Saturday, March 17, 2018

On my way to the Northern Lights - part 1, maybe

My friend Ellen and I are joining a Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) group for eight days. Three of those will be in Winnipeg and the other five at the Arctic Research Center in Churchill, Manitoba. Today is our travel day: Tucson to Minneapolis to Winnipeg.

Our day has been uneventful but interesting. In the Tucson terminal I was offered a seat by a pleasant looking middle aged man. It still surprises me that men and young people offer me their seat sometimes. After all, I'm a senior, but I have blue streaks in my hair to remind people I'm still alive!

A few minutes later, the pleasant man's wife, in a wheelchair, had to go to the bathroom. I spoke up. "Do you need some help? Would you like me to go with you?" She said yes and off we went. As recently as two years ago I wouldn't have made such an offer, but my time in Greece significantly broadened my comfort zone.

When we got back, Ellen had struck up a conversation with the woman sitting on her other side. The woman was traveling home to Minnesota to meet her newest granddaughter, Londyn. She mentioned she lives in Mankato. I know a couple from that town, and said so. Turns out the woman knows my friends! Seems like a small world, but probably it isn't. I just happen to winter in a place with a lot of snowbirds from Minnesota.

Our flight from Tucson to Minneapolis was full, but the seats were comfortable and leg room was ample. I pulled out my laptop and found a free offering of "The Shape of Water'. The movie is two hours and one minute long, and the flight was slightly longer than that, so I thought I'd have enough time to watch it. But I paused the movie a few times: to listen to the pilot, to go to the bathroom, and to order my snack. As a result, to my dismay, I had to close down my laptop ten minutes before the end of the movie. As I gathered my stuff from the overhead bin, I commented to Ellen that I would need to watch the ending some other time. The man behind me in the aisle said, "Oh, that's an excellent movie. The best part is the last ten minutes." I said, "Well, that's disappointing." He said, "Do you want me to tell you what happens? I'll whisper so no one who hasn't yet seen the movie will hear." I said yes and he did. Now, for sure, I will watch the rest of the movie!

Our three-hour layover in Minneapolis went quickly. We found an actual restaurant - not a fast-food place. Now we're at the gate, waiting for our 90-minute flight to Winnipeg. We're scheduled to arrive at 11:20, where the temperature will be a springlike 35 degrees. We're coming in a day early, so we'll take a taxi to the Fort Garry Hotel, where the group will be staying for the first two mights.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The play's the thing

In high school, in the early 60s, I was in two musicals (Liesl in The Sound of Music and some lesser part in Camelot) and the senior play (Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians). During my college years, in the late 60s, I was in two summer community theatre musicals (HMS Pinafore and The Mikado).

I minored in drama because I love the theatre.

As a newlywed in a tiny desert town (Rosamond, CA), I directed the district's first high school play (Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap).

That was nearly 50 years ago.

At the Voyager RV resort, where Art and I live in the winter, there is usually a musical or a play. Rehearsals start in early November and the production is in early March. Art has been cast for the last four years. I helped for two; I headed up ticket sales two years ago and was associate producer and stage manager last year. I had no interest in acting. For one thing, it is Art's delight and I wanted him to have an activity I wasn't involved in. For another, it's time consuming to do two rehearsals a week for four months.

This year my friend Dee, the director, said, "Linda, would you consider taking a part?" I said, "Only if you can't find anyone else." I suspect she didn't try to find anyone else. And I didn't ever say no.

So I was in rehearsals every Monday and Thursday afternoon from November 4 to March 5. I played Sylvia Axley, the bitchy former program chairman of a woman's club, in an hourlong one-act play called "Guess Who's Coming to Lunch." I'm not bitchy myself, I don't think, but I've known my share, so I had some behaviors to observe and draw on.

I learned, to my chagrin, that lines are much harder to memorize at 69 than they are at 19. Much, much harder.

Our performances were Thursday and Friday evenings this week. We had audiences of just under 300 people each night. I would call it a "friends and family" performance.

I was a pretty good bitch, I've been told!

