The Waterfalls of Laos: North

 

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On one of our return trips to Laos we finally explored the waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang. I hadn’t wanted to go earlier, afraid it would be an over-run tourist spot. How wrong I was, because we visited a truly beautiful natural area. We used a simple open taxi to get there and then headed up past lovely pools.D31_4980_DxO8D31_5024_DxO8

The trail became misty with spray from the waterfalls the higher we hiked. D31_4945_DxO8

Uwe vanished with his camera, and I made my way on increasingly slippery wooden steps to the top.

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Slip-sliding away!

My glasses kept fogging over with the permanent veils of falling water. At the summit I savored the peaks and the impossibly dense jungle all around. I had the views to myself.

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I took my time on my way back down, not wanting to rush. To the side of the trail I discovered a salamander whose brown, green, and rusty tan colors exactly matched the layers of fallen leaves, twigs and wet rocks. I crouched slowly and held my breath, and the two of us were companionably still. No chance to reach for my camera; the lens would have been useless anyway. Instead, it’s one of those moments that stays fixed in memory. I’d never seen a newt in those colors, and I’m sure I never will again.

D31_4980_DxO8Back down at the pools I found Uwe, ecstatic as he photographed a spider as large as the span of my hand. D31_4933_DxO8

A water wheel bore witness to the fact that the quiet area is used.D31_4976_DxO8D31_5012_DxO8

On our trip back to town we stopped to give another taxi a tow.D31_5042_DxO8

NOTES: Go to my earlier post The Salt Pits for more on Laos. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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.

Bazaar/Bizarre

Kim’s view was simultaneously filled and obstructed. The front courtyard and Hampi Bazaar Road were crammed with bodies. Worshippers raised their arms to touch Shiva’s massive chariot. Mandapams, porch-like structures once used for commerce or the homes of wealthy traders, lined the sides of the street. Pilgrims claimed spots in them, trying to find shade.

Women in brilliant saris walked past. Old crones with henna-patterned arms carried small children. Turbaned men sampled fruit from a pyramid of dates. An all-white cow rested serenely on a pile of garbage. A painted bus had parked in the dust; a pilgrim dozed on one of the seats with his bare feet sticking out through the open window.

Kim peeked in a shop selling cheap clothes and plastic sunglasses. When she turned, she banged her head on a string of water bottles hanging in the doorway. Sunlight reflected off the mirrored insets of embroidered bags and shirts in the next little shop.

She pushed on through the crowds, trying to spot her group. A couple in a patch of shade looked up as she walked past. Their oxen leant against the cool stones of an ancient wall. The bovine pair had their forelegs tucked under them. Their curved horns were painted crimson and capped in metal. Magenta pompoms with orange and blue tassels hung from the tips; a pile of cow shit steamed.43220_Ind_04_06_j_036

In the middle of the road a clump of pilgrims whispered among themselves, pointing. A man crouched in the dirt. He was perhaps thirty years old, mustachioed and handsome. Thick hair brushed across the white bands smeared on his forehead. He wore a peach-orange cotton shirt and pants. The man knelt, barefoot, on all fours on a rug. A big copper pot dappled with white streaks and red dots balanced on his shoulders. A string of beads wound around the pot’s lip. A long cobra slid clockwise over the beads, flicking an orange tongue. Hands darted out from the crowd to touch the snake and drop coins into the pot.42740_Ind_04_06_j_031

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Kim forgot the snake handler and the crowds.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

She forgot the coiling cobra.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, The Reluctant Pilgrim, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photos Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Grounded

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My new novel Grounded is finally in print and available as an eBook! Use the following link to see it: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell  

Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.

I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.

 

 

 

Remembering How to Feel

I have to relearn how to feel. My mother-in-law went into the hospital with a lung infection for a long week and a half. She rallied, and returned to the nursing home. I finished my third novel Grounded and began preparing it for publication on Amazon. Then Mama grew weaker again. A few days later we got the call we’d been expecting. The home phoned and said that we should come. Uwe and I had the blessing of being at her side as she died. Less than 48 hours later, my book became available.

We were busy with all the details that follow a death. People had to be contacted, and a funeral arranged, and Mama’s body transported to the town where she would be interred next to Uwe’s father. We drove down to meet with the funeral hall director and a pastor, and to visit Mama’s sister and her family. We cleaned out her room in the nursing home, sorted through the little that remained, moved furniture. The book would wait. I’d celebrate its release later. And I wanted to stay strong and present for Uwe, because these are the moments when your partner is so much more important than anything else.

When we finally got done with all the details a few days ago, I turned my attention back to a very special project that will take place next Monday, June 6th. My first-ever writing commission has been to write a story to connect an evening of Gershwin songs. In February I wrote in a 2-week blaze of inspiration for NEAT, the New English American Theater in Stuttgart.  The four singers and a pianist rehearsed the songs. A Welsh actor will read my story. All I have to do is show up and sit in the audience and marvel and enjoy the talent on the stage.

