Today’s Birthday: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was founded on December 14, 1950 to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes following WWII. In 1954, the UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Their headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland. The work of the organization to protect and help refugees all over the globe is more vital than ever. You can donate by clicking on this link: Donate.unhcr.org

In honor of the work that the UNHCFR tirelessly does on behalf of our world, I am reprinting the post I wrote about why I decided to offer trauma massage for refugees. – Jadi

After more than a decade, it was back. An insidious, slowly increasing unease, a worried feeling that the world was spinning out of control. For months I’d watched news reports about refugees drowning off the coast in places like Libya or Lampadusa, Italy.

The reports came with more frequency, their tone more urgent. One night I saw the tragic footage of a small child, lifeless where he’d washed up on a beach in Turkey.

That Turkish beach is in Bodrum, and I once set foot there. Two years after I got married we spent a vacation in Turkey. Uwe and I began with the magic of Istanbul. We visited ancient Greek and Roman ruins, took off our shoes at the Blue Mosque, and travelled down the coast as tourists on a local bus line. At rest stops the driver came around with rose water for passengers to wash their hands and faces.

We bought rugs in Bodrum and had them shipped home. I joked about magic carpet rides. We put a wool rug I’d chosen in the center of our living room. Its wavy stripes had reminded me of the ribbon candy my grandparents always gave us when we visited.

IMG_7568

Now, when I looked from the television to the floor, I saw waves in a treacherous ocean. I saw the long voyage of those desperately trying to save themselves and their families from wars.

Images of bombs and flight began to haunt my dreams. I had trouble sleeping and for a while I stopped watching the news. It was too close. The borders between frivolous holidays and grim realities had blurred. Actually, they’ve never really existed to begin with.

I was slipping into a spiral of feeling overwhelmed, and helpless, and very sad.

A German friend came for her monthly massage. “I’ve begun volunteering with refugees here,” she said. We talked through much of the session and I asked question after question, curious to know how she came to the decision to help refugees. I began to rethink how to respond to my encroaching depression and what I could do.

I talked it over with Uwe. A few weeks later, I called the Rathaus (Town Hall) to offer my services.

NOTES: © 2015 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as Helping Refugees: Part One. I wrote an entire thread on helping refugees if you want to read further. Uwe’s images from our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was  semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Today’s Birthday: Stacey Yvonne Abrams

Stacey Abrams  was born December 9, 1973 in Madison, Wisconsin. A Democrat, Abrams is a politician, lawyer, author, and activist for voting rights. In 2018 she founded an organization to deal with voter supression called Fair Fight Action. Ms. Abrams’ efforts got out the vote in Georgia.

I would love to see her put in charge of assuring voting booth access for every state in the USA. Stacey Abrams has brought international attention to solutions that address inequality in access to voting, especially for blacks and minorities. In her honor I am reprinting the post I wrote about election night, 2016. – Jadi

On November 8, America voted for a new president. I sent my overseas ballot off weeks before the election.

I live in Germany, so it was early evening our time when the first results started being tallied. Uwe and I watched the nightly news and listened as stations began live reports from around the US. The living room glowed with candles. Around 10:30 p.m. Uwe said, “I think something’s burning,” and went out on our balcony. I got up and followed him. Sure enough, red flames were visible in the house right across the street from us.

20161108_195908

“Hilfe!” voices shouted, and from blocks away came the blare of fire trucks. By now smoke was billowing. Teams of firemen raced around to the back of the building. People hung out of windows waving their arms, or watched from neighbors’ houses. The firemen put up klieg lights and a long ladder to rescue people from windows and then aimed water hoses at the roof.

They quickly had the situation under control: it was more smoke than fire, so to speak. I kept ducking back in the living room to watch the election returns.

Life felt suddenly, completely, dizzingly surreal. The election-cycle reminder that I’m an American citizen living overseas; an election unlike any other; a house burning. Maybe the entire goddamned street where we live is on fire.

Later – days later – I learned that the whole thing had only been a drill. A practice fire.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the metaphors inherent in this experience. As I turn it around inside my heart and head I get dizzy again. I leave it to my readers to take from this story what you can.