Tomorrow there's a production meeting for next season's play. I will go to hear about it and probably to find out what Art will be up to next year. But after this year I am calling myself a retired actress.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Higher education in the nail salon

There are nail salons closer to our winter place. This one is nine miles away and I almost didn't go. But my friend Lynne had a dentist appointment right after her pedicure, so we drove in separate cars. Lynne and I like to chat while we're getting our pedicures.

My pedicurist was a Vietnamese man, Thomas. As he washed my feet I said "cảm ơn" - thank you, the only Vietnamese word I know. I say this every time I get a pedicure in a Vietnamese nail salon. This time, though, Thomas grinned from ear to ear. I was grateful I've been to Vietnam and learned the word, and remembered it.

Lynne's pedicurist is an American woman, Janie. A recent Tucsonian arrival, in her 20s, born and raised in the South, she's getting a fresh start with her life. Her eyes are bright and calm. We are both Friends of Bill W, so we chatted briefly about that. I was grateful that I've learned to be curious and friendly to people I might not have spoken to before. My eyes are wider these days.

Then a new client arrived. A man. Long white beard. Long white hair. Carrying two guns in leather holsters. I watched, startled, as he crossed the room. In my entire life I have never seen a person carrying a gun other than a police officer. I have only heard of it.

Janie had finished Lynne's pedicure, and the carrying fellow was her next client. They greeted each other. Janie started filling the water in the foot basin and the man took off his boots, then his socks, before seating himself in the station next to me.

I almost didn't say anything to him. Then I said, "Janie, what is your client's name?"


I looked at him and said, "Hi, Rusty. My name is Linda. Would you mind if I take your picture? In my whole 69 years, I have never seen anyone carrying. And I would never have thought I'd see it in a nail salon!"

I continued, "I've been told I should never take a picture of a person without asking permission. I don't want to offend you."

Rusty laughed. "Sure," he said.

"How often do you get a pedicure?"
"Every couple of months."

Just like me. Every couple of months.

I said, "Will you sit so that I can see that you are carrying and include that in my shot?"

He did.

I said, "Thanks. I wanted to take the picture to remind me about stereotyping, and that we are more alike than we are different."

"But," I continued, "If you'd been carrying an AK-15 I wouldn't have asked if I could take your picture."

We both laughed. So did Janie.

As I got up to pay, Rusty said, "God bless you."

"You too," I said.

Good thing I drove those extra miles for my pedicure. I would have missed the higher education.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

One hour and fifteen minutes

I gave my lecture today. It was called "Refugees and Me: A Voyager in Greece." I called it that because we live at the Voyager RV Resort in the winter, and everyone who came to the lecture lives here as well." The talk lasted one hour and fifteen minutes.

I worked on this talk for about 40 hours in the last two weeks. The presentation had 36 PowerPoint slides which included about 50 photos. And a script, to keep me from talking too much or getting off the topic.

I have given other talks about my experiences in Greece:
  • Four and a half minutes last summer, for my church, to explain what Do Your Part does. DYP was the charity for the congregation for July and August 2016. They raised $4,000.
  • Fifteen minutes last fall for a luncheon celebrating the Year of the Girl.
  • Conversations at informal gatherings with friends.
Today was still not all I had to say, but it was the most I'd ever said.

About 60 people attended the lecture. No one left before the end. And there were questions. I couldn't have expected anything better.

This talk I will keep, to give again if asked. As I told several people today, "I will talk to you about my experience at the Greek refugee camp any time, anywhere."

This project felt like a term paper. Maybe a master's thesis!

Worth it, though.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The question I ask myself

"How did I ever have time to go to work?"

I quit my last full-time paid job in June of 2010. Nearly eight years ago. I envisioned quiet days, long walks, lots of reading.

I should have known better. That happened for about four months. Then I got busy.

We could have just traveled. As it is, I've taken 63 trips of three days or longer in the last eight years. But on one of them, I came across a couple hundred refugees in the Saltzburg train station, and within a year I became a volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece. After my first time there, I went back three more times. I joined the board of Do Your Part, the disaster recovery nonprofit I worked for at the camp.

I could have spent time on just one hobby. I love genealogy and have been working on my family history for nearly 20 years.  Hours can go by while I explore online.  But instead of focusing on genealogy, I took 140 hours of mediation training and got certified. As a volunteer, I've done about 80 mediations in the last four years - some at the dispute resolution center in my county, some at small claims court, some out in the world. I've gotten better at it, and I still love it.