I went to a rehearsal a few nights ago and heard my story spoken aloud for the first time. It is a surreal experience to hear one’s creative work interpreted and combined into a greater artistic work. I was speechless as I watched and listened. Up to that night, I’ve been numb. I figured I could finally allow myself to feel proud, to be satisfied with all the hard work I’ve done with my writing. I gave myself permission to be excited about my book and the Gershwin evening. But when I let myself open up to feeling something emotional, a tidal wave of grief hit me. I’m mourning my mother-in-law of course. I’m grieving for her, even knowing she was ready to go and had given us the gift of waiting until we got to her bedside to leave us. One of us, Uwe or I, have visited her pretty much every other day for the two years that she lived in the nursing home near us. I don’t have to feel bad about not seeing her enough, or caring enough. But I write this in the present tense, because it’s all occurring in real time still. The birth of my book, the death of Mama, the use of my words to connect the magic of timeless songs, it all weaves together for me, I can’t separate out any of the strands. I’m a hot mess, trying to remember how to feel again. I remind myself that any one of these emotions is huge, fraught with anticipation and months or years of living and taking form and interconnecting with hopes and expectations. Love, sorrow, hope, creativity, illness, dying, death, coming into being, leaving this earthly plane…. Trying to remember how to feel any one of these emotions, let alone all of them all at once, overwhelms me.

But mostly, mostly, perhaps what I feel is gratitude. To know what I have in my mother-in-law and my art. To literally feel in body and soul how it all connects. To be able to feel again, even if it leaves me in tears.

And to know I’ve got a lot more tears in me.

NOTES: In loving memory of Margaretha Hartmann.

The Reluctant Pilgrim

When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”

She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.

But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?

There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….

And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. 02420_Ind_03_25_011Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.

Kim put away her postcards unfinished.

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

NOTES: Go to my earlier posts The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho, Travel Karma, and Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. Photo Copyright © 2014 Uwe Hartmann. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

 

The Honeymooners

We were on our honeymoon.

We married in Germany and went to Paris for a week. A few months later we threw a party in America. I wanted to show Uwe around the northwest, including a visit to Vancouver. For that part of the trip, the easiest solution would be to rent a car once we got to Canada.

 

Three Killer whales in mountain landscape at Vancouver Island Royalty Free Stock PhotoPacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Royalty Free Stock Photo

 

I found a charter bus leaving from Seattle for the right price, leaving at the right hour. When we got to the designated departure spot that morning the others were already waiting to board the bus… all fifty members of the seniors’ tour group.

“Jadi! We’re 40 years younger than anyone else taking this bus,” Uwe whispered.

“Look at the bright side: no crying babies.”

The woman in line behind us tapped my arm. “Excuse me honey, but are you two newlyweds? Are you on your honeymoon?”

I grinned as Uwe began to turn an interesting shade of pink. “We are!” I told her.

“I knew it!” the little senior crowed. She nodded at her friend, totally pleased. “I have a sixth sense for honeymooners. When I meet people I can always tell if they’re newlyweds! What are your names, dear?”

Uwe was hurriedly climbing on the bus away from the conversation.

“Uwe and Jadi Hartmann,” I told her to keep it simple. Our first names are confusing enough without including the information that I’d kept my maiden name.

For a second she looked flustered, but she recovered quickly. “Well, it’s lovely to meet you,” she beamed.

As I boarded the bus and headed down the aisle she was talking with the bus driver. “That young couple that got on the bus ahead of me? They’re on their honeymoon!”

“Gott, Americans ask personal questions,” Uwe chuffed once I’d seated myself next to him.

“They’re friendly. Isn’t it wonderful?” I gave my new husband my sweetest smile.

We settled in for the short trip to Vancouver on a bus filled to capacity with chattering seniors. The bus left promptly, people in their 70s and 80s twittering like happy magpies.

When we reached the highway there was a scratching noise as our driver turned on his microphone. “Welcome on board, on the charter bus for Vancouver, Canada. Our estimated time of arrival is twelve noon. I’m your driver Carl, and I’ll be pointing out sights of interest along the way. But in the meantime, I’ve been informed that we have a pair of newlyweds traveling with us today! Let’s congratulate the new couple! Would Jay – ,“ he faltered suddenly, “Oo – uh, would Mr. and Mrs. Harmon please stand up and take a bow?”

Wild applause.

I was already on my feet. “Stand up!” I encouraged gleefully. Uwe had slumped down in his seat as far as he could get without actually hiding underneath it.

My beet-red husband stood up and sat down in a flash to even louder applause.

As you, dear readers, can surely suspect, any trip that got off to a start like this one had to be good….

And it was. It was a lovely trip!

NOTES: Images courtesy of Dreamstime.com.

You Can Have Your Cake & Eat It, Too

If you grow up with the name Jadi, it will be mispronounced. Jodi. Judy. Janie. Right when a community had it figured out, we would move. One after the other, a parade of grade school and high school teachers and college professors stumbled reading roll call.  

When the second Star Wars film came out, everyone at the firm where I worked treated me to (insert uproarious laughter here) “Hey! It’s The Return of the Jadi!”

