group sat here at the top, in a circle, holding hands. Everyone in the group had on straw hats and a lady sung, "It's just the two of us. I lay my money on it that were going all the way." A bundle of dry grasses emitted fumes from the center of the circle. Everyone had on tie-die shirts and held small sachets in their hands. I heard someone mention California. They got up to head back down the pyramid and a priest stepped up into view. He began offering blessings to God and to his followers. Over and over again this happened. People from every religion and every walk of life came here to pray. Other people came just to enjoy the view, meditate about life or to soak in the mystical energies that still loom about.
I spent all day here wandering around, climbing things, crawling into odd holes, taking crazy pictures and clinging to tour groups for more knowledge about the amazing things that lay before my very eyes. Sadly I had to leave, when the sun began to set.
Once I reached Mexico City, I hurried back to my hotel, changed and stepped outside to find my favorite type of street vendor. "Mango con chili, por favor" I asked. I am sure you are wondering how anyone can like Mango with chili. At one time it had surpassed me too, but now I understand. Two young boys looked over at me from beside the fruit stall and giggled. They said they liked my eyes. I smiled at them, by now I was used to the odd stares.
A LONG RIDE HOME
(Mexico City; 22 June ) I have just hopped on a bus to get back to a place which I now call home. Water leaks from the roof above me. I am straining to see out the window, through the rain drops. A soda bottle rolls by my feet, as the bus lurches forward. The bus window shakes violently and a large crack can be seen spidering out towards me. The crack wobbles in and out, as if the window is but a thin plastic sheet. A man with a large bucket of roses steps inside the bus, past me. We lurch forward again. The front windshield of the bus is covered with pictures of saints. I wonder how well the driver can even see through them all. Or is that the reason he keeps adding more? "I need a love..." blares over the radio in Spanish. A red frilly cloth hangs down from the front of the bus for decoration, with a poofy pink thing also around the rearview mirror. The bus seat beside me is missing its cushion and a board is tied there instead, with orange twine. My seat is missing its back, so I sit as far forward from the metal brace as I can. A rain drop slides back and forth on the ceiling above me before deciding to land on my writing pad. A bus beside me swerves dangerously close. There is a sticker on it with a man pointing a gun and the gun is pointed at me. Green and orange lights flicker in the bus above me, as the wires short in and out due to the rain. I press my face up against the window when we come to a stop. A young man looks up in surprise when he sees me staring out the window, down to the street. I guess there are not many foreigners here. A traffic light flashes red, yellow and green all at the same time. The city is experiencing tons of electrical problems because of this violent storm. Walls of rain can be seen coming towards the bus, one after another. Never before had I seen a wall of rain like this one. It is going to be a long ride home.
WALK THIS WAY
(Mexico City; 21 June ) A faded black water heater sits atop an aqua-marine colored house. The word "TERRIOA" is spray painted in white across its side. Pieces of the house's bright facing have fallen off, allowing the real colors to show vividly through in stark contrast. Dark red brick can be seen, spread out along the face of the house in jagged "puzzle like" pieces. Almost all of the houses here are an array of amazingly bright cheerful colors. Turn right here.
You will pass a large pile of stone in the intersection ahead. The road looks as if construction had at one time started, but had then been abandoned half-way through.
The road is covered in potholes and in places hard to walk. This will change when you reach the top. Glance right when you reach the main avenue and smile at the lady in the shop. She always waves and is sure to give you a very friendly smile. Turn right again here.
Walking down this road a few blocks, you will pass two boys working hard on a spray-painted picture on the wall of their house. Their art work is sure to amaze you, so stop for a moment to admire it. The younger boy, leaning against a red flowered tree, will stare at you for a second. Don't worry for it is only because of your rare blue eyes. He will stop staring in a moment, to pass another can of spray paint to his partner. Walk on for 10 more steps. Now carefully look down and you will see "MAFIA 03" carved in the cement on the step. Turn left here.
Up ahead you will see three teenage boys shouting and waving at traffic. None are smiling and they look somewhat dangerous. They stand at the entrance way to a dark single lane tunnel. This is not your first time through, so walk on and smile a little at them. They are only directing traffic. They will remember who you are and once you smile they will offer you back full grins in return. Now carefully step up onto the side walk ledge and enter into the dark tunnel. Hug the edge because cars and lorries drive madly through. If you don't stand close enough to the side you are likely to be hit by a mirror from one of them. Glance down now, if you wish, but it's close to a 3 foot drop to the cobble stone street. The street is likely to be invisible now because of the flooding. Every night it rains at 9pm sharp. So, I presume you will see a wave of water passing by from a car and a glimmer of light reflecting up at you from the other end of the tunnel. Look up and you will see a small light, coming from the wall, midway through the tunnel to help to guide you. It is a candle beside a picture of a Catholic Saint. The Saint is sure to light your way through the darkness of the tunnel, as she lights others ways through life. Now come out of the tunnel into the light. Veer left up the steep hill.
Step away from the pack of dogs to your right. They always like to roam here in the trash piles. They lie there with a look of docile tranquility, but they are actually quite unpredictable and mean. Once you are at the top of the street, glance left inside the bronze colored home. It may not look like anything special on the outside, but inside this home lays a courtyard destined for kings. A jungle of colorful flowers and trees can be seen weaving through stone walkways. Statues, which look as if they have come right out of the Aztec temples themselves, will also grace your view. Now you will hear the barking. Look up and to the right, at the blue house over across the street.
A Doberman Pincher dog can be seen running across the roof top. There are no walls so he could easily jump down, walk quickly and ignore him. Children run by, there is a market to your right today. Don't use the market to remember directions, because the places it is held change and tomorrow it will be gone. Make a quick right and now a left through the trees to the street.
If you are lucky, a white unmarked van will be waiting here, or nearby, which you can use for a small fee. The door swings open and you pass the driver money through a hole in the metal plated window. Don't bother to close the door behind you because he controls it by a string in the front seat. Just squeeze tightly in the seat, up against the window; there are many more people to come. Sit back, look out the window and try to enjoy as best you can the ride. Just keep an eye out for the crazy buses, I think there are magnets in some of the sides of them pulling other cars near. Be ready for plenty of "we missed him just by an inch" close calls. On second thought, don't sit by the window.
It's up to you where the story goes from here. I just brought you to the top of the road.
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