We spend winters in Tucson. For the first four years mostly I played: swimming, discussion groups, line dancing, handbells. And then the Voyager Theatre Company came along. The first year I did ticket sales; the second, assistant to the producer; this year, I'm part of the cast for a one-act play. Just for this year, though. Next year I want to have a quieter winter. I think.

In the meantime, I've started volunteering with Keep Tucson Together, doing work similar to what I did at the refugee camp. Talking to people now in the US who fear for their lives should they be forced to relocate to Mexico or Central America. Helping as I can. For KTT, I took on a new project this week. It's only three hours a week - at my request - but still, it's three hours.

And two weeks from tomorrow I'm giving a lecture on my experience at the refugee camp. I really need to get started on preparing for that. Most of it is in my head, but it needs to get transferred to a script and a PowerPoint presentation.

Almost everything I'm doing is important to me. I'm not sure what I will give up. I know for sure that I want to keep the friendships I've made in all of these endeavors.

But about having a quieter time. My sister reminds me every now and then that when I'm quiet, I think too much. She and I both say "our minds are a dangerous neighborhood. We should never go in there alone." When I'm busy and engaged, my mind is useful, and that's a good thing.

I had time to go to work because I volunteered very little. I traveled only a couple of times a year. I raised two kids and established bonds with six stepkids. It was a full life, and mostly satisfying.

I can say the same thing now. I have a full life and it is almost always satisfying.

Still. Every now and then I'd like to spend an afternoon lying on the couch, reading a book. Maybe I'll do that.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A different kind of risk

I've never been much of a risk taker. My father was a military officer, and I grew up believing in following the rules. I've actually done that most of my life, with a few exceptions that I won't go into here.

I've done a fair bit of traveling in the last 15 years. I used to think it was risky to get on an airplane, but I found my fear diminishing as I flew more. My husband Art and I flew to Washington DC on 9/21/01, just a few days after planes were ungrounded after 9/11. It was very, very quiet. Even the subways. Even the monuments. There were no lines. We were careful, but we didn't feel like we were taking risks. It was probably one of the safest times to be in the nation's capital.

In 2005 we went to Vietnam on a journey of reconciliation and healing for Art. We visited numerous places that were quite dangerous 45 years ago: My Lai, the Cu Chi tunnels, Hanoi. But I felt entirely safe. Miserably hot and sweaty, but safe.

Four years ago, in 2013, we went to Kenya. I remember being raised on "darkest Africa", but what I found there was friendly people, beautiful countryside, fabulous animals and some of the finest customer service I've ever experienced. The tented camps were anything but primitive; we felt like honored guests.

In the summer of 2016 I went to Greece, to volunteer in a refugee camp. I returned three times over the next 15 months. For about three months altogether. I spent my days - and many evenings - in what had been an abandoned chemical factory, converted to small rooms housing families, mostly from Afghanistan and mostly Muslim. I walked alone through that camp many times and felt not the slightest fear, whether in daylight or darkness. In that culture, older people are honored. Some of the residents called me Grandmother. With respect.

I got comments from friends on all these trips.

In 2001: "Oh, my God! You are so brave to fly so soon after 9/11. And to Washington!"
In 2005: "Wasn't it scary going to all those places where we were fighting? Did the people look at you with hate?"
In 2013: "Isn't it dangerous in Africa? I'd be afraid of a terrorist attack."
In 2016: "All those refugees! Weren't you afraid there would be someone from ISIS at the camp?"

Nope. I wasn't afraid. It didn't feel like I was taking a risk. Like I said, I've never been much of a risk taker.

Then, this week, I had a conversation with my sister Alyx. She commented that my life is very interesting now, that I'm not afraid to take a risk. I said I didn't feel like I was. She said, "You have a risky heart."

I had never heard that before.

"You go these places and connect with people there. You listen to people tell their stories. When you come home you keep in touch with them on Facebook. Sometimes they keep telling you their stories. You talk about your experiences to groups of people."

I thought, well, yeah.

Then Alyx told me about a friend of hers, a nurse, who'd recently read about the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. The friend said it had changed how she looks at life. I said, "Tell your friend I will talk to her about the refugees any time, anywhere."

And Alyx said, "See? There's your risky heart again."

So I guess I do take risks. But what's the alternative? Fly home on my American passport and remember from a safe distance? Delete the pictures from my phone? Talk about the weather to refugees waiting in hopes of getting asylum somewhere? Pass up opportunities to share my experiences with friends here at home?


Me and my risky heart.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Bag Lady reflects on "Not Greece"

It is 37 degrees this morning here in Tucson. I set the alarm for 7:20 because my handbell choir is playing at today's nondenominational service at the RV resort where we live in the winter. We begin our setup at 8:00 and have a quick rehearsal. By 8:45 I'm home for breakfast, ready to return for the service in an hour.

I am grateful to be able to spend the winter in a sunny place. Chilly mornings are not too common here, and I bought a fleece vest through LLBean last week, so I get to enjoy the bracing air and not shiver.

And, this morning, I am reflecting.
  • In the last 18 months I went to Greece four times to volunteer at the Oinofyta refugee camp: for six days, then two weeks, then a month, then five weeks. My mind is full of memories and I have been enriched beyond imagining by those journeys. The camp was closed on November 3 by the Greek government, and Do Your Part, the American nonprofit I'm affiliated with, still has a presence in Greece as it supervises Oinofyta Wares, the business begun by the refugees in the camp and then moved to a nearby town. The business will provide jobs for nearly a dozen families as they begin their integration into Greek life. Do Your Part is also developing a community center in that same Greek town, so that former Oinofyta residents can gather and learn. I serve on the Do Your Part board, so I am still busy at home, but my work is mostly done alone, at my computer, as I maintain the accounting for the agency and assure our compliance with various governmental agencies. Not as interesting, but necessary.
August 2016

August 2016 - photo by Jenean Campos
August 2017
  • Now I am not planning another trip to Greece. When people ask me when I am going back, I say, "I have no idea, but probably never." And it is this "Not Greece" thing that occupies my mind sometimes. It is a sad thing. For a year and a half it was Greece all the time, whether I was there or at home. It was relationships and friendships established and nurtured. It was personal challenges and growth. I spoke at several events - at my church and at our winter home. Ordinarily a decent conversationalist, I was pretty much a one-topic talker. These days I can talk about handbells, or the play I'm rehearsing, or the volunteer work I'm doing in Tucson to help people at risk of deportation - or whatever the other person brings up.
  • In 2001 I trained for the Breast Cancer Three-Day event - months of preparation for three days of 20-mile walks. I was focused on wicking shirts and underwear and socks, custom orthotics for my New Balance walking shoes, and my training schedule. For four months. The only people who were remotely interested in talking to me were other Three-Dayers. No one else in my world "got it". I wrote 92 personal letters to raise the $1,800 required for participation in the walk. The weekend of the walk there was a heat wave in Seattle, and I ended up in the hospital with heat exhaustion - alongwith 200 other walkers. I walked only two of the three days. But I remember that whole experience as a marker in my life. 
  • It's the same with Greece. And now, Not Greece. I am in regular contact with others who have volunteered, at Oinofyta and other sites in Greece. They are from the US and Canada, the UK and Spain and Portugal and Switzerland. Some of them are still there, some have come home for a few months, or for the last time. We talk online about how it feels to be home in body but still in Greece otherwise, and how isolating and lonely it sometimes feels. How hard it is to get back to "normal life", and how we wonder if we will ever feel normal in that normal life - or content with it.

Lunch spot

Volunteer haircuts

  • And I remain in contact with a number of refugees, as they await family reunification elsewhere in Europe ("It should happen by January...but maybe not.") or begin jobs or school in Greece while they wait for their asylum interview. A few of them call me their American mother.

  • I pay attention to what's happening with the refugees in Europe - a few good things, but mostly not good. And I now work with people in a similar situation on the border of my own country. I am meeting people who have that same commitment, and that helps me feel like I'm part of something bigger than me. 
  • And, at home, I settle into my "normal" life and my too-busy calendar. 
It's Not Greece.

I just read this blog post to my husband Art, who accompanied me on my two monthlong trips. When I finished, I said, "Do you relate to this?" 

He said, "Oh, yeah."