Perhaps it was inevitable that I married a German named Uwe.

Uwe is a common name in Germanic countries, but just about impossible to pronounce correctly for anyone else. “Ova?” my mother suggested. “Ewe-y,” grinned Dad; I know he did it on purpose.

We had a quiet wedding in Germany and a party Stateside a few months later. A restaurant catered the reception and a local bakery made the wedding cake(s).  

I’ve written elsewhere about the awesomeness of German bakeries [1]. For our party, rather than do a tiered and tired yum-where’d-you-get-this-cake-that-tastes-like-sugar-covered-cardboard, I wanted to honor the country I was marrying along with meinen Mann. I went to the best bakery in town and made a proposal:

I ordered six sheet cakes, all different. Yellow cake. Coconut cake. Carrot cake. Chocolate cake. Spice cake. And, yes, one white cake. Turns out I’m a sucker for tradition after all. The bakery manager dutifully wrote everything down.

“And,” I continued with the order, “I want you to write our names on all of the cakes. Wrong. Except for one of them. Here’s a list of names for each cake,” I said, and handed him a page of phonetics.

When we went to pick up those cakes before the party, the bakery let us know how much fun they’d had filling the order!  

Twenty-three years later I recall those cakes with a smile – and wonder where the time went.  

JayDee and Oyvay 4Ever!

Hochzeit1 Hochzeit2

NOTES: [1]  Go to My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies for more about the tradition of yummy German cakes. [2] New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, Oregon still prepares their own baked goods and meals.

History’s Loop 3

“The danger was all the candles. I’d set some on the back of the toilet and on the edge of the tub so people could see to use the facilities. And we placed an old candelabra in the living room. Lynn bent over it and just about lit her bangs on fire. After that just grownups were allowed to go near any candles or handle the lanterns or grill. Responsible adults only.” Her eyes focus far in the past.

“But it was like a party.” Keith contributes, “We were all together. The Robinsons were our best friends and our kids were all roughly the same ages and in the same grades and played together. If this was the end of the world, I was glad the kids were safe and well fed, I’d just eaten a great steak, and I was with the people I care for most. Although if I’m honest, if I remember right that steak had freezer burn. And it was cold outside; it was November. But I remember it this way, the best meal and one of the best nights of my life. Isn’t that funny?”

“Funny….” Sue’s voice trails off.

I don’t know if she considers it funny ha-ha or funny terrible. Maybe both. Cass and Jolie have finished their meals and sit. Their eyes move in their faces as they follow our conversation.

“We didn’t talk about what was happening. It’s not that it happened fast; just the opposite. It was all so gradual. Information kind of trickled out.”

Our own meals arrive, and they fall silent. The waiter leaves, Timber and I start to eat, and only then do they return to the story.

“On the drive home from work,” Keith continues, “I listened to the radio. And while no one reported it as a possible attack, I know that’s what I suspected. I was going to keep that to myself and not worry my family. But when I walked in the house I took one look at Sue’s face and knew that she was thinking the exact same thing. But all she asked was, ‘The city too?’ and before I could do anything more than nod a yes the kids burst through the door to tell me all about the lights in the whole neighborhood going out. We just kind of looked at one another over their heads and it was parents’ mental telepathy, as parents we were going to guarantee their last night on Earth was, like Lynn kept saying about the house being lit up with candles, ‘magic’. And, Jeff.” Keith takes a big swallow of water and resumes in a low pitch.

Timber leans forward to hear.

“He wanted to help. Together we filled a bunch of gallon jugs and pitchers with water. Then the sinks and the bathtub. Later when all the kids had gone to bed we sat with Jerry and Irene and had a night cap. They left and went back next door.”

“’I want to check on the kids,’ Jerry told you,” recalls Sue. “That night was the first time I thought of him as a good dad. Irene always had to haul him home once the two of you got going drinking beer or shooting the breeze out back.”

“Beer drinking doesn’t make someone a bad parent. But yeah, he liked his booze. A twenty-year old Scotch on the last night on earth isn’t a bad thing.”

Sue turns to the girls. “Cass, you referred earlier to Nine-Eleven. In 1965, the scariest thing was the not knowing. Nine-Eleven was a different story. With that one it was clear pretty quick who the enemy was. We used that information as an excuse to act out our lowest common denominators.”

Cass tenses. “Gram, you don’t really think that, do you?” It’s not a question; it’s a plea.

Timber, Sue, Keith and I exchange glances. Keith and Sue sit up a little straighter. “Never get old people rambling about the past,” Sue smiles at her granddaughter, asking forgiveness. “My story happened half a century ago, and kind of feels like more than a world away from what’s going on now. But it’s the same historic loop: humans scared this time we’ve blown it. But,” she folds the pleat in her cloth napkin, running an arthritic index finger along its seam, “maybe not. We’ll pull through. And the important thing is to be with the people you care about.”

“If you’ll excuse me.” Timber pushes his chair back and heads for the restrooms at the back of the restaurant.

 

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell