Houston, We Have a Problem

“Houston, we have a problem.” [1]

I watched Hurricane Harvey approach along with my fellow Americans and the rest of the world. Harvey’s Category 4 storm winds devastated Houston, Texas, America’s fourth-largest city. Experts estimate the costs to clean up and rebuild the city at a staggering $75 billion. [2]

Photos of destroyed homes, flooded streets and ruined businesses filled the media. When I watched and listened to footage of interviews with the locals, I had a strange déjà vu.

  • “I know it’s not a safe place to be, but … I don’t know where else I can go.”
  • “I was scared. I’ve seen a lot of things but that terrified me.”
  • “I just lost everything I worked for. Everything. The only thing I got are the clothes on my back.”
  • “We just had to go.”
  • “If they don’t restore power and water for three to six weeks, we have no choice but to leave.”
  • “It’s important for individuals, particularly that are in shelters, to let their family know that they’re safe and well and where they’re at.”
  • “If my kids are safe, my husband is safe, the dogs are with us, who cares.”
  • “There’s no way to get our family out.”

I listened as a young man carrying a small child told reporters that both his home and workplace had been destroyed. He needed shelter and a job, and was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to support his two-year-old daughter. [3]

These quotes come from the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. I’ve heard them before, word for word. These are the interviews I watch on the German nightly news with refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq. These are the stories of the two asylum seekers I massaged to treat their trauma.

The hundreds of thousands Texans and, later, Floridians who were forced out by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma aren’t all that different from the families escaping war zones. It is devastating when your home is gone. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says “We used to look at citizens as disaster victims. Now they’re looked at as what we call disaster survivors.”

I’m not sure what conclusions (if any) to draw from the many similarities. Perhaps it’s that we’re all connected. Suffering is not limited to any one region or situation. Regardless of nationality, race, or religion, I hope our compassion is universal. Let’s extend it to families everywhere who lost all they had and now struggle to rebuild their lives.

As a survivor bravely added, “Life still goes on.”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] Phrases.org.uk  [2] “Moody’s Analytics, a New York-based financial analysis company, has pegged the destruction to southeast Texas, which includes the Rockport area where Harvey made landfall, as of mid-morning Aug. 29 at about $75 billion, covering homes, vehicles, businesses, infrastructure and lost economic output. Homes and vehicles alone in the region are expected to suffer about $30 billion to $40 billion in damage, according to an email from a Moody’s representative. Regional businesses could see up to $15 billion in damage.” Bizjournals.com [3] Quotes gathered from The Washington Post, Daily Mail UK, Caller Times, Houston Chronicle and personal interviews.

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Going Home

Right after I first fell in love with the German man I married, my mother died. (No, the shock didn’t kill her.) Something I recognize but don’t dwell on is that my decision to move to Europe is tied to her death. Somehow the most important link to my life in America suddenly vanished. When I left the States I had a full if overly busy life with two jobs, one which gave me health care and retirement benefits, and close friends. But as I’ve written elsewhere [1], the siren call of a European man and European life style (make that Life and Style) won my heart.

I was surprised – and deeply moved – to discover that my friendships and attachment to places I love stayed alive, even with one or two years or even longer between visits. When I was a kid, my family had moved every few years thanks to my dad’s job with the Forest Service. I know how to make new friendships, and how to keep old ones. The international stuff is harder, but it’s do-able.

My annual visit to the US this year is bathed in wistfulness and memories. This is my first flight back without seeing my father Bobbo. For twenty-five years I believed that losing Mom broke the golden thread connecting me to my old life. Turns out, a less obvious thread – but one equally as golden – tied me to Bobbo. He became my main reason to return. With both parents gone now, my sisters have become guardians. They, and I, are the keepers of the memories.

I write down anecdotes, wanting to get the details right. I fret over the little stuff. Did we really never lock our doors living in Cazenovia? What year was the big snowstorm of our childhoods in Connecticut? I remember Mom sent Bobbo out to meet us  (my sisters and I trudging in rubber snowboots through drifts chest deep, on our way home from my friend Doris’s house). But how old were we? Was it all three of us? And what year was it? Mom and Bobbo would have known these details. My sisters and I have to puzzle them out, placing our recollections together in a common picture.

The particulars are fading. They curl like the edges of old family photographs.

But these pictures make up earlier lives. It’s why we treasure old camera footage, precious cassette tapes of voices long silent. When asked what you would take first if your home was about to go up in flames, people almost always say, the family photographs. Because gazing into the eyes of an old photo is really looking back into what we looked like, and what life felt like.

It’s a way of going home.

NOTES: [1] Go to my post J’aime la Vie to learn why I stayed in Europe! © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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What a Year!

2016 was the Year of the Monkey. Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

I’m a little slow sometimes. I recently realized that my new-and-improved wordpress website jadicampbell.com had a birthday in January and is now a year old. (Yes, I’m aware it’s already March!) So, what did I do with a year of blogging?

My usual bounce of topics around the world….