I’m going to go light a candle.

20161108_195944

NOTES: Quick December 2022 update: Sanity has prevailed! Georgians rejected  an election denier with no prior political experience who stated he would push for a national abortion ban without exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother … (but pressured several lovers to get abortions). The state just re-elected Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock instead. © 2016 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as Our House is on Fire!

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was  semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Labu Apetīti, Julia Caroline Child

Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912 in Pasadena, California. She was an American cooking teacher, author, and television personality. She stood 6’2″ (1.88 m) tall and is famous for the ground-breaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Childs hosted cooking shows I remember my mom avidly following. The National Museum of Natural History has a room dedicated to her original kitchen. When I visited, I joined  a group of other people: all of us watched videos of her cooking show.  In her honor I am reprinting a post I wrote after visiting the restaurants of Estonia and Latvia. – Jadi

Uwe and I made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League [1], these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.

Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India [2]. Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.

A starter with local smoked salmon

We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish.

A different restaurant’s smoked salmon with trout cavier, accompanied by rolled slices of cucumber
… and a third restaurant’s smoked salmon appetizer. Art on a plate
Traditional beet borscht soup, updated with yellow lentils and pieces of elk meat that melted in my mouth

We enjoyed the local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once-uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….

First course of wild mushrooms sauteéd and served in spinach blini purses

Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!

Lamb marinated in juniper berries served with yellow beetroot cream, cranberries and barley
Fresh fish with beet root puree and kale (out of all the meals we ate, the kale was the one item that was not perfect)
Venison stew with roasted onion halves
Beef with sweet pepper-eggplant-onion millet squares, oyster mushrooms, water cress and johnny-jump-ups

A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! [3]

Hibiscus poached pear, pumpkin seeds in apple syrup, and raspberry sorbet

In memory of Julia Child, August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004

NOTES: [1] The Hanseatic League controlled all shipping and commerce across the Baltic Sea and northern Europe to Russia. Riga and Tallinn (then known as Reval) were member cities. [2] Go to my earlier post My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies for more on bread. [3] As always, I receive no favors for mentioning these establishments. © Jadi Campbell 2017. Previously published as The Art of Food. All photos © Uwe Hartmann 2017. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was  semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The 2014 Soccer World Cup Finale

Reprinted in honor of this day in 2014 when Germany won the Soccer World Cup.

It wasn’t the first time I’d hitchhiked, but I was 18 the last time I did anything this dumb. Or this kind of dumb anyway. Allow me to explain.

I was back in the States and it was the day of the final match of the 2014 World Cup, Germany vs. Argentina. My family unfortunately all had a prior engagement. They took the car that morning and left for a certain Country Fair. [1]

I, however, remained true to the country of my husband and my adopted home for the last 26 years. I put on face paint, donned my German lei, and headed out the door.

I’d done my research. I knew the exact location of not just a sports bar in town, but a soccer sports bar at that – and I gave myself plenty of time to get there. As I headed down a footpath alongside the main road, a Mercedes Benz honked its horn repeatedly when the driver passed me. I looked at the car and laughed: he had decorated it with the colors of the German flag. I gave him a big wave and headed for my bar.

Ten minutes later I neared the entrance to a park and was astonished to see the car again. It was waiting for me. The driver had rolled down his window. “Do you know where I can go to see the game? I’m driving through on business, on my way to the coast, and I don’t know where to go to watch the match!” His accent was German and anyway he had the (to me) comforting look of a German engineer. [2]

“I sure can!” I answered. “There’s a sports bar near downtown. You need to turn around, take a left before the ramp for the freeway heading south, go under the overpass, take the one-way road three blocks and….” I stopped talking and considered. The park was empty, and so was the path I was walking on. I thought to myself, “Jadi, this could end up being the last spot anyone might have seen you standing alive before you made one last, stupid, fatal blunder.”

I scrutinized the driver more carefully. And then I made a snap decision.

“It’s complicated. Give me a ride, and I’ll guide you to get to the bar,” I offered. “Otherwise, it’ll take too long to describe.” The surprised dude immediately agreed. He opened the car door and I climbed in.

Fifteen minutes later we claimed two of the very last available seats in the packed bar (the employees were bringing in more chairs when we entered). I sat between the man whose name I no longer remember and a Mexican father and daughter.

The things we do for love (love of soccer, that is). No need to hitchhike this year, which is probably a good thing. I figure I used up my entire quota of guardian-angel-watching-over-you-while-you-do-something-colossally-stupid protection. But I’m definitely watching some soccer. France vs. Croatia, Sunday night! Come early if you want a seat!

NOTES: [1] Go to my post The Oregon Country Fair for more on the fair. I’m still glad I made it to that bar and saw Germany win. [1a] … especially after watching their pathetic performances since…. [2] The standard German engineer: short hair, clean shaven (99.99% of the time), honest face and slim body wearing jeans, an ironed shirt and a trustworthy earnest expression.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2018. Previously published as The Last Time I Hitchhiked was to get to a Bar. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network and with a Red Ribbon by the 2021 Wishing Shelf Book Awards of England. In addition, The Trail Back Out was an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, as well as a Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book Awards. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Today’s Birthday: Annelise Marie Frank

Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Her unexpectedly discovered journal The Diary of Anne Frank is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. In honor of her life I am reprinting my first post about Stolpersteine, the Stumbling Stones laid throughout the world to remember the lives of those killed by repressive regimes. – Jadi

***

She placed her unbandaged left hand over his on the table top. “Don’t think I’m only a cynic. If I lost my faith in nations, I find huge bravery and kindness in individuals. I kept my faith – and how can that be, after what religion did to my country? But I did. I believe in God. You saved my life so I am saved again. It’s more than a woman could hope for.” She squeezed his hand. “How long do you stay in Stuttgart?”

For the first time his regret about leaving had to do with a person and not with his phobia. “I should take a train tomorrow. Actually, I’m scared to fly,” Guy admitted. “I was in a forced landing once. I’m afraid of being in another.”

“Why fear a statistic chance? Why worry about an abstraction?” Nadia’s shoulders rose and fell in the Eastern European’s shrug, a slow, weary movement that expressed the futility of every question. “Think about the poor people who are in tsunamis. Or a war zone, where real fear is to think, how do you keep walking on the street as a rocket hits somewhere near, or you hear thwack!, and the person in front of you falls down? First you think, this time it isn’t me. It took years for me to stop looking over my shoulder. Stuttgart is civilized, but even here I stumble over Stolpersteine.”

“Over what?”

“Stolpersteine.”

Guy shook his head. “Never heard of it.”

“Them. Come, I will show you. There are some up around the corner.” Nadia refused to explain further.

She insisted on paying the bill and tucked her arm in his as the two of them headed up the Königstrasse. She led him to a stop in front of a store. “What do you see?”

Guy saw Europeans out Christmas shopping, happy people laughing and drinking glühwein, store windows filled with beautifully displayed consumer goods. Was it something special about the storefront? He shifted his weight and his heel came down on an uneven spot in the cement. When he glanced down, Guy saw gold cubes embedded in the sidewalk. He squatted to get a better look. Königstrasse 60, a stone with the name of Clothilde Mannheimer, another beside it for Jakob Mannheimer.

Nadia crouched down next to him. “The Mannheimers lived in this building. They were moved by train to Theresienstadt and died in the concentration camp there,” she translated. “These are their Stolpersteine, their stumbling stones. Wherever we go, we stumble over reminders of the past. The stones make sure we don’t forget the dead, these make sure that people today can’t push the dead from our memories.”

Guy traced the imprint of the names. The little golden cubes were weightier than their size. “Are there more?”

“All over Germany. Other countries, too. The Stolpersteine groups wish to mark the last free place where the persons lived, not where they were sent. Sometimes a family asks for a stumbling block; sometimes a local group did research for victims. And Stolpersteine are for everyone. Especially the Jews, but also the Behinderte, the ones with handicaps,” she corrected herself, “the mentally slow or physically handicapped. And gypsies, Communists. All were killed or did have to leave.”

“Knowing all this it wasn’t hard for you to become a German citizen?”

She gave another slow Eastern European shrug. “I gave up my old passport a decade ago. It was less hard than I expected. My home country is one in the heart.” – from the chapter What A Guy in Tsunami Cowboys, longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award.

A newly laid Stolperstein
A newly laid Stolperstein

In memory of Anne Frank, 12 June 1929 – February or March 1945

NOTES: Text and Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboys’ Stumbling Stones. Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network and with a Red Ribbon by the 2021 Wishing Shelf Book Awards of England. In addition, The Trail Back Out was an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, as well as a Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book Awards.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Mark Kurlansky + NaCl

NOTE: For more posts go to jadicampbell.com

Author and journalist Mark Kurlansky was born December 7, 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut. He has written about oysters, cod, salt, salmon, milk and paper – among other topics. His writing is engaging and informative. I have copies of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (an international bestseller translated into more than 15 languages) and Salt: A World History. His book Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea was awarded the 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In his honor I am reprinting the post I wrote after we visited a saltworks in Laos. – Jadi

When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.

There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.

Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, with truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” [1]

Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.

We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits – and has burned down numerous times. Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.

WR_05_03_176
WR_05_03_164

Salty waters are brought up from deep underground

WR_05_03_180

and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.

WR_05_03_167
WR_05_03_161

Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn.

WR_05_03_175
WR_05_03_172
WR_05_03_174
WR_05_03_173

Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.

WR_05_03_184

Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.

I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.

WR_05_03_179

Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.

NOTES: [1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7. © 2014 & 2021 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as The Salt Pits.  More of Uwe’s pictures from Laos and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network. In addition, The Trail Back Out was an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and is currently a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

My Next Public Reading

December 25, 2015. It’s time to upgrade: I’m moving. As of today, you’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

 

To learn about the Writers in Stuttgart and our public reading on Friday, March 18, visit this link :

NEAT Recommends the Writers in Stuttgart.

PS: For your added amusement, click on the bottom left photo to the right of the link’s screen under Dark Monday in February. That’s me on stage, in our first performance of The Vagina Monologues!

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 #

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve moved. You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.

This is my 99th blog post.

I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….

My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!

My topics bounce all over the place like gleeful ping pong balls. I’ve written about current events like The Death of Robin Williams, Helping Refugees: Part 1 and Tunisia Without Terrorism, to the World Cup in The Year the World Came to Party.

I occasionally write about historic events, too. Several are 8:15 A.M.Amsterdam, and Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones.

I riff on artists in Meet the One-Tracks and art, like the sacred sublime in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres or sacred sexual in The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho. I profile art made by human hands Wine and Sculpture, Wildly Creative in Upstate NY: The Ferros of Little York, Egypt 1: We had the entire Valley of the Kings to Ourselves or found in Nature: The Music of the Heavenly Spheres, Steamy Rotorua! and It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°.

Art can serve as reminders to bring us together, as in Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and The United Buddy Bears.

Of course, I write about writers: My Sister & Maurice Sendak and Baum, Bats, and Monkeys. I quote my beloved Shakespeare with Egypt 2: Along the Nile. Even Colleen McCullough gets a mention in The Outback!

And I write about writing itself: The Gift of Gab, Someone Burned My Book.

Food has been a topic: My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies, Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient, Adventures in China’s New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce, The Fork is Mightier Than the Sword. A Post in Which I Eat Paris, The Salt Pits and A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2.

Holidays have been fun, from You Rang? (the worst/best Valentine’s Day in history) to Happy Halloween!

My day job is as massage therapist, and sometimes I write about healing and medicine. Helping Refugees: Part 1,  Massage in Indonesia: Lombok, Adventures in China’s New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine, A Massage at Wat Pho are a few of the posts.

…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.

It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99

The Human Dimension. Helping Refugees: Part 4

The Germans have a wry saying. “We sent for guest workers, but Menschen came instead.” Meaning that after WWII, the work force of foreigners who came to Germany turned out to be fellow human beings.

I find myself thinking about that saying. The flow of refugees heading this way is huge and overwhelming, and in some ways I am afraid. I love the security and safety of life here, how clean it is. I’m proud to live in a land with universal health care and great mass transit, wonderful street cafés, and (most important of all) the guarantee of personal freedoms and a firm commitment to human rights.

What does this have to do with the hordes of refugees flooding the country? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing at all. But I hear from some of my friends, “What if Europe becomes Muslim? What if the streets are filled next with women in full burkas? What if we lose our freedoms as Germans bend over backwards to accommodate the newcomers?

They’re nameless, faceless. They’re the others, the ones who constitute a vague but ever-growing threat.

One of my great bonds with the man I married is our desire to explore the world together. We’ve taken vacations in moderate Muslim lands. Every trip was wonderful, filled with people with dreams and hopes like yours and mine. I have a serious disconnect when I try to reconcile the horror of ISIS with the kindness of the friendly people we met in Egypt… Indonesia… Tunisia… Malaysia… Turkey… Singapore. The answer, of course, is they can’t be reconciled. The two have nothing to do with each other.

I’m terrified of the fanaticism that just killed more than 100 people in  Paris. The refugees are terrified, too. The people fleeing to Europe want the same things we do: a civilized place to work, live, and raise their children. A stream of humanity is arriving. People with dreams and hopes, like yours and mine.

Each time I go to massage the refugee M. [1], I’m confronted with my own fear of the unknown foreign.

We have no languages in common. I’m not only working without any knowledge of her history; we can’t even talk.  One of her children remains in the room the entire time to translate into German for her.

These are the hardest sessions I’ve ever attempted.

As a therapist my hands know their work; I’m capable to treat her PTSD symptoms. But the person-to-person connection…. I have to do this solely through touch. The afternoons of therapy have changed my understanding of the human dimension. It’s become more complicated, and much simpler. It’s changed me as well.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of the persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only.

PTSD. Helping Refugees: Part 3

I go one afternoon a week to where refugees are housed and provide therapy for a woman I will call M. [1]

When I decided to take the plunge and volunteer, I had no idea what that would look like or what I’d be doing. For the last thirty years I’ve worked as a massage therapist. I’ve treated people across the health spectrum: Pregnant. Disabled. Patients during chemo and radiation therapy. Triathletes to couch potatoes. People seeking relaxation, to a man in need of pain relief years after a helicopter crash. My abilities as a therapist deepen with each person I attempt to help.

I’m licensed in both Europe and America. I kept my US credentials current by doing periodic workshops. I did this for decades, until the weekend seminars felt like I was reinventing the wheel.

I briefly considered doing massage with the aged after we put my mother-in-law in a nursing home near us. But my grief as I accompany Mama in the twilight of her life makes it too personal. When I learned a refugee needed massage, it seemed like the perfect way to stretch myself as a therapist and as a human being.

M. and her family fled from an earlier war zone; they’ve been in my village for over a year. M. is severely traumatized. She existed in a catatonic state for many months. Loud or sudden noises trigger panic attacks and migraines and a voice moaning in her head. Her entire body is a field of pain. Most movement is agony.

Within minutes of beginning our initial massage, M. began sobbing. She cries through every single session. It’s ‘just’ nerves.

No one in her family will tell me her story. I have bits and pieces, cobbled together from talking with her doctor and the volunteer organization. She discovered a dead body.  Was it suicide, or murder? Was it a family member? She was raped more than once. Twice, ten times, one hundred? One man or many? Someone known to her? Looters? Soldiers?

Like I say: I have bits and pieces.

I first met the German liaison when she took me to the refugees. She gave me the barest of details, less than five minutes before I met M. I’d be working right away, without any volunteer training or medical protocols in place. For me the single most important question was: Who had requested the massage therapy?

It was M.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of those involved I have changed names and identifying details, and use initials only. Part 4 to follow.