If you want humor, dance to the world’s oldest Beatles cover band in A Boogie With the Bootlegs and survive a terrible trip at The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik. Mess with the wedding caterers in You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too and listen in as I gleefully confess to embarrassing my long-suffering spousal unit in The Honeymooners. Attend an office party that goes south with a whole lot of alcohol in Holiday Insurance 1 & 2.

I weighed in on current events with both outrage and compassion: Ending the Year Pregnant with Hope, Our House is on Fire, Outrage, Role Models and Positive Acts, and my continued thread on refugees The Long Haul. Helping Refugees: Part 5, 6 & 7.

Last summer I lost my mother-in-law, an old friend, and my dad Bobbo, all within a shocking three-month period. Those were by far the hardest posts to write. But I discovered something: the most personal blog essays are the ones my readers (i.e., all of you) respond to most.

Phew. And, thank you for your comments regarding Breath, Loss and Remembering How to Feel.

I wrote seasonal posts about Christmas Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, A Guy Goes to a Christmas Market…, the Hindu Nandi Purnima in Holy CowsBazaar/Bizarre, watching the World Cup from The H(ot)ell in Dubrovnik, and the (in)famous Oregon Country Fair.

Somewhere last year I managed to finish and publish a new novel, Grounded. Here are excerpts: Holiday Insurance 1 & 2, Holy Cows and Bazaar/Bizarre, The Reluctant Pilgrim, Save the Recriminations, History’s Loop 1, 2, & 3.

I took part in wonderful projects with NEAT (New English American Theater) involving Gershwin 1 & 2 and The Vagina Monologues.

I wrote about Nature’s waterfalls and snakes.

As always, I blogged about places we’ve visited on this incredible planet. Hong Kong, Laos markets & waterfalls, Hampi, India here and twice again in The Reluctant Pilgrim & Bazaar/Bizarre; Croatia and (the bus) to Canada.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster! Wong Tai Sin Medicine Temple, New Territories, China

What you can look forward to in the Year of the Rooster: a huge blog thread for my father Bobbo that I’m calling The Animal Kingdom. Occasional notes about my volunteer work with refugees. Lots more quirky posts about places Uwe and I visit. And on-going musings about life, the Universe and everything in-between as I deepen the process of saying goodbye to those who have left.

May you find something here that makes you laugh, creates a spark of connection, and moves you enough so that you reenter your own life with a sense of touching upon mine. That would make the new year of blogging – and all the years to come – worthwhile. As Mae West says, “Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” [1]

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I’m now posting once a week!

NOTES: [1] Quoted in She Done Him Wrong (1933). Photo of Mae West courtesy of Worth1000.com at http://jeanrojas.tripod.com/ Copyright © 2017 Jadi Campbell. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann or Jadi Campbell. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Ending the Year Pregnant with Hope

I’ve worked as a massage therapist for the last 30 years, licensed in both the USA and in Europe. I reckon I’ve probably touched 1,000 different bodies. [1] I’ve massaged the following people:

  • A helicopter crash survivor. His back had turned into a mass of trigger points. He felt like they were on fire. It took four intense, 90-minute sessions over a two-week period to hunt down and treat the triggers one at a time.
  • An elderly neighbor with recurrent cancer. I went over once a week for years. A few weeks before she passed away, after her massage Gerda surprised me with a huge bouquet of flowers. She hadn’t forgotten that it was my birthday.
  • Tri-athletes at competitions to keep their leg muscles from cramping.
  • A dear friend with muscular dystrophy. She handles her disease with a grace that inspires and warms everyone lucky enough to know her.
  • My sister Barb and brother-in-law Javier. Both are potters, and their arms are like ropes of hardening clay.
  • My mother-in-law as she lay dying.
  • Two war refugees.
  • A woman with a cleft palate right after her corrective surgery.

Yesterday morning I did my final massage of the year: a return client who is now 4½ months pregnant. Kristi is the daughter-in-law of a German woman from my town. I’ve massaged three generations of that family.  Today I got to meet the fourth generation, still in her mother’s belly.

We chatted through the massage. Like me, she’s an Ami married to a German. The two of us talked about the holidays, our cross-cultural families, what the year had been like. Kristi lay on her side bolstered with huge pillows. I placed my palms on her belly and imagined the little child inside. And, because so much of massage therapy involves directed intent, I turned my focus inward to tenderness, and a welcome, and hope. My last official hour of work couldn’t have been gentler. Or happier.

Check out the people in the background for a true picture of huge this display is!

It’s been a long and somber year. I’m so glad to be ending it with a post dedicated to a promise of joy for the future.

Thanks to all my readers and followers for your support! As the Germans say, We will meet us again in 2017!

NOTES: [1] They say for true mastery you must perform a technique 1,000 times, on 1,000 different bodies….

Photos Copyright © 2009 Uwe Hartmann. Photos of the fireworks taken from our balcony on New Year’s Eve! More of our trip to Kuala Lumpur  and Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Loss. Helping Refugees: Part 7

When loss arrives, if I’m lucky I’m prepared for it. My mother-in-law died at the start of the summer, and we were at her side when she passed. But usually I’m not at all prepared. A vibrant friend from high school died in July, one week before I was going to see her in the States. A month later my father passed away suddenly, just short of his 85th birthday. I was reeling from the losses when I returned to Germany.

I went as I have, once a week for exactly a year, to do massage therapy for a refugee woman I’ve called M. I need my routines back. I have to resume the comforting familiarity of work and my ‘normal’ life.

We meet for a single session. But when I show up the following week, I knock and see the chair outside the door where I always sit to take off my shoes has been removed. I knock again and peer into the apartment. Someone’s taken down the sheets of vocabulary words from the kitchen wall. Still no one comes to the door. Finally I press the buzzer, something I never do because M is hypersensitive to any sudden loud noises.

“They’re gone.” I turn and see a neighbor refugee (Nigerian? Sudanese?). In broken German she explains, “The police came last Tuesday in the middle of the night and took them. They’re gone,” she repeats. “They were sent back to Kosovo.” [1]

The flood of refugees reaching Europe includes people from earlier wars (like M). In the scramble to provide services for millions of people who have lost everything, hard decisions have to be made about who is allowed to stay. For example, economic hardship isn’t accepted as grounds for asylum. Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and other countries have been declared safe places of origin. And now that the Kosovo ‘conflict’ has resolved, most asylum seekers from that region are sent back.

M and her family applied for years to be recognized as refugees. M’s fragile physical and psychological state were part of the reason they had been allowed to remain this long. But in a midnight action, officials came and woke the family, giving them an hour to pack their belongings. [2] They were taken to the airport and put on a plane.

I’m really at a loss for how to respond. I sympathize with the officials. Germany takes in more refugees than any other country in Europe. Even the little town I live in received over 600 refugees last year. But it’s another person ripped from my life. Death is final; so is deportation. [3]

I went home, contacted the Town Hall, and told them I’m prepared to offer free therapy for a new refugee. The need still remains, and I still want to help if I can.

NOTES: [1] In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. M’s family speaks Albanian. [2] The deportation of asylum seekers who have their applications turned down take place in the middle of the night without warning. This is to prevent refugees from going underground or into hiding. [3] They won’t be allowed to enter a European Union country for the next three years.

***POST SCRIPT***: I’m about to start massage therapy for a refugee from Iraq. She and her husband fled last year with their family, but had to leave a baby behind.

 

Cold Comfort. Helping Refugees: Part 6

I missed several appointments to meet my refugee and give her massage therapy. I didn’t show up, because my father died while I was on vacation. I had to cancel my flight home and extend my visit to America.

I called M’s daughter the day after I finally got back to Germany. We set up another appointment. Just like always: Monday afternoon. I got there and took off my shoes.  M’s husband offered me a glass of strong Turkish tea. “No sugar,” I requested. (It’s usually served with enough sugar to send me into diabetic shock.)

M was sitting up in bed with a smile. I sat on the edge and took her hand. “Please tell your mother how sorry I am that she didn’t know where I was for the last three weeks.” (I’d sent a SMS from the States, but they hadn’t read it.) Her daughter dutifully translated my German words. I looked into M’s eyes and talked slowly, willing her to understand.

I tried for a session that would make up for the long summer pause in her therapy. I began with foot reflexology and moved on to treat her knee and hip joints, her shoulders and neck, her hands. When I was done, M surprised me by taking my hands back in hers and scrutinizing my face. She spoke for a long time.

The daughter translated for her. “My mother says to tell you, don’t be sad that your father died. Everyone’s going to die sometime. And you and I, we’ll have to die too someday.” M kept holding my hands and I felt tears come. We kissed one another on the cheeks.

The tears were for my father; they were for myself and my loss; and they were because that day was the first time that M comforted me rather than the other way around. Cold comfort, to be sure…. She gave to me out of her terrrified flight, her pain, the violence and death she’d seen in her home country. Her words were framed with the bitter truth of the life  she’s known. But she presented me with that truth, because she wanted to ease my ache.

And it helped.

 

 

Breath

Her chair is in our living room. I curl up in it cross-legged; the air around it is empty.

I wash the leather cushion and back with a damp cloth. It swivels under my touch, then stills.

Her limbs did too, shortly before she died. I gave her the ritual of a final loving massage. It was gentle touch, my palm on her forehead, my hand over her heart.

Her ragged breathing calmed. I found myself matching her breaths. You can go, it’s okay. I thought those words, and said them aloud.

Her breaths slowed. In, out. In. Out. In….. out. In.

And just like that, she was gone.

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. A hole in the everyday has punched through the solar plexus of life’s waistcoat. I discover I can’t fill the resulting void.

My mother-in-law and I breathed together, the same air, for 24 years. I’m not able to breathe back out, because Mama’s no longer here to do it with me.